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AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #80 : XTC (2)

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XTC-resize-2

Absolutely chuffed that Johnny the Friendly Lawyer has again popped up with this particular contribution. It’s a follow-up to ICA 26…..

Greetings JC.

I suspect you’re probably inundated with proposed ICA’s these days, but this one was meant as a companion to the one posted about Colin Moulding’s XTC songs last year (ICA #26). On the one hand I was really happy to pay tribute to the under-acknowledged bassist–a true musical hero to me. On the other hand it was a bit cowardly to avoid an ICA drawn from all of XTC‘s material. So many great songs to choose from over so many years! In other words, I had a Clash problem on my hands. (It’s awesome, by the way, that ‘Clash problem’ has entered the ‘net vernacular.)

So I sat on it. But now, with the popularity of the imaginary comp series and everyone finding reasonable justifications for their selections, I’m finally sending this one along. It’s not a representative survey of Andy Partridge‘s XTC songs or a chronology or anything like that. Nope, this is just a good old fashioned list of favorites. I’m sure a few tunes would be found in a lot of XTC fans’ top picks, but surely not all of them as half are album tracks. And, I skipped right by several LP’s without a backward glance (my apologies to everyone with favorites on White Music, Go 2, Mummer, The Big Express, Nonsuch and Wasp Star.). So, without any fanfare, here are my personal favorite XTC songs by Andy Partridge, in no particular order:

1. Respectable Street.

As good a lead-off track as any, this one from 1980’s Black Sea. Also released as the 4th single from that LP.

2. Real by Reel.

Album side off 1979’s Drums and Wires. I wrote in the Moulding comp that the band really came into their own on this album after two previous LPs. (That’s why this ICA doesn’t include earlier Partridge standouts like ‘Are you Receiving?‘ and ‘Statue of Liberty’). XTC were excellent musicians but the introduction of guitarist Dave Gregory game them a legit virtuoso. His brief solo on this song, at about the 2:30 mark, is just perfect.

1979 was a banner year for post-punk guitarists; the likes of Magazine’s John McGeoch, PiL’s Keith Levene and Gang of Four’s Andy Gill served up stellar work on Secondhand Daylight, Metal Box and Entertainment!, respectively. Gregory never got their level of recognition, but his fretwork was equally significant. ‘Real by Reel’ is also noteworthy in that Moulding played the bassline somewhere in between ska and reggae time, thereby inventing skeggae.

3. I’d Like That.

XTC released the sub par Nonsuch in 1992 and then went silent. For seven years. Then they returned with Apple Venus, a so-called ‘pastoral’ album that sounded (to me) as a sequel to Partridge’s 1986 masterpiece, ‘Skylarking’. Older, mellower, sophisticated and acoustic, the group still sounded relevant after more than 20 years on the job.

4. Season Cycle.

Speaking of Skylarking, here’s an album track from that LP. Producer Todd Rundgren gave Partridge a lot of stick for rhyming ‘cycle’ with ‘umbilical’, but it’s just the sort of silly, unusual couplet that I always found endearing rather than ridiculous.

5. Senses Working Overtime.

Sings for itself. One of best, if not the very best, of all XTC songs. Released as a single from 1982’s English Settlement LP. Unbelievably, it is the band’s only top 10 single (reaching number 10).

6. The Mayor of Simpleton.

Another single, this one from 1989’s Oranges and Lemons, perhaps the group’s last great LP. This one features terrific basslines from man of the match Mr. Moulding, who also provides solid backing vocals. As a rule, the songwriters usually sang lead on their songs, but Moulding’s voice was always present in the mix, much like how The Jam’s Bruce Foxton co-sang along with Paul Weller on the majority of that band’s songs. (Let’s add Foxton to the list of under-appreciated musicians from the era, while we’re at it.)

7. Yacht Dance.

More evidence of Dave Gregory’s talent. The modest guitarist had this to say about his beautiful nylon-string acoustic work: “It sounds difficult but it wasn’t. I just worked out these little phrases that sounded like what the song needed.” Simple as that! An album track from English Settlement.

8. No Thugs In Our House.

A rocker, as it were, with agitated lyrics snarled by Mr. Partridge. I wonder if Partridge’s unorthodox vocal delivery might have factored into XTC’s lack of success over here in the States? He’s often described as a ‘quirky’ singer, which can translate to ‘oddly irritating’. Not sure about that, but I do love this gem, another single and album track from English Settlement. Note the variety of the 3 songs on this ICA from that one LP.

