Often perceived as the sole embodiment of XTC, Andy Partridge co-fronted that most quintessentially English, pop-literate and genuinely progressive of new wave bands with Colin Moulding until 2000’s Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2). With XTC’s back catalogue being gradually re-released in expanded form (with new stereo and 5.1 remixes by Steven Wilson), Partridge has completed A Complicated Game: Inside The Songs Of XTC, co-written with Todd Bernhardt, and is in the process of writing songs for his beloved Monkees.
Do you believe in God?
No, not at all. I believe in man’s imagination and need to invent, but why would there be a God? I can think of a use for a tap, a glass of beer or a Curly Wurly, but I can’t think of a use for a God.
What were you like at school?
I was the class clown. I found out quite early on that if they were laughing they couldn’t punch you.
To what extent did The Monkees change your life?
The Monkees helped launch me into this insane career. They caught me at just the right time. I watched the TV show every week. I thought: “This is what groups do. They all live in the same house, go on wacky adventures and girls fling themselves at them. This is the job for me.” It was like career guidance. Then I won a tenner in Monkees Monthly’s Draw A Monkee competition, which I put towards a Grundig tape recorder to record my earliest musical fumblings.
What is the biggest misconception about you?
That I’m somehow less great than all of the other fucking wankers that sell albums by the cartload, because I come from Swindon. To the English, anything that comes from Swindon must have comedic value. And I think it’s held us back terribly. If XTC had come from New York or Manchester, our turds would have held up as high art. We were fucking brilliant, one of the greats.
What is your greatest regret?
Being in the studio on the afternoon I got tinnitus. This complete fucking dolt of an engineer pressed the wrong button while I was checking a supposedly silent loop with the desk at full volume, and generated a click track that went off like gunshots in my head. It left me with extreme tinnitus that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I contemplated suicide, just to stop it. This was ten years ago now.
What was the lowest point of your career?
The slow dissolution of XTC. I always wanted to be a Keith Richards-type sideman, write some songs, be a guitar player. But it never worked because we could never find a vocalist we were happy with, so muggins here had to do the majority of the singing. I always think as a band member, never as a solo artist. So when XTC slowly dissolved and then Colin [Moulding] and I fell out rather badly, I didn’t have a group any more, and that was the saddest, most difficult time.
Where do you stand politically?
Originally I didn’t want to know. As long as I could afford beer, I didn’t really care. Then just as I got interested in politics, Margaret Thatcher appeared on the horizon, so I voted for her purely because she was a woman. I was that naive. Now I’m very left.
What was your biggest waste of money?
I bought an Encyclopaedia Britannica set about a week before I got the internet. Then a couple of weeks later I got on the net. I’d just spent a thousand quid or something on the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and there it all was on the net. All the conspiracy theories you could ever need.
What is the secret of your success?
I honestly don’t think we’ve had success. Not in England, at least, which is really painful. After eighty-two we almost seemed to be barred from Top Of The Pops, and because we weren’t playing live, people thought we’d ceased to exist. We went on to have our biggest successes in America and Japan.
How does it feel for XTC to be defined as prog?
It’s probably due to being anointed by Steven Wilson. He’s the John the Baptist of prog, you see. Suddenly all these progledites are looking at our albums like The Big Express or Mummer and saying: “Oh my God, you’ve been prog all along.” I don’t think we were, we just stretched pop music as far as it’d go before it fell apart.
What in life are you most proud of?
Writing songs as good as The Beatles, Kinks, Beach Boys or any of the people I idolised as a youngster. I know people are going to be guffawing and clutching their sides, but despite coming from a poxy council estate in Swindon I’ve written – and my bunch of lads have made – music as good as our heroes.
What will be written on your tombstone?
Don’t be daft, they don’t put inscriptions on bin bags.