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Sunday, January 25, 2009


Andy discusses 'Radios in Motion'

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, "Radios in Motion," is from 1978's White Music.

Your humble correspondent screwed up -- we typically cover two songs during the interview calls, and this time we covered them in the wrong order, so the hint given two weeks ago ("a song [Andy] originally wrote for a movie") corresponds to the Andyview we'll post in two weeks. Ah well -- that gives you XTCfans two more weeks to guess, since no one's gotten it correct yet.

TB: I first discovered you guys when I was living with some people down in Atlanta. I cut my teeth on White Music and Black Sea and English Settlement. I remember hearing White Music the first time, and "Radios in Motion" was a BAM-in-your-face introduction to the early group.

AP: I've got to admit, "Radios in Motion" is a pretty good door-kicker-inner to start off, if you know nothing of this band -- "Here we go!"

TB: Plus it has all of the elements of the early band, I think -- your guitar playing is very frenetic and dissonant, and there's the battle between you and Barry, as to who can be more dissonant, and in your face...

AP: I'll tell you, when we played live, it became "Who can get more out there?" I mean, we used to both throw chord changes in that were nowhere on the record.

TB: Which must have been tremendously exciting both for the fans and for you guys, I would think.

AP: Nobody knew what we were going to do! He'd throw a chord change, and I'd think, "Okay, I'm going to better that! Next chorus in, I'm going to throw some chords in that were not on the original!"

TB: Why did you write this song?

AP: [dramatic voice] Let me take you back-back-back-back ... [funky voice] To the time of the Troglodyte! [laughs] Great record -- Jimmy Castor Bunch -- "Troglodyte."

So yeah, it's early '77, and things were sort of happening in England. If you were an NME reader -- which I was, for all my sins -- it felt like this community of youngsters was seemingly building their own music. It was not older brothers' or parents' music, it was something that sort of felt like ours, for the first time.

I got really involved, and really swept up, in the energy of that -- which was later to disappoint me terribly. But then, I was really swept along in it. It was impending, from '75, '76 -- for me, socially, and at my age, and what I was into. Sick of the past, and all that -- I was so desperate for new. So, by early '77, we were ripe for the plucking.

TB: And it was starting to coalesce then.

AP: I think so, yeah. So, I had this song -- the A to A-sharp chord change -- called "Volcano." I was trying to describe how I was bursting with energy, and overflowing with hot magma [laughs] -- purely socially of course! But I thought, "No, this is crazy -- I can't say I'm a volcano. I'm patently not a volcano, and it's not such a great metaphor."

So I started to load up the shotgun with these modern-sounding, international words. I've always had a soft spot for place names in songs, so "China, Japan, Siam, Milwaukee" -- I thought of Milwaukee because I had an auntie in Milwaukee, who I only ever met once. So, it was load up the shotgun with old bits of nails and screws and chippings and stuff, and blast it out, and see what comes out.

I was listening to it today, and I think the lyrics are appallingly abysmal. I have to be honest with you. They're very stupid. But really, for the first time, today I saw them as a kind of call to arms to "do it yourself."

"Something's happening that I've not quite tapped into, but it's really thrilling. And I want you to be thrilled by it, too." Obviously, because of all these 'round-the-world names, I suppose I vainly thought that, "Yes, this whole movement is going to be worldwide! Hah!!" Which of course it wasn't, because there's still a billion people in China who don't give a fuck! [laughs] Silly me, you know -- something that's happening in a few London clubs, and Manchester, or whatever. Of course that's hardly worldwide, but when you're a small-town boy, it feels like it.

TB: And when you're that age, too, because you're the center of the world, right?

AP: Yeah, exactly. There is no world -- there's just your crotch, and it radiates outwards. [chuckles] If you're a man, anyway. But the lyrics are silly -- very impressionistic, very daft.

The version that opens White Music -- that's not the first recording of it. The BBC recorded it first, for a John Peel session.

TB: Was that version ever released?

AP: Well, it got radio play, because it was owned by the BBC, and they played it for a while -- a couple of broadcasts, at least. I think the statutory amount for a Peel show was, he played any session you did for him at least twice, and then the BBC would wipe it.

TB: So, you don't know if it's in a vault somewhere?

AP: I think it's wiped. The only version out there of that BBC recording would be if somebody maybe taped it off the radio, you know?

TB: A-ha! A call-to-action for all the blog readers out there. Does anyone have it?

AP: There you go! The BBC wiped a few of those Peel sessions that we did -- we did four songs at each, and I think this is one of the wiped ones. But I don't feel so bad -- they'd wipe people like Hendrix, so we're in good company.

The Peel session had the original opening. We used to open our set with this song, and we'd play a tape of radio tuning -- tuning into stations and all that, which at the time I thought was incredibly novel, and a great new idea of mine. We'd come onstage to all this radio dial being tuned in, and then that got blended out, and away we went.

But of course when we got to do the album, [producer] John Leckie said, "Oh, you want to put this radio-tuning stuff on it. You realize that's just like Be Bop Deluxe -- an album that I worked on, Live in the Air Age? That's how that album starts." I thought, "Oh dear, I thought that was an original idea," and Barry Andrews just said, "Oh yeah, too fucking arty. Let's not do that." So that was it -- it got dropped. The version with John Leckie just had the bass and drums hitting that groove.

