Season Cyclers

Issue 7, Spring 1990
by Randy Bookasta and David Howard

1972. Swindon, England, a small town some 75 miles west of London. Three young men, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and Terry Chambers, are preparing for their future, jamming under the banner Star Park, soon to become the Helium Kidz. Playing fast, glitter-pop songs, the Helium Kidz wrote literally "hundreds of songs" and recorded some demos for Decca Records. With the addition of keyboardist Barry Andrews, they became XTC in 1976.

1978 was the year of their debut album, White Music, the musical equivalent of sticking a wet finger in an electrical socket. By 1979, after non-stop touring and the release of their second album, Go 2, Andrews departed, and guitarist Dave Gregory was brought in. Their American debut, Drums and Wires, soon followed, and the rest is history. XTC, through the '80's, continually evolved, developed, and amply provided the listener with something new, challenging and, most importantly, entertaining. Is this the mark of a great band? Yes. Are they the best band of the '80's? We think so.

CONTRAST spoke with the humble, chatty, charismatic Andy Partridge, providing an insightful overview of their impressive career.


Are the three of you still living in Swindon, England?
More or less. I live in old Swindon, Dave lives about a mile away, and Colin lives in a small village right outside of town. He did live right in the middle of town, but he moved out a couple of years ago. We're very close.

Did you all meet there?
Yeah, yeah. I used to go and watch Dave Gregory play in bands before I could even play guitar. I used to go watch him at church, youth clubs, that kind of thing.

What year would this be?
Ah, what year would this be? It would be like '68. I'd be in this youth club, barely in long trousers, and he'd be onstage with a flowery shirt, his mop of hair over his face, holding a huge semi-acoustic guitar trying to whiz his way through these sort of Jimi Hendrix songs. Sort of acid-skiffle. I thought, 'Ah, one day I'll play guitar!' But I didn't think I would be in the same band as this kid on the stage.

So Dave Gregory, in fact, was an early inspiration?
In a way, yes. I was literally not playing guitar at the time. His group at the time was called Pink Warmth. (laughs) Not many people know that.

What kind of town is Swindon?
It's very mundane. It's very dull. It seems to be the apathy center of England because there are a lot of performers and bands that don't go down very well there. Swindonians generally can't get involved in things. They're just very apathetic. I don't know why.

Have you lived there your whole life?
I was born in Molter. [I think that means "Malta" - ed] My mom and dad were from Swindon. He was in the navy over there [Malta], and I lived there for my first three years, and then in Swindon. In a bizarre way, Swindon has produced a lot of people in show business.

Such as?
Oh, Diana Doris, a film star; Justin Hayward, a fellow from the Moody Blues; Rick Davis, the keyboardist from Supertramp. And then there's Desmond Doris, the naturalist, and Gilbert O'Sullivan. It's a very bizarre place. It has no soul whatsoever.

What is it about Swindon that has kept you there?
Initially it was the expression, 'Well, it's cheap.' But it's not cheap anymore. A lot of high-tech industries have now moved there so you have all of the new workers for that stuff, and they live these yuppie lifestyles. Properties have soared through the roof. It's like yup-central now.

When did you start playing the guitar?
I really got into guitar, uh. . . I liked the Beatles and I liked the idea of being in a group. But the idea of learning the guitar scared me off. Then the Monkees came along. I was a little bit older, and I started getting interested in playing guitar. I thought this being in a group thing looks great. You all get to live in one house, you get to come down on a fire pole in the morning, and you can just turn up anywhere with your guitar, plug in, and you sound great.
This sounds highly romantic, I know, but I stole my first guitar from the afterschool youth club. For about two hours in the evening, there was a youth club there, and they had a guitar and an amplifier. A sort of made-in-Singapore-thing, a horrible thing. So I stole it for a few months, played around with it for awhile, and tried to learn the intro to "Last Train to Clarksville," which I still haven't grasped!

Striving to imitate Michael Nesmith. . .
No, I was the Peter Tork. I had the hair, I had the shirt. I bought a Monkees shirt from my mom's postal catalog.

Were any of your family members musicians?
Yeah, my dad tinkered about. He had a flirtation with guitar. Then he gave that up and took up drums, which was interesting.

When did you first become interested in writing?
Right away. I thought this can't be difficult. I don't think I could even make single chords at the time. I used to play single strings, like I'll do eight of these. . .

So you taught yourself?
More or less. My dad taught me four chords or something like that. The rest I just picked up by mocking around music shops. I'd discover things. I'd get LP's and play them, and once every so many months I'd find a couple of notes that were the same as the person playing on the record, and that would set me off. It was very painful and very slow. I didn't go for lessons. There were huge milestones where I had gotten quite proficient, and then I'd buy an LP by somebody and I thought, 'How can they play like that!' Then I'd try to imitate them, and I'd get like them and then I'd buy another record of somebody else and I'd think, 'Oh no, that's so good.'
For a long while I was into the technique side of it. In the early '70s I was into a lot of avant-garde jazz and a lot of technical stuff. I went from the Monkees to having a big binge on this Euro-avant-garde stuff. I got really in deep. Then all of that got blown away when I heard the New York Dolls. I suddenly just wanted to play three chords again and get out my mom's makeup and stuff.

Is it true that Alice Cooper was an early influence?
Oh yeah. All of those glam metal bands. I was just that age. I must've been 18 or something like that.

