XTC History

Issue 2, Autumn 1982

Andy: Initially I wanted to be in the navy because I thought it was all great adventure and I couldn't wait for them to start another war and shoot a few people. Then I wanted to be a commercial artist because I was pretty nifty with a pencil or pen. I suppose that the thing I do now for the band like visual suggestions and sleeve designs come from having a design background.

Limelight: When did you start writing songs?

Andy: When I started to teach myself to play the guitar coherently when I started putting the bonks and twangs in an order. Always being a bit of a precocious kid I thought "Well, I'm not going to go singing anybody else's songs." So I started writing my own at about 15 or 16. But they were truly awful, like one or two lines repeated over and over again; and nickingx other people's ideas and themes because I didn't have the means to get my own ideas out at that stage.

Limelight: What was your first group?

Andy: The first group I was in was when I was 15 and barely knew how to play the guitar. It was called Stray Blues and I think we played three gigs. How I got through those gigs I do not know. I would borrow an electric guitar, borrow an amp., turn it all full up and make the most atrocious noises. I honestly couldn't play. On the third gig in Swindon in a place called McIlroy's Ballroom, which is a big ballroom over a department store, we got to our second number and we were so awful that the audience started booing and throwing pennies at us and those are very painful when thrown at high velocity. So I was sheltering behind the large equipment I borrowed, continuing to make these dreadful noises, when the D.J. told us to stop and get off, so we did. The lead singer (who now works in a tax office) pleaded for us to go on again for a third number. The audience continued throwing pennies so we went off for good.

We were awful. We used to make up the songs as we went along; 80% of the set; pretty avant garde, eh!

The first group that I formed was Stiff Beach. We wanted to call it something that could never be. What was a stiff beach? We only did one gig. We just used to rehearse in a Church Hall.

I wasn't a very good player. There was a ginger chap called Rank Frank on drums and a bald keyboards player called Barry Archer who looks very similar to Barry Andrews. We changed our name to Clarke Kent.

I was in a very experimental, precocious, avant-garde jazz group called Tongue. There were three members; myself on guitar, Spud Taylor on sax and a 40 year old drummer who owned a cement company and was very rich. We'd go out to his big house and set up in his vast living room and make this self indulgent noise. It was called Tongue because Spud said it was the most exploratory part of his body and he loved sticking it in places. We never got any gigs. "Far Out" was not the word.

Star Park was just anybody I got together for the gig. It had a semi-regular line-up which fell apart. Star Park had a drummer called Paul Wilson who ironed his hair and I caught head lice off him. He was a very good jazz drummer. The bass player, Nervous Steve, never faced the audience, he always faced the other way. He always wore a ludicrously long mauve jumper. Dave Cartner played guitar.

Meanwhile Colin and Terry were getting together:

Terry: While working at a paint and wallpaper shop, I was introduced to a customer by my superior, Dave Aubrey.

He was a bloke called Steve Phillips who claimed to play the guitar. I agreed to jam with him at a local village hall, but there was no bass player. He said he knew a few people the first of whom, Brian Mills, later became a roadie for The Helium Kidz, but was no good on bass. Then he suggested a drunk called Colin Moulding who I got on with, for some reason. He said to me that Phillips wasn't up to it and that he knew a guy called Andy Partridge. A session was arranged at a school where Colin's old man was a caretaker and The Helium Kidz were born.

Colin: In 1972 at the height of my drunken lunacy I met Terry in a boozer in town. We started talking about getting a group together. I knew he played the drums and he knew I played the bass. I'd already played with Andy (he had a group called Star Park) as a bass player at a rehearsal one night. Soon afterwards Star Park split up. Me and Terry were rehearsing and we thought about getting a guitarist in. At the time it was quite fashionable to have three piece bands like The Groundhogs and Budgie. I had a word with Dave Cartner (the other guitarist in Star Park) and he was happy to have a go. We had a bit of trouble getting material together. I wasn't writing at the time and nor was he, so it was down to Terry! It got a bit of a problem so we thought it might be a good idea if we got Andy in, because we knew he wrote material. I went round and had a word with him and we decided that we'd come round to my school (where my Dad was caretaker) and have a rehearsal and it worked out really well.

Andy: I met Colin and Terry and we formed Star Park Number 2 which after a month or so became The Helium Kidz playing like The New York Dolls, over-the-top, very drunken, 3 to 4 minute pop songs. We had lots of make up and high heels. I had a pair of trousers made out of gold fur with a tiger's tail on. I literally bumped into Terry and Colin in one or two drunken stupors in town; in pubs or falling out of pubs. They knew that I played guitar and I had heard rumours that they played bass and drums and I think we just fell together saying: "Hey, do you want to be in a group and do you want to be rich and famous?"

We started as The Helium Kidz in 1973 there was myself, Colin, Terry and another guitarist called Dave Cartner. He was quite fat and had long curly hair like King Charles. He was a dreadful guitar player, he was just awful, but he was our mate so he was in the band. He was the first to get married. I think he was just bullied into marriage at an early age by his mother-in-law and the girl. He'd spend increasingly less time in rehearsals and if we had any demo sessions - where we'd all pile into a van to go to London and stand before Mr. so and so of a certain record company and play him a selection of Helium Kidz hits - he'd say he couldn't go or his mother would say that he couldn't take the time off work. So we threw him out of the band.

