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Sunday, March 14, 2010


Andy discusses guitar playing and players - Part II

Andy looks at guitar playing and players -- Part II

Over the coming weeks, Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge are going to discuss Andy's approach to the guitar, examining his history with the instrument, his influences, and why and how he does what he does with it.

This conversation will be taking place over the course of several weeks, so as we said in a previous blog, this is your chance to Ask Andy your guitar-related questions. We can't guarantee that we'll get to each one, of course, but we'll try. Ask away!

This week we finish up looking back on the early days of Andy Partridge, guitarist, up to the point where XTC took full form and was about to take over the Pop Universe. As for the song of the week, Paul mentioned the solo on "Are You Receiving Me?" as a favorite, so we're putting that one up again, since it is indeed a nice example of his early playing and soloing. Andy discussed it way back in the beginning of 2007, and of course the original can be found on Go 2.

TB: So, when we last paused, you'd had a big breakthrough in your guitar playing -- you'd discovered the "Blues Box."

AP: Yes, I stubbed my white, flabby toe on the Blues Box. I had no concept before then of lead guitar. I just couldn't figure out how you did it -- I mean, apart from hiring Jimmy Page to come and play on your single! [laughs] Even most professional guitarists in the '60s did that.

TB: [laughs] So, you've had this breakthrough, and you've left the band Stray Blues. You were bandless -- what came next?

AP: It was, "Okay, now I know what the Blues Box is, and how these people are doing it -- let me listen to all the guitarists I can listen to." I started to say, "Okay, I've got the pattern now, so I can listen to other guitarists and figure out what they're doing. Hey! It kind of works for Jimi Hendrix! Hey, it kind of works for Jimmy Page!" This must be the secret -- this is the Black Arts that they're not telling you about," you know?

TB: Did you find that every guitarist kind of had their own patterns?

AP: The ones who I could play along with basically had that pattern. Then I started to notice that certain guitarists broke that pattern and went into different things. One of them who I liked a lot, and tried to learn everything I could from, was Rory Gallagher. He had a band called Taste in the late '60s, which made two albums. The first one was just called "Taste," I think, and the second one was called, "On the Boards." I liked that one a lot, because it started to go in a Jazzy area.

He's basically playing the Blues Box, but he puts in unusual, dark notes, as well notes that I realize now owe more to jigs and reels than probably anything else. But at the time, I thought it was some strange architecture that he had the plans to. He slipped in little Jazz things as well, and I was mesmerized by this. I decided to learn everything I could -- I learned all of his rolling little riffs, which had this kind of tumbling feel to them. Lots of pulling off strings, and using open strings as part of the roll, and stuff like that.

Where he'd slip in these dark little notes, I started to do that as well. I also started to listen to more Hendrix, and tried to play along with that -- although at first I was always confused about the tuning, because Hendrix used to either tune down to E-flat or to D, even. I remember thinking, "How does he get that deep? I can't play along with this -- it appears to be in E-flat!" Then I realized, "Of course, he's tuning the guitar down!"

So, I was just learning to play like everyone I admired. I didn't so much admire Eric Clapton. I thought he was the master of the cliche, to be frank. There's a certain facileness to his playing -- it was like, "This is the accepted way of approaching this." I don't know, it never took me. It never grabbed me. But people like Rory Gallagher and Jimi Hendrix grabbed me, because they took the guitar into different places.

TB: I remember reading that Jerry Garcia, of all people, was an influence on you.

AP: That came a little bit later. I had a girlfriend called Linda who was a bit of a hippie chick, and she had Live Dead. She would put on "Dark Star" while we were making out -- praying her mom and dad didn't come home early from bingo [chuckles] -- and I'd be somewhat distracted, listening to this guitar playing. I'd borrow the album from her, and take it home, and noticed that the scales he was playing were so almost brain-dead -- up-and-down scales, playing very slowly -- that I could play along.

So, within a matter of minutes, I seemed to "get" Jerry Garcia. "Oh, he's going [mimics slow scale]. Okay, I'll go [mimics same scale]. Okay, let's move on to Lesson Deux!" It really was like a flash-card teaching system or something -- he'd play a very slow, doped-out line, and I'd copy him. He'd play the next slow, doped-out line, and I'd copy that one. So, I seemed to master "Dark Star" pretty damn quickly. I guess it's weird to say that, for all my supposed New Wave credentials, I was playing along with Jerry Garcia [laughs].

TB: The other guitar player I've heard you mention a lot is Ollie Halsall.

AP: Ah yes. He also comes a little bit later. Just as I thought I could play like anyone -- kind of! -- forget some of the Jazz characters, they were just too bloody good; that was always just a sense of wonder for me -- I heard an album called Patto, named after the singer, Mike Patto. Ollie was the guitar player of this band.