Well, "I'm Eighteen."
Yeah, all of those bands were coming out. There were the Stooges, the Dolls, Alice Cooper, Pink Fairies. I thought that was wonderful. I had all of these ludicrous clothes made up.

An early form of XTC can be traced to the Helium Kidz. When were they formed?
They came out of the ashes of a jamming group called Star Park, which was myself, Terry Chambers, Colin Moulding, and anyone else we could grab that week. We thought that we should be a serious group and formed the Helium Kidz in '73. It lasted in name up until '75 when we had a reshuffling of ideology and designed ourselves to what we really wanted to play, which was three-minute pop songs that were fast and inventive. We needed a fast inventive name so we changed it to XTC. The other name we had at the top of the list was the Dukes of Stratosphear, but I thought that it was too flowery and people would think we were a psychedelic group. So we invented our own future.

Changing subjects a bit, earlier you mentioned how all of the English like to collect something. You yourself have a hobby of collecting toy soldiers. . .
Oh yeah, I have thousands of them. I started around '79. I used to have a huge American comic collection. We started doing these very long tours, and the house I was living in at the time had a lot of mice, and they ate portions of very rare comic books. It would drive me nuts! I'd come back from tour and there'd be mouse shit all over and corners nibbled off #1 D.C. so-and-so. I didn't know how to keep these comics [ever tried plastic bags? -ed], so I sold them all and had a big halt in collecting. Then I found some metal soldiers in a shop, and it just slammed home to me how I loved toy soldiers as a kid, and I got the collecting bug more strongly and even more permanently.

And mice can't chew them.
Yeah, mice can't chew through them. (laughs and imitates a 'super mouse.')

Any other hobbies?
Not really. Just art things. I like to draw and paint. Actually, there's a firm that makes these war game figures in North England. They're really big fans of the band, and they make a range of figures called the XTRange. What happened was I rang them up for a catalog and a card came with the catalog saying, 'Are you who we think we are?' So I wrote back saying, 'Yes I am, but I'm not interested in any of the historical periods you offer. I'm more interested in the early 1700's.' A few weeks later, this package arrives and it said, 'We're such big fans of the band that you've embarrassed us into action. We've actually made a range of figures from the period and here's some free samples.' So I went and ordered lots more and said 'You should make so and so to go with them' and they did! Every couple of weeks this box would come with these samples! I started designing other ranges for them, like World War I figures, and they would make them up from my drawings.

Something to fall back on.
Well, I didn't make any money. But it's great fun.

So you're married and have a couple of children. . .
Yep. I've been married since '79. I have a beautiful 3-year-old daughter and a equally beautiful, oh I'm sure you're not supposed to say that, but yeah, a beautiful boy. He's 1 and a bit. I should be seeing them tomorrow, hopefully.

You must be a bit homesick.
Oh, violently homesick. Awfully homesick. It's kinda mixed with. . . I've been really depressed lately because we're involved in this ludicrously expensive court case with our ex-manager. It's been going on since '83. He'd been a bit naughty. He misappropriated advances and earnings from shows and stuff to the tune of about a quarter of a million pounds. We're suing to get this back, and it has cost us nearly that much so far. The case hasn't gone to court yet, and we've been told that we don't look to stand to win any money back even if we do win. I've never been so broke in all of my life, and it's a very big worry. You know, with a family, ya gotta feed the kids, pay the mortgage on the house, and all of that shit. It's really weird to be over here and to go out for the evening and have people recognize you on the street and places you go, and I'm starting to get wound up about the whole thing, the fact that I haven't got a fucking penny.

What sort of effect has this had on your writing?
It did have a heavy effect on both Colin and I because we couldn't write anything for ages. it just felt pointless writing anything. No matter how big a seller it might've been, we didn't look about to get any of it because we have such huge bills to pay. For ages I couldn't write anything. I really thought that was it, that Skylarking would be the last one. it got really bad, and I was getting really worried. I wrote a few things and I thought it was shit. Then suddenly loads of stuff started coming out, and it wasn't shit. It was OK. It was just a matter of getting this hard awful smelly bung out of the way and all of this gorgeous, soft, puffy stools of music came flooding out afterwards. it was a strain recording while worrying about all of this legal stuff. It's just making me a bit crazy. I actually did have a bit of a nervous breakdown yesterday. I was pacing around at 4:00 in the morning just yelling and screaming and clawing at myself. For somebody who doesn't take drugs or do crazy things, my sanity is really highly prized. It's just all winding me up too much. I have to get home and try to stick my head in the sand for a while.

Do you usually write on inspiration or do you just sort of wake up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to write a song now?'
Sometimes I try to force something out. Usually it doesn't happen if I force something out. I get something, but it will usually sound filtered and unnatural. I usually have an idea or a title or a feeling that I try to put into words. other times, something will just go pop when I'm walking the dog and I have to run home, singing it to myself, trying not to talk to anyone, running home going 'hm hmm hm.' And I get home and turn the telephone machine on and 'hmhm-hmhm,' you know, get it out quickly and pray that someone doesn't call seconds later and wipes the thing off. Sometimes just a little soap bubble goes pop in my head, and I have to rush to a pencil and paper or the answering machine.

So despite the lack of writing for awhile, you were still able to come up with a double album's worth of material for Oranges and Lemons.
Yeah, it came eventually. There was that horrible time when nothing would happen. It sort of gets worse with each album, and then it seems to cure itself in a grander fashion each time.

