Tracy Pew
A 23-year-old man stands akimbo, facing forward. He wears a black cowboy hat, sleeveless t-shirt, leather pants, a band on his left wrist and pointed shoes. He has a moustache and has tattoos on his upper arms. He is in front of a sign/art work which is mostly obscured but with a chequered flag, bones and the letters D and E visible. To his left and behind him is another man partly cut off at the edge of the image.
Background information
Birth nameTracy Franklin Pew
Born(1957-12-19)19 December 1957
OriginMelbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died7 November 1986(1986-11-07) (aged 28)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
GenresRock and roll, post-punk
Instrument(s)Bass, double bass, wind, clarinet
Years active1975–1986
LabelsMushroom, Missing Link

Tracy Franklin Pew (19 December 1957 – 7 November 1986) was an Australian musician, and bassist for The Birthday Party. He was later a member of The Saints, and worked with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

As a member of the Birthday Party, Pew became associated with their "prodigious consumption of drugs and alcohol". In 1982, he was imprisoned for ten weeks in HM Prison Won Wron on charges relating to driving under the influence of alcohol. He died on 7 November 1986 of a brain haemorrhage, after sustaining head injuries during an epileptic seizure; he was aged 28.


Main article: The Birthday Party (band)

Tracy Franklin Pew was born on 19 December 1957 in Australia;[1] he moved with his family to New Zealand in 1959, but they returned in May 1964. From 1972, he attended Caulfield Grammar School in Melbourne. He lived in Mount Waverley and learned to play bass from his friend, Chris Walsh.[2]

Pew joined a rock band, The Boys Next Door, in 1975; it included his schoolfriends Nick Cave on vocals, Mick Harvey on guitar and Phill Calvert on drums.[3][4] In May 1978, they provided three tracks for the Suicide Records compilation by various artists, Lethal Weapons, including two tracks each by Teenage Radio Stars and JAB.[5][6] The Boys Next Door added Rowland S. Howard on guitar in December 1978; in April 1979, they issued their debut album Door, Door on Mushroom Records.[4] In October that year they released a shared single, "Scatterbrain", backed with "Early Morning Brain (It's Not Quite the Same as Sobriety)" by alternative rockers Models.[7][8]

The Boys Next Door and Models were "the first Melbourne bands to rise out of the ashes of that city's hothouse punk/new wave explosion of the late 1970s with a clear vision and wider appeal. While The Birthday Party was hell-bent on kicking down the established parameters of rock music, Models were more clearly pop-oriented".[7]

Move to London

In February 1980, The Boys Next Door renamed themselves The Birthday Party and relocated to London.[4] Rowland S. Howard recalls, "About the time of Hee Haw we decided to move to London ... we got very little press and our audience had reached a plateau. There was nowhere we could go. So we figured we had to go somewhere that, by virtue of population, there was more people that would be interested in seeing a band that was not a commercial proposition." In November that year they returned to Australia, released their debut album Prayers on Fire in April 1981, and were back in London by August.[3][4] Pew wrote a track, "The Plague", for Prayers on Fire, but it did not make the cut; it later appeared on Drunk on the Pope's Blood (1991).[9] The Birthday Party returned to the Crystal Ballroom. Ashley Crawford recalls "the only one who looked part of a more-or-less traditional rock'n'roll band was Tracy Pew, inevitably resplendent in fishnet singlet and ten-gallon Stetson, wielding a bass guitar like an AK47 and known to occasionally stuff his head into the centre of the bass drum as he flailed at his bass guitar".[10]

On 16 February 1982, Pew was imprisoned on charges relating to driving under the influence of alcohol and a series of accumulated fines; he was sentenced to ten weeks in HM Prison Won Wron, a minimum security prison farm near Yarram.[3][11] In Rowland S. Howard's words, "I'd been in quite a few trips with Tracy where somewhere along the journey you'd find out the car was stolen. I remember we were driving around Melbourne and there were all these kids' pictures floating around in the back seat. He'd stolen some poor primary school teacher's car." During Pew's stretch at Won Wron, he was temporarily replaced in the band by Chris Walsh (of The Moodists) for the band's subsequent Melbourne shows, and Barry Adamson (of Magazine) and Harry Howard (Rowland's brother) for their UK shows. Pew returned to the band after his release with a gig in Hammersmith on 26 May 1982.[3][12] In August the group relocated to Berlin.[3]

According to rock music historian Ian McFarlane, "Rivalries within the group had intensified, and the prodigious consumption of drugs and alcohol by various members began to undermine any sense of unity. Matters came to a head when Harvey refused to undertake a tour of Australia at the end of May 1983".[3] Gerald Houghton found the group "was a jolly adventure in drugs, alcohol, and more drugs and even more alcohol. Here if you want them are the king-size fuck-ups of guitarist Roland S. Howard, Cave and particularly leather-trousered bassist Tracy Pew. Stories are rampant about the congenial, erudite Pew's excesses, of OD-ing offstage and collapsing on".[13] Howard recalls that they had "spent the last 4 years not really making any money, living in each others' pockets, homeless. We just need to take a ... breath!"

