If Liverpool is known for producing bands with the ability to produce exquisite music whilst not taking themselves too seriously from The Beatles to The Coral then Big Tide’s first single from the forthcoming Sync or Swim (you see what they did there?) album is the perfect continuation of that tradition. Musically it fits on to a timeline of influence that runs from the original Byrdsian jangle pop through the bands who reinvented it on the west coast in the 80’s as the Paisley Underground scene, their English contemporaries such as The Icicle Works and on to more recent champions of the sound such as Guided by Voices.
If for no other reason than I managed to unexpectedly get a ticket to last night’s TC&I show at Swindon Art Centre here’s a reminder of just one of the great songs that XTC were responsible for. With TC&I only having a small arsenal of new material at their disposal, the bulk of the show was obviously made up from the extensive XTC back catalogue. Including this sweet little pop gem.
Ahead of the upcoming run of TC&I shows at Swindon Arts Centre I managed to grab a quick chat with Colin Moulding about recent events, a return to treading the boards and what the future holds. This time last year I had spoken to him and Terry Chambers about the release of their e.p. Great Aspirations, so I was interested to know how we got from that record to full band live shows.
“A few reasons really, all those songs I wrote for XTC, when I had finished recording them I just had to wave goodbye to them and I thought it might be nice to hear them in a concert setting as a lot had never been heard that way. This coincided with Terry thinking shall we play some live shows on the back of these new recordings but of course we only had four new songs. I knew he wanted to get back out and play live, that’s how Terry best expresses himself. I thought, I can’t go the whole hog, I can’t go back to a touring lifestyle, I have commitments but I can go half way and play some shows via a more considered approach.”
Today saw the announcement of some long-awaited news for many. After a 36-year wait, XTC’s COLIN MOULDING and TERRY CHAMBERS are announcing they will play series of live UK shows. After releasing their debut ‘Great Aspirations‘ CD under the moniker TC&I ten months ago, songwriter and XTC co-frontman Colin Moulding and original XTC drummer Terry Chambers will play an exclusive mini-residency at the Swindon Arts Centre. More dates may follow.
2018 marks the 40-year anniversary of XTC’s first studio album ‘White Music’. In addition to their new material as TC&I, Moulding and Chambers plan to play a selection of the songs from the XTC catalogue written by Colin, several of which have never been played live due to the fact that the band stopped touring in 1982, not long before Chambers’ departure.
We live in an information age. Actually we live in a too much information age, especially when it comes to knowing about your favourite bands. There was a time when musicians where a thing of mystery, strange nocturnal creatives, slinging guitars and waxing lyrical, today..well, not so much. Want to know what artist X had for breakfast? There’s a picture on instagram. Want to hear the next record before it is officially released? There’s a free teaser video on their Facebook page. Interested in what other, like-minded fans think about any and every aspect of the band in question? Join a forum, go without sleep and give up work.
It seems almost unbelievable today but there was a time when none of that was possible, before the internet, personal computers, mobile phones and reality TV, a much simpler time indeed. How did bands and fans communicate with each other? The answer of course is The Fanzine. Outside of going to gigs and buying the records, fanzines were the main, possibly only, conduit between band and fan. A type written, black and white, Zeroxed collection of words, pictures, Letraset and staples that would come through the post a few times every year.
With the E.P. Great Aspirations seeing Colin Mounding and Terry Chambers musically reunited, we sat down for a chat about all things TC&I, past, present and future, in that order. So the first question is to ask if it really was 1983 that the two last worked together musically?
“Yes, 1983 and then Terry left the country.” Which begs the obvious question of why get back together now? “Because it’s soul destroying working on your own,” Colin admits, “Terry came back into the country and we went out for a few drinks and I said, ‘Look I’m working on some stuff, do you fancy having a go?’ He said, ‘Yeah, that would be great,’ one thing led to another and before long we had an outfit and so we could record something. It’s just a need to be with other musicians and have fun, working alone is hard, you need that feedback from fellow musicians. Although I had a few tunes, the project didn’t really take on any solid purpose until Terry was involved.”
