Colin Moulding – “The Hardest Battle” (Video – 2021)

August 23, 2021 at 6:34 am (Music, XTC)

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XTC – “Senses Working Overtime” (TV – 1982)

December 16, 2020 at 1:49 pm (Music, XTC)

XTC on Top of the Pops… Jan. 28, 1982…

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XTC – “Mayor of Simpleton” (Video – 1989)

December 9, 2020 at 9:32 pm (Music, XTC)

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TC&I – “Scatter Me” (Video – 2018)

August 22, 2018 at 7:25 pm (Music, XTC)

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The Tony Williams Lifetime – “Emergency!” (1969)

August 16, 2009 at 8:09 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, XTC)

The debut album by Lifetime, featuring former Miles Davis sidemen, drummer Tony Williams and guitarist John McLaughlin, and also featuring organ player Larry Young. This band was basically the start of what became known as fusion. Simply put, they were a monster!
This review was written by XTC leader Andy Partridge for
Word magazine for the June 2005 issue (#28) in a feature called “The Most Underrated Albums of Our Time”…  


I got this album at about the same time as I bought Trout Mask Replica, a cataclysmic time for my brain to be exposed to where rock was going to end up in 100 years’ time in terms of invention, complexity and poetry — and, dammit, the words of Trout Mask are the very best Americana. And here I was being exposed to where jazz would end up in 100 years’ time.

Look at the personnel — a 23 year-old drummer [Tony Williams] who creates a kind of continuous thunder that ebbs and flows, not so much a rhythm, more as if he’s holding four conversations with himself simultaneously. John McLaughlin’s on guitar, playing this psychedelically painted Fender Jaguar through a series of malfunctioning foot pedals. And the real alien who’s dropped through from the future is their blind Hammond organist Larry Young. No need for a bass player, as Young played the pedals with his feet, and with his hands made music that sounded like someone shoving a screwdriver into a flying saucer engine, or something flying through a wide-mile cloud of swarf.

I’ve never heard music like this, loosely-based songs — with about five O’s in looooosely — and a singing drummer; in fact, when you heard Tony Williams, you realised where a certain other drummer with a disarmingly wispy voice [Robert Wyatt] could have got it from.

When you buy this on CD, the booklet comes with a disclaimer saying it was so badly recorded — two albums in two days! — the original eight-track tape was distorted, but that distortion only adds to their vitality and makes this the most electronic album I’ve ever heard. It turns their fire and desperate playing into an alarmingly fizzy video-focus relief. You feel as though you have been shrunk down to a sub-atomic size and you’re approaching a planet comprised of one atom. And as you enter its ‘scape, this is the sound that you hear. It’s fantastic!

Andy Partridge

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Scott Isler – “XTC: The Dukes of Swindon” (1989)

July 25, 2009 at 6:14 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, XTC)

Taken from my personal collection comes this May 1989 article from Musician magazine (#127) on XTC circa Oranges and Lemons, written by Scott Isler…


XTC Does It Their Way, For Better or Worse 

First, fly to London. Then catch a train to Swindon, 70 miles west. Then a cab from the station to a house in the Old Town section. Go through the door, up a flight of stairs. (Ignore the dog and two small children; you’re not there yet.) On the landing, ascend a metal ladder through an opening to the attic. Stop. This is it: Andy Partridge’s demo haven.

Whaddayamean, “so what”? Out of this small but fairly clean room have come some of the world’s most cherished songs – “Love on a Farmboy’s Wages,” “Earn Enough for Us,” “The Mayor of Simpleton” and at least one of the most detested, “Dear God.” This is where Partridge, guitarist and main singer/songwriter of XTC, comes to escape his idyllic family life and plunge into the whirling ferment of his brain that feeds his band’s curious existence. If these walls could talk, how frightening that would be.

In today’s high-powered rock world, XTC stubbornly remains a cottage industry. And like most cottage industries that manage to survive (a dozen years, in this case), the band’s developed its own way of doing things. Their drummer left over six years ago and they never replaced him. That’s not as bad as it sounds, because XTC doesn’t play five. They stopped doing that seven years ago; Partridge realized he had a phobia about appearing onstage, and he’s refused to tour ever since. Still, XTC’s previous album, Skylarking, was its most successful yet, helped by a song that wasn’t on the record; it was a single B-side, and the band’s record company had to reissue the album to include the “hit.” Can’t these guys do anything, er, right?

Well, yes: the music. Partridge’s songs are dizzyingly intoxicating in their felicitous wordplay and sinuous, multiple-strain phrasing – although he can also deliver charmingly straightforward “pop” tunes. Bassist Colin Moulding, the band’s other songwriter, complements Partridge’s giddiness with more delicate melodies and more introspective lyrics about the human condition-though both writers are way beyond the superficial themes of more popular music.

Guitarist/keyboardist Dave Gregory, the most technically accomplished of the three, helps work up arrangements that at XTC’s baroque best reveal new touches with each listen.

The resulting rich concoction may well be too much for the masses who determine this country’s Top 10. But the band’s attracted a loyal cult that supports three XTC fanzines in as many countries (and two languages), and whose members aren’t afraid to invoke the Beatles in the same breath as Swindon’s finest. They may even have a point: Both groups push the pop song into the realm of art while keeping a sense of humor. Perhaps the only thing the Beatles had that XTC doesn’t was Beatlemania. It couldn’t hurt.

