Over the last 25 years Barry Andrews - XTC's mad professor of the keyboards - has been involved with some of the most unusual, original and challenging music to be produced in the UK. The only member of the band not to come originally from Swindon, Barry was born in West Norwood, London on September 12, 1956. His family moved to Swindon when he was seven.

Taking to piano at an early age, Barry excelled at school and achieved 10 "O" levels. Although he played with a variety of local cabaret acts and covers bands during his late teens it was an advert he placed in a local music store that caused Andy Partridge to approach him and ask if he would like to join XTC as a replacement for the recently-departed Jonathan Perkins.

He never auditioned for the group. Rather, Barry met the band in the pub one night and Andy quickly discovered that he liked his sense of humour and the fact that he could hold his drink better than himself. "When I got back home," recalled Andy, "I was as sick as a dog in the sink! He kept his drink down better than I could so he was in the band."

The new lineup's first rehearsal was a disaster. Andy thought that Barry sounded too much like Deep Purple's Jon Lord and told him that he should try and play more like himself. At their next session together Barry's original style shone through.

Said Partridge: "He was the most original, most inspired keyboard player that I'd ever come across - and accidentally he was in our band."

Shortly after Barry joined, the group recorded two sessions for CBS. The band-buzz was already building, yet the company failed to take up their option. However, shortly after - Virgin Records signed the group, releasing their debut single 3D EP ("Science Friction") in 1977, quickly followed by their highly-acclaimed first album White Music.

But all was not well in the XTC camp. Andy has always had a distinct vision for the group and often this has proved at odds with other members of the band. Barry was equally strong-willed, and clashes between the two were inevitable.

Barry submitted five songs for XTC's second album, Go 2, and Andy vetoed all but two. During the tour that followed the record's release Barry decided to leave the band. He was replaced by a longtime friend of the band - Dave Gregory.

Barry's first solo release was the Town And Country EP, featuring one of the tracks that had failed to make Go 2 - "Sargasso Bar."

There was a second single under his own name - "Rossmore Road" - before Barry joined King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp in his new group - League of Gentlemen. A second version of "Rossmore Road" appeared, on which Barry performed with Gentlemen offshoot - Restaurant for Dogs.

During 1981 Barry joined up with Dave Allen and Carl Marsh to form Shriekback. Their first mini album Tench was recorded and released on the independent Y Records, followed by the full length LP Care, featuring the singles "My Spine Is the Bass Line" and "Lined Up."

Over the following decade Shriekback released a string of critically-acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums - including: Jam Science, Oil and Gold, & Sacred City - for a succession of labels. The band finally went their separate ways in the early 1990's.

Carl Marsh launched a solo career. Barry went on to form Illuminati, who rehearsed and gigged extensively but released little material. Then, in 1999 Dave Allen - now running his own record company - persuaded the original Shriekback lineup to reform in support of the recently released rarities compilation Naked Apes and Pond Life, and the Y Records Years CD. Gigs were penciled in for late 2001/early 2002.

© Darryl W. Bullock and Optimism's Flames