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Last Updated:
Dec 17, 2006

Monday, January 15, 2007


Andy discusses 'Are You Receiving Me?'

Song of the Week -- Andy's take

Part of an ongoing series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Andy Partridge about the songs we feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "Are You Receiving Me?", is from 1978's Go 2.

TB: So, let's have this one out. When I told you I wanted to talk about "Are You Receiving Me?" for this week, you didn't want to. But I love this song. I was just listening to it, and thinking that it really is a glimpse of things to come -- in terms of the sound and the production and the aggressiveness of it. It almost sounds as if it could belong on Black Sea.

AP: Well, production-wise it is a glimpse of things to come, because I think the production was broader than the version we did with John Leckie. As a song, it was actually written quite late-on for Go 2 -- or, as Barry Andrews wanted to call it, Strong and Silent.

TB: That's what he wanted to call the album?

AP: Yeah. We said, "Well, what do you want on the cover?" And he said, "A postbox." [chuckles] I thought, "Wow, that's so abstract -- beyond even my realm!"

But yeah, it was written quite late-on for that album. I think we had every other song in the pot for Go 2, but I thought to myself, "Shit, we don't have any singles." So, it was a case of, "I'll try to write something a little more straightforward."

We originally recorded it in Studio 3 in Abbey Road, and it didn't come out as strong as I wanted it to. I didn't like it -- I thought it had failed. You know, when you record songs, sometimes they come to life in the recording or mixing process, and sometimes you deliver them and they're stillborn, and you think, "Oh, dammit."

TB: Because it's not close to what you heard in your head.

AP: Yeah. Although it was a valiant attempt, I didn't know whether it was us just not being familiar enough with the song, and not dug into it enough, or whether it was John's production -- I mean, his production style at the time involved just taking an aural photograph of what you're doing, with there's very little chicanery going on. That's what his style was like then.

So, we did it, and I thought, "No, it's not really right," but Virgin had this bee in their bonnet that in fact this was to be the single. Thinking about it now, "Meccanic Dancing" would have been a great single, but at the time "Are You Receiving Me?" was deemed to be the one. So they said to us, "Look, give it another go. Record it with somebody else." And [producer] Martin Rushent was their recommendation.

TB: How did you like working with him?

AP: I liked the sound he got, but the experience wasn't great. Because on the first day of recording -- and the new recording for the studio took place at The Manor studios -- we were there all day. We'd set up and were running through it, and messing around with it all day, and then, come 6:30 in the evening, just when we were kind of getting really pissed off and ready to pack up and get some food and go home -- because we thought he wasn't going to turn up -- he turned up. And it was a case of "Where the fuck have you been?"

Of course, we'd had all day to run through it, and the engineer there had got all the sounds up, sounding pretty damn good. We were pretty hot by the time he showed, so I don't think it took too many takes.

TB: So, he didn't come in and play the producer role of saying, "You need to lengthen the bridge," or "move this chorus here" or...?

AP: No! I think he did very little in those sort of terms. Because, if you hear the Leckie version, which came out on the French version of Go 2 -- for some reason, don't ask me why! I think the French [speaks in outraaageous accent] wanted a deeferent running order -- and then you hear the Martin Rushent version, we're playing the same parts. It's just that everything sounds tighter and harder and more aggressive. Maybe because we were so pissed off! You know, we'd been waiting there all day, running through non-stop this song, thinking -- "You wait 'til he gets here, we're wasting our day!" And then he arrived just as we were thinking of going, saying, "C'mon, I'm ready to go, here we go! Take One!" So maybe we channeled all that pissed-off-ness into the recording.

TB: Anger can be a wonderfully focusing thing.

AP: Oh, yeah. Well, it seemed to work for that. I don't think that was his technique, though. Who knows what he was thinking. But we got a pretty strong performance of it quite quickly. And I remember thinking, "Wow, this does sound a hell of a lot better, even in an unmixed state, just raw. It sounds a lot stronger than when we were doing it with Leckie."

TB: We made a point of talking about the bass line in "Mayor of Simpleton." This is another song with a very strong and distinctive bass line.

AP: Yeah. Colin really hit the ground running with this one. It's one of those real good marriages, a real good joining between the guitar and drums -- which is, in my opinion, the best thing a bass can do -- "I now marry thee, guitar and drums, together." You know, the bass acts like a kind of four-string vicar, to get the couple going there! [laughs]

TB: [laughs] Vicar, or liquor?

AP: [laughs] Yes ... how does the French girl hold her liquor?

TB: By the ears, of course!

AP: Of course! So yeah, he did a great job on that. And then also, it was good fun writing in the call-and-response thing in the middle section -- you know, the "I put it in a letter" bit. But otherwise, the lyrics are nonsense, they really are. I think they stem, really, from my paranoia that my girlfriend at the time had cheated on me, because I'd cheated on her with a rather curvaceous employee of Virgin Records. I went home at the end of a tour and confessed everything -- [cheery voice] "Hi, dear! I'm home from tour. By the way, I've been fucking around!" I'm the world's worst secret-keeper, I think.

TB: Why did you feel compelled to confess?

AP: How the Catholics missed me, I do not know. I mean, I'm just a natural-born Catholic. I'm just loaded with guilt.

TB: [laughing] You couldn't carry the burden around anymore.

AP: I couldn't. Do you know what I think it is? I think it's because my mother gave my father such ultra-shit for having an affair, and I had to witness this as a kid.

TB: Some would think that this would keep you from confessing, to avoid that fate!

