Mark Fisher explores the unique appeal of XTC’s musical legacy in What Do You Call That Noise?: An XTC Discovery Book. PKM’s Amanda Sheppard talked to Fisher about the book, the band and their brilliant creative core of Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, Terry Chambers, Barry Andrews and Dave Gregory.
Starting with their 1977 debut on the legendary John Peel BBC Radio 1 program, XTC blended Beach Boys harmonies and manic keyboard and drums and rode the crest of the British New Wave craze. Singer-guitarist Andy Partridge formed XTC with bassist Colin Moulding and drummer Terry Chambers in Swindon in 1975 after stints as Star Park and Helium Kidz, ditching their turgid glam riffs for an agitated keyboard pop sound with Jonathan Perkins and later Barry Andrews. After signing a deal with Virgin Records, XTC released their spiky debut album White Music to rave reviews but failed to chart any singles. After the release of their second album, Go 2, keyboard player Barry Andrews left the band.
I’m Bugged – XTC (Peel Sessions 1977)
XTC changed gears with new guitarist Dave Gregory and teamed up with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham for the big drum sound of their third album Drums and Wires and scored their first hit single with the Colin Moulding tune “Making Plans For Nigel”.
Making Plans For Nigel – XTC – Top of The Pops
The band toured aggressively and made appearances on Top of the Pops and soon re-united with Lillywhite and Padgham for the album Black Sea which sailed to #40 on the Billboard 200. Grueling tours and appearances for meager pay, however, soon took the wind out of XTC’s sails. While Andy Partridge found sanctuary with XTC at the helm of production on the band’s brilliant and timeless English Settlement album, on stagehe struggled with memory lapses and panic attacks. After bouts of valium withdrawal triggered a nervous breakdown, Partridge fled the English Settlement tour and at the height of the band’s popularity, stopped performing live altogether.
Respectable Street – XTC -Urgh! A Music War
Partridge overcame his valium dependency and, despite the band’s five-year legal battle with former manager Ian Reid and mounting debt to Virgin Records, who were required by law to freeze the band’s royalty payments, XTC entered a fertile creative period in the studio. Partridge grew more experimental in his songwriting but clashed with drummer Terry Chambers who left the group and moved to Australia at the start of rehearsals on Mummer (XTC finished the album with Glitter Band drummer Pete Phipps and hired drummers for subsequent albums).
Love on a Farmboy’s Wages – XTC
Partridge also clashed with producers who were instructed by Virgin to rein him in whenever he took charge in the studio. Sometimes he had accomplices (David Lord on The Big Express, Paul Fox on Oranges & Lemons) and sometimes he had adversaries (Todd Rundgren on Skylarking, Gus Dudgeon on Nonsuch) but Virgin A&R was no match for Andy Partridge’s vision. XTC swam against the current and scored hits in the U.S. throughout the ‘80s and the early ‘90s with “The Mayor of Simpleton”, “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead”, and the controversial “Dear God” and made a handful of live TV and radio appearances. In 1994, however, XTC parted ways with Virgin Records, after a year-long strike with the label over the band’s old and oppressive contract.
Books Are Burning – XTC (The Late Show)
BBC 2–June 9, 1992
In 1999, XTC released the lush “orchustral” Apple Venus Vol. 1 through their Idea label with Cooking Vinyl after splitting with guitarist and longtime orchestral arranger, Dave Gregory. Partridge and Moulding continued as XTC and followed up with Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2) before eventually parting ways in the late 2000s.
River of Orchids -XTC
XTC’s music is seeing a resurgence these days with recent vinyl reissues, the Showtime documentary XTC: This Is Pop, and XTC songs popping up in last year’s It remake, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and even The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
And now author Mark Fisher explores the unique appeal of XTC’s musical legacy in What Do You Call That Noise?: An XTC Discovery Book. Fans of all ages from around the globe, including notable musicians Rick Buckler (The Jam), Debbi Peterson (The Bangles), Chris Difford (Squeeze), and Chris Butler (The Waitresses) weigh in on XTC’s songs, albums, and musical intricacies. XTC guitarist Dave Gregory discusses the making of some of XTC’s most iconic hits, former keyboard player Barry Andrews sheds light on his time in the band, and Andy Partridge talks about the art of songwriting and more.
What Do You Call That Noise? Official Book Trailer
PKM interviewed Mark Fisher about the book and the band.
