Peter Blegvad & Andy Partridge
Orpheus The Lowdown Ape House

Monstrance Ape House

Peter Blegvad & Andy Partridge, Orpheus The Lowdown Monstrance, Monstrance

Andy Partridge (XTC), Barry Andrews (XTC, Shriekback) and Martyn Barker (Shriekback) holed themselves up in a studio last year, playing spontaneously, resulting in eight hours of recordings pared down to a 90-minute, two-disc set. XTC fans looking for Partridge the crafty popsmith will find, instead, a more ambient player who evokes everything from Robert Fripp soundscapes to Miles Davis' wah-wah-strafed Agharta. Andrews has a blast switching among piano, vintage organs and synths, while Barker alternates between holding things together, contributing to the ambiance and simply laying out. These aren't traditional jams; they're the work of three musicians discovering what kind of textures they can create on the spot, and while more sonic variety could have been in order, frequently the trio succeeds by simply going on a spacey exploration.

Orpheus the Lowdown is built around the incredible voice of Peter Blegvad, the former Art Bears guitarist. It reworks the myth of the title character over a soundscape created by Partridge, yet it doesn't aspire to be a high-minded project. Rather, it's laced with a dry sense of humor, a literate voice and a music spare enough to elevate the words while simultaneously leaving a strong sonic impression. One track features a repeated drum pattern regularly punctuated by the sound of crashing bowling pins. For seven minutes, a looped guitar chord that slowly bangs, creating suspense without getting abrasive. Twenty-odd years ago, college radio used to stop me in my tracks with unprecedented works like this. Let's hope Blegvad and Partridge can warp a new generation.

First printed in June 2007

XTC's Partridge Gets 'Monstrance' On Us

XTC's Partridge Gets “Monstrance” On Us

XTC founder and guitarist Andy Partridge, original XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews, and Andrews' longtime Shriekback bandmate, drummer Martyn Barker will release an entirely improvisational album on April 3—a concept that first arose in casual conversation between Partridge and Andrews over 10 years ago.

In 2005, Andrews invited Partridge to play on Cormorant, Shriekback's last album. Partridge in turn began to discuss the improvisation project with Andrews, who then enlisted Barker, his partner in Shriekback for some 25 years. Under the name “Monstrance,” the trio got together to record live for three days. Their philosophy was “to go in a room and just play! Have nothing worked out and no theme to aim for; let's just see what happens,” Martyn Barker recalls.

The nearly eight hours of material was sorted and mixed by Future Sound of London guitarist Stuart Rowe and engineer Merv Carswell. The result is Monstrance's self-titled debut Monstrance, a two-disc set of overdub-free/first take music, issued by Partridge's own Ape House label, distributed in the U.S. by Ryko.

Watch Monstrance performing “Winterwerk” live in the studio at the Ape House site. At the same site you can read the bandmembers' blog accounts of the sessions (“From periods of Ambience to Weird time changes, we went on a journey that went somewhere and nowhere,” writes Barker).

Andy Partridge
Fuzzy Warbles Collectors Album Ape

Andy Partridge, Fuzzy Warbles Collectors Album

XTC's Andy Partridge started clearing his cupboard of demos and home-recordings in 2002 with the first volume of Fuzzy Warbles. The series, originally released on his own Ape label and available through his website and as imports, grew to eight volumes, here collected along with a ninth bonus disc. Each volume jumbles early versions of (mostly) late-period XTC songs (such as “Summer's Cauldron” and “Dear God”) with uncanny psych-rock imitations, outtakes and other previously unreleased ditties, and random studio goofs (including annoying laugh tracks and brief instrumentals). Do you need nearly nine hours of Partridge demos (and some full-fledged XTC recordings), especially on top of the XTC rarities that made up most of the four-disc Coat Of Many Cupboards? Probably not, but that doesn't mean Fuzzy Warbles, like those GBV Suitcases, isn't full of treasures. Partridge is a pop genius, and even when he seems to be singing about quotidian events (“Happy Birthday, Karen”), he crafts ingenious melodies and unpredictable hooks.

First printed in December 2006

Image of the artist

Excess XTC

Andy Partridge's explores his considerable song catalog with Fuzzy Warbles

What to do if your record company refuses to promote your new album while your old label is still fighting you over royalties? If you are XTC's Andy Partridge, you simply keep on working, that's what.

Waiting for the dust to settle while Virgin battled him between'92 and '99, Partridge plied his considerable intelligence into what eventually became a ten-CD series titled Fuzzy Warbles. Comprised of demos, disused soundtrack offerings and the odd bootleg, Fuzzy Warbles is a rare glimpse at Andy Partridge in the raw.

“What I am is of no interest, it has to be said,” says Partridge from his home in bucolic Swindon. “I am a pretty dull person who writes songs. I don't leap from the top of the house with my chest on fire with peanut butter slippers on.”

Warbles Vols. 1 and 2 have enjoyed reasonable sales on Partridge's import-only label, APE (Andy Partridge Editions). But what was originally conceived as a lark is turning into a behemoth.

“I hope I can make it,” says Partridge. “There is enough stuff to make it a ten CD project. But sitting the other day compiling volumes three and four I am now wondering ‘Am I gonna blow all the better stuff on Vols. 1 to 6?’”

For now, XTC fans will delight in Fuzzy Warbles' bits and pieces, fully remastered on Partridge's Mac home computer setup. As always, eclecticism and melody are at the fore of Partridge's music, with song styles ranging from funky soukous to jazzy cocktail to round-the-campfire medieval merriment. But working on his old material has not hindered Partridge's future productivity.

Collaborations with Peter Blegvad and Apples In Stereo as well as new signing Milk and Honey Band will soon grace the APE records' roster. Why his own label?

“Everything I am doing personally is going to be on APE,” explains Partridge. “So are all the Fuzzy Warbles. The whole situation with my last label went sour. I am sick of the sharks in the industry. I am sick of getting ripped off by other people. I am not gonna rip myself off.”

First printed in May 2003

Coat of Many Cupboards Virgin

XTC, Coat of Many Cupboards

As XTC waited out its contract squabble with Virgin throughout most of the 1990s, band members Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding must have had a lot of time on their hands to go through their archives. In 1998, TVT released the four-CD Transistor Blast: Best of the BBC Sessions, which was followed by two studio albums, 1999's Apple Venus, Pt. 1 and 2000's Wasp Star: Apple Venus, Pt. 2, with separate CDs of the demos for each album (Homespun and Homegrown, respectively). The career-spanning, four-CD Coat of Many Cupboards is a collection of odds and ends (demos, live versions, alternate mixes, B-sides, and outtakes), and Partridge promises eight more CDs of rarities over the next few years. The question is, Does anyone but the most hardcore fan need any of these “supplemental” releases? The answer is a solid no-and I love XTC.

Hearing an awkward and stilted early version of the peppy-pop hit “Mayor of Simpleton” may be interesting for beard-scratches, but playing it once is all that's necessary for someone who listens to music for pleasure, not study. (It's like when jazz CD reissues are padded with six versions of the same song: it's more tedious than interesting.)

If you're looking for an XTC fix, score with the recently remastered reissues of the band's entire Virgin catalog, all of which should include enough bonus tracks to get you high without diving into the Cupboards stash.

First printed in Nov/Dec 2002