9. Merely a Man.

An album side from Oranges and Lemons. Love the brass section competing with Gregory’s Hendrixish wah-wah soloing throughout.

10. Earn Enough For Us.

Saved the best for last. Another album side from Skylarking and my all-time favorite XTC song. If I could have written only one of their tunes, this is the one.

Amazing that most of these songs are well over 30 years old…

Bonus Tracks:

Partridge recorded (as Sir John Johns) in XTC’s psychedelic side-project The Dukes of Stratosphear. Two of his best tracks are found on 1987’s Psonic Psunspot LP:

Brainiac’s Daughter – Meant to sound like a Sgt. Pepper outtake.
Pale and Precious – Kind of a lost Beach Boys track, but from Swindon instead of LA–right down to the ‘Good Vibrations’ background vocals and theremin!

Enjoy!!!!

JTFL

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (40)

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MONDAY 31 MARCH 2008
(also resurrected and featured on 21 April 2014)

2008-12-05_xtc

There’s a terrific little song from the late Ian Dury called Their Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards in which a number of folk from the entertainment industry are given a loving name check. I’d like to think that if anyone was around willing to update the song, they would have a go at including the name of Andy Partridge.

He is of course best known as the guitarist and main songwriter for XTC. However, he’s also recorded songs under a string of aliases and worked with dozens of other acts either as producer, songwriter or performer. Away from music, he’s been an agony-aunt on a Radio 1 show, a panelist on quiz shows and he’s written a series of comedy sketches that have appeared on television in the UK. Oh and in doing some more research, I learned that he’s also had an uncredited one-off appearance as a cricket commentator in the cartoon series Family Guy.

Not bad for a guy who suffered from such appalling stage-fright that he insisted his band give up touring just as they were becoming famous – a decision which in all likelihood cost them a place at the top table of the very best of British pop groups as the opportunities to grow the fan base was limited to radio and the odd TV appearance.

And yet it may have been the ability to concentrate entirely on studio output rather than a live sound that made XTC so special to so many people as they released one excellent album after another over a fifteen-year period up to the early 1990s. And every album produced at least one humdinger of a single, even if many of them failed to trouble the higher echelons of the charts.

They first came to prominence in late 1979 with Making Plans For Nigel, a song on which the lead vocals were taken by bassist Colin Moulding, thus leading many newcomers to thinking that he and not Partridge was the main driving force behind XTC. The two follow-up singles in the early months of 1980, Ten Feet Tall and Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down were Partridge compositions and vocals, but both flopped. At this point in time, it would have been fair to think that the band could have quietly faded away having enjoyed their brief flirt with fame.

But later that year came the release of the LP Black Sea, a truly stunning and wonderful piece of work of which just about any of the 11 tracks could have been a hit single. In the end, four singles were released by Virgin Records, of which the biggest hit was, at long-last, a Partridge number – Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me)

With no tours to concern them, the band were soon back at work in the studio with Partridge promising that the next LP would be the one they would be best remembered for. The first taste of what was to come appeared in January 1982, with the release of the single Senses Working Overtime, which went Top 10. The LP followed a month later. Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to Partridge’s pre-release claims.

Maybe the problem was that it was a double LP which was a bit of a rarity in the post-punk days (London Calling notwithstanding), with some songs stretching out to over six minutes in length, which again was unusual for the period in question. The follow-up singles Ball and Chain, and No Thugs In Our House also flopped.

Never slow to cash in on one of their acts having some time in the limelight, Virgin Records put out Waxworks, a collection of singles spanning 1977-1982 just in time for the Xmas market.

The band then recorded and released the LPs Mummer in 1983, The Big Express in 1984 and Skylarking in 1986 to little or no fanfare. But 1987 saw another upturn in their fortunes with the song Dear God, which began life as a b-side but was later resurrected as a single (shades of The Smiths and How Soon Is Now?). This period coincided with MTV in America picking up on the band, and the 1989 Double LP Oranges and Lemons, as well the singles King For A Day and The Loving sold as well as anything in their career.

Another double LP, Nonsuch, was released in 1992 at which point in time the band fell out with Virgin Records. As a consequence, it would take until 1999 before the next XTC album came out, although the intervening period was filled with yet more collections of hits and rarities.

I’m a big fan of just about any of the singles XTC released between 1977 and 1992. They were lyrically clever and the tunes were more often than not different from most of the pop fodder that was kicking around. Neither did the band didn’t stick with one particular sound throughout that period in time.