Sometimes he'd play quite straight Blues Box stuff, pretty simple chords, but at other times, he'd just turn the guitar inside-out, playing a lot of chromatic runs, then runs made up of whole tones, then mixing it all up, including a scale that by then I'd just got into, which I called the "nice pattern." It was the major scale -- you know, you're playing along with "square" music, or Country music, and you have to use a different pattern -- it's all nice-sounding, as opposed to sexy-sounding or slightly doomy- or tough-sounding. Suddenly, you're playing along, and your doomy- or tough-sounding scale doesn't seem to work -- why is that? "But wait, if I change that note, it sounds nice!" It sounds like a nice person playing, with no sex about them. A "More tea, vicar?" kind of scale.

I think I might have discovered that scale playing along with Django Reinhardt. My dad said that he was quite good, that I'd like him. There was one song that Rory Gallagher and Taste did on acoustic guitar, called "Moving On." My dad said, "Oh, that just sounds like bad Django Reinhardt!" So I went and bought a cheap Django album, and there were lots of those "nice" scales on there.

But Ollie Halsall's guitar playing didn't sound like guitar -- it sounded more like Jazz piano or saxophone. He didn't stick with the corny Blues Box -- because, you realize that this Blues Box must be corny if everyone's using it. It's a very common currency.

TB: Yeah, it becomes cliche after a while.

AP: Exactly. Eric Clapton never broke out of that -- that's all he does, is the Blues Box. But Ollie Halshall was smashing this, left, right and center, and I realized that he was playing notes that aren't in the scale! This really thrilled me. This was a big opening of the brain for me. Here I was, in the process of grasping scales -- totally self-taught, you know, I couldn't read music, and nobody showed me any of this stuff, so I'm just copying records -- and he busts out of this. He plays guitar that goes into totally Martian territory, and I loved it. It was like, "Whoa! Just when I thought I could kind of play like everyone else, suddenly here's somebody who's playing Martian guitar!"

One minute, he'd sound like he was in a bar band, playing your standard bar-band stuff, and suddenly he'd bust loose, and it'd be, "Wow!" Burns your trousers off of you. "How the hell am I going to get to that? He's coming from a different dimension." That was a huge influence on me.

Just before that, I'd been exposed to some other things by a very big player in all of this, a chap called Spud Taylor, whom I knew through a friend of a friend. He was one of life's Beatniks. He used to spend all of his work money -- he had a succession of crummy factory jobs -- to send away to these mail-order places in New York and Scandinavia and whatnot to get these Avant-Garde records. He'd also get obscure straight stuff that you couldn't find easily, like Sonny Rollins' stuff. Or, he might get Han Bennink or Albert Ayler or stuff by Archie Shepp -- you know, really pretty out-there kind of stuff. He'd force me to borrow these records, because I think he saw it as a mission to open me up. He'd only heard me singing the praises of Beat groups, largely -- "Wow, have you heard Taste? They're really weird." "No, they're not weird! Try Archie Shepp!"

TB: [laughing] "You think that's weird? Listen to this!"

AP: [laughing] Yeah, exactly. "Oh, I love this single by the Small Faces, 'Lazy Sunday.' Have you heard it?" "Yeah, yeah, but have you heard Trout Mask Replica?" "No, what's that?" "Oh, okay -- you loan me all your albums, and I'll loan you all these, and see how we get on."

So, I'd loan him the few albums I had -- you know, Monkees, Sgt. Pepper's, Satanic Majesties Request -- pretty straight kind of Beat with a Psychedelic edge, I suppose -- and he'd lend me all this stuff by more out-there people.

I hated Trout Mask Replica. I hated it. I thought, "This is just rubbish. He's got a band here with two guitars, bass and drums, and they can't play. They're mucking around. My bands sound like this. This is a big trick, a big con." He said, "No, stick with it, it's all worked out," so I listened and listened, and then suddenly, kapow! It seemed to click. I realized that these are patterns. That drummer is playing four bars of one pattern, then changes to four bars of another, then four bars of another -- it's all worked out. It's just that the pieces of playing -- the notes and chords -- are grinding and crashing against each other in the sort of way that would upset my mother! And the very idea, at that age, I found immensely thrilling. You know, anything that upset your parentshas to be a good thing, right? [chuckles] It's part of the launch pad that gets you out of their orbit. It's part of the blast, the gunpowder that fires you out of their little valley.

So suddenly, Trout Mask Replica clicked really big. It stopped being a funny man with a growly voice saying funny words over a band mucking about, and suddenly became sculptural, highly worked-out music. I got it big-time, and loved it.

