The Popdose Interview: Andy Partridge
He denies being the man who murdered love, but he is one of the men who served as a member of XTC. That’s right, he’s Andy Partridge, and this upstanding musical legend was kind enough to take on the daunting task of answering the questions of the Popdose readership…questions which, it must be said, ranged from the obscure to the ridiculous and hit virtually every spot in-between. Mr. Partridge was a gem throughout the conversation, however, and endured them all with great aplomb, never failing to come back with a witty retort.
(“You bastard” still counts as witty, right?)
Join us now as we enter into the Popdose Interview with the one and only Andy Partridge…
Popdose: Hello, may I speak to Andy?
Andy Partridge: That’ll be Will!
It will be!
Ah, knock twice and ask for Will! (Laughs) Let me put down my cheap little guitar that I treated myself to about two weeks ago. I didn’t even intend to buy a guitar. I went to buy a pair of trousers, and I just saw this guitar on the wall, and I’m a real sucker for little-body guitars. It just sort of whimpered to me.
You musicians have no restraint.
(Laughs) Well, it was the first one I’ve bought since 1983, so come on, that’s pretty good restraint. That’s restraint into tight-fisted, I think! So…you’ve got your recording device going?
I do. It’s already rolling along.
Oh, good man!
And I’ve got plenty of reader questions for you as well.
Yeah! Don’t hold back; let them all go. I’m sitting here in a small model of a dreadnaught made entirely out of candyfloss, floating on an indoor lake, so I’m relaxed and ready to go.
And totally living up to my expectations.
Ha-ha! Well, you’d do best not to have any!
Well, the first question is only appropriate, since this conversation came about because of the Dukes of Stratosphear reissues:
* Is it true that “you can’t get the buttons these days”?
Well, the thing is, we’ve just put a set of buttons out! If you order both of the Dukes reissues from the site, I think you get a set of buttons with them. In fact, I’m convinced you do get a set of buttons. But, yeah, I actually said that because a puffin would say something like that. D’ya know what I mean? In the Victorian world of psychedelia and all that kind of stuff, then that’s the sort of thing a puffin would say. And a puffin is a suitably psychedelic animal. Manatee, walrus, kiwi, dugong, puffin…maybe rhinoceros, actually. That’s a pretty psychedelic animal.
If you can imagine it in a Lewis Carroll story, it’s usually safe.
Exactly. In fact, there was a pipe and a waistcoat and a monocle, maybe.
So had you been hankering to reissue the Dukes albums for quite some time?
I had. I’d liked the idea of doing them really properly, because Chips from the Chocolate Fireball is a good compilation, I think, but the sleeve art was really crap. It was not what I asked for, and, of course, knowing Virgin…like, I said, “I want a solarized photograph…this photograph, solarized on that background. We want all the lyrics.” What happened? They printed it in the negative, no lyrics… (Growls) So we actually got the use of those records back again, and I don’t know how the hell we managed that, but we did, and it was a case of, “Well, let’s do them how they really should have been done.”
* There are some obvious musical touchstones on the songs, but who are some of your favorite semi-obscure psychedelic artists that we might not be recognizing?
I was greatly affected by a band called the Moles. There was a little sort of mystery story behind them, because a big DJ on the BBC in England…Alan “Fluff” Freeman, his name was…had this show late on a Sunday afternoon called “Pick of the Pops.” And every teenage kid listened to it, because that’s all there was, literally. And one Sunday, he said that he’d been sent a key to a locker at Paddington Station, and he’d sent somebody to go to this locker with this mystery key, and there was a disc in there. And he took the disc out, and he played it, and…I think he came to the conclusion that it was Ringo singing, with the rest of the Beatles backing him up. This was about…I dunno, late ’67, early ’68. Something like that. And, of course, this sort of entered the mythology, that this was the Beatles with Ringo. It had all of the sort of psychedelic effects on it, y’know, singing through a Leslie cabinet, and it just extremely of the time. With a stretch of the imagination, you could say, “Well, maybe that is Ringo,” but it was actually the group that became later Gentle Giant. They were called Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. It wasn’t the Beatles at all…as we suspected, really. But I’d gotten wrapped up in the mystery of it, and I think psychedelia has that thing of Edward Lear / Lewis Carroll nonsense mystery about it. The Rolling Stones, who did it pathetically and beautifully wrong with the album Satanic Majesties, did one thing perfectly by putting a maze on the album sleeve which couldn’t be completed. I thought that was…I thought, “Yeah, that’s the spirit!”
The last time you and I talked, you said that Rhino had never actually asked you to include the Dukes of Stratosphear songs on their Children of Nuggets box set. Did they get around to sending you a copy of the box set, at least?