PKM: So, what inspired your concept for What Do You Call That Noise? And can you give me a little background on how you gathered your interview subjects, fans, and all that?
Mark Fisher: Yeah, the two answers are sort of linked in the sense that I was— going back into distant history—the editor of XTC’s fanzine between 1982 and 1992. I started it at school with a friend and so very, very young and very, very naive. I did this fanzine for ten years, maybe one copy each year and then I put them together in an anthology which was calledThe XTC Bumper Book of Fun For Boys and Girls, which came out in 2017. What that anthology consisted of was reproductions of the old fanzines alongside new material. So, I kind of interviewed the band and got other people to write different articles. It was a nice sort of juxtaposition of old and new.
I noticed a number of British stand-up comedians on the cool end of the spectrum were fans of XTC and I just thought, “That’s quite interesting that comedians should have an enthusiasm for the band.” So, I got five comedians, including Stewart Lee and Kevin Eldon and Phil Jupitus, to choose a song each that they liked and then to talk about each other’s choices, and I sort of put it all together in a conversation and I thought that article really worked. They weren’t being funny; they were just being passionate. They were being enthusiastic and I thought that that sort of expression of why they liked something really worked. So, that planted a seed in my head. If comedians could be interesting talking about XTC, I thought, “Oh, I wonder if musicians would be interested in talking and what light they might shed on the music?” You know, whether it would be possible to get under the skin of the music. There is that phrase that writing about music is like dancing about architecture which is a problem that I imagine you have all the time. (Laughs) How do translate this thing that’s wonderful and beautiful and moving and all the rest of it and how do you put it into words?
TheXTC Bumper Book of Fun For Boys and Girls Official Book Trailer
Mark Fisher: So, I just thought that this is a way I could get a little bit closer to the music by just talking to other people. I didn’t give myself a deadline. In the end, the whole thing took about a year to put together and I think that it’s probably the biggest chapter in the book. I just set about finding as many professional musicians who were XTC fans that I could. Sometimes, it was through a recommendation or sometimes I just found people on Twitter or through a website or somebody would recommend somebody else that I’d been speaking to and put them all together into a sort of daisy chain of musicians where each one of them not only spoke about the song that they wanted to talk about which I said to them that it didn’t have to be their very favorite. It could be just some musical moment that was just in there that really attracted them or lyrical moment or something, but then they’d also talk about the choices the previous person had made and so it was sort of linked through the book in that particular way. And I think it does seem to be much easier to get in touch with certain, maybe not the biggest stars in the firmament, but people who are reasonably well-known and are relatively easy to get in touch with via Facebook or Twitter and just say, “Oh, this is what I’m doing.” And certainly, in the case of XTC, I did find people were actually thanking me (laughs)for getting them involved and they were flattered to be involved because they were such XTC fans and that was really heartening. I had some fantastic conversations with people putting this all together.
PKM: You really go deep with this. For the fans it seem like it’s really personal to them but at the same time, they’re really excited when they run into other fans.
Mark Fisher: That’s a really good way of putting it and I’ve experienced this phenomenon. I don’t really know about other bands or whether the same thing exists but in other little fan cultures, but it’s been for as long as I’ve been writing about XTC, which now goes back 40 years, there’s always been that exact sense that you’ve just described it very well, that feeling of both isolation and passion and enthusiasm and then that joy when you meet somebody else who has the same thing that there doesn’t seem to be a sort of middle ground with XTC, it’s all or nothing.
PKM: That is really fascinating.
Mark Fisher: And I thought doubly fascinating because, you know, I’m used to it if it’s just your ordinary fan and your ordinary music listener, but when you talk to someone like Chris Butler from The Waitresses, he was overjoyed to be talking about XTC and, really, lots of people who were very accomplished in their own right, in complete awe of the band.
Shake You Donkey Up – XTC
Chris Butler, of The Waitresses, Tin Huey, and a solo artist talking about the track “Shake You Donkey Up”:
My first reaction was, ‘Oh, that’s such a goofy song. Why did I agree to this?’ But the more I listen to it, the more it is classic XTC. I liked it back when I was listening to everything, but I was taken aback when I was asked to talk about it. You have a loopy lyric which is written in some kind of ethnic slang, but then you have this incredible chorus where the bass line is steady and the lyrics slide off the time. I tried to figure it out on my bass. There are two approaches: the bass on the demo is more rhythmic and the one on the recorded version has more space, but they each have a set pattern. The counting is remarkable because if you zero in on the bass line, it is keeping to the 4/4 rhythm, but the lyric slides out and winds up back on the ‘one’. It’s math rock before it was invented. [from What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book].
