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All packed up and ready to go. How many guitars can a boy decently own?

The sign says 50, my speedo says 0. So does everyone else's. For miles.

Picking up Ed. I'm fuming but he's found something to laugh about.

A sight for sore eyes, we arrive at Riff's.

All assembled.

getting set up at Riff's.

And, under the ever watchful gaze of Jimi, we soundcheck.

Relaxing upstairs. How does he stay so calm?

And him.

I came back down to the venue to see who was here.

By now I'm really nervous.

Riff's Bar setlist
I’d Like That
Scarecrow People
You’re the Wish you are
Humble Daisy
Another Satellite
Love on a Farmboy’s Wages
Great Fire
All of a Sudden
Wonder Annual
Statue of Liberty

Ship Trapped in the Ice
Roads Girdle the Globe
Dear God
Good Man Albert Brown
1,000 Umbrellas
You and the Clouds Will Still be Beautiful
Mole from the Ministry
Wrapped in Grey
Church of Women

Yacht Dance
This is Pop

Better now though. That great apres-gig atmosphere.

And some more.

And some more.

Shorty nicked the publicity poster, of course. I tried to take a picture of it but it flopped over at the critical moment.

Adrian helping Lee adjust the drum kit.

Lee and the band playing No Thugs.

Lee and the band playing Jason.

Andy from Riff's. A nicer guy you will go far to meet.

Late bar.

It's morning. Time to phone home.

Dan finds a quiet corner and does likewise.

It's a fabulous morning. I fell half asleep on the 'beach'.

Time for lunch. Dan's about to make THAT announcement.

The Victoria.

My children. 18 strings of pure joy.

Getting set up at The Vic.

Stuart and his mate with the evidence that The Vic has indeed been selling advance tickets. Crikey!

All set up. This is what the stage looks like before anyone's let in. Time to go and get a drink...

...or maybe not. This is the view back up the stairs to the bar from the venue. Maybe I'll try and squeeze through...

Filling up. The view over the heads of the crowd.

Adrian's view, from behind the kit.

The Victoria setlist
Outside World
When You’re Near Me
Ball and Chain
Funk Pop a Roll
Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
Meccanik Dancing
This is Pop
Dance Band
Optimisms Flames
Statue of Liberty

Wake Up
Language in our Lungs
Then She Appeared
Mayor of Simpleton
Jason and the Argonauts
No Thugs
Towers of London
Are you receiving Me?
Respectable Street
Generals and Majors

Complicated Game
Church of Women
Radios In Motion

That party.

That party.

A photo diary

After each of the last gigs either Ed, Dan or Adrian had written an article to record their impressions and thoughts. I knew this time it would/should be my turn so, armed only with a camera and a seive-like memory, I planned to make some sort of photo-diary of the weekend...


The plan was to take a leisurely drive down from where I live in Leytonstone, pick Ed up on the way in Windsor and get to Swindon in time for a late lunch. I quite fancied the idea of a nice long drawn-out day. So, got the gear all packed up and started off around 11.30. I'm thinking I'll get to Ed's by 1pm, Swindon by 2pm, no problem. Didn't reckon on the closure of the M25 though, and whilst I was on it! Someone's overturned a lorry, apparently.

After a bit of backtracking and swearing and a sandwich at a petrol station, it finally takes me three hours to just get across town and onto the M4. Finally get to Ed's, pissed off and frustrated, at about 3-ish. This wasn't the start to the weekend I'd been hoping for.

Now, as pretty much everyone knows by now, Ed had already told the rest of us he was going to leave the band after the weekend. He has his reasons, and they're good ones. He often finds himself isolated by mine and Dan's efforts to take us off in a direction he'd rather not go in, and then we blame him when things don't always work out as we'd like. That's no fun and it'd got a bit too much. So, we're in the car and I'm already pissed off about the journey and I'm pissed off with Ed for leaving and we're chatting about small stuff but, in the back of my head I'm shouting, "Why are you leaving you bastard?", and trying to figure out a way to say it.

