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Last Updated:
May 30, 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Andy discusses 'Dame Fortune'

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, "Dame Fortune", is the first song from the first disc in the nine-disc series of outtakes, demos, and rarities known as Fuzzy Warbles.

NOTE: Lots going on for this feckless fanboy (anyone got some spare feck?), on the day-job front especially, so we're going to take next week off, and be back on the 24th with an Andyview about one of my (and, hopefully, your) favorite songs. Remember, there's always Monstrance to listen to in the meantime!

TB: I've been wanting to talk about some of the songs on Fuzzy Warbles for a while now, since so many of the "unreleased" songs on there were originally intended for XTC. So let's start at the beginning -- "Dame Fortune" is the first song on the set, and has been a favorite of mine since I first heard it.

AP: God, there's so much Tyrannosaurus Rex in that song!

TB: Really?

AP: Yeah. Not T Rex. That's a different monster. T Rex is big and shiny and metally and moronic. But Tyrannosaurus Rex is very frantic and acoustic and naive, and almost like a piece of art brut or something, the way their songs are put together. There's no sense to the structure of their songs. But actually, there's a lot of sense to the construction of this song.

TB: I was going to say...

AP: I'm trying to think how the hell I came up with the song. I don't remember how I came up with the lyric, although I surmise that maybe the lyric is really about Erica saving me in some way.

TB: Which came first, the music or the lyrics?

AP: I think the music came first. I was playing an open G, which I always play with the D on the B string. I don't know why. [strums guitar] It's easy to end up with a fifth and a sixth in the chord. I was just strumming around and moving my fingers around over the [emphasizes the melody as he changes fingering in the chord]...

TB: Yeah, well, there you go -- that's the melody right there.

AP: But you still leave the two fingers on the bottom, forming the idiot G shape, you know? [plays guitar part, leading up to the change] That's an A7 there. So, you're holding the G and the B notes down on the bottom, and then you're just moving that top line around. It was great fun to sit with Holly's little school guitar, and I just started tapping and thumping along with my foot. I didn't think it was like Tyrannosaurus Rex as I was doing it, but I realized, as the demo grew along, that it was headed in that direction.

The song itself has a very old-fashioned structure. It's kind of like a "vhorus" construction [for more on the "vhorus" -- a mix of verse and chorus -- see the interview about "Thanks for Christmas"], where you get the title line, and then the reply to that, and then the title line again, and then a sort of rhyming reply. There's a very old-fashioned or Tin Pan Alley kind of structure to it.

The demo is very, very simple. It's just me thumping along on a sample of a bass drum, and strumming Holly's three-quarters, or whatever scale it is, guitar. Her Fantastic Voyage-sized guitar! It's so tiny, you've got to go careful, you know -- you can lose it between the atoms of the carpet. You can inject it into Donald Pleasence's bloodstream!

TB: [laughing] You know what, I picked up a guitar like that at Ikea for something like $30, and I love it. It plays great, and is really easy on the fingers. I understand completely why you used to write on it.

AP: Yeah! It's easy on the fingers. You can get your hands right around it, no problem. It's ludicrously light, so you can carry it around literally with a couple of fingers. You don't even need a strap. I just found myself walking around with it all the time. Watching TV, stood there, in my socks, just strumming at the TV. I remember coming up with "Church of Women" in that vein -- just stood there, strumming away, watching the TV, with this tiny guitar.

TB: You recently auctioned it off for charity, right?

AP: Yep, somebody just won it, for a bid of $1,000!

TB: Was that what the winning bid was?

AP: Yeah, about that. As soon as he gets that over, I'm going to donate it to the place where I've been doing hyperbaric oxygen treatments for my tinnitus. They did good work in helping make that bearable in the early days, and they help a lot of people with multiple sclerosis there. I was happy to get so much for charity.

TB: Let's talk a little bit more about the instrumentation on this song.

AP: It's me banging along on that sampled bass drum...

TB: There's a great bass guitar part on it, too.

AP: I was really proud of the bass part. I did that in quite a small number of takes -- maybe first or second take. It's got quite a barky tone.

TB: Yeah. You're playing with a pick, right?

AP: Yeah, I think so. But I always love doing the bass parts to the demos, because I just love playing bass. I think I have a reasonable knack for it, and this one seemed to fall out okay. You could be quite ornate with it, because the instrumentation is very sparse.

TB: There was room for the bass to move around, since the drums are not doing much of anything.

