MUDKISS FANZINE

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"I FOUGHT THE PUNK ROCK WARS" - INTERVIEW WITH ANDY PARTRIDGE BY LEE MCFADDEN

Since the effective dissolution of XTC in 2005, Andy Partridge has been spearheading his own internet mail order label, Ape Records. The catalogue includes his own “Fuzzy Warbles” series – nine CDs (thus far) of solo demos spanning his entire career. Other label output includes collaborations with the likes of Peter Blegvad, and material from newer artists such as Jen Olive and Pugwash – the latter’s singer famously partnering Neil Hannon on last year’s Duckworth Lewis Method project.
LEE: Partridge’s latest offering is truly intriguing. “Powers” comprises of twelve untitled ‘sound pieces’ directly influenced by the art of Richard M Powers, whose work primarily adorned science fiction books in the 50’s and 60’s.

ANDY: “It really came from a childhood thing. I was a very slow reader. I think I was pretty bright but for some reason I had a block about reading. It may have been a form of dyslexia because I was also very confused about left and right. It was a time of special classes, staying behind at school with all the other ‘stupid’ kids and learning to read. About 500 yards from where we lived was a library on a council estate. From about 8 years old to when I left school, I used to go in there and borrow books just to look at the pictures – I really didn’t read anything. I would gravitate most weeks to the science fiction section and I would get three books out, lay them on the bed and just stare at the covers. Apart from being told to read for school projects I never read a book of my own volition until after I left school. I tended not to go back to those early books. They were like a little ‘island of sensation’ trapped from my childhood where I’d literally disappear into these covers and start hearing sounds, tasting things, sensing things.”

“A couple of years ago I was in the ‘Gosh Comics’ bookshop in London, and I saw this book (The Art Of  Richard Powers by Jane Frank) and I thought ‘Oh My God!’ This was the fellow that painted the vast majority of book covers that I stared at as a kid. Finally I’ve got a name after all these years I can put to the artist. I came up with the idea of recreating the sounds I had in my head when I looked at those covers.”

“I didn’t want it to be really musical. I used to hear disconnected sounds that resembled the shapes I was looking at. If they were tiny little light shapes I’d hear tinkling noises or if they were big arch stone looking things the noises would be rounder – like a form of synaesthesia. I didn’t want it to have recognisable chords and melodies. I’d try and get back in tune with the sounds in my head and go looking for those sounds. Ironically I found most of these sounds by screwing up sounds of classical instruments – screwing up a tuba, or messing around with the sound of a violin or celeste. I’d pitch-bend a trumpet to make it sound like a melting piece of brass”.

LEE: The album is not a randomly accessed sound assemblage, or an assault on the senses a la Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music”. Although Andy Partridge steers clear of terming “Powers” as “music”, the twelve pieces are infused with an evocative presence that within seconds of the opening track transports the listener into imaginary worlds and a true sense of escapism, running the gauntlet of emotions throughout its duration – as the greatest music often does.

To promote the album, a video was edited using “Powers” opening track, combined with original Richard M Powers artwork.  A full DVD to compliment the album with the creations of Powers is however not forthcoming.

(Note: The video is purely for promotional purposes so Powers’ artwork is legally used within it.)

ANDY: “Ideally I’d like people to have their own images and landscapes because the album is quite sculptural. Little objects you hear in the distance – balls or shapes that seem to fly past or fall over as you walk by them – or as you rub your hands they glow – to me it’s trying to make the landscapes and the places in my headas a child. Or if it makes people seek out the work of Powers so hopefully they’d enjoy it...”

LEE: The album is limited to 500 physical copies, all signed and individually numbered by Andy Partridge. Once all 500 copies are sold (at the time of going to press there have been over 400 sales) all buyers will be entered into a draw to win the original artwork . From there the album will be sold as downloads only. The cover is Partridge’s own attempt at the style of Richard Powers – an artistic decision based on necessity rather than choice.

ANDY: “I tried to get one of four paintings for the cover art. I spent a couple of weeks trading down the estate – and lo and behold – the estate is run by Jane Frank (author of the aforementioned Powers book). I rang her up one afternoon. Unfortunately she put so many restrictions on the use of the art that it became impossible. 1 – She wanted too much money. 2 – It couldn’t be reproduced above a certain size, or you couldn’t crop it, or you couldn’t cut the signature off the painting – you couldn’t cover more than a certain percentage with print. I really wanted it to look like a battered old library book. The sick thing is – here’s a record in honour of this man’s artwork – I had to paint a piece of ‘ersatz Powers’ and then have my artist Andrew Swainson age it for me. I’m slightly ashamed of that. Can you imagine doing something in honour of Da Vinci and you can’t use his art? I would have thought she would have been glad”.

LEE: Andy Partridge has designed all sleeve artwork for his records to date, excepting the “Go 2” album and “a couple of early singles when we were away on tour”. Were there any other artists he found influential?

ANDY: “There’s an artist much more famous than Powers called Yves Tanguy, who I believe Richard Powers may have found influential to his art – and I believe some of the books I stared at as a kid may have had Yves Tanguy artwork on the front. At one point I didn’t know whether to dedicate pieces to different artists, but in the end so much of the stuff I liked was by Powers I thought I’d do the whole thing in honour of him”.

LEE: Could the album be recreated live with an orchestra?

