He helped lead one of the punk era’s most long-lived and musically varied groups through 34 years of eclectic and at times groundbreaking music. Here are five reasons why Andy Partirdge is a guitar legend…
XTC co-founder Andy Partridge defined himself as an eccentric and prodigious composer of songs inspired by ska, pop, rock and folk, and a guitarist with a flair for crafting off-kilter chords and licks, as well as whiplash solos that followed no predictable contour.
Angular, jagged and frequently “outside,” they expressed snotty punk attitude with their nonconformity while reflecting their creator’s own mercurial character. “I have a very split background,” Partridge explained to GP in June 1992. “One half of me wanted to be in the Monkees and use the guitar as a fishing rod to get girls out of the water.”
The other half, he explained, was drawn to Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart, Sonny Rollins, Tony Williams and John McLaughlin. “It split me pretty badly, because I was trying to learn from the pop technicians – the Jimi Hendrixes, the Jimmy Pages, the Rory Gallaghers – mixed in suddenly with this enormous dollop of melodic jazz scribbling. XTC came out of that, eventually.”
Born November 11, 1953, in Swindon, England, Partridge was inspired to play electric guitar after hearing The Beatles, and taught himself to play by copying from records, which included his first purchases, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Monkees. His recording career began when he obtained a tape recorder as a young teen with £10 he won after submitting a drawing of Mickey Dolenz to a “Draw a Monkee” competition. He’s been a prodigious songwriter and home recordist ever since.
In 1972, Partridge launched the glam band Star Park with bassist, songwriter and vocalist Colin Moulding and drummer Terry Chambers. Initially modeling themselves after the New York Dolls, by 1975 they changed their name to XTC and began crafting their own brand of hyperactive rock, blending influences from ska, British rock and roll, pop and dub.
Partridge sang his songs with rubbery, comic exaggeration, punctuating his delivery with walrus-like barks and Buddy Holly-style hiccups. It wasn’t punk, but it was just “off” enough to fit with the then-emerging genre. “We were a new pop group,” Partridge said, refusing to cast XTC’s lot with punk. “That’s all.”
The raucous tunes of their early albums gave way to pop and rock on Drums and Wires and Black Sea, but by the early 1980s Partridge had begun to lead his bandmates to a more acoustic, pastoral style, resulting in their 1982 hit, “Senses Working Overtime,” from English Settlement.
Though the band’s success was undoubtedly limited by Partridge’s refusal to perform live, they eventually found mainstream success stateside with the 1986 rock single “Dear God,” a Partridge-composed outtake from their Todd Rundgren–produced magnum opus, Skylarking. More hits followed with his songs “Mayor of Simpleton,” from 1989’s Oranges & Lemons, and “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead,” from 1992’s Nonsuch.
Partridge’s nature as a musical chameleon was never more evident than with XTC’s mid-’80s spin-off group, the Dukes of Stratosphear. A fan of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Partridge got XTC’s label, Virgin, to fund a one-off record inspired by ’60s psychedelic music.
Using vintage equipment and limiting themselves to no more than two takes per song, they cut six tracks and released them in 1985 on an EP titled 25 O’Clock. With the band members disguised in period fashions and bearing ludicrous pseudonyms, no one knew the Dukes were XTC. Remarkably, the record sold twice as many copies as XTC’s then-current album, The Big Express.
Since XTC’s demise in 2006, Partridge has continued to compose and produce other artists. He launched his own record label, APE House (“my initials, and then the E on the end”), which has released expanded reissues of albums from XTC’s extensive catalog.
He also contributed songs to Mike Keneally’s 2012 album, Wing Beat Fantastic, and wrote the tune “You Bring the Summer” on behalf of his childhood heroes the Monkees for their 2016 reunion album, Good Times! Partridge resurfaced recently when he and fellow English eccentric Robyn Hitchcock released Planet England, an EP featuring four new co-written tunes.
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