PKM: What I’ve really noticed is that XTC is like a musician’s band.
Mark Fisher: I think so, yeah, musician’s musician, is a way to put it, isn’t it? It’s like, we’re not talking about U2 or REM or Prince or someone who’s got that global level of recognition, or even Taylor Swift. We’re not talking about anyone who’s on that level, but they do seem to have that sort of…musician’s musicians is the only way to put it. Like if you were a muso like I feel, I got the sense that the world that those musicians were hanging out in was full of other people who liked the band. In fact, already, I’ve had somebody emailing me saying, “Oh, I’m so disappointed that you interviewed one of my bandmates and that I didn’t realize. I’d love to be talking about the drums in this book”, so I suspect there are easily as many, again, that could’ve made the book many times, more people that I could’ve got ‘round to interviewing. It just didn’t work out that way.
PKM: Right, it could have turned into an epic.
Mark Fisher: Yes, in fact, there came a point where I had to stop. I said, “No, that’s enough!” (laughs)
PKM: Have you gained any new insights into the fandom since your Limelight [XTC’s fanzine] days?
Mark Fisher: Yes, I think just doing this, you know, on specific songs. It’s difficult to say this without getting very nerdy, but, for example, David Yasbeck who is a big name these days on Broadway. He writes musical scores. He did do an album that Andy Partridge from XTC was involved in and so, he’s got a long sort of musical history in that pop-rock background but now doing Broadway musicals and there’s one particular song which he started talking about which is called “Burning With Optimism’s Flames”. There is a line in the song which is “Reaching to the ground and all around like a Navaho blanket” and he just pointed out that line which is a very long and wieldy line, “Reaching to the ground and all around like a Navaho blanket”. If you think about the melody of that line, which obviously doesn’t translate into print (laughs) as if you’re singing it, but the melody itself, reaches to the ground and all around like a Navaho blanket. It sort of goes down into this sort of spiraling thing, so, it’s like the melody and the words are interlocked with each other and inseparable and which one is inspiring the other? Andy Partridge does talk about the synesthesia, which is this idea that he’ll taste sounds and hear pictures, you know, one thing transfers to the other and that theme kept popping up in a lot of the interviews that people were just making that connection between XTC’s music.
Burning With Optimism’s Flames – XTC live on Rockpalast
Mark Fisher: I think it sort of links in. Though a lot of people have done cover versions of XTC songs, it’s quite rare to hear a cover version that differs hugely in terms of the structure and the detail and the arrangement because with XTC you tend to get the whole package. It’s not just some chords and somebody singing something over it. It’s the arrangement and the feel and the sound and the rhythms and if you take any one of those elements out, it’s like taking a clock apart, it somehow falls apart. And, suddenly, talking to the musicians, I did get a strong sense that it was sort of a recurring theme that people would just identify this ability to hear, see, and feel everything at the same time and so you can’t really work out where the inspiration started because it was all so interlocked.
PKM: Right, it’s not any one thing, it’s like all the things together.
Mark Fisher: Yeah, I think so. There was a documentary made quite recently called XTC: This Is Popand Andy demonstrates his songwriting technique in that and you do get that sense of hearing and he’ll throw his hands on the guitar, he’ll hear a sound and the sound will make him think of something. So, in this documentary, he just deliberately puts his hand in a place that he’s never put it on the guitar before and he says, “Ooh, that sounds like muddy water!” So, in his head, he starts singing about muddy water, so, the two things are very interlinked in that way.
XTC: This Is Pop (2018) – Official Trailer – Showtime Documentary
PKM: That is really fascinating.
Mark Fisher: Yeah, you can’t replace the music. It’s that thing about dancing about architecture, you can never make that architecture alive in front of somebody’s face, but just maybe you could bring somebody just a little bit closer to thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s why I like it!” That sort of sense of fans talking to each other, I suppose. I hope that feeling comes across.
PKM: Oh yeah, absolutely! I noticed, too, that there’s kind of like a workbook element to it, for lack of a better phrase. It gets you thinking, especially if you play an instrument, I notice it really gets you thinking. It really got me re-thinking my whole approach to music.