I was being opened up, generally. I was also starting to get Albert Ayler and John Coltrane and was buying myself Musique Concrete records by obscure Frenchman, and I was loving this stuff! It was like the fabric between worlds had become rent asunder, and I could walk through the tear and go into another place, a different universe.

It's timing! You're ready to be opened up. You've spent the whole life in your clamshell, just peeking about a narrow slit, and suddenly somebody comes along -- and in my case it was Spud Taylor. I remember thinking, "Oh, you pretentious git -- why can't you just go into town and buy a Pop record on a Saturday like everyone else? Why do you have to take your wages and post them to some mail-order place in New York, and get some obscure record of people who can't play just making a noise?" And then, powee! The act of listening to this stuff opens the clamshell up, and suddenly the shell's back and you can see two foot of blue sky, [faster and faster] three foot, four foot, six foot, twenty! It suddenly all comes into view. So, those few years were an enormous time for me.

TB: How old were you at this point?

AP: This would have been between '69 and '73, probably. I left school at 15, in early '69, I think. So, over those three or four years, my brain was dynamited by music, in a way that I couldn't imagine. But I think I was ready for it, because I was doing stuff like messing with a tape recorder, making weird sound-collage things, and being thrilled by some of the results. You know, just taping feedback for an hour, and listening to it at different speeds. Or, having a toy xylophone, and putting a little clip-on microphone from the tape recorder inside the xylophone, so it's incredibly distorted, and me just running up and down this toy xylophone -- it's fuzzy and distorted and feeding back, because I've got it turned up so loud. I'm thinking, "Wow, does anyone else know you can do this?" You know, it's that sense of, you've got a toy chemistry set and you've invented the atom bomb, and you're wondering whether anyone else knows. [chuckles]

TB: It's that sense of possibility that is so strong at that time of your life -- it seems like you can do anything.

AP: Yeah! It's an extremely important time. And it's down to someone trusting someone enough -- in this case, a friend, an early drinking buddy, or someone you just hang out with, and he's trying to force-feed you the more unusual types of things. He'd start off by playing you something like "Cat Food," by King Crimson, and you'd think, "Wow, that's kind of interesting -- that's funny piano, it doesn't seem like it's in any sort of tuning at all, and it's over this riff that sounds a bit like 'Come Together,' by the Beatles. That's unusual." And then he'd say, "Yeah, but have you heard this?" And then he'd work in some Han Bennink crazy percussion stuff, or some Sun Ra, and you'd sit there, staring at this sleeve done in marker pen, and it's a Sun Ra vinyl thing. "Whoa! Too much to handle -- I'll try that one next time."

But slowly, slowly, slowly, this one person seemed to open me up. He was only like a year older me -- it was just that his tastes were out there. I think he wanted to be so different from the herd that it thrilled him to be ordering stuff from the States or from Scandinavia or wherever.

TB: I was going to ask, what do you think his motivation was, to be so out there?

AP: I just think he liked to be different, you know? He used to get all excited -- he'd buy a bass guitar, and an amp and speakers, and say, "Yeah, let's start a band!" You'd do two or three rehearsals with him and a drummer friend, and then he'd go and sell it all. You'd turn up at his doorstep with your guitar, and he'd sold it all. You'd say, "What have you done that for? We're in a band!" And he'd say, "Yeah, that's too square. I've bought an alto saxophone." "Can you play an alto saxophone?" "No, I've no idea. But I can kind of make it sound a little bit like Albert Ayler." So he'd squeak and squeal.

I just think he was never content. You'd say okay to the saxophone, and start another band up. I started a band with him called Tongue -- he said it was the most exploratory part of the human body. I thought, "Fair enough," so he played alto sax, I played guitar -- trying to do my best impression of some of this weird stuff that I'd heard -- and we had a chap called Tony Hill who was a very, very straight older fellow whose father ran a big cement company, I think, in the town. He was into Jazz, and also the outward edge of Jazz. We had two or three rehearsals, and were thinking, "Where the hell are we going to get gigs, doing this stuff?" Then we turned up to Spud's house for rehearsal, and when I asked, "Where's your sax?", he said, "Oh, I sold it -- I've bought a motorbike. I want to go and live in Death Valley with the Hells Angels."

I guess after a while you realized that he kind of lived [laughs] in a fantasy world, a would-be Romantic world. For him, Romance maybe was Jack Bruce with a bass, and then six weeks later, Romance would be being John Coltrane. Then, Romance for him would be being Sonny Barger of the Hells Angels. He said to me, "Yeah, I've bought a motorbike, I'm going to get really good, I'm going to move to America, I'm going to live with the Hells Angels. I've read this book, Sonny Barger's autobiography, and I also heard that Shirley Abicair has moved to Death Valley to live with the Hells Angels." She was a British TV children's presenter who he had a crush on as a kid.

