By Keith Sharp
The advent of social media allows music fans to rediscover bands and artists which may have been ignored during their prime yet have been totally revived as new audiences discover the depth of their musical catalogue.
England’s XTC is one such band. North American audiences may be familiar with key singles like “Making Plans For Nigel and “Senses Working Overtime” of their 1979 `Drums And Wires’ album which spawned those two hits. It was the Swindon quartet of lead vocalist Andy Partridge, guitarist, Colin Moulding, drummer Terry Chambers and second guitarist Dave Gregory (who replaced original keyboardist Barry Andrews) who compiled a catalogue of material which is only now being cited as a major influence in British pop culture.
It’s an influence that original drummer, Terry Chambers plans to reignite when he brings his EXTC band over to North America for a 16-date tour in early 2022 which will include a performance at Toronto’s El Mocambo venue on April 9th. The current lineup features himself with vocalist Steve Tilling (who performed with Chambers and Colin Moulding when they performed together for six shows in 2019), bassist Matt Hughes and guitarist Steve Hampton.
On the phone from Swindon (located just west of London), Chambers acknowledged awareness of XTC’s renewed focus on social media and is also aware that many of their fans never got to see the original band perform live in North America as they stopped touring in 1983.
“I think the awareness comes because there’s not a lot of decent bands out these days that you can compare us to,” Chambers said, somewhat facetiously. “Now, we get the chance to have people see us perform live and I am pleased to present our music to them.”
Launched in 1972 by schoolmates, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding with Chambers and original keyboardist Barry Andrews, completing their debut lineup, XTC initially struggled to focus on a clear direction with their first two albums; `White Music and `Go 2’ featuring a strong keyboard element. But by the time they got around to recording their third album, `Drums And Wires’, Andrews had been replaced by a second guitarist, Dave Gregory, top producer Steve Lillywhite and top engineer Hugh Padgham had been brought into by their record label Virgin Music and both Partridge and Moulding were starting to sharpen their songwriting talents.
“Drums And Wires” not only hit the charts in England but also enjoyed a modicum of success in North America with “Making Plans For Nigel” and “Senses Working Overtime” both connecting strongly with alternative radio.
Much has been written about the input Lillywhite and Padgham contributed to this album but Chambers rightly points out, at that time, “XTC were more well established than they were. Lillywhite had only produced Ultravox’s debut album at that time (he later went on to work with a who’s who of musical big names including U-2, The Rolling Stone and Genesis. Padgham was Virgin’s in-house engineer who later worked with the likes of Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, and The Police,” Chambers noted. “On the strength of ‘Drums And Wires’, they got recognized, but really it was a case of people being at the right spot at the right time.”
A feature of this and the subsequent `Black Sea’ album was a unique drumming technique called “The Gated Reverb Production Technique” which is an audio processing technique that evolves around a different mic placement to capture a much stronger live sound. Chambers will be the first to admit that he initially struggled to copy other name drummers but was able to develop his own unique style and working with Lillywhite and Padgham developed a distinctive percussive sound that would later be emulated by the likes of Genesis, Duran Duran and The Police.
XTC was described by one English music critic as “Art rock chameleons who occupied awkward space in the musical landscape, under-appreciated songwriting geniuses that were too quirky for mainstream audiences but not edgy enough for alternative acceptance,” a description Chambers called total bullshit.
“Trouble was that critics tended to dissect our music like we were Mozart or somebody,” Chambers noted. “We just wrote songs and let people enjoy them. Some people get too anal about this stuff! But, we didn’t want to just copy other bands and just run with the pack, we wanted to be different.”
XTC established this distinction with other songs like the controversial “Dear God”, “Mayor Of Simpleton”, “Peter Pumpkinhead,” “Respectable Street,” “Ball And Chain” and “Life Begins At The Hop” which were all generally ignored by North American audiences until recently when the likes of Radiohead and Coldplay cited the band as major influences.
Although XTC officially broke up in 2006 after recording 14 studio albums, Chambers originally left the band in 1982 after recording their `English Settlement’ album, moving to Australia for 30 years, where he was engaged with in-studio session work and performed briefly with Aussie band Dragon. Returning to England in 2017, he hooked up again with Moulding to perform as TC&I, recording an EP and live album before Moulding declared he had fulfilled his objectives and ended that collaboration in early 2019.
“But working with Colin rekindled my desire to play live again and I felt new audiences out there would still be interested in XTC so I decided to form EXTC with Steve Tilling, Steve Hampton and Matt Hughes.”
Such is the interest in Chambers’ new project that he is currently engaged in a 16-date tour of the United Kingdom before heading over to North America in March to execute 16 dates including the tour’s final date April 9th at Toronto’s El Mocambo. Tickets are available here.
Chambers wants to make it clear, this is not some Eighties’ package tour with other like-minded bands on the bill. “This is all about presenting XTC. Our music stands alone, we are not prepared to ride on the coattails of anyone else, we are a much better band than that.