They did. Only after we complained, I think. They never asked. They actually put two of our songs on there, didn’t they? “Vanishing Girl” and “25 O’Clock.” But nobody ever asked us. That doesn’t surprise me, in the wide world of record companies.
* Do you ever miss the psychedelic days of the Dukes, and have you – either now or in the past – ever seriously considered resurrecting them?>
Well, I got to be a Duke last year with the track “Tin Toy Clockwork Train.” I don’t know whether you’ve heard that or not; that’s on one of the reissues. I was asked by a French advertising agency…the fellow in charge of this agency was a huge Dukes fan, and he said, “Could you sort of imitate yourself imitating other people?” So I did. I wrote a “missing” Dukes song and recorded it all in my little garden shed studio, only to find out that he was the same person that, a couple of years earlier, had instigated a big ad campaign in stations in London…well, certainly at Waterloo Station, where the Eurostar used to depart from, they had a big 50 foot by 50 foot ersatz cover of 25 O’Clock stuck to the floor. I mean, it was almost identical. They’d just changed a few things. That was his sort of homage to the Dukes, to use it in an ad campaign. So, no, the Dukes were the Dukes, and they were of their time, and we should leave them to be fertilizer now, I think.
* Will you please consider reviving the bubblegum album idea? Not as an XTC thing, but as an Andy Partridge with maybe some special guests thing.
Well, it broke my heart when I changed computer formats, actually, and I lost quite a few of the recordings I’d done. I managed to save a couple. I managed to save “Cave Girl” and “Licky Licky Liquorice.” But…I dunno, that was something I wanted to do in the early ‘90s, and… (Sighs) …again, you know, if you don’t serve the meal when it’s hot, it sort of congeals, and there’s nothing as stale as the recently-stale, but now I guess it’s getting to the point where it’s not recently stale and it’s becoming a museum artifact. So maybe I’ll look at it again. But I don’t have the jones, I think you say, for doing the bubblegum thing at the moment. Lots of other things, but not the bubblegum thing.
* When is your solo record coming out?
Oh, gosh. A few people have started asking me this, and right now I have loads and loads of bits of songs, something like 350. I haven’t pegged it exactly, but they’re in that sort of number. And I just haven’t mentally felt like finishing any of them off. If I go down this route now, you’re going to end up being my psychiatrist here, so I’ll just touch on it quickly, but…I just don’t know if any of them are looking to me to be better than anything that I’ve done in the past. And I would rather not put out records rather than putting out records which I consider to be not quite as good. Does that make sense?
Yep. I can understand that.
I would rather stop until something says to me, “Okay, this is better than what you’ve done, or certainly on a par.” I hate the idea of going down and decaying aurally in front of people’s ears. I wish a lot of other bands would do that as well.
Precious few do, though.
And that’s the problem.
* Are you planning on working with Barry Andrews again?
I’d love to! I like working with Barry. I find his intellect stimulating. I walked past his house a couple of days ago, and I’ve noticed that he’s got this ever-changing window display that just boggles my brain beautifully. I noticed that…do you know what a Dalek is?
He’s got about eight gold Daleks on his windowsill, stood in front of a lot of yellow and orange flowers, and with a sort of purple-y backdrop. And I thought, “Yep, there they are: Daleks of the Lord.” A shrine laid out. But, yeah, I find Barry immensely stimulating.
What were your thoughts about how the Monstrance album turned out?
I liked it. And I occasionally play it. Actually, it could’ve been odder. It could’ve been weirder. I think it tended to gravitate a little towards the straighter side of things, but, then again, Martyn (Barker) is more a sort of groove drummer than an exploratory drummer, and Barry…well, I mean, I think what Monstrance is is the three of us at the point where our personalities meet. I probably bring the weird stuff, Barry brings the dramatic stuff, and Martyn brings the groove, if you see what I mean. I enjoyed it. I thought some of the things on there were as good as anything I’ve done, actually. I thought “I Lovely Cosmonaut” came out just wonderfully.
I had a bit of struggle with it, but I’m sure you’ve heard that from a lot of XTC fans.
Oh, sure. And it’s nothing like anything XTC have done, apart from maybe some of the dub things. That’s probably the nearest I can suggest.
* Would you ever do a kids record?
