XTC circa 1986. Left to right: David Gregory, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding
"Drowning here in summer's cauldron
Under mats of flower lava
Please don't pull me out, this is how I would want to go"
—XTC, "Summer's Cauldron"
XTC were a long-running
cult favourite Alternative Rock
band from Swindon
, active between 1976-2005. The band had the following core members:
- Andy Partridge - vocals, guitar
- Colin Moulding - vocals, bass
- Dave Gregory - guitar, keyboards, string arrangements, backing vocals
The band's other two initial members were keyboardist Barry Andrews (who left after two albums in 1979 and was replaced by Gregory), and drummer Terry Chambers (who left in 1983 when the band's retirement from touring severely cut into his income, and was replaced by a series of session musicians for each album).
XTC throughout their existence were based around the two main songwriters, Partridge and Moulding. Their initial style was a frantic, hyperactive variation of New Wave
that added in elements of Funk
, Punk Rock
. This stylistic fusion
found favour with the contemporary Punk Rock
movement, and the band gained some success with its first two albums.
Andrews' resignation from XTC in 1979 and replacement with Gregory proved to be a pivotal moment in the band's career, as Gregory's sixties-influenced
guitar style steered the band towards its later sound, and his invaluable contributions to the band's albums helped drive Partridge and Moulding to new musical heights. For a while after Gregory's arrival, the band got slightly more attention from the mainstream and managed to score a few hits, such as the goofy, Moulding-penned single "Making Plans for Nigel" and Partridge's "Senses Working Overtime" and "Sgt. Rock is Going to Help Me".
The band retired from touring definitively in 1982 after Partridge suffered a severe mental breakdown
, forcing their world tour to be cancelled. They remained studio-bound for the rest of their career, making occasional live appearances on radio and television (like a 1989 appearance on Late Night with David Letterman
where Partridge looks absolutely uncomfortable
). In response to the loss of touring income, Chambers left and moved to Australia. Partridge, Moulding and Gregory didn't bother to replace him, instead recruiting session drummers on an album-per-album basis. These drummers have included: Prairie Prince (The Tubes), Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention
), Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson
) and Dave's brother Ian Gregory.
Once Chambers left, the group completely changed their style, with the dreamy, pastoral folk-rock of Mummer
serving as arguable New Sound Album
. From that point on XTC became a full-blown Psychedelic Rock
band, taking production cues from The Beatles
(and Beach Boys
), jangly guitars from The Byrds
and idiosyncratic, humorous lyrics critical of society from The Kinks
. Soon afterwards, XTC recorded the album commonly regarded as their masterpiece, Skylarking
. Besides critical accolades, Skylarking
managed to gain them a controversial hit single as well, the Beatlesque rock of "Dear God", where Partridge basically embarked on a long Nay-Theist Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter
rant, railing against God's horrendous, callous treatment of humanity
. God was so incensed by Mr. Partridge's display of testicular virility that he personally purchased 250.000 copies of Skylarking
Around the same time, XTC recorded some outright Psychedelic Rock Affectionate Parodies
, under their alter egos The Dukes of Stratosphear. As The Dukes, the band released an EP, 25 O'Clock
(1985), and an album, Psionic Psunspot
(1987), where they were all credited under Stage Names
(Partridge was Sir John Johns, Moulding was The Red Curtain
and Gregory was Lord Cornelius Plum) and did their damnedest to pass the material off as genuine Sixties psychedelia
. The EP and album were initially available on vinyl only, but simultaneous with the album the two were compiled as Chips from the Chocolate Fireball
on CD only. It wasn't until 2009 that the original works were released on CD separately, with bonus tracks and credited to XTC as The Dukes of Stratosphear. The Dukes were also jokingly thanked in the Skylarking
liner notes for allowing XTC to borrow their instruments.
This wasn't the first time the band recorded material under pseudonyms:
- Partridge had released a solo album in 1980 as "Mr Partridge", Take Away/The Lure of Savage, featuring dub reconstructions of XTC songs. These experiments were later collected on the Explode Together: The Dub Experiments 78-80 compilation.
