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Last Updated:
Feb 28, 2007

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Andy discusses 'All You Pretty Girls'

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, "All You Pretty Girls," is from 1984's The Big Express.

TB: You were talking last week about how you hate all of your videos except the Dukes' "Mole from the Ministry." But I love the video you guys made for "All You Pretty Girls."

AP: Very expensive video!

TB: Was it?

AP: Yeah, I think it was about 40,000 pounds.

TB: Just for the sailors' suits, eh?

AP: [laughs] Just for the hats! It was by far and away the most expensive we'd ever entertained doing.

TB: And, of course, the single did so well, it justified the cost.

AP: [laughs] Yeah, we sold almost a couple of copies on that back of that! Well, that was the day where you had to have a video. But there was some very perverse thinking. I remember, my arch-enemy in Virgin was the woman in control of the video department -- I'm not going to tell you her name, because I wouldn't want to upset her, but she knows who she is. I would bring her up all my ideas for videos, and she would say no to every one.

I was very upset, because a lot of them then went on to be done by other bands, and win awards! You know, I brought up that I wanted to do a black-and-white video, and she said, [speaking fast] "Stupid! Who's going to show a black-and-white video on color television?" And then bands started doing black-and-white videos, and everyone thought it was oh-so stylist and so beautiful! They'd start eulogizing, saying, "Oh, it's a nod to German expressionism," and all that. And I was like, [peevish voice] "Come on! I wanted to do a black-and-white video, and they wouldn't let me!"

I also wanted to do one where we were underwater with our instruments, in a swimming pool.

TB: Now, given your fear of water, how were you going to do that?

AP: Well, either I'd be shot with [laughs]my head above water, or I'd somehow write it so that I was the one who didn't get in the water! And she said, "No no, you can't show electric instruments near water! Children will imitate you and they'll die." And then Madness did it, and everyone said, "Oh, isn't that great, where they're in the swimming pool?"

And then I wanted to do an animated one, and she said, "No no no, who wants to see a cartoon when they've been watching cartoons on TV all morning -- they want to see real musicians!" And then ABC went and did a cartoon, and everyone said, "Oh what a bold move -- so good, so right." I mean, my history of trying to get videos accepted -- every one of them was turned down.

TB: So, whose idea was this, to do this little Gilbert and Sullivan playlet that you have as a video for this song?

AP: I can never remember the names of any of our video directors, but the logistics of it were quite well thought-out, because he got a certain number of army cadets in to play the Marines, and he'd hired the outfits, or as near as he could get to the Marine outfits of the time. It was all done on some wharf on the south bank of the Thames, so if you look closely, it's all very modern-looking. It's not 18th or 19th century...

TB: I haven't seen it in a while, but from what I remember, it seemed purposely camp, so those anachronisms didn't really hurt.

AP: It's very camp, yeah. I loved being in the seashell, actually. It brought out the Loudon Wainwright in me -- I just wanted to [sings dramatically] sing! [laughs]

I look chubby. I look really porky and really flabulent.

TB: Oh, I think you look fabulous.

AP: No, it was one of those things where I thought, "Oh my god, I look so porky in that." I did like the part of being in the dusty pit orchestra, though. We were covered with fuller's earth, to look extra dusty and stuff. But Dave was very unhappy at pretending to be the drummer. He didn't like doing that. [chuckles]

TB: [laughs] He didn't like being that far down on the musical evolutionary ladder?

AP: [laughs] It was just, you know, [imitates Dave] "People will think I'm the bloody drummer, Partsy!" "No they won't, just hit the drum!"

But I remember having to climb the ladder, the rope ladder on the ship. It was actually on a real ship on the Thames -- you know, one of those training schooners or something. I'll tell you something, if you've ever climbed a rope ladder with no shoes on -- especially if you've got real pansy's feet -- it is so painful! They'd be saying, "Okay, climb up a few steps and stand there, and look proud, and look out to sea," and I'd be thinking, "My god, this is killing me! This is torture." You know, it's the kind of thing they'd do to you in Iraq if you lose a football match! Saddam Hussein would make you climb a training schooner's rope ladder with no shoes on.

