March 16, 2001
Muse : The Scope : Old Skool

Pastoral English giants XTC are back in the frame thanks to a re-release of their treasures. Lee Casey tells you why you need some XTC in your life.

Alright saucy geezer, what's that you've got in your hand?
It's a little round thing that makes you feel better and it's got the letters XTC printed on it.

I don't think I'd be interested in that. I don't do drugs, and I don't listen to dodgy Dutch techno neither, if that's what you're on about.
You've got the wrong end of the stick entirely, my friend. I'm not talking about anything illegal or dubious, I am referring to the English pop mavericks of the same name.

Ah, I see. Please tell me more.
Well, XTC have been together in some shape or form for 25 years now. They've had hits with songs like "Senses Working Overtime", "Making Plans For Nigel" and "Dear God". They've made lots of albums, including cult classics like "English Settlement", "Skylarking" and "Oranges and Lemons". They're big in America despite the fact that they stopped touring in 1982, after singer-guitarist-songwriter Andy Partridge's stage fright became overwhelming. Oh yeah, they also went on strike for four years.

Went on strike? I didn't think that pop stars could do that. What was that about then?
In 1992, they released the album "Nonsuch". Although it reached Number 97 on the Billboard pop chart, the band felt that their record label had not promoted the record properly. Also, they were frustrated by the conditions of their recording contract and the fact that it had taken them 18 years to work off their debt to the label. Accordingly, they requested that Virgin either drop them entirely or renegotiate their deal. When the label refused to do either, XTC downed musical tools. Finally, in 1996, Virgin let them go. The band don't seem to have done too badly out of it. Their subsequent releases, including 1999's much lauded "Apple Venus, Volume One", have performed as well as any in their career.

What else should I know about them?
The band was formed in 1975 in the not-so-attractive Wiltshire town of Swindon, which Andy Partridge still calls home. He lives in a terraced house bought from the profits of 1982's "Senses Working Overtime" single. Seduced by punk, they moved to London in 1976, and within months had signed to Virgin. Moving away from their early and abrasive New Wave sound, they developed into melodic pop-writers of the highest order. In 1986, they worked with Todd Rungren on the "Skylarking" album. A stormy relationship by all accounts, it also rendered their "most complete, cyclical and connected record ever" according to Partridge, and helped them chalk up an impressive 250,000 sales in America alone.

Anything else?
Andy Partridge was initially slated to produce Blur's "Modern Life Is Rubbish" but he got the sack when their manager Dave Balfe felt that the rhythm tracks weren't "sexy enough" apparently. Trivia fans might also want to know that XTC released two albums in the late eighties under the psychedelic pseudonym The Dukes of Stratosphear or that Partridge was in line to write the songs for the Disney movie James & The Giant Peach but that Randy Newman got the job instead.

Thanks for that. But why the Old Skool interest all of a sudden?
Well, quite apart from the fact that we love them and want to tell you about them, Virgin Records are currently preparing their entire XTC back catalogue for a remastered re-release in April.


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