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Last Updated:
May 18, 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Andy discusses 'Beatown'

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, "Beatown," is from 1978's Go 2.

The hint two weeks ago inspired XTCfans to a wide spectrum of speculation, but only one -- Kittysneezes -- was right. Good Puss! Gesundheit! We'll be back in two weeks with an Andyview that looks at one of his songs of desire.

Oh, and a belated Happy Birthday to Mr. Terry Chambers, who came into this world on July 18. We salute you, Mr. C! Hope it was a happy one.

TB: When I brought this song up, you seemed a little trepidacious about discussing it -- why?

AP: Good word! Yep, trepidacious about talking about it -- because it was a long time ago, and while some songs are really clear -- where they came from, and the sentiment behind them -- others kind of get lost in the fog. Maybe the sentiment behind them was kind of just something very slight.

TB: I've got to say, that's one of the reasons I want to talk about "Beatown" in particular -- I've always kind of wondered [laughs] what you're going on about in this song!

AP: [laughing] Yes. Okay, you got me bang to rights, Gov'ner.

TB: So, what are you talking about? What are the lyrics about in this song?

AP: [Cockney accent] I never done it! I swear I never done it, Constable! It was that Colin Moulding -- he made me go over the wall and nick them apples!

I was listening to the thing two or three times through today and frantically making notes and spinning back and checking it out, and I thought, "Why the hell did I write this song?" I think that the title came from the onomatopoeic sound of the chord I'd just discovered. I shall reach over and pull up a Martin [chuckles] from a pile of discarded Martins -- no, from a pile of one! -- and it was this change [plays the chords behind the word "Beatown"].

The chord is the chord of D, right up there on the top, so it's nice and tight, and then you slam on a chord of A, with your little finger, so the resulting chord is these notes: D, A, E, A, D-flat, G-flat. And then you move it down to B, and do the same thing, so it's B, G-flat, D-flat, G-flat, B-flat, E-flat.

For me, the chords sounded futuristic and medieval at the same time! They sounded like some big cityscape -- you know, it could be [chuckles] London in the 11th century, or it could be Brasilia 200 years from now. It sounds big, and it sounds urban and, like I say, it sounded like it was futuristic and archaic at the same time. I thought. I thought, "Wow, that sounds like a big town, a big city," and for some reason a "beat town" just came into my head. I don't know why. It sounds really cheesy, like it ought to be the title of a film from 1962, with lots of Beatniks on the beach having some sort of kinky barbeque. "Beat Town Blanket Bingo"! [laughs] Lots of bongos and other stuff beginning with "B."

The lyrics contain lots of commentary on our manager at the time. He was always moaning that he couldn't get us on the phone, and it hadn't occurred to him that I was so poor I didn't have a phone! [laughs ruefully] I had to walk about 200 yards to the nearest phone box to call in, to find out what was going on that day or what was happening on such-and-such an issue. [imitates an annoyed Ian Reid] "I can never get you on the phone!" "Well, I don't have one, Ian." [pissed-off Reid] "I can never get you!" He seemed to not be able to grasp that I didn't have a phone -- I couldn't afford one.

So, there are little things like that. And "it's a capital city" -- "capital" is the sort of word he would use. [high-pitched, whiny-yet-posh voice] "Absolutely capital, chaps! Capital." And so there are lots of little private in-jokes about the group at the time, and our manager.

Also, it's a song about positive violence, if such a thing exists. It's like a Monkees theme tune. It's sort of about us -- I know this sounds crazy -- "Beatown, yes we're the XTCs, we're coming to your town, we're just XTC'ing about." You know, it was just one of those rather silly, self-manifesto songs. [Bad Swedish accent] "Hello, we're The Trousers from Sweden, and our song is 'Hey Hey, We're The Trousers,' from our album Meet The Trousers" -- my god, this is bringing my brain to a halt even explaining it!

One thing I do remember is, Barry Andrews said, "I love that line, 'We use the head and not the fist.' "

TB: Yeah, tell me about that.

AP: Well, you know, it's how you get things sorted out. You don't just attack. You think.

TB: But there's a conflict of sorts that you're talking about in the bridge. You're saying, "He says... He says..." and then you say, "I said they beat you fair and square sir / They use the head, and not the fist."