- Moulding and Chambers recorded the "Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen" single under the name "The Colonel" the same year.
- They recorded a Viz promotional single as "Johnny Japes and his Jesticles".
- They recorded the 1983 Christmas single "Thanks for Christmas" as "The Three Wise Men".
- They also appeared on their own tribute album Testimonial Dinner as "Terry and the Lovemen".
- Aside from the Dukes credit, the Skylarking liner notes also humorously credited "the Beech Avenue Boys" (actually the band and Todd Rundgren) with backing vocals.
Benefiting from renewed attention, XTC managed to revive their commercial fortunes with their next two energetic Psychedelic Rock
albums, Oranges and Lemons
, gaining three more hit singles from them: "The Mayor of Simpleton" and "King for a Day" from the former and "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" from the latter. However, they became embroiled in a long contractual dispute with their label Virgin Records and went "on strike" until they were released from their contract in 1998.
Now independent and benefiting from a large settlement obtained from Virgin (Partridge had discovered the label withheld substantial royalties from them), XTC formed their own record label and Partridge and Moulding installed recording studios in their own homes. A double album of material written during the dispute named Apple Venus
was planned, which was eventually released in two volumes in 1999 and 2000, the second album containing their last major single, "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love". However, the band experienced a new setback when Gregory left in 1999 due to a conflict with Partridge and Moulding. Their fanbase became absolutely incensed by this announcement, with fans slamming Partridge and Moulding for forcing Gregory's departure. The band itself disintegrated shortly afterwards due to Moulding's decreasing contributions and lack of interest, with Partridge officially announcing XTC's breakup in 2006. However, Patridge, Moulding and Gregory are all still good friends with one another - in 2003, the three of them performed a charity gig as The Dukes of Stratosphear - so the chance of a reunion, while slim due to Moulding's continued disinterest in making music, is always possible.
- White Music (1978)
- Go 2 (1978)
- Drums and Wires (1979) - First album with Gregory.
- Black Sea (1980)
- English Settlement (1982) - Last album with Terry Chambers.
- Mummer (1983) - New Sound Album, marked their definitive break with New Wave. Drums here were handled by Peter Phipps, who also worked with Eurythmics and Gary Glitter.
- The Big Express (1984) - Drumming duties here were split between drum machines, Phipps, and Andy Partridge himself.
- 25 O'Clock EP (1985) - The Dukes of Stratosphear release. This time around the drummer was Dave's brother Ian Gregory.
- Skylarking (1986) - Prairie Prince of The Tubes stepped in as drummer, credited as "the part of the time bomb". Mingo Lewis provided extra percussion on "Mermaid Smiled" and "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul", and "That's Really Super, Supergirl" started with a drum machinenote .
- Psonic Psunspot (1987) - The Dukes of Stratosphear release. Again, the drummer was Dave's brother Ian Gregory.
- Chips from the Chocolate Fireball (1987) - The Dukes of Stratosphear compilation, containing 25 O'Clock and Psonic Psunspot. Please don't tell us you already forgot who was the drummer.
- Oranges & Lemons (1989) - The drummer's stool was passed to Pat Mastelotto, of King Crimson and Mr Mister fame.
- Nonsuch (1992) - Continuing the famous guest trend, the drums here are played by Dave Mattacks of Fairport Convention, with extra percussion credits for Andy and producer Gus Dudgeon.
- Apple Venus Volume 1 (1999) - Last album with Gregory, who left midway through recording. Prairie Prince returned behind the kit.
- Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (2000) - Four songs had Prince on drums, with the rest being played by Chuck Sabo.
You can vote for your favourite XTC album by heading over to the Best Album crowner
XTC provide examples of the following tropes:
- Abusive Parents:
- The song "Runaways" gives them a sympathetic, rueful context.
- "No Thugs In Our House" is a sarcastic take on the harsh home life of a kid who is growing up primed to be a thug.
- Affectionate Parody: The Dukes of Stratosphear incarnation was a faithful recreation of British psychedelic music in The Sixties, Gratuitous Panning and all.
- "Brainiac's Daughter" in particular is one to the music of Paul McCartney.
