The history of Shriekback, very much like their music, is laced with profound talent and mystery. From what we have been told and what we’ve read, this is how it all began……..
In 1977 Andy Partridge decided to form a band called XTC. He had gathered ‘round him the talents of Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers, and he was scouting for a keyboard player to finish the lineup. Seeing an ad pinned to a bulletin board in a shop in Swindon, he followed his intuition and rang up a bloke by the name of Barry Andrews.
They met. They talked. They drank. And when Barry held his drink better than Andy, Andy decided he was the one for the band. So they scheduled a time for Barry to audition. And audition he did! After the initial discomfort of not knowing for sure what the neophyte band expected from their keyboard player, Barry conjured the mad spirits of his keyboard and amazed them all with his originality and his unique playing methods (using head, elbows, and Goddess knows what else!). XTC boasted Barry Andrews, rebellious intellectual turned rock-n-roll keyboard virtuoso, as their latest member.
And life was good….but not for long.
Both Andy Partridge and Barry Andrews are highly intelligent, strong-Willed individuals. On many levels, they got along fabulously and were great friends, finding in one another the perfect drinking buddy ~ someone with whom the other could discuss books, movies, philosophy, and a myriad of other subjects. But musically, their Wills became an obstacle for the betterment of the band. Andy had a particular vision that he wanted to bring to fruition. Barry desired the freedom to express himself artistically, wherever that artistic urge may take him.
Egos and artistic visions began to clash so, by 1979, Barry Andrews decided to leave XTC and explore the world from his own unique perspective.
Round about the same time Andy perused Barry’s ad, Dave Allen answered an ad in
Sometime in 1980, Carl Marsh, a young guitarist, joined up with four other musicians and created the band Out on Blue Six. They recorded a few songs and, after releasing one single, young Carl left the band to broaden his horizons.
After a stint with Robert Fripp and his League of Gentlemen, Barry Andrews recorded an EP and a single composed of some of the songs rejected for XTC’s ‘Go2’ album. The results were ‘Town and Country’ and two versions of ‘
So it is estimated that sometime late in 1981 Dave Allen began seeking musical soulmates and, upon meeting Barry and Carl, created the entity known as Shriekback. They made agreements or pacts to keep the band a loose association wherein each member was free to do as he pleased up to and including leaving to pursue the dream. Accompanying them briefly in the first breaths of the band were Linda Nevill acting as their manager, Brian Nevill on drums, and Emma Burnham contributing vocals. But none of them lingered and Shriekback remained with the core of Andrews, Allen, and Marsh. Shortly thereafter, the mini-lp Tench was recorded and released on Y Records, the first of many brilliant albums to be produced by this band of independent thinkers and artists. Dave played his liquid bass, Barry graced the recording with his rich synthesised soundscapes, and Carl explored his vocal talents along with contributing guitar.
Magick had occurred.
None of them were extremely confident about their songwriting skills at that time and, as a result, Shriekback’s studio methods were idiosyncratic at best in those early days. Congregating in the studio with nothing more than a few programmed rhythms on a drum machine, the brainstorming would begin, out of which were born songs like ‘Sexthinkone’ and ‘Accretions.’
They used the same tactics on their first full album Care, which was unleashed upon the public in 1983 and featured brilliant tracks including "My Spine Is the Bass Line,’ ‘Lined Up,’ and ‘Lines from the Library.’
And they were getting attention by way of their live act. Featuring the rhythmic talents of Martyn Barker and Pedro Ortiz in their tour line-up, the Shrieks were unstoppably funky and energetic on stage, compensating for their necessarily pared-down live sound with a full-tilt madness that invariably spilt over to their audience. The results were always satisfying and unforgettable for the show-goers and Shriekback alike.
Having gained enough recognition via their avant-garde music and stage presence, Shriekback took the opportunity to leave the restriction of the independent Y Records and join forces with the major label Arista Records, bringing with them many songs they had already been working on to create the grooving Jam Science, released in 1984. Because of contractual loopholes, however, Y Records was able to maintain ownership of the Shrieks’ demos for the Jam Science project and, a few months prior to the official release of this album, released their own Jam Science in collaboration with the Dutch Sound Products. Although Dave Allen, Barry Andrews, and Carl Marsh were livid about this turn of events, there was nothing they could do about it.
Shriekback didn’t stay with Arista for long, opting to move on to Island Records, which became their home for quite a few years and three albums.
The first of these albums was the critically acclaimed breakthrough offering by the name of Oil & Gold. This was the recording that unleashed ‘Nemesis’ upon the world, fascinating people with its driving, shrieking sound, its questionable lyrical content, and it’s sumptuous and deviant video revelry. The album itself seemed a polarised project with Carl Marsh featured prominently on the more abrasive songs and Barry Andrews taking the helm on the softer, darkly esoteric tunes. It was obvious by this dichotomous style that the band was standing at a crossroads of sorts with Oil & Gold and that they would eventually have to choose what path they would take. The path was chosen for them with the departure of Carl Marsh, who decided that he wanted to try his luck as a solo artist.
So came the opportunity for the band to lean more in the direction of Barry Andrews’ vision and out of that was born Shriekback’s fourth album, the resplendent Big Night Music. Joining the band for this latest excursion were Wendy and Sarah Partridge (the Sidneys, who had sung with the band on their Oil & Gold tour) on vocals, Mike Cozzi on guitar, and Steve Halliwell on keyboards (he, too, toured with the band in 1986). Although it was not a huge commercial success and had no obvious single, especially compared to Oil & Gold, Big Night Music was arguably the most mature and artistically superior of Shriekback’s albums to date. It was during this time that the Shrieks produced a concert video entitled Jungle of the Senses to better communicate the excitement of their live shows to those fans whom had not experienced the pleasure firsthand.