For Skylarking, you apparently had quite a few songs that didn't reach vinyl?
Yeah, about 15 or 16 songs. They never made it past the demo/rehearsal stage. In fact, I brought up a couple of them in different forms for Oranges and Lemons, but again they didn't get picked. Maybe it was fate that they wouldn't rise up. They are probably too weak and best left to die.

"Dear God". . .
That wasn't crap. It was just such a big subject and I wanted to write a song specifically about it for ages. When I finished "Dear God" I thought, 'Oh no, this is too hysterical, not pointed enough, not sharp enough, the barbs are a bit too pleasant, and it's too short.' I mean, it's such a huge subject, and I had to try and encapsulate it in three and a half minutes. We finished it and I thought that I hadn't done it yet, that it hasn't said in undiluted enough terms what I wanted to say. People said, 'Oh, this is great. You should put it out.' And we got badgered and badgered, and we decided to put it on the b-side.

How surprised were you when it garnered success in the U.S.?
Very, very surprised. It got a lot of people into the band. It was largely responsible for selling as many copies Skylarking has sold.

And even an MTV video nomination.
Yeah, we were supposed to go, but I chickened out. The whole idea of video awards is really. . . uh! We were quite shocked. It was in three categories: "Best Video With Hedge Hogs" and "Video with the Most Potato Peeling Equipment." I was surprised that they considered us. It was obvious the stuff that was going to win. The media heroes at the time, INXS and Guns and Roses, are just guaranteed to have those things.

It obviously doesn't have much to do with the quality of the video.
Or even, sadly, the music.

After winning their award, that guy from INXS said, "To have a great video you have to have a great song, and we had both!
Hmm. . . I don't think so. I don't like them at all. They remind me of Herman's Hermits - pretty singer, nondescript band, nondescript music.

But no space between his teeth. . .
Just space between his ears!

How did you feel about having "Mermaid Smiled" taken off of Skylarking in place of "Dear God"?
I got backed into a corner on that. They said that we had to take something off to put this one on 'cause of the limitations of vinyl and such. I think I wanted to take off "Dying" and part of me said no, lyrically it's very honest and good, and so "Dying" stayed. So we took off "Mermaid Smiled," which annoyed some people a bit. What annoys me is that you can't get all of the tracks on the CD.

Have you had many complaints about the repackaging of your albums, deleted songs, and so forth?
Some people have had it worse. Oh god, the Beatle combinations that came out and are still coming out, it's enough to make Paul McCartney turn in his gravy. We haven't fared too badly. But I do wish they would ask us.

What are your thoughts on all of the exploitation of John Lennon?
Inevitable. Can you imagine what it would have been like if he hadn't been shot? Would anyone want to see films of John Lennon? No! Would anyone want to read scummy stories of what he's supposedly done? No! I think it's all car crash curiosity. You want to look. With Lennon, because he's been murdered, there's this car crash curiosity. People think, 'Oh, they're dead. Let's go rake it over!'

What did you think of John's solo career?
Very erratic, either really excellent or the duffest you could imagine. Something like Sometime in New York City is just awful. I thought Double Fantasy was duff as well.

You've been on Geffen in the States for a while now. But, for instance, Drums and Wires at one point or another has been issued on three different labels here.
We've been on nearly every label going. Unlike the New York Dolls who couldn't get a label, we've been on every one and thrown off. We've been on Atlantic, Epic, RSO, Geffen now. It looks pretty good with Geffen, although it's a little bit of a sticky situation because we're licensed through them and they have to give up a lot of the royalties to Virgin in England. They want to make as much cash as they can. But this is now our biggest market. I never ever thought Americans would like us. I thought we were just too English to cross the ocean. A lot of bands never translate because of their Englishness, like the Small Faces or the Jam. I thought we were just destined to be in that school.

So do you think that you're more popular in the U.S. now than in England?
Oh, infinitely, England is such a fuddy place. After 20 minutes, you're forgotten about. Just go up to any kid and ask, 'Who is Culture Club?' 'What?' 'Ah, do you remember Adam and the Ants?' 'Oh, piss off dad!' Things come and go in a matter of weeks in England. It's like England's a little dish of water and you drop a pebble in and the ripples go (makes rippling sound), and they're dead. America is like a huge lake, and if you drop a pebble in, the ripples are going for weeks and weeks until they reach the other side, and then they come all the way back in again. It's totally a different thing altogether.

How much pressure have you had from the record company to play live?
Well, they did pressure us at one point. In fact, when we first stopped playing live, they badgered us awfully to play live. They said, 'Oh, you'll be a complete failure.' In England it looked like they were right. Mummer didn't sell any and Big Express sold even less. Dukes of Stratosphear sold five times more! That was really embarrassing in England. And then things started to get even better in America for us. This is by far our biggest market. It sounds horrible, like I'm producing fruit or something.

Those who have seen you live were often surprised at the amount of energy you exerted on stage.
Yeah, me too. We used to fucking kill ourselves. I think it was fear. It was fear manifested in ludicrously high energy music. It was like 1000% whaaahh! All of the songs were run together and it was really uptempo stuff. We killed ourselves. I used to go out and lose pounds and pounds of sweat every night. in the end, it got to me. I was mentally and physically wrecked, and at that point we were seeing no tangible reward. We had actually made, through some fluke, something like 300 pounds from playing live. And we played live non-stop for five years! So we seemed to be doing all of these albums and all of these continuous tours, and there was nothing to show for it. We felt kind of like the great ignored. I think the reason there was nothing to show for it was crooked management and very bad planning about tours.