I’d like to. There are several things I’ve got on my sort of mental list of things to do if I can get back to loving music, which I’m sort of a bit out of love with music at the moment. But I’d love to do a kids album. I’d like to do an opera, because I can’t stand opera, therefore I think I feel the need to defeat it, if you see what I mean. Just the noise of it… (Makes a high-pitched siren-like sound) …and all that sort of thing. Usually, 90% of operas have crap songs! It’s, like, you know, get rid of all of that singing, and is the song any good? No! It’s shit! There are very few operas with really good songs in them. And I would love to do an opera, and I know the subject I would do it about: Cortez and Montezuma. I’m also working on the idea of doing a cross-dressing Western musical. So lots of sort of silly irons in the fire, but I don’t know whether any of them will come to fruition.
Well, funny you should say that …
* If I get myself to Swindon somehow, will you co-write some songs with me? I’m unvirtuosic but persistent.
No. No, no, no! Do not chat with me! Go away!
Oh, but he says it’s probably time he wrote another musical! So I’m sure he’d be ready to collaborate with you on yours.
And who is this?
One of our readers. That’s all I can tell you definitively.
So it’s not Mr. D. Bowie or P. McCartney or E. Costello?
Sadly, probably not.
Oh, okay. No, I don’t like people turning up and A) wanting to stare at me, B) wanting to play me their music, C) wanting to be my best friend. You see, I just…I’m very private, and I hate all that. I usually try and be pleasant to them, but inside I’m going, “Fuck off and die! Fuck off and die!”
(Laughs) So this next offer, then, is probably off the table for you…?
* Would you consider enjoying a spot of homemade macaroni-n-cheese, my treat, if I ever make it back to England?
No. I can’t stand macaroni and cheese. I don’t eat cow cheese anymore. I only eat sheep’s cheese. And I never had a thing for macaroni and cheese. They seem to not complement each other. It was like some down and out had thrown up on lots of bits of rubber tubing that you’d just finished an enema with. “Here! Here’s your dinner! Enema tube and tramp vom!”
Read me some more questions. Just go through the lot of them!
* Are you, in fact, the man who murdered love?
No. It was the man next door.
* What do you think of the covers of “Scissor Man” and “Making Plans for Nigel” by Primus, and what are some covers of your work that you’ve heard and liked?
I thought the Primus ones were okay. I didn’t write the songs, so they can murder them how they want. I don’t care. But what ones did I hear that I liked? Oh, there was a band called 4DB that did an acapella version of “Rook” that I thought was beautiful. You can find that on YouTube somewhere; somebody’s cut “Harry Potter” film to it. (Writer’s note: one presumes that the copyright police took care of that particular footage, but you can still hear the track over top of the closing credits to an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”) It’s a lovely version of “Rook.” And there’s a choir…though I can’t remember the name of the choir…who do “River of Orchids,” and I thought that was pretty interesting as well. What other covers? Oh, there was a band that did a real shit-kicking hoedown version of “Complicated Game,” but, again, I can’t remember the name of the band. I’m sure the people that are into all of this stuff will say, “Oh, he’s talking about…” And then fill in the blank.
(Writer’s note: though I’ve no clue about the name of the choir, a reader has kindly corrected my theory that the “Complicated Game” covered was done by the Poster Children. While the band did cover the song, this “hoedown version” appears to have been the work of Moonshine Willy.)
* How do you feel about the Testimonial Dinner tribute album?
Never saw a penny from it. I think it would’ve been nice if Terry and the Lovemen saw some accounts and saw how many copies sold, whether they actually had a pitiful royalty or not, ‘cause they never got an advance, and I’m sure that none of the other bands that covered the stuff beautifully never saw any royalties or accounting. So I think the record label that did it are assholes, but the bands that did it are wonderful. Especially…oh, Jesus, my brain’s not screwed on today! Um…”The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul.”
Ruben Blades! Or Ruben Blah-Days, I think, if you do the Spanish pronunciation. No, the band that did it are rather lovely, but the record company, I think, treated everyone very poorly and, I’m sure, have ripped them off, Terry and the Lovemen included.
* Would you consider working again with Todd Rundgren?
Yes. But he would never work with me again, ‘cause I’ve said some really shitty things about him in the past. But if I worked with him, he’d have to be the arranger. He wouldn’t be allowed to be engineer, and he wouldn’t be allowed to be the mixer. But as an arranger, he’s faultless. But he would never work with me. Although Dave (Gregory) saw him recently…he went to see him at a show…and, y’know, hopefully, the axe is well and truly buried. And I don’t mean in my back! It was really difficult, but the finished project is fine. (Chuckles) The birth was painful, but the baby is beautiful.
* I heard it reported that some new recording was done by you and Colin on some uncompleted XTC demos, for upcoming reissue packages. Is that true?
No. Not at all. I’ve been mixing some outtakes from English Settlement. Virgin are doing an expanded English Settlement in a couple of months, and I’ve been mixing a couple of tracks for that. But I haven’t been really recording anything.
