XTC in concert from Amsterdam in 1982 this weekend. One of the truly best and most innovative bands to come out of the 80s, XTC have always signified that uncanny ability to sound just as fresh in 2018 as they did in 1982. A band with an impressive string of albums and singles and a fan base that has maintained pretty consistent over these past 30+ years.
Chalk it up to some of the best songs written during the 80s – a thoroughly engaging combination of wordplay and word-image; they have represented some of the most compelling and well-crafted songs from the 80s and subsequent later decades.
I’ve always found the most adequate test of a piece of music and an artists ability to convey into words and sounds, the pictures that evoke a myriad of images and impressions is to play it decades after first hearing it. The thing about XTC, and specifically the work of Andy Partridge – the music holds up – fresh and urgent as it was when they first played it.
This concert, originally recorded and broadcast by the Netherlands radio service VPRO in Hilversum, takes place at the famed Paradiso in Amsterdam on March 3, 1982, coinciding with the release of English Settlement. It also includes a number of songs from their previous album, Black Sea – both albums that are essential to record collections.
To give you some idea of the influence XTC has had, and continues to have in contemporary Pop Music, here is an extract from their Wikipedia page that more or less substantiates what I’ve been saying:
XTC are acknowledged as progenitors of Britpop and were commonly praised by contemporary power pop acts such as Jellyfish and the Apples in Stereo. Writings about the band often compare them reverentially to 1960s luminaries such as the Who, the Kinks, and most frequently, the Beatles. Regarding the group’s lack of financial success, Patrick Schabe said that “it’s difficult to justify claims of greatness without trying to understand exactly why they never managed to rise above the status of cult band. Respect and recognition are the real validation of such claims”. In 2006, he wrote that “the current resurgence of post-punk formula has led to XTC being revered in association with the groundbreakers of that era.” Musicologist Alex Ogg listed XTC as one of several “unheralded” events in the history of post-punk, while Eric Klinger of PopMatters posited: “You might not hear of bands talking about XTC as a big influence the way they talk about, say, Gang of Four, but they were certainly in the mix that became the music that was to come.” While discussing an anecdote about meeting bassist Scott Thunes and guitarist Mike Keneally from Frank Zappa’s 1988 backing band, Gregory said “it became apparent from their conversation that our recent albums were hugely influential to many aspiring musicians and artists across the States.” In 1989, music journalist Michael Azerrad summarized the band as “the deans of a group of artists who make what can only be described as unpopular pop music, placing a high premium on melody and solid if idiosyncratic songcraft.”
“Among the scores of songs Partridge wrote for XTC are perfect examples of a very English genre: rock music uprooted from the glamour and dazzle of the city, and recast as the soundtrack to life in suburbs, small towns, and the kind of places – like Swindon – that may be more sizeable, but are still held up as bywords for broken hopes and limited horizons.”
—John Harris, 2010
British music critic John Harris identified Partridge’s XTC compositions as within the same “lineage” of rural English songwriting invented by Ray Davies of the Kinks, and followed by the Jam, the Specials, “scores of half-forgotten punk and new wave bands,” the Smiths and mid 1990s Britpop. However, the group’s fanbase has been more concentrated in the US than the UK.They refused to conform to punk’s simplicity, a point that the British press initially criticised. Partridge believed “we were trying to push music into a new area. And so we had to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous name calling because we refused to just play stupid.” In 1988, writer Chris Hunt observed: “Since faltering at the height of their chart success [in 1982], XTC have largely not found favour in their homeland. To a nation that judges success in terms of tabloid coverage and appearances on Top Of The Pops, the retiring bards of rural olde England didn’t really strike too loud a chord with the record buying public. XTC had just become ‘too weird’ for their own good.”Partridge thought that his decision to quit touring also “definitely affected our popularity later on”.
Musician and journalist Dominique Leone argued that they “deserved more than they ever got. From the press, the public, their label, and various managers, XTC have been a tragically under-appreciated band in every sense.” Partridge cited the band’s Swindon origins as the main reason for their ill-repute: “Because we came from England’s comedy town, we were considered to be worthless yokel trash. Whereas if we came from a big city like London or Manchester, we would have probably have been heralded as more godlike. … If you came from a little comical town, you were little and comical.” He remembered the group being advised by their early management to change their accents and deny their Swindon origins, but “we thought it was a badge of honour, coming from the comedy town.”
Crank it up and enjoy.