With that in mind, the possibilities of XTC ever touring again are very unlikely.
Yeah, I've really worked it out of my system. I'd like to say to people to sort of cheer them up or something, 'Yeah, we'll play.' But I don't think so.

Are you often approached to produce other artists?
Yes, a lot. it's something I've done for pocket money in the past. I can make more money producing other people than I can with my own band. I do it if I can combine this need for cash with a band that I'd like to produce. I just couldn't do anything. I've got to like what they do. I hope to produce this Japanese girl named Saeko Suzuki. She's excellent. She plays predominantly keyboards, mostly instrumentals. She's great.

You produced Doctor and the Medics. . .
Ah, yes, a single which I never got paid properly for. They cut my royalties in half. Not them but their rotten record company. That's the Copeland's for you.

Were you happy with the song?
Yeah, quite pleased. But you should have heard it before I got to it. Uh! It wasn't that good. I did Peter Blegvad's The Naked Shakespeare, which was great fun and a very good album. That was on Virgin in England in about '84 or '85. I do like production.

Why don't you produce your own albums?
It's tricky. It's sometimes difficult to wear both hats. It's difficult to be the clown and the ringmaster. To concentrate on performing the songs is one thing and then to think about all of the material as a whole and what all of the musicians are doing is a whole new thing. It's tricky to wear the two hats at once.

XTC are often in costume on your sleeves. Tell us about the Catholic school girl uniforms on Skylarking?
OK, now this is a great mistake because it's not Catholic school girls. Everybody thinks it is. Originally I wanted to have a very close up shot of the public area of a young girl on one side and the pubic area of a young man on the other side, and meadow flowers and things fitted into the hairs. Because the shot was so close and hopefully well photographed, it would be this kind of flowery, fleshy thing and maybe it might click as to what it was. It was sort of like the frolicking in the grass, out in the fields, and Lady Chatterley's Lover. Virgin was very skeptical about the sleeve. I said, 'Let's just try it.' So they did a photo session. They found a girl model who would do it and a male model, so they photographed it, mocked it up into a sleeve with a opening at the top, with two photographs so you could display whichever sex you please, whatever your preference was. They took it around to record stores and said, 'There would be no problem with this sleeve, would there?' And all of these record stores said forget it. We figured it would be even worse in America. You don't see a nipple on the TV in America. You see plenty of nipples being blown off though!
So, at the last minute I changed the cover. I stole this very tasteful print from a classics concert in 1953 done by a chap called Hans Erney [sic]. I changed a few things on the drawing. I think on the original one the boy had a guitar and the girl had a flute, but we gave them both flutes. So it really was a tasteful alternative to the original sleeve, which really would have been suicide to put out. So the intentions did get somewhat dissipated. It would have been nice to have had that as a sleeve, but it would have been sort of foolish.

It's not like you're talking about slashed up women in bondage.
Yeah, like Smell the Glove. I actually did think it was rather tasteful. Some people at Virgin liked it. We had this big meeting where they brought in the load of their staff and said, 'What do you think this is? What do you think about it?' Some of them thought it was quite nice and tasteful and others thought it was disgusting and pornographic. There is a mock-up in existence. I don't have it but I've been meaning to get it, you know, to have this sleeve that never was.

So then, getting back a bit, what are the uniforms?
Oh yeah, right. I thought with a title like Skylarking, which means messing around and having a good time, that it would be great fun to have three really disapproving figures on the back cover. So I ordered three Quaker costumes, and when we turned up at the photo session nobody thought the costumes looked like Quaker costumes. They were like three school girl outfits! So we did the photo session in these kind of school girl outfits, and I thought, 'Oh shit, this has gone horribly wrong!' So we reduced it to a tiny little photo! And people said, 'Oh, that's really enigmatic having that little photograph with you dressed as three girls.' It was just this horrible cock-up! History has a way of bringing out cock-ups.

On the Mummer LP you were wrapped in newspaper. . .
That was another thing. The outside was originally the black and white photo inside. Virgin thought it was stupid because they're trying to sell us and you can't see who we are. This was totally anti towards what record companies wanted with people knowing who you are. I was upset because the whole idea was they were like modern-day mummers. We weren't stars. We were just ordinary people that made music once a year. But they said, 'No, this is stupid. You can't put this on the front cover.' So at the last minute, literally hours before it was supposed to be finished, I said, 'Can you get something that makes the shadows of what we look like inside and just project the shadows on a cloth background.'

The outfits are similar to the Residents.
Yes. I felt a bit difficult about that because I like what the Residents do, and I felt funny that people might say we were copying them. But mummers didn't necessarily wear paper outfits. Paper outfits became popular in Victorian times because it was cheap to make mummer outfits. The idea behind mummers was that you were ordinary people in the town and once a year you got together to do songs and plays that nobody knows the meaning of. They are all kind of birth/death, end of the year/start of the year, and these kinds of mystic songs and plays. Part of the thing with mummer was that the magic was reduced if anybody knew who you were. So I was quite interested in making us rather anonymous, just like these ordinary people who make music and then went back to our normality.

