Here’s a clip of XTC-driven pen name band The Dukes of Stratosphear with their Beatles-Meet-Brian-Wilson inspired tune “Brainiac’s daughter” as taken from 1987’s Psonic Psunspot. The song brings together two passions of writer Andy Partridge – psychedelic-era music, and comic books.
Where many think of psychedelic music as lofty in approach and at times inaccessible as pop music, this track reminds the listener that a good deal of psychedelia has an endearing child-like quality to it as well. This makes it something of a perfect fit for XTC, who began to embrace the sensibilities of children and childhood from this point onward in their own songs. This tune is clearly a nod to Paul McCartney’s ‘White Album’-era output, in turn with some of McCartney’s Brian Wilson-oriented sunshiny musical worldview woven right in.
Why the guys in XTC decided to disguise themselves as a lost 60s-psych-pop group Dukes of Stratosphear is anyone’s guess, since they were clearly in debt to many of the influences to whom the Dukes were paying homage anyway. But even if they weren’t ready to release the material under the XTC name, the guys threw themselves well into their roles, even taking on pseudonyms. Lead singer and guitarist Andy Partridge was Sir John Johns. Bassist and singer Colin Moulding was simply ‘the Red Curtain’. And lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Dave Gregory played the part of Lord Cornelius Plum. And on the drum kit, Dave’s brother Ian Gregory as E.I.E.I Owens.
The band put out an EP, 25 O’Clock in 1985, while concurrently working on their masterpiece as XTC, the celebrated Skylarking. That album came with a credit to the Dukes in the liner notes for the use of the Dukes’ guitars. They must have been pleased with their own cleverness on the EP, later putting out a full-length Psonic Psunspot on vinyl in 1987. The compilation album Chips from the Chocolate Fireball came out later that year, which pulled in both releases onto one disc.
It seems that XTC is on indefinite hiatus at the moment. Yet, I wonder if we’ll hear from the Dukes any time soon. The outfit, anonymity and all, might be just the thing it takes to remind everyone concerned what inspired them in the first place, and that music is not something to split hairs over.
Read more about what inspired the Dukes of Stratosphear project, and which sounds inspired the songs on XTC fan site Chalkhills.org.