“As a school kid I was totally in awe of groups like the Small Faces and Pink Floyd,” Partridge remembers. “Singles like “See Emily Play,” “Arnold Layne,” “Itchycoo Park” – singles that had a high magic content: a three-minute thing of a very memorable tune but with a big dollop of magic injected, either some strange effect or totally nonsensical lyrics that painted great brain pictures. I did love psychedelic singles.

Oranges and Lemons, XTC’s ninth album of new material, is a brilliant collection of songs that pay homage to Partridge’s influences without slavish paisley revivalism. A nursery rhyme inspired the album title (which also unintentionally recalls Pink Floyd’s “Apples and Oranges”), and a sense of childlike wonder pervades the 15 songs – from the burbling glee of the opening “Garden of Earthly Delights” to the dreamy conclusion of “Chalkhills and Children.” Most amazingly of all, XTC recorded the album in Los Angeles – a mixture as friendly as spring water and strychnine.

“I never went out at all”, Partridge says of his five-month stay. “I’m really anti-sun. Los Angeles is not my idea of a dream place to live. Everything about it I find rather ‘waaaaah!’ – from the weather to the people. I don’t think I can honestly say I believed anything a Los Angeleno told me”.

He seems more in his element sitting in his attic studio on a gray Swindon day in January, comfortably attired in a flannel plaid shirt, blue jeans and moccasins worn through at the big toe. There’s nothing put-up about Andy Partridge; he’s almost aggressively friendly. He’s also the usual bunch of contradictions found in creative artists: a sharply clever individual who left school without papers or tests at age 15; a critic of warmongering political leaders who has shelves full of troops – battalions – whole regiments of toy soldiers; the composer of the sincere “Thanks for Christmas” and the militantly agnostic “Dear God.”

Two years ago “Dear God” gave XTC its biggest publicity boost in the U.S. when some adventurous radio stations (talk about contradictions) discovered the song on the flip of a British single from Skylarking. Partridge says he didn’t want “Dear God” on the album. He was dissatisfied with it because “it wasn’t spikey enough; I thought it’s got to stick in people’s throats. It failed in that respect”. (At least one Florida XTC fan, however, thought enough of “Dear God” to phone in a bomb threat to a local station spinning the song.)

XTC began its musical life in 1976 with much the same agenda. “We really wanted to annoy people, to get up their noses,” Partridge says of White Music, the debut album a year later. Partridge, Moulding and drummer Terry Chambers had been musically terrorizing Swindon under a variety of aliases since 1973. In 1977, with keyboard player Barry Andrews (since replaced by Gregory), they signed with Virgin Records, who probably thought they were getting a new-wave band. Despite a very occasional U.K. hit single over the years, they’ve had a rocky relationship with Virgin ever since.

The situation wasn’t much better in the U.S., where XTC bounced from label to label. The band signed to Geffen Records in late 1983. Three years later Geffen was “rather despondent at the lack of sales,” Partridge says, and tried to unload the band back to Virgin. The British company hadn’t started up its Virgin America division yet, so it “panicked and said, ‘No, keep them’. They didn’t want to farm us around to other labels with a past record of no sales. Skylarking came out and Geffen just patted it on the back and sent it off-put it in a bag and threw it in the river.”

Whether because of “Dear God” or in spite of it, Skylarking became XTC’s best-selling American album, a sleeper that sold almost a quarter-million copies. Its corporate faith in XTC restored, Geffen actually seems excited about Oranges and Lemons. Typically, XTC hasn’t made it easy, delivering an over-budget, hour-long album that needs a double-LP set to do it justice.

“I wanted to make a very simple, banal-sounding record,” Partridge says ingenuously, “and it got lost in translation a little and came out rather multi-layered – in fact, very dense. We just got swept along with the enthusiasm: For the first time since our very first few albums, we were making an album that people actually wanted to hear.”

Partridge wrote many of the songs just before the band went into the studio. Consequently, they tend to reflect his optimism over both his professional turn of luck and his burgeoning family: His daughter Holly is almost four, and a son, Harry, will be two this summer. On the other hand, he’s also capable of scathing topical commentary like “Here Comes President Kill Again,” “Scarecrow People” and “Across This Antheap.”

“There is a bit of split personality,” Partridge acknowledges. “On ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, I’m trying to get a message over to my kids, although they’ll have to wait some years before they can appreciate it: Somebody’s being born and I’m saying welcome – like, ‘Welcome to the Holiday Inn!’ I’m in the foyer: ‘This is life. Come in and do what you want to, but don’t hurt anyone'”. (The song’s lyrics add, with Partridgian wit, “… Less of course they ask you”.) “I’m sure that’s what heaven is, really. Heaven is not hurting anyone.”

So Andy Partridge, nonbeliever, believes in heaven?

“Yes. Here, now. This is heaven and hell. It’s all metaphor stuff.” But don’t get him started on the subject of religion.

On the fatalistic “Here Comes President Kill Again,” “I’m just saying, ‘Go ahead, have your little bit of power and vote for who you want, but there’s no difference’.” Partridge says he “won’t” vote: “I can’t feel part of giving people that sort of power. There’s a certain sort of person that wants to be voted in; it’s almost like, if they’re a politician, that’s the very reason you shouldn’t vote for them.” This might strike some as an evasion of responsibility. Partridge feels, however, that “it’s not like mankind can’t find a better way. But I don’t think mankind is smart enough to control itself yet. I totally distrust mankind, to be truthful.”

