MervPumpkinhead's Swindon diary
The Swindon weekend wasn't just about the gigs. A whole bunch of people from the xtcidearecords forum decided to get together and make a weekend of it. They came from far and wide; Italy, Israel, France, Sweden, the USA and the UK.
MervPumpkinhead's diary of the weekend makes it to print in its full un-edited glory below...
Hi. Half six, in my flat, Garden of Earthly Delights playing (rest of Oranges and Lemons to follow shortly) and ready to give an account of Saturday the 20th for my own keeping and for anyone who was there to reminisce and for anyone who missed it and wanted a flavour of what went on.
I must stress, a very late night was observed by most so my memory might be fuzzy.
Well, about 9.15 and Mrs Merv and I drove from the galley (land lubbers) of Old England to get to Swindon which we did by about 11. About 11.30, after a lot of driving around Swindon, we got to the road with the hotel on it. We were going to the opposite end to where we should have been. I was sure I saw Youie taking a photo by the T junction but I guess I'll never be sure. The weather by this time was sort of foggy but you felt the vague promise of sunshine.
We got to the hotel, parked up and met the wonderfully quirky manager, who became affectionately known in some quarters as 'Mad Al'.
We freshened up, after laughing at Al's pregnancy quips, 'I wouldn't have thought he had it in him', and went down to meet Trentbasin, Randomy, Glyn, BluStar (is that name right?), Ali Holden and cheery hubby (special award for him later) and Youie. I'm worried that I'm forgetting someone. Do put me right if I have, won't you. Trent and Randomy met that morning and drove up together and I have to say they are the best XTC related double act since Andy and Colin! We chatted about forum comings and goings (you know, ferrets, pirates, firecrackers, nakedness, the usual) and a short while later, we met Dixidoo, Omnibus, Karen Neill, One of the Millions and Melt The Guns.
Sorry, not BluStar - BluShift. You must forgive me, my head's woozy!
I believe that we all got in our cars soon after this and headed off for the Uffington Horse. Youie led the way, we followed. Glyn, I believe, went a different route followed by Ali Holden, and after following Youie for 20 minutes I wondered if we should have done the same. Actually, to be fair, we only stopped, turned round and went back the opposite way three times!
We went to the Fox and Hounds for lunch. On the way we went over the big roundabout with five mini roundabouts around it and it was an experience to look at, let alone drive over. If nothing else, it keeps traffic speed down because when drivers get to it they pause in wonderment and fear. Not for the first time, Trent and Randomy marvelled at my clutch control (baby). I think Trent might just, at a push, mention that elsewhere. If you ask him nicely.
Not so impressive was the bump I went over at about 50, almost making Mrs Merv give birth and almost killing Trent and Randomy as their heads almost went through the roof.
A huge congregation descending upon this tiny little pub, traditionally rustic in its charms and boasting a rather off-centre but picturesque view of the horse. By this time the weather was blazing sunshine - something I, as a native, couldn't believe.
We had a nice meal, the food was delivered promptly and, whilst I can't speak for everyone (because I didn't eat all their food as well), mine was delicious.
As others have echoed, I haven't met a forum member I haven't liked yet. And everyone was getting on grand. Then, after chats about Karen's homeland and similar chat with OOTM and Melt The Guns, plus lots of chat around me, and Youie taking an unfeasibly large amount of photos of us and the surroundings, he (Youie) tried to phone Stickymoan without success. Then we had an extremely in depth and fascinating chat with Randomy about bees. Fascinating. I'm now rather fond of bumble bees (copyright Tom Baker).
Once we had finished, we made our way to the cars, Youie tried Sticky again, without success. People speculated that he (Sticky) had huge testicles. This related in some way to why he couldn't answer his phone but I can't for the life of me work out why. I tried him without success too. We collectively deduced that he and Easter Theatre had lost themselves in the Twilight Zone (that's why Sticky's got access to all those archive pictures from the TV series. Probably).
