X1 — XTC
Having a truncated band name like XTC means it’s a gift for ‘logoizing’. And indeed, Swindon’s finest rolled out a succession of corkers over the course of their bumpy-but-brilliant 30-plus-year career.
Each one was a nifty visual summation of the musical phase they were going through at the time, from the swirly, Yellow Submarine-esqe lettering of ‘Oranges & Lemons’, to the ancient runic vibe of ‘English Settlement’.
But let’s go back to the beginning, when the band’s founder Andy Partridge dashed out a spiky, rough-and-ready rendering of the three letters, which featured on many of the band’s early singles, as well as their 1978 debut LP, ‘White Music’. Mr Partridge is no slouch as a draughtsman. A keen doodler and cartoonist as a kid, he was once gainfully (or perhaps painfully) employed as a sign writer in a Swindon department store.
He’s said: “I thought at one time my career was going to be as an artist, a visual artist. And then at some point I must’ve seen ‘A Hard Day's Night’ and ‘Help!’ and then ‘The Monkees’ series on the TV, and thought, ‘Hey, wait a minute. More girls seem to be attracted to guitars than pencils.’ ” Quite so.
Replying to BandLogoJukeBox on twitter, Partridge explained the rationale behind his early XTC marque:
“I made it originally to look like a street sophisticate version of some perfume logos, you know, dashed off by hand (ooer), official but loose. I then thought it looked like a face, so had Jill M[umford] draw it out as one, in bold colours to get away from the B+W look of previous albums.”
Jill Mumford had previously been art director at Polydor Records, but was working freelance when she met Partridge to discuss the sleeve design for XTC’s third album, ‘Drums And Wires’.
“I drew the small thumbnail design on a cigarette box at the meeting,” she recalls. ”The original painting was made with sticks, paint brushes and paint on board. The idea came from tribal/African art using primary colours and minimal detail.”
And so, a simple logo became a face, became cover art. The intense, vivid colours were a nod to the heavy,‘tribal’ drum sound that was driving the band’s music at that time (witness the pounding reverse-time opening to ‘Making Plans For Nigel’). But it was also an inspired evolution of the band’s visual aesthetic, taking a few simple hand-drawn letters and transforming it into one of the most memorable LP covers of the era.
“[In 1985] It was exhibited at the Georges Pompidou museum in an exhibition called ‘L’image des mots’ [‘The Image of Words’],” says Mumford. “I have seen the cover in films. I see it in restaurants still! It seems to have a life of its own.”
Personal postscript: I first saw XTC in 1979 at Exeter University. Sparse crowd. Guitarist David Gregory ranks this outing among his top six ‘Catastrophic Gigs’ — “appalling acoustics, appalling PA, appalling performance”. The band trudged off stage at the end looking extremely pissed off. The idealistic young me read this as being a bit punk, and I was smitten. I wore a white button badge bearing the first XTC logo on my black Oxfam jacket for the next 12 months.