Speaking of being anonymous, were you one of the secret contributors on the Residents' Commercial LP?
I did actually write the Residents some lyrics, which I thought were jolly residential. I posted them to them and became very friendly over awhile. I went to see them at Ralph one day, and they kidnapped me and asked if I would come to their studio and sing a song, a song called "Margaret Freeman." I didn't know how it went or anything. They just stood me in there, gave me the lyrics, and said 'OK.' I said, 'How does it go?' And they said, 'Anyway you want.' So they just turned on the tape, and I think we did it on the first or second take. I just sang something and it sort of fit.

What was the atmosphere like?
It was rather wonderful. They had all of these toys and very bizarre instruments. They showed me the stagecoach guitar, which is a toy guitar about one and a half feet long. The body of it is like a stagecoach. The neck is like the reins, the headstock is where the horses are, and it's got like four nylon strings on it. They have a studio full of stuff like that. I was amazed. I thought, at one point in my philosophy, that the Residents were as big as the Beatles. I thought Duck Stab / Buster and Glen was like their Sgt. Pepper. Wonderful stuff.

Do you and Colin have much different musical preferences outside of the band?
Colin and I don't listen to much music. I think he's a bit weary of modern music. I've been responsible lately for making him discover older sorts of music that I don't think he knew. A couple of years back he got to hear Syd Barrett's solo stuff for the first time, and he really fell for it. Then suddenly "Grass" came out. I'm not demeaning Colin. He is quite easily influenced by things. He gets all enthusiastic about certain styles and it starts showing in his work. There were a couple of things on Skylarking that I did think were in that Syd Barrett vein, like "The Meeting Place" and "Grass" for a start. He and I literally discovered the Beach Boys albums a couple of years back. I had never heard Smiley Smile. I had never heard those things, and we found them together. he bought Pet Sounds awhile back for the first time and became totally converted. [Sad, really - ed] In fact, some of his songs on this record have that influence. There was a song of his we didn't do for Oranges and Lemons called "The Good Things" that's very Beach Boys.

"Season Cycle" (from Skylarking) is kind of Beach Boys.
Yeah, it was. That was a bit naughty. I didn't plan to make "Season Cycle" Beach Boys-ish. in fact, it started out very much like a folk song, very strummy. And just to kind of tie things up, I tried to do some other things going on at the same time, 'cause we're cross-melody maniacs in this band, but I thought it would be fun. Then I thought, 'Shit, this really does sound like the Beach Boys. Yeah, I'll make it sound a bit more like the Beach Boys!' So the vocal arrangement is a little bit Beach Boys. Then when Todd (Rundgren) got to it, he made a couple of subtle changes and sort of got into the spirit of it as well. I think it's nearer to Harpers Bizarre than the Beach Boys personally. Think about it. (starts humming "Feelin' Groovy")


What you are about to read is a guided tour of XTC's entire musical legacy, album by album, era by era, as told by Mr. Partridge. . .


We were young and snotty, and desperate to be remembered. When you're that age and you get a chance to make a record, you think it's going to be your only thing. We tried too hard. I now see it as naked baby photographs. I was like that at on e time, and I'm embarrassed about it now because I'm different now. I'm musically grown up and I'm not like this naked fumbling thing. I can see that it's sort of stylish, but I think it's too mannered. We over-mannerized the style of the music because we were trying too hard to be remembered. Even though it was rather over-styled and over-mannerized, in a way that makes it kind of interesting to me now. I see it as this overly baroque kind of stupid punk energy. But punk energy baroque. It's all very violent and totally un-funk, anti-danceable.

We actually were going to call it Black Music originally. But both our management and the record company thought that was crazy 'cause everyone would think it was a soul album. We said, 'But we want Black Music like black humor.' Black humor is humor that's funny, but it shouldn't be funny. So we want music that's going to be musical but it shouldn't be musical. It's sort of like anti-music, anti-pop music. And they said, 'Well, you can't call it Black Music because people won't buy it thinking it's a soul record.' So someone said, 'Let's call it White Music.' That really was the perfect title. You know, it's like white kids making it and it was like white noise with all of those harsh frequencies and this spegghhhhh! Try spelling that!

GO 2

As soon as we finished White Music, they're like, 'OK, that's brilliant, where's the next one?' That's the second album shock. It's like you've had 10 years to get your first album ready and ten minutes to get your next one ready. We were out touring literally some 300 dates a year. So the songs were being written on odd days off or during spare minutes in dressing rooms. I think the LP sort of sounds like that. I think it sounds grabbed rather quickly. But you can see that the style is coming along slowly.

We were arguing terribly at the time. it was mostly myself and Barry Andrews not getting along because he hadn't written anything, and suddenly he wrote seven songs that were just radically different than White Music. I was just a bit concerned that we had made some sort of mark with White Music and we shouldn't stray too far away with the second one. By the third one, I thought we could maybe open up a little more. But he was headstrong. We all were, and he wanted these brand new songs on the album. We didn't think they were all that good.

GO +

Go + was an experiment that I wanted to do, even with White Music. We did one dub mix with a track from White Music, but then never used it. I wanted to do an experiment so I took the stuff from Go 2 and dubbed it up using dub techniques. It's quite interesting, I think.