We took ourselves by car to the horse. At one point, Glyn, who was in front, went straight on, following the sign for Uffington Horse car park, rather sensibly in my opinion. I looked in my mirror and saw Youie in the car behind frantically pointing for me to go right. Based on his track record from earlier, I thought about ignoring his advice, but Omnibus was pointing too which added a little weight to it, so I turned. We got to a car park imminently so my faith in Youie's navigation skills was restored. He then phoned Glyn to find out where he was. Glyn said he was in a car park and that there was an ice cream van there. Youie said we're near an ice cream van too but there's a little shack with some flyers and information in it too. A few moments later and they both realised they were phoning each other from opposite sides of the same car park with the single ice cream van between them. Quite funny.
We slowly rambled up to the horse and just sat about or walked about as the moods took us. Youie finally spoke to Sticky who said he was on his way. I then borrowed Youie's video camera to do a whistlestop tour of half an Uffington Horse. I hope someone knows how to put it up on the site. Someone might find it faintly amusing. All the time, I might add, I was watching out for Sticky's red open top sportscar, as instructed by Youie so I could video their arrival in style.
We met Pelopincho on the hills and he was great - really friendly. We might actually have met BluShift here too. We were chilling, I seem to remember, and the views were spectacular. Flat and expansive, classically English and as far as the fog would let our eyes see, which was actually quite far. There was a little dragon's tooth hill (or something, it's probably got a proper name) which Glyn, Dixidoo and Randomy visited. Also, these weird undulating hills all in a row in short succession. We couldn't work out what caused them to be like this. Hopefully Youie will have a photo to show everyone.
At some point shortly after this, Youie got all excited at the sight of Sticky's flashy red sportscar (after about six false sightings) and I duly did my duty and filmed his car zooming up the hill. Beautiful new sleek thing, it was. Now all we had to do was wait for them to appear on the track we had just come from. Except they didn't.
And didn't. And didn't. Poor Sticky, that Twilight Zone just follows him wherever he goes.
Fast forward perhaps 15 minutes and the general consensus is that they are going to arrive over the top of the hill. Dixidoo and Omnibus go to see if they are there and I follow with trusty vid in hand. Then, as if in a movie, Stickymoan and Easter Theatre are walking over the horizon, in slow motion (which was weird and not strictly true), silhouetted by the sun, Twilight Zone fading behind them.
So we walked back and chatted, extolling the virtues of the forum and arrived halfway back at the car park where Sticky's cool car was waiting. Except it was not red, not new. It was blue and an older classic Triumph. So Youie had got me videoing two complete strangers who have probably given my details to the police by now!
Again, I hope Youie can in some way edit the footage of false Sticky coming up the hill in flashy red car next to classic blue car in car park and put it up here somewhere because again I need everyone to see the proof that I'm not just a complete numpty!
We had an ice cream. Mrs Merv said her only incentive for getting back to the car park was that ice cream waiting for her. OOTM had one as well and then we went back to the hotel to spend more quality time with Mad Al. After a little rest, we all met up downstairs in the bar and started on the postcards.
Here, I have a little confession to make. I know I signed a good few, but I don't remember seeing The Cutter's card. If I missed out on signing it, my dear Cutter I am truly sorry. I honestly wanted to send you warm fuzzy greetings from Swindon. Well, hopefully next time we'll be able to do it face to face!
We took the cards, in various stages of signage (is that a word? In that context at least?) and walked in a massive convoy up the road to The Victoria. Well, hold on a minute here, I would have walked up with the convoy, except that Sticky didn't know the whereabouts of Easter Theatre. Yes, you've guessed it - another Twilight Zone moment. Well, not really, ET(?) was just in his hotel room and Sticky soon caught up.
At the Victoria, things were just simmering nicely. By this time people (including me, for the first time in a year and a half) were drinking and relaxing and getting to know each other. There was a table around which about twenty or so people were sat all chatting away. There were two people whose names I didn't get and I'm sorry. Tone-the-Lone had turned up, I think the Captain Cook and his two companions arrived at about this time, I was chatting with Pelopincho and Randomy and, I think, although the alcohol was kicking in here, Sticky at some point. We were getting deeply into discussions about lyrics, tunes, the marrying of the two, the fact that I haven't got anything before The Big Express (huge collective gasp).
