december 2012
issue #408

Issue #408

Issue #130

ISSUE #130

JUNE 1990

XTC collectors can look forward to two CDs this summer, both boasting archive recordings.

Issue #135

ISSUE #135


From punk to psychedelic pastiche.

Issue #209

ISSUE #209


Andy Partridge talks drugs.

Issue #233

ISSUE #233


Budget-priced, half-familiar, cheaply-packaged and generally endearing set.

Issue #261

ISSUE #261

MAY 2001

Virgin finally treat XTC's catalogue with the gravity it deserves.

Issue #298

ISSUE #298

JUNE 2004

Yesterday's heroes are finding there's life after big-label death.

Issue #303

ISSUE #303


XTC boffin reopens the gates to demo heaven.

Issue #318

ISSUE #318

Christmas 2005

Bands like Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs owe a heavy debt to XTC. Tim Jones spoke to ANDY PARTRIDGE about his band's long-overdue revival.

Issue #337

ISSUE #337

June 2007

Partridge and a pair free (form)

Issue #406

ISSUE #406


The painful birth of English Settlement.

Issue #407

ISSUE #407


Solid gone.

Issue #408

ISSUE #408


Solid gone.

Issue #420

ISSUE #420


Non-realignment, packed.

issue #406

Issue #406


Issue No. 130, June 1990

XTC collectors can look forward to a couple of interesting CDs this summer, both boasting archive recordings. "Explode Together (The Dub Experiments 1978-81" will include material from Andy Partridge's solo album, plus tracks from the "Go Plus" e.p., originally issued free with the band's "Go 2" album. A second disc is likely to concentrate on general rarities, like the "Three Wise Men" 45, Colin Moulding solo material and hard-to-get 'b' sides.

issue #406

Issue #406


No. 135, Nov. 1990

XTC: From Punk to Psychedelic Pastiche
Gary Ramon traces the tangled history of Wiltshire's finest pop and psych band

XTC are one of those quintessentially English bands who, like the Kinks before them, enjoy more popularity in America than at home. Having progressed from punk-rock origins, the Swindon band have issued ten albums in their own right — two under their psychedelic alter-ego the Dukes of Stratosphear — plus an armful of classic pop singles, many of these in highly collectable editions. When we last featured them back in 1982, XTC were about to embark on their ill-fated world tour, which proved to be their last real concert dates. In that same article, we valued their debut 45, “Science Friction”, at £3.50: today, that same disc, complete with picture sleeve, is worth £70! For this update, which pays particular attention to overseas rarities, we journey to Swindon to jog the memory of the group's guitarist Dave Gregory.

The band's roots date back to the mid-60s when Dave began taking an interest in playing guitar. Around 1967, he formed a school band which, by the end of the decade, had acquired the name The Pink Warmth (inspired by a petrol ad on TV!). This psychedelic group performed irregularly at various youth clubs in Swindon, one of which providing the meeting-place between Dave and 15-year-old Andy Partridge, who'd just taken up the guitar. Over the next few years, the pair met up at various guitar shops, where they auditioned new models and traded the leading rock riffs of the day; but it wasn't until 1979 that they actually teamed up in the same band.

Dave takes up the story: “Andy met Colin Moulding in the early Seventies. He wasn't in a band or anything; he was just a rock fan, though with a bit of coaxing from Andy, he decided to learn bass guitar. It was a case of, ‘your hair's long enough, you can be in my band!’ Through Colin, Terry Chambers joined on drums. They were augmented by a short-lived guitarist Steve Phillips, and basically grew up together learning to play. In those early days, they couldn't play very well — none of us could — but they played very loudly and put off a lot of people around town!”

By the mid-Seventies, after constant practising and playing, the band improved. Aided by Andy Partridge's rapidly-developing songwriting, and billed as the Helium Kidz, they became an exciting live act. One witness compared their early performances to watching a 3-D ‘Marvel’ comic with bright primary colours come to life on stage. However original they were, the band couldn't single-handedly shake the mood of the mid-70s, when the music industry was virtually monopolised by guitar or keyboard virtuoso acts. Within a year, that ethos would be broken by a new breed of guitar groups.


In 1976, the newly-christened XTC, now with Barry Andrews on organ, obtained a handful of gigs at ‘The Affair’ in Swindon. Having established themselves locally, the band next looked to London and booked some club dates. With the capital buzzing to the sound of punk-rock, XTC quickly became seen as part of a second new wave, alongside Elvis Costello, Squeeze and the Police.

Virgin picked up on the group, hastily arranging a recording session with produced John Leckie at Abbey Road studios around August/September 1977. A debut 45, Science Friction, was rush-released on 7th October, complete with limited edition picture sleeve. . . .

There was also a 12" edition, 3-D EP, which boasted a third track, “Dance Band”. This was kept on Virgin's catalogue until the end of the decade, and isn't that hard to find . . .

“Virgin assumed that Swindon was a hotbed of musical talent,” Dave recalled, “and so they decided to put on a show to see who else they could sign! By this time, I was in an R&B band called Dean Gabber & His Gaberdines and, as well as us, there were about eight other Swindon bands doing this show for the benefit of the A&R men, but nothing came of it. I think XTC was a one-off!”

The second single, Statue of Liberty, [was] issued on 6th January 1978 . . . White Music, their album debut, followed soon after, and was met with critical acclaim, prompting one journalist to call it: “the equivalent to eating sherbet dip!”. With well-crafted songs, it confirmed that the band's unique brand of high energy pop, laced with a steam-powered organ sound, put them into a different league from their contemporaries.

After the group set off on a tour of Europe supporting Talking Heads, Virgin released a third single, This is Pop?, backed by the non-LP “Heatwave”. . . .

By August, XTC were back in Abbey Road studios recording the Go 2 album, issued two months later. The first 15,000 copies came with a 5-track 12" EP called Go +, featuring dub versions, plus a two-sided gatefold insert which included a map of Swindon! . . . Overseas pressings didn't include the bonus 12" initially; instead the disc had an extra track, “Are You Receiving Me?”, not included on U.K. pressings. This song was subsequently released in its own right as XTC's fourth single on 27th October.

To promote the LP, the band toured the States — again with Talking Heads — but on returning, Barry Andrews announced his intention to leave. He had been far from happy with the inclusion of just two of his songs on Go 2 and left to record several solo singles, enjoy a brief spell with the League of Gentlemen, before eventually settling with Shriekback.

Back in Swindon, Dave Gregory got the call from Andy Partridge requesting him to join the band. An audition was quickly arranged at the group's rehearsal studios on the outskirts of town, and on 27th January Dave became a fully-fledged member. “I think it was a question of learning some new songs and re-designing the band again, but I seriously didn't think I'd last more than one album!”, recalls Dave today.

The new line-up debuted 12 days later on a session taped for Radio 1's Andy Peebles, after which they began work on a new single, the first to be written by bassist Colin Moulding. Life Begins At The Hop, coupled with an off-the-wall Partridge instrumental “Homo Safari” (the first in a series of six instrumentals), was issued on 4th May 1979, the first 30,000 appearing on clear vinyl with a gatefold insert inside a plastic printed sleeve. Rarer still are edited DJ-only copies, again on clear vinyl. . . . The song's up-tempo 60s flavour took the band to within four places of the Top 50, close enough to warrant an appearance on “Top Of The Pops”.