You should have spotted from the picture that accompanies this post that the song I most like is :-

mp3 : XTC – Senses Working Overtime

I love the really quiet acoustic opening and the gradual build-up in tempo and sound all the way to Andy Partridge calling out 1-2-3-4-5 and then the infectious chorus. There’s just so much to enjoy in this song with all sorts of instrumentation going on in the background. It’s fantastically produced and it has aged magnificently. I dare you to listen and not sing-along. I’m almost disappointed in myself that it only reached #40 in this particular rundown….

Three b-sides to enjoy:-

mp3 : XTC – Egyptian Solution
mp3 : XTC – Blame The Weather
mp3 : XTC – Tissue Tigers

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #26 : XTC

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XTC-resize-2

Absolutely chuffed that Johnny the Friendly Lawyer has popped up with this particular contribution. He’s another who has contributed to both blogs on numerous occasions offering his views and thoughts on many a posting.  And unusually for an American legal eagle, he’s never once invoiced me!!!

An Imaginary Compilation Album: Colin’s Ecstacy

Of all the UK post-punk bands that should have hit it big in the States but didn’t—The Jam, Elvis Costello, the Bunnymen, Smiths, Magazine, and countless others—Swindon’s XTC are among the most criminally overlooked. Maybe it’s because they stopped touring in 1982, when principal singer-songwriter Andy Partridge was overcome by stage fright. Maybe it’s because they didn’t get the label support they needed from Virgin. Maybe it’s because American radio was then and remains to this day absolute crap. In any event, the reason is NOT because XTC didn’t have the tunes.

And the man responsible for some of the band’s best tunes is founding bassist and co-vocalist Colin Moulding. Partridge fronted the band and wrote the majority of its songs, including some all time classics (‘Senses Working Overtime’, ‘Respectable Street’ and ‘Mayor of Simpleton’ come to mind). But the less quirky, unprepossessing bassist wrote more than his share of classics. This imaginary compilation offers a modicum of recognition to one of the most unsung heroes of the era, Colin Moulding.

Side A

1. Life Begins at the Hop

Although the band had been around for a while and had already released two albums, XTC really clicked into gear when original member Barry Andrews jumped ship to join Robert Fripp and his League of Gentlemen (decamping soon thereafter to form Shriekback). In came guitar wiz/fellow Swindonian Dave Gregory and XTC’s two-guitar, pop-focused sound was nailed down. 1978’s White Music and Go 2 contained several Moulding songs, but nothing that compares to this masterpiece. It was released as a non-album single in 1979 but was included as the lead track on the American version of Drums and Wires, the band’s 3rd LP, but first minus Andrews and plus Gregory. Instantly catchy like all good pop songs, ‘Hop’ is the true beginning of XTC and the perfect re-introduction of Mr. Moulding.

2. Making Plans for Nigel

Another single and the opening track of the UK version of Drums and Wires. One of the band’s best known and loved songs, but what is it about, exactly? Parents planning their child’s future? A comment on English society’s emphasis on steady employment? Never been able to work that out, but I do love this number. Interesting to note that ‘Nigel’, ‘Life Begins at the Hop’ and the Moulding-written ’10 Feet Tall’ were all included on the American release, and were the only singles from the album.

3. Generals and Majors

The lead single from XTC’s 4th release, Black Sea. I was lucky enough to see the band during this tour, in a tiny club in my suburban hometown of Roslyn, Long Island, New York. A true shame that they stopped touring; they were an outstanding live act and were talented enough to play to perfection anything they recorded. (Although I was a tad disappointed to see that the ‘whistling’ on this track is played on a synth!)

4. Love at First Sight

XTC are, for lack of a better word, a singable band. This track, also from Black Sea, only has a few chords but the vocal line is so melodic it makes the song irresistibly catchy. Even the middle eight (“Mouse takes the bait…”), with its standard C-G-A-D progression, sounds fresh with Moulding singing lead, as he does on most (but not all) of the songs he wrote.

5. Ball and Chain

The second single from the band’s 5th LP, English Settlement. XTC have often been called ‘Beatle-esque’ and it’s sort of true with this track, which to my ears bears a passing resemblance to ‘Getting Better’.

Side B

6. English Roundabout

One of the charming things about XTC, for us in the colonies anyway, is how profoundly English they are. Maybe that’s the reason they never made it over here. I don’t know—I hear the opening line “People rushing round with no time to spare” and it reminds me of millions of people, swarming like flies round Waterloo underground. The pace of the song, the intricate guitar figures, the vocal melody—all these show a band at the top of its game. But, soon after this record, Partridge shut down the touring machine, drummer Terry Chambers left, and they lost the plot. It took them years to get it back.