We got a London chap who claimed to be a singer. This was a horrible claim because people who claim to be singers are always dreadful. They're never actually good. We thought, "well, it doesn't matter if he's good or not, at least he's in London and he's got contacts." His name was Steve Hutchins and visually he was a real treat. He was very muscular and balding; the rest of his hair was like a Max Hall cut. He had a hair lip and he sang in one of those operatic bawls. We were playing stuff like Neon Shuffle and fast raunchy stuff while he was going Hauuuu! over the top of them.

John Perkins came in after him. He was a Swindon chap playing keyboards, synth, and electric piano. He left XTC because of an offer from another group and so he left us in 1976 and joined a group who spent their entire group life trying to copy what we were doing which was rather bizarre! He's since joined The Original Mirrors.

John Perkins left us rather in the lurch because C.B.S. were interested in us - we'd hawked ourselves around London taking tapes and they asked if we could go and make a demo session over in London. We had no keyboard player and they had especially liked the keyboards on the tracks. We had to find a keyboard player in a week. Someone said "Oh, I know a chap, he's going bald mind you, but he's quite a good piano player." We went to see him and he agreed to join the group and it was Barry Andrews. We never even knew what he played like. In fact, when he first joined he played a lot of classical music. It was rather bizarre because he was playing these little quasi-classical pieces on a clapped out old Italian organ and we were playing cranked up rhythm and blues. Where the two came together came to be XTC round White Music time.

Colin: We knew of Barry through a music shop who said if you want a keyboard player we know of one. He played in a band that was playing very middle-of-the-road material at the time.

Andy: We thought we were marvellous, but we were dreadful. I was very young and very silly and thought that somebody in a large Rolls Royce was going to discover us and make us famous overnight. We just liked getting up on stage, making a lot of noise, dressing up, wearing makeup, being flash and getting off with the girls at the end of the night at the youth club. Nothing deep; I used to write songs because I was too high on a ladder to play other people's material. What others we did play was very easy to learn because I wasn't a very good guitarist. But it was all get-drunk-show-off-and-get-the-girls-at-the-end-of-the-night-music; nothing very grand. I was in a group that used to practice in the school youth club and there was a team of three half-caste brothers who used to be in the group and they'd say "Do you need any gear?" We'd say we needed some mics and they'd go away for half an hour and come back to the youth club and say "Well, I just took a pair of scissors into 4 or 5 telephone boxes and cut all the telephones off the wire." They had a selection of telephone hand sets that if you wired up you could sing into them! You sound like a Dalek when you sing trough a telephone in any case, but they were our early microphones. I stole the youth club guitar to teach myself to play. We used to practice in a cloakroom of the school. It was incredibly echoy and everything sounded like "Travels in Nihilon" whether it was meant to or not.

As The Helium Kidz we did a few gigs in London in 1973. We'd climb up on stage in Fulham Greyhound or somewhere in stack heels, gold fur trousers, leopard skin covered guitar, leather jackets with metal door letters hanging off; very, very drunk, very nervous; the amps would be turned up full and we'd just blast away for an hour and plaster people up against the back wall in the pub. We got a few gigs around. We would offer to pay to come and play these gigs we were that desperate.

Before we started making records I always sung American. That's how all rock records were. The Beatles had an American twang as did The Rolling Stones and The Small Faces. I had a terrible American voice. Then, when we got a whiff that we were going to be making records, I said "That's not me, I'm not American." I was really scared that my voice was going to be indistinct. So I started having fun, gulping and hiccoughing and and generally doing vocal acrobatics. I enjoyed the process of "singing" with the music.

People said "Isn't that distinctive!" and I said "Hello, I've hit on something here!" and I enjoyed doing it.

It's been disappearing for a while now because I'm getting awful square and liking melodies and singing melodies not operatically - but singing notes rather than belch. I still do it live because you feel show-offy, powered by adrenalin, you still grab that aggressive style.

I tend to be cramming more words in per song line - like a singy-talk voice as in "Optimism's Flames" or "Respectable Street". I know a lot of people did copy and are copying me now. People do copy dreadfully, not so much now, but more in the past. People now copy the disco-funk, Spandau Ballet-type bands. Maybe two years ago lots of people were copying us; using us as their starting off point for being in a band. I could name 50 famous bands that I thought copied, but another 150 non-famous groups.

When we changed from The Helium Kidz to XTC, I said that we ought to strive for an identity with the music. So we cut out unnecessarily long waffle passages. We played 3 minute pop songs. We liked thing packaged up neatly. We thought we should become neater so we got our hair cut and stood around in black and white boiler suits -- a bit pre-Devo Devo. We liked to think we were playing quick, short-hand, 3 minute pop songs; just as XTC is short-hand for ecstasy. So from then in 1975 to 1977 there was no change really.