He used to give these weird excuses, but he'd pull you into his orbit, because he was a very enigmatic character. As soon as you were pulled into his orbit, and were planning on doing stuff in that orbit, he'd break the cycle and get some different thing.

TB: Reinvent himself.

AP: Yeah, exactly. The first band Spud and I had together was called Stiff Beach.

TB: Was this your first band after Stray Blues?

AP: No, there may have been some others before then. It's difficult, because it gets kind of blurred. There were so many -- you know, you'd do just two rehearsals for, and then you'd fall apart. Bands you do no rehearsals for, you do one or two gigs, but then you'd fall apart. Bands where you didn't have either, but had great plans for, but they'd fall apart and all the posters you'd got printed up were useless -- it was a constant shifting banquet -- band-quet! -- of individuals. Usually useless individuals.

Stiff Beach was myself on guitar, Spud on bass and a local drummer called Anthony Climpson, who now I think has something to do with the Forestry Commission, and has been decorated by the queen, although then, a bigger dope fiend you wouldn't meet. It's amazing how people's circles in life change!

We played some power-trio type stuff -- some Taste numbers, some Cream numbers -- even though I didn't particularly like Cream, that was more Spud's Jack Bruce fantasies -- we weren't good enough to play any Beefheart numbers, I think. Plus, you needed two guitars grinding together to make those unusual, Jackson Pollack-like chords.

I was getting myself better and better guitars at this point, though. I remember having a guitar, I think it was made in Singapore, called the Suay Lee Goldentone. Awful guitar. I covered it in stick-on plastic silver discs, because I thought that looked heavy.

TB: How were you supporting yourself, and buying these guitars, at this point?

AP: It was through my first job, which was at the Swindon Evening Advertiser office. I was a messenger boy. I was 17, and as soon as I became 18, they fired me, because they didn't want to pay me the statutory adult wage! [laughs] I was very upset, because the kid they got to take my place was mentally challenged, and I thought, "Wow. All this time they were kidding me on -- they've fired me because I've become an adult, and the kid I've got to train in my place can't even tie his shoelaces." I was really affronted. [laughs]

I was saving up my money, and my father was nice enough to sign hire-purchase deals for me. I got myself some awful German amp -- a Schaller, I think. Horrible gray thing. Just loud and horrible. Then I was able to get a Sound City setup, which again sounded horrible, but at least it was a known-brand-horrible.

TB: Were you learning through being in bands, or would you sit in your room and play alone, or both?

AP: I was learning through being in bands, and was learning through imitating records -- sitting and playing in my room, and making big enemies -- of my mother especially, who didn't like the noise. [imitating her] "Ooh, bad nerves! I can't hear noise." She would do anything to discourage me, even to the point of turning off the power. She would sit in the dark with the power switch turned off, so that I couldn't play.

TB: Which is one of the reasons you were learning in bands, I guess!

AP: I remember, when I first started hanging out with Colin Moulding, around '72, I was living part of the time at my girlfriend Linda's flat, and I'd come home once or twice a week to [laughs] get my washing done, or to have a decent meal on a Sunday or something.

I first bumped into Colin in a bar. He played bass, so I said, "Come round and jam with me." The first time he came round, my mother didn't like the sound of him playing -- it was like twice the noise, as far as she was concerned. But we weren't too loud -- it was no louder than a record player.

The next time he round, or the time after that, the doorbell went, and I thought, "Great, that'll be Colin." She went to the door, and I heard some conversation, then the door shut, and I thought, "Okay, he'll be coming upstairs any second now." No footsteps coming upstairs. Five minutes later, no noise -- I can't hear anyone talking downstairs -- so I go downstairs, and ask, "Mum, where's Colin?" "Oh, he went away." "Why did he go away?" "I told him you were out." [laughs] So, I can't say that my mother was encouraging my musical development!

TB: [laughing] So that's why she never made the liner notes?

AP: [chuckling] She never did what it took to make the liner notes or the Grammy acceptance speech, no.

TB: Here's your dad, signing off on these hire-to-purchase agreements, and mom's turning off the power.

AP: He was gently encouraging, but she was actively against it, yeah.

TB: Did your mom hate the prospect of you trying to make a living as a musician? Do you think that was part of it, or was it something else?

AP: I don't know if that ever even came up in conversation.

TB: Was she trying to encourage you to do something more "respectable"?