The album’s most affecting song may be “Hold Me My Daddy,” a first-person plea for understanding between fathers and sons. “I found it difficult writing that,” Partridge says. “It’s a subject matter men aren’t supposed to think about, loving their fathers. I played it to my father; he insisted on hearing it. We got to that point on the album and I had to leave the room: ‘Hmm! Is that the baby crying? I’ll just go and have a look’. l came back, and I don’t know if he was embarrassed or whether he really didn’t hear the lyrics”. Partridge adopts a gruff lower register: “‘Couldn’t ‘ear a bloody word of that bloody row’. Maybe he did and he didn’t want to say. It’s sort of a primal oink, a sniffle.”

Partridge’s father was a musician himself, a drummer in jazz/dance bands. “I’m sure my parents still think I’m going to get a proper job one of these days. My father’s sort of interested but he thinks it’s too weird, too unusual – noisy pop music and loud guitars. My mother just likes it when people say to her, ‘Oh, I saw your son in such-and-such magazine.

He himself disclaims fame. “I like people to buy the records but I’d be quite happy if we were faceless musicians and it was just the name XTC they bought, like a steak sauce. I always felt uncomfortable with fame. Howard Hughes is my hero”. The self-described “Charles Laughton of the new wave – the last new wave” appreciates XTC’s hard-bitten fans, even if he can’t quite understand them. “It’s like an odd-shaped mirror: very flattering to look into, but very weird ’cause it’s so distorted and unreal”.

Okay, Andy, we understand. Now, how do you write stuff? “Tricky to say. Deadlines can help scare music out of you. I always get this feeling that I’m never going to write another song. I’ll sit up here staring at a blank page. Then some song will come out and it’s complete… rubbish! Then a few more rubbishy ones come out. And then, suddenly, whaa! Something good’ll come out. And whoa! Where’d this come from? It is like crapping; you have to get the blockage out of the way and then it all comes flowing out.

“Each time we finish an album I think that’s the last thing I’m ever going to write. Then somebody says, ‘Time for another record, isn’t it?’ The motors start clicking inside and I think, ‘Hmm, have I got any songs?’ And each time it’s usually better than the last time out. ‘Chalkhills and Children’ is as good as anything I’ve ever done. ‘Here Comes President Kill Again’ is a fine marriage, the way the lyrics fit the music”.

It’s now time to meet Colin Moulding, who’s been very patient. Moulding contributed three songs to Oranges and Lemons – thematic bummers, each and every one of them. (Though Geffen is considering the musically sprightly “King for a Day” as a single pick.) “It’s the winter of discontent”, he laughs. “If you’re in a writing spree for two or three months, usually you don’t feel up and down and up and down. I suppose it was more of a down period for me. I was just feeling really depressed. I think I’ve dragged meself out of it now. I tend to go through these, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen?'”

Moulding apparently labors longer over his songs than Partridge, which accounts for his smaller output. He had an unusually high percentage on Skylarking, a result of producer Todd Rundgren choosing the material. “I caught ‘im and Todd holding hands a few times”, Partridge says with malice towards none. “To be fair,” Moulding quickly interjects, “we sent tapes over for Skylarking – I hadn’t even met Todd – and the album running order was sealed.” “It was a very weird sensation,” Partridge adds, “to have somebody tell you what your album’s gonna be, the order it’s gonna be in, and how the songs will segue together.”

That was just the beginning of a clash of wills that marred Skylarking for Partridge. “The whole Todd experience was frustrating”, he says. “We were obliged to shut up and be produced, or else; ‘it’s your last chance’. That was very difficult to swallow, and it put me in a belligerent mood from day one.

For Oranges and Lemons, Virgin Records was pushing the band to stay with an American producer – for dubious commercial reasons, Partridge believes. They chose the relatively inexperienced Paul Fox on the strength of a complete overhaul he’d done of a Boy George single. “The stuff they heard that I had done,” Fox says, “was a little more mainstream than what they were used to doing.” But Fox, an XTC fan, “knew that they did not exactly have a great time making their last album”, and was determined to give them a better experience. He also had a valuable background in keyboards as a former session musician – and an even more valuable in at Los Angeles’ Summa Music Group Studios, available to XTC for one-sixth the rate of the English studio that was their first choice. Partridge professes satisfaction with the results and Fox’s respect. “It was nice to have somebody who listened to and tried our suggestions, even if they failed. It’s difficult to play tennis on your own. You have to have somebody to whack the ball back; that’s what keeps it going.”

The drummer this time around was Mr. Mister’s Pat Mastelotto, an old session-mate of Fox’s. “I had known he was a big XTC fan,” Fox says of the drummer, and he also thought Mastelotto’s “bandier” approach – that is, less like an L.A. session pro – would fit in well with the group. “I knew that he could already play like Terry Chambers,” Fox adds. Mr. Mister agreed to lend out Mastelotto, who had a blast requesting old XTC songs during the three weeks of rehearsals that preceded recording.

During those rehearsals Fox and the band arranged and restructured the demo recordings, which were in varying stages of completeness. Partridge admits his are pretty rough. “Sometimes you have a definite image of what you want. You hand the song over to other members of the band and say, ‘Do what you will; I’d like this kind of atmosphere’. Sometimes they get it totally wrong and it can be surprisingly rewarding. Sometimes they get it totally wrong and they’ll smother it.”

