XTC

XTC was an English rock band that released ten albums on Virgin between 1978 and 1992, followed by two albums at century’s end on Cooking Vinyl. On their first five albums, XTC’s core consists of vocalist–guitarist Andy Partridge, bassist–vocalist Colin Moulding, and drummer Terry Chambers. During their first two years on Virgin, XTC featured future-Shriekback keyboardist Barry Andrews, who played on the albums White Music and Go 2.

On 1979’s Drums and Wires, XTC introduced second guitarist Dave Gregory, who completed the four-piece lineup responsible for the 1980–82 albums Black Sea and English Settlement. After Chambers’ departure, the remaining trio made three 1983–86 albums (Mummer, The Big Express, Skylarking) and masqueraded as the psych-inspired Dukes of Stratosphear.

XTC went on hold after the 1989–92 albums Oranges & Lemons and Nonsuch. As the millennium loomed, Partridge and Moulding made the 1999–2000 discs Apple Venus and Wasp Star.

Members: Andy Partridge (vocals, guitar), Colin Moulding (bass, vocals), Terry Chambers (drums, vocals, 1972-83), Dave Cartner (guitar, vocals, 1972-75), Steve Hutchins (vocals, 1974-75), Jonathan Perkins (keyboards, 1976), Barry Andrews (keyboards, vocals, 1976-78), Dave Gregory (keyboards, guitar, 1978-98)


Background

XTC frontman Andy Partridge got his formal start in 1970 when he formed the band Stiff Beach with Swindon-area musicians. Amid a slew of gigs with a revolving cast of players, the band changed its name to Star Park. By 1972, bassist Colin Moulding and drummer Terry Chambers settled in as permanent members.

In May 1973, Star Park played an opening date for Thin Lizzy. In the next two years, they gigged as the Helium Kidz with guitarist Dave Cartner and singer Steve Hutchins. They got a small NME write-up and sent demos of Andy’s material to Decca Records. In 1975, Partridge assumed the mic of a four-piece lineup with keyboardist Jonathan Perkins.

In early 1976, they adopted a new and permanent name, XTC: a phonetic acronym of the syllables in the word “ecstasy.” They demoed a new batch of songs, including “Quicksilver,” “Refrigeration Blues,” and a cover of “Fireball XL5,” the theme to the children’s sci-fi puppet series that ran on ITV during the 1962–63 season.

In late 1976, XTC refilled their keyboard slot with Barry Andrews, whose style Partridge later describe as being like “Miró [if he] had played electric organ.” They made their live debut as XTC on December 8, 1976, at The Affair in Swindon.


1977

XTC played 122 documented shows between January 19 and December 23, 1977. On February 19, they made their London debut at The Nashville Room, a new wave stronghold in Kensington. On April 30, XTC opened for the Buzzcocks at The Roxy, the epicenter of UK punk in London’s Convent Garden. That spring, XTC gigged up and down England and played their first show in Wales on June 25 at the Grand Pavillion in Llandrindod Wells, Powys.

In the summer of 1977, XTC gigged numerous London haunts with hopefuls on the punk scene, including Rikki & The Last Days of Earth (7/5: Marquee), The Wasps (8/9: Music Machine), a band called London (8/22: Nashville), and The Models (8/29: Nashville). While most newcomers of this period shared uniform traits (brisk downbeats, trebly downstroke riffage, taut vocals), XTC stood apart with jagged chords, jerky rhythms, roaming arpeggios, and free-form moments of chance.

XTC cut a session for the 6/20/77 broadcast of DJ John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 program. This drew offers from several labels and the band signed with Virgin. Their first single appeared that fall in two formats. They promoted the release with a string of autumn shows, including a date with Harvest signees Wire (11/1: Music Machine, London) and three opening slots with Blondie, whose year-old debut album had just taken off (in Australia) with the retro girl-group ballad “In the Flesh.”

On December 3, XTC played the Front Row Festival, a three-week series of concerts at the Hope & Anchor pub in Islington, North London. Two numbers from XTC’s show (“Science Friction” and “I’m Bugged”) appear on the 1978 Warner Bros. release Hope & Anchor Front Row Festival, a two-record document of the Front Row shows with cuts by seventeen participating acts, including 999, Burlesque, Dire Straits, The Only Ones, The Saints, Steel Pulse, Steve Gibbons Band, The Stranglers, and X-Ray Spex.

On the 14th, XTC headlined the Music Machine over fellow Virgin signees The Members, an act immortalized on the 1977 punk comp Streets.


“Science Friction”

In October 1977, XTC debuted with “Science Friction,” a spastic, galloping cut backed with “She’s So Square,” a jumping tune about a girl out of step with the new wave. The single also appeared on a 12″ titled 3D • EP, which contains a third track, “Dance Band,” plus a Fender Rhodes indent with the whispered line “goodnight… sucka.”

“Science Friction” opens on a brisk piano 16th note (E5), intercut with sliding, dissonant guitar. This cuts to a pounding uptempo tune (in B and F#) with lyrics about a martian invasion envisioned by a young sci-fi comics fan. Andy delivers rapidfire imagery (“It ain’t the aliens at the foot of my bed”) in a taut comedic tone. Barry plays a laser organ line under Andy’s roundabout refrains (“Hey, put away that ray; How do you Martians say I love you”). Midway, Barry plays a spiraling organ break that cuts to a sliding, raucous guitar solo over Terry’s unrelenting pogo beat.

She’s So Square” opens with soft Fender vibe tones over a standard four-chord pattern (C… Am… F… G…), overlaid with a searing guitar tone that ushers the song: a pounding uptempo new wave rocker with skittering, frenetic verses about an out-of-date girl who loves Vanilla Fudge, Jeff Beck, and who thinks it’s 1967. Midway, Andy steamrolls with fretboard dissonance (in C and A♭), then things modulate a step for Barry’s turn.

Dance Band” starts with an angular five-note bassline (in D with an octave-plunge fifth) on a clicking rhythm pattern; scribbled over with guitar dissonance. Barry plays raybeam synths over the bass-plunge verses and ska-chord bridge, where Andy sings with exuberance about going “toe to toe” to a dance band that plays everything from bossa nova to the Gay Gordon (a Scottish country dance). Andy plays discorded guitar fragments amid the whispers, gasps, and discombobulation of the final stretch.

XTC recorded the 3D tracks at Abbey Road Studios with producer–engineer John Leckie, a soundman on recent albums by Anthony Moore, Be Bop Deluxe (Modern Music), Doctors of Madness (Figments of Emancipation), Soft Machine (Softs), and Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel.


1978

XTC played January 1978 shows in Germany (1/13: Markthalle, Hamburg) and France (1/18: Bataclan, Paris). They embarked on a 33-date UK tour with A&M pop punks The Secret, starting at the Middlesex Polytechnic (1/20) and wrapping at the Bournemouth Village Bowl (3/16). On March 9, XTC performed at London’s Hippodrome for the BBC’s Sight & Sound In Concert series.

On July 19, 1978, XTC returned to Swindon’s Affair Club for a multi-act bill with mod-punks Urban Disturbance and sixties Scottish pop singer Lulu.

In September, XTC headlined a 10-date UK tour with The Yachts and The Dazzlers, starting at the Manchester Apollo (9/11) and wrapping a the Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow, Scotland (9/28). XTC then embarked on a five-date tour of Ireland, where they headlined over newcomers U2 at Cork’s Arcadia Ballroom (9/30).

XTC promoted their second album on a 14-date November tour with touch-downs in Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Bristol, and Birmingham. On December 31, XTC made their US debut at the Beacon Theater in New York City as the opening act for Talking Heads, a band with similar avant-garde sensibilities.


White Music

XTC released their debut album, White Music, on January 20, 1978, on Virgin. Side one contains three Partridge originals, starting with “Radios In Motion,” a propulsive number flanked with dissonant guitar (in A) and lyrics about the US FM radio market (with a shout-out to Milwaukee, the home of Andy’s aunt).

This is Pop” — which appears here in a rough first draft — shifts between a wound-up, syncopated verse and a direct singalong chorus (in C). Musically, it’s a Residents-inspired number with the credo that all music that’s neither jazz or classical (including avant-garde rock) is “pop.” (In interviews, Partridge reasoned that if The Beatles continued, they would have evolved into the Residents.) “Statue of Liberty” is a simple three-chord organ pop tune with lyrics that address Lady Liberty from the lens of boyhood lust.

Moulding contributes two songs on side one: the pogo-frenzied “Do What You Do” and the spastic, zany “Cross Wires” (possibly XTC’s most discombobulated vocal number). Side one closes with “All Along the Watchtower,” a Bob Dylan chestnut made famous by Jimi Hendrix. The XTC version (5:40) opens with a thick, fuzzy keyboard descent (E…D…C…) and resounding plomp (G!), followed by jerky, mid-tempo bars of the same four chords. Aside from Andy’s gasping utterance of the line “There must be some kind of way outta here,” XTC render the song unrecognizable from earlier versions by other artists.

Partridge wrote the bulk of side two. “Atom Age” starts with two chords (C…G…) overlaid with a Fripp-like guitar cadenza. In the lyrics, Andy heads a futurist household with 3D porno movie screens and all-purpose devices (“My wife’s getting lazy going gadget crazy”).

I’m Bugged” is a jerky number with a walloping 3/4 bass–drum pattern (E→B…G!), flanked with scratchy high-end chords and fuzzy, jagged organ sounds. “Neon Shuffle” closes White Music with a brisk, jittery guitar–Farfisa riff (in C) that triggers a sequence of passages before resolving on a three-note jam (“It’s gonna run you right through, with a stick of bamboo”).

The musical hallmarks of White Music — hiccuping, spastic vocals; scratchy, discorded guitar parts; staccato bass; jerky, syncopated drums; spiraling day-glo keyboard tones (traits further heard in “Spinning Top,” “New Town Animal in a Furnished Cage,” and Colin’s “I’ll Set Myself on Fire”) — were unique among the new wave and foreshadowed the like-minded album debuts of Devo and Lene Lovich by several months. (The ascribed hallmarks were retroactively dubbed “zolo,” an aesthetic delineation for the kinetic, staccato, abstract, off-kilter margins of new wave and progressive rock.)

Sessions took place in the spring–summer of 1977 at the Manor, an Oxfordshire mansion studio owned by Virgin co-founder Richard Branson. Leckie produced and engineered White Music in succession with albums by The Adverts (Crossing the Red Sea With the Adverts), Be-Bop Deluxe (Drastic Plastic), Magazine (Real Life), and Roy Harper. The tape-op, Alan Douglas, worked on recent albums by Easy Street (Under the Glass) and Gryphon (Treason).

Virgin in-house designer Cooke Key conceived the White Music cover, which shows XTC in two-tone attire against a b&w background with their paint-stroke logo. Moulding and Partridge both don straight-legged white jeans; Andy’s have mod-style arrows up the back. The back cover presents three rows of pics of each member; Andy dons a red- and black-blocked sweater. Cooke also designed 1977–78 Virgin sleeves for Ashra, Skids, and The Motors. The photographer on White Music, Dennis Morris, also has credits on recent Virgin reggae titles by Big Youth, Delroy Washington, and Leroy Smart.

XTC lifted “Statue of Liberty” as their second single, backed with Andy’s “Hang On to the Night,” a brisk, pounding, uptempo number with exuberant vocals about late-night jollies with an organ break reminiscent of “Science Friction.”

In the “Statue of Liberty” video, XTC mime frenetically in a yellow-lit black room with mics placed in the torches of Lady Liberty cardboard cutouts. At the end, Colin saws his bass neck against the up-turned side of Barry’s keyboard.

Another track from the White Music sessions, “Traffic Light Rock,” appeared in February 1978 on the Virgin multi-artist 10″ sampler Guillotine, which also features cuts by The Motors, Penetration, X-Ray Spex, and Poet and the Roots (aka Linton Kwesi Johnson). “Traffic Light Rock” is a speedy, punkish tune (in A) with a fuzzy opening riff and Andy’s spastic delivery; cut by Barry’s barroom piano break.


“This Is Pop”

XTC teamed with producer Robert John Lange on a second version of “This Is Pop,” which Virgin issued as a non-album single in April 1978, backed with the zolo-funk Colin cut “Heatwave.” The re-recorded a-side opens with Andy’s sly utterance of “Yes,” followed by a crashing combination chord (D+G) with wiggling Clavinet that triggers the song’s chromatic chordal descent (Dsus4… Bm… B♭…), rendered with heightened tonal clarity and a funky bassline.

Heatwave” is a jerky number (in C) with boingy Clavinet and colorful organ lines. After a 35-second opening jam with twitching guitar, Colin blurts lyrics about a tan-addicted female who steals his infra red.

Lange produced both sides in succession with 1977–78 album by The Boomtown Rats (self titled, A Tonic for the Troops), City Boy (Young Men Gone West, Book Early), Deaf School (English Boys, Working Girls), Graham Parker & the Rumour, and Supercharge. The engineer on “This Is Pop,” Bill Price, also worked on recent albums by Jack the Lad, Racing Cars, and the banner Virgin release Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols.

