From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Xtc)
Jump to: navigation, search
XTC bandphoto.jpg
XTC after a show in Toronto, October 1978
From left: Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, Terry Chambers, and Barry Andrews
Background information
Also known as
  • Star Park (1972–1974)
  • The Helium Kidz (1974–1975)
Origin Swindon, Wiltshire, England
Years active 1972–2006
Associated acts
Website ape.uk.net
Past members

XTC were an English rock band formed in Swindon in 1972 and active until 2006. Led by songwriters Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, the band gained popularity during the rise of punk and new wave in the 1970s, later playing in a variety of styles that ranged from angular guitar riffs to elaborately arranged pop. Partly because the group did not fit into contemporary trends, they failed to maintain commercial success in the UK and US. They have since attracted a considerable cult following, and are recognised for their influence on Britpop and later power pop acts.

Partridge (guitar, vocals) and Moulding (bass, vocals) met at a record store in the early 1970s and subsequently formed a glitter rock outfit with drummer Terry Chambers. The band's name and line-up changed frequently, and it was not until 1975 that they were known as XTC. In 1977, the group debuted on Virgin Records and, for the next five years, were noted for their ironic punk rock and energetic live performances. They aspired to be "completely original" and refused to conform to punk doctrine, instead synthesising influences from 1960s pop, dub music and the avant-garde. Partridge, XTC's frontman and primary songwriter, insisted that the band was "blatantly just pop music. We were a new pop group. That's all."

After 1982, the band stopped concert touring and became a studio-based project centred on Partridge, Moulding, and guitarist Dave Gregory. They produced increasingly idiosyncratic recordings, including The Big Express (1984), Skylarking (1986), Oranges & Lemons (1989), Nonsuch (1992) and Apple Venus Volume 1 (1999). A spin-off group, the Dukes of Stratosphear, was invented as a one-off excursion into 1960s-style psychedelia, but as XTC's music evolved, the distinctions between the two bands lessened. From 1993 to 1997, the group were mired in legal difficulties and refused to record music for Virgin, citing a poor record contract. In 2006, Partridge announced that his creative partnership with Moulding had disintegrated, leaving XTC "in the past tense." In 2017, Moulding and Chambers reunited as the duo TC&I. Partridge and Gregory remain musically active.

XTC's best-known album, Skylarking, is generally regarded as their finest. They had a total of 18 records in the UK top 40,[11] including the singles "Making Plans for Nigel" (1979), "Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)" (1980) and "Senses Working Overtime" (1982), as well as the albums Black Sea (1980) and English Settlement (1982). In the US, they are also known for the songs "Dear God" (1986) and "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" (1992),[12] while "Mayor of Simpleton" (1989) was their highest charting US single.


A view of Swindon in 2007

Growing up in Swindon in the 1960s, Andy Partridge had been a fan of contemporary pop groups like the Beatles: "But the idea of learning the guitar scared me off. Then the Monkees came along. I was a little bit older, and I started getting interested in playing guitar. I thought this being in a group thing looks great." He recalled watching schoolmate Dave Gregory "play in bands before I could even play guitar ... at church, youth clubs, that kind of thing. ... holding a huge semi-acoustic guitar trying to whiz his way through these sort of Jimi Hendrix songs. Sort of acid-skiffle. I thought, 'Ah, one day I'll play guitar!' But I didn't think I would be in the same band as this kid on the stage."[13] Partridge eventually obtained a guitar and taught himself how to play it with no formal training.[13] At the age of 15, he wrote his first song, titled "Please Help Me",[14] and attracted the nickname "Rocky" for his early guitar mastery of the Beatles' "Rocky Raccoon" (1968).[15] By the early 1970s, his music tastes had transitioned "from the Monkees to having a big binge on this Euro-avant-garde stuff. I got really in deep."[13] One of his first bands was called "Stiff Beach", formed in August 1970.[16]

In 1972, Partridge became closer acquainted with Gregory (a diabetic then suffering from a bout of depression) while working as an assistance at a local record shop in Swindon. Gregory was played the Mahavishnu Orchestra's album The Inner Mounting Flame (1971), which he later called "one of watershed moments in my musical education."[15] Partridge met bassist Colin Moulding at the shop that same year.[17] Moulding had been playing bass since 1970 "because I liked music [and] I thought that playing a bass, with four strings, would be infinitely easier than playing a guitar, with six strings. That was a horrible misconception!".[18] Upon hearing the New York Dolls, Partridge's musical conceptions were "blown away ... I suddenly just wanted to play three chords again and get out my mom's makeup and stuff."[13] Moulding: "We really liked 'Jet Boy' as a single. That influenced the band quite a bit."[19] Partridge and Moulding soon formed a group with drummer Terry Chambers, calling themselves Star Park.[1] Other members frequently joined and left the band, as Partridge puts it, it was "[the three of us with] anyone else we could grab that week."[13]

1973–1982: Touring[edit]

Local popularity, rise of punk and label signing[edit]

In May 1973, Star Park were the opening act for Thin Lizzy.[20] The band was then renamed the Helium Kidz, with hundreds of songs written and some demo tapes sent to Decca Records.[13] NME ran a small profile on the "up and coming" band, which consisted of Partridge, Moulding, Chambers and guitarist Dave Cartner: "Their aspire to attain the impossible dream of being able to throw a TV or two out of the window of an American hotel and have no one complain."[21] This version of the group lasted "up until '75 when we had a reshuffling of ideology and designed ourselves to what we really wanted to play, which was three-minute pop songs that were fast and inventive."[13] Gregory auditioned for the band at this juncture, but did not end up joining.[15] It was decided that the band have another name change. "The Dukes of Stratosphear" was considered, but Partridge thought "it was too flowery and people would think we were a psychedelic group. ... We needed a fast inventive name."[13] He derived "XTC" from Jimmy Durante's exclamation upon discovering the lost chord: "That's it! I'm in ecstasy!".[20] Meanwhile, synthesizer player Jonathan Perkins quit the band due to creative differences with Partridge.[22] In search of his replacement, Partridge found Barry Andrews through a "keyboard player seeks band" advertisement. Instead of a formal audition, the two went out drinking together.[15] Andrews was immediately hired. During the first band rehearsal, Partridge recalled, "He sounded like Jon Lord from Deep Purple; fuzz box, wah wah pedal, bluesy runs. I said, You don't have to play like that, you can play like us if you want. The next rehearsal, he was like a maniac, like if Miró had played electric organ. Fantastic."[15] December 1976 officially marked the beginning of the Partridge–Moulding–Chambers–Andrews line-up.[23]

I really didn't like the phrase 'punk'—it just seemed kind of demeaning. I didn't like 'new wave' either, because that was already the phrase used for French cinema of a certain period. ... [Our music was] blatantly just pop music. We were a new pop group. That's all.
—Andy Partridge elaborating on XTC's song "This Is Pop", 2007[2]

Ian Reid, owner of a Swindon club named The Affair, was their first manager and brokered deals for the group to perform at more popular venues such as the Hammersmith Red Cow, The Nashville Rooms and Islington's Hope And Anchor. By this time, the punk rock movement had emerged, which opened an avenue for the group in terms of record label appeal, even though the band did not necessarily fit in the punk dogma.[15] Partridge remembers hearing the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy In The UK" (1976) and thinking "'Is that it? Is that what all the fuss is about? It just sounds like a slower version of the Ramones, or the Monkees with a bit more fuzz.' ... That sort of spurred me on -- watching this stuff that I thought was rather average."[2] Eventually, John Peel saw the band perform at Upstairs at Ronnie Scott's and asked them to appear on his BBC Radio 1 block.[15] Partridge credited him as "the man that was responsible for us getting a recording contract. ... As soon as we recorded that session for the BBC, suddenly three or four record labels wanted to sign us up."[24] After declining CBS, Harvest, and Island, they signed with Virgin Records.[15]

White Music and Go 2[edit]

In August 1977, XTC made their first studio recordings with producer John Leckie at Abbey Road, which were released on their debut album 3D EP in October.[15] Their first full-length record, White Music, was then recorded in a week's time and released for January 1978. Partridge characterized the album as "Captain Beefheart meets the Archies" shrouded in 1950s-style retrofuturism. He reflected: "It's just everything we'd ever listened to. The Beatles, Sun Ra, Atomic Rooster - anybody who'd done anything we liked. We just thought it was dead original. I couldn't listen to it for years, but I'm nearly through the embarrassment. It's not crap."[15] He previously dismissed the record as "naked baby photos. They weren't songs, they were just slabs of energy with words that made good energy pictures in your head. Phrases like 'radios in motion' or 'battery brides' - they were all kind of built around this electric wordplay stuff".[25] White Music reached number 38 on the UK Albums Chart.[11] Although the album was well received by the press, none of its singles managed to chart.[15][1] They had rerecorded "This Is Pop" as a lead single, and its follow-up, "Statue of Liberty", was banned on BBC Radio due to the lyric "I sail beneath her skirt".[15] Placed on a £100 weekly salary,[15] the band toured perpetually for the next five years.[26] The group made appearances on the children's television shows Tiswas and Magie during this time.[15]