Of course, I know the reasons, and I know I'm responsible for them so, by the time we get to Hook and Riff's Bar, and Ed's quiet, calm demeanour has worked its magic on me, I'm feeling very humble. We go get a pint and sit down outside the back of the pub and finally, voice cracking a bit, I ask Ed if he's made his mind up. He nods and I understand completely. I tell him I'm sorry for my part in screwing up his enjoyment of all this and he just looks at me with those soft hang-dog eyes and says something like, "No worries, let's just have a good weekend." If he'd been any closer I'd have kissed him.

Curries. Now I like curries as much as the next man but, at five in the afternoon? No thank you. However, what Riff's has is curries, and lots of them, and it's a bit late to go off somewhere else now for a bite so I order one and am just settling down to it when Adrian turns up, shortly followed by Dan.

We finish our beers and food and go inside to set up, or actually watch Ade set up. It's acoustic night tonight so no fussing about with amps and pedals and 12-strings and whatnot. All I need is a guitar and a voice. And a memory.

I have a poor memory for lyrics. Always have had. Trouble is I tend to listen to songs music first; I listen to the chords and the melodies, and what the various instruments are doing, how their interplay creates the colours and textures of the song, I listen to the vocals and how they blend in and carry the song, but I rarely actually listen to the words. Therefore, most of my preparation for this weekend has been about jamming lyrics into my brain - and I've got some tough ones coming up too like Ladybird, Smalltown, Optimisms Flames. Crikey.

Anyway, Ade's about done setting up his kit and we're ready to start a soundcheck and suddenly we realise that we're not alone. Shorty's here, Tone-the-Lone's here, clutching a bagful of Evening Advertisers for us (they ran two articles in subsequent editions - cool!), I think Chicago Dave was there by then, and one or two others. And this is a problem. You see, we've kind of surprised ourselves with some of the numbers we're planning for tonight, and we wanted to preserve the surprise for everyone else too. How can we soundcheck certain numbers if half the audience is in the room already?

In the end we choose a couple of numbers which we don't mind letting the cat out of the bag about, plus Snowman, which we're not planning on playing tonight anyway. The sound's quite good at low volumes but the twin acoustic guitars of Dan and myself are causing severe feedback problems when we get louder or even move about a bit. Happily, Andy, owner of Riff's and winner of the friendliest-man-of-the-year award for the tenth year running (s'true) is on hand to sort out the PA and we're ready to go.

A quick word about tonight's guitar. I don't actually own a serviceable acoustic guitar so once we'd decided to do a whole acoustic set I obviously had a bit of a problem. However, my very good friend Declan happens to own the most impossibly gorgeous acoustic guitar and so, after a little begging on my part, I have it with me tonight. You can see from the pics that it looks a bit unusual, and rest assured it is. Hand-built by a guy called Jon Kammerer in the USA it is a thing of beauty; a joy to play and a sound like angels singing on high. Wasted on me really.

Only one person asked me about it the whole weekend, yes, you sir, in the round specs, at the front at both gigs. Sorry, I don't know your name. I only gave him a bit of a mumbled answer at the time which must have seemed a bit rude. Sorry about that. I was having major battles with a family of butterflies which seemed to have just taken up residence in my stomach at the time and I wasn't feeling too talkative. Get in touch sir if you want any more info about it.

So, we're all set up, the place is filling up, Craig and Lynn are here, plus a few other faces I recognise, plus a whole load I don't but who all seem to know each other, the Forum guys I guess. But those butterflies... I don't know what it is. I am NEVER nervous before a gig. But tonight... tonight feels different. Dan, Ed and Ade are mingling but I just don't feel like talking. I can see everyone laughing and messing about, there's a vibe building up in the room and right now, I'd rather be somewhere else, anywhere else. I go upstairs.

After a while the others turn up and join me. Ade picks up his book and sits calmly in the corner reading. Ed's patiently flicking through a magazine. Not Dan though. Dan's buzzing. He's in and out of the room, the bar, he's running around chatting to everyone and having a fantastic time. I'm just thinking maybe this is my night to, 'Do an Andy'? Maybe I'll beat Ed to it and quit after the first number?

Then Dan comes back into the room. "You're not going to believe this, the Mouldings are here".

Now, we knew ages ago that this weekend clashed with Lee Moulding and his girlfriend Alex's wedding so we were in no doubt at all that they wouldn't be showing up like they did last time. How wrong were we? Let's see, there's Carol, and Lee and Alex, and there's Jo Moulding, and there's Lee's best man and his girlfriend Jenny and there are some others I think too. I corner Alex. "What on earth are you doing here? You're getting married tomorrow!" "Well, everything's sorted for tomorrow", she says with a mischievous grin, "And we thought it would be fun".