Take Away was the next step up. It was not only taking stuff out but putting extra stuff in, like poetry and bits and pieces of noise here and there. Since it was something that I wanted to do, I didn't think it should be called XTC. People would expect a new XTC record and it wasn't. It was purely taking XTC tracks and breaking them all apart. In some cases there are like only 20 percent of the original track left, and the rest is either vocal improvisation or instrumental improvisation. Things like "New Broom" was, in fact, "Making Plans for Nigel." I slowed the tapes down a little so it's a more menacing rhythm, and I electronically treated some of the instruments that were left. I had a poem called "New Broom" that I was interested in working into a song, and I thought that would be a good chance to try it. I just went in and improvised a melody line, without thinking about it, to make it the first pure intention and to just sing the first melody that came into my head with those lyrics. It sort of worked. It has a bit of a menacing aura to it.

The same thing with "Commerciality." It's not really menacing, but it was also a first-take thing. Originally it was a track that never made it onto White Music called "Refrigeration Blues." I dubbed this original track up and I had this poem called "Commerciality." So I just went in there, put the head-phones on, got a mike-level, didn't know what I was going to sing, and just sang the first melody that came to my head. It sort of fitted. It was kind of the urgency or the desperateness of the situation, knowing that you had to force yourself to come out with something.


Barry and I were arguing way too much. Barry wanted his own group, so he left. In fact, I had an inkling that he was thinking of leaving. We were on our first American tour in Boston at the time, and I just sensed that he was going to leave. The only other person that I know that made music was Dave Gregory. He was just in a local band that played pubs, got drunk and had a good time. They did all covers and were called Dean Gaber and the Gaber Deans. They did stuff like old Easybeats numbers and just had fun.

So I rang him up, his brother answered, and I said, 'Look, does he want to be in a group, because I think we might be without a player?' Sure enough, Barry left when we got back to England. We sort of went through this silly half-hearted auditioning of other keyboard players, and they weren't very good. So I thought, 'What are we fucking around for, let's get another guitar player. Let's get Dave in.' So we went through this pretend audition with him. He was in, but he didn't know it. He turned up to the audition very nervous. We said, 'Look, let's try "This Is Pop." And he said, 'Do you want the album version or the single version?' (laughing) We thought, 'Bloody oh, a real musician.' But he was in the band before he even knew.

Tom Dolby did write a lot of letters asking to join at the time. But I thought we'd just got over one balding keyboard player; we don't really need another.

We did have a radical change in direction because of Dave's appearance. There was no more weirdo organ. Barry just walked out of the door with the organ and resigned. That was it. I think that in the English audience's eyes, we'd started again. In so me ways it's sort of true. Drums and Wires is like the first of where XTC are now. I think the songs are a lot better songs. Hopefully the songs have gotten better from album to album. It's something that we had to learn to do, and hopefully we're still on the up. Wrapping up Drums and Wires, I think we were just finding our feet for the first time.

"Making Plans for Nigel" seemed to be your most successful single effort up to that point.
"Making Plans for Nigel" was like our biggest hit to date in England. That was a song Colin had written, and we all thought, 'Hey, this has really got something. He's actually learning to write songs a bit more cohesively.' He was very much in my shadow for the first two albums. He desperately tried to write, and they sort of came out as weird imitations of what I was doing, 'cause he thought that was the thing to do. Like "Crosswires" and "Do What You Do" is fake Andy Partridge. On Go 2 he was sort of getting his own style, and by Drums and Wires he really started to take off as a songwriter.


With Black Sea we were at the very height of touring mania. We were touring all the time, non-stop touring everywhere in the world. It sounds like a really slick, trimmed down, fast, aggressive, written to be played live on stage album. We did play virtually all of those numbers on stage and they sounded like that. It was just two guitars, bass, and drums. That was it and that's how we did it live. That's why this stuff is kept to minimum; overdubs were kept to a minimum on that album. That's just the frame of mind we were in. We were playing live and we didn't want to have any spare baggage of keyboard overdubs or whatever.

I think that the second the thought occurred to me that I didn't want to play live anymore, our music suddenly went. . . Did you ever see the film Summer Holiday with Cliff Richards? The first 10 minutes are in black and white, and then when they get the bus painted they realize they're not at work anymore; they start their holidays, and the film goes from black and white into glorious technicolor. It was like that, the very thought that perhaps we didn't have to tour. Steely Dan gave up touring. The Beatles gave up touring. Brian Wilson gave up touring. And they all suddenly didn't become crap. [Well, the Beatles, anyway - ed] So maybe we don't become crap if we give it up. This very thought happened after all of that Black Sea touring. Then suddenly the music started to get technicolor.


Then along comes English Settlement, which I think is the first technicolor album for us. I want (this article) to go into colored ink now! (pause) OK, I hope I'm in color now. [Sorry! - ed] When the stuff for English Settlement was written, I was thinking to myself that I didn't want to take this stuff out on the road. This stuff was not built for the road. The music was very colorful, lots of instrumentation. And because there was no worry of doing it live, we could try keyboards here and there, and acoustic guitars and stuff. You know, there would be no worry about mike-ing these guitars up because we won't be playing it live. Then the record company and management said, 'OK, time to go out and play it live!' I thought, 'Oh shit!' We really didn't want to do it.