The Go 2 cover art, designed by Hipgnosis, featured a satirical wall of text beginning with "This is a record cover. This writing is the design ...".[15]

By August 1978, XTC were prepared to record their next album.[27] The band had contacted Brian Eno to produce after they learned that he was a fan, but he declined, telling them that they were good enough to produce themselves.[15] Virgin rejected Eno's advice, and the group instead returned to Abbey Road with Leckie. Andrews appeared to the sessions with several original songs, but Partridge did not feel they were right for the band. He began taking Moulding and Chambers out for drinks without inviting Partridge, allegedly in an attempt to take over the group. After most of Andrews' songs were dropped from the final track list, Andrews told journalists that he foresaw the band "explod[ing] pretty soon".[15] Go 2, a more experimental venture, was released in October to positive reviews and a number 21 chart peak.[15] One of the tracks, "Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian)", was written in tribute to Eno.[27] The album also included a bonus EP, Go+, which consisted of five dub remixes of XTC songs.[15] Andrews left the band two months later while on their first American tour. Partridge said: "He enjoyed undermining what little authority I had in the band. We were bickering quite a lot. But when he left I thought, Oh shit, that's the sound of the band gone, this space-cream over everything. And I did enjoy his brain power, the verbal and mental fencing."[15] He went on to form the League of Gentlemen with Robert Fripp of King Crimson.[1]

XTC performing live (pictured from left: Gregory and Partridge)

XTC went through a "silly half-hearted" process of auditioning another keyboardist.[13] Thomas Dolby was in the running, but he was passed on for being an "ambitious songwriter", in other words, to avoid repeating the conflicts that had Andrews leave in the first place.[27] Partridge: "It would have been tough for any keyboard player to have fitted into such ludicrously idiosyncratic shoes."[15] Instead, Dave Gregory was invited to join as a second guitarist. "So we went through this pretend audition with him. He was in, but he didn't know it. He turned up to the audition very nervous. We said, 'Look, let's try "This Is Pop." And he said, 'Do you want the album version or the single version?' (laughing) We thought, 'Bloody oh, a real musician.' But he was in the band before he even knew."[13] Gregory was anxious of whether the fans would accept him as a member, characterizing himself as "the archetypal pub-rocker in jeans and long hair. But the fans weren't bothered. Nobody was fashionable in XTC, ever."[15] He grew more comfortable with the group after playing a few shows, he said, "and things got better and better."[15]

Drums and Wires and Black Sea[edit]

I thought it was in me to take a lead in this area, and they started to like a lot of what I did, which kind of surprised me. But it wasn't a conscious decision -- I just felt it. That was the writing style for me at the time. I think after that, the quirky thing was kind of dispelled.
—Colin Moulding on "Life Begins at the Hop", 2009[28]

XTC were impressed by Steve Lillywhite's work on Siouxsie and the Banshees' The Scream (1978), and he was contacted to produce their third album with a drum sound that would "knock your head off".[29] With engineer Hugh Padgham, the band embarked to the newly built Townhouse Studios, "with its now world-famous stone room." Gregory later recalled. "Hugh had yet to develop his trade-mark 'gated ambience' sound".[30] Coinciding with Gregory's arrival, the band recorded "Life Begins at the Hop" (1979), a Moulding composition.[1] By this point, Moulding "wanted to ditch [our] quirky nonsense and do more straight-ahead pop."[15] When the label chose to release his song as a single, "I thought, 'Blimey. This is a first!' I think Andy had to accept the view of the Neuremburg jury, you know? [laughs] They had spoken, and wanted 'Life Begins at the Hop' as a single."[28] Upon release, it was the first charting single for the band,[1] rising to number 54 on the UK Singles Chart.[11] For a period, most of the group's singles were not placed on their albums, as Moulding explains: "[It was kind] of an old-fashioned thing, really. In the '60s and '70s, you didn't always find hits that you'd had on the record -- they could be things that'd been released in their own right. But because we wanted to shift albums later on, that approach got blown out of the water."[31]

The first track recorded for the new album was Moulding's "Making Plans for Nigel".[30] Moulding said: "[Virgin Records] heard the demo that we'd done at Swindon Town Hall, and kind of appointed Steve Lillywhite as XTC's next producer. They obviously got talking, and said, 'Well, of this bunch of songs, we think the most promising is this one, called 'Nigel'."[31] Its distinctive drum pattern was discovered by accident after a miscommunication between Partridge and Chambers. Partridge was bothered by the amount of time spent recording the song, remarking that "[w]e spent a week doing Nigel and three weeks doing the rest of the album."[15] The sessions bore Drums and Wires, named for its emphasis on guitars and expansive drums, and was released in August 1979. AllMusic reviewer Chris Woodstra wrote that it signaled "a turning point for the band, with a more subdued set of songs that reflect an increasing songwriting proficiency. The aimless energy of the first two albums is focused into a cohesive statement with a distinctive voice that retains their clever humor, quirky wordplay, and decidedly British flavor. ... driven by the powerful rhythms and angular, mainly minimalistic arrangements."[29] "Making Plans for Nigel", a number 17 hit,[11] helped propel the album to number 37 in the UK.[1] According to Gregory: "Despite glowing press reviews, we were still struggling to fill small theatres in the UK and the brief tour was disappointing. But then, the unthinkable happened -- Nigel got playlisted at the BBC and in early October XTC were back in the charts! And back on Top Of The Pops! Twice!! When we resumed touring in late November, every gig was sold out."[30] In later years, Moulding and Partridge would look back on this point as the true start of XTC.[15]

XTC photographed with Canadian fans, 1980. From left: Moulding (holding cup), Partridge, Gregory, and Chambers.

To follow up on "Nigel", the band released "Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down" (1980), a reggae-influenced Partridge song with production by Phil Wainman of Bay City Rollers fame. It was their lowest-selling single to date. Concurrently, Virgin issued Moulding's "Ten Feet Tall" as the band's first US single.[15] Gregory: "Colin began to fancy himself as the 'writer of the singles'".[33] In response to "the fuss made over Colin's songs", Partridge attempted to exert more authority in the group: "I thought I was a very benevolent dictator." Gregory disagreed: "We were all pretty tired and my nose was being pushed out of joint with Andy calling all the shots because he wrote the songs. He could be a little bit of a bully."[15] Partridge made his solo debut with Take Away / The Lure of Salvage in early 1980, a one-off record that appeared without much notice.[1][nb 1]

Black Sea, released in September 1980, reunited the group with Lillywhite and Padgham and was well-received critically.[15] Singles "Generals and Majors", "Towers of London" and "Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)" returned them to the charts at numbers 32, 31 and 16, respectively.[11] "Sgt. Rock" provoked feminist hate-mail for the lyric "keep her stood in line". Partridge regretted the song, calling it "crass but not enjoyably crass."[15] "Respectable Street" was banned from BBC radio due to its references to abortion and a "Sony Entertainment Centre".[35] The album itself remains XTC's highest charting British album, placing at number 16,[11] and the most successful American album of their career, peaking at number 41 on the Billboard 200.[1] That October, the documentary XTC At the Manor was broadcast on BBC-2, which highlighted the studio recording of "Towers of London".[36]

English Settlement and Partridge's breakdown[edit]

The Uffington White Horse served as the inspiration for English Settlement's cover artwork. Partridge accordingly "wanted to move in a more pastoral, more acoustic direction."[37]

From 1980 to 1981, XTC toured Australia, New Zealand and the US as the opening act for the Police. At this point, they were playing in arena stadiums while Partridge's mental state was beginning to deteriorate, and he requested to cease touring, but was opposed by Virgin, his bandmates, and the band's management.[15] For their next album, the group became their own producers.[38] Partridge figured: "We did a couple of albums with Steve Lillywhite as producer and Hugh Padgham as engineer and we twigged that it was Hugh who was getting all the great sounds and we were making the music, so what did we need Lillywhite for?"[38] He also believed that "if I wrote an album with a sound less geared towards touring then maybe there would be less pressure to tour."[37] Padgham was given a producer credit alongside XTC, and the new music showcased more complex and intricate arrangements.[1][39] Song lengths were longer and subject matter covered broader social issues.[40] Much of the new material featured acoustic instruments, a reflection of Partridge's newfound interest in 12-string guitar,[39] Gregory also bought a Rickbenbacker 12-string and began contributing to the records as a keyboardist.[15] In February 1982, English Settlement was released as the group's first double album.[15] The hook of its lead single, "Senses Working Overtime", was based on Manfred Mann's "5-4-3-2-1" (1964),[2] Both the album and single became the highest-charting records they would ever have in the UK, peaking at number five and number 10, respectively.[1][15] In several territories outside the UK, the album was released as a single LP.[36]

