Andy Partridge in the Black Sea tour program, via 10ft.it
During my childhood and adolescence, XTC was an enigma. When I first heard their minor hit “Dear God,” the band had already long since retired from the stage, and then for years after 1992’s Nonsuch, they seemed to have walked out on the record business, too. They could write a song so anodyne it has now crept into our nation’s drugstores, yet they could also render an apparently note-perfect cover of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band’s “Ella Guru.” None of the musicians I knew who had the chops to attempt such a feat even liked Beefheart.
So while I played my tape of Waxworks over and over again in my teenage bedroom, these were among my thoughts: Who was this Andy Partridge guy, anyway? How did he play those weird chords? Why was he so reclusive? Was it all because he was, like, mental?
XTC 1980: Dave Gregory, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, Terry Chambers
As you can see, the stray bits of gossip my imagination had to work with all focused on Partridge and his reasons for abandoning the road. I think that explains why I don’t remember wondering even once about the inner life of Colin Moulding—the writer and singer of “Making Plans for Nigel,” “Ten Feet Tall,” “Life Begins at the Hop,” “Generals and Majors,” and “Ball and Chain”—which should have been just as interesting to contemplate, in retrospect. But there were no tidbits on which the mind could feed. (Here in 2016, Moulding has not written any new material in over a decade, though he occasionally works with producer Billy Sherwood, while Partridge just wrote a song for the Monkees.)
It wasn’t until I found a copy of the authorized biography Chalkhills and Children that I learned the facts of the XTC story. In the intervening 20 years, I have, of course, forgotten most of these (except that Andy Partridge is not “mental”) and lost the book, but at that time I sort of expected XTC to tour again someday, and I would have given a fucking eye for one evening’s entertainment from the swinging swains of Swindon. Part of the mystique came from listening to bootlegs and watching Urgh! A Music War, and part was this: a stone Residents junkie, I knew that Andy Partridge sang lead vocals on the Commercial Album‘s antepenultimate track, “Margaret Freeman.”
Commercial Album (1980)
He was credited as “Sandy Sandwich,” though the jacket didn’t say which special guests sang which (ha ha) song, or songs; for that, you needed a copy of Ian Shirley’s Meet The Residents: America’s Most Eccentric Band! (recently updated), where you could read in plain English that Andy Partridge sang “Margaret Freeman” and Lene Lovich sang “Picnic Boy.”
Here’s Partridge’s answer to a fan’s question about the collaboration in the Swindon Advertiser:
The simple truth of the Residents rubdown was that they were fans of XTC and came to some shows in San Francisco. At one of these gigs they approached me and asked could I come over to their studio to sing on a track of the record they were working on, the Commercial Album.
I was delighted and of course agreed. They chose for the me the suitably Residential nom de mic of Sandy Sandwhich, put some coal in the headphones and off we went.
I had no instruction as to how any melody for the song went (titled “Margaret Freeman”) but was just encouraged to get odder and odder.