In the “This Is Pop” video, XTC mime in a white room and hoard the aisles of a supermarket where the butcher slices vinyl and displays 7″ records among the cold cuts.


“Are You Receiving Me?”

On September 29, 1978, XTC released “Are You Receiving Me?”, an exclusive taster from the sessions that also produced their upcoming album. Moulding wrote the b-side, “Instant Tunes.”

“Are You Receiving Me?” starts on a deep 7/8 bassline (in F7) with choppy chords and fluorescent key-tones. The chorus (in G) is a harmonized question–accusation (“you are deceiving me”) over a pent-up cadence. On each verse (closed cadence), Andy makes sassy references to “missing lips” and other lapses in intimacy amid plunging bass and clapped rhythms. He plays a chordal plunge (to F) on the middle-eight with garbled ideas about messaging options (“I put it in a telegram, just like the son of Sam”). After a twangy guitar break, the track speeds into a flowing, open-cadence final verse, followed by a gasping reprise of the intro.

Instant Tunes” opens on a I–VII 16th note bassline (in G7) that cuts to a ska-tinged, four-chord verse (Dm… Am… B♭… F…) with fussy vocals about made-to-order pop music, followed by a rising, harmonized chorus (Em… C… D…) and vocable refrain.

Though the labels credit Leckie as the producer of both sides, “Are You Receiving Me?” has uncredited production work by Martin Rushent, a soundman on 1977–78 albums by 999, Buzzcocks (Another Music in a Different Kitchen), Dr. Feelgood, Generation X (self-titled), The Stranglers (Rattus Norvegicus, Black and White), and Trickster (Find the Lady).


Go 2

XTC released their second album, Go 2, on October 6, 1978, on Virgin. It contains twelve songs with individual contributions by three members: Partridge (six), Moulding (four), and Andrews (two). The album further pursues the zolo angle of its predecessor with thicker layers of Barry’s hypnotic, spiraling, otherworldly keyboard tones.

Partridge wrote three numbers on side one, including the bookends. “Meccanik Dancing (Oh We Go!)” is a twitchy number with ska chords buried in swirling keyboard confetti and lyrics about the motorik German club scene. “Red” is an exploding, speedy, punkish cut with gasping vocals, spastic breaks, and blaring saxophone.

Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian)” is a slow, lurching, synth-laden epic about sentient sex robots (with their own desires). The subtitle references XTC’s request to have Brian Eno produce Go 2;  a task Eno turned down because of his booked 1978 studio schedule with Devo (Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!), Talking Heads (More Songs About Buildings and Food), Cluster (After the Heat), and his own releases Music for Films and Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Eno, an avowed XTC fan, told Andy that they could make a better album without him.

Moulding wrote the interior of side one. “Buzzcity Talking” cuts between a jerky synth-spiraling chorus and a trippy three-chord verse reminiscent of the 1968 Lemon Pipers hit “Green Tambourine.” A similar vibe pervades “The Rhythm,” which has a four-bar ascending theme and the chanted metaphor “We kill the beast!” They get more aggressive on “Crowded Room,” where fussy verses about over-attended parties send Colin “Down the fire escape.”

Partridge wrote the first half of side two. “Beatown” is a speedy new wave number with a modulating semi-tone chorus riff (D→Dmaj7… B→Bmaj7…). After a series of hyper ska-tinged verses (“I spoke to your owner this lunchtime”) and loopy, descending bridges (“He says you’re all communists sir”), the hypnotic semi-tone riff takes permanent hold of the song for a swelling, extended outro.

Life Is Good in the Greenhouse” is a stark, minimalist cut with a stripped, syncopated rhythmic pattern and lyrics about the benefits of plant life; mutated on the chorus with Mickey Mouse-like vocal effects. “Jumping in Gomorrah” is another galloping song with spiraling keyboard sounds and the recurrent chant “J.U.M.P.I.N.G.” — a backronym for the title, suffixed with Andy’s proclamation “I’m religion free.”

Andrews submitted “My Weapon,” an alarming satire about an undisclosed disciplinary tool that he wants to use on an ungrateful lover. His “Super-Tuff” is a dark, twitchy, bass-driven number (in A minor) with reggae accents and melodic similarities to “Greenhouse.”

Colin closes Go 2 with “I Am the Audience,” a twitchy dance-floor lurch that begins with scratchy, sputtering guitar sounds and coiling keyboard effects. When he exhausts the lyrics — a stream of half-rhyming couplets about reverse performer–audience dynamics — Barry overlays the rhythmic groove with nervy piano, boingy Clavinet, and spiraling florescent synth lines.

Sessions occurred in August–September 1978 at London’s Abbey Road Studios. Go 2 is the second of two XTC albums produced and engineered by Leckie, who subsequently worked on 1979 albums by Simple Minds (Life In a Day, Real to Real Cacophony) and Bill Nelson‘s Red Noise (Sound-On-Sound). Andrews’ Go 2 arsenal consists of Crumar and Farfisa organ, Wurlitzer electric piano, Minimoog, Clavinet, and grand piano, in addition to saxophone (“Red”) and vocals on his two writing contributions.

Go 2 sports a Hipgnosis cover design with rambling white text on a black background. The text describes the purpose of a record cover in wordy layman’s terms and places operative words (DESIGN, PLEASURE, TRICK/ED, PRODUCT, FOOLISH) in all-caps. The back cover contains similar text about the purpose of an album’s back cover. Photographer Dave Eagle took the small monochrome member pics and the side-by-side color photo that appears on the foldout insert.

XTC lifted no singles from Go 2 because “Are You Receiving Me?” (a non-inclusion from the same sessions) served that purpose. Original UK copies came with a bonus 12″ titled Go +, which contains dub versions of five Go 2 tracks: “Dance With Me, Germany” (“Meccanic Dancing”), “Beat the Bible” (“Jumping in Gomorrah”), “A Dictionary of Modern Marriage” (a sped-up instrumental “Battery Brides”), “Clap Clap Clap” (“I Am the Audience”), and “We Kill the Beast” (“The Rhythm”).

Additional songs from the Go 2 sessions include “Sargasso Bar,” “Looking for Footprints,” and “Strange Tales, Strange Tails,” which each surfaced as future group and solo sides.


Barry Andrew Exits

The Go 2 promotional rounds marked a breaking point for Barry Andrews, who felt under-represented on the album. In December 1978, he left XTC.

Andrews retained “Sargasso Bar” for his debut solo release, the May 1979 Virgin maxi-single Town and Country. It contains three additional Andrews originals: “Me and My Mate Can Sing,” “Bring On the Alligators,” and “Mousetrap (Dedicated to Aunty Rene).” Barry also plays organ on three tracks (“Disengage,” “NY3,” “I’ve Had Enough of You”) on Exposure, the 1979 debut solo album by King Crimson mastermind Robert Fripp.

In 1980, Andrews cut his second solo single, “Rossmore Road” (b/w “Win a Night Out With a Well-Known Paranoiac),” with backing by Fripp, singer Patti Palladin (Snatch, Flying Lizards), and guitarists Steve New (Rich Kids) and Rob Hendry (Prologue-era Renaissance). Barry also appears on 1980 albums by Iggy Pop (Soldier, with New) and the Swell Maps (“Let’s Buy a Bridge” on ….In “Jane From Occupied Europe”).

That year, Andrews and Fripp teamed in the League of Gentlemen, a post-punk band with (future Gang of Four) bassist Sara Lee. They toured extensively and released a 1981 self-titled album on Editions EG. Andrews then formed Shriekback, an electro-funk combo that issued six 1982–88 albums, including the 1986 Arista release Big Night Music, which spawned multiple playlist favorites on US college radio (“Gunning for the Buddha,” “Running On the Rocks,” “The Reptiles and I”).


1979

XTC auditioned multiple keyboardists, including a young Thomas Dolby, who surfaced soon after on the eponymous album by Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club, led by the third party in the (pre-record) formation of The Buggles. Rather than hire a keyboardist, XTC adopted a two-guitar arrangement with Dave Gregory, recently of Swindon pub-rockers Gogmagog. They hired him instantly when, at the audition, he asked “Which version?” when they asked him to play “This Is Pop.”

Gregory made his live debut with XTC on April 18, 1979, at the Routes Club in Exeter, England. They embarked on a late-April Irish tour with Dublin punks D.C. Nien and Rudy & The Outcasts, followed by a fifteen-date UK tour with the Camera Club.

On July 20, XTC played the Marconi Club in Sydney; the launch of a 21-date Australian tour with rising locals Flowers, who soon changed their name to Icehouse. In August, XTC played four dates in Japan, where they touched down in Tokyo and Osaka (with P-Model) and Kyoto (with Lizard, a Stranglers-associated act). On September 11, XTC launched a 10-date UK tour at the Manchester Apollo with The Yachts.

On October 29, XTC played a broadcast show at L’Empire in Paris for the French TV show Chorus. In late November, XTC went on a nine-date UK tour with Random Hold, one of two spinoffs (along with This Heat) of Phil Manzanera‘s Quiet Sun.

In December, XTC embarked on an eleven-date European tour with shows in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and France, culminating with a 12/19 Parisian radio broadcast. They rounded the holiday season with four UK dates supported by Random Hold, including a 12/22 show at the Friars Club in Aylesbury with a third act, Roger Ruskin Spear’s Giant Kinetic Wardrobe.


“Life Begins at the Hop”

On May 4, 1979, XTC released “Life Begins at the Hop,” a buoyant Moulding number backed with the quirky “Homo Safari,” their first in a series of instrumental b-sides.

“Life Begins at the Hop” opens with a perky seven-note guitar figure (1-2-3-5-2-1-2 in D major), followed by a two-chord verse (D…A7m…) with lyrics about an upcoming nearby hop: a DJ’d dance event for underage partygoers (known as sock hops in the forties and fifties). The song’s hookline (“Tell me what do you say?”) is sung on the fourth (G) and the dominant (A) of D. On the break, Andy plays a plucked, matted guitar run (a ‘bubbling fish’ solo).

Homo Safari” has a Magic Band-like rhythmic pattern, flanked with twitching guitars (one trebly, one clean) and rumbling bass. Things briefly cut to a drunken bridge with twangy Hawaiian guitar.

XTC recorded “Life Begins at the Hop” in April 1979, immediately after Gregory’s arrival. This marked their first pairing with soundman Steve Lillywhite, a producer on 1977–78 Island titles by Eddie & the Hot Rods (Life On the Line), Steel Pulse, Ultravox (Ultravox!, Ha! Ha! Ha!), and the 1978 Polydor release The Scream, the debut album by Siouxsie & the Banshees.

XTC mimed “Life Begins at the Hop” on the May 17, 1979, broadcast of Top of the Pops, which slotted them between numbers by Peaches & Herb (“Reunited”) and M (“Pop Muzik”). In the song’s video, XTC huddle behind the ‘wheel’ of a dummy pink Cadillac before a domino-skyscraper green-screen and mime on a playground sound-stage with go-go dancers plucked from Kenny Everett’s Hot Gossip, including future Billy Idol flame Perri Lister (leopard catsuit).


Drums and Wires

XTC released their third album, Drums and Wires, on August 17, 1979, on Virgin. It features twelve originals, including the Moulding numbers “Making Plans for Nigel,” “Day In Day Out,” “Ten Feet Tall,” and “That Is the Way.” Sound-wise, the album takes a more streamlined, Earthly approach with calculated songcraft and intricate rhythmic and sonic nuances.

Moulding opens Drums and Wires with “Making Plans for Nigel,” a moderate-paced number with a sixteen-note bassline in three keys (G… E… B…), embellished with echoing drums and guitar parts that range from trebly, manicured sustain (verses) to clipped, thematic picking (solo). The lyrics concern a working class boy whose parents groom him for a future in British Steel.

Day In Day Out” is a scratchy mid-tempo post-punk number with simple lyrics about anticipation of the weekend (“Friday is Heaven”) and how the mind’s clock often skips ahead of true time. The picked and ‘scribbled’ guitar chords that run throughout the song wind into a syncopated 3/4 whirlwind at the closeout.

Ten Feet Tall” is a semi-acoustic number with a four-chord framework (Bm…F#…G…A…) and somber, hallucinogenic lyrics. Andy plays clean thematic lines over Dave’s warm, subdued chords (verses) and picked, descending notes (chorus).

That Is the Way” opens with faint utterances of “do this, do that,” which back monotone lines of child training (“Go and speak, to your niece… kiss your aunt,” etc). The song is a vaguely hypnotic sui generis number (primarily in B) with a warm three-note bassline and a quiet, ascending riff over a syncopated, medium-slow rhythmic pattern. Trumpeter Dick Cuthell — once of brass-rockers Trifle and recently an auxiliary player for The Specials — plays the flugehorn solo that carries out the piece.