- After the End: "This World Over", after a nuclear apocalypse.
- Album Title Drop: Oranges & Lemons is named after a lyric from "Ballet for a Rainy Day", a song on their previous album, Skylarking, and it doubles as a reference to the old eponymous nursery rhyme. Nonsuch is titled from a lyric in "Chalkhills and Children" from Oranges & Lemons. To top it all off, Apple Venus is named after a lyric in "Then She Appeared" from Nonsuch. Andy has since admitted that the first two instances were unintentional, but after fans repeatedly pointed them out he decided to use a lyric from a previous album as the title of Apple Venus on purpose.
- All Drummers Are Animals: Terry Chambers apparently fit this trope during his tenure with the band.
- Anti-Love Song: "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love"
- Armchair Military: "Generals and Majors"
- Author Appeal: Partridge loves American comics and references this quite a bit, like in "Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)", "Brainiac's Daughter" and "That's Really Super, Supergirl".
- Ballad of X: "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead".
- Bowdlerization: The single version of "Respectable Street," with "abortion" changed to "absorption," "contraception" to "child prevention," and "sex position" to "proposition."
- Breakup Song: "That's Really Super, Supergirl", "1000 Umbrellas".
- Careful With That Axe: Andy pulls this off surprisingly well in "Complicated Game".
- Concept Album: Skylarking.
- Concept Video: "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" draws parallels between the deaths of Jesus and John F. Kennedy. Heavy, man.
- Contemptible Cover: The original artwork for Skylarking, rejected by Virgin and used for the 2010 remaster, featuring a shot of female pubic hair with flowers. Yet somehow, Virgin accepted as a substitute a cover that depicted a naked man and woman playing flutes.
- Control Freak: According to Partridge, Todd Rundgren was one during the Skylarking sections. He'd already worked out which songs he was going to use from the demos he made them send ahead of their arrival to the studio and also had a running order before the band started recording.
- Cool Shades: Partridge took up wearing John Lennon-style glasses at some point in The Eighties.
- Cover Album: A Testimonial Dinner: The Songs of XTC. Notable because XTC performed on it themselves (however, due to the problems with their old label, they went by the name Terry and the Lovemen for their appearance).
- Cover Version: They covered "All Along the Watchtower" on White Music and "Ella Guru" on the obscure Captain Beefheart tribute album Fast N' Bulbous.
- Crapsaccharine World: "Scarecrow People" describes one.
- Demoted to Extra: A factor in Gregory's departure. Partridge bought a synthesizer that allowed him to create string arrangements, something Gregory had done in the past.
- Design Student's Orgasm: The cover art for Oranges and Lemons, in full Psychedelic glory.
- Doesn't Like Guns: "Melt The Guns".
- Doting Parents: Parodied with "Making Plans for Nigel" and "No Thugs in Our House".
- Double Entendre:
- According to Partridge, "Pink Thing" was written for his son Harry. The lyrics read like one man's ode to his penis.
- "Things we used to do on grass" can be taken a couple different ways.
- Filk Song: See above with Partridge's love of comics.
- God Is Evil: "Dear God".
- Gratuitous Panning: Well, hey, Psychedelic Rock. XTC's albums tend to be subtle about this or not use it at all, but it's very much in effect on The Dukes of Stratosphear material.
- The Great Politics Mess-Up: According to "Living Through Another Cuba", the U.S. And U.S.S.R. were due for another replay in 1998.
- Green-Eyed Monster: "Crocodile"
- Grief Song: "Dying".
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, at least before the latter's departure effectively ended the band. They grew up together and Partridge even described their relationship as a "male marriage."
- High School Dance: "Life Begins at the Hop".
- Humans Are Bastards: "Scarecrow People", "The Smartest Monkeys".
- Humans Are Morons: "Across This Antheap"
The stars are laughing at us, as we crawl on and on across this antheap.
- I Am the Band: Averted by Partridge, who decided not to continue using the name XTC after Moulding left.
- I Have Many Names: The Dukes of Stratosphear, The Three Wise Men, Johnny Japes and his Jesticles, Terry and the Lovemen, etc.