After a short U.K. tour, XTC reconvened at the newly-built Townhouse studios. Dave recalls: “At the time, we were really getting into big drum sounds, and I remember Andy saying to engineer Hugh Padgham, ‘I want the drums to really knock your head off!’. That really was the start of the big XTC drum sound which has since become an industry standard.”


Drums and Wires, the band's third album, was issued on 17th August with the first 20,000 copies containing a free 7" coupling “Chain of Command” with “Limelight”. . .

Virgin, keen for another hit, pressed for the release of a second album track, Colin Moulding's Making Plans for Nigel, as a single. Issued in September, and coupled with two non-LP cuts, “Bushman President (Homo Safari Series No. 2)” and “Pulsing, Pulsing”, the first 20,000 copies came in a fold-out game-board sleeve, complete with cardboard playing pieces. . .

Nigel reached No. 19 and gave XTC a far higher public profile. Dave: “The single came out while we were doing the Drums and Wires tour. By the time we'd finished, it had become a hit so we ended up touring constantly until Xmas. Things really started happening. All our gigs were sold out and we were playing 2,000 seater cinemas instead of clubs. We finally felt we were getting somewhere.”

To follow their first Top 20 hit, XTC recorded a new Andy Partridge song, “Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down”, and a re-recording of “Ten Feet Tall” from Drums and Wires, bringing in legendary 70's glam-rock producer Phil Wainman for the session. “Ten Feet Tall” was coupled with “Helicopter” and a new song, “The Somnambulist” for their first U.S. 45, while in the U.K., “Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down” was the top-side, issued in a Partridge-designed sleeve in March 1980.

While the band were in the States, a solo album of sorts was issued by Andy Partridge. Due to the success of the Go + EP (it was subsequently sold separately from the Go 2 LP), he took the multi-track recordings of the previous two LPs to a studio, electronically reprocessed some of the songs, then rebuilt them with effects and the odd new lyric. The result was the mid-price LP, Take Away (The Lure of Salvage), by Mr. Partridge. Original pressings came in a brown textured sleeve. . . .

While Drums and Wires had caught the group between their old style and a softer, more melodic approach, the next album, Black Sea, was a much more definite statement by the new line-up. Initial quantities came in an outer green paper sleeve and a lyric insert. Preceding the LP was another Colin Moulding-penned 45, “Generals and Majors” with early copies available as a double-pack backed with three non-LP cuts including “Smokeless Zone” and “The Somnambulist”.

XTC broke the European leg of the world tour (with the Police and UB40) to fly home and recreate a recording session for the BBC, who were making a documentary on the group. This was later broadcast as XTC At The Manor on BBC-2 in October 1980, and the song heavily featured on the special, “Towers of London”, was rush-released on 10th October to coincide with the screening. An edited version of the album cut, this was coupled with a live recording of “Set Myself on Fire”, while additional pressings housed in a plastic outer sleeve contained a bonus 7" of “Scissor Man” (from a John Peel session) and “Battery Brides” (live). . . Despite bearing all the hallmarks of a classic pop song, the Partridge-penned single failed to chart.

Several other XTC rarities surfaced around this time, the first being The Colonel's one and only single release, Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen. The Colonel was Colin Moulding aided by Terry Chambers; the single was quickly deleted. Also worth mentioning here is “Take This Town”, the band's contribution to the Times Square film. The song appeared on the soundtrack LP and was coupled with the Ruts' “Babylon's Burning” on 7".

The next track to be issued as a single from Black Sea was “Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)”. . . Once again, initial pressings featured something to attract the collectors, on this occasion a fold-out poster sleeve. The real reason for buying the single, though, was for live versions of “Living Through Another Cuba” and “Generals and Majors” on the flip. For U.S. and Canadian consumption, the record company chose to remix the song, which amounted to little more than speeding it up!


In early 1981, as an adjunct to the U.S. tour, the group played some unnerving dates in Venezuela. Dave recalls: “Caracas was like an organised riot! We played on a circular stage, and at the front was a rope where security guards stood to keep fans from getting too near us. The had their swords drawn, ready to lash out at anyone who dared too near the rope, but they didn't seem to mind that someone had stacked up chairs at the back of the hall and set fire to them!”

The band returned home unscathed for the last leg of the Black Sea tour, and performed for the very last time in England in Cardiff on 2nd June. During the tour, one final single was squeezed from the album, Respectable Street (with altered lyric), coupled with two new songs, “Strange Tales, Strange Tails” and “Officer Blue”.

During preparations for their fifth album, several overseas compilations surfaced. In Japan, the Live and More mini-LP collected various live and studio non-album tracks, its sleeve die-cut to reveal a picture label. . . Over in Canada, a similar exercise was performed, where various B-sides were rounded up and issued as a five-track 12" EP Five Senses.

Having spent some six weeks in the studios with producer Hugh Padgham (who'd worked on Drums and Wires and Black Sea as Steve Lillywhite's engineer), the group finished the record by the end of the year. As a taster, Senses Working Overtime was issued as a 45 . . . coupled with “Blame the Weather” and “Tissue Tigers”. Initial copies came with an open-out panel sleeve, and for the first time since 1977, an XTC single was released in a 12" format. The single's Beatle-esque chorus and guitar-work took them into the British Top 10 for the first time.

Having recorded some 30 songs, the group's failure to agree on a track listing for a single disc meant that English Settlement ended up as a double LP set. . . Compared with their previous albums, which contained reasonably straightforward pop songs, English Settlement was more experimental with greater emphasis on creating different styles.

Incredibly, several countries including France opted to release the set as a single disc, omitting several of the best tracks! Fortunately, this was quickly rectified, with the strange result that these butchered versions have become sought-after on the collector's market.

Ball and Chain became the band's next 45, available initially in a choice of matte or gloss finish sleeve, and again supported by a 12" edition. This included “Cockpit Dance Mixture”, a remix of the “Down In the Cockpit” album track. The Canadian edition is of most interest, being a 10" pressed on green vinyl, backed by “No Thugs in Our House” and “Punch & Judy”. . .

For the next world tour, an elaborate stage set including a huge white horse (as featured on the LP sleeve) was built, but the jaunt ended in disarray. Dave remembers: “We got halfway round Europe and Andy wasn't well. He was on a vegetarian diet and just not eating properly. He was also getting very nervous about audiences, and it all came to a head at our Paris date at Le Palace on 18th March. Halfway through the first song, ‘Respectable Street’, he just ran off stage and we found him in a heap in the dressing-room, very upset and distraught. He obviously couldn't go on with the show.”

The group announced that Andy was unwell and that they'd perform the next evening, but it rapidly became clear that he wasn't fit to play that, or any other show. XTC left for home the following day, and the remaining European dates were cancelled. Everyone hoped that Andy would be ready for the U.S. leg of the world tour.

Dave Gregory: “The first show of the tour was in San Diego and we were terrible! We were totally unrehearsed 'cause we'd not played together for two weeks. Andy still wasn't well but had convinced himself to do the tour. As soon as he got back on stage, all the old symptoms came back. The following day in L.A., he said that he couldn't go through with it and that he had to go home. It was obvious that he was ill, but exactly what it was, no-one knew. The tour was cancelled and we all came back home: from that day to this, we've not played any concerts.”

One further 45, No Thugs in Our House, was released from English Settlement. This was backed by “Chain of Command” and “Limelight”, both from the Drums and Wires freebie, plus a third track, “Over Rusty Water”. Initial copies came with a die-cut ‘theatrical’ gatefold sleeve with a lyric insert.

