the origins of X-Amount

Andi and I met sometime in the mid 1980s. I was involved in the live music events at my art college, and Andi came in and played with a band, I think they were called "Your Heterosexual Violence". I thought they were brilliant and told him so. I thought no more of it.

Another time, he came to the college and saw my degree show. He made a point of telling me he liked what I did. I thought no more of it.

Later, I played at the "Camberwell Groove" street party in 1987 with my band Goat, and Andi played with the band he was in, Best Foot Forward. It was a great day, members of House Of Love and Stereolab played too. Andi and I didn't meet that day but our paths kept crossing through our involvements with the various music collectives in South London at the time.

Best Foot Forward at the Camberwell Grove street party (photo:Jeremy Birch)

By 1988 I was playing guitar for Best Foot Forward and Andi and I were working together. We got on well musically, and were able to form a rock-solid groove well, both making the most of the funk, punk, dub reggae and other influences we shared.

Andi and I in rehearsals in Spain (photo: Tom Caldwell)

Best Foot Forward folded in 1991 and pretty soon after that we decided we should continue working together. We got hold of John Edwards, who had been the bass player in Goat and arranged a jam. It felt good, just instrumental work-outs that had a shared weirdness. All three of us had a unique approach to playing and we made a good sound together.
Best Foot Forward - With Or Without You by X-Amt

The band evolved. John had been playing double bass since Goat had finished, and although Andi and I had persuaded him to use his electric bass, he soon switched to the double bass and was a lot happier. He drafted in his mate Dave Fitzgerald (from The Pointy Birds) in on cello. Andi got hold of a Simmons electric kit, and soon that added to the sound with sub bass and sonar noises.

with Lizzie at Deptford Free Festival 1995 (photo: Ric Brice)

Andi and I had also been experimenting in the studio with a toy sampler and a really cheap drum machine, making tunes from spoken phrases (like "a bit of cheese on toast" and "a lovely cup of tea") and soon these got thrown in to the melting pot.

We would play these experiments to John and Dave and they would impersonate the electronic sounds with their acoustic instruments. I made a foot pedal from a lump of wood and a button bought from Maplin that was crudely hard-wired to two notes on the toy sampler, which enabled me to trigger samples whilst playing guitar at the same time. The sampler had no memory, so we had to load the samples from cassettes. We wired the MIDI of the drum machine to the Simmons (the drum machine was the Casio RZ1, which could hold a couple of seconds of sample memory) and then Andi could trigger samples too. So we had feedback loops, sounds of water bubbles and other made home-made stuff.
arrangement notes
Early on we had decided to set down only one rule, which was "there are no rules". This was incredibly liberating, because it set us free from any genre pigeon-holing as well as enabling amazing creative freedoms. Sometimes a song structure would be drawn as an abstract diagram/picture which would be put on the wall and "played".

one of the diagrams for a song

John would play the bass with pegs attached to the strings or by scraping the back of it with his special boot, Andi would be playing submarine noises from the drum kit and I would be stamping on the home made foot pedal.

diagram for recording the band at Black Rock rehearsal rooms, New Cross

We had a set-list sometimes, but often the songs would never be played the same way twice. For example the track "Cup", derived from the "lovely cup of tea" sample, would often only have the loosest structure. The "hook" (if you can call it that) was the melody derived from the 'lovely cup' sample, and we had a vague arrangement of when each of us would take the lead, so to speak, and that would be followed by us impersonating what the other had just played, so the track would devolve.
Each time we played tracks they would invariably sound different to the last time. "Traffic Jam" involved us impersonating the sounds of a traffic jam, being hit by a juggernaut and then sounding 'broken', all across a funk groove.

set list

Eventually Andi made a box from chipboard that housed all the electronic lunacy and we even played some gigs with it. I think Dave called it "the robot". Nobody really knew what to make of us. It was a bit nuts, but it had a real funkiness and we made a great sound, which of course kept moving and changing. I remember one gig at the Deptford Free Festival where a dog was barking at us, so John responded by barking back at the dog with an impersonation of it on his bowed double bass.

drawings for the "robot"

We did not publicise the band well, and all of us began to get busy with other projects, so it was hard to keep any kind of momentum going. I was producing and mixing for a band called Back To The Planet, who started to do well, John was picking up all sorts of interesting improv gigs with people like Lol Coxhill and Evan Parker (he still is).

The band got together less, but Andi and I continued to work with electronics. By now we had put together quite a few decent sounding tunes with our limited gear. We started thinking of names for our new project ("Wireless", "Substance"), but when we realised that X-Amount was no more, we decided to keep the name. We even played a gig at this relatively early stage, with Andi programming the R8 live, and me triggering parts from an MMT-8 sequencer and adding dub effects.
We managed to get a bit more gear. Andi got the Emu Esi sampler and this was an utter revelation. It opened up the world of time-stretching and filtering much more for us. Until then we had been struggling with a very limited (but great sounding) early Akai. My live mixing experiences had taught me a lot and I added in dub-style echo and other warped effects. I got a Waldorf Pulse synth, and this too improved and developed the sound.

our studio set-up in Sydenham, about 1994. Atari STe, Roland R8, 303, D110, Yamaha CS-30, Akai X-7000, floppy disks, WEM copycat echo, ash tray, carrier bag, gnomes.
We got asked to play Glastonbury in about 1996, things were picking up, except we didn't actually play in the end (I will tell that story sometime in a separate blog), but we did have enough material to put together the LP called "Fat Bankers".

In 1997 we got invited to record at a studio in Suffolk called "The Egyptian Rooms". This was a wonderful opportunity. We picked a few tunes to work on, packed our electronic gear plus Andi's kit and my bass guitar and headed up there. It was a beautiful studio, that had just about been finished. Simon, who invited us up, knew that I had worked a lot in the studio with Back To The Planet (I recorded at Island and EMI for them), as well as with Andi, so we were asked to put the studio through its paces.

We had a lot of fun. We recorded loops of Andi's kit in an unfinished area (all unfurnished concrete), added some live bass, and got some wonderful airy effects using the brilliant Eventide Harmoniser they had.

track sheet for "Sine" at the Suffolk recording sessions

Shortly after that, we put together the tunes that later became "Leakage". Then things stopped. By this time, I had moved to Salisbury, and after gaining lots of experience in the live field, touring, producing and mixing bands I was asked to teach, which I did, for about 10 years. The stress and pressure involved in that job was horrible, so much so that it did not leave much time for composing at home. Plus we both now had young children. I got involved in a Salisbury project and we did ok for a while. "Head To Head" it was called, we played some gigs in Europe and played Glastonbury twice.

Andi joined us on percussion for some gigs. After Head To Head came another Salisbury band, Nicky's House. This one did not do quite so well, although we did make quite a good LP, and towards the end Andi joined us on drums, but the band was all but finished by then. I was getting frustrated with the Salisbury scene and was missing the experimentation and "no rules" of the old days, I think Andi was too, so, after a long break of about 10 years, Andi and I started up X-Amount again last March.

Since the re-start we have made an LP (You Need Glasses), an EP (Gits Encroaching) and a single ( Flight / Doghouse). We also have an EP of material from 1994-1997 called "some previous". It won't be long before we finished the second LP, and its only July.

We are still just as difficult to pigeon-hole. Soon, hopefully we will play live.
X-Amount - Flight by X-Amt