So we did a tour of Europe, and I was just very tired and very mentally against touring. I was going a bit crackers and getting very worn down. I went onstage at this gig feeling super wound up, and I started to black out as we were playing the first number. It really frightened me! Facing these thousands of surging people, live on TV, and I started to black out. It's on film somewhere, but I've never seen it because it would be just too traumatic. Apparently I stopped playing, became very wobbly, s topped singing, and I sort of just chucked the guitar down and ran off the stage. I thought I was going to be violently ill or the world was going black. I just got really upset and thought, 'I know what this is, it's just too much touring.' I was just physically killing myself.

It gets a bit weird now. We canceled a British tour and I said, 'I've gotta go for advice; I'm going crazy.' I thought I was going mad. I had this terrible phobia about being in public. I started going to hypnotism for it, and the hypnotist would take me back through pretend gigs, and I had to try and live all of this anxiety out. And I just sat in my garden like a wreck. I just sat in my garden with an acoustic guitar strumming just gibberish. I couldn't even go to the back garden gate to go out into the street or over to the pub without feeling violently ill. It was the thought of being on display. 'Here he is ladies and gentlemen!' It got like a mania. When I could work up the courage I went out and walked around the shops and stuff, but normally I just stayed indoors. If ever I went to reach for the door knob I felt violently ill and distressed. I'd really start shaking and stuff. It was just this awful feeling of being on display. Umm. . . the hypnotism was very expensive. It sort of helped me relax, but it didn't really help me get over it.


In the meantime I was writing Mummer. I literally sat in the back of my garden with an acoustic guitar on my back because I didn't want to go out into the world. Thus the songs on Mummer were largely introspective kinds of things. It was just largely me sitting in the back garden with an acoustic guitar and a glass of beer. It was a time when I was everybody's enemy in the business, because the record companies thought I'd really fucked it 'cause I said no more touring. 'I don't want to tour. It's driving me crazy. I can't equate all of this physical exertion, and all of this mental wind-up. You know, it's not enjoyable.'

Then we ended up coming to America anyway; we were supposed to do a tour. I said, 'OK, I'll be alright.' And we did one gig in San Diego. I was really wound up. I don't remember much of the gig except this huge fat girl getting up onstage in front of me, looking at me all of the time with love in her eyes. But I didn't enjoy the gig. I thought it was awful. I just played the whole gig with violent stomach pains and I thought, 'This is hell. I don't want to do this.' I literally had to be pushed onto the stage. At the last minute I said, 'I'm not going to go through with this. I'm going back to the hotel. I can't do it!' So they forced me onto the stage, and I did it, and I hated it.

The next night we were supposed to play the Palladium (Hollywood Palladium in L.A.). I did the sound check and I was really wound up, really worried. I remember coming out into the parking lot and there were about half a dozen people saying, "What're ya going to play tonight? Are you going to play 'Roads Girdle the Globe?' We'd love you to play 'Scissor Man.'" And I'm like, (hesitantly) 'Oh, yeah, yeah, sure.' I got back in the hotel room, layed on the bed, and I could not move. I was frozen. It was fear, I could not move. It took me an hour to walk from the Beverly Sunset Hotel up to Ben Frank's coffee shop, which was about 100 yards. I must've looked like one of those down-and-outs on the street who just don't move very fast. (Andy gets off of the sofa and demonstrates.) I was just frozen with fear, and I walked at this kind of speed up the hill, at this down-and-out speed.

It was like an hour before the gig when I got up to the coffee shop. The band had been waiting for me to go onstage, and I said, 'I can't do it.' I had to fake an illness because apparently the promoter was going to break my legs unless I was really ill . And nuttism is not a recognizable form of tangible illness. So I think I went to Cedar Sinai and went into the casualty ward and had to make up an illness. It was awful! There was a black woman having a heart attack next to me and somebody else being wheeled in with bullet wounds, and there I was, scared shitless, just laying there naked except for this green sheet, with this doctor putting his finger up my ass saying, 'Well, what exactly is wrong with you Mr. Partridge?' I needed a medical certificate to show this promoter because our manager said, 'If you don't pretend you're ill we're going to get beaten up.' So I had to go to the hospital and pretend I was ill to get some sort of certificate. The next day Colin and I slunk away quickly.

What illness did they end up putting down?
I can't remember. I think they ended up putting something like shock. I remember Colin and I got on a plane the next day and went to New York and got snowed in. So after that, I just got back to England and just sat in the garden and tried to put Mummer together. In fact, I didn't think we were going to do another album. We just wrote these songs sort of as therapy. It got done despite that, in sort of a weird history. We used Steve Nye because we liked the sound of his engineering on a couple of records I'd heard. He was very anti-electric instruments and anti-synthesizers and things. He spent hours moving the mikes a few fractions of an inch on the drums and things. We did the album with him, and he did the mixes and we felt really depressed that he hadn't mixed it colorfully enough. We kept some of his mixes and went to Phil Thornally and Alex Sadkin to mix the other tracks, the ones that we thought needed a little more technicolor treatment. Actually, when we finished Mummer, it got very expensive, and Virgin still said, 'There are no singles.' We thought, 'Ohhh, what're we gonna do?' I felt so bullied. On literally the afternoon that they told us that on the phone, I sat there and I forced myself to try to write a song that could've been a single. The thing that came out was "Great Fire," which I thought may have made a single. The rhythm was a bit weird because some of it wanted to be in 3/4, and some of it wanted to be in 4/4. I have a chocolate box on my desk that I used to keep letters in and on this chocolate box was old pictures of London and stuff. I began to think about the great fire, and it all came out one afternoon in literally the space of an hour or so. And Virgin said, 'Great! This will make a great single.' I said, 'You're not worried about the rhythm, 3/4 and 4/4?' 'Oh, no, no. Don't worry, it'll be great. But let's get you another producer to try out.' So we went with a fellow called Bob Sargeant and we did "Great Fire" and "Gold" with him, a single and a B-side. It was OK. His production was very unadventurous and the single died without a trace. It wasn't his fault. It was just a bit too perverse to be a single by today's standards. We were getting really low and Virgin was getting really annoyed that we weren't selling cartloads of albums. . .