Andy Partridge's nervous breakdown cast a shadow of doubt over the future of the band, and when they regrouped to rehearse songs for their next LP, all was not well within the camp. Terry Chambers had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the material, and as they weren't now playing live, he chose to leave and uproot to Australia with his family.


Drummerless, and with three songs which had been rejected by their record company as singles, things seemed to be going wrong for XTC. Temporarily, through an acquaintance of Gregory's, ex-Glitter Band drummer Peter Phipps was recruited in time for work on the next LP. With new producer Steve Nye the band spent a month recording at the Manor Studios, but when they returned to listen to the results over the Xmas period, they were disappointed with the overall sound. Dave explained: “We were so depressed. There was no life in our songs. The recordings lacked energy, and all the crash and clatter of our former sound had been replaced by cleanly recorded, gentle sounds. It suited some songs but it certainly wasn't us!”

Many bands used the promotional flexi-disc to find new audiences, and XTC were no exception, giving “Ten Feet Tall” to ‘Smash Hits’.
“Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down”, issued in March 1980, failed to capitalise on the success of “Making Plans for Nigel”.
The “Generals And Majors” 45 narrowly missed the Top 30 in 1980, despite being packaged together with a free bonus single.
“You're A Good Man Albert Brown” failed to chart, though XTC's venture into psychedelia as the Dukes Of Stratosphear was a success.

After a year which had seen them score their biggest chart success yet, embark on a disastrous tour which resulted in their giving up live work, and losing their drummer, it is little wonder that Virgin expected the group to fold. In anticipation, the label issued a singles collection (only “Respectable Street” was missing), Waxworks, which was boosted by a free LP of B-sides, Beeswax (later sold separately). It's worth noting that the former included a different mix of “Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down”, while a different version of “Heaven is Paved With Broken Glass” turned up on Beeswax.

In early 1983, the new material was remixed at Air Studios and presented to Virgin, who still felt the tapes lacked a killer single. Andy Partridge obliged by writing a new song, “Great Fire”, which became the band's first single in eleven months. Coupled with “Gold”, and issued on 22nd April, the initial run came in a picture cover inside a printed plastic sleeve. The 12" featured two extra tracks, “Frost Circus” and “Procession Towards Learning Land”, both part of the “Homo Safari” instrumental series.

While the next album was going through the hands of various producers, another 45 plugged the gap. Wonderland, backed with “Gold” [actually, the B-side is “Jump”], was initially issued as a limited edition picture disc. . . Relations between the band and Virgin had reached an all-time low by this time, and when it became obvious that the company weren't going to get any further new product from the group until the LP was issued, the label relented and Murmur [sic] finally appeared on 31st August 1983. While the group were happy with the Alex Sadkin mixes, the fact that four producers had been involved meant that the overall continuity of the record suffered.

One album cut, “Love On a Farmboy's Wages”, appeared on 7" in September, with initial quantities appearing as a double-pack with two extra cuts, “Desert Island” and “Toys”. The 12" featured three different songs on the B-side: “Burning With Optimism's Flames”, “English Roundabout”, and “Cut It Out” (a variation of “Scissor Man”), all taped at London's Hammersmith Odeon in May 1981.

To end the year, Partridge presented the group with a yuletide song. According to Dave, Andy wanted to disguise the group's identity, credit the disc to the Virgin Marys and get people from the record company to sing on it. Eventually, the name Three Wise Men was adopted, and Thanks for Christmas appeared. . . It was generally known that Andy Partridge was featured on the disc, though rumour had it that the likes of Phil Collins helped out too. This was untrue, and anyway the record sunk without trace. Very few copies reached the shops and its immediate deletion has ensured its current collectability.

Together with drummer Peter Phipps, the group returned to Crescent Studios, Bath, in March 1984 — where the Xmas single had been taped — to begin work on the next album. The first fruit from these sessions was the All You Pretty Girls single, issued on 14th September with a limited edition die-cut sleeve. An additional track, “Red Brick Dream”, graced the 12" edition. With its infectious chorus and big budget video promo, the single's failure was mildly surprising. . .

Thanks to improved relations with Virgin, the album was issued on schedule in October, and initial quantities featured a circular sleeve design and an inner lyric bag. The Big Express was a marked improvement on Murmur [sicg], with melodic production now giving was to a harder, bluesier pop sound. Later that same month, a second single, This World Over, appeared with initial quantities boasting post-holocaust ‘Greetings From’ postcards. An extended version of the A-side turned up on 12" but the single failed to chart.

In a desperate bid for singles chart success, Virgin issued Wake Up. . . The 12" offered value-for-money with three previous hits, “Making Plans for Nigel”, “Sgt. Rock”, and “Senses Working Overtime” joining the three 7" cuts.

In late 1984, Partridge was asked to produce Canadian singer Mary Margaret O'Hara and her band at Crescent Studios. Dave: “Andy wasn't happy with the band she had because he didn't think they were much good. He was taken off the project after asking them to tune up, so he and John Leckie (who was also sacked) found themselves at a loose end for three weeks.” It proved fortuitous.

As far back as 1978, Andy Partridge had wanted to record a psychedelic record, and his interest had been rekindled after hearing a modern psych recording by Nick Nicely called “Hilly Fields 1892”, issued in 1982. Dave recalls: “Andy said, ‘Let's do it! I've got a few songs.’ We could just about afford to stay in the studio for two weeks to make this record with the 5,000 pounds Virgin gave us to do it. We taped six songs, and it was the most fun I'd had since Drums and Wires because there was no pressure. We could do whatever we liked so long as it was done in one take, just like they used to in the Sixties when bands had to record an album in three days!”

With as much vintage gear as they could find, XTC went into Chapel Lane studios, Hereford, with their old producer John Leckie and with Dave Gregory's older brother Ian on drums. The Dukes of Stratosphear (a name bandied about back in the days when they were called the Helium Kidz), the guise they adopted for this project, had five songs: a sixth, “The Mole From the Ministry”, was written on the spot in the studio.

The resulting mini-album, 25 O'Clock, was an authentic slice of 60's pop psychedelia and, embarrassingly, outsold the previous XTC album! The sleeve was designed by Partridge on his kitchen table with the aid of a few colouring pens and some photocopied 19th century lettering. “The Mole From the Ministry”, which could easily pass for an out-take from the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, was issued on 45 several weeks later, and promoted by a film made specially for BBC West's “RPM” music programme. Dave recalled: “That was just a piece of self-indulgent fun and I'm glad people saw the funny side of it. Personally, I could carry on making Dukes albums for the rest of my career, but there's only so many laughs you can get out of one joke!”

When the laughing was over, the serious business of the next XTC album beckoned, and they were packed off to Woodstock to work with producer Todd Rundgren. Dave: “Todd and Andy were like chalk and cheese as personalities, they didn't hit it off from the start. Things just went from bad to worse. Andy was saying how much he hated the album, and when we returned home, he was very depressed about it. My only misgiving was that it was badly recorded. Perhaps Todd was trying to recreate a Sixties sound to capitalise on our Beatles fixation: but having said that, Skylarking is probably my favourite XTC album. Personally, I like what Todd did with the songs.”


The first single to be issued from the Woodstock sessions was Grass. . . Two months later saw the release of the Skylarking album . . . with the overall 60s pop sound showing a definite Dukes of Stratosphear influence. A U.S. promo-only interview disc, Skylarking With Andy Partridge, spiced with added comment from Rundgren, was circulated to radio stations. . .