There have been many songs about what Mr Shakespeare so eloquently refered to as “shuffling off this mortal coil” and it is part of the human experience to muse on what happens after we are done with this life, but few, if any, have broached the subject so beautifully, so gently and so expertly wrapped up in a song which is also so pulsing and vibrant. It takes a special type of songwriter to weave such deft and delicate musical threads into such a wonderful design. It takes someone like Colin Moulding.
Scatter Me is the first public outing that sees him reunited with his fellow XTC rhythm section partner Terry Chambers and comes hot on the heels of a wonderful 4 track EP called Great Aspirations which by now you already own or which is in the post…I can really think of a third option. It is an e.p. which shows that whilst age may have led to a more reflective view of the world, the duo’s ability to put together wonderfully poignant songs, ones which root them to and very much reference the part of the world where they first learnt to be musicians together all those years ago, is undiminished.
Scatter Me considers the human contition and in a very humanist and slightly humourous way pictures an immortality that on reflection and in the bigger scheme of things, doesn’t seem so bad after all. Great to see you back chaps, you have been missed.
It is always difficult for musicians associated with a past name act to bring fresh music to the table without people trying to join dots and name check, extrapolate and reference, particularly if that previous act was one which rose over the years from mercurial pop outsiders to full blown national treasures. And so Colin Moulding and Terry Chamber’s first post-XTC collaboration arrives amid a flurry of speculation but I’m sure they want nothing better that to see this e.p. as a new start, a thing apart, a line drawn underneath the past rather than part of some fan envisaged ex-TC canon.
After all in many ways the sound of XTC was often defined by the guitar playoffs between Andy’s angular pop approach and Dave’s more florid musical statements so with that no longer part of the equation we get to fully appreciate Colin’s own English pop vision. And with so much to look back on from a certain point in the arc of life it is not surprising that it is a very reflective vision, Scatter Me dealing with the inevitability of returning to the mere building blocks of the universe but in doing so remaining part of the landscape you spent your life in and Greatness discussing the high aspirations of the e.p.s title.
Comrades of Pop is the track that will be most discussed by the fans and followers, probably more for lyrical content as for anything else. It is the sound of lines being very much drawn under the past, the squawk of cats amongst pigeons, the distant smell of smoke from bridges burning and a reflective overview which probably applies to any number of bands.
What Colin and Terry have created here is something tasteful, deftly wrought, restrained and wonderfully English, West Country…. Swindonian even, if you are close enough to get the references. It is in turns lyrically funny, emotive and poignant and falls into a sort of alternative pop territory that seems to be done so well in this country evoking the likes of Martin Newell and Billy Childish, perhaps not sonically but coming from a similar musical mindset. In short, triumph and hopefully merely the first chapter of a new musical novel.
As his long-awaited CIRCU5 album lands with a satisfying thud, I secured a ringside seat with Steve Tilling to get the inside scoop. Steve has been a familiar face on Swindon stages, and those further afield over the years. So the obvious place to start is, why after all this time playing in other people’s bands did you want to put out your own album?
“I suppose I’ve always felt there was an album in me – maybe the timing was finally right,” he tells me over a pint in the quiet corner of a local pub. “I had been through a difficult time just before making the album. It became a cathartic and therapeutic process to hide away and finally link my ideas. And it was a challenge that helped me get my head together.”
And not content with just making an album, Steve set out to play all the instruments. “Most of what you hear on the album is me. Over the years of playing in bands and being around other musicians, I picked up enough skills to get something out of most instruments. But halfway through recording, I realised I couldn’t do everything myself. So I contacted friends and band mates past and present to see if they wanted to get involved.”