AP: I think they both wanted me to be something quite sensible. I think my father would have been happy if I'd have followed him into the Royal Navy or become a policeman. I even had a fantasy in my early teens of being a policeman, but it's too dangerous. Too dangerous and crazy, and not enough music involved. [laughs, mimics two-note police siren] You get bored of the same track after a while.

But I was already very, very bitten by wanting to be in a band, and wanting to make great sounds. During those few years, everything seemed to happening at super-fast speed -- like I say, forming bands, breaking up bands, rehearsing bands, naming them, shaming them, getting posters and badges made up. It was all happening intensely quickly.

I sort of got to a point where I was learning about guitar in a much more subtle way. I was learning more about chords.

TB: What started opening that up for you?

AP: I was an awful copier. I was terrible at working out other people's stuff. I was not really good at the art of listening, so if I played covers by people -- you know, I'd be in bands, and you'd have to play workingman's clubs, and the majority of your set would have to be covers -- I was always working them out wrong.

I think this is a common curse of the amateur -- I still hear it in bar bands now. You know, every bar band in existence plays "Satisfaction" wrong. Very few bar bands realize that the bass is not playing the same notes as the guitar -- it's playing a harmony under that. The theme is something like B, C-sharp, D, while the bass is playing something like E, F-sharp, G.

So, most amateurs don't know the art of listening correctly, and I certainly didn't. I was also very arrogant -- I thought, "Oh, anybody can do this songwriting thing. I can do it." I started writing songs, and they were appalling! Because I really had no grasp of song structure. I didn't put the homework in.

TB: But you had kind of an intuitive knowledge that there were such things as a verse, chorus and bridge?

AP: Sure, but it was -- and we're getting into other areas here, because songwriting is a whole other interview -- a matter of going from wanting to play like Rory Gallagher or other Blues players, to wanting the guitar to speak in tongues, like Albert Ayler or Captain Beefheart's band. I did love the song, but it seemed as if my love of the song got put on the back burner for a while, while I was busy opening up to musicality in general, and learning how to convert that to the instrument I had -- how to become a good-enough guitar player so I could sort of play anything.

It's like, you can paint a great picture in several colors -- you don't need the whole palette -- but when you're learning, I guess it's a fear that you're going to need all the shades of purple there are, or all the shades of pink, or all the shades of gray, so you've got to know how to play like everyone. It's like, you've got to know every rule if you're going to know how to bust them and break them.

But after a while, my playing stopped expanding, and I became enamored with wanting to construct songs. The guitar then became the brush I painted these songs with. It was no longer the pure joy of wielding the brush, and waggling it around in the paint -- it became about the picture I was painting. The brush is just a tool to achieve that end. So, the guitar started to become less important when I got to a certain point in my learning.

TB: Although, as you said, you had to expand your vocabulary, so I guess that's when you started dabbling more in chords, because you needed to create textures, not just single lines.

AP: Yeah, I had gotten into the outer reaches of the guitar universe, but it was feeling a bit lonely out there. I could make it sound like any number of people, or like somebody falling down a mineshaft with a suit of armor on -- I thought I had the full palette at my command -- but then I started to think, "What am I going to do with this ability? I'm really missing the songs."

It was also at this time, in the early '70s, where the Prog thing was starting to get so flatulent -- it was getting too big, just turning into a gaseous mass with no solidity -- that I started to hanker for two- or three-minute songs. You know -- "Why can't it all be dead and done like two-minutes-thirty, like those records I liked when I was younger?"

So I started to hanker for a very constructed universe, as opposed to a Jackson-Pollock-in-sound universe.

TB: Yeah, or the "wheedly-wheedly-wee" jam.

AP: Yeah, yeah, which bores you very quickly -- especially the kind of operatic, virtuoso, super-fast wheedly-wheedly-wee thing.

So, I was really hankering to use the guitar as a tool to write songs, but I didn't know how the hell to do it! I wasn't something I'd learned along the way. I'd learned to play all the lead guitar I could play, and I'd learned enough chords to get by, and I'd learned how to make lots of sounds, but I didn't know how to write songs with it.

I wanted to learn about old-fashioned building blocks. "Okay, I've got this chord here, where do I go with the next chord now? What gets the right sonic effect, or what gives me the correct piece of architecture?"

TB: This would challenge you as a guitar player in its own way, because if you're trying to construct a song, and you might not have a chord in your vocabulary to take you to the next place you hear in your head, you're going to have to figure that chord out.

AP: That's right. Again, it was all self-taught -- I didn't have anyone saying, "This is an augmented chord, this is a diminished chord, this is a minor ninth, this is a suspended eleventh" -- that had no meaning to me. That's as Chinese to me as dots on a musical stave -- it doesn't mean anything.

