Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
XTC is an innovative new wave band from Swindon, UK. They are considered the forefathers of the Britpop movement of the 1980s and are one of the most influential bands still working today. (The name of the band predates the use of "XTC" as a drug term.)
A short history
First coming together in 1972, the core duo of Andy Partridge (guitars, vocals) and Colin Moulding (bass, vocals) went through various band names and personnel changes over the next five years as they built up their unique brand of hyperactive pop spiked with funk, punk, ska, reggae, and art rock.
By the time of the punk explosion in 1977, the group's lineup had been filled out by Barry Andrews (keyboards) and Terry Chambers (drums), and the band got picked up by Virgin Records. They recorded the 3D EP later that year, and followed it up with White Music in January 1978.
The loss of Andrews' keyboard madness started the band on a path towards more traditional guitar power-pop, although Gregory also contributed occasional keyboards (and later, string arrangements). The resulting album, Drums and Wires, produced the band's first big hit, "Making Plans for Nigel", which caused a minor controversy because of its lyrical reference to British Steel. It also saw them finding the basis of a new sound for the group and marked their first sessions at London's celebrated Townhouse Studios . The studio was at the time much sought after for its highly reverberant "live" drum room, and it was greatly favoured by their producer of the time, Steve Lillywhite and his engineer Hugh Padgham, who also recorded successful albums there with Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush.
Their 1980 LP, Black Sea, saw the band's new sound and style come together with superb results. The album showcased a flawless set of classic power-pop that included enduring XTC favourites including "Rocket From A Bottle," "No Language In Our Lungs," and "Towers Of London"; the strong material was greatly enhanced by more superb production and engineering by Lillywhite and Padgham.
Other hits from this era include the non-LP single "Life Begins at the Hop" and singles lifted from Black Sea--"Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)" and "Generals & Majors." The promotional clip for the latter single (written by Colin Moulding) features an cameo appearance by the then owner of Virgin Records, Richard Branson.
XTC's last major hit in the touring phase of their career was "Senses Working Overtime," the first single from their brilliant double album English Settlement and a Top 20 hit in the UK in 1982. Just after its release and at the peak of their popularity, the band embarked on a major tour, but Partridge suffered a breakdown on stage during one of the first concerts of the tour in Paris on March 18, 1982.
The breakdown, accompanied by uncontrollable stage fright, was reportedly precipitated by Partridge's wife throwing away his supply of Valium. According to the band's biography, Andy had become dependent upon the drug after it was prescribed to him as a teenager during his parents' divorce, but it had never been withdrawn. Concerned about her husband's dependence on the drug, his wife ill-advisedly threw his tablets away just before the concert without seeking medical advice -- the result was, not surprisingly, anxiety attacks of such severity that it soon forced Partridge to withdraw from touring permanently. The European and British dates were cancelled and after one show in San Diego the whole US leg was also abandoned. Since then, XTC has been almost exclusively a studio band, although they have given occasional live-to-air performances from radio stations.
Chambers left the band shortly thereafter, unhappy with the confines of the studio, and also feeling the loss of income that resulted from their withdrawal from touring--he did not write, and so received no publishing royalties. Another major factor was his burgeoning relationship with his Australian girlfriend--they subsequently married and Chambers migrated to Australia and settled in Newcastle, New South Wales. Rather than finding a replacement, XTC has used a series of session drummers over the years, including Peter Phipps, Prairie Prince, Dave Mattacks, Pat Mastelotto, Chuck Sabo, and Dave Gregory's brother, Ian Gregory (as "E.I.E.I. Owen").
In 1986, the band travelled to Todd Rundgren's studio-in-the-woods in Woodstock, New York to record what many consider to be the best album of their career, Skylarking. Although the pairing of XTC and Rundgren was highly anticipated by fans, the sessions were less than enjoyable for the band. Rundgren had insisted that the band send him, in advance, demos of all the songs that they thought they might tackle for the record. When the band got to Woodstock, Rundgren had already worked out a running order for both the recording and sequence of the album itself. True to his "hands-on" studio production style, Rundgren insisted that everyone adhere to his scheme. This did not sit well with the band, Partridge in particular. The two egos of Rundgren and Partridge clashed frequently during the recording of Skylarking and when it was finished Partridge said that he was not at all happy with the resulting product. Partridge has since softened his view, describing the album as "a summer's day baked into one cake."