XTC scheduled numerous television appearances and an international tour in support of English Settlement. During a live-broadcast gig in Paris, Partridge ran off the stage, and afterward, took a flight back to Swindon for treatment, which amounted to hypnotherapy. He described feeling nausea and stomach pains while on stage: "My body and brain said, You're hating this experience I'm going to make it bad for you. When you go on stage I'm going to give you panic attacks and stomach cramps. You're not enjoying this and you haven't got the heart to tell anyone you can't carry on so I'm gonna mess you up."[15] The band's remaining tour dates in England were cancelled. His then-wife Marianne blamed his illness on his longtime dependency on Valium, and threw away the tablets.[41][nb 2] After recovering from the episode, Partridge rejoined the group for their first tour of the US as a headlining act.[41] Gregory: "The first show of the tour was in San Diego and we were terrible! We were totally unrehearsed 'cause we'd not played together for two weeks. ... It was obvious that he was ill, but exactly what it was, no-one knew."[36] On 4 April 1982, XTC were scheduled to play a sold-out show at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, Partridge woke up that morning and "couldn't get off the bed. My legs wouldn't function. Walked to Ben Frank's coffee shop, where we'd all agreed to meet, in slow motion like I had both legs in plaster, trying not to throw up. I got in there, they knew what I was going to say." The tour ceased. He continued his hypnotherapy treatment, fearing that he was turning into the archetypal rock burn-out (i.e. Syd Barrett). "It got to the point where if I touched the front door knob, I wanted to throw up."[15]

Financial issues and start of managerial litigation[edit]

[Because of our] bad record deal and a corrupt manager, life was a bit of a nightmare ... When I said we don't want to play live anymore, they [Virgin] completely stopped [promoting us] ... We ran on negative equity for 20 years.
—Andy Partridge, 2000[26]

Confused as to where XTC's earnings had gone, the group requested that manager Ian Reid help pay for the debts incurred over the cancelled tour, but he refused, saying that they had owed him money. They tried distancing themselves away from Reid by renegotiating their contract with Virgin. Six more albums were promised to the label in exchange for covering their debts, as well as a guarantee that subsequent royalty and advancement cheques be redirected into the band's own deposit account. Royalty rates were still kept relatively low, as the group's A&R man Paul Kinder explained, they had "appalling management for a number of years. Usually if a manager has got any kind of business acumen he will renegotiate the contract to get a better royalty. A record company expects this, which is why they keep royalties low initially. It's just business really. Nobody addressed the contract for XTC."[15]

Unbeknownst to the group, Reid had been mishandling their revenue stream.[13] Once it was apparent, a lawsuit was filed by the band, while he counter-sued for "unpaid commission on royalties." Virgin were then "legally required to freeze royalty and advance payments and divert publishing income into a frozen deposit account."[15] For the next decade, the entirety of the band's earnings would be invested in the continued litigation.[42] The group supported themselves mostly through short-term loans from Virgin and royalty payments derived from airplay.[15] At one point, Moulding and Gregory were working at a car rental service for additional income.[43] Partridge was eventually left with "about £300 in the bank," he said, "which is really heavy when you've got a family and everyone thinks you're 'Mr Rich and Famous'."[42] A court-enforced gag order restricts the band from speaking publicly on the alleged improprieties.[41] According to Partridge, Reid was "very naughty" and left the band with roughly £300,000 in unpaid value-added taxes [VAT].[42] Music journalist Patrick Schabe elaborates:

... what is known is that [Reid] inked a deal with Virgin that wound up working out primarily for Reid, secondarily for Virgin, and not at all for XTC. Throughout their first five years of existence, XTC never saw a penny of profits from either album sales or touring revenue. Reid, on the other hand, took out large loans from Virgin, borrowing against XTC's royalties, to the tune of millions of pounds by some estimates. Even after the band settled out of court with Reid, because of the terms of the contract, Virgin was able to hold XTC liable for the sum. Because of XTC's failure to tour, the likelihood of ever repaying Virgin dwindled further and further away. Over the course of a 20-year contract with Virgin Records, and after achieving gold and platinum status in album sales on a number of discs, XTC never saw any publishing royalties.[41]

1982–1992: Studio years[edit]

Mummer and faltered popularity[edit]

Partridge in the studio, circa 1980s. His refusal to tour caused long-standing tensions with the label.[1]

During the middle months of 1982, Partridge spent his time in convalescence and writing songs.[15] He later surmised that relinquishing Valium inadvertently gave him a new sense of creative direction: "I was thinking clearer and wanted to know stuff. Life's big questions."[44] Moulding: "I remember when we came back from America after our aborted tour of 1982. We came back and people like Spandau Ballet had moved onto the scene; new groups were coming up and there was no place for us"[38][nb 3] In the interim, Chambers moved to Australia and started a family. Feeling dismayed by Partridge's decision not to tour, he had to be persuaded to return to Swindon for the next album's rehearsals in September. At one rehearsal, Partridge recollects, "I wanted tiny, cyclical, nattering clay pots - he didn't like that - 'a bit fucking nancified'. One day I gave him a cup of Earl Grey tea. He spat it out said, 'Fuck me Partridge, you trying to get me to drink a cup of fucking scent?' That's Terry."[15] Chambers soon exited the band to be with his newly-wed wife in Australia. Drummer Pete Phipps, formerly of the Glitter Band, was quickly hired as a temporary substitute. In the meantime, Virgin released a greatest hits compilation, Waxworks: Some Singles 1977–1982, to underwhelming sales. The group's new material was rejected by Virgin executive Jeremy Lascelles, who suggested that they write something more commercial. Partridge believed: "He asked me to write something a bit more like The Police, with more international flavour, more basic appeal." Lascelle remembered that he had actually named Talking Heads, not the Police: "Andy likes to portray us as the strict, stern schoolmasters, but we never wanted him to compromise at anything we thought he was good at. Here were very talented songwriters - surely, surely, surely they can come up with that elusive thing that is a hit single. That was our psyche."[15]

After some remixing at Virgin's behest, Mummer, the first product of the studio-bound XTC, appeared in August 1983.[15] Virgin did little to promote the album and delayed its release by several months.[15] At number 58, it was their lowest charting album to date.[11] The one single that did chart, "Love on a Farmboy's Wages", did find significant airplay on BBC Radio 1.[46] It was the first of a handful of XTC songs written over the years that reflected their poor financial state.[26] Music critic Ned Raggett opined: "Though the hints of XTC's incipient switch from a more 'urban' to 'rural' setting and sound in their songs had been present before Mummer, it was that album's 'Love on a Farmboy's Wage' which really showed that the group had new areas of inspiration to work with."[47] Conversely, journalist Serene Dominic wrote that that album was seen as "something of a disappointment at the time of release ... [It was] devoid of silly songs like 'Sgt. Rock' that had heretofore been the band's stock-in-trade and didn't rock out until the last song, 'Funk Pop a Roll.' ... [The album] signaled a strange rebirth for XTC."[26] Mojo journalist Chris Ingham summed up the period: "In 18 months, XTC had gone from Top 10 hits and critical superlatives to being ignorable, arcane eccentrics. 'Your average English person probably thinks we split up in 1982,' suggests Partridge. He's probably right."[15]

The Big Express and 25 O'Clock[edit]

XTC took full advantage of their studio-bound status with The Big Express, creating their most painstakingly detailed, multi-layered, sonically dynamic album to date. The more upbeat material and brighter sound recall some of the band's earlier moments, but most of all, The Big Express signals a turning point for the band, setting the blueprint for their later approach
—Chris Woodstra, AllMusic[48]

XTC released the 1983 holiday single "Thanks for Christmas" under the pseudonym Three Wise Men. It was produced by David Lord, owner of Crescent Studios in Bath, and they subsequently negotiated a deal that allowed them to work as much as they want on their next album at his studio. Rather than hiring a live drummer, most of the album was recorded using a Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, and extensive time was spent on its programming.[15] Partridge envisioned the work as "industrial pop. We come from a railway town, and I was like, 'Well, let's wallow in that; in the imagery and the sounds. Let's make an album that's riveted together and a bit rusty around the edges and is sort of like broken Victorian massive machinery.'"[33] The end result, The Big Express, returned the group to a brighter and uptempo sound.[48] He jokingly referred to some parts of the album as the only time the group were befallen with stereotypical 1980s-style production.[33] It was released in October 1984 to a higher chart position than Mummer[1] but was "virtually ignored" by critics.[48] Virgin invested £33,000 into the music video for "All You Pretty Girls" to little effect.[15] A contemporary review by Erica Wexler of Musician magazine suggested: "XTC is never short of ideas; their only real flaw is a propensity for crowding together too many. But in this day of pop cliché, I'd take XTC's senses-working-overtime anytime. I just hope they're still not too far ahead of their time."[49]