I then went to say hello to a new member who I believe hasn't even posted yet - he's that new - and his lovely wife. I can't put their names up because I don't know if they would want me to and I don't know his forum name but his generosity knew no bounds. He was genuinely horrified that I still haven't heard English Settlement (I was looking in the shops today, kids) or Black Sea and he wanted, I think to get them to me within 24 hours. I believe I have a friend who has ES and I'm seeing him on Wednesday. I'm starting to get frantic as I shall explain further on. Thank you to everyone (which really was everyone) for your generosity in one way or another. At times it was overwhelming.
We all headed down into the music dungeon for the gig. On the way Sticky asked if I was excited and I admitted that this was the first moment I had felt anything like excitement for the gig. My goal this weekend was meeting people. The gig was just an addition - "Yeah, it'll be interesting to see what they do, I suppose." I always love a good gig, though, so I was game.
As you look at the stage, we were on the left, behind the speakers, with Ali and hubby and Easter Theatre. As we looked across the band, there was Youie again, camera in hand (and on tripod) waving madly. In the photos you can see the wall and doors, but I can't make out any of us.
Now, I loved Outside World and whatever the second song was. The energy was unbelievable. The energy that is obviously compulsory to actually perform them well and the energy coming from the crowd. I didn't know these songs but they were full of a fantastic power.
I can't remember the order of songs, what came in the first half or second so I'll simply comment on what I heard and what I saw and felt. One thing I didn't really account for is how many sing-along-a-XTC moments there are in their music. Towers Of London was a storming moment for me. The almost football-hooligan-reminiscent "stee-ol" in Making Plans For Nigel. The amazing, truly amazing collective chorus of Church of Women; "1-2-3-4-5" in SWO; "whoo-hoo" in Statue of Liberty. Peter Pumpkinhead. The whole savage versions of No Thugs and This Is Pop. Generals and Majors was wonderful. Of course none of it would have been any good at all had the band not been up to playing them...
So, the band.
You'll see them in the photos. In the first half we could see all four of them perfectly. We were next to slick-fingered Mick, who would turn every now and then in our direction, with a hint of his cheeky grin, and his expression would seem to say, 'I cannot believe this many people are going this mad over us'. Dan, in the middle for most of the time, was a bit of a heartbreaker for some, by all accounts. I felt he had a fantastically balanced amount of gift of the gab - he always knew when to make a quip or a comment to keep things buoyant and make people laugh or sing along (as if we needed help with that) and his fingers were on fire on the bass during Mayor of Simpleton. ColinEd on the far side was the dependable bass for most of the time - if Dan was the ambassador of fast and furious XTC then ColinEd seemed the one with appreciation for the later songs. He sang, I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, Mayor, Peter Pumpkinhead, Then She Appeared. And last but by no means least, Adrian on drums. A furious powerhouse of intricate and bewilderingly difficult-looking rhythms, he kept the motor running with magnificent aplomb.
There was a large amount of spiky, angry and forceful numbers from the earlier part of XTC that, on the whole, seemed to work most successfully to my mind. Some I knew, some not: Outside World, Helicopter, Ball and Chain (lovely singalong), Funk Pop a Roll (I'll come back to that), This Is Pop, Statue of Liberty, Making Plans, Generals and Majors, Respectable Street.
The later period was weird, perhaps because XTC themselves were more produced, but Peter Pumpkinhead was lovely - made me go all fuzzy inside and not just because I'm related to him! I would be interested to hear what they would make of other Nonsuch tracks.
And so, to favourites.
I was pissed to have missed Wake Up. I was taking Mrs Merv back to the hotel. If you don't know why I was, look at the photos and you'll see!
One favourite moment, nothing against the band but it was Youie during Funk Pop a Roll. He went MAD! He started by raising alternate fists into the air as though he was waving an invisible flag, then got more and more animated as the song progressed. A favourite of yours, Youie? He looked possessed and as happy as I have seen him on the two occasions I've been lucky enough to share his company.