Mark Fisher: Well, that’s interesting and yeah, there was a bit of me at one point when I had the idea that this would be a sort of music-themed book I was thinking, “Is this gonna get like really muso-ish and obscure and are we gonna be talking about augmented fifths and concepts that would just alienate anybody (laughs) who was just a passing fan?” You know, like anybody who just had sort of passing interest and actually, as it played out, there’s a little bit of that but I think not too much but maybe enough to give you a sense of what’s going on. I think, maybe, there’s a big section about drummers talking about why they like Terry Chambers XTC’s first drummer and I know nothing about drums at all (laughs) but I loved being part of those conversations because people were just sort of saying, “Oh yeah, but have you seen what he’s doing on the triplets on the hi-hat?” Or the use of a snare drum in an unexpected place or whatever…I knew I liked it but it made me realize, “Ah, yeah, that’s what he’s doing, isn’t it!” Not that I could become a drummer just by that information but if you’re responding to it in that sort of way, that was one of the intentions, yeah, so that’s great that it’s having that effect.
Real by Reel – XTC – Live from Festival Hall, Melbourne 1980-09-06
“‘You couldn’t really jam with Terry,’ says Andy. ‘It was like working with a breathing machine. You started him off, you counted him in and he was going to go through his programming. I’ve never known any other drummer like that. It’s not a musical thing, it’s not even a drummer thing; he went into this Zen state where he could play the oddest things and you couldn’t communicate with him while he was doing it. You’d be looking at him and thinking, ‘Is he seeing me? I’m trying to indicate that we’re going to end this section,’ and he seemed to stare right through you. It was very thrilling, but it was not related to music. It was some sort of footballer mathematics. I’ve never known it in any other musician. It’s like a naïve gift.’”[from What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book]
PKM: I was going to ask you about the drummer section, too. That was incredibly fascinating to me, as well, because the world of drummers is utterly foreign to me. They just operate from this completely different school of everything. Terry Chambers was such an important part of the early days and then you get like all the post-Terry Chambers drummers. (Pete Phipps, Ian Gregory, Prairie Prince, Pat Mastelotto, Dave Mattacks, and Chuck Sabo)
Beating of Hearts – XTC
Mark Fisher: There was one drummer I got in touch with, Rick Buckler from The Jam, not really expecting him to say yes, but he did. He said, “Yeah, I’ll get involved in this.” I think I’d just come across an interview he’d done or some sort of desert island disc type of thing where he’d chosen a number of records and one of them was “Making Plans For Nigel” and I thought, “Oh, well, there’s a bit of a connection because he knows who they are.” So, I got in touch with him and he said, “Yeah, I’ll come and meet you.” I live in Edinburgh but I went down to London to meet him and because I was doing that I then got in touch with a number of other semi-pro or professional musicians including drummers.
Rick Buckler from The Jam talking about Terry Chambers, XTC’s drummer:
With Terry, it wasn’t like someone just banging it out, there’s a lot of thought behind what he was doing. There was plenty to be inspired by…My memories are of a hell of a lot of rushing around getting stuff recorded so we could get back on the road. It was 100 mile an hour. XTC were in Townhouse at the same time as us [XTC recording Black Sea, the Jam recording Sound Affects in the summer of 1980]. They had a great stone room, which was brilliant for drums…I got into XTC with Drums and Wires. I had to retrace my paces to pick up on what was going on before that…and (I) never got to see them play live. It was purely of records that I got into them. When you’re touring yourself, you don’t see other bands unless you’re playing festivals. Every Saturday night, you’re busy and when they’re busy, you’re busy somewhere else. [from What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book].
Mark Fisher: So, we were all just sitting ‘round a table in a hotel bar talking about drums and it went on for two hours (laughs) this conversation. Well, you know what it’s like, you’re currently interviewing me and you’re sort of in control of the interview. You’ve got the sense of the questions and if I go off-course, you’ll maybe bring me back on course, but with this one, it was just too many people and the conversation was just too fascinating. I just sort of let it go, it was like winding up a toy because they all had interesting things to say and they all just let the conversation go wherever it went. It was fascinating…the career of The Jam and the career of Terry Chambers within XTC was almost exactly the same years. I think they both started out as young musicians at the age of 19 in the year 1972, they both got signed around the same time in 1977 or so and Paul Weller disbanded The Jam in 1982 which was about the time that Terry Chambers left XTC. So, there was a nice opportunity to look back to those years. What it was like to be in this one band and be aware of this other band or how aware he was, but also the sort of muso stuff about what drums they were using, and the sound they were making, and where the one thing influenced another and so on.