AP: Yeah. It's about thinking things through. Use your brain -- don't resort to flailing and kicking first. Use your brain if you want to get things sorted out. I suppose if it was The Monkees, it'd be, "Hey hey, we're quite intelligent, we think things through. We're coming to your town to think things through with you." [laughs]

TB: [laughing] And it rhymes!

AP: [laughing] There you go. So, what a slight, silly reason to write a song. But I love the idea of that epic Rock-y repetition -- the opening and closing sections are almost like Philip Glass was in a rock band, or working with music for guitar, keyboard, bass and drums, you know? Because there is that great, nice, violent repetition to it. I love all that stuff!

TB: It's a pretty powerful song. I was struck by that this morning, as I was really concentrating on it, listening on headphones -- it's big. It's one of the bigger songs on the album.

AP: It is, and when John Leckie's three-machine tape phasing kicks in -- whoa. You know, I'd forgotten all about that!

TB: How did he do it?

AP: It's the best-quality way you can approach phasing. You have two copies of the tape on two different machines -- one copy on each machine -- and then you have a third machine to record the results. You play the first two machines, and make one of them go slightly out of sync...

TB: So you're literally phase-shifting!

AP: That's right, rather than using an external effect. So, you drive machine number one against the sound of machine number two, and as you drive it slightly out of sync, the whole track goes [imitates effect] -- you know, it combs through the phasing, and you capture it on the third machine.

TB: Is he only doing it on some of the instruments? I don't think the bass is involved in the phasing at all -- it sounds to me as if it's drums and the high-end stuff.

AP: I think you don't have to do it 100 percent -- you can do different degrees. I'm pretty sure that everything went through it.

TB: Okay, so maybe you only apply it to certain frequencies?

AP: Maybe certain frequencies, or possibly it was not done to such a deep degree as, for example, on "Jason and the Argonauts." The phasing on that is actually mechanical -- it's a device called a bell flanger or something. The whole track went through that 100 percent. But on "Beatown," I seem to remember it being tape phasing, but you can obviously do different depths, you know? I'm pretty sure you can. Now you've got me thinking! Yeah, I swear it was tape phasing, because that was a trick that John showed us how to do, and boy, were we impressed.

And we did this in Abbey Road Studio 2, the Beatle room. But that was of no importance to me at the time!

TB: Yeah, I remember you talking about that.

AP: Because I was in Beatle denial! And oh boy, have I got a punky voice on this -- have I got a silly, yelping voice.

TB: It's funny -- you do, on the studio version, but then I was listening to the live version, and you're actually singing quite clearly on that. You weren't "barking" so much.

AP: With Go 2, I was starting to wonder, "Should still be doing that silly voice by now, or should I relax and be a bit more me," you know? So, by the time we got to playing it live with Dave, I was getting more relaxed and being a bit more myself, I think.

TB: So, what are you saying at the beginning of the song? You're spelling it out, but not exactly.

AP: I'm just phonetically spelling it out. It's like teaching sounds -- "oh" "eh" "ah" -- I don't know why I decided to do it like that. I guess it's the teacher in me! [laughs] "Gather 'round now, children!" It's probably my hang-up about being the last to read in my class, actually. For some reason, I was slow with reading. I may have been mildly autistic.

TB: Well, Einstein didn't speak until he was four, I think.

AP: And what was the first thing he said? [little kid voice] "E=mc2, Mommy!" [laughs]

TB: [laughing] "Eureka! I have found my voice!"

AP: [laughing] So, he didn't speak 'til he was four, eh?

TB: Yeah, I believe that's the story. They all thought he was a dope. So there you go, Mr. Genius!

Let's talk about the drums -- first of all, Terry's stamina on this song is just unbelievable. Having just gone through a little Go 2 party with other fans in the DC area, I had to get my forearms back in shape, and realized what a young man's album this is!

AP: Oh, yeah -- don't you love it when he does that roll right before the end-repetition part -- both hands, both toms, simultaneously. No overdubs, of course -- all one take.

TB: And it's one of the few songs that he plays a ride cymbal on.

AP: That's right! Yeah, he was a hi-hat man.

