Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Swindonian Institute

I feel I've been amiss in not before now bringing to your attention a wonderful series of interviews on the official XTC MySpace page between XTC's lead singer, songsmith and all-round wit Andy Partridge and Todd Bernhardt, whereby - week on week - they discusses in-depth an individual song from the band's 25 year history.

From the obvious choices such as 'Dear God' or 'Making Plans for Nigel' to the obscure classics like 'Thanks For Christmas' and 'Wrapped In Grey', Andy and Todd go down a memory lane that takes them all the way from White Music in '78 right up to Wasp Star.

Admittedly, 75% of the archetypal interview has them waxing lyrical about "dub echoes in the middle section", and other such muso stuff that has my eyes glazing over but as the snippets alongside the links below indicate, there's enough room left over for Andy to dispense his sarcasm, intelligence and expert bullshit detector for all that's ridiculous and pompous about the music business and life in general.

Hand on heart, I'd have to say that I always preferred Colin Moulding's songs over Andy's but he's not the one putting himself out in such a glorious manner, is he?

If you haven't already done so, check out English Settlement and Skylarking in their entirety. They're bona fide classics.

  • 'Statue of Liberty' (White Music)
  • "But I was sat there, banging around these three chords, thinking, "If Lou [Reed] can do it, so can I!" And I remember she was ironing -- she used to love ironing for some reason, I don't know why -- and she got the ironing cable all tied up, and she was holding it in the air, sort of trying to let the cable unwind itself. And her hair was -- I don't know if she'd just washed it and it was all sticking all over the place, or whatever -- but I looked up, and I thought, "Jesus, she looks like a weird, futuristic version of the Statue of Liberty, holding this hot iron with her arm up in the air like that and a handful of washing in her other arm, like the book or something."
  • 'Science Friction' (Fossil Fuel)
  • "It was an arrogance, and a desire to get up the nose of the audience and make them work hard, make them think, make them listen. But sometimes I wish that we'd put a steady 4/4 all the way through it, and then we could have invented the B-52's along the way [laughs]."
  • 'Are You Receiving Me?' (Go 2)
  • "How the Catholics missed me, I do not know. I mean, I'm just a natural-born Catholic. I'm just loaded with guilt."
  • 'Battery Brides' (Go 2)
  • "Yeah, it was like The Young Ones, you know. We were living in this house . . . [I was] probably Neil, actually. No, no, Rick -- definitely. I'm too gauche and too full of himself. I think Terry was Viv -- [Viv voice] "Very metal!" Or Barry Andrews was Viv. Colin was Neil, I think. [chuckles]"
  • 'Making Plans for Nigel' (Drums and Wires)
  • "They went and found some Nigels in British Steel factories, and interviewed them, and of course they all said how fantastic their jobs were. I think they probably all lost their jobs within five years of saying that, though."
  • 'Helicopter' (Drums and Wires)
  • "Frank Hampson painted an ad for Lego in which there were two schoolboys with jetpacks on, flying over this Lego city -- in a Lego land, you know. And that image stuck in my brain, as a kid. Because, as a schoolboy, I thought, "Wow, that's going to be the future! We're going to have our own jetpacks -- our own helipacks -- to go to school or work, or holiday on Venus," you know. But of course it never ends up like that."
  • 'Respectable Street' (Black Sea)
  • "I used to stand in the front room, in the area where I used to do most of the writing -- it was a little space where I could lay out my amplifier and a cassette player and a microphone and a few effects, or whatever -- and I'd stand there looking out the window, and there was Bowood Road. I noticed that several of the houses had this very English thing: a caravan -- a trailer -- in the front garden. And I thought, "I've never seen those move! They must be like status symbols, telling people 'We could go away, if we choose to.' ""
  • 'Senses Working Overtime' (English Settlement)
  • "Speaking of being English, I like the crows on the song, too. We got them off some sound-effects record. I wanted it to be very English, and I thought, "What's the sound that you hear in your head when you think of the plowing medieval serf? The sound you're going to hear is the jingle of harnesses -- and crows cawing!" So, we had to get some crows. I think they're crows, anyway. Maybe some ornithologist out there will write in and say, "No, they're rooks, actually." But, to me, that was important to put the final full stop of the medieval thing we had going on there."
  • 'Jason and the Argonauts' (English Settlement)
  • "I think I never got over "Tales of Brave Ulysses," by Cream. I thought, "If they can do a song about Greek myth, then so can I!""
  • 'Snowman' (English Settlement)
  • "Actually, "Snowman" contains Dave's favorite lyrical couplet -- the phrase, "People will always be tempted to wipe their feet/On anything with welcome written on it." Dave told me one time, [imitates Gregory] "You know, Partsy, that's the best lyric you ever wrote.""
  • 'Love On A Farmboy's Wages' (Mummer)
  • "I'm obviously bitter about not getting the money I thought I ought to deserve or something. I look around, and I see people like Elvis Costello, or other contemporaries, and I think, "Jesus, they're so much richer than I am!" You know -- "I wrote songs as good as he did!" I can say that -- not facetiously or boastfully. I think I've written songs as good as Elvis."
  • 'Ladybird' (Mummer)