The album’s eight Partridge songs range from brisk, bright and perky (“Helicopter,” “Real By Reel,” “Outside World”) to layered, dark and intense (“Roads Girdle the Globe,” “Millions,” “Complicated Game”).

Helicopter” is a tight, uptempo song (in A♭) with a slick, propeller-sound rhythm that drives Andy’s creative imprints (snaky, ‘spongy’ guitar tracks; taut, sassy syllables). Though inspired by sixties adverts for Lego toys, the lyrics use childlike metaphors (“She’s a laughing, giggly whirlybird”) and phonetic wordplay (“I object to all the air male that she pick up”) for a vignette about taming a boy-crazed serial flirt.

When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty” opens with a brief, plucked free-fall guitar cadenza that triggers the chorus about Andy’s first boyhood crush, which turned him from a “sphinx” to a “jellyfish.” The song goes from a litany of jitters (“difficulty concentrating… just vibrating… standing upright”) with a plucked, staccato, sixteen-note guitar figure (C…Bm…G…Am…) over a syncopated, hopping drum track.

Roads Girdle the Globe” is a mid-tempo number that opens with a twitching five-note guitar figure (in G) over a sliding bassline (F down to G) and Can-like rhythm track. The lyrics lampoon car worship (“Hail mother motor! Hail piston rotor!”) and characterize the globe’s roads as a “concrete robe.” Midway, Andy submits to the vehicle with repetitions of “Steer me, Anna” amid harmonic pinging sounds.

Real by Reel” is a medium-uptempo song that opens with a descending, low-end guitar figure (in Gmaj7) and goes through four distinct vocal passages: a verse (in C) with a five-note guitar line, capped with an arching vocable; an ascending bridge (D…F#m…G…C…); a tight chorus (F…C..); and a blurry, vibrato, descending middle-eight. The lyrics concern the surveillance state and how “the ministry… can film you in bed or when you take a bath.”

Millions” is a cryptic, medium-slow number with a droning three-note bassline (in E minor) and a quasi-tribal drum pattern; overlaid with a disconnected chordal pattern (E♭…Cm…B…B♭…) that turns to scribbled bits, followed with subtle plucking. The backing track persists amid Andy’s remote intonations before a false ending (at 4:35) precedes the final, faded minute.

Outside World” is an uptempo tune that opens with a jagged guitar line over a brisk, six-note bassline (in D). The vocal sequence has four parts: a two-chord couplet (in C); a four-key (FF→A♭A♭→GG→CBCB) refrain (“So she can’t hear what’s going on”); an exuberant three-chord chorus (D…F…C…); and a bridge about “Bad black and white men, standing in their pigpen” (B♭…F….) — all with the same unrelenting rhythmic pattern. Midway, Andy plays a twangy solo with sighing impressions of the title, followed with a gasping chordal plunge. The lyrics possibly concern a reclusive former starlet who secludes herself with six swans in a sauna.

Scissor Man” opens with a twitching, contrapuntal guitar figure that lands on a matted, perky pattern (in G). Andy carries the first verse unaccompanied with taut syllables before Terry enters (at :22) with a medium-fast, sixteen-down pattern. The jerky minimalism breaks on the chorus, where Colin adds a two-note, play-pause bassline under Andy’s warning to little boys about a reverse tooth fairy who goes “snipping snipping” and puts an “end to evildoers’ games.” The final minute discombobulates with dub-like layers (echo, improvised ad libs, disconnected bass).

Complicated Game” has a faint, nervy intro with remote, muffled vocals over a semi-tone organ pattern (G…F#…). The song has a lurching, pent-up quality that never frees of its rhythmic harness but gradually swells in volume (layered, dissonant guitar sustain) and rage (Andy’s multi-tracked sighs and shouts). The lyrics decry the left–right binary as a non-option (literally and figuratively); Andy asserts that regardless of one’s choice, someone else will undo the action.

XTC recorded Drums and Wires in three weeks between June and July 1979 at the Town House, a recently-built Sheppard’s Bush facility owned by Richard Branson. Lillywhite produced this and the subsequent XTC album with engineer Hugh Padgham, a soundman with a short list of prior credits (J.A.L.N. Band, Sweet) who also worked on 1979 titles by Bliss Band, The Jam (Setting Sons), and Split Enz (Frenzy).

Jill Mumford of Design Clinic (Virgin’s art department) designed the Drums and Wires cover based on a sketch by Partridge. It presents the three letters of the XTC brush-stroke logo as the features on a modernist facial impression. Per Andy’s request, Jill rendered the image with bright colors (front) and dull hues (back). She also did the artwork on Town and Country and 1979–80 sleeves by Culture, The Gladiators, Roger Chapman, and Skids.

XTC lifted “Making Plans for Nigel” as the album’s only UK a-side, backed with the cryptic tribal miniature “Pulsing Pulsing” and the electro-heartbeat instrumental “Bushman President” (part 2 of the Homo Safari series), a YMO-style tune with melodic similarities to “Time Is Tight” by Booker T. & the M.G.’s. XTC mimed “Nigel” on the October 4 broadcast of TotP, which aired the song between Madness (“The Prince”) and Blondie (“Dreaming”).

The single reached No. 12 in Canada and No. 17 in the UK, where TotP re-aired “Making Plans for Nigel” on the 20th before clips by The Selecter (“On My Radio”) and The Buggles (“Video Killed the Radio Star”). The song became an unofficial anthem for British Steel, whose striking union workers reached out to Moulding for comment.

Australian filmmaker Russell Mulcahy directed the “Making Plans for Nigel” video, which shows XTC mime the song in a chess-tiled white studio; inter-cut with a loosely-connected vignette of a trickster (Andy) prodding Nigel on his path from mental patient to suited workforce rookie. Mulcahy also directed the clip to “Video Killed the Radio Star” and 1979 singles by The Stranglers (“Duchess”), The Human League (“Empire State Human”), and Paul McCartney (“Wonderful Christmastime”).

Drums and Wires reached No. 2 in Canada and made the UK and Australian Top 40 (No. 41 in New Zealand). Original copies contain a bonus 7″ with two outtakes from the summer 1979 Town House sessions: “Limelight,” a ska-tinged rocker with a tripping bridge and discorded outro; and “Chain of Command,” a brisk Skids-like anthem about servility with trumpet-synth and vocable hooks.

In the United States, Drums and Wires first appeared on Virgin’s short-lived US imprint. This version places “Life Begins at the Hop” at the start of a revised running order and relegates “Day In Day Out” to the bonus single.

XTC cut a second version of “Ten Feet Tall” (with electric guitar) for their debut American single, released in December 1979; backed with “Helicopter” and the dark minimal wave number “The Somnambulist.”

XTC are the cover subject of the March 20, 1980, issue of the British music fortnightly Smash Hits, which contained the re-recorded “Ten Feet Tall” on a red flexi-disc with the Skids’ track “The Olympian” (from their 1979 second album Days in Europa).


1980

XTC toured the United States and Canada in the winter of 1980, starting with a January 14 show at My Father’s Place in Roslyn, NY, with The Units. They covered the Northeast and Midwest, where they opened three dates for The Police and headlined eleven dates over Fingerprintz. On January 31, XTC and Fingerprintz played St. Denis Theatre in Montreal, Quebec, with a third act, Heaven 17 (not the Human League spinoff, but a local band that morphed into Men Without Hats). In late February, XTC swung through Texas and California with Wazmo Nariz, who opened their three-night engagement (Feb. 21–23) at the Whisky-A-Go-Go in West Hollywood. The tour wrapped with a March 14–15 engagement at Irving Plaza, NYC, with support by Blue Angel (featuring Cyndi Lauper) and Material.


Mr. Partridge – Take Away / The Lure of Salvage

In February 1980, Andy Partridge released Take Away / The Lure of Salvage, an album of experimental dub mixes of XTC tracks. Leckie co-produced and remixed the tracks with Andy, who co-credits Colin on the Moulding-penned songs reimagined for the album.

Side one (Take Away) plunders XTC’s 1976–79 catalog:

1. “Commerciality (Signal Ad)” (source: “Refrigeration Blues”) consists of popping dub effects, propeller sounds, reggae chords and a riff-based refrain.
2. “The Day They Pulled the North Pole Down” (source: “Heatwave”) is five ascending notes (pinball game-like) overlaid with rattling sounds.
3. “The Forgotten Language of Light” (source: “Millions”) consists of improvised vocables and vocalise against a hopping, backward polyrhythmic pattern with low honking sounds.
4. “Steam Fist Futurist” (source: “Real by Reel”) has a phased, staccato ‘steam’ pattern set to a tight, uptempo beat with faint synth vibrations and fleeting backwards guitar cadenzas.
5. “Shore Leave Ornithology (Another 1950)” (source: “Pulsing Pulsing”) retains the structure of its source with the same cryptic bassline and tribal rhythmic pattern, overlaid with sax and whispered gibberish.
6. “Cairo” (source: “Homo Safari”) has two interwoven drum tracks — a speedy tom fill and a kickdrum–hi-hat pattern — overlaid with a bleeping synth line and helium vocals. The chorus (“Up up! Down down!”) hops with sliding hi-hat, disconnected bass, and a four-note keyboard melody (stylophone tone).

Side two (The Lure of Salvage) draws primarily from Drums and Wires:

1. “The Rotary” (source: “Helicopter”) is a speedy number set to a hyperactive beat with echoing metals, discorded guitar fills, watery sounds, and loud, frantic vocals.
2. “Madhattan” (source: “That Is the Way”) retains the bass lines, rhythmic pace, and trumpet sounds of its source, rendered backwards here. Andy’s “Do this, do that” lines reappear faintly in the middle.
3. “I Sit in the Snow” (source: “Roads Girdle the Globe”) slows its source song into a deep-bass dirge with rattling tambourine, ‘spongy’ sound effects, and faint, lucid vocals against a clapped beat; overlaid with a three-note vibrato synth motif.
4. “Work Away Tokyo Day” (source: “Red”, “Day In Day Out”) has 90 seconds of near-silent drone, followed by a billowing cacophony of brass that fades to a whirlwind of looped beats, spiraling synth notes, fan noises, and sputtering sounds — all bound to a matted dub bassline.
5. “New Broom” (source: “Making Plans for Nigel”) renders its source unrecognizable with sheet metals, gasping vocals, dragging tape effects (slow-motion crash noises, rusty hinge sounds). A punctual melody (glowing steelpan tone) dominates the second half.

Take Away / The Lure of Salvage is housed in cardboard-stock sleeve with an image sourced from a 1960s postcard of actress Jayne Mansfield in a pool of blowup dolls (with Jayne herself removed).


Outside Work

Partridge has an uncredited vocal appearance on “Margaret Freeman,” a track on The Residents‘ 1980 release The Commercial Album, a forty-minute disc comprised of forty one-minute songs. Andy also appears on the 1980 Alfa release B-2 Unit, the third solo album by Yellow Magic Orchestra frontman Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Moulding and Chambers masqueraded as The Colonel for the 1980 Virgin single “Too Many Cooks In the Kitchen,” a perky ska song (in D) with playful vocables and a slick, harmonized chorus. The b-side, “I Need Protection,” is a slow, droning number (in E) with searing guitar, tribal percussion, and a chanted chorus. Colin wrote both sides, which feature Hendry and Fingerprintz keyboardist Steve King.

Gregory backs Peter Gabriel on two tracks — the fractious post-punk anthem “I Don’t Remember” and the melodramatic art-pop ballad “Family Snapshot” — on the ex-Genesis singer’s third self-titled solo album (alternately known as Melt due to the cover art). The album also features appearance by Fripp, Kate Bush, Larry Fast (aka Synergy), Jam frontman Paul Weller, and Gabriel’s onetime Genesis bandmate Phil Collins.

XTC recorded their fourth album in mid-1980 and embarked on a ten-date French tour with The Police, Skafish, and The Beat (replaced after four dates by UB40).

On September 5, XTC launched a nineteen-date Australasian tour at Thebarton Town Hall in Adelaide with Magazine, who opened four shows, including dates with Flowers and Models (9/6: Festival Hall, Melbourne) and newcomers INXS (9/19: Festival Hall, Brisbane). In October, XTC did another round of Canadian and US West Coast dates with The Police, including stops in Seattle (10/28: Paramount Theater) and Portland (10/29: Paramount). In California, the two bands were joined on three consecutive dates by a third act, Oingo Boingo, whose quirky, spastic style borrowed heavily from the first two XTC albums.

On December 3 and 4, XTC opened for The Cars at Madison Square Garden. They closed out the year with ten UK dates supported by Scottish new wavers Modern Man.


“Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down”

On March 28, 1980, XTC released “Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down,” a ska-tinged singalong backed with the rerecorded “Ten Feet Tall.”

“Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down” opens with a ship bell dirge (in B♭) and cuts to a sea shanty chorus with choppy chords (in F) and faint steam sounds. The track proceeds as a mid-tempo reggae–rock number with lyrics about the warranted prospects of a gold digger who’s “sailing… in social circles in a sea of diamonds and wine.” In the middle-eight, Andy warns that “too much caviar only points to middle aged spread; there won’t be room for many playboys in your single bed.”


Black Sea

XTC released their fourth album, Black Sea, on September 12, 1980, on Virgin. It features nine Partridge originals and two Moulding numbers: “Love at First Sight” and the sprightly lead-off single “Generals and Majors.”

Respectable Street” opens with a gramophone-rendered verse comprised of faint piano, simulated surface noise, and a garbled preamble about “decency’s jigsaw.” The song proper starts with a mid-tempo guitar riff (in B with hammered seconds), which drives the chorus, where Andy lampoons artificial displays of status (“What d’you think he bought that car for? ‘Cause he realized this is Respectable Street”). On each bridge (in F#), Andy sings of unseemly details beneath the surface (abortion, contraception, diseases) amid Colin’s arching vocalise. Midway, Andy plays a scratchy solo (in C), which triggers a modulation (to G) for the final verse (about Saturday night retching”), where he mocks uppity expressions as “the kind of look that says they’re perfect.”

Generals and Majors” is an uptempo number with a five-note guitar theme (in F) on a straight beat with a syncopated, sliding hi-hat. Colin, in a nonchalant tone, sings of military commandeers and their alleged battle lust (“Generals and Majors always seem so unhappy ‘less they got a war”). Each pre-chorus has a whistling complement to the theme. On the chorus, Colin entertains the subject with “Your World War III is drawing near” amid a loosened cadence of chorused guitar and droning vocalise (against the same unrelenting backbeat). On the instrumental break, dobro filigree overlays the main theme (down an octave).

Living Through Another Cuba” opens with arching vocalise, mirrored by a sinewy guitar figure (in A) against an upbeat polyrhythm: a straight backbeat overlaid with Tama tom fills and a hissing hi-hat. Each verse (C#… F#… B… E…) injects the harmonized chorus line between Andy’s fluttering Cold War speculations, intercut with a two-bar guitar refrain. Later, the track swells with overdubs (snaky guitar lines, vocal ad libs) and comes undone amid steamy beat box emissions. The fading sounds give way to…

Love at First Sight” has a twitching seven-note guitar figure (in D with hammered sixes) against a pulsating bassline and a sliding hi-hat. Colin hints at the ways that love plays out in flings (first verse), shotgun weddings (second verse), and formal courtship (third verse). Andy flanks Colin throughout with channeled vocables, vibrating guitar overdubs, and remote ad libs (“what they want is”).

Rocket from a Bottle” opens with a faint eight-note bassline (in F) against a jittery 16th note piano pattern (in the dominant C) and layered, echoing drums. Andy enters with distant, gasping vocables, followed with shaky yet jubilant lines that use the flight of birds as metaphors for the excitement of a new love affair: “I’ve been up with the larks, I’ve been shooting off sparks.” The song crashes on a non-sequitur chord (D), the drone of which fades into…

No Language in Our Lungs” starts with a jangly, distorted guitar figure (in E) that settles into a medium-slow dirgy groove (mostly in B and F#) with lyrics about the “impotency of speech” and how the average powerless individual is “leaving nothing behind, just chiseled stones” with “no chance to speak before we’re bones.” After the “no muscle in our tongues” line, Andy plays a pronged, roaming solo, followed by a choppy middle-eight with loopy effects and memories of his younger idealism:

I thought I had the whole world in my mouth I thought I could say what I wanted to say For a second that thought became a sword in my hand I could slay any problem that would stand in my way I felt just like a crusader Lion-heart, a Holy Land invader

Towers of London” is a flowing mid-tempo number with a sliding guitar motif (in F with an imposed second) and lyrics that address the sacrifice of workers behind London’s Victorian towers and monuments (“When they had built you, did you watch over the men who fell”). Each bridge (in C) contains slice-of-life flashes of London’s 19th century working poor (“Grenadier Guardsmen… spikes in the rails to their very own heaven”). One line mentions the merchants of Stepney, a once-designated East London district notorious for over-crowding, poverty, and crime. An airy refrain about the “bridge that doesn’t go in the direction of Dublin” hints at the plight of Irish immigrants during this period. The song has a choppy middle-eight (in F#) where Andy mentions the lingering imprints of the toil (“in a painting… in engraving… clear as children’s chalk lines on the paving”). The basic structure modulates (to G) for a playout of the slide motif with harmonized vocals.

Paper and Iron (Notes and Coins)” fades in with a nervy, matted, staccato guitar figure (in A) with faint counteracting notes. Chambers enters with a booming, rumbling drum pattern that heralds the chorus. Andy sings of working for bills (paper) and coins (iron) that “won’t buy Eden” but will keep him clothed (or “the right to keep my tie on”), all in the name of the “unicorn and lion” (in reference to the royal coat of arms). The song has a floodgate verse (a brisk E strum and three-chord drop: D→C#→C7….) where Andy, to keep his kids from starving, works overtime for “one more farthing” (a former UK monetary unit of the least amount). Later, he acknowledges that “the factory feeds me” and laments how the church implies that the meek shall inherit the Earth.

Burning with Optimism’s Flames” is a medium-uptempo song with a choppy bar-chord riff (in C with hammered fourths) over a shuffling beat (imposed 3/4 on 4/4) with rattling hi-hat. Andy sings rapidfire lines (to Terry’s 3/4) about a girl who’s throwing brightness “like some aurora.” On the bridge, he reveals how she makes light and banishes night (“All you do is smile”) over a two-chord pattern (B♭… F…) on a sliding 4/4 beat. The chorus hops on a three-chord pattern (C… G… F…) with skittering undercurrents, capped by a refrain of gasping syllables on a roaming bassline. He resolves the “bird and bee” middle-eight with a sliding ‘tropical’ guitar break. The gasping refrain (G… F#… E….) returns and ushers a swelling outro (in C) with ad libs and Fripp-like cadenzas — all swallowed in an upward slide that fades to…

Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)” is a mid-tempo number (in E) with a chromatic guitar figure (II→IIdim→I) and a bumping rhythmic pattern flanked with vibraslap. Andy, singing as a tween at the outset of puberty, goes to his comic book hero (DC character Sgt. Rock) for advice on courting his first crush. Immersed in that comic world, he details the mission in cartoon war terms:

I’m enlisting, overseas aid
Need assisting, help with a maid
Get the expert, on mademoiselles
He could diffuse, any bombshell

On the bridge (in C), Andy sings of his desire to become the man he idolizes (“If I could only be tough like him”) in an airy, feminine tone — an indicator of lingering childlike traits. He imagines that, as a Rock-like man, he gets the girl (“win my own, small, battle of the sexes”). In the middle-eight, a CB radio-tone Andy (perhaps observing from a distance) reckons that the quest could be challenging (“Some girls can make themselves so cold; a no-mans land”).

Travels in Nihilon” (7:00) is a droning, percussive jam (in E) with a faint running–pausing bassline amid Chamber’s thrashing, pounding Tama drum layers. Andy, submerged in the stormy sonic currents, deadpans about the spoils of cynical youth and vain, greedy adults — all travelers in Nihilon (a realm that embodies nihilism).

Sessions took place at the Town House in June–July 1980 with Lillywhite, who produced Black Sea in succession with Melt and the debut albums by the Psychedelic Furs and U2, plus the singular albums by Sector 27 and The Brains. Padgham engineered Black Sea and Melt in sequence with Drama, the 1980 Yes album recorded with The Buggles. The Black Sea credits attribute “tape twirling” to soundmen Phil Vinall (Chas Jankel) and Nick Launay (Codek, Cuban Heels, Jane Kennaway, M).

Black Sea sports cover images by one Ralph Hall, who photographed the band (front and back) as Victorian divers amid prop wheels and painted nautical trappings. Original copies came in a sea green outer-bag. The inner-sleeve contains the lyrics in hand-written cursive.

“Generals and Majors” appeared five weeks in advance of the album as the lead single, backed with the hopping non-album cut “Don’t Lose Your Temper.” Virgin also pressed the single on 12″ with two additional songs, “Smokeless Zone” and “The Somnambulist.”

Don’t Lose Your Temper” is a brief, uptempo tune with a matted eight-note opening figure that triggers a two-chord chorus (B… E…) where Andy begs his girl not to ‘lose’ her temper in the literal (keep your temper) as opposed to figurative (calm down) sense. He laments the effects of her new job and linguaphone voice, then asks “whatever happened to my fighting, biting, lightning lioness?” The two-chord pattern modulates through multiple verses and bridges over a jitterbug beat.

Smokeless Zone” is a fast track with a three-note bassline (F… F→C… C→G…) filled with hyperactive drums, wheezing harmonica, and lyrics about Andy’s struggle to maintain a clean-air environment in a now-polluted London. On the verse (in C minor), he laments “Englands green, once so pleasant land,” and how the “whole damn place is going to turn to sand.”

The Somnambulist” is a slow, dark, lucid piece with a faint four-note synth bassline on a pulse rhythmic pattern. Andy, in perhaps his lowest register, sings two stanzas about a sleepwalking woman. They gradually overlay the track with a faint flute-tone synth melody and distant electro-spark sounds. “The Sombabulist” marks XTC’s single foray into the minimal wave style purveyed by Gary Numan, John Foxx, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The song appears with cuts by those acts and other contemporaries (Fad Gadget, Henry Badowski, Public Image Ltd., Thomas Leer) on the 1980 Virgin release Machines, a compilation of the new electronic music.

In the “Generals and Majors” video, XTC portray butlers in a mansion with four generals, one portrayed by Richard Branson, who Colin serves a gourmet gun.

In October, XTC lifted “Towers of London” as the second single, backed with a live version of “Set Myself on Fire.” In the “Towers of London” video, XTC mime the song at the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens and by the River Thames near Tower Bridge. The members, clad in black, are seen collectively and separately in angled zoom-ins and upshots.

In January 1981, XTC lifted “Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)” as the album’s third single, backed with the album tracks “Living Through Another Cuba” and “Generals and Majors.” XTC mimed “Sgt. Rock” on the 1/22 broadcast of TotP, which reaired their segment a fortnight later between songs by Dire Straits and Cliff Richard (“A Little in Love”). “Sgt. Rock” reached No. 16 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 20 in Ireland.

The final Black Sea a-side, “Respectable Street,” appeared in March 1981 with two non-album b-sides: “Officer Blue” and the Go 2 outake “Strange Tales, Strange Tails.”

Officer Blue” is a medium-uptempo number (in E♭) with a snaky guitar figure and a percolating rhythmic pattern. The lyrics concern a uniformed idol of Colin’s childhood. Dick Cuthell adds light flugelhorn over the song’s second half.

Strange Tales, Strange Tails” fades in with multi-channeled vocals and cuts to a twitching chorus on a clapped, hopping four-note bassline (DD.. AA..).

In the “Respectable Street” video, XTC mime the song as a formally attired chamber quartet while their neighbors, a punked out elderly couple, bang on the wall with noise complaints.

Black Sea reached No. 16 on the UK Albums Chart and peaked at No. 41 on the US Billboard 200. In Oceania, Black Sea reached the Australian Top 30 and went all the way to No. 1 on the New Zealand Albums Chart.


“Take This Town”

XTC submitted an Andy exclusive, “Take This Town,” for the soundtrack to Times Square, a 1980 American musical drama about two runaway hopefuls on the NYC punk scene. RSO issued the soundtrack: a double-album with tracks by The Cure, Gary Numan, Joe Jackson, Lou Reed, The Pretenders, Roxy Music, The Ruts, and Talking Heads (“Life During Wartime”).

“Take This Town” is a hopping uptempo number with a vocable intro (in B and F#) and lyrics about taking a creature captive, capped by a whistling refrain and the title line: a metaphor for over-enthusiasm. The vocable hook carries out the song with clipped, pinching guitar against the unrelenting beat.

In the UK, RSO placed “Take This Town” on a split-single with The Ruts’ “Babylon’s Burning.” The soundtrack was produced by veteran music mogul (and ex-Bee Gees manager) Robert Stigwood, who approached XTC after their show at the Ritz in New York City and declared them the “most exciting rock band since The Who.”


1981–82

In April 1981, XTC played triple-bills in San Francisco and Los Angeles with Hazel O’Connor and Wall of Voodoo. Hazel opened subsequent North East dates, including several with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. On the 7th, XTC played Chicago’s Park West Theatre, where attendee Todd Rundgren greeted the band backstage. XTC headed south with ex-Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland and his new band, The Millionares. On the 24th, XTC played the B&L Warehouse in Athens, Georgia, supported by unsigned newcomers R.E.M.

In mid-May, XTC headed home for an eleven-date UK tour with Zilch Records signees Last Touch. It wrapped at the Cardiff’s Top Rank with a June 2 show, which turned out to be XTC’s final UK concert performance.

