We've Forgotten Part Four!

From: Stewart Evans <stewart@xxxxxx.xxxxxxx.xx.xx>
To: relph
Subject: interview for the archives
Date: Sat, 23 Mar 1996 23:19:16 -0700 (MST)

Remember when you started this list, way back when, I promised
you this interview I was gonna transcribe?  I finally dug it
out again and finished it!

KFJC-FM, Foothill College
Fall 1987

Stewart Evans: First off, XTC has always released a lot of non-LP B-sides. I was curious why those tracks didn't end up on albums. Are they mostly cut out for length, or because they don't thematically match up with whatever you're doing?

Andy Partridge: Oh, my goodness! Well, it's one of the problems of being such a prolific little devil! Hopefully they generally don't get left off because they're substandard -- in fact, some of the better things that we've done have come out on B-sides. Loads of things can happen, like say for example we do an album, and some of the tracks don't actually get finished -- we intend to, but it gets, like, deadlines, and record companies hurry us up and things like that, 'come on, we want you to finish this track first, c'mon c'mon c'mon', and what happens is some songs actually get sort of shunted back a bit in the time schedule. Usually if we like 'em, we finish 'em up as soon as we can but sometimes it's actually too late to be included on an album. That's one large reason, another large reason is the fact that if we used them all on albums, every one we put out would be a double, which is really guaranteed to make us enemies in the record industry -- they really hate double albums.

SE: I see that the Virgin issues of the earlier albums on CD, a number of them contain a large number of the B-sides as extra tracks -- it sounds like you would be happy with that.

AP: Oh yeah. When they started making CDs of ours, I think the first one they put out was English Settlement, and they actually took a track off that, which annoyed me. And I think as recompense, from then on, they started to include extra tracks, which I'm glad of, because a lot these tracks would disappear into the firmament forever, and people wouldn't get to hear tracks like "Toys" or "Desert Island" or "Smokeless Zone" or tracks like that.

SE: One of the discs contains a song called "Traffic Light Rock", I don't think that's ever appeared anywhere else, has it?

AP: It came out, I think the very first time it came out, possibly the only time...I can think of two instances it come out: it came out as a free gift in an English music paper in 1977, which I don't have a copy of, it came out as a hard disc version; and also it came out on a 10-inch sampler called Guillotine, or (adopts outrageous accent) Geeyo-teen if you're French, and I have a copy of that.

But it's a pretty obscure track, and you could easily miss it, it's so very short -- it's only about one minute thirty seconds long, something like that.

SE: One of your more infamous, or famous, set of B-sides was the "Homo Safari" series. Was that always intended as a series?

AP: No, it snowballed! What happened was, we actually did the instrumental "Homo Safari", and it came out, and everyone said 'what a strange little track, the instrumental on the other side', and we were quite chuffed that people actually noticed it. For some reason, there's a film in existence of us doing a playback to this on Irish television. I don't know if there are any Irish fans out there who happen to have a video recording of this, but it's probably one of the most bizarre instances -- all of us are set on a row of stools playing this inside-out instrumental, "Homo Safari", to one half of the stereo because the TV station botched up the taping thing and there's just one half of the stereo! So we're miming to one half of the stereo of a very strange B-side.

But what happened it, we put that out, and then we actually wrote other instrumentals...maybe they were intended to have lyrics on them later, maybe they were just sketches of ideas that were going to be worked into something different. So the "Homo Safari" series was put together as this cupboard to contain tracks that we didn't know what to do with. They were tracks that didn't seem to fit the feel of XTC, or they were tracks that only myself was on, or me and Colin, or just Colin and Dave or whatever. They were really like lost kids. So the Homo Safari series, the word series was added and then we just grabbed a number -- six -- you know, it felt like a good number -- and it was like this box to put these tracks into that -- we didn't want them go astray and remain homeless and never come out. Kind of like an artistic pebble-bin.

