We spoke with author Mark Fisher about his new book, What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book. It’s his second book on the band, following on from 2017’s The XTC Bumper Book Of Fun For Boys And Girls. “The first book, The XTC Bumper Book Of Fun was an anthology of a fanzine I used to run called Limelight. I was still at school when it started. For 10 years I did this XTC fanzine, from 1982 to 1992. Straight away that gave me 200-ish pages of stuff, to which I added additional material like new interviews with the band and so on. When it came to doing another book, I didn’t have any of that to fall back on, so it had to be generated afresh.”
“It has a fanzine ethos. Before the Internet and digital communications, fanzines were the only way to connect directly with the band, apart from the odd article in a newspaper or NME. It was in that post-punk spirit that me and my friend set up a fanzine. The cliché was that either you joined a band or you set up a fanzine. Particularly for the punky, alternative fanzines, it was a case that ‘This is the voice of the listener. This isn’t the elite reviewer in London writing for the posh paper. This is the voice of the individual.’ That spirit is maintained through this book too. I haven’t grown out of it yet.”
“I think even in the first issue of Limelight, which came out in ’82, they’d had ‘Making Plans For Nigel’ and it was around the time of ‘Senses Working Overtime’ but even then it felt like a well-kept secret. There were a very intense but isolated group of fans who were mad about this band that their friends never knew about. I think it’s always been like that. It’s a lovely surprise that this stuff has gone out over the years and found its way into people’s record collections. There’s a sense that XTC are musicians’ musicians and that people who care about and think about music seriously really respond to. If we were talking about U2 or REM, bands that have got really big, then it wouldn’t be a surprise. But XTC have that status without having the same level of success or awareness in the culture.”
The result is a compelling 228-page book that involves not only these artists, but also some of the world's leading musicians and keenest XTC fans. There are contributions from Peter Gabriel and members of The Jam, Squeeze, The Bangles, Dr Hook, New York Dolls, Barenaked Ladies, The Waitresses, Voice Of The Beehive, Odds, Jellyfish, Fassine and Future Of The Left, among many others.
“I put the whole thing together over the course of a year. It’s a question of keeping my eyes open and responding when the idea strikes me. The broad idea of the book was to have a musicians-eye-view of XTC. In the first book, I discovered a cohort of British comedians who were XTC fans. That was Stewart Lee, Phil Jupitus, Paul Putner, Kevin Eldon and Joanna Neary. I’ve since discovered that there are others too. It struck me as curious; Why are all these comedians XTC fans? I did this interview where they each chose their favourite XTC song and commented on each other’s choices. It was conversational. They weren’t trying to be funny or witty. They were just being fans. I thought it was a lovely piece, full of enthusiasm and insight. My thinking was that if comedians can be that interesting, how much more interesting musicians would be and what insights they would bring.”
“It’s one of the advantages of the internet. There are a number of XTC Facebook groups and it’s just keeping your eye out when somebody mentions something. For example, someone says “Did you know that Steven Page from Barenaked Ladies is an XTC fan”, I’ll make a note of that and wonder if I can get hold of him; making a hitlist of people I can approach. That was the broad idea.”
Every member of XTC also makes an appearance. Andy Partridge speaks about mixing, Dave Gregory on arranging and Barry Andrews on the piano. The book also features interviews with XTC drummers Pete Phipps, Pat Mastelotto, Ian Gregory, Prairie Prince, Dave Mattacks and Chuck Sabo.
What Do You Call That Noise? will be released on March 4.