In Canada, Virgin issued 5 Senses, a five-song compilation of recent non-album sides. It contains “Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down” and the recently excavated Go 2 leftover “Strange Tales, Strange Tails,” plus three b-sides from the Black Sea sessions: “Smokeless Zone,” “Officer Blue,” and “Don’t Lose Your Temper.”

Partridge produced and played percussion sticks on “Urges” (b/w “Leipzig),” the 1981 debut solo single by Thomas Dolby. Andy also plays guitar on two tracks (“The Weakness In Me,” “Eating the Bear”) on the 1982 A&M release Walk Under Ladders, the seventh studio album by Joan Armatrading.

On February 10, 1982, XTC played before cameras at the Markthalle in Hamburg for the German TV show Rockpalast. XTC then swung through Benelux for March 7–8 shows with French new wavers Taxi Girl. After touch-downs in Germany and Italy, XTC appeared in Lyon and then Paris, where Andy abandoned their 3/18 broadcast show at Le Palace. Exhausted, road weary, and fraught with stage fright, Partridge swore off live work. XTC became a studio-only band. To quell further live demand, XTC added lush textures to their new music that would best be appreciated on a home stereo system.

Meanwhile, Flexipop magazine issued a blue flexi-disc of the unreleased Go 2-era outtake “Looking for Footprints.”


English Settlement

XTC released their fifth album, English Settlement, on February 12, 1982, on Virgin. It’s a double-album with fifteen songs, including four by Moulding, who wrote the opening pair (“Runaways,” “Ball and Chain”) and half of side four (“Fly on the Wall,” “English Roundabout”).

Musically, English Settlement contains a more layered sound than prior releases with a newfound emphasis on polyrhythms and electric–acoustic contrasts.

Runaways” fades in with a churning, jangly guitar pattern (in G minor), joined by a slow, booming half-note beat. Colin enters with a rising vocable, followed by a phonological play on the title (“Oh run-a, oh run-a, oh runaways”), suffixed with a lucid response (“Please come home”). The lyrics concern a youth who’s fled a volatile home situation. Colin offers glimpses (“You caught mum chasing dad with a knife”) on an angular four-chord verse progression (Dm… F… Em… Am…). Later, a brittle piano break ushers the final stretch of the song, which fades into…

Ball and Chain” marches in with a choppy two-chord riff with a constant key (C… Gsus4… [C the fourth in G]). Colin leads a public outcry (“Save us from… the diggers and the tower cranes”) in a paradoxically chipper tone. Terry layers the piece with hopping, waving rhythmic elements as Colin warns of encroaching over-development in England’s once-quaint townships. The song’s flowing structure beaks for a synthesized fanfare refrain and a staccato guitar break, then modulates for a final go-round of the chorus and fading fanfare.

Senses Working Overtime” opens with a plucked acoustic figure (in A minor), joined by Andy’s pained vocals, marked by double expressions (“Hey, hey”) and elongated adverbs (“slooowly”). The lyrics — sung from the perspective of a small boy who’s just beginning to understand the five senses — takes in the positive (first stanza) and the negative (second stanza) without judgement. On the second stanza, he’s overlaid with rattling tambourine and low fretless bass. Terry kicks in on the strummed, swelling bridge, where the narrator views life as one big sporting event (“And all the world is football-shaped; it’s just for me to kick in space”). On the singalong chorus, the boy attempts to learn right from wrong (“Trying to taste the difference ‘tween a lemon and a lime”). The song has an extensive middle-eight where the boy — still confused amid the rush of rattling sounds (in A with dropped thirds) — perceives birds and bullies as equally “beautiful.” After the epic vocables of the song’s climax, they modulate for a final go-round of the bridge and chorus, ending with Andy’s becalmed refrain “the church bells softly chime.”

Jason and the Argonauts” opens with brisk plucked acoustic guitar (in G) with faint searing leads and cymbal spray amid Andy’s distant salvo (“There may be no golden fleece, but human riches I’ll release”). Like Jason and the Argonauts, he’s traveled the outer reaches and seen a world “filled with beasts,” such as two-timing heartbreakers and gold-digging maneaters. Andy plays tense, staccato notes (in F# and D, descending root note) amid the open-cadence, medium-uptempo rhythmic flow, which stretches and submerges lines like “the boys she thought were green.” Midway, the track spins on a circular bassline (in G) with phased guitar, drums, and lucid vocal fragments. The final passage layers on the intro and chorus in a dizzying whirlwind that slowly unravels to a fadeout.

No Thugs in Our House” starts with acoustic strum (in E) on a raw snare beat, joined by a syncopated electric figure and sonorous Andy vocals. The lyrics concern a mischievous boy from a straight-laced household who, to the shock of his parents, is wanted for hooliganism.

Yacht Dance” fades in with plucked acoustic guitar and shakers. Dave and Andy weave an interlocked progression around Colin’s traveling bassline (D→B→A→G… F… E…). Lyrically, Andy paints vivid imagery of floating adrift (“dance like tiny boats with cotton sails upon the tops of the seas”) as metaphors for passion.

All of a Sudden (It’s Too Late)” opens with a jangly descending figure (G… F#). It’s a medium-slow, somber number (in D) with faint, shimmery, acoustic-backed chords amid dark, sliding bass and sparse polyrhythms. Andy sings of disillusionment, poverty, and loss of faith in a person’s twilight years after a life of toil and sacrifice.

Melt the Guns” opens with a clipped electric figure (in F with accented fifths and sevenths), countered by a plucked acoustic pattern. Andy’s yelping vocables summon Terry’s booming half-note kickdrum and ticking percussion. The verse forms (in D) with fretboard filigree amid Colin’s sliding fretless bass. Andy sings about the media’s glorification of violence and weaponry and its effects on viewers, especially small boys. In the middle-eight, a phoned-in Andy takes aim at the USA, the perceived epicenter of gun culture:

In the land of the free and the home of the brave If we listen quietly we can hear them shooting from grave to grave

Leisure” is a mid-tempo romp with a chromatic chordal-bass pattern on a (vaguely music-hall) 2/4 rhythmic roll. Andy, as a trained worker, laments his inability to “shirk” (idle away) correctly. The lyrics concern technology’s encroachment on the workforce.

It’s Nearly Africa” is a polyrhythmic number in the West African highlife idiom with the chanted refrain “Shake your bag o’bones.” In the mostly harmonized song, XTC advise Westerners to drop their expansionist efforts (and consequent warmongering) and embrace the primitive rituals of sub-Saharan life.

Knuckle Down” marches in with a hammered guitar figure (in D). The chorus has two piercing guitar notes (V and III in F) on a tumbling quarter-note beat. Andy encourages people to love each other’s skin, regardless of color, and warns that “the world might end with a big bang.” He also urges listeners to embrace love and not wait until “the coin drops” (a British idiom that refers to belated understanding).

Fly on the Wall” bursts in with uptempo chordal vibrations (in D). On the buzzing, tremolo-laden chorus (C… Gmaj7… D…), the wall fly (Colin, in a distorted tone) sings of peeking inside bottom drawers and witnessing family dirt behind closed doors.

Down in the Cockpit” has a jittery uptempo intro (in B) and a vocable prelude to the verse (in F# and E) with faint ska-tinged chords and roaming basslines on a slick beat. The lyrics address gender roles in children’s book terms. On the bridge (in C), Andy offers his impression of male–female dynamics since the Industrial Revolution. The chorus (in B) resolves on the notion that behind every great man there’s a great woman. He follows with a quipping refrain (“Queen wants the castle, back from the rascal”).

English Roundabout” winds in with an uptempo reggae-ska arrangement (choppy chords, cross-stick drumming) built on a four-chord progression (F… C… E♭… B♭…) in 5/4 time (3+2). Colin bemoans the noise, congestion, and impersonal nature of England’s rush hour. The song fades out with a clean, legato guitar passage on a darting, chromatic bassline. Sparkling sounds appear and fade into…

Snowman” fades in with an upward sigh and an undetermined set of syllables (the Latin phrase Dumaladipa amadui?). The song has a teetering rhythmic structure with sliding fretless bass, sleigh bell chimes, and booming quarter beats against a faint, ringing guitar pattern. Andy uses the snowman metaphor for his predicament as a kept man suspended in time (“Seems like I’ve been here years and years and years and years”) by a possessive yet aloof female.

Sessions took place in October–November 1981 at the Manor, where Padgham served as the primary soundman, having recently earned his first production credits with Phil Collins and The Police (Ghost In the Machine). He produced English Settlement in advance of 1982 titles by The Call and Split Enz (Time and Tide). The assistant engineer, Manor tape-op Howard Gray, also worked on 1981–82 titles by April Wine (The Nature of the Beast), Cliff Richard, Fischer-Z, Judie Tzuke, Kate Bush (The Dreaming), Midnight Oil (10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1), Nazareth, OMD, and UB40.

Partridge plays an array of instruments on English Settlement, including alto saxophone and the angklung (an Indonesian tubed percussion), in addition to various guitars (electric, acoustic, 12-string, semi-acoustic). He handles the Prophet V synthesizer alongside Gregory, whose arsenal includes 6- and 12-string (acoustic and fuzz-boxed electric) and nylon-string Spanish guitar, plus piano. Moulding handles piano and bass (fretless and Fender). All three play percussion and the mini-Korg synthesizer.

English Settlement is housed in a textured, dark green single sleeve with white, engraved text and illustration; designed by the Art Dragon firm under the direction of Ken Ansell, who designed contemporary covers for BEF, Gillan, The Human League (Dare), and Men Without Hats (Rhythm of Youth).

English Settlement shows the name and title engraved in a customized true type font with a cross T and eye-circling C. The equine outline is based on an aerial view of the Uffington White Horse, a Bronze Age chalk trench on the slopes of White Horse Hill in Uffington, Oxfordshire. 

The LP labels reflect the color and font schemes with each side marked with giant numbers. The inner-sleeves contain the lyrics (as paragraphs) on rusty paper with group and member pics by Allan Ballard, whose photography also appears on 1982 sleeves by Adam Ant, Fun Boy Three, Japan, and Motörhead.

In January 1982, “Senses Working Overtime” appeared as the advance single, backed with the non-album cuts “Blame the Weather” and “Tissue Tigers (The Arguers).” Original copies have a four-fold sleeve with inner-leaf pictures of fruit, fish and parrots, plus lyrics to the two b-sides. The single also appeared on 12″ with a fourth song, “Egyptian Solution (Thebes in a Box),” part 5 in the Homo Safari series.

Blame the Weather” (Moulding) opens with a five-note piano motif (in A minor) and proceeds through skip-hop verses of bass, piano, and vocals (in D minor). Colin chides a friend who blames the weather for the losses that were never possessions in the first place. The song has a teetering two-chord chorus (B♭… C…) and stately music hall middle-eight (in G). It fades on a slowed, descending repetition of the opening motif.

Tissue Tigers (The Arguers)” appears with a bass-punctuated vocable (in D) that cuts to a poly-chordal descent (B♭ with falling root note). The song is medium-uptempo with polyrhythms and faint, snaky guitar lines. Andy calls the bluff on a female who’s taunts are “all hot air.” (The title is a variation of the term paper tiger: a person who seems dangerous and powerful in print but is weak and feckless in real life. In this context, a “tissue tiger” — which also references tears — is even weaker than a paper tiger.)

Egyptian Solution (Thebes in a Box)” is an uptempo instrumental (in A) with a Clavinet synth figure and syncopated beat-box pattern, overlaid with piping keys, trebly bass notes and clipped guitar parts.

“Senses Working Overtime” reached No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart, No. 12 in Australia, and No. 15 in Ireland. In the video, XTC mime (in real and slow motion) on a soundstage with a wall sketch of the Uffington White Horse (also seen on Chambers’ kickdrum).

In mid-March, XTC lifted “Ball and Chain” as the second single, backed with the Partridge exclusives “Punch and Judy” and “Heaven is Paved With Broken Glass.”

Punch and Judy” is an uptempo tune (in B) with a hopping beat and clean guitar licks amid choppy chords and scaling bass. Andy applies the name of a Renaissance puppet show to the subjects of a shotgun wedding. Judy — overweight, saddled, and miserable at 19 — walks out on Punch, who seeks revenge.

Heaven is Paved With Broken Glass” fades in with a backward tremolo sound (in E) and a faint synth line (whistle tone), then tightens on a chordal strum (in F#) that triggers the poly-rhythmic verses. Andy contrasts his prior state of love (heaven) with his current feelings of heartbreak (broken glass).

In the “Ball and Chain” video, Colin writhes in a padded cell and toils with Dave and Terry at a wrecking site, where Andy appears as Magritte’s Man in a Bowler Hat with a briefcase of rats.

XTC also made a video for the deep cut “All of Sudden (It’s Too Late),” where they mime in formal attire in a dark room lit by silhouette-casting outside light. The video changes from saturated monochrome to soft-focus color and pans constantly with frequent zoom-ins on Andy’s impassioned expressions.

