Black Sea

Like I say, it would have been Work Under Pressure if it hadn't been for Ian Reid. He thought it made him look bad. Which of course it did because he worked the balls off of us. We played somewhere every night. He was killing us, you know. ~ Andy Partridge

On September 12, 2002 ~ Andy and I discussed the cover of XTC's pressure-cooked album.

AP: What have we missed out? Black Sea?

WL: We left out Black Sea. I'm marking them off, we can go back. You want to go back to Black Sea?

AP: Okay, yeah - sure.

WL: Work Under Pressure?

AP: Well, Work Under Pressure is what I wanted to call it, 'cause that was what it was. It was really, "You've got five weeks off from touring - make an album!" [laughter] Great - you know, our time off!

Ken White opens his big box of paints.
Sergeants Of Sound?

WL: What are we gonna do with the other three weeks?

AP: [laughing] Exactly! So, you know - we made an album. That was our time off from touring, to go and make an album. So, while we were making the album I thought, "Well, okay - what are we going to call this?" And I'd written the song "Sgt. Rock" and I had all these ideas about calling it Sergeants Of Sound. [chuckles] And I was going to do this thing, well there was a lot of designs with these three sergeant stripes lettering. You know, the lettering and logo looked like three sergeant stripes. And I did all these sketches, and I didn't like it. It looked kind of tatty. And it was a daft idea. [mockingly] Sergeants Of Sound, that's so stupid. [laughter] No, Work Under Pressure. Work Under Pressure. Diving suits, great! And I was really into that whole Victorian engraving thing. And the whole Towers of London thing, and the nobility of the workmen. Building London in the Victorian era. And all that kind of stuff. So I thought, "Well, wouldn't it be great if we were the people who were working under pressure." And deep-

sea divers work under pressure, literally. So - great! It's almost like, sort of a faux Sgt. Pepper's. [laughter] Instead of these fantastically lush psychedelic bandsmen's costumes we'll stand there in grimy deep-sea diving outfits. And for the backdrop, I didn't want XTC on the front cover. I wanted to put XTC in the articles that would make the kind of Victorian photographic studio backdrop. If you see what I mean.

WL: Sure.

AP: So that the - uh, let me see. What was the X? That was a seagull.

WL: The T was the mast of the ship.

AP: The T was the mast. And then the C was like the light shining on a hot air balloon.

WL: Yeah.

AP: Sort of like, is it the moon? Is it a hot air balloon? And that was going to be XTC across the top.

WL: That was actually done by the guy who did the Swindon mural, wasn't it? I can't think of his name.

AP: Ken White.

WL: Ken White. That's right.

AP: Yeah, he lives a couple of streets away from me. Don't let him corner you in the street. He'll bring out packs of photographs of what he's been up to lately and you just won't get away. [laughing] But anyway - I had a meeting with Ken White and I said, "Look, can we do something, can we steal these skies and things from one of these

Ken White's now defunct Swindon mural. 1 - 2

Doré engravings." [silence] Do you know Doré?

WL: Uhhh - I don't think I…

AP: French. He had a series of engravings called... He engraved the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." He had these fantastic skies all done in with engraving. And I said, "Can we do something with this? Can you make up a backdrop, or whatever, where you project these Doré images?" So we booked the studio and the backdrop arrived with Ken and it, and the three symbols on the back that said XTC, looked great. I thought, "This looks great." And we got in the diving suits. They weighed a ton. And we stood there, and had the session photographed. We even turned around on the back like the Sgt. Pepper's sleeve. And that was it. It was going to be called Work Under Pressure. And then our manager [Ian Reid] got the willies about it. And he pulled me out of the studio one morning, and put me in the little non-room between the studio and the outside. There's a kind of little, sort of airlock type thing. And he's sort of, [nasal inflected tone] "Yeah, and look... I don't want you calling it Work Under Pressure" [Andy] "We've done the sleeve now. It's all going ahead" [Ian] "No - I just don't want it." [Andy] "Why?" [Ian] "Well, it makes me look bad. Like I'm working you

fellas to death. I really insist you don't call it that." [Andy thought] "Oh shit, what to do? What to call it? We've got the cover. It's in existence." And it was just a panic, Black Sea was a kind of panic title. It didn't really mean anything. It should have been Work Under Pressure. That's what the whole concept was. That's what we felt like.

WL: It sounded like a very XTC title though. From White Music to…

AP: Well, that's the only connotation. Well, White Music was supposed to be called Black Music you know. But Simon Draper at Virgin said, "You can't use that 'cause they'll think it's a soul record." [laughter] So, our manager forbade us to call it Work Under Pressure. And we just scrabbled around... I scrabbled around for ideas. Deep Up was one of the potentials.

WL: Deep Up?

AP: Deep Up, I think was one of the ideas. [thinking of other potentials]

Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?

Oh, I can't. Somewhere I've got them all; in exercise books somewhere. And I just grabbed Black Sea as a last minute panic. And I don't know why, particularly. So that was a bit of a mess. And then, at the very last second Virgin said, "Well, where are you gonna print XTC Black Sea on it?" And I said, "Well, we're not. We've got XTC across the top, in the backdrop. And you find out it's called Black Sea when- after you - you know, you don't need to know that. You buy it. You just, go and buy it.

WL: [laughing]

AP: And they said, "No, we want XTC Black Sea on the front." So, we had the manager saying we couldn't call it Work Under Pressure, the record company now insisting that the cover must have lettering all over it. Which spoiled the concept of it being in the backdrop. So I said, "Well," you know, in a huff - "why don't you put the fucking thing in a paper bag and

just print it on the paper bag." And that's, I'm afraid, how it came out.

WL: [laughing] Incredible.

AP: So, it was a sea green. They said, "Well, what color do you want this paper bag then?" [Andy] "Well, let's have it in a nice sort of a sea green then. [chuckling] And let's have that nice thick, heavy Victorian kind of gothic lettering there, and we'll go the whole hog." But that was simply because they wanted it to say XTC Black Sea on the front. And I didn't want to compromise and put it over the sleeve. There's a lot of politics involved in this.

WL: That's one of the things that's interesting about this. Like I was saying earlier, you just never really consider the politics of it. You just wonder, [as a fan] "Why did they choose this album cover?"

AP: Right. Like I say, it would have been Work Under Pressure if it hadn't been for Ian Reid. He thought it made him look bad. Which of course it did because he worked the balls off of us. [laughter] We played somewhere every night. You know, whether it be Australia, Venezuela, Japan or somewhere in the States. Or somewhere in Europe. We were always playing. He was killing us, you know. He was, "Oh, I'm afraid it makes me look bad." [Andy] "Yeah, of course it does! But we are working under pressure here. We're frying. Our nerves are frying. We're just constantly touring."