Aware Paints XTC

Aware, A Rock Music Research Journal
No. 8, Winter 1981-82
by David Dasch

The drums assault the off beat, the music jolts one moment, races the next, the lyrics flash with playful wit, and the vocals either hop with the melody or get shot out of a cannon. This is XTC, and somehow it all works -- with a passion.

XTC is one of the most distinctive bands to emerge in the last few years. On vinyl since 1977, the core of the group we know today was molded in 1973 in Swindon, England, by locals Andy Partridge (guitar, vocals), Colin Moulding (bass, vocals), and Terry Chambers (drums). They've been joined by a conveyor belt of fourth members in the past eight years, including keyboardist Barry Andrews, who played on their first releases, and guitarist Dave Gregory, who came aboard early in 1979 when Barry left after the second album had been recorded. Before he got the XTC call, Dave had been in the local Swindon bands The Alehouse, and Dean Gabber and the Gabberdines (there are tapes floating around of the latter conglomeration).

In April of this year we had the opportunity to chat with XTC, and as the conversation started perking, the subject turned to the great wealth of original material composed since the band's formation. Some of the early titles suggest pure XTC, and we decided to bring all the early works to light in a discography with enough detail to satisfy even the most possessed of anal compulsives. Strange trivia of the group's recorded history is also included in this mega-discography. The band's members warmed to the exhuming of the information (even though when we walked in, at the end of another interview, Andy was holding a "Do Not Disturb" sign in front of his face), and perhaps in wading through the discography the reader will garner a hint of the fun we all had in piecing these (sometimes ridiculously) obscure facts together.

X-plaining XTC (Part 1)

(Based on an interview by Steve Kolanjian and David Dasch.)

3D-EP: Science Friction; b/w She's So Square; Dance Band; Goodnight, Sucker. "Science Friction" features a sound made by a filing cabinet in Abbey Road Studios. The short finale, "Goodnight, Sucker" is an impromptu duet featuring Barry's celeste and Terry's vocal, and is listed neither on the cover nor the label. All tracks are non-LP. Promo films were made for the first three tracks on the 3D-EP.

Presented Free By Record Mirror: This is not what it it seems to be. Although it was given away by Record Mirror, it is not a flexi-disc. It is a regularly pressed 45 RPM EP with the standard blue Virgin labels. Also, the version of "Traffic Light Rock" included here is not the studio track that appears later on the 10" Guillotine sampler. What we have here is a live performance of the tune from an early concert. The other tracks on the EP are taken from Virgin LP's released before White Music, so this issue was probably in circulation before that LP as well. Surely, this is the rarest XTC disc. Issued without a picture sleeve.

White Music: The LP was originally to be tagged Black Music, but this name was rejected by record company execs who thought the title would suggest a blues or soul album. "All Along the Watchtower" was recorded live (in the Manor studio). The odd keyboard sounds on "I'm Bugged" were made by two roadies who had no idea how to play a keyboard. Outtakes include "Refrigeration Blues" (unfinished, later used in "Commerciality (Signal Ad)" on the Take Away / The Lure of Salvage LP), "Let's Have Fun", "Heatwave" (later released on a single), "Fireball XL-5" (theme from the marionette TV series of the same name -- at one time in XTC's live repertoire), and "Traffic Light Rock" (later to appear on the sampler LP Guillotine).

Guillotine: a 10" Virgin sampler, comprised mostly of songs from singles. "Traffic Light Rock", an outtake from White Music, is unavailable elsewhere.

Go 2: The album was originally to be called Strong and Silent, but the band came to prefer Go 2 (their second go at an album). The Brian in "Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian)" is Brian Eno. The song "sounded like something Brian would do", explained Andy. The phrase "Battery Brides" plays on "battery chickens", chickens that are bred only for reproduction. Listen closely for a short quote of "The Wedding March" and Andy's whispering "Here come the brides" during the finale. The greenhouse of "Life is Good in the Greenhouse" is down the block from the Abbey Road studio where the LP was recorded. On the cover of the Beatles' Abbey Road album, the greenhouse is just out of view on the left. "My Weapon" and "Super-Tuff" are Barry Andrews' only contributions to XTC's vinyl history [Ed: excluding "Goodnight, Sucker"]. Outtakes include "Looking for Footprints", "Sargasso Bar", (a Barry song later rerecorded for his solo EP Town and Country), "Strange Tales, Strange Tails" (this Andy tune eventually turned up on the flip of the "Respectable Street" 45), "Things Fall to Bits" (a Barry song for which Andy wrote the oriental riff that was ultimately employed in "Millions" on the Drums and Wires LP. Barry objected to the riff, a point of contention that fostered Barry's role in the band falling to bits), and "Us Being Us" (another Barry song).

