THE XTC SINGLES (Part 33)

From wiki:-

Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) is the fourteenth and final studio album by the English band XTC, released on Cooking Vinyl/Idea Records on 23 May 2000. It is the second volume of the Apple Venus set and reached the UK Top 40 albums chart.

At this point, guitarist and singer Andy Partridge and bassist and singer Colin Moulding were the only two band members left. The duo therefore utilised session musicians on every track to fill in the musical elements that they were incapable of performing themselves. Partridge’s daughter Holly made her singing debut on record singing backup vocals in the song “Playground”.

One single was lifted from the album and as such was the last ever XTC 45 to be given a physical release:-

mp3 : XTC – I’m the Man Who Murdered Love

As farewells go, it’s not that bad. It’s tuneful, catchy and radio-friendly. I certainly would have anticipated it charting if it had been written and recorded earlier in their career.

Here’s yer b-sides:-

mp3 : XTC – I’m the Man Who Murdered Love (home demo)
XTC – Didn’t Hurt A Bit (Home Demo)

Yup….I’ve failed again at the last hurdle. The home demo version of this Colin Moulding song was put on the final single but seems to have been lost in the midst of time for a more-fleshed out version that appeared on the compilation Coat Of Many Colours that was released in 2002 and whose sleevenotes revealed it was an outtake for the Nonsuch album back in 1991/92:-

mp3 : XTC – It Didn’t Hurt A Bit

One final postscript.

It seems XTC released a download only single in 2005 that was later included on a very limited box set entitled Apple Vinyls that was released in December 2006.

This box set consisted of thirteen 7 inch singles compiling the 23 tracks from Apple Venus [Volume One] and Wasp Star [Apple Venus Volume Two] together with three previously download-only songs – the afore-mentioned single Where Did The Ordinary People Go? plus Say It and Spiral.

Copies of Apple Vinyls now retail on the second-hand market for more than £200. I’ll round off the series with these as they did, technically, feature on 7″ vinyl:-

mp3 : XTC – Where Did The Ordinary People Go?
mp3 : XTC – Say It
mp3 : XTC – Spiral

The last of these seems a wholly appropriate and wonderful way to close off this series. A largely unheralded and little known number that encapsulates everything that made XTC such an important and essential part of music over a 30-year period and which could be the catechist for T(n)VV.

Spiral, torn from the tone arm
Waking up the track
Dormant in the black valley of the vinyl

Spiral, dug by the diamond
Running it around, turn it into sound
Entering my spinal

Got to play all my favourite 45’s
Stacked way up high
Well everyday I spin away my 45’s
Help me to fly
Spiral

Spiral, ripped from the record
Roll into the room, dissipate the gloom
Happiness eternal
Spiral, pulled from the plastic
Angel choirboys, devilish the noise
Heavenly infernal

Got to play all my favourite 45’s
Ten thousand times
Every day I spin away my 45’s
Help me to climb up
Spiral

Spiral, torn from the tone arm
Waking up the track
Dormant in the black, valley of the vinyl
Spiral, dug by the diamond
Running it around, turn it into sound
Entering my spinal

Got to play all my favourite 45’s
Oh how they give
Every day I spin away my 45’s
How else do I live?

Hope you’ve enjoyed this series.  Stayed tuned for news of who will be appearing next in this particular slot.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 32)

See all that I said last week, it’s much the same this week. Except…….

……………..I have recently watched This Is Pop, a new documentary film that tells the tale of XTC.

It aired on Sky Arts here in the UK – the satellite station seemingly picked up the option after it had been rejected by the BBC – a big mistake on the part of the national broadcaster.  The film was every bit as different and entertaining as the band were throughout their time together.  It did centre around the often self-deprecating and very funny contributions of Andy Partridge but there was plenty of screen time given to the other band members, particularly Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory.  The vintage footage was priceless and there was a fair bit of honesty about where things had gone wrong over the years.  Some fans will be disappointed that the film largely focussed on the earlier years and the post-English Settlement material didn’t get anything like the same level of attention or detail, although there was a decent segment on the Dukes of Stratosphear project and the issues that arose around Skylarking.

The film does provide a reminder of how many other great groups over the years have grown and evolved to ensure they never got boring or clichéd.  It also was a wonderful reminder of why nobody could ever make the suggestion of XTC being a contender for the ‘Had It. Lost It’ feature in these pages.

And so while the final few singles the band would release aren’t to my personal tastes, I really am wide of the mark by suggesting that while they ‘have their charms, but it really isn’t XTC is it?’  The songs from Apple Venus Volume 1 are very much those of the band – they may be a long way removed from the sounds they made in the late 70s/early 80s but they are unmistakably, undeniably and still uniquely the work of XTC.  It’s my fault for not paying attention back in the day.

