Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators
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Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators




It's a sad day that one of your true music heroes has passed away. It was just a small message that appeared on social media. "A more gentle, more decent, dedicated warm hearted man never breathed air. RIP Frank Lovece", posted by Alan Bamford into the MELBOURNE LITTLE BANDS group on Facebook. It barely made a ripple on social media.

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators

This sad news will not get any major coverage in the music press but then again Frank never did anything mainstream in his whole musical career. I felt blessed that I had the chance to chat with Frank Lovece backstage on a few rare occasions. He was always softly spoken and a very humble gentleman. I got the feeling he was a bit bemused there were people out there eager to see a wild band he played in when he was still in his boisterous youth.

For me personally, Primitive Calculators were one of those bands that I would never thought I would get to see perform live on stage. I certainly wouldn't believe they would get together to make some vibrant new recordings in Julian Wu's kitchen or appear on stage at a major music festival at Mt Buller.

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators
PHOTO CREDIT: Anthony Cornish

Primitive Calculators comprised of the wild frontman Stuart Grant on vocals and guitar, Dave Light on bass, Denise Rosenberg (later to be known as Denise Hilton) on synth and the mildly mannered Frank Lovece on drum machine and computer operator. They had met in the grim dark suburbs of Springvale in the early 70's but by 1977 they had moved to St Kilda and formed a band called The Moths.

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators

The next year they moved to Fitzroy, changed their band name and set up a series of gigs called The Little Bands nights. Up to ten to twelve hastily formed bands, with such esoteric names like Too Fat To Fit Through The Door, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies, Ronnie and the Rhythm Boys and Thrush & The Cunts, would play ten to fifteen minutes sets. It was a unique little scene. At the time it got little attention but over the years there has been Little Bands tributes as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.


Several lasting musical partnerships were forged in the Little Bands scene such as Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry who went on to achieve international fame as Dead Can Dance, members of The Jetsonnes regrouped to form Hunters & Collectors and the Serious Young Insects later became Boom Crash Opera.

As Stuart Grant states, "We just told everybody we know, why don’t you get a band together? It’s really easy; you can knock up a band in five minutes, and then throw it out the window. The idea just seemed to take off." There was a monthly Little Band nights at the Champion Hotel, Fitzroy and the occasional move to St Kilda and North Melbourne. The Little Bands scene served as the backdrop for the 1986 cult classic film, Dogs In Space starring Michael Hutchence of INXS fame and directed by Richard Lowenstein but more about that later.

Primitive Calculators debut single was released in 1979, featuring the songs 'I Can’t Stop It' and 'Do That Dance'. There was no label on that seven inch vinyl single but it was music that rocked my world. It was only sold at import record stores like Missing Link Records in the city. It was so unique and different from any other recording out there. The artwork was very simplistic. Just a white background with Arial Black font title. Inside was a message that stated: "Frank and Stuart wrote the songs. There is no copyright". A bold statement from a band that would refuse to play any kind of predictable path in the music business. This single has since become a highly collectable classic of Australian post-punk.

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators


In 1979, Primitive Calculators would support Boys Next Door at Hearts in North Carlton but it would be the band's final swan song. This performance was captured live by Alan Bamford and finally released in 1982 as their self titled album. It was raw and exciting and featured two deconstructed covers: Shout (The Isley Brothers) and The Beat Goes On (Sonny and Cher).

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators

Primitive Calculators had an not one but two unexpected comebacks. In 1986, when Dogs In Space movie was being created, Primitive Calculators reformed to appear in the movie and recorded their song 'Pumping Ugly Muscle' for the soundtrack. Another fifteen years later in 2001 when Chapter Music released the pioneering Can’t Stop It! compilation CD of Australian late 70s/early 80s post-punk recordings. That compilation featured 'Pumping Ugly Muscle'.


In 2004, Chapter Music would expand the original self titled album with seven bonus songs. Two years later in 2006, Chapter Music would release a second CD called Primitive Calculators And Friends 1979-82 that had some more Little Band recordings. Some of the bands featured Frank: Take Two and The Egg but the best song was The Take's song 'Summer', which is very similar to the stripped back music of The Native Cats would release decades later.


I really have to thank two people for the third unexpected Primitive Calculators renaissance. Guy Blackman from Chapter Records for re-releasing those two Primitive Calculators CD's and Nick Cave for curating the All Tomorrow's Parties concert at Mt Buller and putting the Primitive Calculators on the bill.

All of a sudden, the band was back together! There was one small warm up gig as part of the Chapter Music 18th Birthday Concert on 4th Jan 2009 at The Tote. They were not even listed on the tour poster but the mystery guest band blew every other act off the stage. With Stuart's snarling vocal rage, I couldn't believe I was finally hearing some of these songs live.

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators

It would only be five days later that they would appear on the main stage at All Tomorrow's Parties in Mt Buller. I vividly remember whizzing past in a chairlift, as the band were setting up on the main stage.

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators

Stuart would interrupt the whole flow of the set by taking a mobile phone call and explain to the caller that his band is playing in front of a thousand people. It was hilarious moment and they were one of the stand out bands of the whole festival.

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators

I would go out of my way to catch as many Primitive Calculators performances as I could. It was great to see them back. In 2015, both Denise and Frank left and they used some of my videos to get funding to do a trip to China, which they documented into a film called Which Way Is China? The band continues on with Stuart and Dave and some new members but it doesn't seem like the real thing anymore. They have evolved but the songs are different. The original four piece had a certain chemistry together. Stuart, Frank, Denise and Dave were a volatile four piece and together on stage, you just had to wait for them to ignite. I want to remember the band that way, with Frank in the darkness of the stage way down the back, with only his face being illuminated by his laptop computer screen that featured his distinctive creepy bat logo.

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators


The last time I saw Frank on stage it was October of 2016 but he was not with the Primitive Calculators but on the grand stage of Hamer Hall with none other than Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance fame. He was a part of a post-Australian sound poetry group called Arf Arf, made up of Frank Lovece, Marisa Stirpe​​ and Michael Buckley. It was a full circle. Frank Lovece....Primitive Calculators.....The Little Bands....Lisa Gerrard with Arf Arf. Now as I reflect back, it all makes perfect sense.

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators

While the leading lady Lisa looked regally upwards singing her unearthly heavenly voice, Arf Arf provided a stark juxtaposition with their inarticulate speechlike yelps and chatterings. That was Frank perfectly to a tee. Always the unexpected. So long friend.

Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators




Tribute to Frank Lovece of Primitive Calculators

UPDATE:
Thank you for all of the people who have sent me kind words about this Tribute to Frank.

I got the band chronology wrong. Frank left before the tour of China in 2015. Denise left after the Chinese tour. Dave left in August 2017, so Stuart is the only remaining original member of the Primitive Calculators.
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