7. Grass

Four years and two more albums to be exact. XTC released Mummer in 1983 and The Big Express in 1984, both of which sank without a trace. ‘Wonderland’ was a Moulding single from Mummer which many people liked (not me). But XTC found their feet again in 1986 with the brilliant, Todd Rundgren-produced Skylarking. Often described as a ‘pastoral’ album, Skylarking is terrific start to finish. Widely considered Partridge’s tour de force, the LP nonetheless contained four great Moulding tunes, including this one, the album’s lead single.

8. The Meeting Place

“And here’s yer other album single”, as our host might say. Little known fact: XTC made headlines with the controversial Partridge tune ‘Dear God.’ It’s a great song with an interesting video to match, but it first came out as the B-side to Moulding’s ‘Grass.’ It was only after U.S. college radio stations picked up on the song that it got its own single release, eventually replacing ‘Mermaid Smiled’ on later pressings of the LP. More trivia: the drummer on Skylarking was Prairie Prince, the original drummer of American corporate rock perpetrators Journey and later a member of art/glam/goof band the Tubes.

9. King For A Day

Second single off Oranges & Lemons, whose title I only recently learned was from an English nursery rhyme. Notice how we’re up to song 9 of the Moulding compilation and seven of the tracks were singles? Not bad for the band’s auxiliary songwriter.

10. One of the Millions

Here we are at the end of the set and I’ve yet to mention how great a bassist Moulding is! If it wasn’t obvious from the previous tracks it should be from this one, on which his melodic, fretless lines are themselves little songs. Had Moulding never written a note or sung a word, XTC wouldn’t have been complete without his exceptional bass-playing. I bought my first bass in 1980 at aged 17, and Moulding quickly became a personal hero, ranked only behind the remarkable Graham Maby (from Joe Jackson’s band) and the all-time best bassist of the era, the Attractions’ Bruce Thomas.

XTC followed Oranges & Lemons with Nonsuch in 1992, then went quiet for seven years, eventually releasing Apple Venus and Wasp Star in 1999 and 2000, respectively. Then they packed it in. Moulding wrote songs for all of the last three albums, but none, I think, that merits inclusion in place of any of my chosen ten. Haven’t a clue as to what Mr. Moulding is up to now.

Bonus Tracks

Indulging their 60’s psychedelia fetish to the extreme, XTC released an excellent EP and LP under the pseudonym The Dukes of Stratosphear.

What In The World??…, written under the name The Red Curtain (Partridge called himself Sir John Johns) appeared on 1985’s 25 O’Clock, his bass front and center in a McCartney/Taxman bounce.

The Dukes returned in 1987 with Psonic Psunspot, on which Moulding/Curtain’s Vanishing Girl appeared. The Dukes’ two releases were later compiled together as Chips from the Chocolate Fireball. This kitschy homage to Barrett-era Pink Floyd, the Beatles and the Beach Boys contains some of the band’s best work and is well worth a listen.

JTFL

mp3 : XTC – Life Begins At The Hop
mp3 : XTC – Making Plans For Nigel
mp3 : XTC – Generals and Majors
mp3 : XTC – Love At First Sight
mp3 : XTC – Ball and Chain
mp3 : XTC – English Roundabout
mp3 : XTC – Grass
mp3 : XTC – The Meeting Place
mp3 : XTC – King For A Day
mp3 : XTC – One of the Millions
mp3 : Dukes of Stratosphear – What In The World??…
mp3 : Dukes of Stratosphear – Vanishing Girl

JC adds…..

There’s another good friend of mine called John who is also a huge fan of XTC.  He was a very regular contributor to the old blog and one of the annoying things about it being taken down without advance warning a few years back is that almost all the musings of Mr John Greer were lost.  But I was able to salvage his piece on XTC and Dukes of Stratosphear for re-posting in May 2014.  It’s well worth a read:-

https://thenewvinylvillain.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/this-is-pop/

 

THIS IS POP…

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xtc_ticket_stub

Today is going to be one of the highlights of the week’s golf in Hilton Head as I’m scheduled to play over a course which has, for years, hosted a tournament on the PGA Tour.  I thought it would therefore be appropriate to feature an old posting from someone who will be with me today – Mr John Greer – and given that some words on XTC a few weeeks back proved to be one of the most popular ever to feature on the blog, I’ve gone back to what he said on 7 June 2009:-

I remember the first time I ever saw XTC it was in 1978 on the music show Revolver;  I was in the bar of St Andrews University, I worked for the University , I wasn’t a student.