Right, so no pressure tonight then. Let's get it on!

A couple of nights before the gig, Dan got me to learn a 30 second piece of music he'd written so we could play it on the two acoustics before the opening number. We start it up. It's a gentle folky sort of thing. The room quietens down a bit. People notice we're playing. The piece ends on a gentle rolling chord. We look at each other. The audience goes quiet and we launch into the opening chords of I'd Like That. And there's this almighty howl from the PA and there's feedback all over the room. Fuck!

People are covering their ears and running for the exits (well almost). We stop, there's not much else we can do. Andy comes over and fiddles with the PA. But then here's the good bit. It doesn't seem to matter.

At other gigs, if the band does a false start or screws up in some way, you expect a barrage of abuse from the audience. But not this audience. They're not like that. Dan shares a joke with a couple of guys near the front, there's more laughing and joking from somewhere else, then there's the thumbs-up from Andy. "1-2-3-4-1-2-3, I'd Like Thaaaat...!", goes Dan all on his own, sweet as can be, the rest of us struggling to join in. And it's like nothing went wrong at all.

About half-way through the song I look up at the audience for the first time. Right in front of me is a girl I've never seen before. She catches my eye and beams a smile at me that almost knocks me off my stool. I look around the room and there's the start of that 'thing' again. That thing the audiences at our gigs tend to do. They're swaying a little, and they're singing the words, and they're 'giving it back'. We're performing - they're performing. I look back to the girl at the front and she's still doing it, only even more so now, and then I can't help it. I feel this huge stupid grin break out all over my face and suddenly I know it's going to be alright. No 'Doing an Andy' tonight. No need to worry. It's going to be okay.

And who was that girl? Take a bow Ms Marie Omnibus. I'll never be able to thank you enough.

Dan's idea was to parcel the songs up into groups by singer, so he got the first three, and then it's my turn. And my first two are quiet ones. When we each suggested songs for this set, this next number was the second on my list (more about the first later). Little did I know what a tricky little devil it would be to learn all the words for. I launch into the opening chords of Ladybird, scared that after the noisy opening numbers people aren't going to appreciate the quiet, slow stuff. I needn't have worried. By bar three, people have worked out what the song is and there's a whoop from somewhere near the back and that's enough to settle me down again.

From Ladybird straight into Humble Daisy and then the first goosebump moment of the night - as we fade out those final quite chords Adrian starts up the instantly recognisable drum pattern of Another Satellite. There's this great moment when the one song has blended seamlessly, almost perfectly into the other and the audience has twigged what's going on and I hit those two big opening major chords and, well I can hardly tell you. It was a feeling like nothing on earth. Just six songs in and my emotions are already run ragged. How am I going to make it through the rest of the set let alone the weekend?

Ed's up next with his three. I perform the most incredible howler on the opening riff of All Of A Sudden, causing another false start. No-one cares, in fact they seem to prefer it! Omnibus is still giving me smiley-energy every time I look down at her.

Then it's my turn again and I get to do Wonder Annual, with Dan spectacularly hitting those weird harmonies. And next up, Dan breaks into this broken down, gentle version of Supergirl which I originally hated but now really like (that's twice he's done something like this, anyone remember Seagulls?) and that leads into a similarly loved-up version of Statue Of Liberty. Which leads us to goosebump moment number two. Again, I was concerned that by re-arranging a song that's just so established in the minds of the audience it wouldn't go down well. It's too slow, it's too quiet, I said. Wrong, wrong again. The chorus starts up and there's this roar from the crowd, "Whoa-oa-oa-o-o-oh, my statue of liberty, BOO BOO!" and it's just the most overwhelming sensation. I can't quite believe this is actually happening. I sneak my first look of the evening across the stage to where Ed is. Not quite sure why. He doesn't like the early stuff and this'll probably be the last time he plays this song in his life, grumpy sod. And he's grinning his head off.