ANDY: “I think it would take a very bold person with a lot of cash to do that because orchestras are expensive. I’m not an orchestral arranger. I can just about – with the aid of a sequencer – work through and arrange a few string and brass lines – but I can’t write music. I can’t imagine how you’d make sense of these sounds in real life – how do you make the sound of a bending celeste? It may be flattering but it may not sound like the actual disc – and it may trap it too  much in ‘reality’”.

“I think it was in 1999 or 2000 I was asked to curate the Meltdown Festival, and one of the ideas was to look at staging orchestral versions of XTC’s music. I turned it down eventually, even though I would have had the use of an orchestra for free, but I didn’t want to get up and play MC, and I was struggling with who to put on – the only band I could think of to get more people to hear was Can!”

(Ironically, if it was the 2000 festival he was asked to curate, the eventual host that year was Scott Walker – a man not generally noted for his on-stage visibility.)

LEE: Were there any other projects that were shelved due to the commitments of XTC and the restrictions imposed through working under Virgin Records?

ANDY: “The only project that Virgin really took to was ‘The Dukes’ (Of Stratosphear). They reluctantly let us do ’25 O’ Clock’. When it sold really well – approximately three times as many as the last XTC album – they were keen for us to do more, and I had enough for a full length album (‘Psonic Psunspot’). But when I went to them with other projects they just didn’t get them. I put forward the project of a bubblegum sampler – a dozen different bubblegum tracks, really crass, moronic, double entendre lyrics. XTC was to play the part of all twelve bands. I demo’ed it up (solo) ready to play to the heads of Virgin – and I gave them the lowdown: ‘None of these are contemporary bands – these are all bands from 1968/69 – you won’t have heard of any of them’. They kept interrupting – ‘So you’re going to go on ‘Top Of The Pops?’ I said ‘No. We won’t be seen – we’ll make the music – all the songs will sound slightly different but they will all hang together – very melodic, likeable instantaneous bubblegum things but with thinly disguised lyrics. We’ll put a story out that Virgin has bought the ‘Hercules’ label – the sampler would be called ‘The Twelve Flavours Of Hercules’ – there will be twelve different bands and it will come in a bubblegum flavoured sleeve’ – they just didn’t get it. And of course they owned us lock stock and barrel at the time. I’m shocked they let me do the dub record in 1979. (‘Take Away: The Lure Of Salvage’ – dub versions of XTC tracks credited to ‘Mr. Partridge’) I really like the idea of making music anonymously – that’s why ‘The Dukes’ was such a thrill to do”.

LEE: Two of Andy’s solo bubblegum demos were eventually released as part of the “Fuzzy Warbles” collection.

ANDY: “I may put others out on Ape, but I’m looking for a supplier of flat bubblegum – the stuff that came with flat bubblegum cards. I’d like to put out a vinyl single with the cards and a flat piece of gum in a foil sealed bag that you have to tear open to play the single”.

LEE: Future projects on Ape?

ANDY: “Everybody’s asking ‘When’s the solo album?’ and I’m really struggling with the idea of doing more ‘songs’. I’m kind of  bored with ‘songs’. Making ‘Powers’ was the most thrilling thing I’ve done in years, just because it was an area I hadn’t gone in fully in the past. There’s an album coming out either this year or early next year called “The Club Men” – myself, Stuart Rowe and Jen Olive – improvised pieces that are part song, part groove, part sound  - that seem to spontaneously happen. If we like it we’ll finish it up – if we don’t it dies. About three quarters of it is recorded. There are other projects I’d like to do but not many of them involve finishing up the many hundred embryonic songs that I’ve got – but I feel that’s my past, that’s a place I’ve been, and I don’t feel I want to keep going back to”.

LEE: Life as an internet label boss comes with inevitable problems.

ANDY: “The whole Ape thing is bankrupting me. Nobody’s buying music, they’re just stealing it. They just sit there with a computer ‘I’ll have that album’ – free download – kabonk – thank you – nobody is buying stuff, it’s a real problem.”

LEE: I put forward that many albums are sold directly at live gigs.

“You think I can get any of the Ape acts to get their arses together to go live?”

LEE: The extra and famous complication to this dilemma is that Partridge himself has not played live since 1982.

ANDY: “I got that out of my system. I did too much of that in the 70’s and 80’s. What really poisoned it for me was that I never saw a penny after five years of solid touring – it really put me off. You mix all the problems I had with valium together and I thought to myself ‘What do I enjoy doing? I enjoy writing, I enjoy the studio, putting it together’ so I thought I’d dedicate my life to that rather than being the performing monkey”.

LEE: On that basis, how does he feel about the current crop of bands reforming to play lucrative concerts?

ANDY: “I wish they wouldn’t. If you’re not going to be better than you were, STOP. If it hurts when you hit your head with a hammer, STOP. If you’re not very good, or if you’re not better than you were, or at least as good as you were then, DON’T DO IT. It’s an easy formula. Your songs have to be as good or better. Your performance has to be as good or better. If it’s neither of these, why? Something to shoot for.”

LEE: On informing Andy that much of  Mudkiss centres around Punk & New Wave, he was keen to talk at a future date about those hallowed times, and he claims the authorship of a well worn phrase  – “I Fought The Punk Wars”.

ANDY: “I invented that phrase and it’s been stolen lock stock and barrel by just about everybody!”

The 500 physical copies have now sold out - Powers wil be available as downloads later in the year"http://www.ape.uk.net/acatalog/Andy_Partridge.html

Lee McFadden 29/08/10