SE: What about the fourth part? That seemed to come out of sequence.

AP: Oh, we actually made a mistake, and put out parts five and six, and someone wrote a letter in and said "what happened to part four, you've forgotten it". And we all sat 'round and slapped our foreheads and said "My goodness, we've forgotten part four"! And it's true, we'd actually jumped and numbered them five and six and we'd forgotten four. Actually four is the weakest one, 'cause that was knocked up very quickly, and that's one of my least favorite things that we've ever done. There's very few things that I would disown of ours, but funny enough part four of the Homo Safari series must be one of the only things.

I think we were embarrassed -- we knocked it up very quickly and embarrassedly. But if you get number 1,2,3,5 and 6, I think they're pretty interesting.

SE: Early on, on your second album you recorded a remixed version of some of the songs, the GO+ EP. Was that influenced by dub reggae, the Scientist/Mad Professor kinds of things?

AP: I thought it was great. I was hearing a lot of black experiments at the time, with reggae, and I could tell -- through my knowledge of what the studio could do -- that they'd been not performed like that, that they'd been specially electronically altered from the master tape later. And I thought that was really exciting, to actually go back to what appears to be a finished thing, a finished work of art or whatever -- art with a capital "F" -- and actually kind of shatter it up and change it into something different, and hopefully equally valid. It's a bit like somebody making a car -- you make a car, say 'there we are, I've put all these parts together, I've made a car. That's what it's intended to be. There it goes. Doesn't it drive lovely.' And then someone else coming along and saying 'Yeah, well I'm going to take a welding device to it and cut it open and I'm going to use some of those parts and I'm going to make a house to live in, make it into something different.' So I thought it was an interesting experiment.

The Go+ EP was the first time that we'd experimented with dub, and later went on to sort of "dub plus additions" with the Take Away/Lure of Salvage. Incidentally, I heard a few years after doing Go+ that someone in New York put a ballet together to that EP. So, if they ever recovered, and give me the address of the hospital where I can send the flowers to...I don't know if anyone ever saw that, but that's what I heard.

SE: To use your own analogy, on Go+ you can still see that it was a car, wheras on Take Away you seem to have gone a little wilder with the welding torch.

AP: Yeah, that had additions too. Basically Go+ was inventively stripping things down, and I intended to carry the same feel of experiments further with Take Away, which was why it was initially called Take Away. But I finished the album and thought, 'I've actually put in as many alternate pieces, like bits of poetry or just improvised...yelling...or noises with guitars and vocals and things...I've put in as many things, I can't really call it Take Away.' So it had the alternate title of The Lure of Salvage, because I was actually adding as many things as I was taking off.

SE: There've been a couple of other pseudonymous projects before the Dukes of Stratosphear...there's a single that Colin put out as The Colonel. Why was that something that couldn't be done as an XTC project?

AP: I know that the track on the other side, we rehearsed it and were about to record it for an album -- that's "I Need Protection". I can't remember which album we rehearsed it for -- it was Drums & Wires or Black Sea. But I think Colin felt that he'd written a song that didn't actually suit what he thought of XTC. He looked in the mirror and the reflection was not quite the perception of himself. So I think he felt that it was legitimate to have an alternate career, and put out this song under somebody else who would have felt comfortable putting that song out. Thus The Colonel was born. The Colonel was actually Colin and Terry with a couple of friends helping out -- I think Colin's dentist played guitar.

SE: A few years later you did a single under the name of the Three Wise Men. Was that the same kind of thing?

AP: Yeah, what happened was I actually wrote a Christmas song. I love Christmas songs and I thought 'I'm gonna write one,' so I squeezed out this Christmas song, and to be truthful, I finished it and thought 'My goodness, XTC shouldn't really do this, because people will think we're just stupid, you know, trying to be stupid on purpose.' Christmas songs -- 50% of the world, or more, think they're really uncool. I think they're really cool, and if I had my way I think Christmas songs would be out all year round, except at Christmas when I think we'd need some time off from them.