It initially seems like an odd step for my new, favourite purveyors of ultra-chic, hi-concept, cinematic, alt-pop to cover my home town’s most famous musical sons, but once you get your head around the idea you realise that there is a lot of wonderful warped, psychedelic middle ground. The common zone on this very specific Venn Diagram is a fascinating place, one that sees Fassine bring new textures, depths and subtleties to an already unique piece of music.
If XTC’s original saw the band pushing the boundaries of the acid-laced, sunshine pop that has always close to Andy Partridge’s heart, Fassine remain true to the spirit of the original, the music evocative of the titular wave and awareness of that wave being an analogy for the overwhelming power of love. And whilst it would be sacrilege to wander off of the beaten track too much and to presume that the track could benefit from any major musical reassessment, what Fassine do is pay homage to a band that they clearly love and add their chiming electronica and the slick musical lines that are the hallmark of their music.
I’m not normally one for covers, but this comes from the heart, is reverential and is the perfect way to bring XTC to a new audience, this song is 25 years old and I’m sure there are fans of Fassine who weren’t even born at the time that Nonsuch, the album that brought the song to the world, was released. And you can tell that the choice of this as a cover is right when both the sound of XTC and Fassine seem to mingle in effortless fashion, blurring the lines between the original and the modern revisit.
If you are going to cover a song, do so for the right reasons. That Wave in its slightly new but ultimately familiar trappings is back for all the right reasons.
In these times of descriptive hyperbole and overstatement it seems as if a day doesn’t go by without a “totally unique” band being wafted my way. In fact these one in a million bands crop up nine times out of ten, and when they do it seems as if they are built from the off cuts of what ever fickle fashion trend has just breezed through. That is what makes bands such as Sergeant Buzfuz so vital, for without trying too hard they embody uniqueness and difference but in a way that comes from the very make-up of their alien musical genes rather than as the result of a PR company middle management meeting.
Humble Pie is a wonderful collection of clattering anti-folk, warped psychedelic pop and strange, experimental post-punkery. Across four songs they somehow beat new paths through strange but vaguely recognisable musical hinterlands manage to somehow sound consistent, beguiling and odd yet at the same time reassuringly familiar.
The titular opening track is a rattle bag of raw folk and jaunty 60’s pop, a vibe which bridges the gap between 2015’s Balloons For Thin Linda and what follows” it feels like the business end of a line which threads back through the likes of The Soft Boys, XTC, The Kinks and The Beatles. People in Power is pure underground post-punk pop but it is the second half of the e.p. which offers the real gems. The Whole Hospital is Talking About It and The Ventriloquist’s Funeral take the form of spoken stories set to sound, the former a hypnotic and wonderfully pent up coiled spring of a song, the latter built of darker, more ambient threads.
It’s easy to affect oddness but real eccentricity must be natural, unforced and free flowing, it requires intelligence and picking just the right strands of creativity, intelligence, bizarreness and subversion. All traits that seem to come naturally to Sergeant Buzfuz.
It’s probably a phrase that has followed them around since it was levelled at their first release but “kookiness is next to godliness” might be the most succinct summation of Cursor Major ever penned. Capturing the feel of those underground pop bands who came through on the post-punk ticket but who traded in melody and accessibility rather than wilder experimentation, they never the less sound bang up to date. Clever tweaking of a classic sound? The cyclical nature of music putting them at the forefront of the current fashion curve? Great songs that defy generic pigeonholing? All of that and more I guess.
Musically it pulses with jerky new wave rhythms and songs such as Two-Timing Tom Jones seem to be the grandson of The Kinks and the nephew of Blur with XTC the “uncle” that the family doesn’t talk about but who bears more than a passing resemblance.
But if Constellation is bookended with such angularity, the also alliterative Tongue Tied and Twisted sails smoother waters before the staccato blast of Mojito returns us to the more robotic vibe that eased us in to the record.
Their name may sit somewhere between a West Country village and a distant star cluster (as referenced by the malapropism in the title of the E.P) but this is neither parochial paean nor otherworldly daydreaming and whilst it might contain an element of both, file under perfect pop for the modern age.