The third and final English Settlement a-side, “No Thugs In Our House,” appeared as a May maxi-single with the short ambient drone “Over Rusty Water” and the two cuts from the Drums and Wires bonus single, “Chain of Command” and “Limelight.” XTC performed “No Thugs In Our House” and “Yacht Dance” on the Feb. 11, 1982, broadcast of The Old Grey Whistle Test.

English Settlement reached No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart and peaked in the Top 15 in Australia and Canada. The album reached No. 48 on the Billboard 200 in the US, where the clip for “Senses Working Overtime” went into medium rotation on the fledgling music cable channel MTV.

“Senses Working Overtime” and “Ball and Chain” are chronologically the final two songs on Waxworks: Some Singles 1977-1982, a compilation of XTC a-sides released in November 1982 on Virgin. Its companion, Beeswax: Some B-Sides 1977-1982, contains the four b-sides of those two recent singles and nine earlier non-album tracks, including “Pulsing Pulsing,” “The Somnambulist,” and the Andrews-era rarities “Hang On to the Night,” “Instant Tunes,” and “Heatwave.”


1983–84

For their sixth studio album, XTC teamed with producer Steve Nye, who worked on seventies albums by Be-Bop Deluxe (Axe Victim), Bryan Ferry, Judie Tzuke (Welcome to the Cruise), Krazy Kat, Nektar (Recycled) Quantum Jump (self-titled), and Roxy Music (Country Life). Recently, he worked on titles by Murray Head and the Japanese artists Akiko Yano, Masami Tsuchiya, and Yukihiro Takahashi. XTC enlisted Nye on the strength of Tin Drum, the 1981 fifth and final album by Japan (the band).

The initial sessions marked the final involvement of Terry Chambers, who objected to XTC’s retirement from touring and the subdued nature of their new material. He moved to Australia and surfaced the following year in Dragon, a perennial Kiwi rock act that scored a comeback with their 1984 album Body and the Beat. XTC continued as a trio and hired sessionist Pete Phipps, a onetime drummer of the Glitter Band who recently played in Random Hold.

The album was slated for an early 1983 release under the working title Fruits Fallen From God’s Garden, but Virgin vetoed the initial tracklist and paired the band with Bob Sargeant, a onetime member of Tyneside mods the Junco Partners who, in recent years, produced sides by The Beat, Haircut One Hundred, Headline, The Monochrome Set, pragVEC, and The Transmitters. The Sargeant sessions yielded an advance single.

In the gap between the album’s projected and actual release date, Partridge produced The Naked Shakespeare, the debut solo album by onetime Slapp Happy guitarist and singer Peter Blegvad. This was Blegvad’s first major undertaking since Kew. Rhone., his 1977 collaborative effort with ex-Henry Cow bassist John Greaves. (That partnership was one of several by-products of the 1975 Cow–Slapp Happy merger, which also spawned the Art Bears).

Partridge plays assorted instruments on The Naked Shakespeare, including Prophet synthesizer (“Weird Monkeys,” “First Blow Struck”), Mellotron (“Powers In the Air”), and guitar (“Lonely Too,” “Karen”). He plays Linn drums on the folk ballad “Blue Eyed William,” which features vocals by ex-Cado Belle frontwoman Maggie Reilly, who sings on Mike Oldfield‘s 1982–83 albums Five Miles Out and Crises, including the hits “Family Man” and “Moonlight Shadow.”

The Naked Shakespeare was engineered by David Lord, a soundman on recent work by Gabriel, Peter Hammill, Glaxo Babies, Europeans, and Stackridge-spinoff The Korgis. Lord produced XTC under their holiday guise Three Wise Men on the December 1983 single “Thanks for Christmas,” a folksie Yuletide number with strummed acoustic guitar and sparkling glockenspiel. The b-side, “Countdown to Christmas Party Time,” has a contemporary dance-pop arrangement with electronic drums and synth bass. Both sides are credited to Balthazar–Kaspar–Melchior (pseudonyms for XTC). Partridge bonded musically with Lord, who produced the subsequent XTC album at his Bath facility Crescent Studios.


Mummer

XTC released their sixth album, Mummer, on August 30, 1983, on Virgin. It contains ten songs, including three Colin numbers: “Wonderland,” “Deliver Us from the Elements,” and “In Loving Memory of a Name.”

Beating of Hearts” opens with syncopated toms amid deep bass (in E) flanked with zither (?) and a rapidfire rising–falling guitar cadenza — a structure retained with added touches (Spanish guitar, accordion) through three cycles of verse, bridge, and chorus. Lyrically, the song invokes the love conquers all principle. Andy bellows the hookline (“Have you heard the loudest sound?”) and names a litany of evils that the sound overpowers (“Louder than tanks on the highway… bombs in flight… thoughts of dictators… rattling swords… screaming warlords”). He elucidates the message in the following stanza:

For a heart without love is a song with no words
And a tune to which no one is listening
So your heart must give love and you’ll find that you shine
Like the rain on the leaves, you’ll be glistening

Wonderland” fades in with bird sounds; joined by a slow, glowing three-note melody (in B♭) on the Prophet-5 synthesizer on a slippery synth-bass pattern. The chorus has light bubbly sounds and harmonies on a three-key ascent (F#… A♭… C#). Colin takes aim at hobnobs of the lower gentry (“No dark horse like me can cramp all of your style”) and offers a warning to such people (“One day, you will break out of your spell… and I’ll say Welcome to reality”).

Love on a Farmboy’s Wages” is a medium-slow, fingerpicked acoustic tune (in E) with matted percussion and elongated vowels. Things swell on the chorus with twin-guitar strum, tambourine, and intensified vocals. Andy, as a poor young farmer, vows to his girl to save his earnings (shilling-by-shilling) for their upcoming marriage.

Great Fire” ignites with rattling metal and a five-note guitar riff in 3/4 (Am [with drop sevenths]… F), joined by a teetering drum pattern. Things tighten on the strummed, upbeat 4/4 bridge (in B♭), followed by a marching string-struck chorus and slithery cello refrain. A smitten Andy (“Your glance, a match on the tinder wood”) uses metaphors of a burning animal ark to convey his heated passion. The song fades out with shimmering echo.

Deliver Us from the Elements” starts with a didgeridoo drone (in E), joined by a Leslied guitar figure and mid-paced tribal drum pattern. On the chorus, each cry to the Lord preceeds a wash of choral Mellotron. Colin acknowledges life’s dependence on rain and sun and wonders what would be if the vital elements ceased to exist. Later, he argues that man’s newfound knowledge of nature has caused a greater sense of Earth’s helplessness. Assorted layers (tunneled winds, ghostly shrieks) envelope the final moments.

Human Alchemy” is a medium-slow number (in B) with faint reggae chords and injections of choral Mellotron on a sparse, booming drum pattern. (The rhythm and sparseness resembles the Tin Drum track “Sons of Pioneers.”) Andy, in an understated yet emotive tone, assails the Atlantic slave trade of European colonialists:

We stole them from their
Freedom to be sold
To turn their skins of black
Into the skins of brightest gold

He refers to this process (“We stoked the fires of trade with human coals”) as a “human alchemy.” In a stark metaphor, he states “Blood, the color of the rain that grew our wicked harvest.”

Ladybird” opens with strummed acoustic open chords (in A), soft standup bass, and an eighth-note piano key overlaid with brush drums — a pattern carried through the chorus (in F#) and refrain (Em). Andy talks about his seasonal communication with a ladybird.

In Loving Memory of a Name” starts with an organ fanfare that rolls into a twin-acoustic filigree pattern (in A) with stately sixteenth-note piano and a wavy polyrhythmic pattern. Colin mimics the twelve-note guitar melody with his vocals as he pays tribute to the “heroes and rogues” who sacrificed themselves for the country. He swells (to Cmaj7) on the line “England can never repay you; you gave your life to be buried alongside the place you loved.”

Me and the Wind” cuts in with a jittery 6/8 piano line (II in E) amid faint, sliding bass and tribal toms — a pattern that holds through the verse (in F) and breaks to a flowing open-cadence on the bridge (in B♭). Andy uses the seasonal life of a bird to describe a love affair (“Your tune of spring had me whirling like a mad march”) and invokes the plight of prey for the love gone sour (“The strings of your instrument were strangling me inside their snare”). Though he’s now happy to be “freed from a love more like murder,” he also feels empty (“like a ship with no rudder”).

Funk Pop a Roll” starts with a jangly figure that cuts to a medium-uptempo, two-chord riff (G… A…) with howling vocables and picked, silvery leads. Andy likens manufactured pop music to junk food with comparable health effects on the soul.

Sessions first took place in September 1982 at Genetic Studios, a Pangbourne facility owned by Martin Rushent. XTC completed three tracks with Chambers: “Beating of Hearts,” “Wonderland,” and the (eventual b-side) “Toys.” He left the band in October during rehearsals for “Love on a Farmboy’s Wages,” which XTC cut with Phipps at the Manor, where Nye produced eleven further tracks during a round of November–December sessions.

Mummer sports cover photography by Gavin Cochrane, who captured XTC as shadows on wrinkled, lime-lighted paper. Cochrane’s photography also appears on early eighties sleeves by Nash the Slash, The Pretenders, Stray Cats, and The Who. XTC titled the album after ‘Mummers’ plays’, an English folk tradition of amateur costumed street troupes who typically enact Medieval sword battles. On the album’s inner-sleeve, XTC are pictured in ragtag Mummer costumes (paperboard head-pieces, news-cut armor, toy swords) amid the wrinkled paper. The lyrics appear on the flipside as cutup newsprint columns.

“Great Fire” first appeared in April 1983 as an advance single, backed with the Partridge exclusive “Gold.” Sargeant produced both tracks weeks earlier at Odyssey Studios in London. The single also appeared on 12″ with two exclusive instrumentals: the lucid, glimmering soundscape “Frost Circus” and the wobbly steam-and-siren duel “Procession Towards Learning Land,” respectively parts 5 and 6 in the Homo Safari series.

Gold” has a brassy fanfare intro (in C#) set to a Motown beat, which drives the ensuing verse; followed by a sprinting bridge (in A) and a singalong chorus (in D). Andy reckons that a troubled individual who’s crippled with vanity (“dropping mirrors”) and age (“grey and drear”) won’t be saved by Eldorado or “snarling dragons” from regret (“skeletons in closet”) or fear (“pebbles in your shoes”). However, this person can still cling to riches in the twilight of life (“for the setting sun will color everything around you, gold”).

“Wonderland” arrived in June as a second taster of the upcoming album, backed with Andy’s “Jump.” The single appeared as both a standard record in a picture sleeve and as a picture disc with a replication of the sleeve image.

Jump” has a plucked acoustic pattern (in F) with a two-note figure (II→I) on a rising root-note bassline with cross-stick drums. Andy urges a love-shy woman to conquer her fears and take the dive. On the driving bridge, he states “While you’re waiting, time is grinning.”

The “Wonderland” video opens at a ballroom dance where Colin’s partner flees, sheds her gown, and reappears in a garden as a young girl, who cartwheels her way to a maze where Andy and Dave paint white flowers red. She eventually takes an Orphelia dive; the fading shot shows her floating upside.

One month after Mummer hit shelves, XTC lifted “Love on a Farmboy’s Wages” as the third single in a double-7″ with “In Loving Memory of a Name” and two non-album c- and d-sides: “Desert Island” and “Toys.” The double-single appeared in a gatefold sleeve designed to resemble a leather wallet.

Desert Island” opens with plucked acoustic guitar and vocalise. The tune unfolds with sparse layers — acoustic–Spanish filigree, accordion, matted toms — at a medium-uptempo pace through multiple key centers (D… F7…. Em…). Andy envisions an abandoned UK (“a desert island with Great Britain written on its name plate”) where “birds from Heathrow fill the night with people flying to escape.”

Toys” starts with winding toy sounds, which trigger a mid-tempo, closed-cadence verse (in B) with harmonica, acoustic guitar, and jittery piano — an arrangement retained on the harmonized chorus (in F#). Andy laments how innocent toys of the past are “are pushed down a ramp… [melted] down in a dolly concentration camp.” He sees the toy games that children play (i.e. GI Joe war games) as practice for what they’ll do as adults (“If toys are quarreling amongst themselves, what hope is there now for the world?”) In the first verse, where Cindy moves on from her Barbie dolls, he imagines that Ken will go “back to Gay Bob” (a doll manufactured in 1977 by Gizmo Development as the world’s first openly gay doll). Andy also jokes about the “action man” figure with the “commanding voice” who’s sexually “not all there” (a referance to how dolls and figures were not anatomically correct).

