XTC: Chalkhills and Children
The Definitive Biography
by Chris Twomey
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Twomey Raider

The official XTC web site reports the following:

Date: 03/10/01

XTC biography author Chris Twomey is updating his earlier book Chalkhills and Children (Omnibus Press), to include the last 10 years and is rewriting much of the early chapters. The reason for this is the book's relaunch into paperback soon. Andy, Colin, Dave and many of XTC's past producers and friends have already been interviewed.

Paperback - 256 pages 2nd revised edition (11 June, 2002)
Omnibus Press; ISBN: 0711991057

Omnibus Takes All of Us

Chris Twomey talks to Limelight about what fans can expect from his XTC biography, Chalkhills and Children, due out in April 1992 and published by Omnibus.

They'll be surprised by the thickness of it. I'm really happy with the format of the book. Omnibus send me down two books, one was a coffee table book on Madonna and the other was a very pictorial book on REM. I passed them on to Andy saying I preferred the format of the REM book, but he didn't like either. He wanted a thick dusty tome, something like Shout!. I thought, bloody hell, you've got no chance there mate. How do you say it to somebody's face, but XTC aren't exactly the Stones or the Beatles? But to my surprise Omnibus shoved me down a couple more books and one was a biography of Phil Ochs, who I've never even heard of, and it's a proper book with a spine and photographs down the middle and that's what I've done for XTC.

It's a serious read, although I think it's very funny in places, as you'd expect from Andy. The important thing about a book is that you've got to read it, you've got to discover things that you didn't previously know. I found they were incredibly honest. Andy particularly, but all of them really. Colin told me about an affair he had which I'm sure the fans don't know. Likewise Andy had a bit of a do with somebody at Virgin. I was worried that Andy might not let me go into his mental health problems in any depth, because it's a sensitive issue with his mother being a bit wobbly, but Andy's reaction was that it's happened, so it should go in. I think when he read a lot of it back he thought, oh dear, but he was so honest and he said just leave it. When I did a book about The Stranglers, it was the total antithesis of that, there was nothing in it that you couldn't have got from diligently reading your NME. Ninety per cent of everything I got for this one was from the band and people they put me in touch with.

The band did look at it chapter by chapter, mainly for corrections, but the only thing that got censored -- not taken out, but toned down -- was the detail of what went on between Colin and Deborah. It's still mentioned. I argued for it, not just to be salacious, but because the one really interesting point was that it all happened at the time of "Making Plans for Nigel". At last they've got their first hit and it's Colin's song and Colin's mind isn't even on the job, he says he can't remember that time at all.

This may be blowing my own trumpet, but through reading the chapters back, Andy said that a lot of things that he hadn't even known about have started to affect him. One theme that runs through the book is that Dave and Colin are more often criticising Andy than praising him. He said he got to learn things that they'd never voiced to him.

I don't know if it's a good book -- I'm dreading the reviews. Rock books are reviewed by rock journalists who always think they can do better themselves. There'll always be criticisms. Things are missed out, but that's inevitable. My brief was to write between 60 and 65,000 words. I decided to write the way I wanted to write it and then review the situation once I'd finished it and if I was drastically over I would have to go back and take things out. I did do that and I was still about 10,000 words over, but Omnibus said it was OK. I decided there were certain areas that I wasn't going to deal with at all -- I wasn't going to deal with video shoots and I wasn't going to go into depth on record sleeves. I thought that would get boring; only the very keen fan would care.

At the end of it all it's got to be entertaining and informative. It's written as a story of a band who have missed so many chances. It could be called How Not To Do It. There are two things you learn from the book. One is that you don't have to be in the first, second or even third division of success to make a really good living as a band -- I'm staggered at the amount of money that got passed around and then got lost. The other thing is that the integrity of the band is spot on. They do it for the right reasons and Andy genuinely doesn't give a shit about whether they have a hit. I like Andy because he does things that he really believes in and not to make money.

Andy's original idea was for me to do an in-depth review of every album and I thought, well, I don't want to do that because it would get ponderous and slow the narrative down, and the other reason is, who gives a shit about my point of view? Equally, if you can see that it's written by a sycophant, you quickly think, hang on, I'm not really learning anything here. I found with The Stranglers I wasn't given permission to say anything critical and if I did they would have got really up-tight about it. With this I gave what I considered to be my honest opinion and Andy just went, OK then! Most people when they meet Andy, they see a very witty, very charming kind of guy. I did actually start to see a kind of darker side to him, but I always thought he was honest. I approached him on the aggro he causes and his obstinacy, but he just accepted it. He never got up-tight about it.

The story begins with Andy's nervous breakdown and then goes back to the beginning. It all bubbles along quite nicely until they stop touring and Terry leaves. Towards the end I was worried that it would just become a blow by blow account of the making of each album. But as I interviewed them about each album, things came up that were totally unexpected and that saved the end.

[Thanks to June and Peter Dix]

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