*Would you please kiss and make up with Mr. Moulding so we can have the pleasure of listening to another XTC album?
Um…no. No, not at the moment. We’re going through divorce at the moment. So he’s not my favorite individual, and I’m sure I’m not his.
Has there been any further conversation? The last time I talked to you, he had pretty much gone on silent running.
Yeah, but we just send bad-tempered E-mails to each other at the moment. But we seem to be in some sort of agreement as to how to put out what access we’ve got to certain tracks in the back catalog. We got access to a little bit of the back catalog. Not the main big selling ones, unfortunately. Virgin still have those forever. But we’ve got access to the Dukes and some other bits and pieces, so it’s, like, “How best to work those?” We seem to have painfully come to an agreement on that. But, no, there won’t be another XTC album. (With mock gruffness) Is 25 years of magnificent albums not enough for you?
* Now that you’ve resumed working with Virgin, will we see a career-spanning DVD of promotional videos?
There’s a plan for Virgin to put out a compilation album called Poppycock, where one of the discs in the set will be a DVD of the singles. But I would imagine that they’re not spending much on sort of cleaning it up. It’ll just be the copy they grab, and away they go. It won’t be a sort of draughtman’s contract, getting digitally restored or anything
* A lot of us see Oranges and Lemons as seminal work. What, if anything, would you have done differently with that record in hindsight, and how does it hold up in your mind?
Orange and Lemons is okay. I’d put it at about #4 or #5 in my favorite albums of ours. I wouldn’t say it was one of the top three, but I think it’s got some good stuff on it. It is a little long. Maybe we should’ve, to be truthful, written a few more songs and made two different albums, maybe a year apart. But it seemed to come out okay, and I think it was of the time, if you know what I mean. It was what we wanted to be at the time: we wanted to be brash and bright and citrus and very precise. Which it is. It is all those things. Now I wouldn’t want to make a record like that, but in 1988, I really did.
How was Paul Fox to work with as a producer?
Excellent! A really very happy sort of person, and a very good midwife. Mid-husband. Is that such a term? Are there any male midwives?
If so, you never hear about them.
No! “Up to his elbows in work!” (Laughs) Yeah, he was very good and very sort of caring. I suppose my only one criticism would be that he was such a big fan of the band that we would fire a load of ideas at him, and rather than picking one and saying, “Okay, let’s go with this,” he would tend to try and accommodate everyone’s idea, so the tracks do sound a little fuller than maybe they should’ve been. But, hey, it was the ‘80s. You’ve got to figure that in.
This one has no back story accompanying it, but…
* Do you remember taking a few Polaroids during the Oranges and Lemons sessions?
(Exuberantly) Yes! I should imagine that one of them is of me wearing the Colonel Cunt hat. Because I’d be ordering people around, saying, “Look, come on, can we do another take, let’s try this again,” there’d be lots of muttering under the breath of the band, you know. I guess I got into the bandleader role a little bit stronger on that album than on previous albums. But I thought to lighten the mood…we’d always had loads of porn mags around the studio, so I cut out a particularly well-photographed close-up of a pudenda and made a real sort of Russian commissar’s peaked cap and stuck that where the badge should be on the front. And we had this hat on the mixing desk, and if I suggested or if anybody suggested anything that was a little dictatorial, everyone would point to the hat, and they had to go and put on the Colonel Cunt hat.
This one comes from one of my Facebook friends.
* Simon Tedd says to say, “Hello.”
Simon Tedd! Yes! He used to be in a band…that had a really pathetic wet girl’s name. And they played a few gigs in the miniature version of the Hollywood Bowl, which is in the town gardens in Swindon. They have, like, a 1/3 scale Hollywood Bowl. And in the early ‘70s, him and this band, who I seem to remember having a particularly wet girl’s name, used to play a few gigs there. And for some reason, I ended up getting to sort of vaguely know him.
He said, “We were mates way back in the Helium Kidz days, Swindon Town Gardens and Swindon Viewpoint Television. I lost track of him around the time of Big Bam Boo.” That was his band.
That was a later band of his.
Right. He also said, “I remember having a long phone call with him about the merits of Paul Fox, the producer of Oranges and Lemons. Fox was being foisted on us by our record label for the second BBB album. It never happened.”
That was probably the last time I ever spoke with him. That was quite some time back.
Well, he says to say, “Hello.”
Right! (Pauses) What else have you got?
* Did you have anything to do with the Scrotal Scratch Mix from Johnny Japes and the Jesticles?