When Gregory joined the band in 1979, Partridge learned that they both shared a longtime enthusiasm for 1960s psychedelic music. An album of songs in that style was immediately put to consideration, but the group could not go through with it due to their commercial obligations to Virgin.[50][nb 4] In November 1984, one month after The Big Express's release, Partridge and John Leckie traveled to Monmouth to produce the album Miss America by singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O'Hara, who had recently signed with Virgin. Partridge and Leckie were dismissed due to conflicts related to their religious affiliations or lack thereof (O'Hara was a devout Catholic). Partridge was feeling inspired by Nick Nicely's 1982 psychedelic single "Hilly Fields 1892", and devised a recording project to fill the newfound gap in his schedule.[15] The rules were as follows: songs must follow the conventions of 1967 and 1968 psychedelia; no more than two takes allowed; use vintage equipment wherever possible. After receiving a £5,000 advance from a skeptical Virgin Records, the group devoted two weeks to the sessions.[20] Partridge said: "I didn't really have songs ready, just ideas. I knew I wanted to do something like Syd Barrett. Perhaps a Beatles-esque track. ... I rung up the other guys and said 'Hey, let's put on a show!'; you know, that kind of thing."[50]

Calling themselves "the Dukes of Stratosphear", the spin-off group consisted of Partridge and Moulding with Dave and his drummer brother Ian. Each adopted a pseudonym: Sir John Johns, The Red Curtain, Lord Cornelius Plum and E.I.E.I. Owen. At the sessions, the band dressed themselves in Paisley outfits and lit scented candles. Partridge: "Dave Gregory took to the Dukes a bit too much. Elephant jumbo cord flares, big white belt, beads - we were a bit worried."[15] With "nothing to live up to" as the Dukes, he later looked back on the project as the "most fun we ever had in the studio ... We never knew if it would sell ... We could never [subvert everybody's expectations] with XTC, as there was too much money involved and we were expected to be mentally honest and 'real.' Too much financial pressure."[44] Released on April Fool's Day, 1985, the album was presented as a long-lost collection of recordings by a late 1960s group.[51] When asked about the album in interviews, XTC initially denied having any involvement.[52] In England, the six-track mini-album sold twice as many copies as The Big Express, even before the Dukes' identity was made public. The album also achieved considerable sales in the US.[42] Acts such as Kula Shaker, the Shamen and the Stone Roses would later recruit John Leckie based on his production work for the Dukes.[15][38]

Skylarking and Psonic Psunspot[edit]

Skylarking producer Todd Rundgren performing with Utopia in 1978

During a routine meeting in early 1986, Virgin executives threatened to drop the band from the label if their next album failed to sell more than 70,000 units.[15] One reason why the group was not selling enough records, the label reportedly concluded, was that they sounded "too English".[53] Gregory: "So we were given this long list of American producers, and the only name on it I knew was Todd [Rundgren]'s."[54] He was a fan of Rundgren's music, particularly since hearing the 1978 album Hermit of Mink Hollow. His bandmates were not as familiar with Rundgren, but Gregory urged the group to work with him: "I reminded Andy that Todd had produced one of his favourite New York Dolls records [New York Dolls, 1973]. In the absence of any better alternatives, he agreed."[55] Once contacted, Rundgren offered to handle the album's entire recording for a lump sum of $150,000, and the band agreed.[56]

In January 1986, Partridge and Moulding mailed Rundgren a collection of more than 20 demo tapes they had stockpiled in advance.[57] He responded with the idea of a concept album to bridge "Colin's 'pastoral' tunes and subject matter and Andy's 'pop anthems' and sly poetry. ... The album could be about a day, a year, or a lifetime. ... Using this framework, I came up with a sequence of songs and a justification for their placement and brought it to the band."[58] Partridge was immediately put off by Rundgren's suggestions ("you hadn't spoken to the bloke for three minutes, and he'd already been hacking and throwing your work in the bin").[59] After the group arrived at Utopia Sound recording studio in upstate New York, Rundgren played a large role in the album's sound design and drum programming, providing them with string and brass arrangements, as well as an assortment of gear.[44] However, the sessions were fraught with tension, especially between him and Partridge, and numerous disagreements arose over drum patterns, song selections, and other details.[60] Partridge likened the power struggle to "two Hitlers in the same bunker".[22] Rundgren or his agents were blamed with accidentally mastering the album with a reversed sound polarity, resulting in a "thin" mix.[61][nb 5] Partridge reflected: "At the time I felt like disowning it. I thought, Jesus, this man's killed our career. But in reality, he did us a great favour. If he wasn't so personally poisonous, I would have loved to work with him again."[15] Rundgren said that in spite of all the difficulties, "[we] created, ultimately, an album that sounds like we were having a great time doing it. And at times we were having a good time.[60]

Skylarking is the most inspired and satisfying piece of Beatle-esque pop since ... well, since the Beatles ... More precisely, [the band have] imagined the Revolver/Rubber Soul-era Beatles playing Pet Sounds and Village Green. ... XTC didn't just record the best songs they had lying around, they recorded the best album they had lying around.
Tim Sommer in his review for Rolling Stone, 1986[62]

Skylarking spent one week on the UK album charts, reaching number 90 in November 1986, two weeks after its release.[11] Compared to previous XTC albums, its music contrasted significantly with its mellower songs, lush arrangements, and "flowery" aesthetic.[44] Moulding's "Grass" was chosen as lead single. It was issued exclusively in the UK with the B-side "Dear God", an outtake. "Dear God" became so popular with American college radio stations who imported the record that Geffen Records (XTC's US distributor) recalled and repressed Skylarking with the track included.[15] Controversy also broke out over the song's anti-religious lyrics, which inspired some violent incidents. In Florida, a radio station received a bomb threat, and in New York, a student forced their school to play the song over its public-address system by holding a faculty member at knife-point. Nonetheless, the commercial success of "Dear God" propelled Skylarking to sell more than 250,000 units, and it raised the band's profile among American college youth.[15] In the US, the album spent 29 weeks on the Billboard 200 and reached its peak position of number 70 in June 1987.[63] The music video for "Dear God" received the 1987 Billboard Best Video award and was also nominated for three categories at the MTV Video Music Awards.[64] Skylarking ultimately became XTC's best-known album[65] and is generally regarded as their finest work.[56]

Partridge was reluctant to make another Dukes album, but to appease requests from his bandmates and Virgin Records, Psonic Psunspot (1987) was recorded. This time, 10 songs and a £10,000 budget was supplied, while John Leckie returned as producer.[15] Once again, the Dukes' record outsold XTC's previous album in the UK (Skylarking in this case). Partridge: "That was a bit upsetting to think that people preferred these pretend personalities to our own personalities… they're trying to tell us something. But I don't mind because we have turned into the Dukes slowly over the years."[42] Likewise, Moulding felt that the "psychedelic element was being more ingratiated into the pie" since 25 O'Clock.[44] When issued on CD, Psonic Psunspot was combined with 25 O'Clock and given the title Chips from the Chocolate Fireball (1987).[1] Reportedly, when Brian Wilson was played the album's Beach Boys pastiche "Pale and Precious", he thought it was styled after Paul McCartney.[66]

Oranges & Lemons and Nonsuch[edit]

For their next album Oranges & Lemons, XTC traveled to Los Angeles to make use of a cheap studio rate arranged by Paul Fox, who was recruited by the band for his first production gig.[13] Another reason for recording in the US with an American producer, said Gregory, was that "America was our biggest market".[33] The album was released in February 1989 with music that was in a similar psychedelic vein as the Dukes.[1] In a retrospective review, The Quietus' Nick Reed notes: "Nearly every instrument is mixed to the forefront; it's too well-arranged to be cacophonous, but there's a degree of sensory overload, especially given the band's newfound tendency to blast synthesizers in our faces. ... whether or not this album holds up for you depends on how much you like the band's boisterous side."[43] "While a 60s edge was detectable," wrote Gary Ramon of Record Collector, "the sound was firmly rooted in the Eighties."[36] It became the highest album they had in the charts since 1982's English Settlement, rising to number 28 in the UK[11] and number 44 in the US.[63] Additionally, it combined with Skylarking for the group's best-selling albums to date.[25] "Mayor of Simpleton' reached number 46 in the UK[43] and number 72 in the US, making it their only American single to chart.[1]

To support the album, Partridge joined XTC for an acoustic-guitar American radio tour that lasted for two weeks in May.[15] Gregory: "It was an interesting way of drawing attention to the record, but it was incredibly hard work, as we were carrying guitars and luggage to up to four radio stations a day over a three-week period. We also did a live acoustic set for MTV in front of an audience which worried Andy a bit but he got through it."[36] The MTV set inspired the network's "unplugged" series.[15] Their performance of "King for a Day" on Late Night with David Letterman marked the first time the group played in front of a live audience in seven years.[68] A similar acoustic tour was planned for Europe, but cancelled when Partridge discovered that the Paris date would be broadcast from a sold-out 5,000 seater venue.[38] After an unsuccessful attempt was made to coax Partridge back into regular touring,[15] they took a short break. Partridge produced Paradise Circus (1989), the second album by the Lilac Time, and compered for an unbroadcast children's game show named Matchmakers.[69] Gregory played for Johnny Hates Jazz, Marc Almond and Francesco Messina whilst producing for Cud. Moulding performed a special event concert with David Marx and the Refugees, a Swindon-based band that reunited him with Barry Andrews.[70]

