XTC in the Press: 1995

originally published in Chalkhills
07 Nov 95

Date: 07 Nov 95 17:40:31 EST
From: Thomas Dolby <72662 (dot) 3112 (at) compuserve (dot) com>
To: Patty Haley <patty (at) gdb (dot) org>
Subject: Re: Your affiliation with Andy Partridge


Please copy the following reply to the XTC mailing list, complete with my email address (this is not my personal one, it's for fanmail!)

Although I did in fact start out my professional musical career singing for change in the Paris Metro, that is not where I first met Andy Partridge. It's a long story but here goes! I was an ardent XTC fan from before they got a recording deal. I used to follow them around Southern England when they played pubs and clubs, and I was always in the front row. I would either watch Andy in total awe of his guitar playing, singing, compositions and stage presence (for those of you who never saw them live, Andy had a MONSTER stage presence) or else I would stand in front of Barry Andrews, trying to cause an aneurism in his cranium. (Sorry about this, I was young and foolish.) As I rocked out to old faves like 'Radios in Motion' and 'Atom Age' I wanted more than anything else on the planet to become XTC's keyboard player. Years later Andy told me that would have been too much ego in one band! Anyway, as history would have it Dave Gregory got the gig and Andy started doodling on synth on their records. I was mortified of course, but resolved to go off and make records of my own instead. I did do a short spell as a keyboardist in a band called Bruce Wooley and the Camera Club, and to my delight we landed the support slot on an XTX tour of Britain. It was right about the time they had just written 'Making Plans for Nigel', and hearing that guitar riff in a soundcheck, I knew deep down I was about to have to share them with the rest of the world! And as it turned out I was right because that was the song that broke them worldwide.

I exchanged phone numbers with Andy at the end of the tour, and I sent him some demos I'd done. He was very encouraging about them and, to my amazement, offered to help me record them. So I booked two days in a little 8-track studio and made a single which Andy played on, co-produced, and refused to get paid for. The single was 'highly acclaimed' (a common euphemism for 'it didn't sell diddly') but it got me an album deal with EMI. Andy also played harmonica on 'Europa' off my 'Golden age of Wireless' LP. After I finally extracted myself from EMI Records in the early 90's (what a nightmare) we were briefly labelmates at Virgin. Then EMI bought Virgin and I was back where I started.

Andy came to see my Virtual Reality installation 'The Virtual String Quartet' at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1992. I'm not sure he got it. But to my surprise he did have in tow an ex-girlfriend of mine, with whom he has since become a big item. The last time I saw him he came to London to play some blinding guitar on an ill-fated single of mine entitled 'Your Karma Hit My Dogma.'

I hope this clears up the mystery. If any XTC fans would like to find out more about what's going on on my side of the fence, feel free to visit my new Web site the Flat Earth Society.

All the best,

Thomas Dolby.

[Thanks to Patty Haley]

Weekly Global Tattler


LONDON, England - Beatles fans, ecstatic over the recent chart-topping reunion of John, George, and Ringo, will be shocked to discover that the Beatles -- all four of them -- have actually reunited once before, to record a "secret" single less than a year before Lennon's death in 1980, according to a soon-to-be-released interview with surviving Beatles members.

The single, which included the original Lennon/McCartney compositions "The Young Ones" and "Heavy Scene," was released under the pseudonym "The Spys" in 1979. For years it was suggested by many that the Spys were actually the ever-struggling Swindon-based pop group XTC.

"We were trying our best to imitate XTC, actually," admits Beatle Paul McCartney in confidential transcripts of the soon-to-be-released interview. "John and I had both heard their first album, 'White Music,' and then we turned George and Ringo onto them. When their second LP (entitled 'Go2') came out we all bought it straight off, and we all just assumed that this band would be much bigger than we ever were, the future of rock 'n' roll and all that, and if we wanted to avoid being sent straight to the dustbin of history, so to speak, we'd better get back together and record something straight off."

George Harrison picks up the narrative: "We didn't want to cause a panic or anything, so we did it all in secret, just to test the waters. Ringo came up with the name, The Spys, 'cause he was into all that James Bond stuff, but it was John's idea to intentionally misspell it just to throw people off." In order to sound as much like XTC as possible, both John's and Paul's voices were reprocessed using then-state-of-the-art vocal manipulation technology. The fab four also hired XTC producer John Leckie to help get a more XTC-like sound. (Leckie, contacted at his London home, had no comment.)

To complete the deception, the single was released on Virgin records, XTC's own label. Virgin chief Richard Branson "had no idea what was going on," says McCartney. Recently Branson sold Virgin's entire back catalogue to EMI records, meaning that EMI, not Virgin, now stands to make a fortune by re-releasing the Spys single. An EMI representative, under condition of anonymity, said, "You'd better believe we'll be reissuing the Spys -- probably in a fancy box with a booklet and a badge and little window decals and the whole thing, and it'll cost at least 30 quid, I'd suspect."

After the single failed to sell more than a few thousand copies in the United Kingdom, and failed even to be released in the U.S., the Beatles/Spys gave up on their comeback bid. McCartney: "When we saw that XTC's 'Go2' hardly cracked the UK charts, much less the US, we decided people just weren't into good music anymore. So I went back to stuff like "Silly Love Songs" and George started working with Jeff Lynne... Still, I'd like to think maybe someday, if we worked really hard at it, we could make an album as good as one of XTC's."

Adds Harrison: "What's really unfortunate is that if the single had sold well enough, we'd have spent the next several months making a Spys album, or even a Beatles album, and then for the next several months we'd have been touring and everything. So John [Lennon] would probably be alive today, because he'd have been safe here in England instead of New York with all those grotty gun-carrying maniacs."

A final note: If you're looking for a copy of the Spys single, don't expect it to be in the racks at your corner record store. According to one rare record dealer, "Most copies of that single are in the hands of XTC fans now, and they won't give them up! A lot of them are still clinging to the belief that the Spys are really XTC, and just try to pry away an XTC rarity from an XTC fan! Forget about it!"

[Thanks to John Hedges]

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