- In the Style of...:
- "Battery Brides" is done in the style of Brian Eno, if the "(Andy Paints Brian)" subtitle was too subtle.
- The various Dukes of Stratosphear songs are usually done in the style of specific psychedelic bands. For example, "Bike Ride to the Moon" and "Have You Seen Jackie?" are reminiscent of early Pink Floyd, "The Mole from the Ministry" is a pastiche of The Beatles' "I am the Walrus", and "Pale and Precious" is based on Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys.
- Insignificant Little Blue Planet: "Across This Antheap"
- Intercourse with You: "Grass". Outside, no less.
- Kids Rock:
- Todd Rundgren got the daughter of a friend, Jasmine Veillette, to sing the first stanza and last line of "Dear God".
- Lily Fraser, the daughter of the owner of Sawmills Studio, recited "psychedelic nonsense" (Andy's description) in between some songs on Psonic Psunspot. Andy said that their first plan was to ask Derek Guyler to do so, as a tribute to Stanley Unwin's monologues on The Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, but Guyler's agent asked for £10.000, which was their entire recording budget. Lily did it instead for "a pat on the head and ice cream money."
- Andy's daughter Holly does backing vocals on "Playground".
- Large Ham: Andy Partridge was one in the band's touring days despite suffering from stage fright and being on Valium.
- Lead Bassist: Colin Moulding.
- Lesser Star:
- David Gregory. Though he didn't write songs, he contributed a lot to the group's distinctive sound.
- Terry Chambers. His drumming was one of the defining elements of the band's early records.
- Literary Allusion Title: Skylarking is named after Percy Shelley's poem "Ode to a Skylark".
- Lyrical Dissonance: Don't let the vocal harmonies or upbeat backing track fool you, "Big Day"'s lyrics are a bit more skeptical and realistic towards marriage. And under all those catchy Beatles riffs, "Earn Enough For Us" is a huge Angst-fest about being married and broke.
- Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: "No Thugs In Our House".
- Manchild: Andy Partridge loves comics and collects toy soldiers.
- Meddling Parents: "Making Plans for Nigel".
- Minimalistic Cover Art: Go 2 and English Settlement are good examples.
- Money Song: Or, rather, lack of money song - "Love on a Farmboy's Wages", "Earn Enough for Us", "Paper and Iron" and "Bungalow"
- Mundane Made Awesome: The band themselves. In a Rolling Stone article in 1989 to promote the release of Oranges and Lemons, Andy Partridge said that they were the "ninjas of the mundane."
- Nay-Theist: "Dear God".
- New Media Are Evil: Andy Partridge hates Spotify because of its low royalty payouts to artists. Given how much the band was jerked around by Virgin, it's not that surprising.
- New Sound Album: Drums and Wires was their first album with David Gregory and emphasized the guitars. Mummer saw the band shifting to a more pastoral sound after Partridge's breakdown, coming to full flower with Skylarking.
- Performance Anxiety: Partridge's stage fright was the reason why XTC stopped touring.
- Preacher's Kid: Or judge's kid, in the case of "No Thugs in Our House".
- President Evil: "Here Comes President Kill Again", complete with a Meet the New Boss punchline.
- Psychedelic Rock
- Record Producer: They got Todd Rundgren to produce Skylarking and ended up with acrimony. Partridge is still kind of pissed off by Rundgren's Jerk Ass-ish behaviour. They haven't really complained about the other producers they worked with.
- Religion Rant Song: "Dear God"
- Retraux: Their material as The Dukes of Stratosphear.
- Shaped Like Itself: "I'd Like That":
"Each drop would make us grow really high, really high, like a really high thing".
- Shout-Out: The cover of English Settlement◊ depicts the Uffington White Horse, a local landmark not far from Swindon, and the cover of Nonsuch◊ uses John Speed's depiction of Nonsuch Palace from a 1610 map of Surrey◊.
- Shrinking Violet: "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty" and "Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her"
- Silly Love Songs: Hilariously so. "My Love Explodes", "Stupidly Happy", "Rocket from a Bottle", "The Loving". "Then She Appeared", "That Wave", "You're The Wish You Are I Had".