TB: Now, where did this song come from?

AP: It came, really, from dicking around, playing some Hendrix.

TB: Yeah, I'd read that in Song Stories.

AP: Hendrix had this great way of playing lead-rhythm, you know -- he'd play two- or three-note pieces of chord, and he'd chop it and hack it around, so it almost felt like a lead line, but it was a chordal thing.

So I was messing around, thinking, "Let me play something in G, like a G minor, or a G minor 7, and I'm going to make it sound kind of Hendrix-y," and I stumbled on that -- it's very difficult for me to explain. I could play it, and you'd say, "Oh, there it is." But I was just playing this little two-note, quasi-Hendrix thing, and I liked the inherent melody in it. It felt like a really archaic old folk melody.

TB: Which melody are you talking about?

AP: The [sings] "bless you, bless you, all of you pretty girls" part. It felt like something that could be hundreds of years old, passed down in an oral tradition, like a sea shanty or something! So I started messing around with the idea of going to sea, and I thought, "What is that like?" That two-note phrase there suggested, "bless you, bless you" to me. So I thought, "who am I blessing? I'm blessing all of the pretty girls I'm leaving behind, because I'm going to sea!"

TB: Your dad was in the Navy, right?

AP: He was, yeah. I was thinking of joining the Navy at one time, because I couldn't really figure out, in my kid brain, how else I was going to get to see the world. But I actually saw more of the world than he did, because of touring!

TB: Did he listen to any sort of music that would have reminded you of sea shanties or the like?

AP: No, not at all. He was a jazz fan. Folk music was not his thing at all. If he played records at home, they were George Shearing, or Oscar Peterson, or Charlie Parker, or big-band stuff.

No, it was purely messing around, by playing around with that, by playing a rhythm, but playing it with parts of chords. Sometimes you just hit a string, and you get a two-note melody, and you're almost start spewing out something -- "bless you, bless you" -- it's a common phrase, you know? It seems to sound physically, onomatopoeically like that.

TB: How did you build it from there?

AP: That was the first section that came, and I stumbled into the next section, the "think about your pale arms waving" part.

TB: There's a cool little guitar part under there. Are you tapping, or...?

AP: They're sort of pulled, I think. What I like about it is the choice of chords. That's one of the first times, I think, that I used an augmented chord -- is it augmented? Dammit, still to this day, I don't know the difference between an augmented and diminished!

TB: An augmented chord has the fifth up a half-step, and a diminished has it down a half-step.

AP: [Sighs] I still can't tell you. Anyway, it's either an augmented or diminished! [laughs] It's one of the first times I ever used it, and I didn't know what it was. I fell into it, until my fingers made a shape that felt like the right next chord to go to -- because I never knew about those types of chord at that time. But that area's quite jazzy. And that just came out of just vamping along gently with these chords that I wanted to slowly shift down, you know? It's almost as if something's going down in the water, or something like that.

TB: Even as the bass is climbing up.

AP: The bass is climbing up. And I remember I had the Linn drum around here, in this back room that I'm sat in now -- it was sat over in the corner by the bookcase, on the floor. I'd have some headphones plugged in the back, or have it in a little tiny amp, and -- [laughs] it's not a "Don't Stop the Music" rhythm [by Sly and Robbie] again, is it?

TB: No, it's not ... is it?

AP: [sings pattern] It might be!

TB: You put in some cool cowbell hits and hi-hat chokes throughout the song.

AP: Well, I was so keen on the actual drum programming that I did for the demo, that it was a case of, "Let's just use the Linn Drum on the final recording. We've got all the sounds."

TB: You anticipated one of my questions -- does Pete Phipps play on this at all, or is it all drum machine?