A 17th-century map of Nonsuch Palace illustrated by cartographer John Speed, which served as the basis of the album cover.[71]

Briefly-serving XTC manager Tarquin Gotch helped the band reach a legal settlement with Ian Reid in 1989.[15] However, they were again left with a six-figure debt. Virgin Records advanced the group enough money to cover their debit in exchange for the promise of four additional albums.[33] Having written more than two dozen songs by 1991, some difficulties prolonged the start of recording sessions for the next album. Initially, the band had issue with the musical director of Virgin, who, after seeing the songs, was convinced the band "could do better" and asked them to write more material.[72][nb 6] With the band sitting on the material, the director left the label a year later, and his replacement liked the band's content, hurrying them to record the album.[73] Gus Dudgeon produced, even though Partridge felt he was the wrong choice, and Fairport Convention's Dave Mattacks was brought in as drummer.[74] Both Partridge and Virgin Records were vocal in their dissatisfaction with the first three mixes that Dudgeon had created, with one Virgin executive even comparing one such mix to "ice blasts"; as a result, Dudgeon was subsequently fired, with Nick Davis being hired to mix the final version of the album.[75]

There's nothing particularly exciting or ground-breaking about Nonsuch, it's just another extremely good XTC album with the usual fractured guitar melodies coupled with cute and curious lyrics about what a nice place England is. Oddly enough, it's the Americans who buy most of this stuff.
—Terry Staunton, 1992 NME review[76]

Nonsuch was received with critical acclaim when released in April 1992,[77][43] and like Oranges & Lemons, peaked at number 28 in the UK, becoming their second consecutive and final Top 40 album.[11] Rolling Stone's Michael Azerrad reviewed: "Emphasizing wonder and wit in opposition to the rage of most college rock, XTC makes alternative music for people who don't like 'alternative music.'"[78] Lead single "The Disappointed" reached number 33 in the UK[11] and was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award.[20] Its follow-up "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" reached number 71.[11] "Wrapped in Grey" was intended as the third single, but was withdrawn by Virgin immediately as they did not think it would be commercially successful.[79] Partridge: "The real slap in the face was when they put out about 5,000 copies of [the single]. I thought, Wow, something a bit chewier, a bit of quality there. And they withdrew it from sale. I thought, that's it, they've suffocated one of our kids in the cot, they've murdered the album, basically through ignorance."[15] In 1993, the album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album, but lost to Tom Waits' Bone Machine.[80]

1993–present: Legal entanglement, return and breakup[edit]

Strike period[edit]

In 1993, Partridge conceived XTC's next project to be an album of bubblegum pop songs disguising itself as a retrospective compilation featuring 12 different groups from the early 1970s. "And all of the lyrics were heavily sexual. There was a song called "Lolly (Suck It and See),' and there was another one called "Visit to the Doctor,' which was vaguely molesting." He recalled playing some demos for Virgin, whose "jaws just hung open like that scene in [the 1967 film] The Producers when people see Springtime for Hitler the first time. There was a horrible silence for what seemed like an hour. And the project didn't get done".[26] He asked Virgin to renegotiate or revoke the band's contract: "And they said no. We were earning them enough money in ticking-over terms but they wouldn't better our deal and wouldn't let us go."[15] Paul Kinder believed: "What XTC wanted and what Virgin were prepared to do were poles apart. The contract was so old it got to the point where Andy wanted the moon and Virgin weren't prepared to give it him."[15] Whatever new music the band recorded would have been automatically owned by Virgin, and so the band enacted strike action against the label.[26] Coincidentally, Prince and George Michael also went on strike against their respective labels, which was heavily publicised at the time. XTC's strike received little press by comparison.[41] In the meantime, Partridge produced Martin Newell's 1993 album The Greatest Living Englishman[81] and early sessions for Blur's second album. "I thought I did sterling work. ... Next day, [Dave Balfe from the Teardrop Explodes said], 'Quite frankly, Andy, this is shit.'"[15] Other complications arose; he developed some health issues related to alcoholism, while his wife divorced him.[15]

In 1995, XTC found themselves freed from financial debt and from Virgin after "making some heavy concessions". Partridge fantasied that people from the label "met in the dark and thought, 'These blokes are not making a living. We've had 'em all these years and we've got their catalogue and the copyright to their songs for evermore and we've stitched 'em up real good with a rotten deal so, erm, maybe we should let them go.' I like to think that it was a guilt thing."[15] One of the group's first new recordings since the strike was released that year for the tribute album A Testimonial Dinner: The Songs of XTC.[79] "The Good Things", a Moulding song originally demoed for Oranges & Lemons,[13] was credited under the pseudonym Terry and the Lovemen.[79] "20 years after punk first broke," Patrick Schabe wrote, "they were DIY for the first time in their career.[41]

Apple Venus and Wasp Star[edit]

For the orchestral Apple Venus, the budget allowed a day of recording at Abbey Road [with] a 40-piece band [...] But the human string players could not match the mathematical precision of 'River of Orchids' [...] Nor could the woodwinds cope with the computerised ostinato in 'Greenman' [...] The [recordings had to be sampled], cut and pasted together to achieve the "Vaughan Williams with a hard-on" sound required.
—Paul Morrish of The Independent, 1999[82]

By late 1997, Partridge and Moulding had amassed a large stockpile of material.[83] The former's songs were an elaboration on the more orchestral style he developed with Nonsuch tracks "Omnibus", "Wrapped in Grey", and "Rook".[38] Moulding felt that "something a bit different" was appropriate for the band at this juncture, and expressed a desire for a cohesive album similar to those "that were composed for shows like My Fair Lady and stuff that Burt Bacharach wrote for various soundtracks".[83] Partridge thought the new songs were "some of the best stuff, if not the best stuff, ever. It's even more intensely passionate than before."[15] The two elected to divide the album into two parts: one of rock songs, and the other of orchestral/acoustic songs augmented by a 40-piece symphony.[22] They found a label, Cooking Vinyl, and a producer, Haydn Bendall, who had significant experience in recording orchestras. Prairie Prince, who drummed on Skylarking, returned for the sessions. It soon became apparent that the band did not have the funds to record all the material they had.[15] Gregory, Moulding, and Bendall wanted to reduce the project to one disc, but Partridge insisted on spreading it over two LPs.[22] It was decided that they release one album with the orchestral portions ("volume 1") and leave the rock songs for its follow-up ("volume 2").[15] A session was booked at Abbey Road, but the recording was rushed, lasting one day, and had to be edited over a three-month period.[26]

Gregory quit the band whilst in the middle of sessions.[22] Partridge told journalists that Gregory left because he grew impatient with the recording of the orchestral material and wanted to quickly move on to second project, which would have consisted of rock songs.[22] He attributed Gregory's frustration to diabetic mood swings: "One minute he'd be quite jolly, the next minute he's 'this is all shit, destroy it, wipe it, it's all terrible'. It got to the point at Chipping Norton where I was so depressed, I really blew up. I had a go at everyone but a lot of it was directed at Dave, telling him to pull his weight and get into it more. I don't think he ever forgave me."[15] Gregory recollected: "He had the nerve to sit in that control room and tell everyone, 'You bastards are sabotaging my career.' It was couched in such offensive terms. He was being a cunt, frankly."[15] Shortly thereafter, "I said, 'Look, I don't think this is the album we should be making after six years. It's the vegetarian alternative and I've been on a diet for six years and I want curry.' And I didn't want to sign to TVT records, full stop. With the way he'd behaved in Chipping Norton, the fact that he had absolutely no regard for anybody else's point of view, I said, I'm disgusted with your attitude, I can't change you, you're not going to change, so I have to go."[15]

Released in February 1999, Apple Venus Volume 1 was met with critical acclaim and moderate sales.[41] It had zero promotion.[15] Comparing the album to the group's earlier work, Pitchfork reviewer Zach Hooker wrote: "Apple Venus finds them picking up pretty much where they left off. Or maybe even a little bit before they left off: this record bridges the gap between the ambitiously poppy Oranges and Lemons and the pastoral Skylarking. ... The music is built on simple phrases, but the relationships between those phrases becomes tremendously complex."[85] In contrast, the companion album Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (2000) was assumed as one of the band's "weakest" albums.[86] Upon release, its British chart peak was higher than Volume 1, at number 40 in the UK,[11] while in the US it was lower, at number 108.[63] Partridge believed that some parts of the album was when "the [artistic] slope started to go down".[87]


