Music is such an odd thing. Sometimes it doesn’t connect and years can go by until, quite suddenly, it does. I was watching the XTC documentary ‘This is Pop” (which is excellent and recommended) for the second time and, quite unexpectedly, I found myself absolutely loving the track ‘Love on a Farmboy’s Wages’, which I’d never heard before, or if I had I erased it from my memory. Then, over the last couple of weeks, I started listening to the back catalogue and am struggling to understand why I never paid enough attention before as almost everything I had already heard I really liked, which was mostly the singles of course.
I did have the ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ single around the time it came out I think, which would have been 1979, but nothing else until around ’84 when I bought a used copy of ‘English Settlement’, which has subsequently disappeared, a cd copy of Waxworks/Beeswax and another CD which was ‘Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles 1977–92’, also a copy of ‘Black Sea’ from a record fair a couple of months ago. Now that I’ve written that down it is more than I thought.
In the last couple of weeks I have gone a bit XTC mad as I am in the odd position of almost discovering a new band who have loads of songs I already know. Yes, that doesn’t make much sense but it’s how it feels. At the Rugby record fair a few weekends ago I bought the Waxworks/Beeswax records and a copy of Mummer, I’ve also got some 7″ singles and yesterday I ordered a used copy of The Big Express, the die cut version which I saw in a used record bin last year and didn’t buy, and have now paid twice what I could have got it for. Never mind, no point regretting record buying decisions, even though at some point before the end of this post I am definitely going to do that.
Just in case you don’t know much about XTC I will first make the following statement, the songwriting is brilliant, really it is. I will now try and write a very (very) brief history of the bands formation, you can skip a bit if you already know this stuff, and then a brief album by album write up.
A version of XTC were formed in Swindon, Wiltshire around 1972. Originally named Star Park, the group were Colin Moulding (Bass & Vocals) and Terry Chambers (Drums) who asked Andy Partridge (Guitar & Vocals) to join their new group. Andy Partridge describes the music of the Helium Kidz as rather turgid and that they wanted a change, to sing about new things and, with the addition of Barry Andrews on Keyboards in 1976, they settled on the name XTC for their new direction. There’s a rather good video from the John Peel Archive site (which you should haver visited by now as it is brilliant) where Andy Partridge talks about how having a couple of Peel Sessions and how being approved by John Peel really kick started their career with record labels fighting each other to sign them, here it is:
The first track from XTC that saw release was in October 1978, a 7″ of ‘Science Friction’ that was subsequently withdrawn in the UK but was also part of 12″ EP titled 3D. I have no idea why it was withdrawn in the UK, although it never troubled the charts so perhaps that’s why. The second 7″ was released in January 78, ‘Statue of Liberty’ which also didn’t trouble the charts anywhere, it was banned by the BBC though, for the lyrics, “In my fantasy I sail beneath your skirt”, seriously BBC get a grip would you? the next single, ‘This is Pop?’ from April 78 didn’t trouble the charts either. The fourth single, ‘Are you receiving me’ from September 78 managed number 86 in Australia. By this time the first album had been released, containing ‘Statue of Liberty’, and ‘This is Pop?’ reaching a rather decent 38 in the UK charts.
White Music – 1978
‘White Music’ was released in January 1978 and there are fairly clear influences, from Talking Heads to New York Dolls and there is an argument that could be made for it to be considered the first of the New Wave albums by a UK band. The choice of ‘All Along the Watchtower’, a Dylan song famously covered by Hendrix, was an interesting one and their take on it does work in the context of the album. If I had to guess, I’d suggest that it was a live regular for Helium Kids. Back in the late seventies, early eighties, it was a regular track for garage bands that I was in, so I can see why they would throw it in, the chord progression is repetitive and easy so why not.
I think it is one of those albums that would be great if you first heard it in 1978 in the context of everything else that was around at the time. It’s still good though and the singles taken from it are a clear indication of where the band were heading, both really good tracks.
Here are the tracks on the album, a couple of proper videos, some live and some just the tracks, varying quality:
1. Radios in Motion – 2:54
2. Cross Wires – 2:06
3. This Is Pop? – 2:41
4. Do What You Do – 1:16
5. Statue of Liberty – 2:55
6. All Along the Watchtower – 5:43
1. Into the Atom Age – 2:32
2. I’ll Set Myself on Fire – 3:04
3. I’m Bugged -3:59
4. New Town Animal – 1:53
5. Spinning Top – 2:40
6. Neon Shuffle – 4:37