XTC Resurface with a
Transistor Blast This Fall

ICE Magazine
October 1998
by Scott Wilson

CELEBRATED ENGLISH POPSTERS XTC reemerge from their self-imposed exile in grand fashion on November 17 with a four-CD box set of previously unreleased performances titled Transistor Blast. The TVT Records release was culled from the BBC Radio archives, and features both radio sessions and live performances from the late '70s through the late '80s.

XTC leader Andy Partridge, who assembled the set himself, tells ICE, "We would trundle down to the BBC Studios in London with our little amplifiers and, in a day, recreate more-or-less-live versions of four songs. You would play the track, get maybe one overdub and then sing it, so they were basically shoot-from-the-hip versions. We picked from 11 different sessions that stretched from 1977 to '89".

What follows is a run-through of the 26 songs on the first two discs, the year each was recorded, and comments that Partridge gave ICE about each track.

"Opening Speech" (1979) - "[British DJ] John Peel always used the same piece of music every week to open his show. I think it was called ‘Picking the Blues’ by a blues band called Grinderswitch. We thought we would do a parody of his opening bit, just a piss-take, with me putting on a John Peel voice."

"Life Begins at the Hop" (1979) - "A live version in the studio with a much better rhythm track and the single version had."

"Scarecrow People" (1989) - "[Guitarist] Dave Gregory was in a car crash on the way to London for this session. His amp was all smashed in. The only thing that was undamaged, thankfully, was some funky little Sly & Robbie drum programming he'd done for the sessions. It's always been a favorite song of mine, and this is a pretty immediate version. The funkiness of the programmed drum make it great for inclusion."

"Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her" (1984) - "Really primitive; the first song I ever wrote on keyboard. I think the version on Big Express is slightly better, but this is pretty good."

"Ten Feet Tall" (1979) - "This is the ‘Americanized’ version. Virgin said they really liked the song [the original acoustic version], and they thought it was going to be a great single, except they wanted us to record it electric and faster and that we had to change the structure of it. So we played it a little faster, and got more of a rolling feel, with hopefully the same sort of integrity."

"Garden of Earthly Delights" (1989) - "A pretty good version, although not too different. I thought it had some nice movement to it with the sort of buzzing, pan-pipe guitars."

"Runaways" (1982) - "Stripped down and very live; we were pretty hot from the English Settlement session."

"When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty" (1979) - "The song about my first love. A little more together, in a lot of ways, than the album version."

"I'm Bugged" (1979) - "A ludicrous song; the lyrics don't particularly mean anything. I just loved the phrase ‘I'm Bugged’. This is a very scratchy sounding version, like the amps were being abused."

"Another Satellite" (1987) - "Dave Gregory programmed the little Hammond organ beatbox sound, and he sampled my guitar into a $70 Yamaha sampling synthesizer - a kid's synth. We hadn't played live for some time, so I begged the engineer, with about half an hour to spare, if we could go bang down the backing track and sing to that live, because it was all we could do to sing and play at the same time."

"You're the Wish You Are I Had" (1984) - "A real upside-down little song. I was really happy with this one."

"Cross Wires" (1977) - "From the first session we did. We loved playing this live; it's pretty wild."

"Roads Girdle the Globe" (1979) - "A great little version. It's has a big, monolithic ‘can't-stop-it’ feel. It's from a John Peel session in '79, and I remember him commenting very favorably on it at the time. I think it's better than the Drums and Wires version."


"No Thugs In Our House" (1982) - "I get to do my Johnny Winter impression with big screams. This is rougher than the album version because it was banged out very quickly live, but at least as good as the album version for different reasons."

"One of the Millions" (1989) - "Not too much to say except it's a pretty good version."

"Real By Reel" (1979) - "Live in the studio with cranked-up guitars and lots of stomping along. We used to open our live set with this, because if you could get past that little guitar part with shaking hands, you could get through the rest of the set pretty good."

"The Meeting Place" (1987) - "This was the other good one from '87."

"Meccanic Dancing (Oh We Go!)" (1978) - "A song about kids in England going to dance halls. People would get very drunk and then attempt to dance like robots to stuff like Kraftwerk."

"Poor Skeleton Steps Out" (1989) - "I'm really proud of the stuff I wrote on keyboards. I know what I'm doing on guitar - sort of - but I haven't got the faintest clue when I sit at a piano, so anything that comes out is delightfully terrible. This was from the car-smash session in '89. Maybe we were all amped up after the crash."

"Into the Atom Age" (1977) - "I intended for this to sound very fast and futuristic, and for some reason everyone says it sounds like Rush."

"The Rhythm" (1978) - "Not a bad little tune. I don't know what the hell it's about - he [bassist Colin Moulding] never did tell me. I do enjoy playing it, though."

"This World Over" (1984) - "Very, very similar to the album version."

"Snowman" (1982) - "We'd been playing this for years before we put it on English Settlement, so it was very well oiled. I thought this had more fire vocally, and a groovier rhythm track, than the album version."

"Dance Band" (1977) - "A ludicrous little song - the first that Colin ever wrote."

"Making Plans for Nigel" (1979) - "It's basically live except for overdubbed ‘explosion’ noises and bits and pieces of keyboards. This is how it used to sound live. Colin thinks it's a better version than the single."

"Jason and the Argonauts" (1982) - "You were supposed to get lost in the hypnosis of the middle section, in the mechanical repetitiveness of it. In this particular take though, we reined it in and didn't get lost."

The third disc of Transistor Blast is from the Hammersmith Palais in 1980, which Partridge describes as "one of those ‘last gig of the tour’ kind of things, or penultimate gig of the tour, and it was one of those good nights that really clicked."

The complete track list: "Life Begins at the Hop", "Burning with Optimism's Flames", "Love at First Sight", "Respectable Street", "No Language in Our Lungs", "This is Pop", "Scissor Man", "Towers of London", "Battery Brides", "Living Through Another Cuba", "Generals and Majors", "Making Plans for Nigel" and "Jason and the Argonauts" [sic, actually it's "Are You Receiving Me?"].

Partridge says the fourth disc is "the best of two BBC In-Concert sessions which constituted going into this dinky little Edwardian theater in London under rather antiseptic conditions. They bring in a small audience, it's mid-afternoon, all the house lights are on and you don't have the usual stuff to hide behind. It made it weirder because you were concentrating on the millions listening at home, not so much on the 300 or so in the auditorium."

The complete track list: "Radios in Motion", "Cross Wires", "Statue of Liberty", "The Rhythm", "I'll Set Myself on Fire", "New Town Animal in a Furnished Cage", "All Along the Watchtower", "Beatown", "This Is Pop", "Dance Band", and "Neon Shuffle".

Partridge says the packaging on Transistor Blast is going to resemble - yes, a transistor radio, and that he and Moulding contributed to the set's liner notes. "It was all sort of like an exorcism", he adds, "in that I've been able to go back and forgive myself for a lot of things, and can look at my younger years more favorably now."

Go back to Chalkhills Articles.

Copyright 1998, ICE Magazine. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.