After Wasp Star, newly recorded XTC material was released sporadically. The four-disc hits and rarities boxed set Coat of Many Cupboards (2002) included "Didn't Hurt a Bit", a rerecording of a Nonsuch outtake. The Dukes of Stratosphear — with Dave and Ian Gregory[87] — were reunited for the charity single "Open a Can (of Human Beans)" (2003).[88] Another set, Apple Box (2005), included two new tracks: "Spiral", written by Partridge and "Say It", by Moulding. These songs were available to purchasers of the box set in digital format only, with the use of a special download code. This followed with a digital-exclusive track, Moulding's "Where Did the Ordinary People Go?", released in December 2005. From 2002 to 2006, Partridge simultaneously released volumes in the multi-album Fuzzy Warbles series, a set dedicated to unreleased solo demos and other material.[65] Moulding was initially attached to the project, but opted out because "I just wouldn't have found it very inspiring. Maybe a couple of volumes would've been okay, or just one. But he [Andy] wanted to do twelve, which kind of put the wind up me a little bit. We had a bit of an argument about it."[89] Partridge said that the impetus for the project was the proliferation of bootleggers who were selling low-quality copies of the material[41] and that the Fuzzy Warbles set earned him more money than XTC's back catalog on Virgin.[65]

Near the end of 2006, Partridge reported that Moulding recently ("a couple of months back") lost interest in writing, performing or even listening to music. He remained hopeful that the situation was temporary and assured that they had "not killed off the XTC head. I mean, we still have the head cryogenically frozen. ... It's no good making a record and calling it XTC, certainly, if Colin isn't involved."[41] In November, he stated that he had been forced to regard the group "in the past tense," with no likelihood of a new project unless Moulding should have a change of heart.[90] Months later, Partridge intimated that Moulding had moved and changed his phone number,[91] effectively ending all contact between the two and reducing their correspondence to emails exchanged via their manager to discuss the division of the band's assets. Partridge also said he and Gregory — their differences now resolved — had considered working together again.[92] In July 2008, he summed up the band's status: "I believe my musical partnership with Colin Moulding has come to an end. For reasons too personal and varied to go into here, but we had a good run as they say and produced some real good work. No, I won't be working with him in the future."[93] At the end of the year, Moulding resurfaced to confirm his recent disillusionment with music, but revealed that he was thinking of working on solo material. His given reasons for the break-up were financial discord, disagreement over the extent of the Fuzzy Warbles project, and a "change in mindset" between him and Partridge. He also stated that he and Partridge were once again communicating directly by email.[19] XTC did not technically break up in a legal sense; the group still exists as a "brand name" controlled by Partridge and Moulding.[94]

In 2017, Moulding and Chambers reunited for a four-song EP: Great Aspirations. It was credited to "TC&I" and released in October 2017.[95] Its release coincided with a televised documentary film of the band's career, XTC: This Is Pop, which premiered on Sky Arts on October 7.[96] It featured new interviews with Partridge, Gregory, Moulding and Chambers.[97] Moulding commented on the documentary and the possibility of a full-fledged XTC reunion: "I think it was pretty good. I mean, Andy was the central character which I felt was better for the story. ... but I felt it was quite well done. ... They say never say never, don't they? It would seem unlikely, put it that way."[95] As of January 2018, Partridge maintained that the group would "not be recording together again."[98]

Musical style[edit]

Andy had a sort of unwritten rule that everything we did had to be completely original; any hint of chop-ism, any rock clichés, any imitation of our fashionable peers meant the part—and in some cases the song—would be dumped!
—Dave Gregory, 2007[33]

XTC's principal songwriters were guitarist Andy Partridge and bassist Colin Moulding. Partridge, who wrote the majority of XTC's songs, was the band's frontman and de facto leader, and typically acted as an "executive producer" for albums while frequently undermining the authority of the actual credited producer.[99] Moulding was a significantly less prolific songwriter by comparison, and according to Partridge, this was the only reason why his songs outnumbered Moulding's.[92] Gregory said: "In the interests of democracy, nearly all of Colin's songs would be recorded, occasionally at the expense of some of Andy's often superior offerings. This didn't always go down well, either with Andy or the band, but Colin did have some killer melodies and a sweeter sound to his voice that made a welcome diversion when listening to an album as a whole."[33] Gregory also attributed the group's unorthodox drum patterns to Partridge's affinity for dub and reggae; "He's got a great innate sense of rhythm. He'll say 'No, don't put that beat there, why don't you come down on 3 instead of 2 on this part here?' ... He never put [cymbal crashes] where you'd expect to find them."[100] Occasionally, Partridge even took to recording the bass parts himself, such as on Moulding's "What in the World??..." and "Vanishing Girl".[101] Despite never composing together, they did collaborate on arrangements. Moulding: "We both enjoy chipping in. A lot of that happens in the studio as well, horn lines and harmonies, that sort of thing."[89]

Pitchfork writer Chris Dahlen characterised XTC's original sound as punk meets "Buddy Holly-on-amphetamines ... danceable enough for the crowds at the clubs, and suspiciously poppy thanks to the catchy hooks and their trademark verse-chorus-verse-chorus-explode pattern."[102] The 1980s saw the group increasingly distancing themselves from their early ska-influenced new wave style.[103] Partridge felt that XTC's music was pop from the beginning, not punk or new wave as is often suggested, and that the terms in themselves are redundant of "pop".[2] In a 1982 interview, he stated: "I'd like to be considered in the tradition of bands like the Kinks and Small Faces, when bands weren't quite naive, but they had a sort of group feeling about them and were gently experimental and psychedelic within pop song formats."[3] In reference to the energy of their performances (which drew comparisons with the Talking Heads[27]), Partridge remembered how they "used to fucking kill ourselves. I think it was fear. It was fear manifested in ludicrously high energy music. It was like 1000% whaaahh! All of the songs were run together and it was really uptempo stuff."[13] As they became more of a studio band, their material grew progressively more complex.[99] Producer Chris Hughes likened the band's fashion of playing guitar to an automated music sequencer.[33] Five years after retiring from touring, Partridge acknowledged the group's departure from their ironic punk rock: "We've really changed personality. We didn't notice it bit by bit but over 10 years, suddenly it seems, wow, we're different."[104]

Although it is widely assumed that the Beach Boys influenced XTC throughout their career, Partridge had not listened to any of their albums until 1986.[106][nb 7] He also claimed that "the Beatles were the farthest thing from my mind" until 1982.[2][nb 8] While recording his song "Ladybird" in 1982, he remembered complaining to Mummer producer Steve Nye that "'it sounds a bit Beatles-esque to me, and I don't want people to think I'm copying the Beatles.' He said, 'Who gives a fuck?' ... I realised that I should not be ashamed about digging them up, and getting them wrong, and using them as my template. ... from that moment onward, I started to recognise that those songwriters—the Ray Davieses, the Lennons and McCartneys, the Brian Wilsons—had gone into my head really deeply.[2] By 1984, he recalled, "[I would sneak] off upstairs in Crescent Studios, in Bath, with my cassette machine and whisper these ideas for psychedelic songs into it. I was beginning not be able to contain the desire to do this. You can see it leaking out earlier ... 'Let's get a Mellotron! Let's put some backwards so-and-so on here.'"[109] He considered "Rook" (1992), "Wrapped in Grey" (1992) and "Easter Theatre" (1999) to be the "perfect songs" of his career, feeling that he had "exorcized a lot of those kind of Lennon-and-McCartney, Bacharach-and-David, Brian Wilson type ghosts out of my system by doing all that."[110]

Recognition and influence[edit]

Writing for AllMusic, music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine recognises the group thusly:

XTC was one of the smartest -- and catchiest -- British pop bands to emerge from the punk and new wave explosion of the late '70s. ... While popular success has eluded them in both Britain and America, the group has developed a devoted cult following in both countries that remains loyal over two decades after their first records. ... XTC's lack of commercial success isn't because their music isn't accessible -- their bright, occasionally melancholy, melodies flow with more grace than most bands -- it has more to do with the group constantly being out of step with the times. However, the band has left behind a remarkably rich and varied series of albums that make a convincing argument that XTC is the great lost pop band.[1]

XTC are acknowledged as progenitors of Britpop[41][111][112] and were commonly praised by contemporary power pop acts such as Jellyfish and the Apples in Stereo.[41] Writings about the band often compare them reverentially to 1960s luminaries such as the Who, the Kinks, and most frequently, the Beatles.[41] Partridge remarked: "It's very flattering being compared to writers who have earned a lot more money than you have. Unfortunately, the earning a lot of money voodoo does not wear off. We've never got the cash."[38] Regarding the group's lack of financial success, Patrick Schabe confesses that "it's difficult to justify claims of greatness without trying to understand exactly why they never managed to rise above the status of cult band. Respect and recognition are the real validation of such claims".[41] In 2006, he wrote that "the current resurgence of post-punk formula has led to XTC being revered in association with the groundbreakers of that era."[41] Musicologist Alex Ogg listed XTC as one of several "unheralded" events in the history of post-punk,[113] while Eric Klinger of PopMatters posited: "You might not hear of bands talking about XTC as a big influence the way they talk about, say, Gang of Four, but they were certainly in the mix that became the music that was to come."[114] Gregory told an anecdote about meeting bassist Scott Thunes and guitarist Mike Keneally from Frank Zappa's 1988 backing band: "and it became apparent from their conversation that our recent albums were hugely influential to many aspiring musicians and artists across the States."[33] In 1989, music journalist Michael Azerrad summarized the band as "the deans of a group of artists who make what can only be described as unpopular pop music, placing a high premium on melody and solid if idiosyncratic songcraft."[115]