“The Mayor of Simpleton,” the initial single from Oranges and Lemons, started with lyrics Partridge wrote a few years ago. “It was a much more slow, mournful kind of song; early demos put it somewhere between UB40 and the Wailers, very reggaefied. It had a different tune, with much more of this miserable lope to it. I liked the lyrics, and I thought it needed vitality.” “Across This Antheap” also accelerated from a bluesy tempo to its current “Latin” feel, according to Partridge – “from Tony Joe White to War.” That’s a sampled Partridge shouting “hey!” throughout. “I said, ‘Look, can you make it sound like I’m shouting down a ventilator shaft?’ The engineer said, ‘Why don’t you go and shout down a ventilator shaft?’ The simplicity of ideas sometimes is astounding!” Partridge did, and that’s what you hear.

One pronounced trait of Oranges and Lemons is the crisscrossing of vocal lines. “Countermelody madness!” Partridge exclaims. “It’s just a habit we’ve gotten into – the joy of several songs happening at once. It’s musical masturbation; I can’t leave the thing alone. We feel like we sort of own it. Not many people do that now – not since West Side Story or South Pacific“.

He notes that the three drummers on XTC’s four post-Chambers albums “all have different personalities. Prairie Prince [on Skylarking] had a tight, flicky kind of sound – a very controlled feel. Pat Mastelotto was not afraid to use a lot of electronic bits and pieces, and not afraid to play along with machines; in fact, he encouraged it, which we thought was quite revolutionary in a drummer, ’cause drummers mostly think of machines as putting them out of work. He’s very metronomic, and that underscored the precise feel to a lot of tracks on this album”.

Doesn’t Partridge ever long to have a permanent drummer?

“No, ’cause I wouldn’t know what to do with him – bring him around once a week for a cup of tea and, ‘See ya in seven months’ time when I’ve written some songs, then!’ We’re not like the Monkees; we don’t live in one big house”.

Still, he likes the interplay of a band situation. “I need Colin to upset me, to bring demos around and for me to go, ‘Shit, these are really good’. I need competition. If I was doing it all I’d get really lazy.” He describes Gregory’s role as “icing chef, decorating the cakes that we give him. He knows the chords I’m playing” – unlike Partridge sometimes.

With the album out, Partridge feels he’s due for another bout of arm-twisting from Geffen to get him to tour. “They try that regularly. Someone gets very chummy, a few drinks go down, I get a little bit merry – and then he starts on a touring thing.

“I don’t want to tour because I don’t see that as pleasurable, and I don’t see any reason at my age [35] to do anything or have anything inflicted on me that I don’t find pleasurable. I should be in complete control of my life at my age, and do what the bell I want to ’cause I’ve earned the right – well”, he reconsiders, “these various roads have led to the point in my head where I don’t feel indebted to anyone; I don’t have to follow any particular orders or instructions”. He’s speaking softly now. “If I don’t find playing live pleasurable, why be given money for something you don’t enjoy doing? You might as well go sweep out the sewers”.

Partridge doesn’t think XTC’s “living death” as a studio band bothers Moulding, another family man. Gregory says he’d like to do more, “but I’m just a lone voice. These two guys are writing the songs and keeping the band afloat – if indeed there is still a band.”

“He likes to play and crank it up,” Partridge says of Gregory, “so I think he’s a little frustrated. I’ve tried to urge him to go on the road with other people so he can get that evil spawn out of himself and come back and be with us.” He switches on a broad west-country twang: “‘You’re not having sex in this marriage so it’s all right to go to a prostitute if you want’.”

He’s suggested that Moulding and Gregory find another singer/guitarist for touring purposes: “I can stay at home and write songs and design stage shows for them. But I think that was a non-starter – we’d probably get all the Beach Boys shit flung at us. I’ve even considered getting a band together, calling them something like Farmboy’s Wages, and they’d go out, like Beatlemania. It probably wouldn’t be quite the same.”

“They’re really great live,” says Fox, who had the privilege of being the entire audience at XTC’s Oranges and Lemons rehearsals. He’d love to see a tour, though “I’m not going to hold my breath. They’re all such good musicians.” (Those with fading memories of exciting XTC shows will vouch for that.)

“I understand his – no, I don’t understand his reasons for not touring”, XTC manager Tarquin Gotch says of his recalcitrant charge. “I work on the assumption there will be no live touring, but secretly hope, in the back of my mind, some miracle might happen.” Until it does, Partridge is likely to remain in Swindon, for which he harbors no great love. “The place is a dump, no romance about it. London is a bigger dump. I’d like to move out to the edge of the countryside, away from people a bit more.”

It’s not so much that adoring locals follow Partridge wherever he goes. “No, they probably resent the fact that we actually did something.”

“Swindon’s quite an apathetic town,” Moulding concurs, “A lot of them think we split up, I think.”

Only Gregory speaks for the defense. “There are pockets of people who are proud of what we’ve done on behalf of the town, I suppose,” the soft-spoken guitarist says. “We put the town on the map.”

Now, if only the public would put XTC on the charts. “It’s sort of like a hobby, a paying hobby,” Partridge says of his shabbily genteel career. He sounds incredulous when he notes that both Virgin and Geffen “are very happy with the songs we’ve given them. It’s nice to have them positive for a change, rather than surly and saying, ‘Well, I don’t hold up much for the future if you don’t get the sales figures up’. But it’s funny: The more positive they get, the more unserious I get. They can sniff cash in it now, it’s losing its appeal to me. If that redresses itself properly, I’ll end up a house painter.”

Speaking of hobbies and house painting, no XTC article would be authoritative without mention of the band’s alter ego, the Dukes of Stratosphear. XTC almost was the Dukes of Stratosphear, but the shorter, snappier moniker won out the last time the group changed its name, in the mid-’70s. In 1979, Partridge asked Gregory – not yet in XTC, and an even bigger psychedelia nut than himself – “if he would be interested in making a psychedelic album under another name, like Electric Bone Temple.”