In the few attempts I've had at trying to learn music, I gave up rather quickly. I thought, "Well, this is actually useless to me, because if I want a part, I can sing it, and find out what it is -- I can find out what the notes are. Or, if I want a chord, I can mess around, moving notes and adding notes until I find the chord that I want."

So, the whole thing of writing music felt like a useless ability to me. I've tried a couple of times to do it, and I seem to have a weird block against it. I might as well learn tap-dancing -- it isn't going to make my musical appreciation greater.

TB: So, you were in a number of band, but then you formed Star Park.

AP: I formed a band called Star Park with a school friend Dave Cartner, who also played guitar, and a number of other players. Most of them drifted away, or were fired or got bored, or whatever the whole thing was with teenage bands. There wasn't much malevolence -- firing people is usually not what happens, because there's no need to. For most people, there's nothing serious going on at that point. It's usually that somebody's got to go to university, or their mum says they can't do it anymore, or somebody stole the instrument and that's the end of that -- all those kid reasons.

But the second incarnation of Star Park included Colin and Terry. I remember meeting them in a bar called the Stage Bar, which was in Old Town. It was done out with Western paraphernalia -- very tackily, I might add. A big wagon wheel above the door when you walk in, and saloon murals painted on the wall. We'd get in there, and be listening to Slade on the jukebox, or Alice Cooper or whatever the good, heavy stuff that was current. It was a matter of, "My mates here, he plays bass and he plays drums." Light bulb went off, and I realized I could put this bass and drums into Star Park, Volume 2.

So, I struck up with Terry and Colin, who seemed to come as a package. They weren't great -- they were probably at the same level I was at. But they were a similar age, and from a similar place in the map, socially and ability-wise, so it was like, "Right -- you want to join my group?"

We were Star Park for a little while, with them in it, and then it was, "You know, we've got to get better than this. We need to be a faster, heavier name -- a better, more exciting name." So we became the Helium Kidz, which was myself, Dave Cartner, Terry and Colin.

I thought, "All the best bands have a look, so we've got to have a look." I tried my darndest to get them to wear exciting, "modern" Rock-and-Roll clothes, but it was a real uphill struggle. I was really into clothes at the time, and I would come onstage in a little tiny black denim jacket with patterns of studs all over it. I had some gold fur trousers made up that were extremely tight, with a penis made in studs that went down the left leg. I got my girlfriend to add a tiger's tail to the pants, and wore some stack-heel boots.

My father, who at that point played in Jazz combos, drumming, had bought some bowler hats, so they could all wear them. These were cheap hats, which you could find in novelty shops, and I asked him if I could have one of them, since he'd bought too many. He gave it to me, and I sprayed it silver, so I had that. Oh, and I'd made some cardboard glasses, where the arms of the glasses came out into lightning flashes about a foot on either side -- Jesus Christ, I must have looked really...

TB: [in laughter that has been building throughout the description above] I'm surprised you didn't get your ass kicked every single night.

AP: [laughs] I actually used to wear these clothes out! I used to wear the glasses out -- I don't know if I wore the gold fur trousers out, but I wore the jacket out, and I had a little tight striped vest with holes in it, which was pretty far ahead for '73. And these big stacked-heel boots, which I'd dyed purple.

I remember dying them in my parents' kitchen. They were out, and the stuff that you had to paint on the leather to get it to accept the dye was like heavy-duty acetone. I ended up completely stoned, because I was doing this in their tiny little kitchen, with all the windows and doors shut. It wasn't until they came back from wherever they'd been, and there was a blast of fresh air, that it was like, [slurred speech] "Hi! Mom! Dad!"

TB: [laughing] "I love you."

AP: [laughing] "I love you, babies. Why do you look like dinosaurs?"

So, I dyed those stack-heel boots purple, and I was really into clothes in a big way. I tried to get the band to wear this kind of thing, but they were extremely resistant. The wildest that Terry Chambers would go was, he wore black leather gloves when he drummed, and that was only because one hand had gone septic from drumming at one point, and he had to get it bandaged, and wear a glove to keep the bandage on. But then that became his thing -- even when his septic hand cleared, he still carried on occasionally with his black leather gloves, drumming.

TB: When you and Dave Cartner were playing together, what was your approach to the instrument? Later on, of course, you and Dave Gregory really meshed your playing together -- you've talked to me before about how the two of you together made one of the best guitar players around. Were you thinking in those terms at all with Star Park and Helium Kidz?

AP: No, I don't think I was smart enough to do that.

TB: Let's say you were playing E -- would he be playing the same chord and chord shape, or a different inversion, or what?