So, in that spirit, we made one of our better albums for me, although Colin doesn't like it, The Big Express. I think the songs were getting better and I was getting more confident in myself. Colin didn't write very many songs for the album. I think he had a bit of a block. The ones that he wrote, "Wake Up," "I Remember the Sun," and "Washaway," I don't think he thought were his best material. Again we tried "All of You Pretty Girls" and "This World Over" as singles and none of them were successful. Virgin was getting really fed up. They're spending all of this money making these albums and only a few people were buying them. So, with that in mind, they decided to give us one more chance. . .


Virgin said, 'Work with an American. Work with somebody who will have a totally different slant on you.' So we chose Todd Rundgren off of a list of many because he was the only one that we had heard of.

I guess, as you've stated aptly in the past, you didn't really get along with Todd.
Yeah, not really. I think it's all been said. I don't need to go into the fact that he was a bastard!

Were you familiar with the Nazz at all?
No. In fact, I didn't even know he was one of the Nazz until we started the album, and Dave (Gregory) pointed it out.

Were you happy with the album?
In retrospect, yes.

Wasn't Todd mostly responsible for the continuity of the album?
Oh, everything. We sent him 35 songs on cassette, and he called us up and said, 'I got your cassette, thanks. I've picked 14 of them and I've chopped them into order. I think this is how you should play it, and I think this is how the order shout be.' I was quite shocked because he picked all of the ones I thought he wouldn't pick. He picked the quieter ones. He had this idea as this sort of day going by, or a life going by, or some sort of experience from start to finish.

Lyrically there was a lack of political issues, something that you'd usually touched on previously.
Todd didn't want to do that. He expressed a wish not to get involved with my views on things. So consequently the songs that he didn't do, like "The Troubles" and "Terrorism," ended up as home studio demos on the B-side of "The Meeting Place."

How did Skylarking do before "Dear God" caught on?
Reasonably well. And then "Dear God" came along and really topped it off. So people that had never heard of us thought "Dear God" was our first single and that Skylarking was our first album. But that's okay.

Then there's the people that think the Dukes of Stratosphear are this hip new band.
Or where have they been all these years? Why did they miss them in the sixties?


We murdered them! They were all killed off horribly one by one. They choked on their own paisley shirts. It's like Frankenstein's monster getting so big, we just had to kill it. There shouldn't have been two Dukes records. We did the one thing as a joke and as a thank you to all of the bands that made our school days colorful. Then people responded so well to it and kept saying that we should do another one. I resisted and resisted and Dave and Colin said, 'C'mon, let's do another one. It was so much fun.' So we did another one for fun. And again people responded, 'This is great! Do more.' But we mustn't do any more. How far can you stretch one idea? The whole thing is that the Dukes can't go anywhere because they sound like your favorite bands from 1967.

You can take them through the years.
Well, we have contemplated taking them backwards and doing an album when they were just The Dukes and were more of a beat combo. Or they could come forward and they can do a glitter album. They would actually change their name to the Stratosphear Gang and they'd be in heeled shoes and spandex tights. Actually they would probably do all of the Helium Kidz songs, songs from our earlier career.

The Helium Kidz had a lot of songs. They had hundreds of songs, really crass songs. So maybe we should do the Stratosphear Gang plays the greatest hits of the Helium Kidz.


It's sort of the idea that all of the songs could be singles in some sort of bizarre perfect universe. I hate those gaps between records, so again the songs are segued together. I just like the fact that all of those songs are going to live together for ever, so they might as well get some mating done.

The title Oranges and Lemons comes from an English nursery rhyme, all about the sound of London bells or what they say when they ring. It's all about owing money: oranges and lemons and the bells of St. Clemens / when will you pay me said the bells of Old Bailey / when I am rich said the bells of. . . It's like a thing when all of the London bells are supposed to be talking to each other. It (Oranges and Lemons) sort of, in a bizarre way, describes California as well.

Why did you decide to record in Los Angeles?
Initially, because it was cheap. We wanted to do it in the Manor in England, which is about $3,000 a day. We got this place because of Paul's (Fox) connection with the fellow who owns it. We got it for $500 a day. Big difference. So we came here and spent a little more time than we were going to spend and made it a bit more easy going. But we got a bit slow, a bit behind, and ended up spending about the same.

Any likes or dislikes of Los Angeles?
I hate the sunshine. All of that constant sunshine drives me up the wall. I like mysterious weather. I think it rained one day and it was so wonderful. Fog, I like. Fog is a good one. Drizzle, it never drizzles in L.A. I don't like the sun. I'm not a sun worshipper. I never lay out in it. In fact, I'm going back probably lighter than when I came here.

Go back to Chalkhills Articles.

All rights reserved, yadda-yadda-yadda.
[Thanks to John Christensen, Natalie Jacobs, and David W. Millians]