35 Years Ago: Andy Partridge Suffers Nervous Breakdown During XTC Show
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XTC was in the middle of a gig – the middle of a song, actually – when it became too much for frontman Andy Partridge to take. The singer-guitarist was leading the band through the driving, jabbing “Respectable Street” on March 18, 1982 at Theatre Le Palace in Paris.
One moment, Partridge was bellowing through a manic smile, singing about how the “Avon lady fills the creases.” The next, he came up short on a lyric, sacrificed the subsequent line, slumped towards the drum riser, slid off his guitar and wandered off stage. His confused XTC bandmates stumbled to finish the tune before finding their lead singer collapsed in a fetal position backstage.
Partridge later characterized the moment as a nervous breakdown, brought about by the pressures of the rock ’n’ roll machine. After XTC had released its most successful album to date, English Settlement, the post-punk band’s record label wanted the boys to promote the heck out of it.
“We were bullied back onto the road and that really started to wind me up,” Partridge told The Quietus in 2012. “I’d be there onstage thinking: ‘I hate doing this.’ The anger towards being made to tour and the mental stress it was causing me began to manifest itself in stage fright, which I’d never had in my life. It didn’t help that my mental state was being exacerbated by the impact of Valium withdrawal, which I’d been on since my early teens.”
Yes, an important component of the situation was that Partridge had been on Valium for the previous 13 years. He was prescribed the drug after being diagnosed as “hyperactive” in the late ’60s, and went cold turkey when then-wife Marianne flushed his supply down the toilet.
“And I had no concept of withdrawal, and I had no concept of what would happen to you if you stopped taking this stuff, which… your brain becomes dependent on it,” Partridge said in 2006. “And after 13 years of quite high doses, you’re really dependent on it. … I was losing my memory, I was getting bouts of amnesia, I was getting physical problems like pains in my stomach, I was getting weird events like I couldn’t move my legs. And my brain came unwound. I started having panic attacks.”
Partridge’s mental stress had manifested before, in 1979, when he blacked out on stage and temporarily forgot who he was or what he was doing there. In a television interview just before XTC’s 1982 Paris concert, his appetite for a respite from touring was evident. He spoke about longing for calm music when he wasn’t on stage.
“I like to listen to music that relaxes me and stimulates me in a relaxing manner,” he told a French journalist. “Because this is like owning a circus. And when you’re finished with touring or whatever, you don’t want to see other circuses. You just want to relax.”
After Partridge’s collapse, the rest of XTC’s European tour was cancelled. It was discovered that, in addition to stress and drug withdrawal, the singer also hadn’t eaten anything for a few days. He was nursed back to health and, feeling at least a little better, he agreed to persevere and tackle an American tour. It would be XTC’s first U.S. jaunt as a headlining act.
Although Partridge and the band managed to finish the band’s April 3 concert in San Diego, that wasn’t the case the next night in Los Angeles.
“It all came to a head on our U.S. tour,” he recalled. “I managed to get through the first show, but it was an awful experience. I was onstage and couldn’t remember how to play the guitar properly. I was in terrible pain and my nervous system was just going wild, like somebody had just run me over in a car. Then on the second night, this was in L.A., I cracked-up completely. I really believed that I was going to die, it was that bad. I just had to get off the stage. And that was the end for me and touring. I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Indeed, San Diego would stand as XTC’s final show (apart from a smattering of radio and television performances). As Partridge recovered from his acute stage fright, he realized that he had only been enduring, not enjoying, touring. As his musical heroes in the Beatles had done in 1966, Partridge declared that his group would be a studio-only band from then on.
XTC’s label didn’t like the news, thinking that the band couldn’t sustain itself on recordings alone, but band members Colin Moulding (bass, vocals) and Dave Gregory (guitar, keyboards) were supportive. Drummer Terry Chambers had preferred touring to recording and left XTC as the band was recording its next album, 1983’s Mummer. Looking back, Partridge has remained overjoyed at his decision.
“Quitting touring allowed us to go Technicolor,” he told Paste in 2006. Partridge confessed to the Independent: “I feel more normal about it now. I don’t feel such a freak. But I’m too damn old for all of that. I just felt like a performing animal, I was the monkey on the barrel organ.”
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