AP: No, it's just four on the floor all the time, and nothing else. There's no other percussion. Although, if it was Tyrannosaurus Rex, it wouldn't be a bass drum -- it'd be bongos and finger cymbals.

Halfway through an electric guitar joins in -- an echo-y electric guitar, and the echo is in the same time as the bass drum, so that helps the rhythmic feel, you know?

TB: Right. And that plays the lead as well.

AP: That plays the little lead section, then it follows and goes behind the voice.

The only other things on the song are all the things in my Shed that you can blow into!

TB: Which are...?

AP: Which are a wooden train whistle; a plastic referee whistle; and then I think I've got a couple of recorders and flageolets -- you know, penny whistle things -- and a swanee whistle as well.

TB: Right, a slide whistle.

AP: Yeah. I just jammed a load of them into my mouth. And whatever noise it made, that was going to be the sound.

TB: [laughing] Okay ... and you're whistling, too, right? I mean, there's also a track of you whistling.

AP: Yeah. So, it's all the things I could fit in my mouth that seemed appropriate -- there's like three or four things in my mouth at the same time, all played at once [laughs] -- I thought, "Well, if Rahssan Roland Kirk can do it, fuck, I can give it a go!" So I just jammed it all in my mouth and sort of honked on it rhythmically. And then I added some whistling to sort of counteract that.

TB: Were you whistling with your fingers in your mouth, because it sounds like that to me.

AP: No, I never could do that. I'm very envious of people who can do that. I'm a pretty good whistler, but I could never -- I really always wanted to do that thing where you stick your fingers in your mouth. I always wanted to do that as a kid, but I never learned.

TB: So let's talk about the lyrics.

AP: I don't know where the lyrics came from. They just fell out very quickly, and I've never really thought about them too much.

TB: Where did the phrase "Dame Fortune" come from?

AP: Well, Dame Fortune -- there's the Wheel of Fortune," which is often depicted in medieval art. It's a wheel with Dame Fortune stood behind it, turning it. It's like a wooden water wheel-type thing. It's usually depicted with four people on it -- one at the top, one at the bottom, two on the sides. The one at the top is usually depicted as a king, and the one at the bottom is usually depicted as a beggar. And then one on either side -- one going down and clinging for dear life, and one going up -- and they're depicted in average wear.

So, the Wheel of Fortune goes up, and you ride up to the top, and become king, and because the wheel keeps turning, you will ride down the other side and become wretched at the bottom. It's that idea that luck is a lady -- you know, "luck be a lady" -- she's Lady Luck. Dame Fortune is one of her pseudonyms. She blows on your dice and she turns the wheel that either brings your fortune up when you've been down. That was the case with me getting together with Erica -- things seemed to get really good when I got together with her, because my marriage was really shit at that point. So, she was Dame Fortune, I think. She was the one who was giving me solace when the brickbats of others were falling on my head.

TB: Right. Looking at the lyrics, I see a lot of the gambling imagery you're talking about, but there's also quite a bit of sexual imagery in there.

AP: Do you reckon? Where?

TB: [laughs] Let's see -- "ring my bell, lift your skirt."

AP: Ummm -- "Pour down some fortune on me." Yeah, actually, do you know, I wasn't thinking of that sexually.

TB: "Bring home the bacon and beans" -- there's nothing sexual in that?

AP: No, not really. It was more like just feeding and nurturing. [laughs] I think you've fallen into the trap here of just assuming I'm a filthmonger.

TB: [laughs sarcastically] I don't know why I would!

AP: [laughing] I don't know why either! No, honestly, I think there's very little filth in this. It's almost a filth-free zone, I think.

TB: "Please won't you empty my bin"? C'mon! Seriously?

AP: No! [sighs] Maybe I'm just doing it, and I'm not even aware of it. Maybe I'm just a filthy rat, and I just talk in double-entendres. It's years of being raised on hearing "Round the Horne" on the radio, you know? It was a great show. I went and treated myself to four boxed sets, which was the entire run over the '60s -- because I used to hear it, as a kid, during Sunday lunchtime, and I thought it was really funny. It's great stuff. It's aged, you know, but it's very classically funny double-entendres.

TB: Right, and he actually got in trouble for that, didn't he?

AP: Oh yeah. There were a lot of people who were scandalized by him. And also, there was a gay couple on there called Julian and Sandy, which in the '60s was a no-no. And they spoke in Polari...

