XTC Addresses God!

Graffiti Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 9
August/September, 1987
by Rick McGinnis

There was no small amount of fuss generated by the announcement that XTC would be in Toronto to perform at the CASBYs [Canadian Artists Selected By You], a pop awards show sponsored by local radio station CFNY, one of those former "new wave" outlets that boosted bands like XTC in the aftermath of punk. While the awards usually net international performers for the live segments of each year's show, XTC were quite a surprise.

The band has effectively stopped playing live since English Settlement, the ambitious double album that broke them big in North America. That decision was shrouded in rumor and mystery; leader Andy Partridge was said to be afflicted with a particularly vicious strain of stage fright, and had been rendered a nervous wreck by the intense touring required from a "breaking" act. It was even being said that he was in a wheelchair.

Most of this gossip seems dispelled when, for this interview, Partridge, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory stroll onto the poolside terrace, quite animated and healthy, thank you. Partridge, contrary to expectations, is the most animated of the trio, gazing in amazement at the CN Tower, looming over their downtown hotel. "What use is this?" he chuckles. "It's like a paper spike. God's paper spike".

I take my time before asking just what the band is doing here, and his answer is nothing if not anticlimactic.

By Dave Bidini [of The Rheostatics]

White Music (1978): Although they crossed the waters with the popular seal of British new wave, in the beginning XTC were way more manic than any band in skinny ties. White Music features a sort of comical punk style, and most of the songs were about either insects, beer or Britain. Here, they write their first great song, "This is Pop", and essay "All Along the Watchtower" like Don Knotts singing Bob Dylan.

Go2 / Go+ (1978): More hyperventilating vocals by Andy Partridge. Another great song, "Battery Brides", by bassist Colin Moulding, suggests that maybe, just maybe, XTC will squirm out of their terse and neurotic sound to soften things up a bit. Barry Andrews, keyboardist, quits to join Robert Fripp's League of Gentlemen and later Shriekback. Go+, an album of misshapen versions of songs from Go2, hints at the electro-boom of U.K. bands in the '80s, but XTC remain hitless. Until...

Drums and Wires (1979): Absolute Pop Album No. 1. I remember that everyone in high school had bought a copy, due in part to Steve Lillywhite's inventive yet rock-conscious production and XTC's ability to move intelligently with the times, effectively leaving new wave's shiny suit behind them. Guitarist Dave Gregory, Andrews' replacement, gives the band a newfound togetherness, and "Making Plans For Nigel" races to the top of Canadian pop charts.

Take Away - The Lure of Salvage (1979): Ummmmmmmm, Partridge again... a retarded version of Drums and Wires (U.K. only).

Black Sea / 5 Senses (1980): Here, XTC used a few themes which show up all over their later records, specifically those of war ("Living Through Another Cuba"), British history ("Towers of London") and injustices of the state ("Paper and Iron"). The travel motif, highlighted by the band in nautical equipment on the cover, also makes its debut. 5 Senses is a unique Canadian release that features "Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down", a last, vain attempt to capture commercial success at home.

Waxworks and Beeswax (Singles and B-Sides) (1982): Valuable for its vast range of non-hits and oddities, Waxworks is more than just contract-filler. It neatly wraps up XTC before Partridge's breakdown, winding through early, freakish singles to the latter "Homo Safari" sessions.

English Settlement (1982): Absolute Pop Album No. 2. Using new instruments and producers, XTC further explore the ideas of Black Sea, creating a traditional hue that neatly serves their visions of modern times. "No Thugs In Our House" is as great as anything since "Nigel", and "Runaway" suggests new influences, from Fairport Convention to John Fogerty. Growing out of their seams, XTC go 3 for 3, and while most pop consumers leave them behind for Duran Duran, a legion is formed to preserve this magnificent rock group.

Mummer (1983): Slow and bucolic, this is Drums and Wires' sister album, an epilogue to the acoustic notions of the two previous records. Drummer Terry Chambers leaves to play metal, and most of the songs are either meter-implied or driven with the help of Peter Phipps, who played the original traps on Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll (Part One)". By this time, XTC can't buy a hit; their songs simply fit nowhere in the general rock scheme. But it's OK - they get a contract renewal and we breathe easier.

The Big Express (1984): More songs about seafaring, this time with a beat-box keeping the pace. This is where the third XTC cycle begins; a movement out of images of the farm and back into the real world that was so cleverly interpreted on Drums and Wires. This might be XTC's most humorless album - a sort of no-fun answer to the half-serious question asked on English Settlement. "Wake Up" and "Train Running Low On Soul Coal" sound like perfect, disjointed radio pop, but once again, AM denies them a hit single. Colin Moulding gets philosophy-weird and Andy Partridge sounds depressed; the direction of the band seems blurred. At this point, anything can happen.

Dukes of Stratosphear (1985): And it does. The Dukes lash out and concoct a hilarious, psychedelic haze; a dressed-up send-up of '60s trends revisited. The sitars and chimes sound great, Andy sounds like a clown again, and XTC get back to having a good time. They return to electric music and sophisticated production with a vengeance and the legion goes crazy. The Dukes forge the way to a brighter, better XTC.

Skylarking / Dear God 12" (1986): Absolute Pop Album No. 3. With Todd Rundgren behind the board, XTC produce their warmest, most luscious LP yet, striking out against the minimal nature of pop with wide, sweeping songs of love and nature. "Dear God" stirs the waters of the media for the first time in seven years, as Skylarking zips to No. 1 on campus radio charts around the world. Not since English Settlement has XTC written songs of such beauty and vision, drummer Prairie Prince brings a return to meat and potato rhythms, while Rundgren allows the songs to properly flex their epic intentions. XTC gain in popularity, and the legion sneers.