Return to Melbourne

The Birthday Party played their last gig on 9 June 1983,[3] although early in 1984 Pew briefly played bass for Nick Cave – Man or Myth?, the forerunner of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, on a live tour.[14] Pew returned to Melbourne to study literature and philosophy at Monash University.[3] In mid-1984, singer-songwriter Chris Bailey asked Pew to join a touring line-up of his punk band The Saints, alongside Chris Burnham on guitar and Ian Shedden on drums.[15] Former Saints' member Ed Kuepper agreed to return and toured with the band, replacing Pew on bass, but left after several weeks due to old conflicts resurfacing.[15][16] Pew contributed to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' album of cover versions, Kicking Against the Pricks (August 1986), and performed on Lydia Lunch's concept album Honeymoon in Red (1987).[14]

During his musical career, Pew was credited with playing bass guitar, double bass, wind, and clarinet.[17] He received songwriting credits for "She's Hit" on Junkyard (May 1982), "Sonny's Burning" on The Bad Seed (October 1982) and "Swampland" on Mutiny (1983).[17][18]

Personal life and death

According to Gina Riley, comedian from TV series Kath & Kim, Pew dated her in 1976. In April 2009, Riley recalled the relationship on the musical quiz show Spicks and Specks.[19] Pew was prone to epileptic seizures, at times exacerbated by heavy drug use, although he had cleaned up by the mid-1980s. In late 1986, he experienced a fit whilst in his bath, resulting in head injuries so severe he died days later, on 7 November 1986, from a brain haemorrhage.[14][20] He was 28 years old.


  • McFarlane, Ian (1999). "Whammo Homepage". Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-072-1. Archived from the original on 5 April 2004. Retrieved 9 May 2012. Note: Archived [on-line] copy has limited functionality
  1. ^ Simmonds, Jeremy (2008). The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. p. 215. ISBN 978-1-55652-754-8.
  2. ^ Welberry, Karen; Dalziell, Tanya (1 May 2009). Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave. Ashgate. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-7546-6395-9. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h McFarlane, 'The Birthday Party' entry at the Wayback Machine (archived 9 August 2004). Archived from the original on 9 August 2004. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d Nimmervoll, Ed. "Boys Next Door / Birthday Party". Howlspace – The Living History of Our Music (Ed Nimmervoll). White Room Electronic Publishing Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on 26 July 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  5. ^ Nichols, David (22 October 2007). "Lethal Weapons 30 Years On – The Characters and True Stories Behind Lethal Weapons, the Just-Reissued Australian Punk Compilation from 1978". Mess+Noise. Sound Alliance. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
  6. ^ Honeysuckle, T J (4 October 2007). "Suicide by Lethal Weapon? Corporate LP in Punk Clothing Still Prompts Debate, 30 Years On". I-94 Bar. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
  7. ^ a b McFarlane, "'Models' entry". Archived from the original on 4 June 2004. Retrieved 4 June 2004.. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  8. ^ "Australian Rock by Memorable TV L to M". Memorable TV. Archived from the original on 17 October 2008. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  9. ^ Glass, Keith (1991). Drunk on the Pope's Blood (Media notes). The Birthday Party. Missing Link Records. LINK 29 CD. Retrieved 9 May 2012. 'The Plague' (Pew) Control. A Tracy Pew composition, left over from Prayers sessions.
  10. ^ Crawford, Ashley (2009). "Ballroom Mayhem". Everyone's a Critic. Melbourne International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 31 August 2009. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
  11. ^ "Long Way to the Top: Timeline". Long Way to the Top. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). 1996. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  12. ^ "From the Archives: The Birthday Party Chronology". Retrieved 30 October 2006.
  13. ^ Houghton, Gerald (1994). "Bad Seed: The Biography of Nick Cave – Book Review". The Edge. David Clark. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  14. ^ a b c McFarlane, 'Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' entry at the Wayback Machine (archived 3 August 2004). Archived from the original on 3 August 2004. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  15. ^ a b McFarlane, 'Chris Bailey' entry at the Wayback Machine (archived 19 April 2004). Archived from the original on 19 April 2004. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  16. ^ Kingsmill, Richard (30 November 2000). "The J Files: The Saints". Triple J Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
  17. ^ a b "Tracy Pew". AllMusic. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  18. ^ "'She's Hit' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 9 May 2012. Note: For other titles select 'Search again' and enter song titles as: Sonnys Burning or Swampland.
  19. ^ Riley, Gina (22 April 2009). "Episode 13". Spicks and Specks. Season 5. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). ABC TV.
  20. ^ Walker, Clinton (1996). Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music 1977–1991. Sydney: Pan Macmillan. pp. 101, 105, 196. ISBN 0-7329-0883-3. On 7 November, the Bad Seeds received bad news. I got a call too, from someone in Melbourne. Tracy Pew had died, of complications arising from his worsening epilepsy.