That project was shelved until 1985, when Partridge dusted off the “Dukes of Stratosphear” handle for a remarkably authentic-sounding EP of pseudo-psychedelic ptributes. Partridge was pshocked to discover that the tongue-in-cheek 25 O’Clock sold twice as well as the previous XTC album, The Big Express. Virgin insisted “the Dukes” record a follow-up. (Geffen hadn’t released the EP in the U.S.) “I’d told the Dukes joke and that was it,” Partridge says, “But lots of letters came in; ‘Can you ask the Dukes to do another album?’ I relented, and I felt like we were doing The Empire Strikes Back, or something ‘II’.” The full-length Dukes album, Psonic Psunspot, contains better songs than its predecessor, Partridge feels, but with less of a period ambience.

In between these efforts, XTC proper was starting to play for real what the Dukes of Stratosphear did as a studied goof. The ’60s aura of Oranges and Lemons makes it even harder to tell where one “group” stops and the other begins. Partridge hints darkly that he may have to “do in” the Dukes, perhaps “in a bizarre kitchen accident.” Are the Dukes of Stratosphear the real XTC? Since his school days, Partridge had “wanted to be in a group that made that kind of music. It looks like XTC has now turned into that kind of group. We’ll either get a damned good kicking because of that, or people will allow us to be what I always wanted to be. There was a split image and now they’ve merged.”

Maybe the moon is in the right house now for XTC. They’ve got a striking new album, a pushy new manager and even some record-company interest. Too bad Partridge – proud but not conceited – doesn’t share the enthusiasm.

“We’re just like dough,” insists Swindon’s swami of simile. “What can you say about dough? We are the record, and nothing else.”

That’s the way he likes it.

Scott Isler

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Richard Allen – “The Dukes of Stratosphear” (1987)

July 12, 2009 at 5:25 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, XTC)

Taken from issue #4 of Freakbeat magazine, 1987. This article on XTC’s psychedelic alter egos The Dukes of Stratosphear was written by Richard Allen…  


In 1985 people seeking the ‘weirder’ musical experience first came across The Dukes Of Stratosphear in their local record shop. I remember my first encounter with the Dukes debut mini LP 25 O’Clock which hit me full force from the record rack like some kind of dayglo pop art explosion. The sleeve, an amalgam of every psychedelic art style from the Oz ‘Blowing in the Mind’ Dylan cover to the eye encrusted collage of Creams’ Disraeli Gears was almost irresistable and still is. Moreover the music of 25 O’Clock, I discovered, like many others, was just as colourful and as much as an amalgam as the cover. For those who have not heard 25 O’Clock here follows a brief description:

The most obvious and stunning aspect of the LP is the production which is wide and crystal clear. Side one opens up with an Electric Prunes influenced space rocker that materialises from the ticking of some huge clock. Every effect pans between the speakers (try it on headphones!) and the cheerful(!) song is broken by fuzzed out guitar and swirling good old English mellotron which is Pink Floydish but with a very Caravanish edge. Pink Floyd looms tall on the second track ‘Bike Ride to the Moon’ a tale of cosmic pushbiking with sing along, strum along lyrics and ever-present ‘whizz bang’ noises. The third track totally fuzzes out as the Dukes proclaim that their ‘Love explodes’. This song gives the strongest clue to the true identity of the band which if you did not already know will be revealed shortly. Well side one ends with a firework display (literally) and some maniac shouting down a phone about how bad everything is so far. Side two opens with a great distorted booming piece of psych called ‘What in the World?’ that contains some great wibbly-wobbly sounds and lyrics much as, ‘2033 Cannabis in tea, What in the World? Acid is Free, What in the World?’ — What in the world indeed! The next track ‘Your Gold Dress’ crams virtually every 60’s UK psych effect into the song. There’s Eastern guitar riffs, backwards bits, the obligatory honky-tonk piano, fuzz guitar, demented monk vocals and of course phasing. Phew! In contrast the last track ‘Mole from the Ministry’ is a pure Beatles pastiche. Imagine a cross between ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘I Am the Walrus’ and you’re somewhere near the mark. There’s even the fade-out, fade-in plonking chant hit from the end of ‘Strawberry Fields.’ The lyrical subject of ‘Mole from the Ministry’ seems political (remember the Belgrano Government Mole Shock Horror Scandal in ’85?). Finally as the stylus nears the end of side two lo and behold a backwards message which when deciphered proclaims ‘You can fuck your atom bomb!’ [sic].

25 O’Clock came and went with rumours abounding as to who was behind the Dukes. Anxious psych heads scoured the live gig listings in the vain hope of finding a small ad that announced the Dukes performing live at some drug ridden seedy dive – but no – 1986 passed and the Dukes had been filed under ‘D’. Rumours circulated that they had something to do with XTC and the fact that the Dukes LP was included in the XTC section of a Megapriced superstore in London (beginning with V) confirmed this. It was only this year that it was officially announced that the Dukes of Stratosphear were indeed XTC in disguise lead by discerning Andy Partridge.

The Dukes second LP Psonic Psunspot was released in August of this year and takes the whole concept to its conclusion. However one approaches Psychedelia it cannot be denied that Psunspot captures the essence of the British Psychedelic Sound of 1967. The American sound does also get a slight exposure, but in honesty, only the poppy chart orientated Psych Sound of say The Electric Prunes and some of The Byrds material are included.