Revolver was an ITV music show, which preceded Channel 4’s The Tube; it only ran for one series of 8 episodes and had Peter Cook as the manager of the fictional nightclub where the show was being filmed.

XTC played their single This Is Pop and the following Monday I had to buy it. It seemed to be totally different to any of the other singles of the day with a very angular sound. Their appearance on Revolver can be seen on youtube if you have a search.

The previously released single Statue Of Liberty had been banned by the BBC for having the line “sail beneath your skirt”, this song showed off the band’s great early sound which was a hybrid of punk, reggae and ska. Andy Partridge preferred to call their style of music ‘New Pop’ rather than ‘New Wave’.

mp3 : XTC – Statue Of Liberty

1979 saw the release of the band’s most successful album Drums and Wires, with the wonderful single Making Plans for Nigel. It was during the accompanying tour that I saw them for the one and only time at The Odeon in Edinburgh.

Lead singer Andy Partridge had always suffered from stage fright, but he struggled on until he suffered a breakdown on stage during one of the first concerts of the English Settlement tour in Paris in 1982. It was reported that his wife had thrown away his supply of Valium. According to the band’s biography, Andy had the drug prescribed to him as a teenager during his parents’ divorce and over the subsequent years, having never been withdrawn from the drug he had become overly-dependent on it.

The European and British dates were cancelled and after one show, the U.S leg was also abandoned, and in due course XTC withdrew from live appearances and became almost exclusively a studio band, only occasionally performing live on radio shows.

As with most people my music buying changed with age, marriage and becoming a father and the subsequent 5 albums passed me by, but I did buy the occasional single found while trawling in record shops.

I also did with hindsight, a very stupid thing; I sold all my vinyl albums, 12-inch singles and singles. I thought CDs were easier to store and transport when we moved house, – and on a few occasions on this blog JC himself has talked of the agony of and woes of losing many classics in a change of address.

Indeed it was JC, who gave me the compilation CD, Fossil Fuel as a birthday gift, that started my interest in listening to XTC again. The early singles were as good and fresh as ever and I liked the newer material.

Over the years XTC have influenced many bands, it’s hard not to listen to The Futureheads without hearing a similar sound, and I recently read an article where Coldplay credit Andy Partridge’s writing as being a major influence.

In 2003, I heard a single on Radio 2 and thought it was pure XTC; it turned out to be aband from my own Kingdom Of Fife – indeed they were from my old stomping ground of St Andrews – Dogs Die In Hot Cars, with their minor hit I Love You Cause I Have To.

On Boxing Day 2007, I was standing doing the dishes in the kitchen, feeling quite sorry for myself, as I’d been down to Berwick to see Raith Rovers suffer an unexpected defeat to Berwick Rangers, when Bob Harris played, again on Radio 2, a track that lifted my gloom for a wee while.

It was the wonderful Wrapped in Grey by XTC. At that moment I thought it was a new track but I later found out it was from their album Nonsuch. It prompted me to download the album. I had the singles from Nonsuch on Fossil Fuel but I’d never heard this track.

mp3 : XTC – Wrapped In Grey

I read recently the band felt it was one of their finest moments and would be perfect to release as a single; they loved the Pet Sounds feel to it. But the band were in dispute with Virgin Records and after pressing thousands of singles, they were recalled and destroyed.

During their long career, XTC have also released material under a variety of pseudonyms, including two albums of psychedelic outings as The Dukes of Stratosphear, a Viz comic’s promotional single as Johnny Japes and his Jesticles, and a Christmas-themed single as The Three Wise Men.

My younger brother had also been a XTC fan and I think the concert in Edinburgh in 1979 was the only gig we ever attended together. He did have the The Dukes Of Stratosphear albums and the track I always loved was Vanishing Girl. The albums were a homage to 60’s pop and psychedelia. If you were to listen to Vanishing Girl alongside the Small Faces it wouldn’t seem out of place.

mp3 : The Dukes of Stratosphear – Vanishing Girl

As recently as 2007 XTC were still releasing new tracks via their own online streaming webpage.

As a footnote, a very good friend of mine and reader of this blog, Iain Fenton always hated XTC, after Andy Partridge made a statement to the NME or Sounds that “ all the Scots were good at, was growing ginger hair!!! …… At this point, I have to explain that when I still had hair it was ginger ( well….. strawberry blonde)….