Set one ends and we go off and mingle. I meet a few people off the Forum I'd never met before, including the international contingent - as well as Chicago Dave there's people here from Sweden, France, Israel (Israel!), Italy and Hereford. Although apparently one of these isn't a foreign country? I swap a word or two with Lee M. grab another drink and we're back on. I'm not down to sing much in the second half of the set, it's mainly Dan and Ed taking centre stage, which I much prefer.

I remember having huge trouble hitting the right chords on some songs - the trouble was, I couldn't see the dotted fret markers on the neck of Declan's guitar. They're green abalone and, whilst stunningly beautiful in daylight, completely invisible and therefore useless under stage lighting.

So, we're rattling through the second half of the set - lots of bummers, particularly from me - and we get to Albert Brown. I originally suggested this to the guys as a joke, thinking they'd reject it. But we tried it and realised it had a certain, um, something, so it stayed. Now Ade knows the words of this song and I don't, but I'm down to sing the verses, so I arranged with him to shout out the opening 'colour' of each line to me just before the line starts. Good plan you might think. Well, yes, except that I then forgot all about it, and we get to verse one and Adrian's screaming, "Brown!", "Red!", "Pink!" at me. And suddenly I just cracked up, it was the funniest thing. Most of the first verse was just me giggling and trying to compose myself.

We sail through 1000 Umbrellas and then it's surprise time. Out from behind the kit comes Adrian and he takes his place centre stage. Someout shouts out, "Octopus's Garden!", and the place cracks up. Dan goes behind the drumkit, counts us in and we're into You And The Clouds. And Adrian carries it perfectly. What a guy! During the song I look up to where Omnibus is and I can see her and a few others and they're dancing. I look back to Adrian and he's caught up in the moment. I look over to Ed. Something weird's happening and there's a question I feel I may have to ask him again...

Adrian takes the applause, without doubt the most applause of the night, and deservedly so. Then it's back to me. How do I follow that? Luckily, I had help. If anyone ever wrote a more touching song about their home town than Andy Partridge when he wrote Smalltown, I've yet to hear it. And I get to sing it in Swindon.

Ed fronts a commanding rendition of Mole From The Ministry next and then I get to the moment I'd been really building up to. World Wrapped in Grey - it was the first song on my list after we'd decided to do an acoustic set. It's a song that sums up for me a lot of things that I like in Andy's songwriting; beautiful lyrics, romance without sentimentality, a unique perception of life and a breathtaking melody. We'd tried it a couple of times in rehearsals and it sounded bloody awful. With one rehearsal to go it was about to be dropped.

Before we started tonight it was still touch and go, but Mole finished and I heard Dan say, "Yeah, come on, let's do it". I then did something I never do, I put down my plectrum and started playing the opening chords with my fingers. Something odd then happened because the crowd, who had been upbeat and noisy up till then, sort of went a bit quiet. I was singing it, but I wasn't singing it. I knew it was me, but all I could actually hear were voices from the audience singing it back. And Dan singing along. I kind of got lost in it and, when it finished, all I really remember was this really warm glow inside.

I couldn't speak afterwards, just sort of looked out at everybody. Waiting for something to happen. Then it did. "A lie for a lie, but a truth for the truth", comes the sound of Dan from beside me. And he's off, and we're off, and we get to the end and the audience is singing the chorus. And they're singing it loud, and they're singing it strong, and it's perfect, and the band drop out and it's just the audience. Goosebump moment number three. They're singing the main bit, we start singing the backing vocal bit and it sounds a bit like the cup final used to, except several billion times better. And I'm struck from nowhere by a thought - what if XTC had still been playing live? Would they have chosen this for their gig closer? Maybe. I hoped so, because it was the perfect closer.

The final climactic chords bring Church of Women to an end. Dan thanks the crowd. They're going mad for more. We don't even bother to leave the stage. We had planned some encores I think, but they got ditched in favour of requests. Nigel (acoustically, bloody hell!), Senses (for Riff's Andy), Yacht Dance (just because), and This Is Pop (someone shouted it out and it seemed like a good idea, and complete with yet another false start. We go 'claaaanng' and break down, and some wag at the back starts singing, "It's been a Hard Day's Night...").

Someone also called out for Big Day, in honour of Lee and Alex. I've never felt so bad about not knowing a song before in my life.