The next 45, The Meeting Place, spawned a clear vinyl edition. . . Most notable, though, was the surprise U.S. hit the band scored with “Dear God”, which had appeared on a four-track promo 12" and was previously only available as a U.K. B-side. Virgin/Geffen decided to add the song to future editions of the Skylarking album, where it replaced “Mermaid Smiled”, and it was also revived for the home market. The 12" edition boasted a rare live outing (their first since 1982), with a version of “Another Satellite” taped for a BBC radio performance. . .

When Virgin made plans to transfer to transfer the Dukes of Stratosphear's 25 O'Clock onto CD they realized that it would be too short to issue on its own so they asked the group to record a second album. Initially, they weren't convinced by the idea, but when Andy Partridge penned two psychedelic songs that couldn't possibly be recorded by XTC, they relented and spent three weeks in a tiny studio in Cornwall, again with John Leckie at the controls and drummer Ian Gregory.

As a taster for the forthcoming release, “You're a Good Man Albert Brown” was released on single in July 1987. . . The album, Psonic Psunspot, appeared two weeks later, again in a limited multi-coloured vinyl edition. Around this time, it was rumoured that another John Leckie-produced band, the Spys, was also a smokescreen for XTC, but this is completely untrue.

For the first time since the early 80s, the band seemed to be in demand again, and to capitalise on their U.S. successes, they travelled to Los Angeles to record the next LP. For the sessions, they recruited Mr Mister's drummer Pat Mastelotto, and spent much of 1988 in the studio. It was not until January 1989 that new product emerged in the form of The Mayor of Simpleton single. On the 12" flip there was an extraordinary recreation of Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band's “Ella Guru”, which had previously slipped out on the Fast and Bulbous Beefheart tribute compilation LP.

Most bands only ever release one double LP set during their career, but with a year's material in the can, XTC felt confident enough to spread Oranges & Lemons over two discs. It caught them in a more aggressive, optimistic mood than on previous albums and while a 60s edge was detectable, the sound was firmly rooted in the Eighties. As an incentive to CD buyers, initial copies came on three 3" compact discs.

Inevitably Virgin wanted the group to go out and promote the record. As Dave explains, XTC chose to promote the record their own way: “The three of us took our acoustic guitars to America and turned up at radio stations offering to play skiffle versions of our new songs. It was an interesting way of drawing attention to the record, but it was incredibly hard work, as we were carrying guitars and luggage to up to four radio stations a day over a three-week period. We also did a live acoustic set for MTV in front of an audience which worried Andy a bit but he got through it. We're gradually getting him used to audiences again!”


The second single from the album was King For a Day, written by Colin Moulding, coupled with “Happy Families”. This appeared as a limited edition 3" CD in a crown-shaped box, which also included demo recordings of “My Paint Heroes” and “Skeletons”, and as a cassette edition which resurrected two 1980 singles, “Generals and Majors”, and “Towers of London”. This was followed by The Loving which, despite appearing in four formats, failed to chart.

Latest reports from the band indicate that work began on a new album in September . . . In the meantime, Andy has been producing the Lilac Time, Dave has been doing likewise with Cud, while Colin made a surprise stage reunion in Swindon with old colleague Barry Andrews back in May.

The Imaginary Records ‘tribute’ series has benefited further from the involvement of XTC members: David (as David Dreams) paid homage to Jimi Hendrix with “Third Stone From the Sun”, while he teamed up with Partridge as Colin's Hermits for a version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the “1967” compilation.

While it seems unlikely that XTC will ever record another Dukes of Stratosphear album (the band have now developed into their apparent alter-egos), it is hoped that the new decade will see a return to like work for XTC. Since their final tour back in 1982, the band's music has progressed dramatically, and they are now rightly regarded as one of the truly inventive acts in contemporary music.

issue #406

Issue #406


Issue No. 209, January 1997

XTC Doesn't Always Equal Happiness

Record Collector: Was it a conscious decision not to do any drugs?

Andy Partridge: I never did any drugs. For a mixture of reasons: I was scared because, as a kid, I was hooked on valium, which went on for 13 years. I took them as a kid because my mother was rather nutty. She got me on these valium. He's a bit upset, is he? Not doing too well at school? Stick him on valium. I ended up taking them for 13 years, until my girlfriend flushed them down a toilet on tour in Los Angeles. That's the only time I've ever smashed up a hotel room. I was intensely angry because my little support line had gone down the toilet. I came back from a heavy night's drinking... But also, and I'm not joking, I always thought that people who took drugs came across as such wankers! Nothing to do with creativity. You hear all the stories about the Beatles taking drugs, but you can't function. Mal would have to drive poor John home because he'd drop a tab of acid, sit there with his head in his hands feeling sick while his hands turned into lobsters! You can't be creative on drugs. All that bollocks about "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" being LSD. No it's not, it's LITSWD! That's Welsh lavatory cleaner. There's so much wankerdom tied up in drug taking. It turns people into cabbages. I did get into heavy drinking, though. I was a lot fatter.

RC: But you do like "drug" music?

AP: Ironically, yes. John Leckie (XTC producer) worked with the Pink Floyd and he said Syd Barrett would just sit there and dribble and you'd have to call the session off and go home. "Oh dear, Syd's taken some acid!". He'd turn the volume on his guitar off. The people in the control room would be thinking something was wrong because they couldn't hear his guitar and it would be Syd. He'd say, "I don't want to disturb anyone." Have you taken anything, Syd? "Er, yeah."

issue #406

Issue #406


No. 233 - January 1999

Transistor Blast

Strange band from the beginning, XTC. With their seriously 'modern' art tendencies, quirky pop structures and Tom Verlaine-patented vocals, they ought to have been the archetypal new wave outfit, destined to flourish for a second or two of Jags-like fame, then be filed away in the depths of skinny-tie history.

But Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory had other ideas, even if they didn't always coincide with each other's. After the authentic post-punk blast of their first two albums, XTC developed into a modern, quirky and decidedly non-punk band - half a continuation of the classic British singles tradition that harked back to the Beatles, half some bizarre assemblage of Kraut-rock, prog and English whimsy. As the years went by, and rock neurosis took its toll, XTC became less a band and more an occasional hobby, a studio-bound concoction which would raise its head warily every few years and bring forth an album that had precious little connection with what the rest of the world thought was happening.

This budget-priced, half-familiar, cheaply-packaged and generally endearing set concentrates on the band's original incarnation, as a maddeningly eclectic, energetic, not to mention frenzied (especially when faced with an audience) collection of pop kids who were seized by the idea of punk, but not quite as comfortable with the reality. Andy Partridge's rather gauche rant at the beginning of a 1979 romp through "This Is Pop" illustrates part of the problem: they were already completely out of sync with what the media thought they ought to be. That only left their fans to alienate, and along the way, XTC tried fairly hard to get rid of them as well.

In 1978/79, when the third CD (taped at two BBC In Concert shows) was recorded, Partridge, Moulding and friends were still expecting to be genuine rock 'n' roll stars. If they'd kept turning out anthems with the breathless nerve of "Radios In Motion" and the finger-testing "Life Begins At The Hop", they might have managed it. Their sprawling attack on Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" showed that they weren't afraid of rock's past: and every other song in their early set looked forward to the future. Even if it wasn't their future.

The final CD has been out before: it documents another chaotic night-in-the-life, as Andy Partridge has a dose of flu blown out of his system by a hot 1980 gig at the Hammersmith Palais. This early in their career, they were already creating the kind of left-field pop gems ("Generals And Majors", "Are You Receiving Me" and the albatross round their collective neck, "Making Plans For Nigel") which would fuel the rest of their career.