Among the scores of songs Partridge wrote for XTC are perfect examples of a very English genre: rock music uprooted from the glamour and dazzle of the city, and recast as the soundtrack to life in suburbs, small towns, and the kind of places – like Swindon – that may be more sizeable, but are still held up as bywords for broken hopes and limited horizons.
John Harris, 2010[116]

British music critic John Harris identified Partridge's XTC compositions as within the same "lineage" of rural English songwriting invented by Ray Davies of the Kinks, and followed by the Jam, the Specials, "scores of half-forgotten punk and new wave bands," the Smiths and mid 1990s Britpop.[116] However, the group's fanbase has been more concentrated in the US than the UK.[116][76] They refused to conform to punk's simplicity, a point that the British press initially criticised. Partridge believed "we were trying to push music into a new area. And so we had to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous name calling because we refused to just play stupid."[33] In 1988, writer Chris Hunt observed: "Since faltering at the height of their chart success [in 1982], XTC have largely not found favour in their homeland. To a nation that judges success in terms of tabloid coverage and appearances on Top Of The Pops, the retiring bards of rural olde England didn't really strike too loud a chord with the record buying public. XTC had just become 'too weird' for their own good."[42] Partridge has cited the band's Swindon origins as the main reason for their ill-repute: "Because we came from England's comedy town, we were considered to be worthless yokel trash. Whereas if we came from a big city like London or Manchester, we would have probably have been heralded as more godlike. ... If you came from a little comical town, you were little and comical."[117] Musician and journalist Dominique Leone argued that they "deserved more than they ever got. From the press, the public, their label, and various managers, XTC have been a tragically under-appreciated band in every sense."[10]