Single #2 from Apple Venus Volume 1 was released in June 1999. Just like its predecessor Easter Theatre, it didn’t chart, and it also had a similar style in terms of content:-

mp3 : XTC – I’d Like That
mp3 : XTC – I’d Like That (home demo)
XTC – How I’d Like That Came To Be

The demo actually appears to be two recordings spliced together – a genuine low-fi effort of about a minute in length before it becomes something a bit more sophisticated.  While it might not be my preferred choice of beverage,  JTFL will disagree as he included the song on an ICA in June 2016

I didn’t bother trying to track down the spoken word effort this time. Sorry if you were looking for it.

Next week is the final instalment of this series.  A huge thanks to all of you who have taken the time to drop by and offer your own views, thoughts and opinions.  Even those of you who found it boring.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 31)

Give thanks to the internet for the remaining few weeks of this series as I know absolutely nothing about what happened to XTC after their departure from Virgin Records. From wiki:-

After leaving Virgin, Partridge had the band’s accounts audited and it was discovered that the company had withheld substantial royalty payments from them. The settlement of the accounts provided the group with much-needed cash flow, allowing Partridge and Moulding to install fully equipped studios and work comfortably at home.

Though able to record the majority of their work themselves, they also used major commercial studios (including Abbey Road Studios in London) for some sessions. Finally released from Virgin, they formed their own label, Idea Records, and embarked on the recording of the ambitious “Apple Venus” project, a collection of the best material written during the band’s dispute with Virgin. The band’s initial plan had been to record a double album, featuring one disc of acoustic and orchestral songs and one of electric songs. Financial constraints forced the band to abandon the double album plan and finish and release the first volume (released 1999) before completing the second (2000).

During the recording sessions for Apple Venus Volume 1, Dave Gregory left the band after 20 years’ service. Ostensibly, this was due to “musical differences”—Gregory was unhappy with the plan to record an album whose arrangements relied largely upon orchestral instruments and keyboards rather than guitars

There were two singles lifted from Apple Venus Volume 1, the first of them in April 1999 on CD single only. It didn’t chart:-

mp3 : XTC – Easter Theatre
mp3 : XTC – Easter Theatre (home demo)
mp3 : XTC – How Easter Theatre Came To Be

The single has its charms, but it isn’t really XTC is it?

The demo is incredibly Beatles-eqsue if you like that sort of thing.

The last of the tracks is 13 minutes long, and it’s simply a spoken-track in which Andy Partridge provides a very detailed explanation of the song…incredible to think part of it dates back to 1986!!

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 30)

The single that never was.

I mentioned last week that the spelling of War Dance as Wardance on the b-side of The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead was an indication of how little regard there was for XTC at Virgin Records in the early 90s. What happened next was truly appalling and was the catalyst for the band grinding to a halt for a considerable period of time.

It was agreed that a third single should be lifted from Nonsuch and released in September 1992. It was to be Wrapped in Grey, one of the best-received tracks from the album. A slower than usual number with an emphasis on piano and strings, it was a very different sort of XTC, but there’s no doubt it was a song that everyone was proud of.

Artwork was produced, b-sides identified and in due course, some 7″ and CD singles were pressed only for them to be recalled and destroyed by the label, who had unilaterally decided it had no prospect of charting. The very few copies that got out into circulation are now worth a fortune – the CD single goes for £200 upwards and the even rarer vinyl for at least double that.

mp3 : XTC – Wrapped In Grey

The other songs slated for the single were Bungalow, a track from Nonsuch and another example of a song that none of us who had grown up with the post-punk material would ever have imagined being recorded by XTC; the demo version of Bungalow and a demo of a previously unreleased song called Rip Van Ruben.

The pulping of this 45 was the last straw for XTC and they asked to be released from their contract. Virgin Records refused to do so. No new material was recorded but the label happily issued some compilations to keep the money coming in. The impasse would last for a number of years.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 29)

Wiki actually gives The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead an entry of its own:-

The song follows the story of Peter Pumpkinhead, a man who comes to an unspecified town, “spreading wisdom and cash around.” He is extremely popular with the people of the town, but extremely unpopular with government figures. In the end, Peter Pumpkinhead is killed by his enemies and, “nailed to a chunk of wood.”

The name Peter Pumpkinhead came about by Andy Partridge having carved out a Halloween jack o’lantern and, following the October festival, sticking it on one of the fence posts in his garden. Partridge walked past the pumpkin each day on the way to his composing shed and, feeling sorry for the increasingly decaying fruit head, decided to write a song about him.

Released in March 1992, it stuck at #71 in the UK charts, but did better in the USA, reaching #1 in Billboard’s Modern Rock Chart, just as King For A Day had achieved three years previously.

mp3 : XTC – The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead

The wiki entry, however, is more likely down to the fact that the song was given the cover treatment in 1994 by Crash Test Dummies for inclusion on the soundtrack to the hit comedy Dumb and Dumber.