Which brings us to the first two CDs, filled (up to a point: 98 minutes across two discs isn't that generous) with BBC studio sessions covering the start of the decade, but they make more sense in this extended format - which strangely works better in this defiantly unchronological arrangement, so that near-punk and whimsical singer-songwriterdom are seen to come from the same twisted imaginations. Messrs. Partridge and Moulding provide some suitably acerbic notes, and only the bare minimalism of the packaging (art though it undoubtedly is) detract from the strange splendour of this collection.

Peter Dogett

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Issue #406


No. 261, May 2001

Making Plans for Vinyl

At the end of May, Virgin finally treat XTC's catalogue with the gravity it deserves.

On the big express: Paul Sutton-Reeves

A few facts are widely known about XTC: they come from Swindon; they had some hits in the early 80's then disappeared from the public gaze - Here are two more. 1) Guitarist and singer-songwriter, Andy Partridge, is the quintessential eccentric pop genius; 2) He and XTC are criminally underrated.

Partridge has a teeming imagination. His songs bristle with ideas, he has conceived the single and album covers for almost every release by the band and also dreamt up a thousand alternative bands. The core of XTC - Partridge plus bassist and fellow singer-songwriter, Colin Moulding - is still in fine working order after a quarter of a century, so this reissue of their Virgin back catalogue allows for a timely re-appraisal of their standing.

In the past, Virgin has displayed a cavalier approach to the XTC canon. When the catalogue was last reissued the company didn't even take the trouble to remaster the tapes. To check the necessity, listen to any of the previously issued CDs and compare them with the remastered tracks on "Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles 1977-92". Worse still, the bonus tracks were dumped at random in the middle of the original running order, forcing the more mature fan to learn how to use the 'programme' button on their CD player. These shortcomings have been addressed on the current reissues. All ten albums have been repackaged (excluding various single, remix and rarity packages, but including the Dukes of Stratosphear compilation), initially in the Japanese card 5" sleeves in which EMI released the Genesis, Roxy, Queen, and solo McCartney catalogues. Bonus tracks are included on all but the three most recent of these releases.

The Partridge-Moulding partnership was never a Lennon-McCartney affair; they have always written separately. The mixture of songwriting duties on any given album varies around a basic recipe of five-sevenths Partridge to two-sevenths Moulding. Keyboard player Barry Andrews and drummer Terry Chambers completed the line-up.

XTC arguably recorded the finest sequence of albums of any British band over the decade from 1981 to 1991. With lesser lights, one significant work usually stands out - not so with XTC. It's like choosing between "Revolver", "The Beatles", and "Abbey Road". But which is XTC's best?

Their debut, "White Music" (CDVX 2095), is all very '77 - the discordant arrangements, Partridge's sneering yelp coming over like the mongrel pup of Hugh Cornwall and Bill Nelson (two other acts toying with punk). Yet already the band was displaying a musical sophistication and compositional ability that their punk peers could not match. This would lead their detractors to label them 'the punk band for Genesis fans'. The reference points are East Coast new wave - Talking Heads and Television. Though XTC would evolve into an entirely different beast, the genetic blueprint is here - quirky yet melodic, intelligent and witty. "Go 2" (CDVX 2108) followed in a similar vein in 1978, the only one of their albums to feature the compositions of another band member. Andrews' efforts sit oddly with those of Partridge and Moulding. Both of these albums are diverting but have no claim to greatness.

Shortly after, Andrews ran off clutching his organ, partly in frustration at the lack of attention his songs were receiving. However if you compare his subsequent work with Shriekback, you can easily see who got the quality control right. Following his departure, the quiet multi-instrumentalist Dave Gregory came in for the remainder of the Virgin releases.

With the release of "Drums and Wires" (CDVX 2129) in 1980, XTC were audibly maturing. It features their first Top 20 hit, Moulding marvelous "Making Plans For Nigel", and a whole heap of discordant beauty. It was 1981's Black Sea (CDVX 2173) that saw XTC truly come of age. This is a power pop 'masterpiece' containing such gems as "Respectable Street", "Towers of London" and the big hit, "Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)", Partridge comfortably played Field-Marshal Pop here to glorious effect.

1982 saw XTC attain the peak of their British popularity. "English Settlement" (CDVX 2223) reached No. 5 in the album charts and contained their only Top 10 single, the brilliant "Senses Working Overtime". Never had so many reviewers featured the word 'whimsical' since the golden days of Caravan, a full decade earlier. The album was a classic - no CD collection should be without it. Moulding's contributions were at their strongest - "Ball and Chain" and "English Roundabout" (in 5/4 time!) are as good as the very finest Partridge moments, of which there are many. "Knuckle Down", "Yacht Dance" and "All Of A Sudden" stand out by country miles. The album marked XTC's first foray into the English song tradition - the pastoral was prominent, lending the album a stylistic unity. Their British profile would never rise so high again.

XTC have had their fair share of disasters. Their career could even be described as one long Poseidon Adventure. First to strike was Partridge's growing stagefright and subsequent illness, bringing their touring days to an end, shunting the band into the sidings. XTC would never again have a Top 40 single in the U.K. and many probably assumed that they split up after "English Settlement". Their inability to tour the album would see their fanbase dwindle and their finances nosedive. To add to this unhappy situation, shortly into recording the follow-up album, . Terry Chambers quit. His rough'n'ready Wiltshire laddery was becoming increasingly out -of-step with the pastoral direction the band's music was taking. He swapped hemispheres, playing briefly with Antipodean rock band, Dragon. A series of venerable session players stepped into the breach.

Even the weakest links in the chain 1983's "Mummer" (CDVX 2264) and 1984's "The Big Express" (CDVX 2325) contain plenty to admire. "Mummer" saw XTC rambling deeper into pastoral territory, leaving much of their audience at the stile, but picking up a few new listeners along the way (Radio 2's DJs aside, who dug the bucolic single, "Love on a Farmboy's Wages"?). XTC were out of step. "Mummer" was frankly a rather patchy affair, but did possess Partridge's meditation on the slave trade, "Human Alchemy". "The Big Express" was stronger but lacked consistency. The splendid single "All You Pretty Girls", failed to set the charts alight, sea-shanties not being in vogue that year.

In 1986, XTC returned to tremendous form with "Skylarking" (CDVX 2399), the album that finally established them in the America, selling over 250,000 copies. Produced by another maverick pop genius, Todd Rundgren, many claim this to be their finest. The influence of The Beatles, never far from the surface, is particularly marked. The bonus track "Dear God" is also the best, included on the original US version, but not the British. This stateside success continued with the next two albums.

1989's "Oranges and Lemons" (CDVX 2581) was critically well received and contains some fine pop moments. While the last four tracks are as fine as any the band has recorded, it is uneven compared to their best. Moulding's compositions in particular are at their weakest. The ghost of Brian Wilson haunts the fabulous "Chalkhills and Children" which Dave Gregory believes to be the song for which XTC will be remembered.

Being XTC, the disasters continued. A long-running legal dispute with former manager Ian Reid consumed most of their earnings from the most profitable releases ("I Bought Myself A Liarbird" on "The Big Express" gives Partridge's account"). Then followed the dispute with Virgin. The label would not grant the band a more favourable deal, nor would it release a compilation featuring their alter-egos such as Anonymous Bosch.