Well, there was no B-side for that disc, and I can’t remember who suggested it, but it was decided that we would do a Scrotal Scratch Mix. And, basically, it’s just the backing track with…I can’t remember, but I think we auditioned who had the noisiest trousers at the recording session. It was myself, Dave Gregory, John Otway, and Neville Farmer, who is sort of a writer/editor of a music magazine, that sort of thing. And we just auditioned who had the noisiest crotch. We put a mike about crotch high, and everybody had to stand and scratch their crotch, and whoever had the noisiest crotch…I think it was somebody with corduroys on…they just got to scratch their balls, really, over the backing track.
* Thanks for cluing us in to the Milk and Honey Band. How did you first come across them?
Purely by accident. Bob White, the Milk and Honey Band main songwriter and singer, posted me an album they did on a small label called Ugly Man…which I think they sold about two copies of that album on the Ugly Man label. He said, “Look, here’s an album we hand out, lots more where this came from, can we be on your label?” And I thought, “Well, this is not going to be any good, because the previous 99 discs I’d just suicidally trolled through…well, all these other bands haven’t been any good, so I’ll just play one or two tracks and see what I get out of this.” And I played one or two bits of track, and usually within a few seconds I know whether I’m going to be interested in something…and I just thought it was marvelous! (Laughs) And I thought, “Whoa! I must get in contact with this chap!” And I rang him up, and he had about three or four albums worth of recordings. And it was a case of, “Right, let’s go! This is brilliant stuff!” So it was just happy happenstance, you know?
* How the hell do you play the opening riff to “Meccanic Dancing”?
Oh! Well, I’ll put the phone on the table for a second. (Pauses) There, you’re on speaker now. And you play it like this…! (Plays the riff on his aforementioned new guitar) There you go. But I could describe it. Here you go: top E string and G string, slid up to the A position, with the B string ringing open. Now let me just make sure that’s correct. Hold it. (Plays the riff again) Yeah. And the second chord is…top three strings, open E, open G, and… (Plays another chord) …D on the B string covered. So it’s just those two positions. Well, it’s only the top three strings of the guitar, and…yeah, what I said earlier.
* Where does your inspiration come from, especially this late in the game? For instance, I know the back story, but “I Can’t Own Her” and “Harvest Festival” still just reduce me every time I hear them.
Loss, probably. And never being able to attain something. “I Can’t Own Her” was a realization that you don’t own people. I’d just been divorced somewhat against my will, and somebody just walked out of my life, and I couldn’t own them. And somebody was just walking into my life, and I couldn’t own them, either. And it’s that realization that you can’t own people. You can love them, but it is an amazingly solitary feeling. You can love them and try to express that you love them, but there’s nothing to stop them from wandering off or dying or…well, do you see what I mean? You just can’t own people. Love is an incredibly solitary sensation, I think. So that was that one. And I always wanted to write a song that had kind of Burt Bacharach chords, and “I Can’t Own Her” is a little bit Bacharach in chords.
So is that where your general inspiration comes from, then? Real life events combined with a desire to write your own versions of other people’s songs?
Yeah! That’s where a lot of songs are started. You’re dicking around, and…actually, “Wrapped in Grey,” that was more ersatz Bacharach. Maybe “I Can’t Own Her” had a little dollop of Bacharach. But, yeah, I get a lot of ideas for songs by fucking up other people’s songs. ‘Cause I’m no good at learning stuff. Like, “Knights in Shining Karma” came from dicking around with “Blackbird” and getting it wrong. Or “All You Pretty Girls” came from mucking ‘round with a Hendrix riff and getting that wrong. And you just sort of stumble across these things, and you think, “Hey, that’s good! Nobody’s found that. Oh, of course, it’s a bit like that, but I’m messing it up here. But that’s fine, it still sounds good!” So, yeah, I get a lot of inspiration from messing up other people’s songs. (Laughs) And I don’t mean intentionally. I’m just not a great learner!
* Can you describe your demo process and how it’s evolved? I know your early demos were you stomping and strumming, and they’ve evolved into very well developed recordings.
Yes. (Goes silent)
(Laughs) So how has the process evolved over the years?
Just technology. Being able to afford a machine where you can multi-track yourself. Like, a four-track cassette machine. Then I leapt up after a few years to an eight-track cassette machine. Then I thought I was leaping up, but I probably leapt down in quality to an ADAT eight-track digital machine. Then I got into recording on computer, and there we go. That’s sort of where I am at the moment.
* What do you record first? The drum track?