  • "I remember laying on the seat in the back of the van in a fetal position, sobbing quietly, not knowing who the hell I was."
  • 'Thanks For Christmas' (Rag & Bone Buffet)
  • "[effete voice] "But who is Andy thanking? Is it a loving God he's thanking?" That's the sort of stuff people would ask. No, I'm just saying thanks. Just thanks! You know, the same thing you thank when the shit comes out smooth, or when you find that public lavatory when you're really bursting! You just think, "Oh, thank you.""
  • 'All You Pretty Girls' (The Big Express)
  • "I also wanted to do one [video] where we were underwater with our instruments, in a swimming pool . . . And she said, "No no, you can't show electric instruments near water! Children will imitate you and they'll die." And then Madness did it, and everyone said, "Oh, isn't that great, where they're in the swimming pool?""
  • 'Season Cycle' (Skylarking)
  • "I have to say, we were invited up there [Todd Rungren's house] for [sighs] -- a solar barbeque . . . we were all starving hungry, and Todd had bought a solar barbeque. It was supposed to be sun-powered. And, you know, after we waited for two hours, all we had were some lukewarm steaks. [laughs] It was a case of, "Right, let's just go and get a pizza in town," you know. It was some sort of weird fucking hippy idea of [mellow voice] "Wow, it's really healthy, the sun cooks your meat." And you could have fried it better if you'd laid it on the bonnet of a black car!"
  • 'Dear God' (Skylarking)
  • "Though I thought those Dear God books -- you know, kids' letters to God -- were a pretty tacky concept, I liked the title. I liked the idea of writing to God to address the fact that I didn't believe he existed. I just wanted the thing to come back with an angelic stamp on it, saying "Return to Sender." Written in fiery letters!"
  • 'Little Lighthouse' (Psonic Psunspot)
  • "People often ask how I write songs, and I tell them, "Well, I might find a chord, and it might remind me of fog, and then I'll start going on about fog," but this is actually a case where I found the chords, and they did make me think of fog!"
  • 'Garden of Earthly Delights' (Oranges and Lemons)
  • "You know the sound that introduces the song? People must of thought, "Oh they spent hours in the studio putting together a melange of Eastern sounds." No, it was [laughs] a patch that [producer] Paul Fox had on a keyboard, and it was called something like "Eastern Bazaar"!"
  • 'The Mayor of Simpleton' (Oranges and Lemons)
  • "Yeah, Scientologists eat babies -- you heard it here first."
  • 'Merely a Man' (Oranges and Lemons)
  • "There is a ZZ Top connection, because on our way to a gig once, in the early days, our manager and his assistant were following us to a gig. We pulled over into a motorway services to get some greasy-spoon food, and I remember he gathered us all around the table, and he said, "You don't have a strong enough image, chaps. We've been thinking about people with a strong image, like ZZ Top and David Bowie." He mentioned a couple more, and announced they'd come up with this thing where we were to come on stage in cowboy hats, like ZZ Top, but with a lightning flash across our faces and some kind of sequined posing pouch! I mean, we would have looked like the four kings of assholes if we'd have come on stage dressed like that."
  • 'The Ballad of Pumpkinhead' (Nonsuch)
  • " . . . what would happen if there was somebody on Earth who was kind of perfect?" I just started to extrapolate on that idea, and really mess around with it in a kind of Dylanesque way. I thought, "Why don't I come up with 'The Ballad of' -- the ballad of somebody who's pretty much perfect?" And the more I thought about it, the more I thought, "god, they'd make so many enemies!" You know, if they really encouraged humanity and humaneness and love and sharing and giving, they would really piss off so many people in power, that those people in power would do everything they could to stop them, including killing them!"
  • 'Wrapped in Grey' (Nonsuch)
  • [Kate Bush] "did one poxy tour, for Christ's sake, around England! And then that was it -- no more. We toured our asses off around the world for five years, got sick and tired of it, and then we were not allowed not to tour. You know -- "What's the matter with you? Keep going!""
  • 'I'd Like That' (Apple Venus Volume 1)
  • "Paul is probably my favorite, because after about 1965 I think he was the powerhouse behind the band, whereas Lennon seemed to give up. I think you can see that arc -- Lennon is pushing, pushing, pushing until the Beatles are a real big hit, and then he sort of gives up, and kind of hands over the reigns to McCartney."
  • 'Harvest Festival' (Apple Venus Volume 1)
  • "When the acoustic guitar joins in on verse 2, all the way through recording that and mixing it, [producer and engineer] Nick Davis would turn to me and say, "That's the Beatle moment." He would say that every time! [laughing] It got to the point where the guitar would come in, and I'd just look at him, and we wouldn't say anything, but I knew he was thinking "That's the Beatle moment.""
  • 'Stupidly Happy' (Wasp Star: Apple Venus, Volume 2)
  • "I'd forgotten this! McDonald's wanted to use it!"
  • 'We're All Light' (Wasp Star: Apple Venus, Volume 2)
  • "But the actual idea for this song sprang from just scrubbing away on the guitar, in a very high, George Formby-esque way. [laughs] George Formby, for those who don't know, was a huge star in England in the '20s, '30s, and '40s. He played a banjolele, a four-stringed tiny banjo, and he sang these very risque songs. In fact, he was banned by the BBC because some of them were so risque."

    No comments: