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Monday, January 19, 2009


Dave remembers 'Across This Antheap'

Song of the Week

This week on the player we feature a single song combining two (count 'em) versions of last week's song, "Across This Antheap." The first version is from the Skylarking era, but was rejected by that album's producer, Todd Rundgren, while the more-uptempo second version obviously found favor with the producer of Oranges and Lemons, Paul Fox, who thought the song could be a single. Both versions can be found on Vol. 6 of Andy's nine-disc retrospective, Fuzzy Warbles.

We're lucky this week to have some recollections — and corrections! — from Dave "Mr. Mnemonic" Gregory about this song, one of his favorites. Enjoy!

DG: I'd quite forgotten that "Across (The/This) Antheap" dates back to the Skylarking period and had been passed over for that project. It remains among my favourite of all XTC's recordings. Andy's 1988 demo made some improvements to the original, with lyrical adjustments and faster tempo, yet retaining an exciting groove provided by a Linn drum loop and his funky finger-pull guitar riffery. It would probably not have made the single Paul Fox had in mind owing to its intelligent, thought-provoking lyric and too-fast-for-dancing velocity, but the finished track is a highlight of Oranges and Lemons and, had I had my way, would have closed the album in definitive "follow-that" style.

From the earliest rehearsals for this song I had assumed the role of keyboard player, neglecting the need for a second guitar entirely. It was Paul Fox -- himself a keyboard player -- who, having recorded the basic track, suggested that another guitar part might be necessary. I confess I was clueless! He came up with a theme on piano that he asked me to copy on the guitar, and that became the flange-effected, two-bar link between the verse and chorus sections. I used my Schecter Tele, with a nod in the general direction of Andy Summers.

We were extremely lucky to have secured the talents of Mark Isham for two days in August, during which time he played trumpet and flugelhorn on five songs. His improvised solo trumpet on "Antheap" lends an added energy and excitement to the track, and he got it down with the bare minimum of takes, pure and fresh -- what a luxury.

The blame for the brassy keyboard stabs, which Andy dislikes so much, should not be laid at Paul's door. I cannot tell a lie, gentle listener -- it was I who played them, together with the string theme over the coda section, and later a vital pad in the middle 8 to underpin the chord changes. The "brass" and "string" overdubs were done very quickly, after dinner on the day that the lead vocal was recorded, and they were treated almost as an afterthought -- although I have no doubt both Paul and Andy contributed as "coaches" to the performances! The track eventually took nearly three days to mix, after Andy had returned home, and it was only on the final day that I was able to convince a reluctant Paul that the middle 8 pad was crucial.

Andy forgot to mention the novel recording technique used for the "hey! hey!" backing vocals. [No, he didn't — that part, along with other bits from each of these Andyviews that we've been holding back, will make it into a book that we eventually hope to publish. -Todd] I seem to remember a lot of clambering about on the roof of the studio -- accessed from the foot-path at the rear -- and yelling into the air-conditioning ducts! I don't remember whether or not this was successful, but it was attempted. [Yes, this was how they got that distinctive sound.]

And no -- neither River Phoenix nor Chris Squire appear anywhere on our record, as Andy remembered. Didn't seem to affect sales, though!

12:46 AM

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