AP: It's funny you should say that, because Dave Cartner -- who, whatever I bought amplifier-wise, would seem to get something that was louder! -- was not moving as fast in his playing as I was. He was stuck in the Blues Box, while I was already exposed to stuff that broke out of there and went to the outer reaches of the musical galaxy. But he only seemed to be able to play in one key, so if we were playing a song in the key of C -- and Dave Cartner would automatically give himself the duty of playing lead guitar, since he had a louder amp! -- he could only solo in E. So he would be bending these notes painfully, to try and make them correspond to something in the chords we were playing! He didn't really have a grasp of playing in different keys.

TB: That's funny, because the whole advantage of learning the patterns is that you just move the pattern up and down the neck.

AP: Exactly! But I don't know if he really grasped that. He seemed to be playing mostly the same kind of few notes, and would just bend them a bit more until they kind of fitted. And it was obvious, even in our not-very-good state as the Helium Kidz, that we were leaving Dave Cartner behind rather quickly.

The guitar I had in the Helium Kidz -- I'd bought Dave Cartner's guitar, because he'd bought some Les Paul copy, and I'd bought his previous guitar, a Futurama for something like £25. I think it was bright blue when I bought it, but in my mind it needed to be leopard skin! So, I've got to say, with a hand-painted leopard-skin Futurama, wearing all those clothes, you do feel like king of the world.

TB: You must have been a real chick magnet.

AP: Yeah, but I was afraid of girls. That was the irony. I was attracting these girls who thought, "Yeah, Rock and Roll!" and then I'd be scared stiff of them.

TB: You just had to keep playing, because once you stopped, you'd have to talk to them.

AP: You have to keep playing, because you're going to get in hot water that'll end up in liquids! But it's the way for a shy kid to go, I guess.

TB: When and how did you make the transition from Star Park and Helium Kidz to finding your voice in XTC?

AP: It was a desire to come up with songs, and build them in such a way, and out of such elements, that they were going into new areas. And, more importantly, that they had elements of surprise and delight.

The music that I loved the best had elements of surprise to it. It took you on a journey. It wasn't like Country-and-Western stuff, where you just knew was coming -- you knew the next chord that was coming, the next lick that was coming, all the words they were going to sing. I looked down my nose terribly at Country-and-Western at the time. I don't mind it so much now, because I can see it as an art form.

But the music that thrilled me was music that had surprise elements, and this sense of delight of, "Ooh, we've gone to a different place, and just when you thought we were going to go to this chord, we've gone to that chord! And our lyrics never went where you thought they were going to go -- ha ha!"

It was like some sort of magical toy that you'd wound up and were springing out. It was like a Jack in the Box -- the childish delight of not knowing when the thing's going to spring out of the box at you. I wanted the music to be like that. I wanted it to be full of surprise elements, and things you could go back to, because they weren't run of the mill.

TB: And obviously, expressing that through a guitar means going to the chord you don't expect to come next.

AP: The chords that you don't expect, the runs you don't expect. I was pulling all the pieces out -- the Ollie Halsall atonal playing, mixed in with a bit of Blues Box, some straight chords mixed with some very strange chords, and big dollops of stuff that was thrilling me, too -- it wasn't only influences.

Although everyone is the sum total of all their influences -- the way you mangle those up and get them wrong is what makes you the original individual you are.

TB: Exactly. It's your own recipe, but you're using your influences as the ingredients.

AP: Right. The way you fail to play like all those people at one time makes for something totally different!

For me, it was that desire to make songs that delight because of their sense of the new. Like the best paintings, the best books, the best toys, the best films, the best plays. There are always great twists -- always a great way of asking, "Did you every look at it from this angle? And now that you've looked at it that way, when you go back to normality, doesn't that look different?" I think all the great works of art have got that.

TB: It seems to me that, given what you've just said about surprise, with Helium Kidz, you'd probably run up against kind of a wall with Dave Cartner's limitations. You did also introduce a keyboard player into the mix, yes?

AP: Well, we got ourselves a singer -- a character from London. My girlfriend was staying at a friend's flat in London and had met this window cleaner, a kind of Robin Askwith-type character -- Steve Hutchins, this sort of cheeky, Cockney chap who was cleaning the windows and singing away at the top of his lungs. My girlfriend said, "Oh, there's this great singer -- he'd be great for the band, you know, because that'd free you up to play better guitar."

So we got together with him for a while, and we did some demos in his house, with his friend working the tape machine. We sounded horrible -- really turgid and very lame. Nothing sounded any good -- the drums sounded bad, we were playing bad, and the songs were too sleepy, because we'd all gotten drunk the night before and were playing with hangovers in his living room. It was the worst end of amateur rock.