Freakbeat asked Andy Partridge, after kindly being invited to his home in deepest Steam engined Swindon, why he decided to make the two Dukes LP’s.

Sir John Johns – Andy Partridge – Name taken from a ’67 DC comic about a green Martian detective. Red Curtain – Colin Moulding – Name refers to the previous length of his hair which was like a curtain.

Lord Cornelius Plum – Dave Gregory – Was going to call himself ‘US of Arthur’ but a 60’s group had already done it.

E.I.E.I. OWEN – Ian Gregory – Dave’s brother – the non-XTC member.

LP’s25 O’Clock – Virgin – Wow 1 1985.*Psionic Psunspot [sic] – Virgin – VP2440 1987.CD

CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIRE-BALL – Virgin – Com CD11 1987. (Featuring all of 25 O’Clock and Psionic Psunspot).


The Mole From The Ministry/My Love Explodes – Virgin – VSY982.

*You’re A Good Man Albert Brown/Vanishing Girl – Virgin – VS98212 (Also available as a 12″ VS98212).

*COLOURED VINYL – First few pressings multicoloured as intended – the remainder went out a muddy purple!

‘Well really because I love that kind of music! It’s been creeping into XTCs music over the years. Slowly our album tracks have been getting more and more colourful. I really do love that kind of music. It’s sort of a nostalgia thing, because I just wasn’t old enough to be a hippy. MY parents wouldn’t let me grow my hair long. I was still at school and I could see all these older kids who’d been buying all these brilliant albums and going to Jimi Hendrix gigs and stuff walking past the school wearing all these amazing clothes. This was when I was about 12 or 13. I’d buy singles like ‘My White Bicycle’ and ‘See Emily Play’ with what pocket money I had and record vouchers I was given. Then I got hold of a copy of The ‘Stones Their Satanic Majesties Request which is still be fave psych LP by anyone. It totally did me in at that age. I thought, when XTC started years later, wouldn’t it be great to do an album or albums in the style of that sort of music, you know, pre-dominantly 45 material, very compact not long rambling stuff but three minute slabs. Eventually we got to the position where we’d made several LP’s and I decided it was the right time to pop the question to our record company Virgin. They said ‘mmm I don’t know, who’s going to buy it?’ so I said to them ‘look if we do it for virtually nothing would you finance it?’ and they said yes but only if we could do it for £5000 quid [pounds Sterling]. It’s pretty hard these days to make a good quality LP for less than about £10,000-£15,000 but we eventually did 25 0’Clock for £4000 and gave ’em £1000 change! I even did the cover on the kitchen table to cut costs! I copied lots of bits out of books on a copier and drew the heads etc. Virgin put the LP out and it sold pretty well especially in America as an import, in fact it sold embarassingly well ‘cos it sold something like 50,000 copies, twice as many as the last XTC album! and it cost nothing! Virgin said to us ‘Well you really must do another!’ So I said it was a one-off thing and I had done it but then all this mail started arriving saying how brilliant people thought the LP was. People were writing to Virgin asking who the group were. Some people had no idea it was us and some people just thought we knew the Dukes. I wanted the Dukes to be an unknown band so that XTCs past career for good or bad did not affect them. I resisted for two years from doing another LP but Dave (Gregory) and Colin (Moulding) said ‘We really should do another one ‘cos we really enjoyed it so much’ and because I’d been writing these tracks in secret (‘Have You Seen Jackie’ — left off 25 O’Clock and ‘Collideascope’) so I said yes.

After listening to one of Dave Gregorys forgeries (a copy of ‘Strawberry Fields’) Andy went on to explain how the Psionic Psunspot LP was put together:

‘Dave is an A1 forger. He’s got quite a good library of Psych and he actually still had all the clothes! Like he found in his cupboard a pair of Jumbo cord hipsters from ’68, a big wide plastic belt and a floppy felt hat with chain ornaments! It was quite frightening ‘cos he turned up at the photo session in all these amazing clothes! Getting back to his forgery, he’s got this set of a four track and a few instruments with which he re-creates his fave music, trying to get it as authentic as possible. He does a spooking job sometimes. He gets into the Dukes in a big way like he has to use the right sort of amplifier and he uses his Rickenbacker 12 string or his really old Fenders and stuff connected to an old fuzzbox to get a really ZZZZZZ kind of sound.’

Andy described how the band had spent hours sifting through old records trying to find out how the sounds were obtained. They would listen to first one channel and then the other and on one song they even put a mic by the fuzz pedal to pick up the ‘click’ of the switch (as heard on the ‘Stones ‘Satisfaction’).

‘We did a lot of conscious forgery, musically and vocally. ‘Vanishing Girl’ is The Hollies (I wanted to add Mellotron but we left it out). ‘Have You Seen Jackie’ is sort of Pink Floyd/Tomorrow/Keith West and a bit of ‘2000 Light Years from Home’ by the ‘Stones (with the backward Autoharp). ‘Little Lighthouse’ was an XTC number that was put on the shelf because it was too psychy for XTC thus it was an obvious choice. It’s about someone who’s exceptionally wonderful to be with and it’s like something really fantastic is shining out of their head.’

Andy does not see himself doing another Dukes LP or venturing further into psychedelia.

‘It’s not serious as in ‘it’s gonna save the world’, but what we are serious about is that we do love this sort of music and as I say it’s been bubbling to the surface of XTC for a while now. A lot of critics especially in the US say some of the tracks on Skylarking should have been on 25 O’Clock. However I don’t think we’ll do another Dukes LP. We’ve said thanks to the bands of that era. We might do a beat thing (Ventures/Shadows) or go forward a bit and change to the Stratosphear Gang with like Flares and glitter! I think the Dukes have done their stuff and said thank you (– twice to The Beatles!)’