TB: I can see it working either way, but I've got to say -- and, of course, I have a bias, because I'm used to the White Music version -- I like the fact that the album opens with that very tight bass-and-drum pattern.

AP: Yeah, it does announce itself. But if someone out there does have that BBC version, you'll hear the original intent, which was that someone was tuning their radio and just blunders upon XTC.

TB: So, you wrote this in early '77 and it came from the song, "Volcano." How much of "Volcano" survived? Was the music pretty much the same, but you changed the lyrics?

AP: The music was pretty much the same, yeah. Lyrically, I wanted to sing about a scene that was happening based around things you could hear, so it's [miming his original thought process] radios -- radios in motion! There's something happening! You know -- there was this feeling, but I couldn't put it into words.

And, my god, my voice is so mannered! Wow -- it's like Steve Harley being crammed through an air vent or something. It's really contorted.

TB: [laughing] Yeah, but it's what you wanted, right? You were going for that effect.

AP: Yeah. "I'm going to find a new voice -- I'm going to take all my favorite voices from Rock and Roll and put them all together!"

TB: That's the way artists create, though -- they consume many, many things, and it comes out of them in a unique way, right?

AP: Sure! You put it through your own personal mangler, and the mince that comes out is your mince. But you can smell a little bit of -- "Hmm, there's some Ramones in there, along with a little bit of essence of Monkees, and a little bit of Be Bop Deluxe." It contains everything I liked at the time.

Funnily enough, I really like the Be Bop Deluxe singles, which is why John Leckie got the job, but I never heard any Be Bop Deluxe albums until much later.

TB: Why was that?

AP: I couldn't afford them! You'd hear the singles on the radio, or you'd go out drinking somewhere, there'd be a "disco" set up, and the DJ might have "Made in Heaven," or "Ships in the Night," or something like that. I did even get to see them live at Swindon's Brunel Rooms, which was okay. I thought they were comparable to Queen in a way.

TB: Why?

AP: Their music had a slight operatic nature to it. It was rather pompous at the time.

TB: So, ambition?

AP: They had ambition to reach into the opera dressing-up box, yes.

I had a postal correspondence for many years with Bill Nelson, actually. He'd send me works in progress and things like that, and I'd send him my home demos, appallingly primitive as they were. His always sounded pretty swish to me! He obviously had much better gear to record his stuff on.

TB: Yeah, I think a lot of what he's been releasing lately has been recorded at home. But that's interesting -- I didn't realize you had him as a "pen pal."

AP: Every couple of months, he'd send a package and letter, and I'd send one to him, blah blah blah. Then, I guess because I was touring more and more, it drifted off, because I just wasn't there to get the mail and write back. When I did get back off of tour, there'd be a package from him, and I'd think, "Well, I haven't got any new stuff, so I shan't write back, because I haven't got anything to send him." So, I think touring killed off the correspondence.

TB: Were you guys pretty much just saying "Look what I did," or were you saying, "What do you think of this, please give me some feedback"?

AP: It was a bit of both, I think. I like to think that we may have been influencing each other, or mutually supporting each other. A bit of everything, you know -- the young-man thing where it's partly boastful, and partly "Come on, pal, I can help you through this."

TB: It's one of the reasons for the band dynamic being what it is -- if you know you're doing something for someone, or with someone, you respect, then you try a little harder than you might otherwise.

AP: Yeah. I would have liked to have worked with him at some point -- maybe in a production capacity or something, but that never came to be.

TB: Never too late! Anyway, let me ask a little bit about the lyrics -- you say, "Get you out of your red, whites and blues"...

AP: That's the thing about how people were getting too obsessed with the Union flag. It was getting all a bit right-wing -- you were starting to see that flag everywhere, and I thought, "Oh, let's not get back into that again." In the mid-'70s in England, the National Front were quite a large shadow looming. Because Britain had come through some real depressed times -- you know, the three-day working week, and big strikes, and rubbish piling up in the streets...

TB: Anti-immigrant feeling...

AP: Yeah, it was a real down time for England, which is why Punk made a point of embracing the grimy snottiness of it all. I think that was how everyone felt.

TB: Were you also thinking of the colors of the US flag?

AP: Yeah, it was the Union flag, but it was also the American flag. Because you can't underestimate how we feel colonized by America, over here in the 51st state.

TB: [laughing] Oh, we're just getting you back, that's all.

AP: I think it was very foolish of you to leave our gentle care. I mean, look at those lucky Canadians, eh?

TB: [laughing] All you needed to do was let us into Parliament, man! That's all we were asking for!

AP: [laughing] Yeah, that's right. "And stop taxing our tea." You don't want to drink that shit in any case.

But anyway, the lyrics are stupid -- I'm just loading up that shotgun and firing it. Damn the consequences. I must have taken all of about two minutes to write the lyrics of this, because I never bothered with lyrics in those days -- I just stuck my finger in lyrical throat, and whatever came up, that was the lyric. I just concentrated on the rhythm of the words, and the effect of certain words, like "radio," or "go," or "slowwwww." Which, I guess, got revisited in [sings]"Down, down, dowwwwn," in the Dukes of Stratosphear.

