| Daniel Steinhardt: Can you tell me about the early days and how you first met Andy Partridge?|
Dave Gregory: When I was 16 I lived in a little village called Purton in Swindon where I had my band call 'Pink Warmth'. We were playing a 'Teen Night' at the local village hall when I first met Andy. This was late 1968 before Andy had even started playing guitar. My first impression of him was that he was hyperactive and completely hilarious. In the future Andy's humour would be something that would help XTC get through some of the lower points. By the following summer Andy was learning guitar and we started bumping into each other at Kempsters music store in Swindon on Saturday mornings.
Andy thought nothing of grabbing a guitar off the wall, plugging into and amp and turning it all the way up, then he'd say, 'Dave, av you erd this?' then he'd blast out one of the tunes he'd been learning to play, so I'd grab another guitar and play something from 'Electric Ladyland'.
Jeff had to ask us to leave the shop on more than one occasion. Who could blame him?
Between 1972-75 we were playing in parallel bands. Andy's band 'Star Park' (which preceded 'The Helium Kids' which went on to become 'XTC') though they perhaps weren't as accomplished players as we were, (none of us were really accomplished players in those days) always had these amazing original songs. I would go and see them play just to hear the latest things Andy had come up with.
In 76 he asked me to come down to a rehearsal with his band. By this time he'd become a great guitarist in his own rite with an enormous catalogue of songs. What I thought was just a jam between mates was in fact an audition for his band. After that I didn't hear from Andy for a few years and it was during this time that XTC signed a deal with Virgin records. Andy had decided that a keyboard player would work better at that time and recruited Barry Andrews into the fold. 3 years later in 79 Barry left XTC.
I was at work driving a van for a living for a living when my brother took a phone call from Andy in Boston. "Andy wants you to audition for XTC". I hoped it would go better than the last time. I auditioned and joined the band in 79.
DS: There are so many bands now days that tip their hat to XTC as a major influence on their music, and in turn guitarists such as Jonny Greenwood from Radio Head and Graham Coxon of Blur have commented on your approach to songs as a guitarist. You always seem to come up with parts that not only work great but actually augment the song. How do you approach the orchestration of your parts?
DG: I've been so lucky to have such great material to work with, but we did work hard at it. We would rehearse for weeks before we'd even get into the studio. We'd all have cassette recorders next to our amps during rehearsal. The morning after rehearsal we'd go through everything we did the day previous and then we'd go off to rehearsal again. You hear things differently the day after. It's really obvious what works and what needed work. Also Andy had the right of veto on everything. They were his songs after all. The song would grow from the basic demo. Andy would say, "Right, I've got this song called 'Language In Our Lungs'", and he'd start to play and of course you want to join in so you listen and start working on parts that compliment the song. I would work off Andy's lyrics as well. What lyric is going to require a response from the guitar and which guitar is going to speak most eloquently that response?
At the end of the day it was just 4 guys sitting in a room trying to make the best music possible.
DS: I'd like to go through a couple of specific examples. Take us through the solo on 'That's Really Super Super Girl'
DG: We were in New York working with Todd Rundgren who was one of my heroes. I walked into his studio and sitting in the corner was Eric Claptons psycadelic Gibson SG on a stand, which was the guitar he used with Cream, arguably one of the most famous guitars in the world. I knew that Todd had acquired it but I couldn't believe it would just be sitting on a stand in the corner of a studio. It should be in a museum somewhere. I couldn't believe my luck. I wasn't leaving the studio without using that guitar on at least one track.
The vibe in the studio was tense, as Todd and Andy didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things. Andy didn't want 'Super girl' on the album but Todd thought it was a potential single so Andy agreed that Todd could record and arrange the song the way he wanted and he kindly left 8 bars for a solo.
Here's my chance I thought, so I put a fresh set of strings on the SG and started working on a solo. I had 8 bars that I was going to squeeze as much out of as I could, and that solo played on Clapton's SG was the result.
DS: There's another amazing 8 bar solo on 'Real By Real'. It has incredible sense of time with great intervallic as well as linear melodies. How do you even start to come up with something like that?
DG: It's impossible to describe the processes behind ones own modus operandi, but as far as the Reel By Reel solo is concerned, the legato phrase in that solo is very influenced by the intro to Steely Dan's "Parkers Band" from the '"Pretzel Logic" album played by Danny Dias. As far as the way it's all put together I just try to come up with the best, most empathetic parts for the song.
DS: There are so many blues based solo's around that you could very easily take from one song and place in another. You seem to come at it from exactly the opposite direction. In fact the songs wouldn't be the same without your parts.
DG: I do love the blues, but that wasn't what XTC was about. A lot of this is down to Andy and the chemistry of the band. Fact is if Andy thought what I was doing wasn't a part of the song he'd have no problem expressing it. Fortunately this didn't happen too often. We all knew what we were trying to achieve.
