Interview with XTC

Issue 1, Spring 1982

Limelight: When did you write your first song or poem?

Colin: I've never written a poem. (I'll have to have a go in the future.) Wrote my first song about a year before the first album came out. It was terrible. It was called "I Can't Last Another Day" (arf, arf). It was a real sickly love song. I'm glad there's no evidence of it on any of the albums.

Limelight: How do you feel about the music that XTC is playing at any one time?

Colin: Our music is basically made up of four personalities. The music will always be dependant on what these people are going through at any one particular time.

I thought that we were at possibly our most creative after Barry left. I felt that we were a bit roped in to begin with, because we were a very naïve group from Swindon. But after the second album we began to find our musical feet. I think it's gone from strength to strength. Just pray the next album sells millions.

Limelight: Does your past material inspire you to do more?

Colin: Past music does inspire me to do more because of the successes we've had. "Making Plans For Nigel" inspired me to write other things. If I kept on having flop after flop, I'd probably think that there was something amiss and give up. It's the success that prompts you -- it's an incentive to continue writing songs.

Limelight: Did you meet and discuss with the artist before he painted the Swindon mural?

Colin: The Swindon mural was done when we were on tour by a local chap called Ken White. He also painted the outside wall of the Townhouse Studios in London. He is good friends with Richard Branson and Simon Draper at Virgin. It was done from an old photograph. If you ever come to Swindon you'll see that it was a 1977/78 photo and where Barry is they've put Dave's head over the top. It looks ludicrous now -- like a two-headed human being.

Limelight: Were you an XTC fan before you joined the group and were you nervous about living up to the band's reputation?

Dave: Someone asked me this question in Australia and I told them that I was the fan who caught the ultimate drumstick!

My fandom 'proper' probably began in a dressing room in Swindon in September 1974 with Partridge bending my ears with his ludicrous guitar phrases. But it wasn't just his guitar playing that impressed me it was his songs, lyrics, painting, cartoon drawings and above all his sense of humour. No-one can make me laugh as much as Partridge and it's this gift that keeps the band's peckers up on the most gruelling of tour schedules. I know of no-one more abundantly talented than Andy Partridge.

By 1976 I was catching every gig I could that the band played locally. Even after the band was signed, Andy would call me up when they weren't touring and I'd take a guitar over to his flat and we d jam around or exchange records that we'd "discovered". I can still remember him playing me the rough mixes of GO 2 on one such evening and milking me for opinions about which should be included on the album. I was always the first in Kempster's Music Shop to buy the latest XTC product, a fact borne out by a full collection in original picture sleeves. I was very nervous about living up to the band's reputation. I wasn't even sure that I was going to be able to mould my more conventional guitar style into their wiry music. Also I feared the "fans of Barry" who would obviously blame me, not the band, for changing the style of the music. It didn't seem to bother the others in the slightest.

Limelight: Would you like to write for XTC?

Dave: In every band I was ever in I wrote something. I have trouble with lyrics though. I don't feel any compulsion to write for the band, as a) the others have never had call to ask me to, b) two prolific songwriters in one band is enough (ask Barry) and c) whatever I wrote I'd have to sing -- and I can't sing.

Limelight: Do you still own your first instrument?

Andy: No, my first instruments were really awful. I had a Singapore guitar called a "Swalee Golden Tone" over which I stuck lots of glam-rock stickers and stuff. I've had total crap as far as guitars go. I've either sold them or had them nicked. I've never really owned my instruments and even now they're all bought by our production company.

Colin: No. My first bass guitar was a semi-acoustic Shaftsbury Rickenbacker copy with a sunburst finish on it. Not a Gibson or a Fender; that was the ultimate, but more than I could afford at the time. I bought the guitar on hire purchase, so I sold it and put it as a downpayment on my first Fender guitar. I sometimes wish that I still had it because it did have a nice tone to it.

Dave: Terry Jackson bought back my old "Rosetti" from Rod Sheppard for #8 and still has it, although it hasn't had a of set of strings for years and the pop-art finish has long gone.