Even though, with both Oil & Gold and Big Night Music, Shriekback and their fans felt the band had come into their own, the record label felt it would be prudent for them to produce something a little more mainstream that the general public might be prone to readily consume. There are conflicting stories that tell why what happened next actually happened. Some say that Dave Allen disagreed with this move toward a more pop-centred sound and left Shriekback for possible greener pastures. Others say that Dave was asked, perhaps by Barry Andrews, to leave the band. Either way, Dave’s departure left Barry as the only original member of the band as they explored the wastelands of the mainstream. Out of that exploration came Go Bang!, Shriekback’s first official pop album. Unfortunately, the music, with the possible exception of ‘Dust and a Shadow,’ was so divergent from the Shriek sound the fans had come to love, the album wasn’t very well-received by Shriekback’s loyal followers, nor was it embraced by the mainstream. That, combined with the imminent break-up of the band as reflected in the title track, summarily ended Shriekback’s
Possibly to fulfill some contractual obligation to Island Records, Barry Andrews produced a compilation album called The Dancing Years in 1990, officially heralding the end of Shriekback. In the liner notes is documented, from start to finish, the line-up of the band throughout the years. In the 1989 portion of the chart, it shows where the remaining band members went after Shriekback dissolved. It’s been said that Mr. Andrews was quite dissatisfied with the outcome of this project, although it is considered by many today to be an excellent primer for new fans of the band.
And all fell grievously quiet until…….
Sometime in 1991 Dave Allen created an independent label, calling it World Domination. He brought in several excellent bands, including a newly revamped Shriekback! Yes, Barry Andrews was back with Dave Allen for this one album, along with Martyn Barker, the Sids, Kat Evans, and Underworld’s Karl Hyde. Together they brought to life Barry Andrews’ tribute to the city, Sacred City. On this album, the band returned to their maverick sound-experimentation, adding a fresh techno flavour to the mix. In addition to
The band began to tour after the release of
Shriekback returned to the studio to work on some songs they had been playing at their shows. They had quite a set completed by 1995 but, by then, there was no label to carry the new album. So it seemed that the end had come once again for the Shrieks.
Kat and Barry joined David Marx in his Refugees project, entitled Love Junk. They also, along with Martyn, worked with Fluke on their album Oto. Martyn and Lu became part of The Blokes, the tour band for Billy Bragg. Karl Hyde had long since returned to Underworld, which is still in full swing today.
And all became sorely quiet until………
Martyn felt compelled to find a home for the ‘Demonstration’ album. He, along with Lu Edmonds, enlisted the assistance of several individuals, including Phil Hetherington of The Shriekback Pages, in locating a label willing to treat the ‘lost recordings’ of the Shrieks.
Finally, in late 1999, Mauve Records in England and Mushroom Records in Australia, took on the newly named Naked Apes and Pond Life and released it in early 2000 to rave reviews and an ecstatic fan base. New interest in the band, long defunct since 1995, emerged.
A few months after the release of Naked Apes and Pond Life, Y Records released a compilation of Shriek music called The Y Records Years including several tracks which had never before been on compact disc. This album included some extensive liner notes documenting the years the band spent with Y Records and citing their obvious influence on the Industrial and Techno scenes and some of their favourite sons like Nine Inch Nails and The Prodigy.
It was also in late 1999 that a core group of fans decided to create Shriekback.com and pull fellow fans of the band together in the hopes of continuing the momentum begun by the release of Naked Apes. By chance, one of the two web researchers of the group stumbled across Barry Andrews online in early 2000 and began forging a friendship and online working relationship with him in furthering the Shriekback legend and future. In the meantime, the leader of the group and webmaster were diligently compiling all of the information and media and creating the first version of the Shriekback Digital Conspiracy website, a companion site to Phil Hetherington’s Shriekback Pages.
Having seen the positive response to the new album and the Y Records retrospective, the Shrieks pulled off a resurrection of sorts, with all of the original members reuniting for a new album, funded by their fans through the Shriekback Digital Conspiracy. They also released a compilation album of never-before-released material recorded from 1981 through 1984 entitled Aberrations 81-4 on Mauve Records in the
After the release of their love letter to the fans, Having a Moment, the Shrieks once again dissolved in order to allow members to explore their newly-rekindled creative juices. Dave Allen reunited with his mates to revive The Gang of Four and Barry Andrews returned to his pet project
With the launch of his own website in 2002, Barry Andrews released Haunted Box of Switches and
The whole of 2005 comprised of recording and releasing Cormorant, the new Shriekback album. The new line-up included the resolute Martyn Barker (Shriekback’s spine other than the bassline), Andy Partridge, Wendy Partridge, Barry’s son Finn Andrews, Mark Raudva, and Finn Wilkinson, perhaps the youngest member of Shriekback to date and a firm believer that humanity should grow tails (yes, he fits right in).
And there’s no end in sight. Barry, Andy, and Mart are working on a as-yet-undisclosed project which is sure to set folks’ ears on fire. There’s also talk of possible new Shriekback albums in the future, as well as more
Thanks to the following sources of information:
Phil's Shriekback Pages
XTC biography "Chalkhills and Children"
A variety of magazines
Hearsay of fellow fans
Various online bios