Studio albums

See also



  1. ^ Although it was credited to "Mr Partridge", he does not personally consider it a solo album.[34]
  2. ^ He had been prescribed it as medication since the age of 12.[2]
  3. ^ When asked for a favourite song by Spandau Ballet, Partridge responded: "I used to see them on TV and I wanted to kick in the set. How dare the TV force such crap on me?! They had appalling lyrics! Appalling music! Least favorite band in the history of foreverness! They were a bunch of bankers, for God's sake!"[45]
  4. ^ Another consideration Partridge had was the punk movement's antipathy toward pop music of the past: "A real Pol Pot kind of thing, which is ludicrous, and rather nasty."[2]
  5. ^ The problem was not addressed until 2010, when Partridge independently issued a remastered version of the album with corrected polarity.[61]
  6. ^ Jeremy Lascelles: "I said, Andy, you've written this song before, it's another Beach Boys song, another Beatles song ... He wasn't really stretching himself - it was good but a bit comfortable. He didn't like me saying that and I didn't play them to anyone else, which he took to be a great slight."[15] In Partridge's recollection, the director threatened that Virgin would drop the band if the band don't write an album "of twelve Top Ten guaranteed singles," and noted that this attitude held the band up in recording the album, which they refused to rewrite, believing its songs to be among the greatest they had written.[73]
  7. ^ He explained: "We were going up to a meeting with Virgin, the three of us were in the car, and he [Dave Gregory] put some music on, and ... I just had to say, 'Dave, what is this? This is wonderful.' And he said, 'Oh, come on, you're joking. Don't muck me about.' 'No, no, I don't know what it is! What is it?' 'Well, it's the Beach Boys. It's the album Smiley Smile.' And I'd never heard a Beach Boys album."[107]
  8. ^ He reflected that 1980's "Towers of London" may have been a subconscious attempt at rewriting the Beatles' "Rain" through a desire for "clangorous guitars crashing together, and sort of droning." The night after John Lennon was killed, XTC played a gig at Liverpool, where they performed both "Towers of London" and "Rain" in tribute to the Beatle.[108]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "XTC". AllMusic. Retrieved 27 December 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Partridge & Bernhardt 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Trakin, Roy (February 1981). "The New English Art Rock". Musician. No. 30. 
  4. ^ McCormick, Moira (August 22, 1998). "Continental drift". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. p. 13. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  5. ^ a b Mendehlson, Jason; Klinger, Eric (April 24, 2015). "XTC's 'Skylarking'". PopMatters. 
  6. ^ Bennett, Andy; Stratton, Jon (2013). Britpop and the English Music Tradition. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-4094-9407-2. 
  7. ^ Crandall, Bill (August 8, 1997). "NO EXIT: XTC's Andy Partridge". Bam. 
  8. ^ Klinge, Steve (May 2003). "The Natural History - Beat Beat Heartbead". CMJ New Music Monthly. No. 112. ISSN 1074-6978. 
  9. ^ Burdick, John (July 23, 2015). "The Best Guitarist in the World at Bearsville". Almanac Weekly. 
  10. ^ a b Leone, Dominique (3 April 2002). "Coat of Many Cupboards". Pitchfork. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "XTC". Official Charts. Retrieved 25 September 2017. 
  12. ^ Zaleski, Annie (20 March 2016). ""Music is so abused these days": XTC's Andy Partridge opens up about songwriting, painting and developing the "cruel parent gene" toward your own art". Salon. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Bookasta, Randy; Howard, David (1990). "Season Cyclers". Contrast. No. 7. 
  14. ^ Rachel 2014, p. 200.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu Ingham, Chris (March 1999). "XTC - 'Til Death Do Us Part". Mojo. 
  16. ^ Gimarc 2005, pp. 1, 10.
  17. ^ Bullock, Daryl W. (22 February 2016). "Andy Partridge: Songwriter". Blogspot. 
  18. ^ Brenda, Herrmann (September 1992). "Colin Moulding: The Agony and the XTC". Bass Player. pp. 14–16. 
  19. ^ a b Dave (7 December 2008). "Interview of Colin Moulding". Rundgren Radio (Audio). Retrieved 9 December 2008. 
  20. ^ a b c d Rachel 2014, p. 203.
  21. ^ Gimarc 2005, p. 17.
  22. ^ a b c d e f Jones, J.R. (12 June 2000). "Too Much of a God Thing". Chicago Reader. 
  23. ^ Walley, Chas de (23 January 2013). "XTC: 'Is there a place in rock'n'roll for a Princess Anne lookalike?' – a classic feature from the vaults". The Guardian. 
  24. ^ Thodoris, Από (23 November 2017). "Interview: Andy Partridge (XTC)". Hit Channel. 
  25. ^ a b Friedman, Roger (October 1992). "The Agony of XTC". Guitar. 
  26. ^ a b c d e f g Dominic, Serene (11 May 2000). "XTC: Stupidly Happy Ever After". Phoenix New Times. 
  27. ^ a b c d DeRogatis 2003, p. 341.
  28. ^ a b Bernhardt, Todd (11 May 2009). "Colin discusses 'Life Begins at the Hop'". Chalkhills. 
  29. ^ a b Woodstra, Chris. "Drums and Wires". AllMusic. 
  30. ^ a b c Bernhardt, Todd (15 December 2008). "Dave remembers 'Making Plans for Nigel'". Chalkhills. 
  31. ^ a b Bernhardt, Todd (24 November 2008). "Colin discusses 'Making Plans for Nigel'". Chalkhills. 
  32. ^ Pitchfork Staff (August 22, 2016). "The 200 Best Songs of the 1970s". Pitchfork. 
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Pierson, Pat (September 2007). "Permanent Bliss: The Immutable Pleasures of XTC". Filter. 
  34. ^ Partridge, Andy [@xtcfans] (19 March 2014). "THE CORRECTOR-TAKEAWAY/LURE OF SALVAGE was not a solo album,merely a dub record of XTC tracks,the band never attended" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  35. ^ Bernhardt, Todd (26 February 2007). "Andy discusses 'Respectable Street'". Chalkhills. 
  36. ^ a b c d e Ramon, Gary (November 1990). "XTC Recording History". Record Collector. No. 130. 
  37. ^ a b Keoghan, Jim (6 February 2012). "A Watershed Moment: XTC's Andy Partridge On English Settlement". The Quietus. 
  38. ^ a b c d e f g "XTatiCally Yours". Record Buyer. April 2002. 
  39. ^ a b Woodstra, Chris. "English Settlement". AllMusic. 
  40. ^ Kot, Greg (3 May 1992). "The XTC Legacy: An Appraisal". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 22 June 2016. 
  41. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Schabe, Patrick (27 October 2006). "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul". PopMatters. 
  42. ^ a b c d e f Hunt, Chris (1989). "Andy Partridge Interview". Phaze 1. 
  43. ^ a b c d Reed, Nick (11 February 2014). "25 Years On: XTC's Oranges & Lemons Revisited". The Quietus. Retrieved 25 September 2017. 
  44. ^ a b c d e Amorosi, A.D. (28 March 2016). "The Making of XTC's "Skylarking"". Magnet. Retrieved 13 March 2017. 
  45. ^ "XTC: Take Another Bite...". Lexicon. No. 11. 1999. 
  46. ^ Stafford, Bob (1989). "Oranges & Lemons". Melody Maker. 
  47. ^ Raggett, Ned. "Love on a Farmboy's Wages". AllMusic. 
  48. ^ a b c Woodstra, Chris. "The Big Express". AllMusic. 
  49. ^ Wexler, Erica (January 1985). "XTC The Big Express (Geffen)". Musician. No. 75. 
  50. ^ a b Gibron, Bill (14 February 2010). "Parcels from a Patchouli Past: An Interview with Andrew Partridge". PopMatters. 
  51. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "25 O'Clock". AllMusic. 
  52. ^ Brelhan, Tom (25 February 2009). "XTC to Reissue Dukes of Stratosphear Side Project". Pitchfork. 
  53. ^ Greenwald, Ted (November 1987). "XTC's Reluctant Keyboardist Reveals Rundgren's Production Style". Keyboard. 
  54. ^ Nelson, Terry (26 October 2016). "TRIBUTE: Celebrating 30 Years of XTC's 'Skylarking'". Albumism. 
  55. ^ Myers 2010, p. 256.
  56. ^ a b Zaleski, Annie (27 October 2016). "30 Years Ago: XTC Finds Pop Perfection with 'Skylarking'". Diffuser.fm. 
  57. ^ Myers 2010, p. 257.
  58. ^ Myers 2010, pp. 257–258.
  59. ^ Stannard, Joe (August 2004). "All-Time Classics: Skylarking By XTC". Uncut. No. 87. p. 124. Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  60. ^ a b Parker, Adam (6 February 2016). "Rundgren still bangs the drum all day Rock and roll titan to play at Music Hall". The Post and Courier. 
  61. ^ a b Litton, Dave (22 March 2016). "Andy Partridge Calls Todd Rundgren 'Bitchy' for Remarks About 'Dear God'". Ultimate Classic Rock. 
  62. ^ Sommer, Tim (1986). "Brian's Children". Rolling Stone. 
  63. ^ a b c "Billboard 200: XTC". Billboard. 2017. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  64. ^ Schabe, Patrick (5 May 2002). "XTC: A Coat of Many Cupboards". PopMatters. 
  65. ^ a b c Dahlen, Chris (19 January 2007). "Andy Partridge - Fuzzy Warbles Collector's Album". Pitchfork. 
  66. ^ Price, Jim (29 June 1991). "Jim Price speaks to Andy Partridge". WFMU. 
  67. ^ "Oranges & Lemons - Geffon". CMJ New Music Report. Vol. 164. 24 February 1989. 
  68. ^ Gibbs, Ryan (19 May 2015). "Favorite Letterman Music Moments". The Young Folks. 
  69. ^ Farmer 1998, p. 55.
  70. ^ Farmer 1998, p. 54.
  71. ^ Nonsuch (liner). XTC. Virgin. 1992. 
  72. ^ Fevret, Christian (1992). "XTC - Quality Sweet". Les Inrockuptibles. 
  73. ^ a b Skene, Gordon (21 August 2016). "A Chat With Andy Partridge Of XTC – 1992 – Past Daily Weekend Pop Chronicles". Past Daily. Retrieved 25 September 2017. 
  74. ^ Farmer 1998, pp. 58–59.
  75. ^ Farmer 1998, pp. 57–61.
  76. ^ a b Staunton, Terry (16 May 1992). "XTC: Nonsuch" (PDF). NME. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  77. ^ Swenson, Kyle (April 1999). "Orchestral XTC". Guitar Player. 
  78. ^ Azerrad, Michael (28 May 1992). "XTC: Nonsuch". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 17 August 2007. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  79. ^ a b c O'Brien, Karen (5 September 1998). "Quintessential Englishman Andy Partridge, front man of Eighties band, XTC, talks to Karen O'Brien about rebirth, recording contracts and the value of hindsight". The Independent. Retrieved 25 September 2017. 
  80. ^ DeYoung, Bill (23 February 1993). "One critic handicaps tonight's Grammys". The Gainesville Sun. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  81. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "The Greatest Living Englishman". AllMusic. 
  82. ^ Morrish, John (20 February 1999). "Arts: The agony and the XTC". The Independent. 
  83. ^ a b Tobin, Alex (29 May 2000). "XTC Interview with Colin Moulding". Kinda Muzik. 
  84. ^ Zupko, Sarah (1999). "XTC, Apple Venus Volume 1 / Transistor Blast". PopMatters. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. 
  85. ^ Hooker, Zach (23 February 1999). "XTC: Apple Venus, Volume One". Pitchfork. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  86. ^ Dahlen, Chris (21 July 2006). "Apple Box". Pitchfork. 
  87. ^ a b Pop Machine (29 May 2009). "Andy Partridge hails the Dukes, buries XTC, chides Robyn Hitchcock and considers himself done". Chicago Tribune. PM09 
  88. ^ Dahlen, Chris (2 April 2009). "25 O'Clock / Psonic Psunspot". Pitchfork. 
  89. ^ a b wesLONG (June 2003). "Didn't Hurt a Bit". Optimism Flames. 
  90. ^ "Countdowns to XTC". Mojo. December 2006. p. 22. 
  91. ^ Maher, Dave (2 February 2007). "Andy Partridge: XTC "Well and Truly in the Fridge"". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. 
  92. ^ a b Doug (17 February 2008). "Andy Partridge interview". Rundgren Radio. Retrieved 5 January 2018. 
  93. ^ Andy Partridge (30 July 2008). "What's happening with Colin?". The Swindon Advertiser. Archived from the original on 29 September 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2008. 
  94. ^ Partridge, Andy [@xtcfans] (17 August 2014). "THE CORRECTOR- XTC has never split,legally it still exists,as Colin and myself" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  95. ^ a b Ham, Robert (26 November 2017). "Colin Moulding on Reteaming With Terry Chambers for 'DIY' New Project & Possibility of XTC Reunion". Billboard. 
  96. ^ Partridge, Andy [@xtcfans] (31 August 2017). "XTC TV doc THIS IS POP will be broadcast on Sky Arts on Saturday Oct. 7th at 9pm GMT. Date for your diary" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  97. ^ Partridge, Andy [@xtcfans] (9 December 2016). "@SongIsKing Being made now.Interviews with all band,bar Barry, HOPE HOPE it's going to be good.Same fella did 10cc one, see that?" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  98. ^ Partridge, Andy [@xtcfans] (13 January 2018). "I've been away for a bit, back now, to try and answer all your questions...there is no XTC these days, we will not be recording together again. Ummm....is that all?" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  99. ^ a b Myers 2010, p. 255.
  100. ^ Dave (9 March 2008). "Interview of Dave Gregory". Rundgren Radio (Audio). Retrieved 14 January 2018. 
  101. ^ Bernhardt, Todd (7 January 2007). "Andy discusses 'Mayor of Simpleton'". Chalkhills. 
  102. ^ Dahlen, Chris (9 July 2002). "Go 2 / English Settlement / Black Sea". Pitchfork. 
  103. ^ Singer, Barry (9 June 2002). "MUSIC; Adventurous Punk Of a Troubled Past". The New York Times. 
  104. ^ Pareles, Jon (18 July 1987). "The Pop Lifw". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 January 2018. 
  105. ^ Bernhardt, Todd (18 March 2017). "Andy discusses 'Wrapped in Grey'". Chalkhills. Retrieved 25 September 2017. 
  106. ^ Houghton, Mick (April 1995). "Spirited away". Uncut. p. 116. 
  107. ^ Bernhardt, Todd; Partridge, Andy (15 April 2007). "Andy discusses 'Season Cycle'". Chalkhills. 
  108. ^ Bernhardt, Todd (16 December 2007). "Andy and Dave discuss 'Towers of London'". Chalkhills. 
  109. ^ Bernhardt, Todd; Partridge, Andy (12 April 2009). "Sir John Johns discusses "25 O'Clock"". Chalkhills. 
  110. ^ Bernhardt, Todd (27 June 2010). "Andy answers fans' questions about guitar playing and players -- Part I". Chalkhills. 
  111. ^ D., Spence (20 April 2007). "Top 25 Britpop Albums". IGN. 
  112. ^ Reid, Graham (1999). "XTC's Andy Partridge interviewed: A man in the middle ages". Elsewhere. 
  113. ^ Ogg, Alex. "Beyond Rip It Up: Towards A New Definition Of Post Punk?". The Quietus. Retrieved 20 February 2016. 
  114. ^ Klinger, Eric (24 April 2015). "Counterbalance: XTC’s 'Skylarking'". PopMatters. 
  115. ^ Azerrad, Michael (23 March 1989). "XTC: Oranges & Lemons". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 3 February 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  116. ^ a b c Harris, John (2 April 2010). "The sound of the suburbs and literary tradition". The Guardian. 
  117. ^ Nelson, Sean (13 April 2016). "Artistic Crap: Part One of a Serialized Interview with Andy Partridge of XTC". The Stranger. 


External links[edit]