And that's it. We come off and join everyone off-stage. We thank them, they thank us, it goes round and round. I get to meet lots of people from the Forum, and chat with the guys I know from previous gigs. I notice Dan and Ed, Ed in particular, soaking up the party atmosphere and I'm happy for them. I tend to be a bit more of a background person so I'm glad they're doing all the flesh-pressing, so I can just stop and think and breath it all in.

After a while, with the place half emptied, a commotion starts up. Jenny (Lee M's best man's girlfriend) has decided that Lee bloody well will play the drums and that we bloody well will play with him. Lee's hesitant but you can see he quite fancies it. The rest of us do too. What to play? Lee asks us if we know No Thugs? Dan and Ed throw their guitars on faster than I've ever seen before and they're away before I even get to the stage!

For a moment, I hang back. I'm actually enjoying watching this. Lee drums really well, Ed and Dan are playing out of their skins and they don't really need me. Till someone, Dan I think, shouts, "Where the fuck's the guitar player?"

It didn't matter much anyway because I couldn't get the level on my guitar up, so by verse three I'd given up and put the thing down, electing to just sing along with Ed.

Then Lee asks if we know Jason? Well, yes we do, we're playing it tomorrow night and I'm buggered if I'm not going to play it with Lee now! Chicago Dave and Andy between them sort out the PA problem and suddenly my guitar comes back to life. And we swing through Jason with Lee drumming like he's been in the band for years.

When we're done, and Lee comes out to huge cheers and hugs from his family it dawns on me. He's getting married later on today, and he's chosen to spend his last unmarried evening sitting behind a drumkit playing songs made famous by his father with a bunch of blokes he hardly knows. I feel incredibly flattered.

As the Mouldings are leaving and saying their goodbyes, Carol gathers the band together and in all sincerity, asks if we can make it to Lee and Alex's reception tomorrow, maybe after the gig's finished? She says she'd love to see us there. Again, I'm stunned by the warmth and generosity of this family. We hardly know them and they treat us like they've known us for years.

Later, after everyone's gone and Andy's locked up the pub, we're sitting in the bar, the four of us and Andy and his partner Tiggy. Andy's basically given us free use of the bar (can't think what possessed him) and there's one of those multi-threaded conversations going on; bands, music, venues, writing, painting, all sorts. And I'm sitting a little way off from the others, a bit tired and just kind of watching. And everyone's had a great time. The band has, the audience has, the venue has, I have. And I remember how I was feeling at the start of the day, and I compare it with now...

Time for bed.


Apparently, Adrian and I snore in harmony. Ed claims that he was dreaming he was playing Wake Up on stage and was woken to find that what he thought were the two clanging guitar parts were, in fact, me and Adrian snoring.

I think he may have been up a little too late last night... he's looking good though, happy and not as if he's about to jack it in. We get a quiet moment alone and I ask him if he's still decided. He doesn't answer.

It's a lovely morning so I go outside to the back of the pub. It's quiet near Riff's, lots of open space and fields, and I have a job to do. I go fetch a guitar and sit down in the sun and figure out the chords to Big Day. Not quite sure why. Last night's moment has gone and it's not important any more. Or is it? I dunno. I just feel like I have to learn it now. It seems the right thing to do.

I call home, check everything's okay. Of course it is. "How was last night?". "Incredible! Tell you when I get back."

The others are hanging around upstairs, making bacon sandwiches, chatting with Andy and the crew who run the pub. Andy's off to a wedding later so we offer to clear out and get out of his hair.

Andy has been the most perfect host: he's entertained us, let us raid his bar, given us somewhere to sleep, free run of his kitchen and then he even asks if we want to hang around a bit longer after he's gone! We can't thank him enough. But it's time to go.

Sometime the previous day, Ed was telling me about some psychometric test he'd taken a while back and that one of his personality traits was that he 'travels without maps'. So we're in the car, with Dan and Ade following us, and we're on the way to Swindon Old Town. Or are we? Ed 'travels without maps' Percival is taking us the scenic route if that's the case.

We go a couple of miles out into the country before it becomes obvious we're heading the wrong way. We spin round, go back, take another couple of detours and finally see signs for Swindon. About 10 minutes later we're at The Victoria and dumping our gear inside.

First impressions of The Vic - it's not exactly big is it? They reckon it's 140 capacity. 140 what? I'm tempted to ask. Still, it's early and we're hungry so we leave the gear and head off for something to eat.