As for the original XTC single, again it is nothing along the lines I expected from being so particularly acquainted with their late 70s/early 80s output. It’s a tune that reminds me of the sort of upbeat songs The The included on Dusk, and so I’m happy to give it a thumbs-up.

Now to your b-sides. This from the 7″ vinyl:-

mp3 : XTC – War Dance

A Colin Moulding composition. It’s another that reminds me of The The, thanks this time to the ambitious arrangement and the very clear anti-war sentiments contained in the lyric. Hugely enjoyable and far too good to be wasted simply on a b-side, so I was glad to see it was also included on the parent LP Nonsuch.

The fact that the song title does seem to have consisted of two words and yet the sleeve to the 45 has it as one word is perhaps an indication of how little care and attention was given to XTC by Virgin Records at this point in time.

Two more tracks were on the CD single:-

mp3 : XTC – My Bird Performs (Demo)
mp3 : XTC – Always Winter Never Christmas (demo)

The former is the early version of a song that I’m informed was recorded by the entire band and included on Nonsuch. It’s pleasant enough without being one that I’d go overboard about…mind ypu, there’s good bass playing on it as you’d expect.

The latter is more worked up than I imagined a demo could be which would indicate the band were on the verge of recoding it properly, either for the album or a ‘proper’ b-side. I’m hearing it as a sort of hybrid….there’s a touch of Faron Young by Prefab Sprout in the rhythm and beat…..but there’s also something akin to an afro-beat kicking around in there. It’s all just a bit too busy and undistinguished for my liking, but hey, it is a bonus b-side on a CD single from 1992 so nobody was ever making grandiose claims on its behalf.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 28)

The 90s dawned on us and the demand for idiosyncratic, guitar-led music was at it an all-time low since rock’n’roll had been ‘invented’ It was no real surprise that XTC battoned-down the hatches a bit and waited till February 1992 before emerging, blinking, into the daylight.

mp3 : XTC – The Disappointed

It’s unmistakably Andy Partridge on lead vocal and it’s a clever enough lyric, but the tune is a huge let down. Dull to the point of being a Tears For Fears mid-80s reject. But it did have its fans, reaching #33 in the UK singles charts and paving the way for the parent album Nonsuch to go Top 30 on its release a few months later.

The b-side of the 7″ was a Colin Moulding effort:-

mp3 : XTC – The Smartest Monkeys

I’ll hold my hands up and say that my first exposure to this was very recently as I had to go and find a lot of b-sides to complete the series.  If I had owned a copy of Nonsuch, I’d have been familar with it as it would later appear on the album.  I think it’s way superior to the a-side , but I’m afraid that’s damning it with faint praise as it’s not a patch on so much of the 70s and 80s output. They are both songs that would, I reckon, have had a live audience shuffling around the venue with boredom while waiting with anticipating for something more typical….so just as well then that the band didn’t tour!

The single also came out on 10″ format and on CD; it’s the latter I grabbed off Discogs a while back and here’s the other tracks:-

mp3 : XTC – Humble Daisy
mp3 : XTC – The Smartest Monkeys (demo)

Humble Daisy would also be on Nonsuch, and compared to the plethora a of otherwise unavailable b-sides in years gone by, this is also something of a letdown.

Nobody knew back then that this would be the final time XTC would ever have a hit single in the UK.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 27)

You’ll have spotted that I’ve been fond of the first two singles that were taken from Oranges and Lemons….and I’m happy to say that I give the thumbs-up to next 45:-

mp3 : XTC – The Loving

It wasn’t always this way. I didn’t take immediately to The Loving, but it’s one of those songs that I’ve grown increasingly fond of over the years. I was initially put off by its anthemic qualities and thinking it wasn’t distinct or quirky enough but as pop anthems go, it’s pretty decent. Another example of my tastes expanding as I get older.

It was released on 7″, 12″ and CD format. For once, there were no home demo songs. The common b-side to all three was also lifted from the album:-

mp3 : XTC – Cynical Days

Arguably, an even better song than the a-side, but far too complicated musically to stand any chance of getting radio play. Having said that, the fact that The Loving completely bombed means nothing would have been lost if this had been the band’s final single of the decade. It would have been an apt title.

The 12″ and CD contained a previously unreleased song:-

mp3 : XTC – The World Is Full Of Angry Young Men

It’s quite unexpected. But it has a sound I’m not that fond of…albeit I can see why some folk will think it’s a hidden gem.

It would more the best part of three years before XTC released their next batch of songs….but you don’t need to wait that long as I’ll be here next week as usual.

JC