Rare Dukes Of Stratosphear Unearthed in Victorian Archeological Dig Near Swindon!
I recently received in the mail, from Andy Partridge’s Ape Records, the new CD reissues of the Dukes of Stratosphear records, the introductory EP, 25 O’Clock and its full-length album followup, Psonic Psunspot. The Dukes were (and in some dimension, still ARE) of course Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory of XTC with Dave’s brother Ian on drums, although they were never – at the time – credited as themselves, rather as “Sir John Johns” (Andy), “The Red Curtain” (Colin), “Lord Cornelius Plum” (Dave) and “E.I.E.I. Owen” (Ian). The album was produced by XTC’s producer John Leckie, under the name Swami Anand Nagara – although according to the liner notes for the new edition, this may have been his actual adopted name at the time. Of course, I had the original vinyl Dukes releases when they first came out in 1985 and 1987 respectively. Once reissued on a single CD as Chips From The Chocolate Fireball, these new issues return them to two separate products, albeit with value added features which make them highly desirable to XTC / Dukes fans. For one thing, they are now hardback “gatefold” affairs with full colour booklets and personal liner notes by Partridge, Moulding and Gregory.
Oh and now they are out of the velvet closet, and billed accordingly: XTC as The Dukes of Stratosphear.
I should point out at this point that I ordered and PAID for these reissues, no rock hack freebie here. Yet, I tell you it was an HONOUR to pay money for these finely packaged, digitally remastered gems of sonic mind candy.
And there are bonus tracks! 25 O’Clock now comes with demos for “Bike Ride To The Moon,” “My Love Explodes,” What In The World?” and the title track, plus two left over demos for never-released songs “Nicely Nicely Jane” and “Susan Revovling” plus EXTRA studio recordings of the unreleased songs “Black Jewelled Serpent Of Sound [Radio Caroline Edit]”, “Open A Can of Human Beans” and “Tin Toy Clockwork Train.”
Psonic Psunspot adds in the original demo for “Vanishing Girl” which was called “No One At Home” at the time, “Little Lighthouse,” “Collideascope,” “Shiny Cage,” “Brainiac’s Daughter” and “The Affiliated”.
Nice to get the first-person accounts from Partridge and Moulding who dreamed up the songs themselves, but thankfully there are, over both releases (and really you should buy them both) detailed process notes by the projects MVP Dave Gregory, under the title: Stratosgear: How The Sounds Were Found (parts 1 & 2). And always the visual thinker, Mr. Partridge also writes essays about the cover art for each respective release.
There’s a line from one of the Duke’s songs, spoken by an old age pensioner “You can’t get the buttons these days…” It’s the kind of audio clip art that matches the cut n paste Victoriana of 25 O’Clock’s album cover, itself an homage to Cream’s Disraeli Gears cover. Well, if you order both CD’s from Ape Records, you can get (for a limited time, I believe) THE BUTTONS. That’s right a set of six Dukes buttons, including “THE DEAF HEAR” seen on the cover of the EP.
I’ll be writing in another venue about the music itself, but suffice to say this is psychedelic pastiche music and you’ll thrill to these great nuggets of mind-altering and mind-altered pop, playing spot-the-influence from The Kinks and Syd’s Pink Floyd to Love or Brian Wilson. Also worth noting, these albums, intended as psonic pside projects, so reaffirmed the band’s nascent interest in the genre that they became psignposts leading XTC to let their phreak phlag phly on subsequent “real band” releases, notably songs like “Grass” “Earn Enough For Us” or “Season Cycle” on the Todd Rundgren produced Skylarking, and just check out the cover art from the one after that, Oranges And Lemons:
And we leave you with a trippy video for The Dukes’ “Mole From The Ministry”