I actually sang that like the tape was slowing down -- I didn't want to be bothered where you do the thing where you take the tape and then edit it in.

TB: Yeah, it's more fun to physically do the effect.

AP: More fun. It tapped into my thing of doing impressions, you know?

TB: Back to the music, then -- you and Barry are fighting the battle of dissonance...

AP: We're fighting the battle of the A and A-sharp, which I think are the chords...

TB: And then Terry and Colin are tight, tight, tight!

AP: Oh, yeah. They were like some weird conjoined twins, sewn together at the shoulder. But those were the years where they'd try to catch each other out, you know? You'd hear, [imitates Terry] "Moulding!" And then Colin'd turn 'round, and Terry would do one of those things where he'd hit the bass drum and a clutch cymbal at the same time, and Colin'd have to hit a bass note with him [chuckles]. And then it'd be, "Moulding!", and he do two of them next time. So, they were always trying to catch each other out in the anti-tightness joust.

TB: Did you guys ever play "Volcano"?

AP: No, it was changed before I brought it to them. And it entered the grab bag of stuff for the first album pretty quickly. It was a brand-new song for that Peel session, so it was still brand-new by the time we got to doing it on White Music. We hadn't had time to get too sick of it.

There was so much material coming up then, and starting to come from Colin as well, that you did get sick of stuff very quickly. You know, you'd have something for a month, and you'd be really bored with it. Not like now! I've got stuff hanging around for something like 10 years, and I think, "I must finish that off!" [laughs]

Pretty soon after writing this song -- and I still have that sensation today, playing it -- I realized we should have kept the bass drum thumping during the choruses. So, you get [sings "radios in motion / atmosphere to ocean" part while banging a straight four on the table] -- see what I mean? I realized that as soon as we had it on the album, of course -- I realized I really would have liked to have kept that crunching along there.

TB: Did you then ask Terry to do that live?

AP: No, because there was the thing of trying to make it sound like the record, you know.

TB: That's the way things go, though, isn't it -- it's very rare that you look back on a recording and not think of something you could have done better or differently.

AP: Yeah, we didn't have time to live with the songs. But, at the same time, I tend not to worry about that too much, because it's like, "Well, that's how a certain song is, and why worry about it?" But this one bugged me. I really would have liked to keep that disco-solid bass drum crunching along in the choruses. It would have made much more of a contender for a single, had we done that, I think. Because, in Virgin's mind, apart from "Statue of Liberty" -- which I wasn't so keen on, I thought it was a little old and straight by then -- there really was no single.

TB: What about "This is Pop"?

AP: Well yeah, but that got heavily reworked, to make it a single. Telescoping up the ending sections, and making it crunchier and more solid.

TB: What do you remember about recording this song?

AP: Absolutely nothing, other than just, "Here we are -- go!" That whole recording of that album is just a blur, because it was recorded in something like 10 days, and during that time we were also going off to do TV performances -- "Oh, can you come in and do a TV performance for ITV, for a kids' show called 'Magpie,' except they don't want to use the single, can you re-record it?"

So, we've got 10 days to make an album, and we're having to re-record stuff, to make a backing track for a TV show -- then we have drive up, do the TV show, drive back, carry on with the album. And instead of getting a morning off on a Saturday, it's, "Oh no, can you drive up to Birmingham, because we got you on another show called 'Tiswas' -- it was an incredible blur. From the second you woke up to the second you fell back to sleep, you were recording or running off and doing TV.

TB: Which must have been tremendously exciting for you guys!

AP: It was amazing! I'd never done anything like it. It was, "Wow, this is like being a Pop star! We're on TV! And we're in a studio, and wow! I can't imagine this gets any better."

TB: You recorded these songs live, I assume? You'd add the vocals later?

AP: Yeah, pretty much. We'd add the vocals later, and there was one keyboard overdub. If you listen, there are two keyboards -- there's one doing a kind of drone that you can hear in the middle part, and then there's other kind of swirling, psychedelic kind of mess that he's taking two hands to do. And there was an overdub vocal -- lead vocal and backing vocal, which we did simultaneously. We'd have a glass screen and two microphones, and I'd be on one side doing the lead vocal, and he'd be on the other side, doing the Beach Boys harmony. And I think we probably both had another run-through at that, to double up the parts.

I was very damaged by those Beach Boys singles -- all those high-vocal parts obviously made a huge impression on me. You can see that scattered liberally, like some sort of seasoning, across all the early XTC recordings.

TB: And you recorded this where? At Abbey Road?

AP: At The Manor. We did the 3D-EP at Abbey Road. Then it was decided that Virgin didn't own Abbey Road, so they guided us toward The Manor, which they did own. So they could pay themselves! Which they tried to do throughout our career -- guide us to studios they owned. "Oh, we've just bought the Townhouse Studios, the old Goldhawk Films studios. Go and have a look at them, they're really great!" So they could pay themselves the fee. With our money.

6:06 AM

©2009 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.