An outtake from the Mummer sessions, Moulding’s “The World is Full of Angry Young Men,” later appeared as a 1990 b-side. It’s a medium-slow jazz-pop number in a roaming key center with drizzling cymbals, refined piano, and crooned lyrics about maturity. Colin talks about the ideals and rage of his youth and how his attitudes and expectations have evolved with age and wisdom:

The world is full of angry young men
W
ho think life owes them something
But you only get out what goes in


The Big Express

XTC released their seventh album, The Big Express, on October 15, 1984, on Virgin. It contains eleven songs. Colin wrote the opener, “Wake Up,” and the penultimate track “I Remember the Sun.” Musically, the album weds their recent sophistication with the ornamental complexity of Drums and Wires and (on select tracks) the loudness of Black Sea.

Wake Up” (4:41) opens with slashing G chords on the left (open third) and right (open fifth) channel. They (Andy and Dave) are joined by a stop-start syncopated bass–piano pattern on a clicking beat. Colin sings in the seventh note of G (F). The lyrics concern a working stiff whose submission to the daily grind and routine commutes has desensitized him to music and the suffering of bystanders. Session singer Annie Huchrak performs the faint, echoing “wake up” repetition on the ascending refrain: a sparse open-cadence passage with backward drum beats. Just past the mid-point (2:45), the song turns instrumental with a medium-slow ascent (F…. G…. Am…) overlaid with polyrhythmic drums, tinkling piano, and a recurrent glockenspiel motif; all gradually swallowed by choral vocalise.

All You Pretty Girls” opens with a vocal salvo on choral Mellotron (B… E… F#…). Andy, as a naval captain at sea, asks his crew to write a note for all the quayside girls (should he perish). The chorus has a marching sing-song theme, carried midway with a whistling hook. He devotes the teetering martial verses (in B♭) to one special woman, with whom he envisions “rocking in a similar motion.” (Thematically, this song invokes seventies vaudevillian popsters Sailor.)

Shake You Donkey Up” has an uptempo twangy guitar lick (in A) with a syncopated rhythmic pattern and hillbilly vocals. Midway, a slithering fiddle solo cuts to a percussive whirlwind (in F), that heralds the final round of rattling, whip-cracking verses. The donkey in question is possibly a man who’s taken a submissive role in his relationship.

Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her” opens with staccato Mellotron chords (in octave F’s) on a tumbling rhythmic pattern, overlaid with thematic vocalise. The song assumes a jaunty 2/4 music-hall feel. Andy walks the beach with his new romantic interest (“inches close but out of reach”). The waves embody his uncertainty (“the sea is warship grey, it whispers “Fool!” then slides away”); the seagulls are his good luck charm (“screaming kiss her, kiss her”).

This World Over” is a medium-uptempo number with smooth, synthesized chordal sustain on a slick, pulsing rhythmic pattern; overlaid with ska-tinged guitar and crooning vocals. Andy, singing on the brink of World War III, asks an English refugee if she’ll one day tell her newborn twins about London as it was before its (impending) nuclear annihilation.

The Everyday Story of Smalltown” opens with a kazoo melody on hyperactive snare (in A and D) and turns to a jaunty, marching music-hall chorus (in G), capped with a brassy vocable refrain (in D). The verses (in F) rattle with tumbling 2/4 precision, followed by a martial modulating bridge. Andy sings as an old Oxo- (beef stock) drinking teacher — who’s raised several generations of townsfolk — who observes the locals (milkmen, clock makers, lovers, flirty Mrs Progress) and the town rituals (Sally Army marching bands).

I Bought Myself a Liarbird” opens with a piercing plucked down-slide (to E). The chorus features picked guitar against a sparse polyrhythmic pattern. The bridge, by contrast, has a flowing descent (from B) with an airy synthesized backdrop. The liarbird in question is XTC’s manager, who Andy characterizes as “greedy” with the caveat that “liarbirds are really flightless on their own.” (“Liarbird” is a pun on lyrebird, a ground-dwelling Australian bird).

Reign of Blows” has a dirgy two-chord riff (in F#) on a pounding mid-tempo beat, overlaid with harmonica and garbled vocals. The bridge has a chromatic chordal descent (from B with released fourths). Andy rails against militarism (“too many men dressed up as soldiers”) and war-mongering superpowers (“Joe Stalin looks just like Uncle Sam”) and also warns against violent revolutionary movements (“violence is only a vote for the black Queen to take back the throne”).

You’re the Wish You Are I Had” opens with a driving bassline (in B) that cuts to a windy verse with pounding snare, wiggling upward bass, fleeting piano, and wavering airy vocals (in B with dominant fifths), followed by an exuberant chorus (descending from E) with stately music-hall piano. An overjoyed Andy meets the girl of his dreams and double-emphasizes (“you are”) that she’s everything he envisioned. However, he’s yet to learn whether she’s a woman of pleasure (“eat an apple” — Eve ate the apple) who’ll be satisfied in her needs (“drink a cup” — my cup runneth over) with him.

I Remember the Sun” opens with misty ride cymbals, overlaid with (the verse arrangement of) slippy standup bass, slow teetering drums, drizzling piano, searing drone (in E), and a fleeting, fractious guitar line. The carefree verses cut to a marching bridge (in F#) and a winding harmonized chorus (in B). Colin reminisces about his school days and how, despite the pratfalls — unfulfilled grandeur (“enormous super powers”), intoxication (“Screwed up by a fireball”), reckless driving (“Tarmac on the road is soft, chaff burns in a smokewall”), and injuries (“Burning scars soon disappear”) — he most of all remembers the sun. His lilting high register on the middle-eight (in C) cuts to a modulated barren chorus (in E♭) with sparkling ivory.

Train Running Low on Soul Coal” (5:09) opens with steam vents and chugging traction noise that signals (at :30) a churning 12-string chordal strum (in E with an open sixth), which proceeds through the verses amid pounding root-note downbeats and gasping, distant vocals. Andy sings from the point of view of a thirty-year-old train with a lagging engine. He references the Sprinter, a then-new British Rail diesel train that would be replaced itself after thirty years. He livens up on the bridge (“think I’m going south for the winter”) amid the chordal sustain that heralds the chorus: a jangly pattern (in E with descending root notes) with bleak lyrics (“I’m going mad in this hinterland, between young and old, I’m a thirty year old puppy doing what I’m told”) sung with paradoxical bouyance. Midway, he drops fractious chordal shards amid the sheet-metal percussion of the churning strum (three overdubbed 12-strings). In the final minute, the song discombobulates to a gasping, slow fadeout.

Sessions took place between March and July 1984 at Odyssey and Crescent, where XTC co-produced The Big Express with Lord, who worked on the album in succession with titles by Barbara Dickson, Glass Moon, The Icicle Works (self-titled), and French singer Enzo Enzo. The engineer on Big Express, Glenn Tommey, worked beforehand with Lord on The Korgis and produced 1980–81 titles by Art Objects and Graduate, a mod-ska combo with future members of Tears for Fears.

Eight tracks (“All You Pretty Girls,” “Shake You Donkey Up,” and all of side two) were mixed by musician–soundman Phil Thornalley, an engineer on albums by The Jam (All Mod Cons), The Psychedelic Furs (Talk Talk Talk), Classix Nouveaux, and Thompson Twins. He recently played bass in The Cure (standup on “The Lovecats”) and appears in the video of their 1984 UK hit “The Caterpillar.”

Phipps continues his auxiliary role on The Big Express, which also features guest violinist Stuart Gordon, a former member of Korgis and Shortwaveband who played on multiple Lord-engineered albums, including Hammill’s 1983 release Patience. “Seagulls” features euphonium by Steve Saunders, a trombonist on records by Curved Air (Phantasmagoria), James Wells, Jasper Van’t Hof, Eastbound Expressway, and Michael Nyman.

Original copies of The Big Express are housed in a die-cut circular cover with the image of a locomotive wheel. The design — inspired by the 1968 Small Faces album Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, which also sported a round cover — was suggested by Partridge and created by Ansell’s Design Clinic. The back cover shows a rusty, riveted train surface with varnished etches of three creatures (two elephants and a seahorse) that represent the members of XTC. On the inner-sleeve, XTC pose as engine crew inside the Lode Star, a 1907 steam train stored at the Great Western Museum in Swindon. Andy and Colin both sport crew caps with the initials of the Great Western Railway (GWR).

Six weeks ahead of the album, “All You Pretty Girls” appeared as the lead-off single, backed with the Colin exclusive “Washaway.” Original copies came in a double sleeve with the breast of a sailor’s uniform (outer) die-cut to his chest (inner), which sports a mermaid tattoo. The single also appeared on 12″ with a third track, “Red Brick Dream.”

Washaway” has a rising, jaunty piano motif (in F and C) on a medium-uptempo snare beat. Colin laments a depression scenario with deserted streets and meals of boiled cabbage; where even Mr Softee with his “thousand Yorkshire puddings couldn’t make his business boom.” He flinches amid the chromatic dips of the bridge (“With loose change in their pouches they couldn’t spend it if they tried”). As the track unfolds, they layer the verses with hyperactive toms and a spiking six-note guitar figure.

Red Brick Dream” has a sparse arrangement and phased, foggy vibe with drawn vocals, faint mid-paced acoustic strum (in E with a dominant fifth), and distant hammered metal sounds. Andy sings of the men who built Swindon’s rail system: “a set of chains” for the “horses of the gods” (iron horse is a 19th century term for steam locomotive). He mentions the locomotive classes Castles and Kings and the North Star, both built at Swindon Works (1843–1986), the principal West England maintenance centre for the Great Western Railway.

In the video to “All You Pretty Girls,” XTC mime in 19th century formal garb while Andy lipsyncs from a clam shell and enacts the song in a cutout boat on a Victorian play stage (with hand-operated waves). A royal marching band reappears throughout the clip.

In late October, XTC lifted “This World Over” as the second single, backed with Andy’s “Blue Overall.” The picture sleeve shows a barren stretch of dirt, dead grass, and sparse overgrowth — identified as post-nuclear London.

Blue Overall” starts as a mid-paced dirge that settles with a sludgy guitar figure (in E), accompanied by wailing vocals and thudding drums. Andy gives the title two meanings (neither involving blue overalls): the setting (“Over all the rooftops, blue birds fly apart”) and his emotional state (“the bones that cage this stupid heart”). He laments a woman who he thought loved him but “only rubber gloved” him.

In January 1985, “Wake Up” appeared as the third Big Express single, backed with the Time’s Square obscurity “Take This Town” and the instrumental “Mantis On Parole,” part 4 (chronologically out of sequence) in the Homo Safari series. It’s a medium-uptempo track with churning ride cymbal, overlaid with trebly bass lines, discorded guitar parts, and droning buzz sounds.

The Big Express reached the UK Top 40 and charted on the Kent Music Report and the Billboard 200. Later CD issues of the album include the three vocal b-sides as bonus tracks.


1985–86

In 1985, Partridge produced “The Miracle of the Age,” the first major label a-side by Doctor & the Medics.

Dave Gregory plays on four songs — “Heaven Help Us (Try),” “Kelvin Grove,” “Red Hot (Internationally!),” and “This Lamp” — on the 1985 Polydor release Call and Response, the debut solo album by Scottish-based Zimbabwean musician Zeke Manyika, the former drummer of Glaswegian popsters Orange Juice.

After The Big Express, XTC found themselves in debt due to the financial mishandling of their estranged manager, Ian Reid. With their career in limbo, Partridge suggested they masquerade under a different name for an EP of low-budget psychedelic songs. In light of the record’s popularity, Virgin paired XTC with musician–producer Todd Rundgren.


The Dukes of Stratosphear – 25 O’Clock

On April 1, 1985, the 25 O’Clock EP appeared on Virgin. It contains six songs, rumored at the time to be long-lost recordings from a late-sixties psychedelic band called the Dukes of Stratosphear.

25 O’Clock” opens in a haze of ticking alarm and bell clocks. A crisp, ascending three-note bassline heralds the sprinting, tremelo-laden verses (in A minor). Andy resolves to take the object of his desire “’til the end of time.” By smashing clocks, the new day never arrives and he holds her captive in this unending 25th hour. He sings the verses in a ghostly tone and swells to madness on the chorus. Midway, Dave plays an icy Farfisa organ solo over Colin’s bass ostinato.

Bike Ride to the Moon” lifts in a swirl of sparkling piano, sprinting bass (in F), and cymbal drizzle. The exhuberant chorus (in A♭) lifts a semi-tone (to A) for each chorus line. Andy intends to collect “magic moon dust that’ll stop the rain.”

My Love Explodes” A jubilant Andy declares his feelings (“My love explodes in diamonds and pearls for you”) with a promise (“Catch a rainbow and I’ll be along singing coloured songs”).

What in the World??…” Colin fortells 21st century predicaments (“2033, cannabis in tea… 2034, men… scrubbing floors”)

Your Gold Dress” is a mid-tempo number with a buzzing fuzztone riff (in G) reminiscent of the Count Five (“Psychotic Reaction”) and the Balloon Farm (“A Question of Temperature”). Andy, in a lucid tone, sings of a lady whose gold dress lifts her “high above the ground… shaming the stars, a thousand melting Dali guitars.” A windy swirl of phasing lifts the tune six keys (to C#) for the bouyant, piano-tinkling chorus.