At the local Pizza Express the orders are in and we're sitting around chatting about last night and considering last-minute adjustments to tonight's set when it goes quiet for a bit and Dan grabs his moment. "Oh guys, I've got a bit of an announcement...". "You're pregnant!", we shout in chorus. Dan grins and nods because, as it turns out, his partner Laura is in fact very much so. Cool! More wine is ordered and congratulations are offered. He'll be a good dad, Dan, I reckon.

Then panic. We'd decided earlier to go get some flowers and champagne for Lee and Alex but we've left it a bit late. Swindon looks like it closes pretty early, even on a Saturday, but with the help of our friendly pizza waitress, we manage to locate a florist and a wine shop, both just within minutes of closing.

We drop the gifts off at the hotel where the reception is and head back to The Vic. There's a few people upstairs now but not many. Maybe no-one's coming tonight? No, apparently they are, they've all bought advance tickets. Blimey.

We go back downstairs to set up and to soundcheck. The room is small but the sound guy Nick really knows his stuff. We play a couple of half numbers and the sound is great. Best we've ever had.

Youie shows up next and starts setting up his video camera, then Chicago Dave is there setting up his mini-disc. Cue for me to go upstairs and have a quiet drink, but no. I go back upstairs to the pub and it's packed. Ram packed. Everyone who was there last night is there, plus about the same number again who weren't. And the butterfly family wake up...

By the time 9.00 comes around, and our intro tape is playing (4 mins to go), I'm a nervous wreck again. The others seem okay, and Dan's his usual pre-gig manic self, but I feel sick. The small room is packed solid and, as Ed and I try to make our way to the stage (neither of us are exactly small) we have to squeeze and force our way through. Guitar on, quick look round, Jeez it's packed, there are even people round the side of the stage, effectively watching me from behind. And it's hot. I'm sweating already and my hands feel clammy. Dan says something into the mic, the crowd cheer, there's a 1-2-3-4 from somewhere but I'm still not ready! So, damn it, I fluff the opening to Outside World. But it doesn't last long, I get my brain in gear, start playing and then, well, wow!

It's our fifth gig, we're playing some songs tonight we've rehearsed as little as two or three times ever and yet, for the first time in our short history, I can really feel it's good. We're tight, tight like a band that's been playing together for years, tight like a proper band, tight like, like XTC were tight. And it's not just the first number, it's the next one and the next one, even the ones we weren't sure about in rehearsals. And the butterflies have gone and I can start to enjoy it and I look around and it's like last night only more so. There's the swaying and the singing, and Shorty's right in front of me singing his head off, and Omnibus is going all smiley again. And whichever direction I look in I catch someone's eye and there's always a grin, or a shout, or a punch in the air to accompany it. And I'm struck by the thought that this might be the last time I ever get to do this so I check across to see how Ed's doing and, well, things I feel are about to take a turn for the better...

The first set shoots by in a blur and I leap off stage to get some air. It's just so hot. I go outside and already my shirt is soaked, really wet. There's just time to chat a bit with a few people and grab a pint of iced water and we're back on for the second set. Dan and I exchange glances and launch into one of XTC's most famous guitar intros. There's an enormous cheer from the audience, then Ed and Ade come in bang on cue and we're into Wake Up. Having heard it back off the mini-disc a few days later, Dan reckons it's the most faithful rendition of an XTC song we've ever done. Could be, all I remember was I got so caught up in it, playing with so much enthusiasm that right on the closing bar I go and break a bloody string! This means I'll be on the spare guitar for the rest of the evening.

Dan fills in the time I need for the change over by going through his steadily growing dedications list and then we're off again. It's a great set of songs, a testament to XTC that they have so many to choose from. Doing Jason is fun, and so surprisingly is Then She Appeared, not one of my faves, but tonight everything sounds good, to me anyway. And then, goosebump moment number four. Where I least expected it and most appreciated it.

Towers Of London is a song, I believe, without equal - pure perfection. I've sung it before and it's always gone down well but tonight it's different. We get to the end part, where the song breaks down for a few seconds and starts up again on the La-La-Londinium bit. I'm about to start singing it when I realise that the crowd already is. I quickly signal to the band to quieten down a bit and the sounds of 140 people singing my favourite chorus wafts through the venue and out into the Swindon night. Magical. Truly magical. We finish the song and again I'm rendered speechless. I really want to explain to everybody what that meant to me but I can't, I'm just choked.

