The Dukes of Stratosphear

Issue 4, 1987

In 1985 people seeking the 'weirder' musical experience first came across The Dukes Of Stratosphear in their local record shop. I remember my first encounter with the Dukes debut mini LP 25 O'Clock which hit me full force from the record rack like some kind of dayglo pop art explosion. The sleeve, an amalgam of every psychedelic art style from the Oz 'Blowing In The Mind' Dylan cover to the eye encrusted collage of Creams' 'Disraeli Gears' was almost irresistable and still is. Moreover the music of 25 O'Clock, I discovered, like many others, was just as colourful and as much as an amalgam as the cover. For those who have not heard 25 O'Clock here follows a brief description:

The most obvious and stunning aspect of the LP is the production which is wide and crystal clear. Side one opens up with an Electric Prunes influenced space rocker that materialises from the ticking of some huge clock. Every effect pans between the speakers (try it on headphones!) and the cheerful(!) song is broken by fuzzed out guitar and swirling good old English mellotron which is Pink Floydish but with a very Caravanish edge. Pink Floyd looms tall on the second track 'Bike Ride To The Moon' a tale of cosmic pushbiking with sing along, strum along lyrics and ever-present 'whizz bang' noises. The third track totally fuzzes out as the Dukes proclaim that their 'Love explodes'. This song gives the strongest clue to the true identity of the band which if you did not already know will be revealed shortly. Well side one ends with a firework display (literally) and some maniac shouting down a phone about how bad everything is so far. Side two opens with a great distorted booming piece of psych called 'What in The World?' that contains some great wibbly-wobbly sounds and lyrics much as, '2033 Cannabis in tea, What in The World? Acid is Free, What in The World?' - What in the world indeed! The next track 'Your Gold Dress' crams virtually every 60's UK psych effect into the song. There's Eastern guitar riffs, backwards bits, the obligatory honky-tonk piano, fuzz guitar, demented monk vocals and of course phasing. Phew! In contrast the last track 'Mole From The Ministry' is a pure Beatles pastiche. Imagine a cross between 'Strawberry Fields' and 'I am the Walrus' and you're somewhere near the mark. There's even the fade-out, fade-in plonking chant hit from the end of Strawberry Fields. The lyrical subject of 'Mole From The Ministry' seems political (remember the Belgrano Government Mole Shock Horror Scandal in '85?). Finally as the stylus nears the end of side two lo and behold a backwards message which when deciphered proclaims 'You can fuck your atom bomb!' [sic].

25 O'Clock came and went with rumours abounding as to who was behind the Dukes. Anxious psych heads scoured the live gig listings in the vain hope of finding a small ad that announced the Dukes performing live at some drug ridden seedy dive - but no - 1986 passed and the Dukes had been filed under 'D'. Rumours circulated that they had something to do with XTC and the fact that the Dukes LP was included in the XTC section of a Megapriced superstore in London (beginning with V) confirmed this. It was only this year that it was officially announced that the Dukes of Stratosphear were indeed XTC in disguise lead by discerning Andy Partridge.

The Dukes second LP Psionic Psunspot was released in August of this year and takes the whole concept to its conclusion. However one approaches Psychedelia it cannot be denied that Psunspot captures the essence of the British Psychedelic Sound of 1967. The American sound does also get a slight exposure, but in honesty, only the poppy chart orientated Psych Sound of say The Electric Prunes and some of The Byrds material are included.

Freakbeat asked Andy Partridge, after kindly being invited to his home in deepest Steam engined Swindon, why he decided to make the two Dukes LP's.


Sir John Johns - Andy Partridge - Name taken from a '67 DC comic about a green Martian detective.

Red Curtain - Colin Moulding - Name refers to the previous length of his hair which was like a curtain.

Lord Cornelius Plum - Dave Gregory - Was going to call himself 'US of Arthur' but a 60's group had already done it.

E.I.E.I. OWEN - Ian Gregory - Dave's brother - the non-XTC member.



25 O'Clock - Virgin - Wow 1 1985.

*Psionic Psunspot [sic] - Virgin - VP2440 1987.


CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIRE-BALL - Virgin - Com CD11 1987. (Featuring all of 25 O'Clock and Psionic Psunspot).


The Mole From The Ministry/My Love Explodes - Virgin - VSY982.

*You're A Good Man Albert Brown/Vanishing Girl - Virgin - VS98212 (Also available as a 12" VS98212).

*COLOURED VINYL - First few pressings multicoloured as intended - the remainder went out a muddy purple!

