As clichéd as it may be to claim a book is ‘essential reading’, a newly published one about XTC is certainly essential reading for fans of the Swindon band, writes Graham Carter.
And if those fans happen to be from Swindon too, then Compicated Game comes with a big bonus.
A collection of transcripts from interviews of Andy Partridge by American Todd Bernhardt, the book focuses on more than 30 XTC songs, doing as much as anything previously published to unlock the enigmatic band and distill their brilliance.
Partridge candidly reveals much about each song in turn, including what inspired him in the first place, where the lyrics come from, the musical technicalities, what went on in the studio, and the Swindon connections in minute detail.
It is revealed, for instance, that the inspiration for Respectable Street, a satire of middle class suburbia and one of several singles that were censored, controversial or banned by the BBC, is one street in particular: Bowood Road.
The book no doubt unlocks some mysteries for XTC’s fans who are scattered around the world, who must be puzzled by unfathomable local jargon, but it is also an eye-opener for fans much closer to home.
That’s because although XTC are famously from Swindon and there are plenty of obvious references to the town in their albums, Complicated Game demonstrates just how great an impact on the creative process the town had.
So while it will come as no surprise that The Everyday Story of Smalltown is, indeed, Swindon in disguise, we learn the album it appears on, The Big Express, is Swindon all over.
“Part of me wanted to do an out-and-out concept album about Swindon,” explains Partridge, and while Train Running Low on Soul Coal is another obvious local reference on the same album, he also points out that another, I Remember the Sun, is about him and bass player Colin Moulding growing up in Penhill.
These are only a few of many examples of the Swindon influence, and Compicated Game will also help readers understand more about the band’s complicated relationship with their home town, with the ingredients of defiance, loyalty, pride, despair and more besides all adding up to what Partridge admits is a “love/hate relationship”.
“Our managers begged us not to tell anyone that we came from Swindon… But everyone’s proud of their little town. Other Swindonians get worked up when I sometimes talk the town down, but… I grew up here, and still live here, and know it as well as they do.”