Your gold dress is shaming the stars, a thousand melting Dali Guitars

From time to time, you’ve got to indulge yourself a little, no? We all work (quite) hard, we all need a bit of down time. We deserve this…

Of late, this righteous act of forbearance has been tending to take the form of a few snatched moments of tender loving XTC. Whether it’s enjoying the breathy burr of Skylarking or the breathless industry of English Settlement, there’s nothing quite like the genius of Andy Partridge.

While the local news salivates over a West Country Perfect Storm – “the Beast from the East meets Hurricane Emma” (I think I saw that one. Abbott & Costello were in it), there’s the welcome prospect of a duvet day in the offing. Now seems a good time to draw the curtains, pour myself something warming, chuck another stump on the fire and slide into something melting…

Chips from the Chocolate Fireball

Somebody gave me a copy of this a while back but I don’t think I really investigated it properly at the time, and I’ve only really began to appreciate it in the last couple of days. You’ll know all this, I’m sure, but just in case… Chips from the Chocolate Fireball is a compilation of two wonderfully batty psyche albums released in the late eighties by the Dukes of Stratosphear. “It’s sort of a nostalgia thing, because I just wasn’t old enough to be a hippie.” said Partridge (for it was he) “My parents wouldn’t let me grow my hair long. I really do love that kind of music.”

The initial release, a six-track EP (ask your dad, kids) called 25 O’clock, was intended as something of a playtime away from the troublesome sessions that were producing Skylarking, and Dave Gregory credits the fun and frolics of this wacky side-project as having a large part to play in the band’s survival through the period. And it certainly seemed to have been a lot of fun with an unofficial rulebook being adhered to for the sessions:

  • No more than 2 or 3 takes
  • Vintage equipment
  • and er… “Psychedelic” conventions

Each current member of XTC was involved and they took on the whole adventure with some enthusiasm and a healthy joie de vivre, taking psyche pseudonyms (Gregory’s brother Ian, joining on drums, was “E.I.E.I. Owen”); sporting kaftans and other exotica for the sessions.

But actually, pretty quickly the “joke” stopped being one, and Partridge (in particular) began to become comfortable with a real fondness for English psychedelia and bubblegum bands. And it really shows. As you go through each track, particularly the six 25 O’clock ones, you quickly find yourself ticking the references. Rubber Soul (“What in the World”); Tomorrow (“Bike Ride to the Moon”); Syd (“Have you Seen Jackie?”); the Prunes (“25 O’clock”); Midas in Reverse (“Vanishing Girl”) I am the Walrus (“The Mole from the Ministry”); but with every backwards riff, every farfisa chord, they still can’t help being XTC, all taut, clever song writing and wry observations. There are some real gems here, at least two of which (“Collideascope” and “Pale and Precious”) Dave Gregory ranked with anything the “real” XTC recorded.

It’s enormous fun for anyone with even most passing of acquaintances with sixties psychedelia. The songs are all pretty strong on their own, but like the band themselves are exotically garbed in the dippiest of sixties gear – guitars a-jangling, backwards loops, distorted Pinky & Perky voices, birdsong, Liverpool accents (“Bloody Nora!”), faux Lewis Carroll spoken pieces. The lyrics are also lovingly daft but coming from Partridge’s dazzling palate, avoid too much “whimsy” – subversive moles grapple with sexually frustrated (and confused) youths and menacingly magical women. Phew…

It’s all tremendous cool(aid) fun.

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