Usually some sort of rhythm thing. I usually record the bass last, and that’s a habit that Colin also caught, because some bass players can overplay and play too much. And if they listen to what the drums are doing and what the chord instruments are doing, they realize they don’t have to play so much, and they can be much more selective and much more melodic in their playing. McCartney does that. From ’66 onwards, he was putting his bass on last. And I used to do that with my demos, and Colin got into doing that. I think it’s a very good way of approaching the bass, ‘cause so many bass players are, like, “Okay, let’s put the bass and drums down first!” And, of course, there’s no other instruments…or, y’know, they aren’t very loud in the mix or whatever. Bass players are just filling up all the holes, all the time, and it’s horrible. They don’t need that.
* How do you know when a song is “done”?
It’s never done. You just have to abandon it. You have to say, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, that’s good enough awful.” If you see what I mean. And then you just have to walk away from it and try not to return to your vomit too much. You really have to…there’s somebody who said, “Great art is knowing when to abandon it.” That’s completely true. You do have to say, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, that’s gonna have to do.” And, you know, sometimes you can work things to a peak of perfection and sort of not realize it and go through and start spoiling it. It’s a bit like overegging a pudding, or crushing the cake with the weight of icing, or something like that. That’s a bit of an art, doing that. But you do have to sort of throw it away, really, at some point, and shove it out into the world and say, “You’re old enough now, get out and stop sponging off of me, you layabout!”
* Do you have the ability to release any more of XTC’s live recordings?
Not really, although, thinking about it, we may have the rights to some of the live things that have come out already. We’re looking into doing a complete box of everything we did for the BBC. So that could be good.
* When did you first become aware of guitarist Ollie Halsall and in what ways has he influenced your playing?
Oh, he’s an enormous influence! He’s one of the top three influences, I think. I first discovered him with the first Patto album, and I heard the track “The Man.” I don’t know whether you know Patto, but they made, I think, two and a half really excellent albums. And some of the tracks…I’d say three or four of the tracks on each of those albums…are just stunningly wonderful, with the other stuff just being sort of okay. Certainly very good for the time. I’m not sure when the first album came out. ’70, ’71, something like that. And I heard a track called “The Man,” which is very slow and very empty, and I loved the sort of…this sounds rather rude, but I loved the aching holes in it. There were some great holes in the funk of this track, and it just seemed to ache. And I thought, “Wow!” And I was only a young kid, but that was very impressive. And then when I heard the complete opposite of that, tracks like “Air Raid Shelter,” where the guitar plays such inventive runs, not your standard blues stash of things, your standard blues licks that absolutely everybody was doing, the kind of cheap copy of Clapton. He didn’t play like that. He just played it like…he made the guitar sound more like Albert Ayler or John Coltrane, more like a sort of fluid piano player. Once I heard his guitar playing, I was, like, “Oh, I need to be able to play like that!” And I still catch myself…if I sit with a guitar, which I do most evenings, I still find Ollie-esque things falling under my fingers.
* What is it about Ollie that you took into your own music?
Surprise. And the element that walls are for breaking down, and that scales are for wrecking. But the sense of surprise, which for me is a lot of joy. It’s like a beautiful gift, where you’re opening a box, and you think you know what might be in it, but then you’re, like, “Oh, that is phenomenal! Wow! Look at that! How did that get in there? What a lovely little surprise!” His playing is full of that, and I try to do that…or I have tried to do that…with my songwriting and playing to date. But if you don’t know Patto, they did make some stinky records, but the first two…I think it’s just called Patto, and then the second one, I think, is called Hold Your Fire. Patto was the name of the singer: Mike Patto. A very tragic band. Mike Patto died of cancer to the throat, Ollie Halsall died, I think, of an overdose, and the bass player (Clive Griffiths) was in a car crash, has no recollection of having been in the band, and is in a wheelchair. The only member that’s sort of together is the drummer of the Rutles! The Barry Wom character, whose name is John Halsey. So it’s Ollie Halsall and John Halsey. It was a tragic band, but Ollie’s playing…there’s a couple of bits of Ollie on YouTube. They’re not fantastic, but you do get a sense of how he was quite willing to break stuff down musically.
The person who actually posed the question made note of the semi-similarity between the Rutles and the Dukes of Stratosphear.
Yeah, we like to think the Rutles copied everything we did!
Another person simply asks the following:
* Fanno vs. Ibanez?
Ibanez, definitely. I really grew with that guitar. That’s really sort of my wife in guitar terms, I guess. And I don’t own a Fanno! I only owned a Fanno for about six months. He took it back because he said he wanted to make some adjustments, and I never, ever saw it again. So I don’t own a Fanno. Dave Gregory does, Colin Moulding does, but I don’t. So Dennis, if you’re reading these, d’ya think I could have my guitar back, please?
I’ve just got a couple more here…
Oh, no, you can ask me as many as you want!
Well, okay, then. Next up…
* What the hell is a butter pie?