Beatown (Live) – XTC
Mark Fisher: The photographer who was there was just listening in on it all and she said, “Oh, you’ve got like three articles, there!” (laughs) And the beauty about doing a book is that you can just keep on going, so that was great to be able to indulge in that. And then yes, as you say, Yvonne Wooten, a friend of mine and old Limelight reader, she used to get the Limelight fanzine, she set about tracking down the various post-Terry Chambers drummers. I wouldn’t at all have been surprised if she hadn’t managed to get every single one of them but she got the full set. Like the other musicians, (they had) that feeling that they felt that they’d been part of something special and that they did want to talk about it and they’re very proud of their work. All of them have got huge admiration for XTC as musicians and as people who are good company, so it was great to hear from all of those, as well.
PKM: Moving along to Barry Andrews…
Mark Fisher: Oh yeah (laughs) Barry Andrews. It amused me because back in 1982, when I would’ve been 16, me and my friend who had started the fanzine, we would just write to different people and try to get them involved in the fanzine. Barry Andrews was a natural one to get involved, but by that time, he had left XTC about two or three years before we started doing this and moved on and probably had started his work with Shriekback. And quite rightly didn’t want to talk about the past, he wanted to talk about the present and so on but he did write a letter to me back in 1982.
Nemesis – Shriekback
Keen to fill the void left by former keyboard player Jonathan Perkins, Andy first met Barry Andrews through his “Keyboardist Seeking Band” flyer in a local music shop and offered him the job after rounds with the band at the pub. Barry left XTC in 1978 over creative differences with Andy Partridge. After stints with Robert Fripp’s League of Gentlemen and Iggy Pop, Barry formed Shriekback with former Gang of Four bassist Dave Allen in 1981.
Statue of Liberty – XTC
Mark Fisher: I didn’t pursue an interview with him because I suppose, at the time, I was interested in XTC rather than ex-XTC, you see. So, it felt like unfinished business when I suddenly thought, “Well, you know, maybe I could get Barry Andrews (laughs) involved in this book.” I had been talking to a guy called Stu Rowe who has done a lot of sound engineering and mixing and producing work. If you are a musician in Swindon, Stu Rowe is somebody who will come your way because he seems to know everybody. He was able to put me in touch with Barry because Barry had been doing some mixing with him. And sure enough, Barry got back to me straight away and said, “Sure, I’d be very happy to talk.” And I made it clear that I knew he didn’t want to dwell on XTC but (though) it would just be interesting to talk about musicianship, in general. So, then again I had a nice two-hour chat with him one sunny afternoon. I went down to Swindon to do it and he was lovely and he didn’t mind talking about XTC when it was appropriate and when the conversation went in other directions, it just went in other directions. So, I’m really proud of getting that piece in because it does feel like I’ve been waiting many years to get it.
Barry Andrews talking about his time in XTC:
Leaving to one side – only for the moment – the densely textured and fibrillating tale of Shriekback, I want to talk about the vexed topic of keyboard-playing in rock bands, which was what I started out doing, before the demon of Self-Expression possessed my ass: XTC, of course, Fripp’s League of Gents and the troubled Iggy Pop album, Soldier. After that, apart from the odd session, I played keyboards only on things I had some aesthetic control over. Which meant I almost stopped playing keyboards altogether. By the early ‘80s (My Spine, Lined Up, etc), I didn’t even own a keyboard anymore (had to borrow Ian Caple’s £30 Casio)…It was (piano), initially, not even an instrument I wanted to play. First of all, in my I-want-to-be-a-classical- composer days (six–seven years old, yeah I know, I am Lisa Simpson), I thought a violin would be the way to help me write those vast orchestral panoramas I saw as my destiny. Parents weren’t keen. So unfair. [from What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book]
PKM: [Barry Andrews] comes off as just really funny and humble.
Mark Fisher: Yeah…one of the things about XTC is their sense of humor. I think one reason they held together for as long as they did is because of that wit and sense of humor. The comedians like XTC I suspect not because they make funny music but because there was a sense of wit and imagination and play in there that somehow comes across in their music even without being a comedy band. And certainly, Barry Andrews, although he probably had quite a fractious time in XTC, was really a burgeoning songwriter who was in somebody else’s band. In a way, he shouldn’t have been there, he recognizes that now, but he loved being with XTC because they were just such good company. They were just very funny.