AP: No, I thought, "My god, I've got to come home and confess this." So yeah, I had a fling or two with this very beautiful and curvaceous employee at Virgin, and I think that my girlfriend -- who was later to become my first wife...

TB: Oh! I was going to ask, why didn't you just go with the curvaceous Virgin employee, but now I see...

AP: Well, that's what I ask myself now! [laughs] I should have stuck with her.

TB: Aw, but you've got to look at all the other good things that have happened...

AP: Yeah, she was actually the girlfriend of a guitarist in another Virgin band, but I'm not going to tell you which one, in case he gets to read it. You know, he never knew about it. The thing was, I felt so paranoid that I'd done this to her, and she hinted to me some time later that she'd had an affair, but I don't know whether she was trying to wind me up, or really had an affair. So I guess it was kind of a paranoia -- if anything, that was the genesis of the song.

TB: What about your playing?

AP: I had in my head that thing where you think, when you get to the guitar solo, you can't drop the intensity of the song, so I put a little compact solo in there that was mostly one of those two-note crosses between Chuck Berry and a mariachi-band or something. It's difficult to describe, but it's got an essence of country in it...

TB: It's very chordal, rather than single notes.

AP: Yeah, it's using partial chords.

TB: And bending the chords at the same time.

AP: Yeah, that's right -- you're picking these little two-note things, but you're bending them, and all that. So it's kind of Chuck Berry in a Fun Fair blender. And Barry does some pretty insane playing as well. He's really hammering away.

TB: Did you make suggestions to him as to tone? You talk about the Fun Fair blender, and the organ really has that kind of tone to it.

AP: No, that was very much his stock-in-trade at the time, although he was trying to break out of it on Go 2, because he hired in a couple of synthesizers and using sounds that were not in the XTC palette, you know. This appalled me, because I thought, "Oh, we've wasted money hiring in keyboards, when we've already got our sound! The guitar is my sound, his organ and Lawrence piano is his sound," you know.

TB: He used these hired synths on your songs or on his own?

AP: All of them. He hired an Oberheim or something. But his sound was that Crumar organ, that really cheap, sub-Farfisa kind of organ -- which looked incredibly distinctive on stage, because he never played it with the top on.

TB: Yeah, I've seen the videos.

AP: The reason the top was not on it was not for any style thing, it was so that he could make running repairs quickly. Because he was always busting it -- the little contact springs were always popping out, or notes would forever be getting stuck. You know, you'd be on stage, and you'd be playing away, and you'd hear this big screaming WHEEEEE, and you'd think, "Wow, that's really weird! That's kind of a strange note that he's hanging on to there." And then you'd go into another piece, and you'd hear him playing the piano, and you'd look over the stage, and he'd be nowhere near the organ! But it would still playing that note.

It used to get broken continuously, about two or three times a night. So he'd have the top off of it, so he could make running repairs. But I thought that looked incredibly distinctive -- it was just this big mess of cheap-looking transistors and colored switches.

TB: Didn't he used to stick knives in it, and things like that, to hold keys down when he wanted to, so he could go over to another keyboard?

AP: [laughs] No, I think you're thinking of ELP!

TB: [laughs] I knew that --and I was thinking that Keith Emerson would take it a step further, fucking his organ on stage -- but I thought Barry did the knife thing, too.

AP: No, Barry had enough trouble just keeping it working during the gig! He was more likely to stick a soldering iron in it. [laughs] But to me, the song is a pretty basic rock-and-roll number. The only thing that was unusual in it was the intro, which I think is in 7/4. I mean, otherwise, to me it sounded like an old-fashioned piece of rock-and-roll.

TB: When Dave joined and you were doing this live, was there any special thing you would ask him to do, or would you just bang away on the chords?

AP: It was one of those kind of kick-and-rush live things. I'd say it was one of the least distinctive of our songs, to be honest. I mean, I'm not unproud of it. I am very unproud of the video we were forced into -- as we were forced into all of our videos. That was the most ludicrous, pointless collection of images I think I've ever seen. It's so awful.

We turned up and we were told to set up in an empty office somewhere. So, it's us playing in this empty office, and for some reason a load of fellows in English Army uniforms had been hired, circa 1940 or something, and there was a telephone box and a smoke bomb, and some girl getting tied up by our very large mountainous roadie in a baby mask -- it was just too fucking weird. It was done by the fellow who went on to make [Duran Duran's] Wild Boys video, and several feature films -- Russell Mulcahy. But boy, did he do a piece of shit for "Are You Receiving Me?".

But in those days, our input on videos was at best ignored.

TB: Right. There's also a live video, though -- the Bristol session?

AP: Oh yeah, we did a TV thing for either the BBC in Bristol, or their opposition -- I can't remember now. It wasn't totally live -- it was live vocals, but we'd actually cut the music live the day before in a studio. Overdub-free, you know, we played it live -- but the BBC wanted less to handle. They just wanted the track, and they could handle three singing microphones, you know.

It probably sounded much better because of that, but I mean, they can't even get camera angles right -- you know, when we were on the late show, doing "Books Are Burning," it was Take 7 before they got it. We were fine each take, but they just couldn't get the camera angles right.

TB: Do you guys have access to those takes, or is Take 7 the one that's on Coat of Many Cupboards?

AP: That's Take 7, yeah.

TB: [Scottish accent] "Here's XTC with 'Burning Books'."

AP: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. And that's Kirsty Wark, renowned news reader of the parish. But anyway, the Bristol version of "Are You Receiving Me?" was played live in the studio the day before, then we sang live on the day of the filming. If you can find a copy, good for you!

5:37 AM

©2007 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.