Classic Rock
December 2005 issue (November 2005)

Welcome back ...
XTC's Andy Partridge (left) and Colin Moulding.

Quintessentially English pop rockers XTC are back. Andy Partridge tells us tales of Valium and tramp vomit. Sort of.


Despite being forever identified as one of the most ingenious and pop-literate bands to emerge from the UK new wave scene, XTC's initial incarnation dates back to 1972. Disillusioned with much of the contemporary music scene, 19-year-old Andy Partridge formed a band that drew influences from MC5, The Stooges, New York Dolls and Alice Cooper.

By '75, the Swindon-based core line-up of songwriter Partridge (guitar and vocals), bassist Colin Moulding and drummer Terry Chambers having toyed with the name Helium Kidz, finally settled upon XTC, and crafted a set of short, sharp sonic shocks that led to a 1977 deal with Virgin.

Debut album White Music's blitzkrieg pop attack rapidly seduced the chart before Go 2, Drums And Wires and the hit single-packed Black Sea established XTC as the band most likely to break America. However, soon after their masterful '82 double-set English Settlement hit the UK top five, Andy Partridge announced that the band would never play live again.

In the subsequent 23 years, Partridge and fellow songwriter Moulding have continued to record as XTC, and this month sees the reissue of their latest brace of quirky, quintessentially English recordings, Apple Venus and Wasp Star (alongside demo versions of both), as Apple Box.

Why re-release the Apple Box material now?

It's the only music in 28 years of recording that we've ever owned. We'll never own any of the Virgin catalogue, they have it for perpetuity. But this is the first music that's actually come back to us, it's like our babies have come home. So now's our chance to get it out to people and hope they'll notice it, because when it originally came out there was virtually no promotion. It's a case of second time lucky, hopefully.

Why did you decide to stop touring in 1982?

In five years I never saw a penny from live performance. We were selling out big venues around the world, so clearly something was drastically wrong. Then you start to think, hang on a minute, I'm killing myself every night, losing five pounds of perspiration every night and not seeing a penny. Then throw in a 13-year Valium addiction. I came off 13 years of Valium when I was on the road, and I completely underestimated the cold turkey and horror “Someone threw a bra full of mud at us.” involved in doing that. My life momentarily went out of control, so I had to stop touring, it was killing me.

It's not the most dignified vocation for a gentleman to pursue. Weren't you once pelted with a bra full of mud?

Yeah, that was the best the Swiss could do. We had great things thrown at us: wine bottles, cigarettes, coins, pieces of glass, eggs, funny knitwear, people, but for in Switzerland — home of rock 'n' roll — we got a bra full of mud.

As two autonomous songwriters has there always been competition between you and Colin? Did you, for example, feel a warm glow when your Senses Working Overtime went higher in the charts than his Making Plans for Nigel?

It was more than a warm glow; my crotch was on fire, it was like a tramp had thrown up down the front of me pyjamas.

XTC always exhibited greater complexity than most of your post-punk contemporaries.

We knew four chords as opposed to three. . .  I wouldn't be stupid on purpose; why pretend to be less intelligent and articulate just to be accepted? The pond slime can come up to me; I'm not going down to them.

Unmistakeable echoes of XTC can be heard in bands like Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Chiefs.

Our tribute bands, you mean? Didn't Julian Cope say of Franz Ferdinand: ‘Christ, it's like four Colin Mouldings’? And they look frighteningly like us in about 1979. But good on 'em. If they keep it together they'll eventually find their own voice.

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[Thanks to Robert Mallows]