The Dukes of Stratosphear appeared suddenly in 1985 like a musical lightning bolt from twenty years past. They played pure British psychedelic rock, straight from the mid to late 1960s, borrowing from The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Byrds, The Hollies, The Electric Prunes, and The Beach Boys, among others. By 1987, however, they disappeared just as quickly as they had arrived.
The band consisted of Sir John Johns, who provided singing, guitar, and brain buds; The Red Curtain with electric bass and song stuff; Lord Cornelius Plum on the mellotron, piano, organ, and fuzz-tone guitar; and E.I.E.I. Owen on the drum set. Images of these individuals are essentially impossible to come by outside of the psychedelic art that adorns the two Dukes of Stratosphear albums and their lone EP; biographical information is nonexistent.
The group debuted with a bang in 1985 with their debut EP, 25 O'Clock. The only single from it, Mole From The Ministry did very well on the British pop charts, kicking the group off to a rousing success; in addition, the title track received a fair amount of radio play on its own. However, the group mysteriously did not tour, and instead was believed to be working in the studio throughout 1986 working on a "psychedelic masterpiece." They stayed somewhat in the limelight, however, as they were mentioned in the liner notes of XTC's hugely successful 1986 album Skylarking.
The Dukes' "masterpiece" hit in 1987 with the release of Psonic Psunspot and its two singles Vanishing Girl and You're a Good Man Albert Brown (Curse You Red Barrel). Again, these songs were moderate to strong successes in Great Britain and again, no tour from this enigmatic group. Unfortunately, nothing was to be heard from them again.
At around Christmastime 1987, a Dukes of Stratosphear anthology was released, Chips From The Chocolate Fireball, which contained the entire contents of the EP and the other album on one recording. This signalled, for the most part, the end of the Dukes.
In 1990, Andy Partridge of the band XTC announced to the world that all members of the Dukes of Stratosphear had indeed perished. In the subsequent years, Andy has repeatedly changed his story on the demise of the Dukes, leading some to question Andy's involvement in their disappearance.
In 1991, a long lost Dukes song (It's Snowing Angels) was included along with a number of XTC b-sides and released at an XTC fan convention. This is the last known recording of the psychedelic masters known as the Dukes of Stratosphear.
Whether or not there are indeed any more unreleased Dukes of Stratosphear songs lying around in a vault somewhere is unknown, but perhaps someday the Dukes will return to play more of their wonderful blend of psychedelic pop rock.
If you haven't figured this out already, the Dukes were a side project of the band XTC in which they gave themselves the opportunity to play the styles of psychedelic rock they grew up listening to.