Primal Scream keyboardist Martin Duffy dead at 55

Primal Scream's Martin Duffy
(Image credit: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns)

Martin Duffy, Primal Scream's long-time keyboard player, has died, aged 55.

Duffy's brother Steve announced the musician's death on social media this morning, December 20, writing: "It is with great sadness that we make known that Martin (Duffy') suffered a brain injury after a fall, and passed away peacefully, surrounded by family and his beloved son Louie. He was loved by his mother, brothers, wider family and close friends. Everyone who knew Martin loved him; he was the real deal, our shining star."

Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie later paid his own touching tribute, calling Duffy "our soul brother".

"Hard to write this," he admitted. "We never know how to speak around death other than polite platidudes (sic). All I want to say is that our soul brother Martin Duffy passed away on Sunday. He suffered a brain injury due to a fall at his home in Brighton. We in Primal Scream are all so sad.

"I've known Martin since he was a teenager in Felt. He played keyboards on every album of ours from the first to the last. Finally joining the band in 1991. Martin was a very special character. He had a love and understanding of music on a deep spiritual level. Music meant everything to him. He loved literature and was well read and erudite. An autodidact. A deep thinker, curious about the world and other cultures. Always visiting museums in every city we played or looking for Neolithic stones in remote places. Opinionated and stubborn in his views.

"He could play piano to the level where he was feted not just by his peers in British music, but old school master American musicians such as James Luther Dickinson, Roger Hawkins & David Hood & producer Tom Dowd. I witnessed a session at Abbey Rd in 1997 for a Dr John album where his record company had assembled a bunch of young Indie Brit musicians where Mac Rebenac ( Dr John ) seemed bored and uninterested in the session until Martin started playing, then suddenly the good Dr started knocking some funky piano chops and I instantly knew it was because his ears had pricked up when he heard Martin play and the session at last came alive.

"Martin was the most musically talented of all of us. His style combined elements of country, blues and soul, all of which he had a God given natural feel for. He never played the same thing twice, ever. He was all about 'the moment', better have that 'record' button on when Duffy was on fire. His timing was unique, funky and ALWAYS behind the beat.

"George Clinton also dug Martin. I remember a session in Chicago where George said to him " go to church Duffy!", and he did. Martin was also in possession of a unique wit. He had a swift eye for the absurd, the surreal and the ridiculous. He lived to laugh and play music. He was loved by all of us in the Scream. A beautiful soul. We will miss him."

The news of Duffy's passing was shared by The Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess, a friend and former collaborator, who tweeted "Another tragic loss of a beautiful soul."

Liam Gallagher, a long-time fan of Primal Scream, who were labelmates with Oasis at Creation Records, also took to social media this morning to salute Duffy, tweeting 'RIP DUFFY PRIMAL SCREAM DYA KNOW WHAT I MEAN LG x'

Born in Birmingham on May 18, 1967, Duffy began his professional musical career with another Creation Records act, Felt, joining the indie band in 1985, and quickly becoming central to their sound: the second side of his second album with the band, 1988's The Pictorial Jackson Review, is composed solely of two Duffy instrumentals, Sending Lady Load and Darkest Ending. Having guested on Primal Scream's first two albums, Sonic Flower Groove (1987) and Primal Scream (1989), Duffy joined Bobby Gillespie's band full-time after Felt split in 1989. 

Though Duffy would not receive songwriting credits on a Primal Scream album until 1997's Vanishing Point, his playing was integral to the Glasgow band's evolving sound on their acknowledged masterpiece, 1991's Screamadelica, and it's rootsy, Rolling Stones, gospel and soul-influenced follow-up, 1994's Give Out But Don't Give Up. Chaosmosis, Primal Scream's most recent album, and Duffy's last with the band, was released in 2016.  

Duffy toured and recorded with The Charlatans, following the death of their keyboard player Rob Collins in a road accident in July 1996: he performed with Tim Burgess' band when they supported Oasis at Knebworth the following month. Duffy also played alongside Tim Burgess in indie 'supergroup' The Chavs, and released a solo album, Assorted Promenades, on Burgess’ own record label in 2014. 

The keyboardist also collaborated with the Chemical Brothers, Paul Weller, Beth Orton, Steve Mason and more.

Asian Dub Foundation have also paid tribute to Duffy, writing on Twitter: 'Very sad news, someone we toured with alongside Primal Scream and a fantastic person all round has left us. Brilliant keyboardist Martin Duffy. ADF salute you, thanks for all the good vibes.'

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.