Reviews of XTC: Chalkhills And Children

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XTC: Chalkhills and Children
The Definitive Biography
by Chris Twomey


Do we really want a book about XTC? Sure, we want a new LP and another refreshingly sensible single, and we want Andy Partridge being smarter and more likeable than the average pop star in the media now and then. But a band biography? And one like this?

XTC would be the first to admit that their story is not the Apocalypse Now of pop. It goes something like this: band forms in Swindon, makes some good neo-punk records, Andy Partridge cracks up and swears off touring forever, band continues to make good records.

It's an amiable but not very inspiring tale, and Chris Twomey remains faithfully uninspired throughout the telling of it. Though there are moments of top period comedy (roadie Steve Warren's diary, January 1977: "I'm sure Andy looks a bit like Johnny Rotten." As if!) Twomey opt for the grim trainspotter's history tour of hotels, recording sessions and gigs in Mooseknob, Ontario. Gripping it isn't.

What hammers the final nail in is that the book seethes with cliche. If you want adept drumming, whimsical concepts, quirky Englishness and a general crateload of wheezing worn-tread rock hackery, then Chalkhills is your thing. Perhaps the XTC book should have been left unwritten.

Andrew Harrison

[Thanks to Simon Sleightholm]


Swindon's finest have been producing quirky, intelligent pop for the past ten albums, a decade and-a-half's work. For their pains they've been largely ignored by the masses in their native land, had apalling managment problems, seen some half-a-million quid of their earnings get stuck to fingers other than their own, and had their sanity nearly destroyed by the endless tour/record/tour treadmill.

This account of their erratic career is factual and workmanlike - but also dull, dull, dull. While Twomey is scrupulously thorough - interviewing family, friends and colleagues - about investigating the band's history (especially their roots), there's very little indication as to what actually stirs the cogs of a true pop eccentric like Andy Partridge.

Though he's described as being "obsessed with American comics" (his first band was named Clark Kent), no further details are forthcoming, and his other well-documented obsessions (military history, toy trains) receive nary a mention.

More sadly, given that Partridge posesses one of the driest wits in rock, there a few examples of anecdotal humour on display here, other than the pre-XTC tale of would-be band member Spud Taylor trying to impress Andy with his home-made synthesizer - a metal box which made a mere two noises (a gurgle or a buzz).

"I was really disappointed," recalls Partridge. "I thought: there's no place in this band for someone with a model of the tomb of Lenin that gurgles."

Peter K Hogan

[Thanks to Simon Sleightholm]

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17 April 2010