Terry: No. The first kit I had was good to learn on, but I soon found that it was not up to a lot of hard work such as getting it in and out of vans. It was a "Broadway" kit, not to be found in the shops any longer.

Limelight: Do you have a complete XTC collection?

Terry: No.

Dave: All except the 10" Guillotine album and Too Many Cooks.

Andy: No. There are some obscure things that I just don't have -- in fact, I don't even have a Respectable Street single.

Colin: No. I'm forever giving away the albums to friends who know I can get them free. Consequently my XTC catalogue isn't up to scratch.

Limelight: Have you any favourites from your own material?

Colin: I have quite a few favourites. I think that "Respectable Street" is one of XTC's best and obviously I like "Making Plans for Nigel" and "Generals And Majors". I don't like Andy's love songs, I think he writes a better "meaningful" song. I think songs like "Helicopter" and "Rocket From a Bottle" are a bit light-weight. I like it when he turns on the heaviness.

Andy: I have on-and-off favourites. From the last album my favourite track was "Burning with Optimism's Flames", because it always made me feel good inside in a stupid, naïve sort of way when I heard it. I used to like "I'm Bugged" a lot; not for the sentiment of the song, which was really just ludicrous, but rather for the texture and syncopation of the music. I like some of the more obscure things such as "Pulsing, Pulsing" which is one that I occasionally grip on to, although I don't think that I've got a copy of it.

Of Colin's, I used to like "Heatwave" the best and then "Making Plans for Nigel" but then again, ninety per cent of the musical idea was mine and so I felt personally involved with it a great deal.

Limelight: Do you ever listen to your old material?

Terry: Not often.

Andy: I put on our entire collection (or what I've got of it) once every six months to see how it's weathered. Your tastes keep changing and so sometimes it's a big giggly "Did I play like that?" It's like looking at a photo album or anything from the past. You have to develop a light attitude towards the past or else you'd get terribly screwed up about it being imperfect. Sometimes I'll forget about things that we have done and so I'm surprised when people write to me about a particular old song or when I hear one in a disco or on the radio.

Dave: Occasionally, but only as a reference point. The joy of hearing the songs is usually exhausted by the time an album is finished.

Colin: No. I think the last time that I played White Music was a year ago. It was very exciting music for the time, but now it seems sadly out of date. To a certain extent, the same applies for GO 2, although it's a little bit more icy. Drums and Wires is not all that old to make a comment on.

Limelight: How much do you contribute to the music that you play with XTC?

Terry: If you see XTC as a body, then I supply the muscle for movement.

Dave: When Andy or Colin bring up a new song, there is usually only a melody, lyric and chord structure. It's then up to all of us to chip in our own ideas for decorating or improving that song. Occasionally they will want something specific, such as the riffs to "Paper And Iron" or "Travels in Nihilon", but I am usually free to do whatever I like and my guitar solos are all my own.

Limelight: How have your attitudes changed since you left school?

Colin: I think I want to learn more. I didn't want to learn at school, but now I do. I'm forever reading books and things. I like reading a hell of a lot, especially History and Geography -- I was always good at Geography at school. I like reading up about different peoples, wars and so on. So I think I'm learning more now than I did at school.

I've got more of an interest in current affairs and what's going on in the world, the nuclear thing and so on. I was a -- bit of a vegetable when I left school -- a bit of a vegetable in school actually. I've grown to appreciate things that I didn't when I was at school.

Limelight: Have you always rejected the punk/new wave labels?

Colin: Yes. If somebody in my family asked me what sort of music we play, the nearest word that I could put down for them is "Punk" or "new wave". And then they get an idea, at least, of how the music is. To people in-the-know I wouldn't use adjectives such as "punk" and "new wave -- just pop music. We strive to be popular. We play pop tunes.

Andy: Yes. Basically because I don't like labels because it means that you are quickly cast aside by a lot of people who can only appreciate music because it's "this week's thing".

Now I think that the fashions and attitudes of punk are incredibly laughable because they don't mutate and change. It's as funny as seeing headbangers wearing ring-pull tops or playing sitars crosslegged and claiming that "Frijid Pink" albums are the best things in the world. People must move on in their attitudes.