A butter pie is…isn’t that the side dish you have when you have a four of fish and a finger pie? I think you have to have a butter pie to lubricate the sensation of four of fish and a finger pie.
* When writing “Dear God,” did you really mean what you wrote, or is it just a song?
It’s just a song, and I was examining my attitude toward it all.
* Do you believe in God?>
No. Not at all. There is no aging English actor in white sheets sitting in the clouds. I think the truth is unbearable for people, so they tend to make up fairy stories. There is no God. And why should there be? There’s no reason for God. Mother Nature has no reason for God.
* With the upsurge of atheism as a kind of movement, are you getting different reactions or more reactions to “Dear God” these days?
No, it just seems to keep bobbling along, pissing off Christians and giving some sort of hoorah for people who tend not to believe. But I was wrestling with the tail end of my belief when I wrote it, because as a kid, I was really…I got myself worked into such a sweat over religion. I remember that, about the age of eight or nine, one afternoon I had visions in the sky of clouds parting, and there was God on His throne, surrounded by angels, talking to me and grinning at me. I mean, if I lived in a Catholic community, I could’ve milked that and made myself a fortune! But, no, I think it happened because I was in such a hysterical state about religion as a child, and about the existence of God and that sort of thing. Religion is a source of a lot of problems, and if there is a God, he would hate Christianity, he would hate Islam, he would hate Buddhism, he would hate everything that’s done in His name, because nobody behaves in a way that you’re supposed to behave. If you see what I mean.
* Will you ever consider selling your art, drawings, paints, etcetera?
I’ve given a few away. In fact, an ex-manager of ours, Tarquin Gotch…yes, that’s Tarquin Cedric Gotch, the silliest name in manager-dom…I gave him one called, I think, “The Yellow Archer.” And I’ve given a few others to people in the past. But, you know, they’re not great, and they’re not…I dunno, I think if I painted for a living, I’d have to get over that. I’ve actually considered it lately as a way of running away from music, to paint. But I don’t know if I could make a living doing it. I mean, it’s nice and romantic, but, you know, you’ve got to make yourself some money!
* When are you coming back to Chicago? If it’s summertime, we’ll take you sailing on Lake Michigan.
Make sure I’ve got plenty of lifejackets on, if that’s the case, because I don’t swim! It’s not that I don’t swim out of choice; I just can’t. I wade phenomenally. If the water’s about three feet deep, I’m just the best wader. But I can do the brick stroke better than anyone else! I don’t know when I’m coming back, but I have some fond memories of Chicago. One of them is of a little bar called the Bucket O’ Suds, where the squeaky-voiced old fellow that ran it actually brewed some of his own booze. And he had bottles of this deadly stuff behind him on the shelf. I went in there one night after a show, and this squeaky-voiced character, this squeaky-voiced barman, said, “Welcome to my bar!” And I said something…and I was really croaky after this show, so I said, “Well, I’ve just done a show, and I’m rather croaky, and I think I’ve got a cold coming.” He said, “I’ve got just the thing for you!” And he poured me a couple of glasses of this homemade liquor that he did, and it was fantastic! I’ve no idea what was in it, but, hey, I forgot my cold! I don’t know whether the Bucket O’ Suds is still there, though.
Nor do I, but I’ll certainly find out. (Writer’s note: sadly, the Bucket O’ Suds closed in 1998 when the health of the aforementioned “squeaky-voiced” proprietor, Joe Danno, began to fail. He died in 2002, but his liquor lived on for a few years afterwards via the BOS Distilling Company. Alas, it too has since gone out of business.) Do you get Stateside very often?
Not so much these days. I’m a little bit phobic about flying these days. The last time I flew was actually about nine years ago. I sort of think that if God had meant us to travel at those speeds, he would’ve given us wheels. No, wait, that’s not right, is it? (Laughs) He would’ve upgraded us! No, I just prefer not to fly if I can help it. That’s so cowardly of me. But, no, I don’t get Stateside.
* When are you going to make another good album like Nonsuch?
You bastard! I’m not calling you “you bastard.”
(Laughs) I understand.
But this person…you bastard! What was wrong, dear boy, with Apple Venus, Vol. 1?
I must tell you that, within his question, he used the word “overrated.”
Of Apple Venus. And Wasp Star as well, actually.
(Gasps) My favorite album, Apple Venus. My favorite album that we did. But Nonsuch is my second favorite, so he’s not too out of whack.
And then I had a couple of follow-ups to questions from the last time I interviewed you. Did you ever hear from Dave Balfe of Food Records? (Writer’s note: Balfe reportedly never paid Partridge for the sessions he produced for Blur.)