 

REMEMBERING XTC

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senses

There’s a terrific little song from the late Ian Dury called There Aint Half Been Some Clever Bastards in which a number of folk from the entertainment industry are given a loving name check. I’d like to think that if anyone was around willing to update the song, they would have a go at including the name of Andy Partridge.

He is of course best known as the guitarist and main songwriter for XTC. However, he’s also recorded songs under a string of aliases and worked with dozens of other acts either as producer, songwriter or performer. Away from music, he’s been an agony-aunt on a Radio 1 show, a panelist on quiz shows and he’s written a series of comedy sketches that have appeared on television in the UK. Oh and in doing some more research, I learned that he’s also had an uncredited one-off appearance as a cricket commentator in the cartoon series Family Guy.

Not bad for a guy who suffered from such appalling stage-fright that he insisted his band give up touring just as they were becoming famous – a decision which in all likelihood cost them a place at the top table of the very best of British pop groups as the opportunities to grow the fan base was limited to radio and the odd TV appearance.

And yet it may have been the ability to concentrate entirely on studio output rather than a live sound that made XTC so special to so many people as they released one excellent album after another over a fifteen-year period up to the early 1990s. And every album produced at least one humdinger of a single, even if many of them failed to trouble the higher echelons of the charts.

They first came to prominence in late 1979 with Making Plans For Nigel, a song on which the lead vocals were taken by bassist Colin Moulding, thus leading many newcomers to thinking that he and not Partridge was the main driving force behind XTC. The two follow-up singles in the early months of 1980, Ten Feet Tall and Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down were Partridge compositions and vocals, but both flopped. At this point in time, it would have been fair to think that the band could have quietly faded away having enjoyed their brief flirt with fame.

But later that year came the release of the LP Black Sea, a truly stunning and wonderful piece of work of which just about any of the 11 tracks could have been a hit single. In the end, four singles were released by Virgin Records, of which the biggest hit was, at long-last, a Partridge number – Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me)

With no tours to concern them, the band were soon back at work in the studio with Partridge promising that the next LP would be the one they would be best remembered for. The first taste of what was to come appeared in January 1982, with the release of the single Senses Working Overtime, which went Top 10. The LP followed a month later. Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to Partridge’s pre-release claims.

Maybe the problem was that it was a double LP which was a bit of a rarity in the post-punk days (London Calling notwithstanding), with some songs stretching out to over six minutes in length, which again was unusual for the period in question. The follow-up singles Ball and Chain, and No Thugs In Our House also flopped.

Never slow to cash in on one of their acts having some time in the limelight, Virgin Records put out Waxworks, a collection of singles spanning 1977-1982 just in time for the Xmas market.

The band then recorded and released the LPs Mummer in 1983, The Big Express in 1984 and Skylarking in 1986 to little or no fanfare. But 1987 saw another upturn in their fortunes with the song Dear God, which began life as a b-side but was later resurrected as a single (shades of The Smiths and How Soon Is Now?). This period coincided with MTV in America picking up on the band, and the 1989 double LP Oranges and Lemons, as well the singles King For A Day and The Loving sold as well as anything in their career.

Another double LP, Nonsuch, was released in 1992 at which point in time the band fell out with Virgin Records. As a consequence, it would take until 1999 before the next XTC album came out, although the intervening period was filled with yet more collections of hits and rarities.

I’m a big fan of just about any of the singles XTC released between 1977 and 1992. They were lyrically clever and the tunes were more often than not different from most of the pop fodder that was kicking around. Neither did the band didn’t stick with one particular sound throughout that period in time.

My favourite single of theirs is that top 10 hit from 1982 :-

mp3 : XTC – Senses Working Overtime

I love the really quiet acoustic opening and the gradual build-up in tempo and sound all the way to Andy Partridge calling out 1-2-3-4-5 and then the infectious chorus. There’s just so much to enjoy in this song with all sorts of instrumentation going on in the background. It’s fantastically produced and it has aged magnificently.  Indeed, it’s such a tremendous song that it deserves to feature here on its own and not have any of the other great XTC singles alongside to distract you.

Enjoy.

INITIATIVE TEST (Part 2)…aka the 202nd musical posting on the blog

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greatescapeattenborough

Grim and pale with (heavy) head in hands, I sat in Dan Van Samaritan’s apartment in Utrecht, central Holland on the Monday morning. It was 08.30 and I was due at work in south west England … hundreds of miles away.