'Well really because I love that kind of music! It's been creeping into XTCs music over the years. Slowly our album tracks have been getting more and more colourful. I really do love that kind of music. It's sort of a nostalgia thing, because I just wasn't old enough to be a hippy. MY parents wouldn't let me grow my hair long. I was still at school and I could see all these older kids who'd been buying all these brilliant albums and going to Jimmy Hendrix gigs and stuff walking past the school wearing all these amazing clothes. This was when I was about 12 or 13. I'd buy singles like 'My White Bicycle' and 'See Emily Play' with what pocket money I had and record vouchers I was given. Then I got hold of a copy of The 'Stones At Their Satanic Majesties Request which is still be fave psych LP by anyone. It totally did me in at that age. I thought, when XTC started years later, wouldn't it be great to do an album or albums in the style of that sort of music, you know, pre-dominantly 45 material, very compact not long rambling stuff but three minute slabs. Eventually we got to the position where we'd made several LP's and I decided it was the right time to pop the question to our record company Virgin. They said 'mmm I don't know, who's going to buy it?' so I said to them 'look if we do it for virtually nothing would you finance it?' and they said yes but only if we could do it for £5000 quid [pounds Sterling]. It's pretty hard these days to make a good quality LP for less than about £10,000-£15,000 but we eventually did 25 0'Clock for £4000 and gave 'em £1000 change! I even did the cover on the kitchen table to cut costs! I copied lots of bits out of books on a copier and drew the heads etc. Virgin put the LP out and it sold pretty well especially in America as an import, in fact it sold embarassingly well 'cos it sold something like 50,000 copies, twice as many as the last XTC album! and it cost nothing! Virgin said to us 'Well you really must do another!' So I said it was a one-off thing and I had done it but then all this mail started arriving saying how brilliant people thought the LP was. People were writing to Virgin asking who the group were. Some people had no idea it was us and some people just thought we knew the Dukes. I wanted the Dukes to be an unknown band so that XTCs past career for good or bad did not affect them. I resisted for two years from doing another LP but Dave (Gregory) and Colin (Moulding) said 'We really should do another one 'cos we really enjoyed it so much' and because I'd been writing these tracks in secret ('Have You Seen Jackie' - left off 25 O'Clock and 'Collideascope') so I said yes.

After listening to one of Dave Gregorys forgeries (a copy of 'Strawberry Fields') Andy went on to explain how the Psionic Psunspot LP was put together:

'Dave is an A1 forger. He's got quite a good library of Psych and he actually still had all the clothes! Like he found in his cupboard a pair of Jumbo cord hipsters from '68, a big wide plastic belt and a floppy felt hat with chain ornaments! It was quite frightening 'cos he turned up at the photo session in all these amazing clothes! Getting back to his forgery, he's got this set of a four track and a few instruments with which he re-creates his fave music, trying to get it as authentic as possible. He does a spooking job sometimes. He gets into the Dukes in a big way like he has to use the right sort of amplifier and he uses his Rickenbacker 12 string or his really old Fenders and stuff connected to an old fuzzbox to get a really ZZZZZZ kind of sound.'

Andy described how the band had spent hours sifting through old records trying to find out how the sounds were obtained. They would listen to first one channel and then the other and on one song they even put a mic by the fuzz pedal to pick up the 'click' of the switch (as heard on the 'Stones 'Satisfaction').

'We did a lot of conscious forgery, musically and vocally. 'Vanishing Girl' is The Hollies (I wanted to add Mellotron but we left it out). 'Have You Seen Jackie' is sort of Pink Floyd/Tomorrow/Keith West and a bit of '2000 Light Years From Home' by the 'Stones (with the backward Autoharp). 'Little Lighthouse' was an XTC number that was put on the shelf because it was too psychy for XTC thus it was an obvious choice. It's about someone who's exceptionally wonderful to be with and it's like something really fantastic is shining out of their head.'

Andy does not see himself doing another Dukes LP or venturing further into psychedelia.

'It's not serious as in 'it's gonna save the world', but what we are serious about is that we do love this sort of music and as I say it's been bubbling to the surface of XTC for a while now. A lot of critics especially in the US say some of the tracks on Skylarking should have been on 25 O'Clock. However I don't think we'll do another Dukes LP. We've said thanks to the bands of that era. We might do a beat thing (Ventures/Shadows) or go forward a bit and change to the Stratosphear Gang with like Flares and glitter! I think the Dukes have done their stuff and said thank you (- twice to The Beatles!)'

And with that the Dukes really make their final statement. There are a few odds and ends for the information maniacs. As far as outtakes are concerned a few do exist, e.g., A ludicrously extended jam called 'Orange Dust' was recorded at about the same time as the XTC English Settlement LP while the talking section of 'My Love Explodes' on 25 O'Clock comes not from a Woody Allen film but from an American radio phone-in chat show. Apparently some Vietnam veteran had just sung a rather obscene and nationally insulting song, so this crank rang up and complained - the whole monologue lasting about 20 minutes!

The Dukes have left us two delightful collages of 67 sounds, which admittedly are not original but all the same evoke the fairytale naïvety that prevailed within the UK charts for good or bad 20 years ago today.

by Richard Allen

Go back to Chalkhills Articles.

[Thanks to Toby Howard]