TB: Did you ask for a ride cymbal on this song?

AP: Do you know, I cannot remember. In my minimal notes on this song, I've written "Terry workhorse." He really is a workhorse on this track. We did some of the album in Studio 3, but I think John said, "If we can get Studio 2 for a week, we can do a lot more live-sounding backing tracks." I've got a feeling that this was a Studio 2 recording -- the drums sound somewhat better, but they're still relatively close-mic'ed. That was John's sound -- he didn't like ambience too much on the kit. Which lead us to seek out Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham. But yeah, Terry's really sweating away on this one.

TB: Let's talk about the bass line a little bit.

AP: It's very good! It's kind of minimal, but it really works.

TB: The end part is minimal, but he has some quite-complex runs around the chorus.

AP: Yeah, it's very much that kind of music -- I don't know what it's called -- that you'll hear when someone's trying to evoke a cityscape, taxi horns, and things like that. You know -- scurrying city sounds. So, maybe Colin was getting that out of the chords, too, because I don't remember saying to him, [chuckles] "Try a scurrying, cityscape, workers-hurrying-to-the-office bass line, please"! He just kind of got it, you know?

TB: Right. And this would have been one of those songs that you'd worked out in rehearsal?

AP: In those days, it was just, "Okay, I kind of want something a bit like this -- go!" And off we went. But yeah, it's very melodic. I also like the intro, where he play those big accents on the "two," you know? I think it's a chord or something.

TB: He also shows a lot of stamina in that end part. That's not easy, to just keep doing those two notes over and over again.

AP: No, not at all. But these were the days where they [Terry and Colin] would really challenge each other to lock-in to what each other did. You know, they would have these kind of duels -- you'd see them going at it in rehearsals or soundchecks. Terry called everybody by their last name -- it was like an Army thing. So, it was never "Andy" -- it was [barks] "Part'ridge!" Or, "Andrews!" or "Moulding!"

So, Terry'd yell out, "Moulding!" Colin would turn 'round, and Terry'd be going for a rhythm and Colin'd have to be on it in a nanosecond. They were always trying to catch each other out. And 99 times out of 100, they'd be on it together within a fraction of a second -- whatever the other one was going to pull out of the bag as a challenge, you know. There was a kind of roughhouse camaraderie. A brotherhood, dammit.

TB: I remember you telling me, when we spoke a long time ago, about the different drummers you'd worked with, how you thought that Terry had the most musical dialogue with Colin, out of anyone in the band.

AP: Absolutely. I mean, the pair of them came along together as a unit. It was like, "I know this bass player," and "I know this drummer," and it was them two. They'd played with each other before then -- not for very long, but they did have a bit of a background together. They were looking for guitar players, singers, whatever, and I was kind of a guitar player, and a reluctant singer.

TB: Let's talk about the keyboards a little bit.

AP: Oh yeah, I love that organ! That's the very pinnacle of the Barry Andrews organ timbre -- you know, the tonal quality he could get out of that Crumar.

TB: It's just swirling throughout the entire song.

AP: Oh, I love it. I love the bit on the outro where he's playing those dissonant, clustery, swirly things. They are just -- oh, it's sex. It's sex, made cheap organ. That was his keyboard sound, and for the Go 2 album, he borrowed some rather swish synthesizers.

TB: I knew that he had done that, and that he'd rented out a clavinet.

AP: He uses the clavinet on the middle section of this song. He's mirroring the bass line, I think.

TB: Is he using any synths on this?

AP: I don't think he is. I think it's all Crumar, otherwise. You know, I'd see this synth lurking in the shadows or whatever, and I'd think, "Oh shit, I don't really want that, because that's not the sound of the band. The sound of that band is that Crumar, and his fuzzy Lawrence piano."

I think that band musical identity, at that point in our career, was very important. If you go veering off track too quickly, I think you're going to lose people who've just got on board, you know? Which was probably why I felt so threatened when Barry suddenly brought up seven songs for this album. [imitates John Shuttleworth, sings] "Seven songs by sunset!" [laughs] Sorry, what a strange coincidence! Ooof!

TB: [imitating JS] "It can't be done, Ken!"