We slam through the final few numbers, say goodbye, come back for Playground and Nigel, come back again for Complicated Game and Church of Women and that's it, we think. One more? Oh okay, if you insist. Again, I'm thinking, this might be the last song of the last gig I ever play with these guys. And I'm standing right next to Ed at the time, and I can't help it. "Ed, so are you going to announce your retirement then?", I ask. He looks at me, grins that big sloppy grin of his, shakes his head and tells me to fuck off! Cool! Everything's alright after all!

Radios In Motion, our previous set opener, closes the gig and we get off stage. There's congratulations and handshakes and hugs all round. I'm even more soaked than at half-time, my jeans have a tide mark just above the knees.

The others are in full-on mingle mode, chatting with anyone and everyone, some people have left but not many. I get to meet a couple more people for the first time, including some more Forum members, and suddenly I feel like collapsing. I'm just so tired I can hardly stand. And I'm soaked and cold. The only other clothes I have are last night's ones, which are smelly but thankfully not wet and smelly.

So I get changed and we're about to start packing up when someone from the Forum, who're all staying in the hotel up the road, invites the band back for a drink. Okay, we'd love to. The bar finally empties and we pack up and load the gear into the cars. Bidding farewell to The Vic we drive round the corner and park up in the street behind the hotel where everyone's staying. As Ed and I get out of the car we can hear something. Something familiar. "Hey Ed, they're playing your song!" And yep, in the warm September night air, in some backstreet in Swindon Old Town, the four of us go into group hug mode as we hear the sound of Peter Pumpkinhead being pounded out of the lungs of 40 or so of the nicest, kindest, most into-XTC-est people it's ever been my pleasure to meet. Goosebump moment number five. And the best of the lot.

When we go in we're greeted to more cheers and, much more importantly by now, more alcohol. Glyn from the Forum has a guitar and is leading the massed congregation through a dozen XTC numbers, all of which the guys know word perfect (more than I bloody do!). Stickymoan, who I only briefly met the whole time, sorry about that, takes over for a couple of numbers, including Otis's Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay, then Glyn's back, doing Beatles numbers and more XTC numbers and it seems this party could go on for ever. God, I wish it could've.

Blue hawaiian shirt guy (sorry Colin) is there and very entertaining, as are Dixidoo, and Omnibus and Karen N (thank you, no thank you, no thank you...). And Youie is still organising things and still having a great time. And I don't want to leave. It's just too good.

Ed and Ade are the first to go. Reluctantly, I sense. Ed's got some big family thing to go to tomorrow so he needs to get home and sleep. Dan and I stay until Mad Al, the hotel landlord, finally insists on everyone leaving. Outside in the street it's almost light. We say goodbye to the last few people and it's time to head home. I've had the time of my life and it's time to get back to earth.

I've still got Ed's gear in the back of my car so I have a detour to make. I head back east, stopping off for copious amounts of coffee on the way, and finally pull up outside Ed's house in Windsor about mid-morning. I phone first because I don't want to wake him. His wife Sarah answers and says Ed is still asleep. "Good, can I just quietly bring his gear in then?". "Yeah, sure, I'll open up", she says.

A minute later the door opens and there stands Ed, huge panda rings below his eyes, wearing nothing but his boxer shorts and a huge grin. I suspect the grin's permanent. "You okay?", I ask. "Never better", he says as he starts to help me bring the gear in.

And that's about it really. It takes me another couple of hours to get across town and I get home around 11-ish I think. Normally when I drive I'll have the radio or a CD on but today I don't want to. I spend the whole journey replaying bits of the weekend in my head. The goosebump moments in particular. I feel... how do I feel? Ten feet tall I guess. X-sTatiC, even.

And so my thanks to everyone to contributed to all this. To XTC, for being the best band ever and for making all that fantastic music in the first place; to the marvellous Mouldings, a nicer family I have never met; to the people who came to Swindon for a weekend and made the event so special; and to my friends Dan, Adrian and Ed - here's to the next one fellahs!

Mick Casey, 24 September 2003. mick@x-static.org

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