Before I’d been shooed away at midnight by the be-whiskered Amsterdam Police; through a fug of tasty smoke, they’d given me the phone number of the British Consulate in The Hague. I pulled the scrap of paper from my pocket. “Right” thought I. “These Union Flag-flying fuckers will sort me out. No problem. That’s what they do, isn’t it?”

I called their number on Dan’s phone. No answer. The Consulate staff weren’t there. My life was already a Dutch Breakfast so I could well do without those lazy sods still nibbling on Gouda and pumpernickel reading their morning Expatica Express.

“Get thyselves sat beneath a portrait of The Queen and help this beleaguered countryman, you work-shy mandarin bastards” I chuntered to myself. I lit a Peter Stuyvesant and tried the number again. Still nothing. Perhaps they were out last night dressed in orange celebrating the first herring of the year, or something?

Half an hour later, I finally extracted a gruff ‘Hullo’ from a she-male voice at the other end.

‘Geertruyd here’.

It was the cleaner!

It transpired that Her Majesty’s Ambassador and all his merry civil service men were not in the office that morning due to what she called ‘a Training Day’. I vented my spleen toward the damduster-wielding dutchwoman. I was beside myself. (In-cand-escent and in-de-shit). She sympathised with my plight; understanding my acute frustration and desperation, but unable to offer any advice other than, ‘Continue to the port sir, and hope that your passport is there waiting’.

OK. South I go to bloody Belgium then. It can’t be that far from here can it?

By the way, the coach I had missed in Amsterdam had long since arrived in England. Unbeknownst to me however, my friend had been given a hard time by UK Customs at Passport Control. “And which one are we today then sir?” he’d been asked as he wielded 2 passports and a likely story.

Anyway, I got on a local bus full of Holland’s finest old cloggy women and headed towards the nearest motorway junction.

mp3 : Talking Heads – Road To Nowhere

Back on the main Highway, out came my map, anorak, thumb, and my metaphorical Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Benelux Blues. The drizzle lowered in the Lowlands. After half an hour, a car pulled over. It was clearly an ‘Ok ya, company car’. An unwashed black Audi with 4 tell-tale ironed shirts hanging in the back.

Herman the Sales Rep listened to my tale of woe. He was heading to Eindhoven for a Plastics Convention. A city I knew only as the home of a football team called PSV and the Philips Lighting Company. Herman seemed friendly enough. (But then, Jack The Ripper was probably a right charmer on first meeting). We chatted over the next hour or so and I told him my tale. He shook his head in disbelief.

I mentioned the beer, and the cold, the lack of ID and money, Amsterdam, and the missed coach home. I told him that I was serving in the Air Force and that my bollocks would be lightly poached as I was late back on duty.

mp3 : XTC – The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead

Then, in a truly bizarre coincidence, as we passed Eindhoven, he had the most wonderful lightbulb moment!

The nearest RAF Station was not far across the Dutch/West German border.

“That’s it. That’s where we can go!” declared Herman.

In 1984, RAF Brüggen was a major NATO base in a Cold War world – where a certain apocalyptic Nuclear War was just around the next bunker. Two Tribes, Greenham Common, Threads, Reagan, Thatcher, CND, Protect and Survive, Cruise and Pershing missiles. Why, even painting the windows white and sitting under the kitchen table wouldn’t save you.

This Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) meant we were doomed – the lot of us. In fact, the only undecided thing was how you were gonna spend your final 4 minutes; prior to kissing your ass goodbye.

Aaah, happy days!

Anyway, I digress. Herman agreed to take me across the border into Germany and onto the RAF base. As a Sales Executive, he knew the way like the back of his leather-bound filofax.

‘If you don’t get home safely, I’m a Dutchman’ he vehemently declared.

“Aren’t you the funny fucker?” says I.

We crossed the manned National Border, with him flashing Fritz a Buisiness card and me a crazed inane grin – with thumbs up like Selwyn Froggitt.  On a road through a forest, we approached the sprawling air base, negotiating speed-calming barbed wire chicanes flanked by armed guards. We could see the Hardened Aircraft Shelters. Fierce German Shepherds prowled the perimeter fence. How ridiculous they looked with their crooks, dressed in their woolly waistcoats and leather shorts. (Only joking, I mean Alsatian-type dogs really).