I'd written this song, and it was excessively Christmassy. Initially I approached Virgin Records and said "Would you like to sing a Christmas song? We'll do the backing if you can get all the female members of the staff to sing the song en masse, about 50 or so of them, and we'll put it out under the name The Virgin Marys." Because most girls that worked at Virgin seemed to be called Mary, for some reason. And they said "No, you're going to run into a few problems with religious things" so I said "Oh look, well, we'll do it 'cause I'm quite proud of the song," so we put it out under the name The Three Wise Men. There were lots of rumours going around when it came out -- who is it? -- because we covered it up that it was us. There were lots of things going "Oh, it's actually Phil Collins and a couple of members from Japan, and Peter Gabriel's clapping in the background." But it was in fact mundane old XTC, but it was great fun to do. Plus I get to imitate Michael Jackson on the B-side.

SE: There was some speculation of that nature when the 25 O'Clock EP came out.

AP: That's right, yeah, it was the same thing again. The first thing they think of, "Oh, it's on Virgin Records, Phil Collins must be on it." It's like a standard sort of thing. "Oh, yeah, there's Boy George in there, and Phil Collins, yeah."

I wanted the Dukes kept completely secret. I wanted them really to have a legitimate interesting side career. I wanted them to sound like all your favorite music from '67, but you couldn't put your finger on who it really was. But Virgin blew it very quickly, I think they thought [wicked-witch voice] "HAHA! Maximum SALES if we let people KNOW!" I even did some undercover interviews -- I did phone interviews trying to disguise my voice, and I did an interview for the BBC in England in which I agreed only to do the interview if they would electronically alter my voice, and alternate answers would be slowed down [slow voice] sooo I soooounnded liiiike thiiiis and then every other answer was [high voice] sort of high because it was speeded up like this! Virgin blew it very quickly, but I wanted to keep it a sort of fun secret.

SE: It seemed like by this album, they'd given up all hope of that.

AP: No, they've got no sense of what's cool and what's not -- I don't think any record companies have -- and they thought 'oh, yeah, it'll be great, we'll pretend it's someone else again'. I said 'Look, it's not going to wash another time, and I really want people to see it's XTC having a great load of fun and saying thanks to all the bands that made their childhood so interesting.' So there was no attempt to disguise it, I insisted that we completely come out into the open and tell people that we love making music like that, and what's wrong with that as long as you're not a bad person?

SE: Do the Dukes have lives of their own? Do they have characters that you take on, or is it just an alias?

AP: They have some really embarrassing clothes! It's actually quite frightening -- we turned up for a photo session, the only photo session the Dukes did and we did so much stuff that day that there's loads and loads of different sorts of pictures of the Dukes going round. We did this photo session and I hope he's not listening on the line but Dave Gregory turned up and he had the most phenomenal selection of clothes. I said "Did you hire this stuff, or buy it, or...?" It was actually stuff that he'd had as a schoolboy. Y'know, he'd come home from school and he'd put on his jumbo-cord bronze hipsters with the two inch plastic belt. It really sickened me, 'cause he could still get into all this stuff! He got into the clothes thing alarmingly, I want to know whether he's a closet hippie or whatever.

No, they don't have alternate lives...their names were picked for pretty trivial, obscure reasons. Sir John Johns is Sir John Johns for three reasons...or four reasons; okay, here are all four reasons: it's the Sir because the Dukes have to have royal connections, obviously. The John Johns because my middle name is John, and my father's name is John, so that's two Johns. The name John Johns was the name of the DC comics Martian Manhunter in the mid-60's -- extremely psychedelic sort of figure, really, he was a Martian detective and he was green, and I thought that was a pretty groovy character to call yourself after. How many reasons is that? I'm losing track. Is that four reasons?

SE: That's three, I think.