AP: [ditto] "It can't be done, Barry!" [imitates Barry] "Oh yes it can, matey, and I'm gonna do it!"

So yeah, love the sound of that Crumar. There's something about it that is better than other cheap-sounding organs that I've heard. And at the time, I didn't like the Hammond organ sound. I love it now, but at the time I associated it with the sort of people my dad used to play with. He'd go out playing with these combos -- playing dance-y, jazzy, classic stuff. And it'd always be a Hammond, so I just seem to associate it with the cheese of Easy Listening.

But the Crumar keyboard sound, to me, that was the wet dream of the kind of psychedelic bands from the late '60s that I really liked. It was embedded in my psyche, you know?

TB: Very spiky and angular.

AP: Exactly, and especially the way he played it.

TB: Let's talk some more about your guitar -- you talked about those chords, but what else?

AP: I'll tell you, another important guitar thing for this song is -- and I don't know how you're going to write this up -- but this figure of [grabs guitar, plays intro to verses]. I stumbled on to this figure, and again, it's that repetition, that mechanical playing. You know, it's related to "Battery Brides," it's related to "Day In Day Out," it's related to all that kind of, "Aren't you the band who play guitars like they're sequenced?" So, you can hear that over the intro, and before the verses.

And in the middle, I changed to the very thin, out-of-phase tone -- my Ibanez guitar has got a little phase switch that you can flick to put the pickups out of phase, and I used that for the very scrubby kind of tone I have during the bridge. You can also hear that on the rhythm guitar of "I'm Bugged," if you want further reference of that sound. That very thin, insect-legged [imitates guitar part]. That's the Ibanez flicked out of phase.

TB: Back to the vocals, there are some are some harmonies I wanted to ask about -- I think Colin's way above you, on lines like "You won't even get them on the telephone," but then he drops below you, on the whole "Beatown" part at the end.

AP: Yeah, that's me and him doing those close harmonies. It's pretty much identical live, as well. Colin and I would work hard to try to stay as tight as possible on the harmonies. Even if there were bends in what we were singing, like at the end of this song. We'd try to stay on with each other. It was a pride -- regimental pride! [laughs]

TB: I've always thought your voices complement each other well, and this is a good example of that.

AP: These are still the days when I think he was trying to sing a bit like me. Then we made the mistake of touring with the Talking Heads, and suddenly Colin started singing a bit more like David Byrne [chuckles], and then, by the time he'd got through that, he was just singing more like Colin. But initially, around the time of White Music, he was doing sort of ersatz Andy.

TB: A final quick question about the lyrics -- when you mention, "it's a capital city," there's a pun there, right? You mentioned that Ian used to say, "Capital!", but at the same time you're talking about how it's all based on money -- on capital -- right?

AP: Um, no, not so much! [laughs] You're being very creative in reading into that there, but I think I was thinking more that it was a capital city as in the central place. Capitol -- "t-o-l," rather than capital, right? Which one's money and which one's central government?

TB: Well, in the U.S., according to various styles, it's "t-a-l" for everything except if you're writing about a building where government takes place, which is a "capitol." But the city is "capital." I've had to deal with that as an editor.

AP: How confusing! I'll leave that one to you, then, because you've confused this little old anorexic -- anorexic? No!

TB: [laughing] I hope you're not!

AP: [laughing] Anaconda? Anne of Green Gables? What am I? That's why I was slow reading at school -- I was Anne of Green Gables! And no one knew! [laughing]

Yes, I was agnostic at school. I couldn't understand all the Biblical stuff we were reading. I was Agnes Moorehead. Sorry, I'm going off on one. God, I fancied her in Bewitched!

TB: [incredulously] Agnes Moorhead?

AP: Yeah, she played the mother.

TB: Yeah, but by that time she was getting on a bit, wasn't she?

AP: She was, but it was that filthy, slutty eye makeup! I have a real thing about makeup. And Agnes Moorehead in slutty eye makeup. I think this is probably a perfect ending to this interview.

TB: Well, she does have the perfect last name, right?

AP: [laughing] Exactly! No, it was just purely the slutty eye makeup.

TB: Okay, well, all female fans should note this when thinking of approaching Andy!

AP: Uh oh.

5:40 PM

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