AP: On this track, it's all Linn Drum, except for the "execution drums," which are Pete Phipps. And there are quite a few of him, actually, doing that. I was thinking, "Okay, so he's reminiscing -- he's going up the scaffold." You know, I was fantasizing about Billy Budd or something, who was going to get hung from the yard arm. So, I said to Pete, "Pete, he's stepping up to be hung here, and he's reminiscing about all the beautiful women he's known while he's been at sea -- let's have some hangman drumming here."

Those high, musical percussive sounds throughout the choruses that sound kind of like tuned bongos or something are actually tom-toms on the Linn Drum, screwed right up with the tuning, so that they're actually in tune with the track. It sounds almost like a couple of cowbells or something. It's a two-note pattern that kind of matches the melody.

I first used that on the production of Peter Blegvad's song, "Blue Eyed William," on the Naked Shakespeare album. That's got a similar effect.

TB: I had always assumed Pete was hitting drumsticks against a table or drum rims or something like that.

AP: Nope, it's the Linn Drum, playing a little two-note pattern, following the "bless you" -- it's like a B-flat to a G or something.

People have really gotten the idea that all the tracks on Big Express are Linn Drum, and they're not -- just a few of them are. But, you know, Pete drums very precisely, so maybe they think he's a Linn drum.

The intro that his execution drumming is on becomes the middle, and vice-versa. That's a common thing with me.

I was really proud of the intro. It's got the Mellotron choir, but we put it through a tiny little speaker. We put the speaker at the bottom of a fire bucket, and then we put a toilet-roll holder over a microphone, and lowered that into the bucket, so it was a Mellotron choir, but extremely metallic-sounding.

TB: Why did you want that type of sound?

AP: I just liked the idea of screwing up sounds in sort of Heath Robinson-esque ways. The choir on the Mellotron was quite nice -- but it was almost too real -- so I thought, "It doesn't sound dreamlike enough. What can we do to it to screw it up?"

TB: Did these lyrics just come straight out of your imagination or, looking back on it, do you see anything that could have been pulled from your life?

AP: I think they're a weird projection of, if I had gone to sea, how I would have looked at my life. You know, if I'd been a sailor, yeah! I would have a girl in every port. What is it? "A girl in every port, and some Port in every girl"! [laughs]

So, it was a pure nautical fantasy. But it kind of works, you know? It's got some odd little metaphors as well -- things like "the day the harbor pulled away" -- because if you're on a boat, it is the harbor that pulls away. The ship doesn't pull away -- you're still on it, and the harbor pulls away. So, it's got some funny little upside-down ideas.

TB: Did Dave play guitar on this, or only keyboards?

AP: He's playing mostly keyboards on this. The Prophet V keyboard is dialed up into an accordion-type setting, sort of like a reed organ. That's him playing those little reggae chops throughout the verses. And I really love Dave's extrapolations on the keyboard on the way out. They sound very nautical. But nice-ical! [laughs]

Speaking of Dave, if you look at the video, the final shot they did with us was at about three in the morning, where we're in these boats with the Marines being taken back to ship after going AWOL. You can see Dave, he's singing along, "um-dumma dumma-dumma dumma-dumma-dumma dum" -- he looks so tired! He's basically asleep as he's singing! So, if anyone's got that video -- I don't know if it's on YouTube or anything [it is] -- look out for right near the end, where we're all sat in the longboats with the Marines rowing us back to the ship -- look at how tired Dave looks. His eyes are basically glued together with sleep dirt.

We probably got home about five o'clock in the morning on that shoot. It was one of those kind of "start at five in the morning, and get home at five the next morning" things.

TB: And then you're so hyped up on adrenaline, you can't go to sleep!

AP: You can't go to sleep, yeah! And part of you thinks, "Jesus Christ, 42 thousand pounds!! For someone else's concept!!"

TB: "And my money!"

AP: Actually no, I didn't think it was my money! That was how naïve I was. I thought, "How nice of that lovely Virgin to pay for us to make a video." God, what an idiot I was. What a dope.

7:41 PM

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