"They just asked us... It just happened, things just snowballed. They said 'Would you like to go to Canada for a TV show?' and we said 'Well, all right' and that's it. Something to do, you know. And then they said, 'While you're there you can do like a week's worth of press as well'".

As it turned out, things weren't as simple as that. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Partridge said that while he didn't mind being here, he wished the band didn't have to give away an award. The reaction was immediate, from both CFNY and the organizers of the CASBYs. At the awards show, guests found a xeroxed, handwritten note from Partridge apologizing to CFNY and expressing his gratitude for being asked to the show. In the end, though, the band videotaped their lip-synced performance and left before the actual live tapings for the show.

With the luxury of hindsight, then, I don't feel so bad about badgering Partridge on the subject of live performance, after his offhanded downplaying of his band's studio only status.

Dave Gregory, Colin Moulding, Andy Partridge.

"To be brutally frank, it's not totally necessary in these days of film and high saturation bombing", he says. "The media - you can't escape it now!"

Musing over the band's career, Partridge sees the decision to avoid touring as a healthy one, with the band shifting their priorities to the albums only, and subscribing to the Beatles syndrome.

"Up to English Settlement", he explains, "our LPs, I thought, were relatively monochrome. And then they started to get very colorful. And that was because all LPs up till then were really meant to be reproduced live, exactly as you heard 'em, more or less. Around about that time there was a decision not to worry about this too much".

And there you have it, for now. And perhaps for all time, for it doesn't seem like a terrible necessity for XTC to pack themselves into planes and buses and disappoint fans by reminding them that they were never the most charismatic of performers. In fact, Partridge has a point. In these days of aggressive musical marketing through every other channel of media, touring is rarely even financially sound. All that seems necessary is to slip one of your songs into any number of teen-oriented movies. XTC contemporaries the Psychedelic Furs, once pegged for footnote status along with the Only Ones and the Flying Lizards as dimmed lights of the "new wave", owe their current stadium-packing status to one John Hughes, purveyor of teen angst with a soundtrack.

"Funny you should mention that", says Partridge, "'cause John Hughes has asked us to do a track for a film. In fact, we've given him one. They didn't like the mix, they're getting it remixed, and it's going in a new film of his, which I've seen. It's actually a song, which was never finished for Mummer. It doesn't sound like a Mummer song. I think it sounds a bit out of place. It's an OK song. It's called 'Happy Families' and by all accounts, it's going into this movie, but I think they're interested in the Dukes of Stratosphear as well. So I think they might be checking out some Dukes music".


For the sluggards out there, the Dukes are an XTC hobby, a noisy retro tribute to psychedelia and garage music that has its genesis in XTC numbers like "Fly On The Wall" from English Settlement. An outlet for the band's more raucous edge as well as a considerable portion of their sense of humor, the Dukes will be following up their two-year old EP 25 O'Clock with an imminent album, according to Partridge and Moulding.

"It's going to be around 1968 in Dukes time", says Partridge. "There's not so many effects. Actually, they're going through an American phase. They sound much more American now. They sound a bit like the Beach Boys. They sound a bit like the Byrds, and there's one spooky track where you can't tell 'em apart from the Hollies. They're having good fun".

On a more serious note, the band has purposefully stepped into some hot water lately with a song called "Dear God". Rejected from their latest effort, Skylarking, by their producer, Todd Rundgren, the song was initially released as a B-side on the first single, but it was re-inserted into the album on the second pressing. There's already been some protest from the usual fundamentalist groups in the States, and it's to be expected. Partridge sings his disavowal of faith in the almighty in angry, accusing tones. Philosophically, the sentiments are out of the last century, when the first stage of disbelief was accompanied by shock at how injustices could continue to perpetuate themselves if such a being did exist."If there's a God, he's a complete bastard!" chuckles Partridge. "That's it, you've hit the nail on the head. It doesn't make any sense. I'm a bit Dutch. I like things logical.

"I'm largely anti-religion and I think Dave's got a hankering for some kind of religion and I'm not sure where Colin stands". Partridge chuckles again, looks at Moulding, then leans across the table and whispers. "Actually, I think he's got a hankering for religion, too!

"I suppose 'Dear God' is a frustration song. The whole thing with 'Dear God', and I don't know if it worked, is that I tried to present this paradox that if there is someone and it's somebody you could address, you're telling them that you don't believe in their existence".


The restoration of "Dear God" to Skylarking can be seen, in retrospect, as an attempt to regain artistic control over their latest album after a well-publicized row with Rundgren. A veteran famous for pretty, nearly perfect pop gems like "Hello, It's Me" and "Why Can't We Be Friends" from epochal early '70s albums like Somethingl Anything? and Faithless, Rundgren had hit creatively rough times. Working with XTC seemed the perfect antidote: while he could corral their unwieldy song structures, they could curb his tendency toward sappiness. While the strain doesn't seem to show on the gentle, pastoral Skylarking, the split is acknowledged by the group.

"It was like one bunker with two Hitlers in it", says Partridge. "Two people wanting to deliver the baby, one wanting to do it one way and one wanting to do it another way. I really felt rather neutered about the whole thing because he'd been given complete control from the outset... It's obvious that his tastes made the album. That's why things like 'Terrorism' didn't get on it. He couldn't understand 'Find The Fox'. These are songs that he either didn't like the sentiment behind - he thought they were too political, but I don't know what that means - or didn't grasp just what it was they were about... He kind of went for the songs that were his own nature, his own melodic nature. I think that's only one side of us".

And that was it. Partridge and his band were ushered off to offend their hosts in a polite continuation of the punk tradition of biting the hand that feeds, leaving questions unresolved, and leaving us only with hints of the next Dukes platter. Coming to a turntable near you, and that's it.

Go back to Chalkhills Articles.

[Thanks to David Oh]