And with that the Dukes really make their final statement. There are a few odds and ends for the information maniacs. As far as outtakes are concerned a few do exist, e.g., A ludicrously extended jam called ‘Orange Dust’ was recorded at about the same time as the XTC English Settlement LP while the talking section of ‘My Love Explodes’ on 25 O’Clock comes not from a Woody Allen film but from an American radio phone-in chat show. Apparently some Vietnam veteran had just sung a rather obscene and nationally insulting song, so this crank rang up and complained — the whole monologue lasting about 20 minutes!

The Dukes have left us two delightful collages of ’67 sounds, which admittedly are not original but all the same evoke the fairytale naïvety that prevailed within the UK charts for good or bad 20 years ago today.

Richard Allen

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Karen Schlosberg – “XTC: Celestial Postcards” (1987)

June 30, 2009 at 1:54 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, XTC)

A Creem article from July 1987 on Swindon, England’s finest, right after they released their masterpiece Skylarking, which unfortunately did not make them the big stars they should have been…oh well…such is life… 


An update on the attempted Americanization of XTC. For an eighth full album the trio is told, as reported by stalwart singer/songwriter/guitarist Andy Partridge, to “go away and write something that sounds American.” An American producer, Todd Rundgren, is lined up for them and Partridge is told, in no uncertain terms, to “shut up and be produced.”

The result, Skylarking, says Partridge, is probably “more English than [the record company] knows what to do with. I think they got the impression that we were going to do something like Simple Minds or U2, something that you could put your girlfriend on your shoulders to in a stadium somewhere.”

Hadn’t record company execs in charge of dictums listened to previous XTC albums? Partridge laughs. “Probably not. You probably hit the nail exactly on the head there.”

XTC has been, throughout their eclectic 10-year history, perhaps the most British band in existence. Partridge and fellow songwriter/singer/bassist Colin Moulding, with guitarist Dave Gregory, have crafted a unique sound that captures emotion, history and philosophy in a haunting style. And this timeless feel has become stronger as the band’s voice matured: from the delightful jumpy energy of Drums and Wires‘ ‘Life Begins at the Hop’ and ‘Making Plans For Nigel’ to Black Sea‘s ‘Towers of London’; from the pastoral-turning English Settlement‘s ‘Senses Working Overtime’ and the exquisite jewels of Mummer such as ‘Love on a Farmboy’s Wages’ and ‘In Loving Memory of a Name’ to The Big Express‘s ‘All You Pretty Girls’ and the current Skylarking, with its recurring themes of seasonal and cyclical rebirth (more songs about weather and girls).

Partridge agrees with the “timeless” description. “We pirate our favorite musical forms: psychedelic music’s in there, jazz is in there, there’s straight-ahead pop stuff, there’s vaudeville, there’s classical – it’s all thrown in, completely unabashed. It could be any time from 1880 to 1980-something, maybe even 2080-something.

“I feel it’s kind of related to Mummer,” he continues. “It seems to do a tangent to what Mummer threatened; it seems to take one of those threats and work it out totally, the lush English countryside, strings, rusticism – if such a word exists; if not, I’ve just invented it – side of things.” Partridge speaks in perfect asides, punctuated often with quick witticisms. And he did just invent a word.

One of the tangents XTC threaded into Skylarking resulted from the trio’s lighthearted, affectionate foray into psychedelia as the Dukes of Stratosphear with the 1985 EP 25 O’ Clock, which Partridge says, ‘was the most fun we ever had making a record. There was no pressure. You didn’t have to be yourself; it was a psychedelic masked ball. It was a chance to say thank you to all those loopy, senseless groups that altered our schooldays. [The Dukes] are what we could have been for five minutes had we been the right age. I’m too young to be a hippie.”

After that heady plunge into paisley, though, the trio had to be careful. “We just became very aware that, with the next thing we recorded, we were just going to have to slap each other’s wrist if somebody said, ‘Hey, let’s put a backward guitar solo…’ I think everyone was alarmingly aware of making a psychedelic album again, and even though we consciously tried not to, [Skylarking] came out rather psychedelic – there’s strings on things and there are no real synthesizers as such, so it sort of sounds pre-’80’s, at least.”

That the LP is a somewhat baroque and ethereally-textured collection is due to Rundgren’s hand. “He wouldn’t do anything vaguely political or noisy,” says Partridge. “He tended to go for personal relationship, small-horizon songs. Todd obviously likes non-harrowing music.”

It’s rather ironic that, even though XTC did not get along at all well with the Woodstock hermit (“The atmosphere was so bad, everyone was getting so argumentative, I thought we were just going to split up and fall apart”), and the resulting LP was so far from the American sound the execs lusted after that Partridge says “initially they didn’t even want to put this album out,” XTC might yet have a hit with the tune ‘Dear God’. And that is an irony within an irony, because at Partridge’s demand, the song was not released on the first pressings of Skylarking.

Seems the young American girl singing on the track was originally envisioned as a young English boy (“It’s like the wrong sex and wrong accent – other than that it was perfect,” laughs Partridge), and Andy felt that another song he had written, ‘Another Satellite’, was better. “So I sort of threw a tantrum and said, ‘This must go on, take ‘Dear God’ off.’ But it looks like ‘Dear God’ will be going back on in any case,” he adds, chuckling.