GO+: These tracks are dub version of songs on Go 2, respectively "Meccanik Dancing (Oh We Go!)", "Jumping in Gomorrah", "Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian)", "I Am the Audience", and "The Rhythm". In dub technique, the original tape is reprocessed through the mixing board, with some elements altered, some removed, and some new ones added. "We Kill the Beast" features the sound (inadvertently recorded) of a tape of another piece rewinding. GO+ was initially issued with Go 2 in Britain (and perhaps elsewhere), the LP and EP wrapped in a poster and all three items in a plastic bag. Later, there were sold individually by record dealers in the US.

Barry Andrews departs XTC at this point, leaving primarily because he felt his compositions weren't being given a fair portion of the spotlight. Curiously, as Andy pointed out, since his break with XTC, for the most part, Barry has played on other people's records.

Compositions, 1973-1976

During the period of 1973 to 1976 the band played under the names Helium Kidz, Skyscraper, Star Park, and Snakes. Too proud to perform more than a handful of cover versions, the group was writing from the start. As Skyscraper they recorded material for Pye Records, and some of the songs on this first list might have been put down on the Pye tapes. The names Star Park and Snakes were short term affairs. "We were Star Park for a week", quipped Andy. What about Snakes? "For a day", answered Colin.

  Adrenaline                            My Baby Was A Reptile
  Boogie Woogie City                    Neon Shuffle (Metal Version)
  Bus Station Bully                     Phaser Force
  Cafe                                  Real Teenager
  Don't Anger The Snakes                Robotic Romance
  I Really Feel Mean With My            Rock 'n Roll Road (From 1973)
      Leather Jacket On                 Something Simple, Something
  I'm From Outer Space -- Baby              Swift
      Smash My Face                     South Side Taxi Ride
  I'm In Love With The Hurt             Take An Elevator
  Just A Message To A Sleepwalker       What The Hell Do You Want?
  Little Gold Roller                    Yabber Yabber Yabber

"Don't Anger the Snakes" tells of the ups and downs of "a frustrated penis", recalled Andy. His "Just A Message To A Sleepwalker" was inspired by the 1919 Fritz Lang film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Andy was to return to the subject of sleepwalking in 1979 with "The Somnambulist".

The 1975 Decca Recordings by The Helium Kidz

In 1975 the Helium Kidz recorded these seven songs for Decca Records:

  Do You Really                         Shark In The Pool
  I'm The Alligator On Your Block       She Fell In Love With A
  It's About Time We Had Some               Detective
      Rock And Roll                     Teenage Planet
  Saturn Boy

"It's About Time We Had Some Rock And Roll" was a hard-rocker, the memory of which prompted Colin to gesticulate wildly in an attempt to recreate the song's fury. "She Fell In Love With A Detective" was originally called "Private Eye."

The 1976 Sun Recordings

Early in 1976 the group recorded seven songs for Sun, all but one of which later surfaced on Virgin releases. At this point, the keyboard player was Johnny Perkins, who left the band in December of that year. He went on to join Stadium Dogs, who issued records on the Audiogenic and Magnet labels.

  Hang On To The Night                  Science Friction
  Neon Shuffle                          She's So Square
  Quicksilver                           Spinning Top
  Refrigeration Blues

"Quicksilver" remains the only unreleased song of this group. "Refrigeration Blues" was later rerecorded during the sessions for the White Music LP, but was left unfinished at that time. Andy took the second version and adapted it for "Commerciality (Signal Ad)" on the Take Away / The Lure of Salvage LP, released by Mr. Partridge in 1980.

Sometime in 1976 the band distributed handouts describing their music as "ant music", a term coined by Andy. This tag was later picked up by Stuart Goddard, who eventually became Adam of Adam And The Ants. Andy was also responsible for naming the Talking Heads' LP More Songs About Buildings And Food.

The CBS Sessions

With Barry Andrews on keyboards, in January of 1977 the group recorded songs in two sessions for CBS records. The first session included:

  Monkey Woman                          Tired Of Waiting For You
  Science Friction

The band wasn't sure in which session, the first or the second, "Science Friction" was recorded. "Tired Of Waiting For You" is the Kinks classic. The second session featured:

  Saturn Boy                            Star Park
  She's So Square                       Statue Of Liberty

"Star Park" is a "spacey ballad" named for one of the group's own monikers.

By the fall of 1977, the band signed with Virgin Records, and in November their first record was released. Andy had flirted with the idea of calling the band "The Dukes of Stratosphere", but by the time the first record came out, he had settled on "XTC" for its distinctive sound and high visibility.

(to be continued . . .)

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