There are two types of people in this world: XTC fanatics and the rest. This criminally under-appreciated band has been plying their musical wares since the late 1970s, growing from punkish brash new wavers into the standard bearers of occasionally orchestrated sophisticate Beatle-esque pop. While the line-up has shrunk over the decades, the creative duo remains the same: bassist Colin Moulding and guitarist Andy Partridge write the songs. Of the two, Partridge’s output has far outpaced Moulding’s and also has included collaborations with other artists (as producer and/or musician), as well as a several experimental projects over the years (Lure of Salvage, Take Away, Through The Hill with Harold Budd, etc.).
Along the way, the band has accrued a number of admirers among fellow musicians and the listening public, most of whom display a rabid devotion to any and all things XTC. As with any popular/time-proven act, bootlegs arise over the years. Comprising those sundry bootlegs: live performances, songs from rare fan club collections, promotions spots, alternate studio takes, experimental noodling, and unreleased songs.
In the past few years, Partridge and XTC have done their part to subdue the bootleg traders, first with the live concert/BBC studio 4-CD collection Transistor Blast and this past year with the nicely packaged Coat of Many Cupboards that featured alternative versions, some unreleased songs and plenty recycled studio material.
When XTC was “on strike” to get out of their contract with Virgin Records, there was a long fallow period for listeners. Years went by without any studio releases (and all the while Partridge was penning new songs and making home-studio demos). So in a sense there was extra motivation for hungry XTC fans to trade any and all bootleg gems that could be procured. And while the activity is not quite on the same scale as those who collect Beatles or Grateful Dead boots, Andy Partridge is well aware of what’s being circulated out there.
As a public service to his worshipping fans, Partridge now promises a step-up from those poor quality tenth-generation cassette bootlegs. This series of cleaned-up/approved bootlegs, entitled Fuzzy Warbles (a phrase lifted from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange), could run anywhere from eight to twelve discs total, depending on how deep the treasure trove of material runs, and how ambitious Partridge gets about cleaning it up and releasing it.
Originally this was supposed to be an XTC project, but Colin Moulding begged out of it rather than chance the financial risk, so now it’s out on new sub-label APE (Andy Partridge Editions). While some might balk at the price of these goodies, most of the converted brethren will find it a reasonable deal. For one, the sets come nicely packaged, with a full booklet of comments from Andy P., as well as lyrics.
Volume1 opens with “Dame Fortune”, a fun, upbeat tune that didn’t make the cut for Apple Venus One, but might yet have you jump for joy. Like many of the Apple Venus demos, Partridge gives it a very complete full-band treatment, simple drums, great bass, lead and rhythm guitar, as well as occasional harmonies.
“Born Out of My Mouth” is a pleasant surprise, another fairly completed song born out of a contributed piece of music to a Microsoft interactive musical website in 1995, as is “Everything”, a song first written for Oranges And Lemons that fell by the wayside. “Goosey Goosey” is another catchy one that never made the final cut, this one originally intended for Nonsuch.
Smaller snippets include “Howlin’ Burston”, a promo for a local deejay in the manner of Captain Beefheart, the avant-garde experimental “Mogo”, “Ocean’s Daughter”, a little instrumental bit of electronic ditty, and its surf-rock musical cousin “Space Wray”. Along the same lines of electronic experimentation is the instrumental “EPNS”, and an adaptation of an Ernest Noyes Brookings poem entitled “Rocket”.
“Don’t Let Us Bug Ya” is one of five polished songs written, then ultimately discarded, for the Disney/Tim Burton animated feature James and the Giant Peach. Offering Partridge scant remuneration (and no royalties), the job ultimately went to Disney go-to-guy Randy Newman and Partridge was left with five nice “bug-themed” songs. This one is from when James first meets the oversized insects.
“Summer Hot As This” has a little less polish than some of the other demos, yet sports some jazzy guitar synth, as well as some nice Dave Gregory guitar accompaniment. “Wonder Annual” is another fully realized studio demo, a song about female masturbation (though not obviously) that missed the cut first on Nonsuch and then later with Wasp Star (and again, one wonders why — it’s a great song).