Speaking of the fans, another gig highlight was standing with Melt The Guns and One of the Millions throughout the second half and watching them dance and sing throughout every single song. Such a love for life and music as I have never witnessed. I don't mind telling you that to meet those two was the turning point in my head about going to Swindon. I didn't know when I would get a chance to meet them after this and to watch their uncensored joy during the gig made my heart spin!
Jason and the Argonauts was a revelation to me at the gig. I've got it on Coat of Many Cupboards and never really got into it but at the gig, the tension embedded in the tune, the way the band were during it, coiled springs winding and unwinding, the atmosphere, for me at least, was crackling with angry electricity. I was spellbound.
But my single favourite song, 1. because it's one of my faves anyway, 2. because of X-sTatiC's version and 3. because of Randomy, was Mayor of Simpleton.
It started off acoustically. I immediately thought, 'This is nice but does this mean they're not going to do a full version of it?', and then when it kicked in it was just breathtaking. All the pop sensibilities and joy from the record were right there in the room with us. That was the moment my voice went hoarse. I can't begin to tell X-sTatiC how much pleasure they brought me during that one. But to make the song really special... Randomy!
I had been trying to find different people in the crowd all gig, to watch their reactions and such. It's the most intense gig in terms of fan appreciation I've been to. The closest thing was Rolf Harris in Glastonbury 2000. Don't laugh, that was scary, like the religious cult of Rolf. Well, Randomy is quite tall and he had been voicing his excitement about the gig so enthusiastically that I thought, 'It'd be lovely to catch a glimpse of him', and I was looking and I was looking but no sign. Then, part way through Mayor I caught him, over by the far speakers, and he was out of control. He looked as though he had either a) had a spontaneous orgasm, b) had an incendiary device put down his trousers, or c) was having a really serious argument with someone. He was shouting. He was grimacing and laughing and grinning and singing all at the same time and he kept hunching over as though he had stomach spasms. It took me a while to realise he was actually enjoying the song - I contemplated phoning an ambulance. When the song finished, I thought, 'Wow, he really liked that one', then during Jason and the Argonauts, HE DID IT AGAIN! What a guy!!
One last thing, if anyone was in any doubt about X-sTatiC, don't be. If you haven't seen them, you must. The only reason I need to see XTC live is to actually be in the presence of XTC. For the music, I would recommend X-sTatiC to anyone and everyone. They were fast, furious, melodic, friendly, humble (Daisy), accommodating, funny, fabulous entertainment and underpriced!
And a special mention to Ali's hubby, who isn't the biggest fan of XTC but stayed the whole length of the gig.
After the gig, it was hugs and wet, sweaty joy all around. Sticky and Randomy both looked as though they had had a shower in their clothes. I don't know how long it took to get everyone away from the Victoria but somewhere between 11pm and 12 I think, most people had arrived back at The Swandown and, thanks to Glyn, were still able to enjoy singalongs to XTC music. As I recall it he was scheduled to make a quick getaway but after a rousing version of No Thugs In Our House with 20 or 30 people singing along, he (quite understandably) stayed and played for about another hour and a half. My memory is horrendous - I remember No Thugs, Dear Madam Barnum, We Can Work It Out. There was one which needs a certain rhythm to the strumming and Glyn pulled it off so brilliantly - something like Life Begins At The Hop? Sticky did a lovely version of Grass, which left me warm and fuzzy and then Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay which everyone sang gently.
At one point during the singalong, don't have any hold on what time it was, the boys from X-sTatiC arrived, which only helped me to admire them more. They got a round of applause and three cheers as well, and much deserved they were too. At another point, OOTM asked if I could feel the love in the room. I pushed thoughts of Darius from my mind and said yes because I could. It was an amazing collective feeling. I've never felt anything quite like it. I've felt hate and anger from a crowd before, I've felt a collective love for a band that are playing in front of me but no bond with the strangers watching but here was a roomful of people with a great and powerful bond singing music together that they all felt for and had been greatly affected by and also affected by the friends they had made and were sharing the company of at that moment. It was really special.
I went to chat to the band out in the car park and we chatted about XTC and the forum and the gig. They were really cool, easily as big fans of XTC as the rest of us but then they'd have to be wouldn't they.