AP: The fourth one is...maybe it was three. I have to get some batteries for this brain of mine. Colin's called the Red Curtain because as a teenager he always had extremely long hair. I think he styled his hair after Dennis Dunaway, the bass player with Alice Cooper's band. He was called "Curtains" because he couldn't see out and you couldn't see in to see his face. He's called "Red Curtain" because it sounds like it could be somebody like Red Buttons or Red Norvo. But "Curtain" because his hair was ludicrously long, and he could sit on it -- or anybody in fact could come along and sit on it, if they wanted to.

Lord Cornelius Plum -- I don't know why Dave chose that name, he'll have to give you his obscure reasons himself. He really wanted to steal the name of the character in an American band from the late 70s. I can't remember the name of the band, but the character in the band called himself U.S. of Arthur, which I thought was a brilliant name. But he couldn't use that, it had already been used, so he called himself Lord Cornelius Plum. And the fourth enigmatic member on the sleeve, and on the drumkit, is Dave's brother Ian, who'se called E.I.E.I. Owen after the famous child's song. So there you go, the end. Okay, next question.

SE: Is there any chance that Ian Gregory will become the drummer for XTC? Are you even looking for a drummer?

AP: He helps us out occasionally, when we get stuck. Record companies will phone up and say 'can you go and mime on a TV show' and Ian says 'Oh please, you must let me come and drum.' So he sort of sits on the stool there and bashes away. But he is a fully fledged Duke, so if the Dukes do anything he is really the fourth Duke.

SE: But not a member of XTC?

AP: No, that's sort of like a parallel universe. XTC have their own universe and they're just three people in that universe, really, and occasionally we descend to planet Nurd and pick up a fourth member. The drummer on Skylarking was Prairie Prince, an excellent drummer and by far a better musician that any of us I feel. The percussionist we picked up there was Mingo Lewis, again another fantastic musician. The drummer on The Big Express was largely Pete Phipps, who was one of the two drummers in Gary Glitter's Glitter Band when he was very young, about 16 or 17. He also drummed on most of Mummer as well. So we sort of pick up people we want to work with along the route.

SE: To talk a little bit about the Psonic Psunspot album, the new one. I'd heard at one point it was going to be called "The Great Royal Jelly Scandal". I think it's a wonderful name, I'm sorry it didn't get used...

AP: Me too, me too. I think we had grander designs. We originally thought that if we did a whole album, it should be like a concept record that didn't have one. Basically, concept albums from the late 60's were just an average bunch of songs, and they'd get some famous actor to come and talk in between the tracks, and they'd write some nonsense for him to say that was apparently, you know, after you've had a couple dozen mushrooms and a sniff of paint sniffer, that was supposed to mean something. We thought well, what we're going to do, we'll get some out of work actor to narrate this stuff. And we'd actually thought about getting the chap who did some of the speech between, in fact did all of the speech between, the tracks on the Small Faces album, psychedelic gem, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. I don't know if you've heard of him, Stanley Unwin...kind of, I don't know what you'd call him, sort of a music hall, vaudeville type character that speaks in this strange nonsense language and whenever he talks it's just in that weird nonsense language. We thought about him and we thought no, it's going to be too obvious. And then we came up with a few other actors' names but they worked out dreadfully expensive, and the whole thing about the Dukes is that Virgin Records doesn't give them any money to fund the project. So we have to keep it really low-budget, low-fi and low-brow.

Getting near the end of the album, we thought, "My goodness, we don't have a concept, we'd better knock something up quick." So over a couple of days I penned all this...stuff that apparently means nothing, but could mean something...you know, awfully paradoxical, etc. etc. And there were a couple of little kids hanging around the studio that were the daughters of the guy who owned the studio, and they'd come and say (little girl voice) "What're you doing?" and we thought: Use Them! Child Labor! Promise them no end of chocolates and things, and force them to go into the recording studio and narrate all these pieces. And then we chopped them up and inserted them between the tracks, so you have this forgery of a concept album, it doesn't actually mean anything. But it sounds like it ought to, just like the records of the time. But the Great Royal Jelly Scandal fell apart, because I didn't have the time or the money to put it together. But you never know, the Dukes in another incarnation might come up with it. We had loads of other titles as well, it was going to be called "Nebular Knobsticks" at one time. Originally it was called "Psonic Psunspot Pstockade" but we knocked the "Pstockade" off of the title.