- Slobs Versus Snobs: "Respectable Street".
- Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: "Dear God".
- Spell My Name with a "The": Colin Moulding's Dukes of Stratosphear alias was The Red Curtain.
- Stage Names: Everybody who played on The Dukes of Stratosphear albums is credited using a nickname.
- Stalker with a Crush: "25 O'Clock". Just in case somebody might miss it, Colin screams the chorus as if he's preparing to kill whoever the song is addressed to.
- Surreal Music Video:
- "Dear God".
- The two they made as the Dukes of Stratosphear: "The Mole from the Ministry" is very much an Affectionate Parody of Magical Mystery Tour and "You're a Good Man Albert Brown" is a psychedelic Punch and Judy show.
- Sympathetic Murderer: "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love"
Before you throw me in your dungeon dark / Your Honour, they'll be putting statues up in every park
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: Occurs in "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty", "Respectable Street", "Rocket from a Bottle", "Towers of London", "Ball and Chain", "Senses Working Overtime", "Great Fire" (which is itself a rewrite of "Senses"), "Me and the Wind", "The Everyday Story of Smalltown", "You're the Wish You Are I Had", "Bike Ride to the Moon", "Another Satellite", "You're a Good Man Albert Brown", "Pale and Precious", "Easter Theatre".
- Unable To Support A Wife: "Love on a Farmboy's Wages", "Earn Enough For Us".
- You Keep Using That Word: Andy initially chose the title of Nonsuch after seeing a picture of now-demolished Nonsuch Palace and assuming "nonsuch" meant "nonexistent". It actually means "unique".
- Your Cheating Heart: "Another Satellite" is about Partridge's collapsing marriage to his wife Marianne and his relationship with Erica Wexler. Andy's been with her ever since his divorce.
- Wall of Text: The cover of Go 2 designed by famed art collective Hipgnosis (of Pink Floyd fame), which says this, verbatim:
This is a RECORD COVER. This writing is the DESIGN upon the record cover. The DESIGN is to help SELL the record. We hope to draw your attention to it and encourage you to pick it up. When you have done that maybe you'll be persuaded to listen to the music - in this case XTC's Go 2 album. Then we want you to BUY it. The idea being that the more of you that buy this record the more money Virgin Records, the manager Ian Reid and XTC themselves will make. To the aforementioned this is known as PLEASURE. A good cover DESIGN is one that attracts more buyers and gives more pleasure. This writing is trying to pull you in much like an eye-catching picture. It is designed to get you to READ IT. This is called luring the VICTIM, and you are the VICTIM. But if you have a free mind you should STOP READING NOW! because all we are attempting to do is to get you to read on. Yet this is a DOUBLE BIND because if you indeed stop you'll be doing what we tell you, and if you read on you'll be doing what we've wanted all along. And the more you read on the more you're falling for this simple device of telling you exactly how a good commercial design works. They're TRICKS and this is the worst TRICK of all since it's describing the TRICK whilst trying to TRICK you, and if you've read this far then you're TRICKED but you wouldn't have known this unless you'd read this far. At least we're telling you directly instead of seducing you with a beautiful or haunting visual that may never tell you. We're letting you know that you ought to buy this record because in essence it's a PRODUCT and PRODUCTS are to be consumed and you are a consumer and this is a good PRODUCT. We could have written the band's name in special lettering so that it stood out and you'd see it before you'd read any of this writing and possibly have bought it anyway. What we are really suggesting is that you are FOOLISH to buy or not buy an album merely as a consequence of the design on its cover. This is a con because if you agree then you'll probably like this writing - which is the cover design - and hence the album inside. But we've just warned you against that. The con is a con. A good cover design could be considered as one that gets you to buy the record, but that never actually happens to YOU because YOU know it's just a design for the cover. And this is the RECORD COVER.
- Wedding Day: "Big Day".
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: "Hold Me My Daddy".
- Word Salad Lyrics: Some of their lyrics, like "Mermaid Smiled". When that happens though, it's usually because Andy decides to express something using confusing metaphors.