DS: Another aspect of your playing is the way you combine rhythmic aspects with dynamics. The off beat solo in 'Ball and Chain' and 'Life Begins at the Hop' are both good examples of this. A friend of mine who was lucky enough to see you (XTC) live said watching you and Andy play was like watching 2 African drummers playing off each other. (Listen to 'English Roundabout' from the 'English Settlement' album for some of the best dual guitar rhythmic playing you'll ever hear) I find this interesting because it was during a time when tonally 'more was more' so to speak. So many players were covering everything in horrible digital delay chorus and reverb with seemingly little regard for interesting music.
DG: The 80's was a most forgettable decade musically. There were only a couple of things to come out of the 80's that I was into, such as Todd Rundgren. The synthesizer became very popular despite the fact that they sounded awful and instantly dates everything to that period. We were not going to go down that route. We kept everything as true to the music as possible. The rhythm thing was something I'd been working on before I joined XTC. I was playing in a funk/soul type band and really focused on the groove. It didn't come easy and was something that I had to work hard on. Andy is a great rhythm player. He'd always come up with interesting rhythms combined with chords from Venus so I'd just work off him. Again all that stuff was worked out to the enth degree before we went in the studio. We didn't have the time or money to waste by not being prepared when we went in. English Settlement is a double album that we did in 6 weeks. Listening back to it now there are certain things that I'd liked to have spent more time on but it's one of the favourite albums of XTC fans.
DS: The Rickenbacker 12 string plays a prominent part on that album.
DG: Andy was writing a lot on acoustic at the time so we decided that was they way to approach the album. I've always loved the sound of Rickenbacker 12 string and thought that this was a good opportunity to use it. The acoustic and the 12 string is very much the sound of that album. The 12 string is definitely a labour of love. It's hard work but the sound is the reward.
Dave grabs the Rickenbacker he used for the album and shows me his parts to 'Senses Working Overtime'. I'm dumbstruck. He plays with such authority and impeccable time. Every note sounds huge. He then offers it to me to play and I proceed to sound like a complete turd.
DG: It's a hard guitar to play.
Dave grabs his L series Strat, his main XTC guitar and it turns out to be one of the best Strat's I've ever heard. I go part way to redeeming myself on the strat till Dave shows me what it can really do- it sounds bloody amazing. He just burns. His depth of musicality on the instrument becomes apparent. He pulls out beautiful country style phrases and faux pedal steel bends then hammers out Hendrix licks of such quality and attitude that even the man himself would have been proud of.
Dave 'Gregsy' Gregory approaches guitar with a sense of musicality rarely seen. He is a gentleman and is entirely humble, almost to the point of self-deprecation, but after spending some time with him I begin to get an insight into how his personality has had such a bearing on his musical approach, a musical approach which has always been such an inspiration and a mystery to me. I realize that it's Dave's lack of ego that has allowed his passion for the song to shine through his playing. The thought of playing something to highlight his own ability would seem vulgar to him. His purpose is to serve the music, period. He does it by understanding better than almost anyone how different parts played on different instruments make you feel a certain way and can communicate a specific emotion. It's this understanding that Dave brings with him to the XTC party and for which I for one will be eternally grateful.
Someone once said that it's always a mistake to meet your heroes. I can tell you with absolute certainty that that someone was an IDIOT!
Dave Gregory's TOP 5
Top 5 albums:
JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE - Electric Ladyland
STEVIE WONDER - Innervisions
THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION - We're Only In It For The Money
STEELY DAN - Countdown To Ecstasy
BEATLES - A Hard Day's Night
Top 5 guitars:
Harmony Meteor (the sound of the Rolling Stones' first album; the DeArmond pickups are stunning)
Gibson Les Paul Standard (sunburst top) - late '50s only (or, any Gibson guitar from the 1950s with 'Les Paul' written on it)
Gibson SG Special 1961/2 (first year of production only - the company couldn't stop dicking around with it)
Gibson Firebird V non-reverse, 1965-on (thin, mahogany body with mini-humbuckers and skinny neck, superb spec)
Fender Telecaster (original spec)
Top 5 FX:
Vox Tone Bender fuzz (Mark II model, 2 trannys, the sound of Led Zeppelin's first album)
Vox wah-wah pedal (early black case model with Icar pot; smoother sweep on later pedals, but for the full Jimi you need an early one)
Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster (simplest and best overdrive unit ever), supplanted by:
Plosive Effects May Treble Boost (super-duper high and mid-range booster, 9 positions, very scary)
Danelectro Fab Tone fuzz (I love this pedal!)
Big props also go to the Boss DS-1 fuzz; simple, practical, easy to control and with a great sound.