Culture

Great British Bands: XTC

Great British Bands: XTC
November 30th, 2009
Author: Richard Henley Davis

In 1972 a great musical union was forged when Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding first came together and played together under various different incarnations like Star Park and The Helium Kidz. But it took until 1976 when Terry Chambers joined on drums and Barry Andrews joined on keyboards for the full force for their creative vision to be realised. It was during this new line up that XTC was born.

When looking back at the most influential bands that came out out of the new wave/punk/alternative rock  movements of the late 1970s, XTC comes out in the top 5. Their quirky English yet energetic sound has left its mark on bands like Blur, Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Chiefs.

In the early years their sound was influenced by reggae, ska, punk and alternative rock but they had a unique sound that gave them an edge and separated them from the other bands emerging from the punk and new wave scenes.

Andy Partridge's unique vocal style and energetic guitar playing mixed with  Colin Moulding's melodic, sweeping bass playing and equally unique vocals meant that the band had two singers who would share lead vocals depending on the song. The other magic ingredient  needed for any band is great songwriting and the two front men had it had in abundance.

Some would say the best pop songwriting team since Lennon and McCartney.

The band were signed to Virgin Records in 1977 and White Music, their debut album was released in 1978. White Music held a couple of classic songs that really do pick up the energy of that period of musical innovation and their cult  following (Which they have held to this day) broke into the charts.

Then in 1978 Dave Gregory (Guitar and keyboards) replaced Barry Andrews and it was at that point that the punk influence started to dwindle and a more cohesive sound came into the band's music. The album Drums and Wires is a classic and contains the superb single Making Plans For Nigel.

The next album The Black Sea released in 1980, saw the songwriting take another leap with songs like Sgt Rock and Generals And Majors which remain as fresh today as they did back in in 1980 but still stands eclipsed by the 1982 album English Settlement which I highly recommend, the groundbreaking single of which was Senses Working Overtime and this period was the zenith of their popularity.

But Andy Partridge had a complete breakdown on stage in a Paris gig, which was due to an extreme case of stage fright and that was the end of the band as a live act. They then decided to continue but  focus their efforts in the studio.

The studio ensuing albums saw a new lease of life in their songwriting which to be honest had never dwindled but in 1986 the album Skylarking was released and is considered their finest studio album. The single The Meeting Place is a true masterpiece and one of the most original bass lines I have ever heard solidifying the sweeping bass techniques of Colin Moulding that can be heard on songs such as great fire (from the prevouse album Mummer) and Senses Working Overtime which have given Moulding the accolade as one of the most innovative bass players of all time.

The band  were not happy with the final product which is Skylarking and Andy Partridge clashed continuously with Todd Rundgren the album's producer, making the whole recording  process for the band rather an unpleasant one. However Andy Partridge has reappraised his view on the album in recent years.

The band went on to release Oranges and Lemons  in 1989 which was their best selling album as well as Nonsuch in 1992 with the single The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead which was covered by Crash Test Dummies in the film Dumb and Dumber.

During the recording of their last two albums Apple Venus (Volume one) and Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume Two) Dave Gregory left the band and a few years later Colin Moulding left the band and that was the end of XTC.

Fans still hope for the band to reform but it does not look like there will be any reformation anytime soon.

But I would suggest that anyone who is unfamiliar with their music goes out and buys the entire back catalogue (I personally would start from Black Sea) to discover the rich songwriting and energetic English quirkiness that was XTC.



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4 Responses to “Great British Bands: XTC”

  1. François says:

    Andy IS the best songwriter of the world, it's my opinion and I share it. Then come The Beatles, and, after, your servitor. I'm a fan of XTC since 82, never heard a bad song from them, except Colin's latest ones. It's a chance that they didn't know a large success, so the beauty is kept, and the treasure has to be discovered.

  2. Hahaha says:

    It was "Oranges & Lemons" not "Apples and Oranges"!

  3. Jeff Taylor says:

    I think you're right there. I've just Googled it!

  4. Damn…..I was thinking about the Syd Barrett's pink floyd song……shall amend….thanks Hahaha