This Is Pop – XTC
Barry Andrews: We got on like a house on fire – much more than any group I’ve been in (and I’ve been in a few). Everyone was really funny…We just had a great time. I loved them. I thought they were the funniest people. But I wasn’t really into the music. [from What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book]
Are You Receiving Me? – XTC
PKM: Right, a good group of guys. I just got turned on to some of his solo stuff through this because I actually wasn’t familiar with Barry Andrews apart from this.
Mark Fisher: Yeah, it’s very different, really, isn’t it, because it’s much more rhythmic. It’s coming from a slightly different root, really, from I don’t know if it’s disco or 1970s American music or African American music that’s sort of channeled into his career which you don’t really associate with XTC. I think he’s definitely found his own niche in that direction.
Win A Night Out With A Well-Known Paranoiac – Barry Andrews
PKM: Absolutely, it’s a trip. It was like a stepping stone for him, I guess.
So, I guess the best way to follow up with Barry Andrews would be with Dave Gregory.
Mark Fisher: Yeah, well, I think that in a way that I knew or hoped Dave Gregory would somehow be central to the book because of all the members of XTC, he is the one who would best be described as a muso. He’s the one who cares about his guitars, he collects guitars, he loves his amplifiers, he loves everything to do with music. He lives and breathes music, he says he couldn’t be without music and for an extent, that will be true of all the others, as well, but he has that sort of obsession, I suppose. So, it did seem to me that a book that was going to take music as its theme should have him very central.
Guitarist Dave Gregory joined XTC in 1978 breathing new artistic life into the band. He proved an especially welcome addition for Colin Moulding who emerged as a talented songwriter in his own right on XTC’s first UK hit singles “Life Begins At The Hop” and “Making Plans For Nigel”.
Life Begins at the Hop – XTC
Dave: This is so typical of XTC: they didn’t do anything that people expected them to do. They’d replace a quirky, eccentric keyboard player with an R&B guitarist. When they asked me to audition, I crammed my head with the first two albums. All I had at the time was a Stratocaster and a Gibson 335. I took those in and a little 20W Fender Tremolux amplifier – no reverb, just a vibrato channel. I guess they thought, “We know how he plays. He’s not going to sound like Barry. Besides, any keyboard player is going to be compared with Barry, so why don’t we just struggle on with the old stuff and redesign the band?” Very brave of them. [from What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book].
Mark Fisher: So I made the effort, actually …I sort of courted him (laughs) in a way. I must’ve been in Swindon for some other reason and got in touch with him and said, “Oh, could I come ‘round and just chat?” So, the first meeting wasn’t an interview, it was just a sort of, “Hi, how ya doing?” but also sort of sounding him out and saying I have this idea to him. That point he said to me, “Do you know nobody’s ever actually interviewed me about my arrangements and keyboard work?” because people think of him as a guitarist and lots of people have spoken to him about playing the guitar but very few, if any, have gone into the other area. So, here he is giving an open door with a theme to follow up. And because of this musical theme, we got in touch with my friend Hugh Nankivell who’s a working musician, himself, and an XTC fan, I said, “Would you like to come down and lead the conversations?” So, I was there but only chipping in the odd question and really just enjoying it and Dave was so generous with his time. We had something like six hours with him and I can just remember coming out after this and just having such an embarrassment of riches to think about and me and Hugh worked together and ate curry in a local restaurant (laughs) and just sort of looked at each other and were slightly dazed manner about what’s just happened. (laughs)
Jason and the Argonauts (Rockpalast ’82) – XTC
Mark Fisher: Dave was so generous with his time and so interesting and phenomenal, I’ve always known this. He’s got a phenomenal memory for detail about who was playing what and what instruments were being played and how the detail of how a song would be put together and how he was reacting. And certainly Hugh, who was asking the questions was interested in, I think an idea that is of interest and value to anybody who is in the creative industries, certainly the collaborative industries, which is this question that if you’re in a band, you’ve got the songwriter who comes into the room with the song and then everybody works with it and so, the songwriter traditionally gets the royalties, gets the attention, gets the praise for being such a great songwriter. But, as you know, there are so many songs that the recording of them is the thing that makes it as good as it is. There are instances, if you switch away from XTC and see and think of something like “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” without that keyboard sound, would that song have been what it was? There’s a big question about well, who wrote that song? Who composed that song? Was it just the songwriter or was it the keyboard player who came up with that part?
