White Music

It was always difficult for me to get the other three, in any combination, to make a fucking effort. They were always cursing me. They'd be saying, "Well, he wants to dress us up like a barrel-organ grinder's monkey." The ultimate session, "He'll be the barrel-organ grinder and we'll be the three little monkeys on top." ~ Andy Partridge

On September 12, 2002 ~ Andy and I chatted about the cover of XTC's first full length album.

WL: When the band, not the music is the focus, like the Backstreet Boys or the Spice Girls, you expect the cover art to be a well-shot and probably sexy picture of the band members.

AP: [laughs]

WL: But for bands like XTC...

AP: Yeah, well that was the requirement with White Music. That was Virgin's requirement - that we "Want you to be seen." You know, 'cause we were in our early twenties and they thought, "Well, there's gotta be some punk girls out there, some new wave-ettes, that are gonna like the look of these young lads." Virgin said, "We'd like very much if you could be seen, yourself, on the front of the sleeve. And do you have any ideas?" And I said that I wanted to do a whole black and white thing, but it would be color photographs. So our flesh would be flesh-colored, and so on. Our hair would be hair-colored, and our eyes would be eye-colored.

WL: There's a concept.

AP: But all the clothing and the background would be black and white. And that's quite a nice, strong contrast. I wanted a white panel up the center of the cover. And we were going to do the title by simply not varnishing the letters that made up White Music. Over the weeks and months, [the letters XTC] would become grubby and it would sort of appear on the album sleeve, by becoming dirty. It's like invisible ink - you heat it up and you can read it. We thought, as the weeks and months went on the words White Music would appear because the unvarnished portion would then grub-up.

WL: Neat idea.

One beer...
Two beers...

AP: We pulled out a load of clothes. I had those trousers especially made. Can't remember her name. She had some really frou-frou name. Pansy somebody. [after some thought] I'll get it - but I'm gonna get it at like two o'clock in the morning. [laughter]We went to her house in London to have my designs made up. The others didn't want to participate. I really wanted to have clothes made to my designs. It was always difficult for me to get the other three, in any combination, to make a fucking effort. [laughter] They were always cursing me. They'd be saying, "Well, he wants to dress us up like a barrel-organ grinder's monkey." The ultimate session, "He'll be the barrel-organ grinder and we'll be the three little monkeys on top."

WL: [laughs]

AP: But we went to see this clothes maker. I remember we'd been at Virgin - drinking, that afternoon. And we went sort of late afternoon to her house. We rang the doorbell. We didn't think anyone was in. And Terry Chambers said [in best piss-drunk Aussie accent] "Oh good, I need a fucking piss. I've got to have a fucking piss." So he took his dick out, and he was pissing all over her letterbox - of her front door. And then - [hysterical laughter] the door swung open! And he stood there pissing. He has to turn and face the wrong direction and piss out into the street - you know, and try and stop it! 'Cause his bladder's full of lager. And there's - oh God, what is her name!? Anyway, so I remember the day that we went to see her about these clothes. But on the cover, we're all there in just black and white gear. Barry Andrews would insist on holding a can of lager the entire photo-shoot. Which Virgin insisted be airbrushed out. That's why Barry's hand is in a holding-a-can-of-drink pose. Because he was holding a can of Skol lager, or whatever. Some really cheap piss that he drank at the time. And he would insist that his punk credentials be elevated by being seen in every shot with this can of lager. And Virgin airbrushed it out. Colin, in the rush to get dressed didn't zip his fly up. No punk credential, just too excited to remember to zip his fly up.

Was it Heineken or Skol? Either way, this is a Horrible impression of Barry. I'm afraid to ask about the holes.
Three beers... floor.

WL: It worked out well.

AP: It worked out well - and there you go! I'm wearing my brand-new Chelsea punky-boots, in white with black elastic. And my black and white "Into The Atom Age" jeans. Although you can't see it, the T-shirt has got a big white arrow. Actually, in some of the out-take photographs in Coat Of Many Cupboards you can see it. It's got a big white arrow up the front. That became the front cover, and then all of the promo material was sort of a series of black and white bars with XTC sort of hidden in the black and white bars.

WL: Sure - I've got several badges with variations on that theme.

AP: Yeah - there you go. Cause I wanted the whole campaign theme to be just black and white. Funny enough, Blondie then went and did Parallel Lines.

WL: Very similar.

AP: With a very similar cover. And I always thought, "Ya buggers, you nicked it from us!"

The conversation turned to the 3D-EP cover - then returned with the following...

WL: That just struck me as odd, because it seemed like with that one [the 3D-EP cover] - I thought, "Well, Andy probably had a lot of control over that." And then you see White Music and you think, "Virgin had to be totally involved in that."

AP: Well, their only thing was, "we want to see you on the front."

WL: Neat that you still had some control over it, though.

Dave Gregory?
AP: Well, it was good. But the control kind of got wrested away from us with the "Statue Of Liberty" single, and they went and did what they wanted to do. Which I thought looked so cheap and horrible that I sort of vowed after that, that I would try and do all the artwork. Or I'd just do the idea and and get together with somebody who could do the finished artwork. You know, whatever design company or whatever person could do that. That was largely the case. I wondered why they [Virgin] encouraged me to do these special packages. And it was only years later that I found out that we were paying for them - that's why. [laughter] We paid every penny of that special packaging. I never knew. I thought, "This is great, they've let me do a 3D theater. This is great, they've let me do this Moire sleeve for "Great Fire." You know, where you pull one set of lines out of another and they make third phantom lines and stuff. And I thought, "wow, this is great - they're actually allowing me to do all this stuff." I didn't know that I was the fucking sucker that was paying it. [much laughter]
In the discussion of Black Sea we briefly returned to this album...
WL: It [Black Sea] sounded like a very XTC title though. From White Music to...

AP: 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]

In December of 2002 Andy and I chatted about some XTC singles, including the now-classic This is Pop?
WL:"This is Pop?"

AP: Again, a very early one. Touring madness. Trying to think where the initial idea came from. I think it probably came from owning one of those s-belts, that makes the s in "This is Pop?" You know those belts you get that are sort of elastic-y canvas kind of stuff, and the clasp is like a little s, a little snake?

WL: Sure. [though I've not seen one other than on the cover]

AP: Snake belts, they used to call them when I was a kid. So I always had one as a kid.

WL: Did you supply all these…

AP: No, I said "This is the kind of stuff to look for, get an s-belt. Can you find everyday objects, you could see around the kitchen or whatever, that look like those letters?" And then you wouldn't have to have extra lettering, because all the lettering is the objects photographed on the front. So it's kind of graphically clean because the picture is the wording. So that was a case of, again just phoning in stuff because we were wherever we were in the world and really not seeing it until it was out.