So XTC went on strike, and released no new music between 1992 and 1999 (no sense in working overtime lads). That Virgin should decide to remaster XTC's albums after interest rekindled by their triumphant return with "Apple Venus Volume 1" and "Wasp Star" on their new label, Cooking Vinyl smacks somewhat of opportunism. Perhaps the tracks of "The Big Express" were the only kind that Virgin felt competent to operate.

Also reissued is 1987's "Chips from the Chocolate Fireball" (COMCDX 11), collecting together the work of their psych-tastic alter-ego, The Dukes of Stratosphear, replete with aliases and cosmic disguises for the band. The group's zany humour is perfectly showcased on these recordings. The period detail is uncanny (not that surprising, given that one of Dave Gregory's hobbies is re-creating the works of the old masters in his recording studio).

1992's "Nonsuch" (CDVX 2699) is the mature work of craftsmen. It sums up XTC's virtues: the lyrics are both thoughtful and amusing, the arrangements and harmonies gorgeous, the musicianship accomplished. "Books are Burning" provides a rare opportunity to compare the styles of Partridge and Gregory's guitar work. "Rook" and "Madam Barnum" are the other shimmering high points.

XTC are a national treasures. Best album? It's between "Black Sea", "English Settlement", "Skylarking" and "Nonsuch", but I really can't decide. In the meantime, before new material rumoured to be surfacing later this year, you'll just have to buy them all and make up your own mind.

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Issue #406


Issue # 298, June 2004

The Old Boys' Network

Yesterday's heroes are finding there's life after big-label death

Written by Terry Staunton

[This article examines some of the new independent UK-based labels which have become home to a number of former major-label stalwarts. The selected excerpts reproduced here relate specifically to XTC.]

When your band have been riding fast and loose on the gravy train, a lowly flunky keeping a close eye on the designer luggage, it can be quite a shock when the express comes to a grinding halt and a booming voice cries out “all change!”

Your record sales aren't what they were, you notice the venues are no longer the cavernous, acoustical nightmares of old, and the music press can't stop laughing at your PR's demands for a front cover to go with the interview - which itself fails to command the column inches of old. It's time to face facts. As Ian Faith, erstwhile manager of Spinal Tap, so succinctly put it, your appeal is becoming more selective.

The pages of history are littered with the corpses of fine acts who've waved a white flag at the first sign of diminishing returns, especially when the majors lose faith not so much in the talent but in its ability to make them money.

Welcome to the Old Boys' Network, thriving pockets of the biz where chart regulars of ten, 20, even 30 years ago can continue to work with dignity, and still reach the diehard fans who've been there since Day One.

Self-sufficiency is the route of many artists, and the more business-minded among them, like . . . XTC's Andy Partridge, today find themselves as the heads of mini-empires.

XTC is a peculiar case, however, because while the majority of acts find themselves out of favour and swiftly dropped by a major, Partridge's band had the opposite problem - Virgin wouldn't let them go.

“We'd been trying to leave Virgin for ages, and during that time they had a massive cull and got rid of, I think, 93 acts - an apocalyptically huge number. Obviously, we were still making a few bob for them and they held on”.

Finding themselves at the epicentre of a complex legal wrangle, XTC did the only thing they thought they could. They went on strike.

“We just stopped working for Virgin, they didn't get anything out of us for the last five years. There was no other way to get free other than by making ourselves difficult. Eventually, they had no choice but to turf us out.

“When we did get off the label, our first thought was what can we do to protect ourselves from getting into the same mess again. The obvious thing was to set up our own imprint to shield ourselves from the vagaries of the majors”.

The result was the band's own Idea Records, and two XTC albums in a little over a year (Apple Venus and Wasp Star), licensed to different labels across the globe, Cooking Vinyl doing the honours in the UK. Partridge found himself learning the nuts and bolts of the industry very quickly, useful both in his current dealings with Virgin and the setting up of a second self-run label, Ape Records.

“We have an extent of control over our Virgin back catalogue. At the moment we'd like to put out a DVD of all our old videos. We know there's a market for it, but Virgin don't want to give us anything more than our pretty awful original deal, which started the trouble in the first place. We can't accept that, we're our own businessmen these days and we know what a penny means.

“They also can't repackage anything without our consent, but I wish we had been more involved in the remasters of our back catalogue. They sound great, but the artwork is appalling. I counted something like 85 mistakes across the various albums, it was as if they'd hired David Blunkett. Or his dog”.

Partridge now relishes being able to cross every “i” and dot every “t” with Ape Records (“It's a proper label, although there's no plans for an Ape Airways”), mainly because his heart and soul is in it - not to mention his cash.

“I'm not what you'd call a rich man, but I put 40,000 pounds of my own money into Ape, which is twice as much as I paid for the house I live in. I had to make it work; to go cap in hand to someone to top things up would have been tantamount to failure”.

Ape's first releases were the Fuzzy Warbles CDs, four volumes of home recordings of early XTC demos and other songs rejected by either Virgin or band members themselves. They also include several numbers written by Partridge for the movie James And The Giant Peach - unused because the soundtrack gig eventually went to Oscar-winner Randy Newman. Four more Fuzzy volumes are due in the coming months.

“The money started to trickle in and we were in the black within a year”, he says with a slight note of astonishment. “I got the whole thing off the ground with a bunch of rejects!”

Partridge has also teamed up with musician Peter Blegvad for the ‘beat concept’ album Orpheus, and he has high hopes for a release by pop outfit The Milk And Honey Band (“tremendous stuff, I haven't felt like this about a band since I heard The La's album”). He's also sifting his way through dozens of demo tapes, following an appeal on his website. “The Internet plays a big part these days, and I'm pretty lucky that I've got a bit of a musical track record and people out there are searching cyberspace for news of what I'm up to”, he says.

“I can't imagine being 18 and starting from scratch, I don't think I'd know what to do. The Internet is the biggest jumble sale in the world. You get to set up your own stall, but whether people come along to browse is another matter”.

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Issue #406


Issue #303, November 2004

Fuzzy Warbles Volume 5 APE APECD 007 {63.28) * * *
Fuzzy Warbles Volume 6 APE APECD 008 {62.13) * * *

XTC boffin reopens the gates to demo heaven

By continuing to plunder his home tape archives with buckets of wit and self-effacing charm, Andy Partridge has pulled off a spectacular trick - such is the variety and curiosity appeal of this project that several XTC fans of my acquaintance actually look forward to the rubbish tracks!

And, yes, there are some less-than-essential inclusions in these latest collections of out-takes and works-in-progress, but the hidden treasures more than justify the price of admission. Volume Five contains at least two lost classics in 1982's Young Cleopatra (a last throw of the band's sparky art-punk dice) and the epic My Land Is Burning, left off the eco-themed Apple Venus for reasons of timing. We also get to hear I Defy You Gravity, from his short-lived commission to pen ditties for pop disco diva Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

The Stinking Rich Song on Volume Six is probably the most ludicrous of his rejected songs for the James And The Giant Peach movie, but it's counter-balanced by endearing early demos of XTC faves The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul and Across This Antheap, and the closing End Of The Pier, a typically British portrait of fading grandeur, may well be the best thing the band never recorded.

Enjoy Andy's on-tape instructions to new guitar tunings, wallow in the chuckle-laden sleevenotes, mix and match to create your own albums-that-might-have-been, and don't forget to set aside a few quid for volumes seven and eight.

Written by Terry Staunton

[Incidentally, the same issue carries a crossword clue with the following poser:
19 Across: Paul Siebel had them with Woodsmoke, but XTC preferred theirs with lemons (7) -- Ed.]

issue #406

Issue #406




The painful birth of English Settlement.

