More pics from the gig
X-sTatiC at Riff's Bar, Swindon
21 March 2003
Disbelief is a totally inadequate word to describe last night.
It is fair to say that earlier in the week everyone in the band had expressed some anxiety that we probably shouldn't attempt to follow-up the Hope & Anchor. We'd managed just three rehearsals in the six months since our debut. Driven by a desire to stretch ourselves, we'd rapidly taken on nine new songs, largely from the box marked 'tricky'. We ran through the set once and decided that 'Dear God' was going to be the only casualty, not through a failure to do it justice, but because we'd included a longish 'acoustic' section.
On the day, Mick came and picked me up and we spent an hour or so travelling to Swindon and the venue, listening to the Dukes and talking for the first time without instruments in our hands. Mick is a very knowledgeable guy with his heart firmly on his sleeve. A call comes through from Paul Mabberley, who has done so much to arrange and publicise this gig (thanks Paul). An attempt to get Andy P and Dave G to come down to the venue has not come off, though we are told that Andy "sends his love". There go the covert plans of a spontaneous XTC reunion live gig. Damn!
I point out Colin's house from the motorway. What me - an XTC obsessive??
When we got to the venue we were surprised to find a tiny pub in the middle of nowhere. Mick said, "It looks like a scene from Paris, Texas". It was closed. Looking through the window you could see a tiny stage and a room that looked like someone's sitting room. Now I've played small venues, but this sets a new record. Our claims that nobody would get turned away this time looked at best hollow.
We found a plastic pub near to the Old Town and Mick thrashed me at pool. On our way back to Riff's Bar we stopped off at a petrol station to buy the local paper. We were expecting to find something as we'd sent them a press release and some pics. Weren't quite expecting this though… In the 'What's On' guide was a two-thirds page article brilliantly pulled together from bits and pieces from the website, including my White Music cover art pastiche ("Looks like XTC…find out who it really is"), and some stuff from the press release. We were pleased and bought 10 copies!
Back at the venue the car park was full and Adrian was half-way through setting up his kit on a stage which was full of assorted bits of old PA speakers and drums. If anything, the room looked even smaller. Dan arrived shortly after and we squeezed our amps into every nook and cranny. There would be no cat-swinging going on tonight. I closed the door on the stage to my left to give myself a bit more room - a sign on the door said "Ladies".
The room and car park rapidly emptied of those who had dropped in for a pint on their way home, leaving half a dozen keen-eyed individuals who could only be XTC fans. They watched our sound check intently and even applauded, which was nice. Sound checks are strange exercises designed to remind you that although you are meant to be able to hear to sing and play, this isn't going to be one of those nights. My bass sounds to me like a box of socks and I can't hear the vocals at all, so it's just like the Hope & Anchor. We play small bits of a couple of the new songs and confirm that we know neither lyrics, chords, nor bass lines.
Finished setting up, we go off to have a chat with the rapidly assembling throng and swap several, 'When I met Andy', and, 'When I saw XTC live' stories. Sadly none of the band actually have any of those stories, but most of the others do! People have travelled hundreds on miles. One unfeasibly tall American has flown from Chicago.
Andy Petts (who owns the venue) is a lovely guy, and I share a couple of Glam band memories with him (still hustling for gigs for my other band). He shows us the video link that carries the gig into the next bar, until they can raise the money to knock a wall down. He tells me that if we have anybody in by 8 o'clock we should be okay for the night. By 7.45 the place is heaving.
Then it gets surreal. "Come over here", calls Dan. He's clutching a small bag containing some CDs, Waspstrumental and Instruvenus and copies of Wasp Star. They are signed, 'Best wishes, Colin Moulding'. There's a letter wishing us well. The bag has been brought here by a lovely lady who introduces herself as Carol Moulding. She's brought their son, who has his dad's eyes, and a friend who is apparently Terry Chambers's ex-girlfriend.
So here I am, I'm going to be playing my third ever gig as a bass player in front of the family of Colin Moulding. I ask them if Colin might respond positively to a, 'Our bass player just broke his arm and we need a replacement can you help?', scam. They doubt it, Colin's a shy chap.
We're chatting with Carol and friends when things get weirder. Dan is called to the phone. He comes back with a broad grin, "I've just been on the phone with Andy's Dad & Mum". They saw our piece in the local paper and have phoned to wish us well. They have failed to persuade Andy to drop by.
We nip upstairs to change our shirts and see the horrors taking place in Iraq on TV. Mick takes this particularly hard. Puts our little world into perspective. A group hug and it's show time.
The opening is much the same as it was at the Hope: Radios In Motion; Life Begins at the Hop; Meccanik Dancing; This Is Pop. The sound has got worse. I've forgotten the bits I knew. Colin's wife is in the second row and the crowd is going crazy.
