XTC's Blogs


Last Updated:
Mar 24, 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Dave remembers "Supergirl"

Song of the Week

This week we can't feature a live version of the song we featured last week -- "That's Really Super, Supergirl," from 1987's Skylarking ... because no live versions exist! Instead, we can offer you some of Mr. Dave Gregory's reminiscences about the song, on which he played one of his most well-known solos, on one of the world's most well-known guitars.

Meanwhile, on the MySpace player this week, we feature a live-in-the-studio version of one of his burningest — if it's not a word, it should be — solos ever. Yes, it's "Real by Reel," which Andy has talked about before. This version was recorded in the BBC studios in October 1979, and premiered during that same month on the John Peel Show on BBC1. Revel in the fluidity of the playing and perfect construction of the solo — guitar heaven in 15 seconds or so. Hell, his playing in the entire song is a three-minute masterclass. You can find it on Transistor Blast, a four-disc compilation of in-studio and live performances done for the BBC.

But let's get back to Dave about "Supergirl" -- here's what he had to say about recording the song and solo.

DG: I'm not sure if this song was originally very high on Andy's "Album Wish List" because I don't recall us routining or rehearsing it in much detail. Todd fancied it for a single, so we went along with his idea. I imagine we must have played it together at some point in the studio, but the results were not encouraging, and Todd more or less took control of it himself.

Andy mentions Todd's somewhat slap-dash approach to the keyboard parts, and I recall observing Todd playing the keyboard with his right hand while operating the remote tape controller with his left, dropping in and out on the fly. When I asked if he'd like some assistance, he declined, saying, "Heck, I've done drop-ins with my toes before now!"

I don't remember doing anything on the track except the guitar solo -- don't think those backing vocals are mine either, though it's neat the way they morph into that cloudy-sounding synthesizer track. I've told the story about Eric Clapton's SG many times elsewhere, but it's true to say that this instrument left a huge impression on my teenage musical sensibilities when I began learning to play.

The cover of the October 1967 issue of Beat Instrumental featured a classic colour shot of the psychedelically-permed Eric, complete with kaftan and beads, playing the guitar on stage in front of a big Marshall stack. You didn't even need ears to hear the amazing sound he was making! A month later, Cream's Disraeli Gears album was released, which re-defined the sound and role of the electric guitar forever.

So, to walk into Todd Rundgren's recording studio in the spring of 1986 and find this guitar gathering dust on a rickety stand was like discovering the Holy Grail in a pawn shop! I was already aware that Todd had ownership of it, but assumed it would be under lock and key in some vault somewhere. The Fool's amazing painting was pretty much intact, though it had been re-touched in a number of places. There was a serious crack around the control-cavity area -- "SG-itis" -- and I was amused to observe that the guitar was strung with bronze acoustic guitar strings, complete with a wound third. A small piece of masking tape covered the top-E pole-piece of the neck pickup. What could he have been doing with it?

There were 8 bars in the middle of the song which I requisitioned for a solo. I mean, what else was I going to do? I was practicing some ideas in my room at the guest house, using the little Dwight guitar I'd recently acquired and was falling in love with. The opening phrases were a tad dissonant -- though within the acceptable boundaries of XTC -- and were followed by four ascending arpeggios that I hoped I'd get away with, before re-stating the last line of the verse and signing off with a Larry Carlton-esque harmonic yodel. Seizing the opportunity, I asked Todd if I could use his famous guitar to record the part.

He looked a little bemused when I asked if I could put new strings on it -- as if to say, "Well, why would you wanna do that?" -- but I got my wish and sewed on a set of Ernie Ball 0.11"-0.48"s. We put the track up and I was happy to hear that the parts I'd worked out didn't clash too severely with the keyboard lines. Now, all I had to do was play fluently in the presence of "Mr. Two Strikes and You're Out"! I used the guitar's neck pick-up, and sat in the control room with it plugged into a Tom Scholz Rock Man pedal, from whence the signal vanished into a sonic labyrinth, tweaked by the Wizard Todd for that unmistakable Utopian effect. All for just 20 seconds of music!

Some months after Skylarking had been released, I was listening at home to Utopia's Ra LP. My ears pricked up when "Magic Dragon Theatre" was playing, hearing Roger Powell's trumpet part that follows the line "bring on the dancing girls and the freak parade"; clearly, that's where I'd sub-consciously stolen those ascending five-note arpeggios from! If Todd had noticed, he was too polite -- or too exasperated -- to mention it.

4:45 PM

©2008 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.