Skylarking revived the band's commercial fortunes, earning critical accolades and spawning the controversial hit "Dear God", which was originally issued as the B-side of the album's first single, "Grass." Interest in the song saw the album re-pressed with "Dear God" included and the new version of the LP sold 250,000 copies in the USA. ("Dear God" replaced "Mermaid Smiled", which was absent from the album until it was finally reinstated for the remastered "Skylarking" CD in 2000.)
The band's followup, Oranges & Lemons, was their biggest seller yet, with "Mayor of Simpleton" and "King for a Day" getting heavy airplay on MTV.
During their long career, XTC have also released material under a variety of pseudonyms, including two albums of psychedelic parodies as "The Dukes of Stratosphear" (released on a single CD, Chips from the Chocolate Fireball , simultaneous with the second album's vinyl release), a Viz comics promotional single as "Johnny Japes and his Jesticles," a Christmas-themed single as "The Three Wise Men" and a guest appearance on their own tribute album Testimonial Dinner as "Terry and the Lovemen." In 1979 Partridge also released a solo album of radical dub-oriented remixes of material from the Drums + Wires LP, credited to "Mr Partridge" and titled Takeaway: The Lure Of Salvage. (This experiment was an expansion of a less ambitious undertaking by Partridge and producer John Leckie called GO+, a 12" EP issued with early copies of GO 2 containing mangled versions of five songs from GO 2. Both the EP and the LP can be found on the CD Explode Together: The Dub Experiments.)
Their 1992 album, Nonsuch, (named after Henry VIII's fabled palace) united them with famed UK producer Gus Dudgeon and drummer Dave Mattacks, but soon after its release a contractual dispute with their label, Virgin Records, saw XTC go "on strike" from 1992 through 1998, finally resulting in the termination of their contract. They issued no new material during this time, although two compilations were released: Upsy Daisy Assortment and the 2-CD set Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles Collection, which featured remastered versions of their singles, including many tracks not issued on CD before.
Management and contractual problems had dogged the band throughout their career, and around the time of the recording of Nonsuch they had to make a legal settlement with their former manager; although most fans assume that there was some financial impropriety involved, the terms of the settlement imposed a "gag" on the band and have prevented them from speaking publicly about the matter.
The final straw for the band was Virgin's scuttling of their 1992 single "Wrapped in Grey", which was pressed up in the tens of thousands, and then recalled and destroyed by the label. The band asked that Virgin either allow them to re-negotiate their contract or release them, but the label stalled for years until finally agreeing to released them after a change of management at the company.
After leaving Virgin, Partridge had their accounts audited and it was discovered that the company had withheld substantial royalty payments from them. The settlement of the accounts provided the group with much-needed cash flow, allowing Partridge and Moulding to install fully-equipped studios and work comfortably at home; they are now able to record the majority of their work themselves, although they have used major commercial studios (including Abbey Road Studios in London) for some sessions.
Finally released from Virgin, they formed their own label, Idea Records. Dave Gregory left the band during the recording of the 1999 album Apple Venus Volume 1 after contributing to a few tracks, leaving just Partridge and Moulding in the group.
Now in control of their own work and with their own small studio, they have released instrumental and demo versions of their first two albums on Idea, Apple Venus and Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2). Having left Virgin, relations have improved and Andy Partridge is releasing a series of albums of "demos" of his songs (mainly from the Virgin years) under the title of Fuzzy Warbles, on a new label imprint APE (Andy Partridge Experiments). Colin Moulding declined to contribute his demos to the series.
A boxed CD compilation, Coat of Many Cupboards, was released in 2002.
- White Music (1978)
- Go 2 (1978)
- Drums And Wires (1979)
- Black Sea (1980)
- English Settlement (1982)
- Mummer (1983)
- The Big Express (1984)
- Skylarking (1986)
- Oranges and Lemons (album) (1989)
- Rag and Bone Buffet (1991)
- Nonsuch (1992)
- Apple Venus Volume 1 (1999)
- Homespun (1999)
- Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (2000)
- Homegrown (2001)
- Coat of Many Cupboards (2002)
- Tunes to Help You Breathe More Easily (Recording rumoured to be in progress. Scheduled release date unknown).
- 3D (1977)
Albums as The Dukes of Stratosphear
- 25 O'Clock (vinyl only 12" EP, 1985)
- Psonic Psunspot (vinyl only, 1987)
- both of the above compiled as: Chips from the Chocolate Fireball (CD only, 1987)
The XTC tribute album A Testimonial Dinner was released in 1995. One track, "The Good Things," attributed to Terry and the Lovemen, was actually XTC themselves, using yet another pseudonym.
Related artists and collaborations
- The following artists have worked with members of XTC:
- The following bands have worked with members of XTC:
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