SE: The overall effect of the narrative bits is very "Alice In Wonderland"-ish, very Lewis Carroll.

AP: (sarcastically) Yes, well spotted! Well, that was a book that serious folks were quoting in '67, and saying how meaningful it was, and I thought it should have something of that flavor. A lot of the imagery in England at that time was Victorian, or Edwardian, garden party, with people led around puffing opium or whatever, and I felt the snatches should have a sort of Lewis Carroll Edwardian nonsense feel.

SE: Are you familiar with the Bonzo Dog Band's Keynsham album?

AP: Reasonably...I caught up with it late, I didn't actually like it when it came out, because I didn't have too much cash. I was a younger man at the time, and not having big jobs and stuff to hold down and have lots of money I was very selective in what records I bought. If there was like one track on an album that I didn't like, I ususally couldn't afford to spend the money. So I got into Keynsham later.

SE: That always seemed to me a classic concept albums that doesn't have a concept.

AP: Doesn't have a concept, yeah. It's all mention of legs and tents and you just have to put it together in your own brain and make a story up.

SE: A couple of songs on the new albums have been particularly cited as sounding like certain other bands.

AP: Oh, yes!

SE: Was there a deliberate tribute attempt?

AP: Absolutely. That was generally the...I hate this expression, but I'm going to use it, because I can't think of another...the raison d'etre. There we are, that's French for 'there is the raisin'. The very being of the Dukes is that they sound unnervingly like other bands that you know, but you can't quite put your finger on it. Umm...well, it's great fun to play spot the influence, you can put tracks on and people will say "Oh, that's so-and-so" so I don't know whether I should give it all away and just tell you who they're supposed to be, or whether you want to play the game for a bit.

SE: I suppose it keeps the mystery up, it'll make people listen more if you don't tell us, so maybe you shouldn't.

AP: Well maybe have a couple, I'll give you the obvious ones that you just can't get wrong. I dunno, maybe you got them wrong, how embarrassing! "You're My Drug" is the Byrds, that's pretty obvious. "Pale and Precious" is the Beach Boys. That was really difficult to do, because Beach Boys vocals are so distinctive to them. When your voice is like a seal barking, which mine is, it's really tricky to make yourself like the Beach Boys. You just have to imagine that your hips are fatter and they're kind of squeezed into those sandy colored slacks, and there you are, lead in bed. "Vanishing Girl"...that's the Hollies, right. The great missing Hollies single or whatever.

SE: I guess we'll just leave everyone guessing on the rest?

AP: Yeah, they can play around with the rest. There's little bits and pieces of bands, but...I suppose to me it's obvious who the tracks are generally supposed to be.

SE: XTC is no longer a touring band, is there any chance that the Dukes will tour?

AP: This is a question that's been asked a lot lately, and I'm afraid there's a a two word answer...sorry, a two letter answer. The first letter is N, and the second letter is A. Na. Not really, because the Dukes are XTC and XTC are the Dukes, and touring just doesn't interest me. Since '82 it hasn't interested me, and I wake up every day and think to myself "Hmm, am I interesting in touring yet?" but it doesn't come along. I think if we were touring, we would have split up ages ago. So no, the Dukes don't plan to tour, and in a way it would be really difficult doing some of that music live because it's things like backwards tape loops of tambourines, or backwards guitars or tape effects and things like that. A little tricky to do live unless you have the Boston Symphonia with you.