Your attitudes do change from week to week. I'm not saying that I'm flighty, but you do wear things out, your clothes become dirty and you need a change of clothes. I like to keep this "moving vehicle". If the vehicle stops it just rusts and becomes rather comical.

I liked the energy of punk. I didn't like the posturing, the fashion and the sloganeering which was incredibly empty. But it was nice for us to have something similar and it gave us a jemmy to prize the door open and be noticed in the first place.

Limelight: Why do you think that you received a hostile reaction in France?

Terry: They don't understand us. As a result they feel alienated and afraid to look into it. They seem in general a neurotic race and, unfortunately for us, we have to be listened to more than once to be appreciated, which they don't seem prepared to do. Most other places seem very keen and enthusiastic. Maybe it's because the French are just French.

Limelight: When it has occurred, does all the adulation from teenage girls affect you?

Colin: It used to affect me. I felt it was nice to have all these girls flitting round me after my stinking grissle! I find it annoying now when they phone up your hotel room when you're fast asleep and say "we just want a talk with you" when obviously they just want a good lay. I found it exciting to begin with, but the novelty wears off. It annoys my wife as well, so the less said about that the better!

Andy: Not really. You go a bit dopey (American accent:) "Are they looking at me?" But not any more than if a group of girls look towards you in the street. They write to me sometimes and say odd things -- hopefully we haven't had any paternity suits to see what they can get out of the band. You do get crazy ones who throw their underwear on stages or toss passports up with instructions for you. We get kinky letters occasionally but it's not too bad.

Actually, we appeal now to more girls than when we started when we were appealing to just men, men, men (we thought there was something wrong with us!) It's possibly because we've been on TV much more and so the boundaries are getting more blurred.

Limelight: How did you feel when Barry Andrews left and how do you feel now about the separation?

Colin: Barry cast a lot of discontent through the band, it seemed to be infectious I must admit that I was prepared to go it alone at the time. I could see after a while that it was Barry who was the "bone stuck in your throat". As' soon as we took it out it was instant relief. We adopted a more optimistic approach and started to look towards the future.

It was me who prompted Andy to have a guitarist, because a keyboardist would be constantly compared to Barry and he might even have to mimic his style. Obviously the fans would want to hear "Statue of Liberty" and "This Is Pop" and so on with the organ. In the end we got Dave in and he proved to be an asset.

You've got to be more careful with two guitarists otherwise you're going to get into the Thin Lizzy bit - duelling guitars with one taking the lead, etc. You've got to economise on the guitar licks. The organ isn't such a common sound so we had to use the guitars very sparingly and we still do. If one of us thinks that another shouldn't be playing we'll speak right out and say that it's not 'needed. So we try and strip it down even more than when Barry was with us to its ultimate syncopation.

I can't visualise the current XTC with Barry in because Dave is a different person and he's adding a different twenty-five per cent to the group. If Barry was still in the group it's possible that we might not have come up with songs that we did.

Limelight: What do you think that you have contributed to the music field?

Dave: I have no idea. I am just another guitarist one of thousands of groups. I don't even know for sure how the "music field" views us. People seem to have so many different opinions about us. I just keep aiming a little bit higher and a little bit higher and one day I might do something I can feel justifiably proud of. XTC is Andy's group and it is his talent that has put us here today.

Terry: Personally, not a great deal. But as a part of the group, quite a lot. You only have to listen to a lot of new bands of recent years to hear the influence.

Colin: I like to think that we've done something inventive while other groups were jumping on the proverbial bandwagon of crazes such as punk and the mod revival. I've been to concerts and seen support bands who (intentionally or not) sounded like we did a year previous. It isn't that the world needs more than one of us, but we have obviously made an impression upon them.

Andy: I have to hope that we've made people happy and that they like what we are doing. Each time we move on to a new kind of feel, I hope that we can take people with us. I don't want them to take it too seriously, make a religion out of it or do anything drastic, as in the "Manson" side of things.

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[Transcribed by Marcus Deininger, thanks to Mark Fisher]