It would be lovely to hear XTC’s distinctive and intelligent pop songs permeating the radio, although it’s bound to be a sporadic occurrence, since the lads’ sound is probably too different to sit well with contemporary radio programming standards. Another irony, since XTC is constantly being compared to one of the most successful groups in pop history, the Beatles.

“This isn’t something that we work on,” emphasizes Partridge. “We get a lot of mail saying ‘My favorite two bands in all of history are you and the Beatles.’ I think it’s because we have a lot of eclectic tastes in music and we’re not afraid to bung them all in. What comes out is this kind of multi-colored stew that the easiest way to define is: ‘Oh, the last people that maybe did that kind of multi-colored stew thing were the Beatles.’ It’s quite flattering, and it’s very good ego stuff, but it’s not commercially viable in big amounts. I’m beginning to get rather mercenary about art. Nearly 10 years of good albums, come on, can I have some cash please, now,” he says, laughing.

Though the thread of financial depression (and half-joking paranoia at being sentenced to be struggling Cult Faves forever) runs through Partridge’s commentary, he and his compatriots still forge hopefully on, passionately creating music for art’s sake. “We’re sort of idiots, really,” he says cheerfully. “We just love making records. We do tend to get the rough end of the stick, but we’re pretty optimistic. Well, actually, Dave’s an incredible pessimist, but I balance that out by being absolutely, aggressively optimistic.

“You can’t do one thing too much because then you’ll die – life is about 50 percent no and 50 percent yes,” Partridge says. “I hope there is [a balance on the record], ’cause I’d hate to make a record that was all one thing. What’s worse than a wallpaper book with all the same sample on every page? A meal of entirely chocolate. The fun about chocolate is you suffer your Brussels sprouts and then your reward is a bar of chocolate. It’s called balance.”

And possibly good news for fans. Partridge is showing signs of mobility, perhaps leading to something vaguely resembling concert appearances – which the band had sworn off for nearly five years, due to an acute audience-phobia that made him physically ill. A live radio broadcast was being set up in Britain, and, Partridge adds definitely, “I’m sort of kind of semi-interested in doing that kind of thing again. Not for money – a good tour was breaking even. Just maybe it’s time I got up and lost some weight and shook my bum under some lights again…I don’t know.”

Karen Schlosberg

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Monstrance – “Monstrance” (2007)

January 28, 2009 at 8:13 am (Reviews & Articles, XTC)

Andy Partridge’s side project with former XTC bandmate Barry Andrews. This album shows off their experimental side and is definitely an interesting experiment.
This review comes from Roque Strew, from
Pitchfork – May 8, 2007… 


Before Andy Partridge locked down his place in the new-wave pantheon as the brain and public face of XTC, he had two loves. One was a famous affair with slightly-off pop and the other was a secret crush on free jazz. Fans may have seen the signs in 1994’s Through the Hill, his record with ambient composer Harold Budd. Partridge finally fully liberates his love for Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler on Monstrance, reuniting with keyboardist Barry Andrews (who left XTC in 1979, later starting Shriekback) and recruiting Martyn Barker (drummer in Andrews’ band). Together they abandon the domain of shimmery pop with a twist for a moody, dissonant netherworld.
It bears repeating: Don’t expect to encounter XTC here. And good luck finding Shriekback. But if you take Monstrance on its own terms — bringing a yen for improvisational, instrumental music — you might feel the strange thrill of eavesdropping on a freewheeling, nonsensical conversation. Culled from roughly eight hours of recordings, we still get to hear the awkward lulls, the autistic blurts, the little foils that often enrich the surrounding noise. Lightly edited and proudly free of overdubbing, Monstrance allows concepts to roam, phrases to drift.
The record’s long prelude, “I Lovely Cosmonaut” unfolds in slow motion, as a rhythm of silences accrues in the potholes, everyone swerving around it, stubbornly, until a fuller rhythm crystallizes. “Winterwerk” is not as coy. On the contrary, Barker turns it into twirling, tropical carnival. Nevertheless, the longer tracks are the richest here. Coming in at 16 minutes, “Priapple” is arguably the centerpiece of the album. Partridge heroically sticks to a pair of fuzzy chords, as Andrews mounts a relentless and chaotic siege, while Barker answers with erratic percussion.
Every song– and not always for the better — seems to be at war with itself. “Chaingang” milks a sense of unease out of two rhythms, Partridge’s ragged Beefheart riffs in 7/4 and Barker in 4/4, that fleetingly lock into place. These blink-and-you’ll-miss-it resolutions, each one a tiny solar eclipse, give the song its thrilling air of flux and incompleteness. During the whole drama, Andrews remains the outsider looking in. He works this same routine in the first half of “Torturetainmen,” while he drills holes — it literally sounds like heavy machinery — into the oddball groove Partridge and Barker crafted together.
Calling this “unlistenable noise” is baffling. This record falls closer to the viscous, chaotic beauty of Swans than the poisonous crunch of Metal Machine Music. All the stretches of darkness have real depth, while at its calmer and more intimate moments, Monstrance evokes the stoic, spacey impressionism of ECM chamber jazz. 


Roque Strew 

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The Dukes of Stratosphear – “25 O’Clock” (1985)

December 19, 2008 at 11:03 am (Music, Psychedelia, XTC)

XTC’s lysergic alter egos – this is the title track to their 1985 debut EP (later released on the 1987 Chips from the Chocolate Fireball compilation). This is easily the equal to almost any psych classic from the 60s.
Don’t eat the brown rice…

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