For historical perspective, you get a buzzy version of “Merely a Man”, a tinny but thoroughly likeable home croon version of “Miniature Sun”, a great demo of “I Bought Myself a Liarbird” and a very bare-bones archaeological artifact wherein Partsy lays down improvised nonsense to capture an idea for a song that would become “Complicated Game”.
True fans might best enjoy the two tracks related to “That Wave”. In “That Wag” you get studio antics from Partridge who didn’t realize he was being recorded while aiming to get “That Wave” down correctly. You are treated to his “Mr. Jiggs” imitation, and brief versions of how “That Wave” would sound as done by the Cure, the Smiths, and Dylan respectively.
Volume 2 opens with a dramatic mellotron musing entitled “Ridgeway Path”, then segues into one of my favorite unreleased Partridge tunes “I Don’t Want to Be Here”. For the record, this is a different version than most of us boot-traders already have (this one stripped down and intended as a contribution to an aids benefit album from a US radio station). Originally Partridge wrote this song for UK pop chanteuse Cathy Dennis, who rejected it as “too wordy”. Her loss is your gain — though I contend it still would make for a fine XTC song in the studio.
The pleasant surprise of this disc is “Young Marrieds”, a great song that never made it onto Wasp Star due to an overabundance of material. ‘Tis a shame, really, since this fully-realized song is quite wonderful, an acid examination of young marital unhappiness.
Short takes include the Jamaican-style phone message “No One Here Available”, “Miller Time”, a short instrumental precursor to “Hold Me My Daddy” and “Goom”, another in the avant-garde series where noises can be songs too.
Psychedelia is the unspoken theme behind Volume 2. Historical perspective for this volume is provided with alternate versions of “25 O’Clock”, “You’re the Wish You Are I Had”, a very early version of “All of a Sudden”, a great paisley version of “Summer’s Cauldron” and a demo from the earlier years’ “Chain of Command”. Two separate versions of “Ra Ra for Red Rocking Horse” offer material for those keen on “compare and contrast” activities.
You get another of the James and The Giant Peach demos — the optimistic piano-driven “Everything Will Be Alright”, which Partridge declares is the nearest he every got to “You’re Mother Should Know”.
Also given here are two songs that were going to be passed off as lost tracks from obscure fictional 1960s bands and distributed with a magazine: “Then She Appeared” by the Goldens (which eventually found a home on Nonsuch) and “It’s Snowing Angels” by Choc Cigar Chief Champion (a mellow sort of Lovin’ Spoonful-type song that was included on the Hello Club CD from Andy Partridge).
“Ship Trapped in the Ice” is another lovely infectious song from 1995 that documents in simple metaphor how XTC was frozen out from creating new music by their poor deal with Virgin Records.
I admire these first two CDs, because with Fuzzy Warbles Partridge is putting a wide variety of different types of things out there, some more polished and finished, others decidedly seminal or experimental.
These CD’s are not recommended to anyone as an introduction to XTC (or even to musical sub-set, the solo Andy Partridge). In fact, perhaps there should be some sort of fan qualification before purchase. These are not put out for close critical scrutiny (yet here I am reviewing it), but merely for devoted fan appreciation. Partridge is clever and intelligent and often goes beyond safe boundaries to push his music into new areas.
While under-appreciated by the general public, those who recognize him as a musical genius will find these ongoing CD’s an enjoyable delight. Partridge loves puns and wordplay, and his lyrics reflect that, and his music stretches across a wide spectrum that is reflected here (some with release-ready production, others with a “warts n’ all” harshness). Ian Cooper does a fine job mastering these two initial volumes.
Not only do they offer us rabid fans historical perspective (yes, I confess my love of all things Partridge), but also it gives a glimpse behind the music in the comments Partridge offers in the accompanying booklet, and serves up a few heretofore-unknown gems. Volume 1 has 19 tracks; Volume 2 has 18 more, and rumors abound that there are more than 250 tracks to be captured when all is said and done.
For fans of Andy Partridge and his music, these first two Fuzzy Warbles are a wonderful way to pass the time until the next official XTC release (rumored to be already underway).