The Mole from the Ministry” Andy sings as the title character: a mystery spirit that makes “flowers walk from place to place” and “objects vanish without trace.”

25 O’Clock reunited XTC with John Leckie, who produced recent titles by The Fall, Felt, Gene Loves Jezebel, and The Woodentops. He co-produced 25 O’Clock under the pseudonym Swami Anand Nagara.

For this project, the members of XTC adopted pseudonyms: Sir John Johns (Partridge), The Red Curtain (Moulding), Lord Cornelius Plum (Gregory), plus a fourth member: drummer E.I.E.I. Owen (Daves brother Ian “Eewee” Gregory).

Partridge designed the EP’s cover art on his kitchen table with colored pens and xeroxed Victorian letters and illustrations. According to the credits, 25 O’Clock sports artwork by the Technicolor Prophet of Mars and typography by the Serif of Knotting ‘Em.

“The Mole from the Ministry” also appeared on 7″ (b/w “My Love Explodes”). XTC initially denied any involvement in 25 O’Clock, which became their biggest UK seller since English Settlement.

↓↓UNDER CONSTRUCTION↓↓


Skylarking

XTC released their eighth album, Skylarking, on October 27, 1986, on Virgin. It was produced and engineered by musician–soundman Todd Rundgren, who chose the track sequence and handled the album’s musical arrangements.

Summer’s Cauldron” Andy uses the cauldron as a metaphor for the rapturous heat and atmosphere of summer. He wants to drown “under mats of flower lava… breathing in the boiling butter.”

Grass” Colin recalls child’s play on Seven Fields Park in Swindon. However, his whimsical lines (“We’ll take a tumble excuse for a fumble”) and ambiguous phrasing have led some listeners to interpret this as a cannabis ballad.

“The Meeting Place”

“That’s Really Super, Supergirl”

“Ballet for a Rainy Day”

“1000 Umbrellas” Gregory arranged the strings

“Season Cycle”

“Earn Enough for Us”

“Big Day”

“Another Satellite”

“Mermaid Smiled”

“The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul”

“Dying”

“Sacrificial Bonfire”

XTC teamed with Rundgren at the insistence of Gregory, an avid fan since the American music-maker’s 1978 album Hermit of Mink Hollow. Partridge warmed on the basis of Rundgren’s production of the 1973 debut album by the New York Dolls. (An earlier Todd production, the 1971 album Halfnelson by Sparks, originated quirky proto-zolo sounds that feature prominently on XTC’s first three albums.) Rundgren had followed XTC since Black Sea and offered favorable terms and accomadations for the project.

Sessions took place between April and June 1986 at Utopia Sound Studios, Rundgren’s personal facility in Woodstock, NY. He produced Skylarking after disbanding Utopia, his band of twelve years that issued ten albums between 1974 and 1985. His 1985 solo album, A Cappella, would be his last release of new music for four years. After Skylarking, he produced 1987–88 albums by Bourgeois Tagg and the Pursuit of Happiness. Bearsville’s George Cowan served as an assistant engineer on Skylarking ahead of sound-work on 1987 albums by Cher, Marianne Faithfull, Pretty Maids, and Suzanne Vega.

Skylarking features auxiliary musicianship by percussionist Mingo Lewis (ex-Return to Forever) and drummer Prairie Prince of the recently disbanded Tubes, a two-time Rundgren client who are thanked in the credits for loaning their amplifiers. Prince overdubbed his parts at Sound Hole Studios in San Francisco. In addition to his role as the album’s overseer, Skylarking features Rundgren on melodica (“Summer’s Cauldron”) and synthesizer (“Grass,” “That’s Really Super, Supergirl”). He’s also credited with computer programming and “continuity concept” (the track-to-track flow of the song selection).

Gregory plays the Chamberlin (a proto-Mellotron electro-mechanical keyboard) and the tiple (a 12-string chordophone) on select passages. The ‘Beech Avenue Boys,’ credited with backing vocals, are XTC under another pseudonym (picked as an ode to the Beach Boys, whose Pet Sounds influenced Skylarking). The credits jokingly thank the Dukes of Stratosphear, “who loaned us their guitars.”

Design Clinic’s Dave Dragon illustrated the Skylarking cover, which shows an outlined pair of nude Greek flutists, who frolic inside a gold-etched panel on a feather-highlighted blue background. Partridge took the panel image from a 1953 classical concert program. He first wanted to use closeups of flower-woven pubes (a concept restored on select CD reissues). The inner-sleeve mirrors the blue scheme with the outline of a skylark (copied on the LP labels) and photos of XTC in Quaker school girl uniforms. The photographer, Cindy Palmano, also has visual credits on 1985–87 sleeves by Duran Duran, Killing Joke, The Pogues, and Working Week.

“Grass” appeared ahead of Skylarking in August 1986, backed with “Extrovert” and “Dear God.”

In February 1987, Virgin lifted “The Meeting Place” and the second Skylarking a-side, backed with “The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul.” The 12″ version pairs both songs on side A and features four exclusive side B demos: “Terrorism,” “Let’s Make a Den,” “Find the Fox,” and “The Troubles.”

In June 1987, the now-popular album addition “Dear God” appeared as an a-side, backed with “Big Day.”


1987–89

Partridge and Gregory appear on Studio Romantic, the 1987 fourth album by Japanese singer–musician Saeko Suzuki (ex-Films). Andy also backs Hiroyasu Yaguchi on Gastronomic, the Real Fish frontman’s 1988 second solo album that also features ex-Japan members Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri (collectively dubbed the Dolphin Brothers).

In November 1987, the Canadian XTC fanzine Little Express issued Jules Verne’s Sketchbook, a cassette-only collection of fifteen home demos recorded by Andy Partridge between the time-frames of English Settlement and Skylarking.

Meanwhile, XTC recorded “Happy Families,” a Partridge original included on the soundtrack to the 1988 romantic comedy She’s Having a Baby starring Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern. The soundtrack also includes cuts by Carmel, Everything But the Girl, Kate Bush, Love and Rockets, and former Beat frontman Dave Wakeling, who supplied the movie’s title song.

XTC cut another album as the Dukes of Stratosphear and started work on their ninth poper album with American producer Paul Fox, a veteran soundman of US R&B artists (Commodores, George McCrae, Patti LaBelle, Pointer Sisters). Elsewhere, Gregory (along with Hammill and the Dolphin Brothers) partook in l Sole Nella Pioggia, a 1989 album by Italian singer–songwriter Alice.


The Dukes of Stratosphear – Psonic Psunspot

In August 1987, XTC released Psonic Psunspot, their second and final release (and only full-length album) as the Dukes of Stratosphear.


Oranges & Lemons

XTC released their ninth album, Oranges & Lemons, on February 27, 1989, on Virgin.

“Garden of Earthly Delights”

“Mayor of Simpleton”

“King for a Day”

“Here Comes President Kill Again”

“The Loving”

“Poor Skeleton Steps Out”

“One of the Millions”

“Scarecrow People”

“Merely a Man”

“Cynical Days”

“Across This Antheap”

“Hold Me My Daddy”

“Pink Thing”

“Miniature Sun”

“Chalkhills and Children”

Sessions took place between June and September 1988 at Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood, where Paul Fox produced and played keyboards on Oranges & Lemons. The drummer on this album is Pat Mastelotto, a member of Mr. Mister who also did session work with Al Jarreau, Cock Robin, Martin Briley, Scandal, and Shandi. Overdubs were added at the nearby Summa Music Group studio, where Mark Isham played horns on “Here Comes President Kill Again,” “One of the Millions,” “Merely a Man,” “Cynical Days,” and the intro to “Across This Antheap.” Songwriter and onetime recording artist Franne Golde sings backing vocals on “Poor Skeleton Steps Out.”

Oranges & Lemons was engineered by veteran soundman Ed Thacker, whose prior credits included albums by 1994, Dee Dee Bridgewater (Just Family), Hummingbird, Icehouse, Jean-Luc Ponty (A Taste for Passion), Lips, Red Rider, Stanley Clarke, The Shirts, Supertramp (Crisis? What Crisis?), and Isham’s band Group 87.

Oranges & Lemons got its title from the namesake English nursery rhyme that Partridge also name-checked on “Ballet for a Rainy Day.” Gregory conceived the album’s sixties Pop Art cover, which appropriates a 1965 Milton Glaser poster with psychedelic caricatures of XTC worked into the illustration.


1990s

In 1990, Partridge produced two tracks (“Gold,” “King Strut”) on King Strut and Other Stories, the fourth solo album by Peter Blegvad. Andy also produced “Hands Across the Ocean,” a 1990 single by The Mission that appears on Grains of Sand, a collection of outtakes from their third album Carved in Sand, a UK Top 10 release earlier that year. Concurrently, he split production chores with Leckie on & Love for All, the third album by The Lilac Time.

Gregory plays guitar on one track (“The Sea Still Sings”) on Enchanted, the sixth solo album by Marc Almond. He also plays on two tracks (“Drowning My Sorrows,” “Heart of Hearts”) on the 1990 Virgin release Raindance, the debut solo album by Johnny Hates Jazz frontman Clark Datchler.

For their next album, XTC teamed with veteran producer Gus Dudgeon, the soundman on early singles by David Bowie (“Space Oddity”) and Chris Rea (“Fool If You Think It’s Over”) who produced Elton John‘s 1970–76 output. After its release and promotions, XTC left Virgin and went on hiatus for five years.

XTC regrouped for a pair of albums that appeared at the turn of the millennium. Gregory left halfway through these sessions.

Meanwhile, Little Express (Canada) issued The Bull With the Golden Guts, the second cassette-only collection of Partridge demos. In 1994, Andy teamed with pianist Harold Budd on Through the Hill, a collection of ambient soundscapes on All Saints Records.


Nonsuch

XTC released their tenth album, Nonsuch, on April 27, 1992, on Virgin.

“The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead

“My Bird Performs”

“Dear Madam Barnum”

“Humble Daisy”

“The Smartest Monkeys”

“The Disappointed”

“Holly Up on Poppy”

“Crocodile”

“Rook”

“Omnibus”

“That Wave”

“Then She Appeared”

“War Dance”

“Wrapped in Grey”

“The Ugly Underneath”

“Bungalow”

“Books Are Burning”

Dudgeon produced Nonsuch between July and October 1991 at Chipping Norton Recording Studios in Oxfordshire. The album was engineered by Chipping’s Barry Hammond, a veteran soundman with credits on seventies titles by Carly Simon, Claire Hamill, Clifford T. Ward, Gerry Rafferty, Nektar, Skin Alley, Starcastle, and more recent discs by All About Eve, Alison Moyet, The James Taylor Quartet, and X Mal Deutschland.

Nonsuch feautures drummer Dave Mattacks, a veteran sessionist and longtime member of Fairport Convention. In addition to guitar and harmonica, Partridge plays tambourine, percussion, shaker, synthesizers, and ‘bell tree’ on the album, which features Gregory on piano, synthesizers, Hammond organ, and church bell.

Partridge titled the album after Nonsuch Palace, a Tudor palace that stood in Surrey between 1538 and 1683. It was a royal property between the reigns of Henry VIII and Charles II. The cover features a saturated (red and gold) Nonsuch sketch by 16th-century cartographer John Speed.

“The Disappointed” first appeared in February as an advance single, which cracked the UK Top 30. In May, Virgin lifted “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead,” accompanied by a video. Canadian rockers the Crash Test Dummies covered “Pumpkinhead” for the soundtrack to the 1994 screwball comedy Dumb and Dumber starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. The Dummies version reached No. 4 in Canada and No. 2 in Iceland.

In 2013, Partridge reissued Nonsuch on his Apple House label as a remastered CD+Blu-ray package. This CD contains the original album and the Moulding-penned bonus track “Didn’t Hurt a Bit.” The Blu-ray disc contains 52 tracks: the stereo mix of Nonsuch; the two music videos; a 49-minute documentary video; Andy’s Nonsuch demos (23 tracks); and Colin’s work tapes (eight tracks).


Apple Venus Volume 1

XTC released their eleventh album, Apple Venus Volume 1, on February 17, 1999, on Cooking Vinyl.

“River of Orchids”

“I’d Like That”

“Easter Theatre”

“Knights in Shining Karma”

“Frivolous Tonight”

“Greenman”

“Your Dictionary”

“Fruit Nut”

“I Can’t Own Her”

“Harvest Festival”

“The Last Balloon”


Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2)

XTC released their twelfth album, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2), on May 23, 2000, on Cooking Vinyl.

“Playground”

“Stupidly Happy”

“In Another Life”

“My Brown Guitar”

“Boarded Up”

“I’m the Man Who Murdered Love”

“We’re All Light”

“Standing in for Joe”

“Wounded Horse”

“You and the Clouds Will Still be Beautiful”

“Church of Women”

“The Wheel and the Maypole”


Discography:


Sources:

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