A Soviet Slab of Song
Capturing fully-formed but curiously abandoned songs,
tantalising fragments and unabashed sonic japery, Andy Partridge’s Fuzzy Warbles takes
a laissez-faire approach to fusty record company notions of marketing and, well, brevity.
Released on his own label, APE, and spread across nine CDs (including a disc called Hinges,
available with the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Fuzzy Warbles Collector’s Album boxed
set), the series is also a reminder of Partridge’s wholly original songwriting talent –
from the great XTC single that never was, 'Dame Fortune', on Volume 1, to the mind-scrambling collage of '2 Rainbeau Melt' on Volume 7, he can turn his hand to it all
with style (and, moreover, is prolific enough to be able to let countless great songs fester
on a DAT tape for years on end). But as he tells David Davies, it isn’t just music
he’s been hearing in his head over the past few months….
A broken tendon in your left hand followed by severe tinnitus
caused by a mishap in the studio during recording of your forthcoming improvised album,
Monstrance... it sounds like you’ve had a rough 12 months.
“Yes, I have had a really shitty year in terms of personal injury! I busted a
tendon in my left-hand ring finger, and I couldn’t play the guitar for six months.
But it’s healed up pretty decently now…
"In terms of the other injury, I had had mild tinnitus in the past just because we
used to play so damn loud on stage, but on a scale of 0 to 10 it was never worse than,
say, 2. But after this event in the studio, where I got this snare drum blasted into my
ears by an engineer at full volume, I suddenly had tinnitus at about 8 out of 10, which
is basically screaming feedback in your head 24 hours a day.”
You’ve also been working on new, improvised music with
drummer Martyn Barker and former XTC keyboard player Barry Andrews (his whizzy tinkling partly
defined the band’s first two albums) . How did you come to link up with Barry again?
It sounds horrific. But haven’t you been undertaking a revolutionary treatment
to try and improve things?
“You sit in this diving bell thing with little porthole windows in, and they slam the
big iron door shut, put an oxygen mask on, increase the pressure to the equivalent of
being 33 feet under the sea and you breathe pure oxygen for an hour. You get to act
out your Jacques Cousteau fantasies! Fortunately, it has taken it down to a level
where it’s manageable."
The Fuzzy Warbles box is pretty much your ‘alternative’ recording
life on disc. It’s a vast collection...
“It is a real Soviet amount of something, isn’t it? It’s a Stalinist state of a lump
of a thing, made of solid Communist block! I am actually really proud of the fact that
it was all recorded kind of unknowingly, purely to play to the band or the record company
or the producer. And then there are the songs that were rejected for whatever reason…
It’s really a skip for clearing out my head of all the junk that was in it musically for
the last 30 years."
“I actually met Barry in the street in Swindon about ten years ago, and asked him if he fancied
doing an improvised record with no concept – we’d just play. I asked him to imagine the Soviets
had invented rock ‘n’ roll and were beaming it down to earth from Sputnik!”
And now it’s finally happened, what does it sound like?
“I think it’s probably got ghosts of Can about it, and a ghost of Miles Davis, too. And there’s
a funny sort of tension because we’re three very different musicians: Barry comes from
melodramatic Victorian parlour piano and noise, Martyn comes from funk and folk, and I come
from pop and jazz. But everybody’s musically conversing with each other, and I think we’re
probably going to get up the noses of some rather conservative XTC fans. ”
It’s been over six years since Wasp Star came out. What is the band’s current status?
“There’s no XTC project in prospect because Colin [Moulding, bassist and fellow songwriter
in the band] doesn’t want to write anymore. Colin is very mysterious – I don’t even know where
he’s living now! – but he rang me up a couple of months ago and said, ‘I’m not going to write
anymore, I’m not interested.’ But I am – I can’t stop. I’ve got 70 ideas waiting to be finished
up, so I’m wondering if it’s time for the dreaded solo album.”
The beautifully packaged Fuzzy Warbles Collector’s Box Set is available now
(as indeed are all eight single-CD volumes) and can be ordered via Amazon (use the column on the
left for direct links) or via Andy’s own website at
is due for release in January.