Dave Gregory talking about his time in XTC:
It’s something that’s overlooked: the guys who wrote the songs would always get the credit in parenthesis under the song title on the record. So everyone would think, “This is a good song. Who wrote this? Oh, it’s an Andy song or a Colin song.” In order to get that song on the record the way it is requires performance from more than just one person. The idea – yeah, that’s great. But the record – that’s the band. The performances of the individuals are often overlooked. It sounds like I’m blowing my own trumpet, but in some cases there were performances that defined how the song sounded in its finished state. [from What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book].
Mark Fisher: So, without coming to any definitive decision, Hugh was quizzing Dave in that sort of area. He’s both not an artist and yet being artistic and the stuff that he did was, I’m gonna use the word instrumental to the XTC sound. So, it was great, I suppose, apart from everything else, to give Dave the spotlight and that credit that he deserves and in some ways, can be overlooked when you’ve got two great songwriters in Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding in the band.
Dave Gregory about the creative process in XTC:
Without wishing to take any credit away from anyone (because without the initial spark of creativity, there’d be nothing), to get it in a finished state requires not just me, but the drummer, the producer and engineer… They have to hear what’s going on and blend it like a chef would with sauces to make the finished product palatable. For example, with Yacht Dance, I decided to play the nylon-strung guitar part that I wrote from scratch. Hugh Padgham got it straight away and I think we got it down in a couple of passes. That guitar almost defines the song. I often felt Andy could have offered me a co-write on that. [from What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book].
Yacht Dance – XTC
Andy Partridge on the contributions of Dave Gregory to XTC:
“I’ve come to really respect Dave’s contributions over the years. When you’re in the eye of the hurricane you don’t think about what anyone in the band does. They’re just one of the lads and that’s their thing. When you get some distance from it, you think, ‘God, he was really good, the way he invented those phrases and that arrangement.’ Dave just likes music. It’s his raison d’être. He’s got the right d’être covered in raisins – and chocolate as well.” [from What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book].
Colin Moulding on the contributions of Dave Gregory in XTC:
“Gregsy spends hours painstakingly deciding which chord to play at a certain place, which is really good,”… “If he’s got to polish a turd as far as me and Partridge’s songs go, it gets us out of a tight spot. I’m just glad that he’s competent and that conscientious to do that after all these years.” [from What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book].
PKM: Have you come away with any new insights on Andy Partridge or Colin Moulding, both of their processes?
Mark Fisher: I suppose over the years I’ve interviewed Andy quite a lot and so, in this case, it would have been surprising to suddenly get a revelation because of that. Although the theme of the interview with Andy in this book was trying to fit in with the musical thing and I thought, “Well, he’s such a brilliant speaker. He’s such an articulate, funny, and again, like Dave, has got a tremendously accuracy and detail that he can go into about his own work.” There’s a fantastic book that Andy did in conjunction with the writer called Todd Bernhardt called Complicated Game: Inside The Songs of XTC where they just go through a selection of XTC songs, Andy’s songs, and Andy just talks about them. It’s a fantastic book because it’s got a huge amount of insight from the artist’s point of view about how to make it and I thought, “Well, that book exists, already, there’s no point in just reproducing that. So, is there something else we can talk about in the case of me and Andy?” So, thinking about the musical theme that just the sort of juxtaposition that occurred to me and actually, I probably came up with some of these questions in conjunction with other musician fans, there was this interesting idea that, as I had mentioned to you before, about him just throwing his hands on the guitar and just seeing something that he’s hearing, he is as a musician very organic and very distinctive and untutored.
The Mayor of Simpleton – XTC
Andy Partridge talking about his creative process:
Yes, I guess it’s because I need to know how to make a finished mix, how to make that bass guitar sound good and how to get that snare drum to sit properly against that piano. I need to know all that but I don’t need to know how to write music. It’s not useful to me, but recording and mixing is useful to me. It’s chimp-like; this typewriter is no use to this chimp, but how to open that banana is really useful. It’s a necessary skill, but I still can’t drive a car and I still haven’t learned to swim. I never really needed to be a car driver. I don’t need to read music or know the names of the chords; I can do that with my ear. It sounds like it ought to be the right chord at this point and if it’s not, I’ll thrash away until I find it.