We got a manager interested in us -- a fellow who later became Culture Club's manager, called Tony Gordon. For a while, he managed us, and was getting us demo sessions. At one of these demo sessions, the wife of the newly married Dave Cartner forbade him go. This did us a favor, because she really put him in a position that enabled us to move on, because we were pulling away from him musically -- we were getting better and he wasn't. We were wanting to go into a more modern, futuristic Pop kind of thing, and he just wanted to stay there, playing the Blues in E. His wife forbidding him to go to this demo session was great for us, because that was the excuse to sack him. It was very sad, because he was this school friend of mine, and we'd made this pledge that we'd always be in bands together -- so I felt as if I'd reneged on the schoolboy deal, which hurt to no end. But it had to be done.

So, I thought, "Let's get keyboards in -- that'll sound more modern." We got a player called Jon Perkins, who had an electric piano -- a Fender Rhodes, which was pretty swish for kid his age -- and a Davoli synth, so he could make modern noises!

Then, after a while, we dropped Steve Hutchins. I remember, because I'd done the sacking of Dave Cartner, that it was Colin's turn to sack somebody [chuckles]. So Colin sacked him over the phone, which led to Steve Hutchins ringing me at my job -- which was at a department store, painting posters -- and saying, " 'ere, Colin's just said, 'You're not part of the band,' and then he slammed the phone down. What's 'e on about?" Then, of course, I had to sack him properly.

So there we were -- it's 1975 and it's me, Colin, Terry and Jon Perkins. And we can't be the Helium Kidz anymore -- that's sounding too dated and too Glam. So I chose the name XTC. Most people know the story of that -- I was looking for a modern band name, and I saw a bit of film of Jimmy Durante. He was looking for the lost chord on the piano, and hit this really out-there chord, and says, "Dat's it! I'm in ec-sta-see!"

I thought, "Wow! What's 'XTC' mean? Oh, 'ecstacy' -- of course!" I wrote it down, and thought, "Look at that -- it looks like a pictogram, or like Japanese kanji or something. It looks really futuristic -- it's really modern, but it means 'ecstacy.' That's great -- we're going to have that!"

TB: At that point, did you feel freed, by being the only guitar player in the band?

AP: To some extent, yeah. I felt as if I didn't have to play down to somebody who wasn't as good. But nobody else wanted to sing, and we'd just gotten rid of our singer, because he was older than us, he lived farther away, he wanted us to be called "Skyscraper" or "Steve Z and the Zodiacs," which I thought was such a bad throwback to the early '60s. I thought, "He cannot be serious -- he's saying this without irony!"

So what upset me more was that there was no singer. Colin refused to sing -- I mean, it seemed like he was in the band a year or two before he even said anything to anyone, because he was so painfully shy. Terry refused to sing, and Jon didn't want to sing, so Muggins here had to learn to become the singer. And I couldn't sing for toffee. But necessity is the motherfucker of invention, I suppose.

TB: [laughing] As a guitar player, you had a keyboard as a foil for the first time. Then, once you got Barry in the band, kapow! Would you say that was another breakthrough, because his style was so...

AP: Yeah, because Jon was pretty conservative in his playing. He did lots of arpeggiated, rather old-fashioned type of playing. Also, the sound of the Fender Rhodes sounded too lounge-y to me -- whenever I could, I used to try to get him to play it through a fuzzbox or something, to make it sound more aggressive, or more modern.

When Barry came in, he was actually incredibly straight on our first rehearsal, though I could see there was a lot of promise there. We went out drinking after that, and got phenomenally drunk -- I remember throwing up in the sink in the flat I lived in with my then-girlfriend. She's poking the pieces down with a stick, and I'm looking up between throwing up, and saying, "Great, I think we've got a keyboard player -- blearrrgh." [laughs]

Anyway, during this drinking session after the first rehearsal, where he was playing kind of standard Rock-isms, like Jon Lord or Keith Emerson, I said to Barry, "You don't have to play like that. You can play any fucking note you want to, and it's gonna work." I don't know whether he was testing us, playing like Jon Lord or something, but after that, it was like, "Okay." And he did actually play what the hell he wanted.

That was so refreshing. I couldn't stop smiling. I thought, "Great, I've found a keyboardist who thinks on the keyboard like I do on the guitar -- where nothing is sacred. Any note works!"

TB: And then you were able to get into contest territory, which took you to the next level.

AP: Totally. We got into who could get more outrageous, who could make the worse noises, who could make the most outre chords going! That was the real beginning of XTC.

10:45 PM

©2010 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.