It was the making of XTC — yet it brought with it colossal stress on the group's frontman and endless entanglements with their record label. The band would also never tour again. Thirty years later, how do XTC's members look back on the wonderful English Settlement? Jim Keoghan finds out

Can Swindon ever be forgiven for forcing upon the world the musical abomination that was Billie Piper? The town's defence can probably be summed up in three letters: XTC, the new-wave quartet who put the town on the map musically and built up enough goodwill to compensate for a thousand Billie Pipers (should such an atrocity ever occur).

Thirty years ago, the band released English Settlement, an album that many critics, both then and since, have regarded as their finest. It's a release that planted them firmly in the mainstream, giving the band a fleeting taste of massive commercial success.

Prior to its release, XTC had already been incrementally moving beyond the confines of the new-wave herd. Their previous two albums, Drums And Wires and Black Sea, had troubled the charts and singles such as Making Plans For Nigel, Generals And Majors and Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me) had garnered them growing critical and commercial success.

Over the course of those two albums the band had also smoothed out the rougher edges evident in their early work and produced a more polished, accessible sound; though one that still packed enough punch to set them apart from the crowd.

“By Black Sea we had perfected a very muscular yet accessible sound, one that was geared to touring and live performance. I liked to think of it as a bit like getting kicked in the groin with a hobnailed boot,” laughs Andy Partridge, guitarist, vocalist and principal writer with the band.

Though this sound received a warm reception among an ever-growing audience, according to Andy it was one that was increasingly at odds with how he felt about writing. “It was a live sound, and I was becoming sick to death of touring to the point where I just wanted to stop doing it, or at least significantly scale it back. Because of this, I was becoming keen to write in a different way. I wanted to move in a more acoustic and pastoral direction and produce a different kind of XTC sound, one that wasn't necessarily geared towards live performance.”

By the early 80s the band had been together for nearly a decade and had spent most of that time on the road. Andy had enjoyed the experience at first, but years of journeys on tour buses, enduring bad food, a lack of sleep and endless hangovers had gradually diminished his zest for the experience.

“The thing about touring is that it's a young man's game. It's great when you're in your late teens, early 20s and travelling around different places, drinking and shagging. But, by the early 80s. I was pushing 30 and my body couldn't take it anymore. It also probably didn't help that because I was the singer and the most talkative of the four, I was spending most of my time doing soundchecks and press stuff while the other members of the band could just bugger off and do a bit of sightseeing.”

Andy had also begun to tire of not seeing much financial return for work on the road. The band had already had a run-in with their management a few years earlier, when the four of them had threatened to pull out of an Australian tour unless they saw more of the money that the band had been making.

“We'd been touring for years. And it had been quite a punishing schedule,” continues Andy. “I think the only time I'd had off was to write new material. It was knackering. And we were doing all this while pulling in quite a meagre wage, even after the Australian tour dispute. This was all quite galling because it wasn't as if we weren't selling out venues. There was definitely money around but it wasn't going into our pockets. Add my general disillusionment with touring and you can see why I had it in my mind that I was done with it all. I was so committed to writing songs ill-suited to the live arena.”

It meant that Black Sea would mark the end of a chapter for the band. The energetic, muscular sound that they had honed over the previous few years was gradually abandoned in favour of a gentler, more subtle aesthetic. Although the rest of the band was largely kept in the dark about Andy's growing distaste for touring, his change in musical direction was readily accepted.

“I think the band was open for something different,” says guitarist and keyboardist Dave Gregory. “Andy, Colin and I had got new guitars, so there was a touch of new gear syndrome anyway, and as is so often the way when you get hold of a new instrument, you find that you are more open to explore different textures and sounds. Andy had given away his old guitar on Swopshop or something and got himself a new acoustic one. He had seemed particularly keen to move away from our stage sound into something more pastoral. In hindsight, I now realise why this was. At the time we were happy to go along with it.”

They began recording the new album towards the end of 1981 at The Manor Studios in Oxfordshire. This run-down stately pile had been bought by Virgin and turned into a recording studio during the early 70s. It was one of the first residential studios built in the UK; a concept that had been pioneered in the late 60s by French musician Michel Magne at the Château d'Hérouville.

“It was a great place to stay and the whole thing was a really good experience, although I don't remember too much about the recording process I'm afraid, so I guess it went well!” says bassist, vocalist and writer, Colin Moulding.

“What I do remember, though, are foggy nights at the Manor, with autumn leaves, a distant banger going off around bonfire night, huge meals at the long table, roaring log fires. I also remember everything there being very brown, much like the inner sleeves of the album. We all got along very well and it's always easy to work with so much camaraderie — much farting in the billiard room, you know, band banter. Choosing Hugh Padgham as a producer played a part in this. He was in tune with the band, an easy person to work with, and never tried to dictate a sound, like some producers can do.”

Padgham had worked with XTC before, acting as a recording engineer under Steve Lillywhite, who had produced Drums And Wires and Black Sea. The band liked the way he worked and as Hugh had recently branched out as a producer in his own right, they approached him with the offer of co-producing the new album.

“I was very flattered and jumped at the chance to work with them again,” says Hugh.

Like the band themselves, he too recalls their time at The Manor with fondness.

“We all got on really well. They were a great bunch of guys. There was absolutely no ego there at all. Colin and Andy would each bring in what they had written and then Dave and Terry (Chambers, the drummer) would work with them to shape the track. It was a collaborative process, but it wasn't all plain sailing. We were working to quite a tight schedule and Colin's voice wasn't in the best of condition, as I think he'd been ill. But, when you are working with people who are so easy going and such fun to be with, then these things don't matter so much. We all knuckled down and got it done. I just let the band be themselves. I've always been that kind of producer. I try to work with the band rather than imposing something on them; it's just the way I am. Anyway, they had quite a clear idea of what they wanted and I just made sure that this could be translated as easily and as clearly as possible.”

Alongside a strong idea of the album's direction, what the band also had was an abundance of material. English Settlement became a double-album, with the majority of tracks written by Andy. He had been working on them during the previous few months, following the end of another exhausting tour, locked away in a small flat in Swindon. “Not the most inspiring of locations, but it did the trick. In the end it could have been as many as 30 songs on the album had the record company let us,” says Andy.

During both the writing and recording process, he says he felt an unusual degree of freedom. “Partly it had something to do with us being able to break the cardinal ‘two-minute’ rule. The early albums were quite constrained by this, the fan that everything had to be short and sweet, always with a single in mind. On English Settlement we ignored the rule. Also, I still had in mind the idea that these songs weren't going to be toured, which gave me a sense of relief. It wasn't complete, because despite mentioning my aversion to touring to the band on several occasions, I never got the impression that they were taking me seriously, which is probably my fault for not stressing just how much I was growing to hate being on the road.”

XTC have never been a particularly political band, but as both Andy and Colin had developed as songwriters a strong social consciousness became increasingly evident in the band's music. On Black Sea, tracks such as Towers Of London, which reflected on the fate of those from the working class who had been responsible for building England's empire, and Paper And Iron (Notes And Coins), which dealt with the daily struggle faced by working men and women, had begun to illustrate this.