I had found that I was on my last legs and went off to say goodnight to everyone. It was a thrill to meet Omnibus and Dixidoo, both so friendly and sweet. When it came to me saying goodbye to Karen Neill she stood up and I shook her hand. She had had a bevvy or two. She looked at me quizzically and asked who I was. I said "Merv Pumpkinhead". She said "Pinhead?" I repeated who I was and she said something like "Oh hello. Do I know you?". I then told her that we had chatted about her homelands at lunchtime and she looked completely baffled. "Who is this weirdo?" her expression said for a moment and then she took my word for it and gave me a smile that would melt the coldest of hearts. I should point out that I was shaking her hand continually throughout this and at one point I experimented by moving our arms to the left as they were shaking and then to the right. She found that quite amusing. Apologies here to her boyfriend who I didn't get to speak to. I believe you were in the Cardiacs T-shirt (scary band) and at one point you were passionately asking X-sTatiC if they thought XTC would play live again. Hopefully we'll say hello next time.
I went up and Mrs Merv was wide awake and suffering from a severe case of the munchies. So I came downstairs again and asked Mad Al if he had any food. The message got through eventually and he recommended me to the Kebab Shop down the road. To begin with, everyone thought I was being silly but because of Mrs Merv's diabetes it was quite important that she keep stable. When Youie told Sticky this he sprang into action and insisted on accompanying me. So we made our way into the heartland to schmooze with the natives. We got to the door and there were two big blokes standing either side of it.
"Can't let you in, I'm afraid. It's one at a time and they're full up," said the one with a drunk girl on his arm. Sticky then said something like, "Really? It doesn't look very full", and proceeded to walk straight in. I could see them thinking about joking with him more but SOMETHING made them change their minds. I sheepishly followed Sticky in the door, joking with the two guys to act as bouncers for us, which they half-heartedly agreed to.
We ordered our food and whilst we were waiting, two more blokes came in, very drunk, very lairy. One nudged Sticky and confided, "We're after a fookin' brothel, mate. You know where it is, don't yer. I bet yer do. Yeah, ha ha look at 'is face. He's pretending he doesn't...", etc, etc. But one word from Sticky, "No, honestly I don't", and a calm grin and they acted like they were our best friends.
Now I've thought a little bit about this and I've come to the conclusion that Sticky must be a Jedi Knight!
I mean it reminded me so much of the bit in Star Wars where Alec Guinness calmly says to the crowd of Stormtroopers "There are no droids here, be on your way", and they do just as he says.
One smile from Sticky and they were putty in his hands. I think the really lairy one said something like, "If you say you don't know where the brothel is, that means you know exactly where it is!"
Sticky gave a beautifully measured pause, then calmly said, "I don't know where it is." The guy paused, thought for a sec, then a big grin broke over his face and he nudged Sticky with a, "We got a little secret together", look.
That my friends is why Sticky was my hero and saviour. Thanks, my friend. Any time you want to teach me Jedi is fine by me.
And so to bed.
The next morning, after breakfast and the now legendary ankle parading for Trent Basin (which may be a little bit of an urban myth or may be the absolute truth) it was time to say our goodbyes. I'm not good with goodbyes, so basically there was a photo opportunity which we made full use of. We unfortunately left before we could say goodbye to Omni, Dixi and Obi-Sticky Kenobe.
I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did. Judging by all the replies and alternative accounts here everyone did, without a shadow of a doubt, even Mad Al!
I also hope to see lots more people next time, those who have just joined, those who couldn't make it. You were missed. Thanks everyone and thanks X-sTatiC.
Lastly, I must thank Youie for being the main instigator and all the others who organised accommodation, gig tickets, car lifts. I think Youie's usually the one who gets everything moving and gets people off their arses (asses) and although he wouldn't want me to go on about it, he got us all sharing a great great weekend together. Thanks mate.
Apart from the odd post at work if I can fit in some hard earned skiving, I'm not going to be on here for a while, I need a break, so stay safe and happy and live for love and music!
Merv Pumpkinhead, 22-23 September 2003. email@example.com