The whiffs of Punk were exciting, the energy, the fast, loud, 3 minute packaged song was like what we were doing. We never claimed to be a punk group. We never seemed to fit in the punk drawer; we always had an odd limb sticking out. We developed more or less on our own down here. We got to London where we were gigging around greatly in 1977 with bands not too dissimilar to us, doing the same kind of thing, although we were considered odd because we had a keyboard and the subject matter was fantasy or surreal, odd, sketch-book observations; whereas what they were doing was heavy political stuff and lots of sloganeering.

We used to alter our set according to how "square" the club was. If it was a real "Mums and Dads" club we used to learn up a lot of crap the night before the gig; lots of rock and roll and then slip in one of ours and try to judge the reaction.

It was like a really slow crawl up a ladder; we knew we were going the right way, but we weren't putting our feet exactly on the rungs, we were doing it with our teeth or something.

We played the odd gig or two in Wales, in Welsh hotels or pubs. We once played at a pavilion in Swansea supposedly supporting Budgie, the heavy metal trio, but they didn't turn up. Thee were lots of irate Budgie fans who got very drunk and very "out of it." We played a disastrous gig. The pavilion is like an aircraft hanger, it's vast. We had a tiny P.A. system, we were just inaudible. They were very annoyed that we weren't Budgie.

We also played a place in Wales that was, believe it or not, a tin cow shed that they were holding a dance in for the night. When we arrived there in the afternoon with our gear in a van, they'd just had a load of pigs in there. The thing was ankle-deep in pig-shit. They had to shovel it all out while we stood with our bar and waited to load it up onto their makeshift stage in one corner. Ah, that gig stunk! We kept our over coats on as well because it was out in the open and pretty nippy.

Fulham Greyhound: I remember getting very drunk personally. Colin was wretching through nerves in the toilet. Terry was totally out of his mind; somebody had been pouring wine into his beer and he was noticing and not worrying. Disastrous gig!

Limelight: How did you come into contact with Ian Reid?

Andy: I'd not been trying to come into contact with him really. He ran a night club in Swindon called The Affair which used to put on a lot of big professional bands on. We'd been pestering him to give us a gig there which he did. We used his kitchen lift, which was used to lifting soup in a basket and nothing heavier, to get all our gear in and it broke. So we had to do a return gig in the club for nothing to pay for the lift. He started to get very interested in us and offered to take us up management wise.

We got the gigs in London by him ringing these London managers, which was something we couldn't really do, and saying "You bring your bands up here (as in The Damned, The Clash, etc.) and put my bands in the places you book in London." So we were on a swap basis all the time.

Limelight: How did you feel when you were signed up?

Colin: Very excited. I thought everything was going to happen overnight. Our first album was going to go mega platium. But it didn't. I've got a very different idea of what will happen to the group from now on. I gave up my job and there I was, not getting up in the mornings. That was the first thing that hit me, I didn't have to get up for work, I could stay there and drop off till the next day.

Limelight: How did the split with Barry Andrews come about?

Andy: Friction set in between Barry and me. Me was always at the opposite end of the pole to me. I was the North pole and he was the South pole and the other two would stand at the equator, glancing up and down without being pulled to either of us. He had this knack of negating everything I said; like I'd say "Isn't it a nice day, Barry?" and he'd take great delight in saying "No, it's horrible". This was just his personality. He seemed to get a great kick from No-ing everything I yes-ed to. I think that was because he saw me as the leader of the group. He wanted to break down what was at the time quite a strong dictatorship and make it more democratic. It's much more democratic now, but when Barry came in it was quite autocratic. I think he took a perverse delight in trying to break it down by negating everything I said. Actually, I quite miss it in a way, it was like honing your wit. The most comical banter would go on between the two of us, because we were always trying to outdo each other. I miss that stone to sharpen the knife on.

I used to be the band's dictator, but now everyone gets a large say in what goes on. I think the others recognise that I have quite a good artistic sense, as in how the L.P. should be set out and how it should look. I get a greater bite of the cake in that sense, but everyone has more cake nowadays.

When Barry left, initially I thought "Oh My God, end of the band! This is the sound of XTC walked out the door." But it obviously wasn't because Drums and Wires wasn't that too far drastically removed from the first two albums. XTC were still the other three of us despite Barry, so I got over it in time.

Terry: I was shocked at the time, but on reflection it was best for both us and him. He was a huge part of our early sound, but due to the lack of success it was probably the best time to split. I can't imagine what it would be like now with him.

Andy: We have mutated into accepting Dave's personality as part of the band now and I just can't see Barry being in there. The creature has four limbs and this is the way that it feels good and balanced. This is the way it walks. It might stumble around a bit with five limbs -- 4 is a good number.

Colin: We always knew Dave around Swindon. He was just a musician who was always there.

Andy: I'd known Dave long before I'd even played an instrument because he was one of these child prodigies who would go up on stage at the age of 14 playing in rhythm and blues groups, just as good as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and people who were around at the time. I saw him playing in Church Halls, jumping up and down on stage in his psychedelic clothing and thought "Oh, isn't this great, I'd quite like to be in a group." And so I'd go and watch him playing at gigs before I even knew which end of the guitar to blow. As the years went on, I got more friendly with him.

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Transcribed by Marcus Deininger