“I've always been a feminist at heart — the world would be better if more women were in positions of power.”
— Andy Partridge

“There were lots of bands around at the time who were overtly political. This was the early 80s after all. But that wasn't what we were about really,” says Andy. “Instead, I found myself increasingly able to write about the stuff that was annoying me, which would often touch on big social issues. Take something like Down In The Cockpit, which had lines like, “Man acting like the farmer, treating women like a poor cow, we've got to treat you better from now’. It's essentially me saying that women have always got a raw deal and that's got to change. I've always been a bit of a feminist at heart and think that the world would be better if more women were in positions of power. It felt quite cathartic to write something like that, because the attitude of some men towards women has always annoyed me.”

Throughout the remainder of the album there are little vignettes of social commentary sprinkled here and there. The wonderfully thumping, Partridge-penned, No Thugs In Our House is an anti-racist mini-opera, telling the story of a middle class couple's inability to face up to the reality that their darling son has turned into a violent racist. Then there's the tale of domestic violence in the Moulding-penned Runaways, which contains the haunting lyric: “Daddy hit you in temper, but he's sorry now; just a quarrel he had with mummy, but he's sorry now.”

Before English Settlement was released it was preceded by the first track to be taken from it, Senses Working Overtime, Andy's lyrical celebration of what it was like to live in modern day England. It's a release often regarded in the UK as the band's most identifiable, largely because it was their first (and last) single to breach the Top 10 on these shores.

“We didn't really expect the single to do so well. We were aware that the band had been creeping into the public's consciousness over the last few albums, but getting into the Top 10 was something of a shock, specifically when you take into account that it wasn't a conventionally appealing single. I think it was quite brave, almost a rock suite, with different movements. A Bohemian Rhapsody of a sort. Not what usually made the Top 10 back then," says Colin.

The attention generated by Senses Working Overtime meant that when the album was released it had a potentially larger audience waiting for it than previous efforts. It was this, along with a collection of glowing reviews in the music press, which ensured that English Settlement landed at a very respectable No 5; the highest album chart position XTC enjoyed in the UK.

“We were delighted,” says Dave Gregory. “I think each of us knew that this was a good album. I remember listening back to it the first time; this was in the Manor House early one morning, and thinking how great it sounded. It's always good when something you believe in is then feted by the music press as well as fans of the band and beyond.”

Despite Andy's protests, once the album was released, the record company and the band's management were keen to get XTC back on the road. From the management's perspective the band needed to seize the moment provided to them by the success of Senses Working Overtime and the favourable response garnered by the album. And this meant exhausting touring.

“We were rather bullied onto the road in the end,” complains Andy ruefully. “But that's record companies for you.”

Because Andy had begun writing English Settlement convinced that touring like this wouldn't happen again, his attitude towards being back on the road had significantly soured.

“It started to upset me a lot because I didn't want to be doing it. I'd be onstage thinking, ‘I'm really not enjoying this.’ Being made to tout and the mental stress it was causing me began to manifest itself in stage fright, which I'd never had before. And it starred to get really serious. The idea of having to entertain someone became really upsetting."

The stress he was under ultimately contributed to Andy collapsing during a show in Paris. It was later discovered that his deteriorating mental state had been exacerbated by the impact of Valium withdrawal. During the band's previous US tour in 1981, Andy's wife had thrown away his tablets and, unaware that he had become addicted to them over the years, he thought it unnecessary to get another prescription.

“At first I just carried on as normal but, as time passed, I starred to get weird symptoms like memory loss, the inability to move limbs properly and really bad depression. You have to remember, I had been on the stuff since my early teens.”

Despite the knowledge of this and his recent collapse, pressure from the record company, combined with Andy's desire not to let the rest of the band down, meant that XTC remained committed to a US tour arranged to promote the album.

“I managed to get through the first show, but it was an awful experience. I was onstage and couldn't remember how to play the guitar properly. I was in terrible pain and my nervous system was just going wild, like somebody had just run me over in a car. Then on the second night, this was in LA, I cracked-up completely. I thought I was going to die, it was that bad. I couldn't be on the stage at all; the whole thing was just the most horrifyingly frightening experience. At the back of my mind I was thinking that I was going to be the classic rock'n'roll casualty; ending up sitting in the garden, dribbling, with a shawl around me.”

Andy's stage fright spelled the end — not just for the remainder of the US tour but for XTC ever playing live again. From that point on, until they disbanded in 2005, they remained a studio concern only.

“I'd wish I'd known more about it at the time, but I didn't,” says Colin sadly. “The problem is that the English always keep these thing to themselves. He may have imparted it to a journalist, but never to me personally. The tours then always seemed to be poorly planned so I presumed that when he did complain it was more about that than some underlying mental issue.

English Settlement collectables
ENGLISH SETTLEMENT (1985, Japanese 10-track LP edited down from the original double, embossed pic sleeve plus fold-out Japanese/lyric insert and XTC Obi-strip) £15
ENGLISH SETTLEMENT (1989, Japanese issue 13-track CD album featuring the hit single Senses Working Overtime, 28-page pic sleeve booklet featuring Japanese & English text lyrics, tracklisting and liner notes, reverse cover track listing lists Snowman un-numbered) £25
Senses Working Overtime/Ball And Chain (1982, US Epic promotional 12" with custom printed white title labels, die-cut sleeve with gold promotional stamp on reverse) £15
Ball And Chain/No Thugs In Our House/Punch And Judy (1982, Canadian limited edition green vinyl 10" single, pic sleeve) £20
Senses Working Overtime/Egyptian Solution/Blame The Weather/Tissue Tigers (1982, UK 3" CD single inc 3" card picture sleeve) £15

“The problem for us is that we had seen Andy in the early days and witnessed how great he was with an audience. For us then, this came out of the blue. What really saddens me was that when it happened, it was something he could not do; an impairment if you like. I guess that if it had it been properly addressed at the time and a good period of therapy given, the outcome could have been different. But there was huge pressure to keep the touring going so it just didn't happen.”

In the UK, XTC were never again able to capture that alchemical mixture of critical and commercial success that English Settlement gave them. Over the following years they continued to release material that despite garnering critical acclaim never found a significant audience in the way that English Settlement had. As time wore on they became fixed in many people's minds as an 80s band. If they gathered column inches at all, it was more for their increasingly dysfunctional relationship with their record label than for the music they were making.

“I don't think the record company were really behind us from that point on,” says Dave Gregory. “The problem was, I don't think they understood our problem with touring, or at least didn't want to understand. They thought that by touring you demonstrated that as a band you were a living entity. By not touring we were in some way not holding up our end of the deal, and over time that made them less inclined to promote us. We also lost a few of the allies we had at the record company, so the people that we dealt with had less of a relationship with the band. We still plugged on for another 10 years, but English Settlement definitely marked a turning point for the band.”

Despite this, what comes across when talking to the individual members of XTC is a total lack of regret. When English Settlement was released it seemed as though the band were set to break away from the new wave pack and embrace the massive commercial success that was rightfully theirs. The cruel turn of fortune they endured might have scarred lesser men. Instead, however, each band member looks back on the period fondly, happy they got to enjoy, for however fleeting a time, a level of success denied to the vast majority of bands.

“We were big for a bit and that was fantastic. It's something that few bands get to enjoy. Even after that was over we managed to make music for a living for another two decades, which ultimately is all any of us ever wanted to do. That's a longer period than most people get.

“In my opinion we also got the opportunity to make better albums, specifically Apple Venus Vol: 1 and Skylarking, which are my favourites. Though that's not to say that I don't regard English Settlement as a great album, because I do. I still listen to it now and then. It sounds especially good when I listen to it when I'm very drunk — it's like I'm someone else and hearing it for the first time. And when I do that I realise how fucking great an album it really is.”