TB: Oh yeah, that language...

AP: Yeah, the theatrical language. They'd say things like, "How bona to vada your dolly old eek," which is, "How marvelous to see your beautiful face again." I speak Polari pretty well, actually, just from listening to "Round the Horne," and later finding bits and pieces of it in books, and sort of memorizing.

Yeah, so obviously I've got a good grounding in double entendres in growing up, and maybe it's never left me, but honestly I didn't intend too much sexual imagery in this.

TB: Well, perhaps that is something you do almost unconsciously now -- write lyrics on multiple levels.

AP: Yeah, maybe. You might be right. It's just something in my bloodstream.

TB: So, you intended this to be an XTC song, right?

AP: Yeah, I thought this was going to go on one of the Apple Venus albums. I thought, because of the acoustic guitar and whistles and stuff, I thought maybe it'd go on Volume 1, because it fit the acoustic side of the group.

TB: And why didn't it?

AP: I don't know! Dave and Colin didn't seem to react to it at all. Usually, they'd bring a list up of their favorites, and say, "Well, we think these are great. We think we should do these," you know. And I don't think it appeared on either of their lists.

TB: When you guys were making those choices, did you have a song limit in mind?

AP: Well, there is a sort of physical song limit of how much you can get on a disc, and you try to temper that with what feels like a good album, as well.

TB: When CDs became the preferred medium for albums, and it was possible for bands to go beyond the 10- to 12-song limit for an LP, a lot of people really packed CDs with lots of songs. But the Apple Venus albums are not particularly much longer than an LP would have been.

AP: No, but then again, I did intend for the whole thing to be one package, originally.

TB: Right. But you could put 80 minutes of music on one CD -- some bands do that -- but you don't seem interested in that. Do you have a philosophical objection to putting that much music on a single album? Do you think that's true?

AP: It's more of a case of what works. If you write a helluva load of songs -- if you write four albums' worth, and you can only trim it down to about two albums' worth, maybe you should be thinking about two albums' worth of music for your album.

And also, there may have been songs that I really was fond of, but where I have to say, "Alright then, chaps, I'll put those back in the cupboard because Colin's got some songs as well." It's no good me saying, "Well, you're not going to put any songs on the album, Colin." I've had to sacrifice songs of mine, and he's had to sacrifice songs of his.

TB: Part of the give-and-take of being in a band, after all.

AP: Yeah, it's the democracy, to some extent. We were a shaky democracy. I wouldn't force the others to do anything they really didn't want to do. Even stopping playing live, because I think when I said I didn't want to play live anymore, the sighs of relief from Colin were very audible.

TB: Really?

AP: Yeah, Colin actually said to me, not long after we finished playing live, "I think if you hadn't done it, I would have said, "I don't want to play live.' "

TB: So he didn't really like it either, then.

AP: No.

TB: What was his objection to it?

AP: It was probably his relationship with his wife. She didn't like him being away. And he didn't like flying. We were doing more and more of that. Also, it was a strain for him. You know, he's a very shy person, so being thrust up on stage in front of five-, ten-, twenty-thousand people is -- it's even tougher if you're a shy person.

And none of us were natural showmen, for god's sake.

TB: That's interesting to hear you say, because I've always thought that, in a lot of ways, you are a natural showman.

AP: Well, maybe natural as in, we behaved naturally. I mean, the thought of asking an audience to clap along, and [smarmy voice] "Hey, you're looking great!" -- all that sticky kind of treacle-y showbiz stuff -- I never ever went for that.

TB: Yeah, I wasn't thinking of that so much as, I think that you are kind of a natural-born performer, and you do very well at that. But I can also see that -- we've talked about this at length -- the audience keeps demanding more and more out of you, and you can only give so much. I mean, it's a paradox, because I look at pictures of you performing, and you're obviously kind of outside yourself...

AP: You're the first person to notice that! I did actually get outside of myself.

TB: I know what you mean -- my best performances have been where there wasn't a lot of conscious thought involved, and something is flowing through you instead. But, at the same time, that's always balanced out by the responsibilities involved, and the fact that, you know, things have to be "right."

AP: Well, when I say I'm not a natural showman, I mean, I feel very comfortable with two or three people in the room, and I can entertain them quite audibly. But I feel awful when it gets up to large numbers, or larger numbers. Then you're in that human thing of, you know, the fear of speaking in public is the number-one phobia, isn't it? That's a very human thing.

5:57 PM

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