SE: Getting away from the Dukes, on the "Meeting Place" 12-inch you put some of your home demos on the flip side. That seems a very bold move to do, to put out something like that...weren't you worried that people might say, "This sounds terrible, this sounds like it was recorded in someone's garage."

AP: Well, they're not far off. It does sound pretty terrible, the quality of the sound's pretty duff. And it was actually recorded in my attic, but there are no cars in there. They were songs that I thought were good enough to come out and should have come out. I mean, Skylarking really should have... here we go again... should have been a double album, because we had 35 songs to do. Unfortunately, poor old Todd Rundgren didn't have that much time to sort them all out, so we just ended up with a single album's worth of recordings. He tended to shy away from songs that I thought were either noisy, or politically a bit spicy maybe, or they were just about things that he didn't quite grasp, like fox hunting.

So I thought they deserved to come out, and the only recordings that we had of them were home demos, four track cassette machine, portastudio recordings of us crouched over our machines, Colin in his young son's bedroom, and me up in the attic crouched over my machine, singing rather quietly so as not to annoy the neighbors too much. But I thought the songs deserved to have a hearing. Yes, you're right, the recordings are ropy, but I still stand by the songs, and I think they should have been on Skylarking.

SE: So it was either that form, or not coming out at all?

AP: Exactly, that was the choice. Either they don't come out or they come out as sketchbook versions.

SE: Given that you have a lot of rougher, noisier songs still left over, can we expect the next XTC album to be more in that direction?

AP: One would have logically thought yes. But by the time that all the material is gathered together, it might be that we don't get to do any of those leftover songs, which is usually the case. And you just think, well, it's like a new toy. I've got a New Song...and it doesn't matter what it sounds like, I prefer this New Song to that song of a year or two years ago which we never quite got to record properly. It's like new things, we're still pretty much kids in our heads and if anyone comes up with a brand new shiny song, we tend to go for that. Right now, in my funny little 4K brain, I'd like to do a bubblegum album. When I mean bubblegum, I mean really simplistic, musically and lyrically, songs that necessarily didn't mean anything too intense. But I know that by the time we come to actually do the album, I'll have changed my mind and might want to do some Swedish fishing ballads. I don't know, it's like your whim, it's how you feel when you start, and then how you feel when you finish the album, and how you feel when it's ready to come out.

SE: I think that may be a major factor in why you have a very loyal audience, kind of a cult following. You do seem to do things a little differently, not follow up with the obvious.

AP: Hmm. I get worried that we repeat ourselves even now...and...can you hear a strange bleating noise down the phone? My dog is asleep under my chair, and he's dreaming, and he's barking in his sleep. He barks in his sleep with his mouth closed, and it comes out sort of like this: Oort! Oort! So if you think there's a seal on the line, it's just my dog Charlie Parker under the chair.

Sorry, I completely forgot what we were talking about! Yes, loyal followers. You're right, they are very loyal, and the most loyal of all seem to be Americans. We seem to be a growing thing in America. The English have ditched us. But then again, things in England move ludicrously quickly, one week you're okay and the next week you're dead, you're gone. But seeing as America's 50 times bigger, or thereabouts, my geography's not that good, everything takes 50 times longer to grow, and then lasts 50 times longer when it's grown, and then takes 50 times longer dying out. So things are really getting good for us in America. It seems like Americans, especially younger Americans, as in students or university-age people, are the most loyal of followers now.

SE: It seems interesting particularly given the fact that your recent stuff has been described as so English, and you've said it's very local...

AP: Yes, it is. I'm sure the English people don't like it because it's too obvious for them. It's like cowboys in America, you've seen one cowboy you've seen them all, but we don't see cowboys over here, so cowboys are really weird and exotic. We're just like a red telephone box to English people. You see red telephone boxes everywhere, oh yeah, they're English telephone boxes. But take a red telephone box and put it down in the middle of...Flared Jeans, Arizona, and it looks really strange.

Go back to Chalkhills Articles.

[Thanks to Stewart Evans]