(Sighs) Jesus Christ. I never want to hear from that twerp again. Yeah, he never paid me. It was five hundred pounds and a penny, those were my expenses. I just remember the penny on there. It made the amount indelible.
Yes, that was one of the pull quotes from our last conversation: “If Dave Balfe from Food Records ever gets to read this, pay me my expenses, you bastard!”
Five hundred pounds and a penny! Funnily enough, Virgin approached me recently and asked, “Were there any outtakes or finished things from that Blur session?” Because they’re doing a Blur retrospective. And I said, “Yes, there are three tracks, one of which has never come out in any form at all.” It’s called “Seven Days,” and it sounds fine to me. I played it a couple of months back, just to check, and it sounds completely fine. So who knows? Maybe some of my Blur productions will see the light of day!
What is the status of the Robyn Hitchcock collaborative album?
Oh, fuck knows, honestly. He’s just too busy running around the planet. We started this a couple of years back, and he’s just been so busy running around doing other stuff with other people. I feel very much the ignored party in all this, actually. I sent him an E-mail about six weeks or so ago, saying, “Look, I think this thing’s died of apathy, don’t you?” And he then sent me a postcard from on tour, saying, “Hey, we’re just getting into San Francisco, and, yeah, let’s record when I get back!” And, of course, I’ve never heard anything from him, so I guess he’s off on tour with somebody else again. He just seems to like touring and hanging out with other people, so I think the project seems to have died of apathy.
Are you still Andy “Two Sheds” Partridge?
I’ve still got the two shed. I’m looking at them now through the window. There they are, basking in the dusk. Actually, what does one do? One basks in the sun, but one really just gasps in the dusk, I think. (Pauses) So, what, is that all the questions, then? I thought there were tons!
Well, there were quite a few of them, but we blew through them rather quickly, so that’s all of them. Perhaps you’d like to offer up some fake information to place on the internet…? If so, feel free!
(Laughs) Yes, let’s start some lies! Do you realize that, from the top of my house, you can see all nine continents?
I did not realize that. And would you care to comment on the status of the unreleased album you recorded with John Lennon?
Yoko had it made into a hat.
Yes, she had the tapes knitted into a fur coat. Is it true that she had vast refrigerated warehouses full of fur coats?
I don’t know. It sounds viable, but I’m not sure if it’s actually true.
I was reading something, and someone said she was to fur coats what Imelda Marcos was to shoes.
Well, we’ll certainly be adding credence to that theory by putting it online.
Right! You know, I’d love to see a mash-up between her and Brian Eno. Brian Ono! Yoko Eno! Think of the music! (Offers an imitation of the possible shrieking sound) Like that, but very quietly. More ambient.
Actually, that reminds me, though: I was wondering if you yourself had any collaborations coming? The last time we spoke, you had worked with Jamie Cullum, and you’d just finished writing with Charlotte Hatherley.
Charlotte Hatherley…I don’t know what she’s doing at the moment. She sent me a burn of her soon-to-be-released album, and I’m afraid I didn’t like it much. And I was very bad. I was bad Uncle Andy, and I didn’t get back to her, ‘cause I couldn’t think of a nice way of saying, “I don’t really like your new album.” But as for collaborations with others, is there anything on the cards? Yeah, I seem to be doing most of my collaborating with a chap called Stuart Rowe, who’s a re-mixer cum producer cum musician, and he’s got a project called Lighter Thief. And I go to his studio and just improvise things, and he tends to chop them up and sort of make strange songs out of them. We just put out an EP, a three-track EP, of some of these things. It’s called Maximalism, and I’m really proud of one of the things on there. It’s called “Falling Into the Future,” and that was literally just improvised at that moment in his shed and tweaked into becoming a whole thing, if you see what I mean. You can hear part of it…actually, part of it is up on the XTC MySpace. The first two minutes of it or something is on there. But that was a great experience. It was fun doing that. We’re actually going to be putting out a whole album of these things later, but on the run-up to that, we’re putting out a series of EPs. I enjoy working with Stu because I never intend to do anything, and I just get down there, and if something boils to the surface, we record it. It’s like making music where you don’t intend to make it, if you see what I mean. It’s not like writing a song and then, okay, now let’s record it. It’s, oh, I’ve got a idea, quick, now turn that microphone on. And then we shape that into a piece or a song or a landscape of some sort.
Well, Andy, I think you’ve covered them all.
It’s been good talking to you again.
Alrighty! Well, I always enjoy it. Let’s ask people for some more out-there questions. They were all a little conservative.
(Laughs)Well, thank you, Andy, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we do see some new music from you soon…at your leisure.
All righty! Cheers, Will!