At the RAF Brüggen main gate, Herman came into his own with sales waffle a-gogo. Thankfully, the airman on guard duty wasn’t the pointiest bullet in the magazine. His tin hat was on the wrong way round. (‘Must be a chef in his day job’ I thought). For all he knew, I could have been a Yorkshire-based Soviet Stasi SuperSpy. (I had no ID and he had no idea). With a salute from him and a weary wave from me, we were in. A high security top-secret base with the largest Tornado aircraft force in NATO had been infiltrated by a Dutchman saying, “I have come to check the vending machines in the NAAFI” and me – a scruffy youth in a borrowed lime green anorak.

By the way, This ‘oops’ moment had happened at RAF Brüggen earlier that year.

And so, now on the Camp, and en route to Station HQ, it was then very strangely that my ears began to bleed. Herman pointed it out to me as he parked up.  It had bever happened before (or since). Dan Van Samaratin’s rain jacket would never be the same again and my white ‘Tube Station’ T-shirt sported fresh claret blobs.  Herman passed me a wet wipe with ‘Currywurst’ printed on it.  With ears dribbling, I tried to compose myself and rehearsed my story in my fat head.

I introduced myself to a clot of a Corporal in Personnel Services. Seeing the blood, he quickly realised it was above his pay level and found me a Warrant Officer. And, if Rottweillers had hats then he’d be one. At this point, Herman motioned that it was time for him to leave. I thanked him – woefully insufficiently – and he was gone. Rotty with a blue beret took me to a room where I regaled him with bumbling tales of lager and London and Leeds United. Throughout my desperate report, I remember how he took phone calls about bonfires and sausages and fireworks. (It was the 5th of November). Here I was, at my tether’s end, whilst he considered the merits of a good Catherine Wheel.

So here’s the plan: Issued with a Temporary ID card and an Advance of Pay to cover costs home, I take a lift to Mönchengladbach in a mini-bus full of bonfire-going kids. There I catch a train through what’s left of Germany and across The Netherlands to the Hook of Holland. Overnight Ferry to Harwich. Train to Waterloo. Train to Salisbury. Taxi home. Bollocking from work. Re-union shag with girlfriend. Phone call to relieved mother. Two-way tales with passport-holding mate. Food. Sleep.

Through the damp suib of a German Bonfire Night, I hurries to the train station for the 19.30 Deutsche Bahn (that’s German for ‘a big train’), relieved that I had escaped the jaunty jabberings of a dozen excited under-10s eating sausages. (Bratwursts/Worstbrats).

I’d been given an advance of pay in cash. Exactly 138 Deutsche Mark – to cover the whole fare from Monchengladbach to Salisbury.

I asked for a ticket and the frau behind the counter told me the price …

“That is 143 Marks please”.

“Surely some mistake?” I argued.

“Nein. The price it has risen last veek”.

“Shit. Bollocks. Fuck”. A queue built up behind me.

“Can I leave you my name and address? I twitched. Can you take my watch instead?”

Sensing my desperation (along with the fact that if I were to throw myself under the train there would be an interminable delay – even by über-efficient German suicide-mopping-up standards), the woman behind me in the queue stepped forward and offered to pay the 5 DM difference.

“Oh, thank you. Danke, muchos” I babbled, as I went to hug her … but as she recoiled, I thought better of it!

I made it onto the train and felt like Richard Attenborough in The Great Escape. All I needed was the Trilby hat and a pair of specs made from old German milk bottles. The ‘funny look’ from the Guard as he checked my ticket added to the ‘squeeky bum’ moment. We shake, rattle and rolled all the way to the west coast port of Hoek van Holland

(Cue ‘Homeward Bound’ by Paul Simon you may be thinking? Too obvious, dear reader. We don’t just throw this blog together you know).

Unsurprisingly, I puked all the way across The Channel. So much so that I expected any chewy bit to be my own anus. The sea was as rough as an unkempt bear’s arse. (Is there anything worse than not having a cabin and clutching a pissy public porcelain pot for hours and hours?)

Anyway, I can see you glazing over at the back dear reader. Suffice to say, I continued across Britain in shabby vagrant style and arrived home to my accommodation block on the Tuesday afternoon in one piece.

Many were relieved to see me. (‘Cept the bloke next door who’d had his eye on my portable TV). Why,  I even went on to marry the girl waiting for me.  Aaaah!

mp3 : Paul Weller – In Amsterdam (By a strange twist of fate, this is from his new album!)

Dick Van Dyke, 16 May 2010

JC adds…

Almost four years on and I still can’t believe nobody has snapped up the film-rights to this tale.

Over the years I’ve asked DvD to consider becoming a regular contributor to the blog(s).  Hopefully one day….