Somebody had kindly pointed out that we didn't do 'Earn Enough For Us' very well at the Hope. This time we nail it. Dan and I hit a high five. Ball & Chain next. Carol catches my eye and I drop yet another few notes. She is grinning. My carefully prepared set list has disappeared.
Then it's the first of the 'new' songs. Did I mention that I'm not a real bass-player? I'm playing a borrowed bass, through a borrowed amp and I'm about to play 'Burning with Optimism's Flames'. I prepare to shout 'dreadful knitwear' a few times. I leap in and Adrian follows, there are a few 'whoops' in the crowd. It goes down a storm. Dan and Mick are singing everything in the first set, and they are in fine voice. Adrian is breathtaking.
Atom Age powers through next and the volume is above the pain threshold. Then it's Complicated Game, which was our best number from the Hope. At one point Dan yells and I can feel my head being pressed down by the force of the sound. 'Language' goes smoothly, all parts intact and we close the set with 'Dance Band'.
We congregate outside and stand steaming in the cold air. A stunning young blonde girl approaches us. "Hello", she says, "that was brilliant and I'm Holly Partridge".
Four blokes stand open mouthed as we are told how proud she is to be hearing her dad's songs live for the first time. She seems genuinely thrilled and tells us how Andy had phoned to tell her about the gig and how of course she wouldn't be going. So, of course she came. It's a dad-daughter thing apparently. She lets us know that he is both flattered and embarrassed.
Somehow we get four swollen egos back through the door for the second set. As I nip behind the bar to get another pint a few people call out my name and someone tells me to turn the bass up. It's already on 11. My ego is on 12, my alcohol level is on 13, sweat control is on 14... etc.
Joke time… three of us go back on stage and announce that the second half of the gig is cancelled as our singer has stage-fright (hur hur). Mick kicks off the riff to 'Playground'. Dan runs on and sings it a storm. Holly is leaping up and down in the crowd and shouting the backing vocals for all she is worth. She is beaming. Everyone is beaming.
The next song was built for tonight. Adrian launches the second most memorable drum pattern in XTC and we are into 'President Kill Again". Mick sings it from a point somewhere beneath the depth of his soul. Next up, Dan takes us into a radically rearranged 'Seagulls Screaming'. Gradually people realise what it is and join in. The new songs, under rehearsed as they are, a going very well (apart from the bass lines). Straight into 'Yacht Dance'. There is some swaying and lots of singing. Occasionally someone pops out of the crowd and across the stage to go to the ladies bog.
Then it's Snowman, and people are 'pogo-ing' as it's the only dance you can do when you are wedged into a small space.
Dan and I swap guitar and bass and I get to do my first lead vocals of the night. Here I am, singing 'Senses' and in front of me the audience is all singing. I mean everybody. Holly is smiling and singing. My memory for lyrics is appalling so I'm lip reading from the audience. There are at least 20 different versions coming back at me. 'Mayor of Simpleton' next, and I get a thumbs up from a mate of Ian Gregory's. The one time I get the lyrics right, the American girl at the front gets them wrong (when I point this out later I get bitten).
The last new song of the night is 'No Thugs' where I get to combine Andy Partridge with Noddy Holder, the only song in the set in a key I can reach. There's as much phlegm coming back from the audience as I'm sending out on the roars. Dan, Mick and Adrian are pounding along. This is a great live song. I have reached a place above cloud 9. My life may possibly never get better than this moment.
Dan and I swap back and we're into the closing sequence. Towers Of London - lovely! Nigel, where I get to do the 'full Colin', flies by in a blur and I mess up the middle 8 (again). Seeing that we are up against it for time, we race into Respectable Street and Generals and Majors. The crowd is pulsing. The walls are dripping and we throw in a 'Melt The Guns' sequence under the last chorus. It was that kind of night.
Off we go, but we are brought back for 'Sgt Rock' - messy but effective. Off we go again, conscious of the "not past 11 o'clock" rule. However the management ask us to do another encore. At his request we have a second go through Senses as there were apparently some people in the outer suburbs of the far side of Swindon who couldn't hear the crowd singing the first time.
That's it. Afterwards there are kisses and handshakes from all sides and praise from all generation of family and friends. Steve Warren, who was XTC's sound guy throughout the live years, tells us how good we were. We get our photos taken with Carol and Lee Moulding and Holly. I look tired, emotional, sweaty and, well, ecstatic. Everyone keeps asking for details about the next gig.
About three hours later, Mick pours me into his car and in no time I'm home. I stayed up until 5am watching the video, just to check it really happened.
As I said, disbelief is a totally inadequate word. Thank you to everybody for giving me the time of my life.
Ed Percival, 22 March 2003. firstname.lastname@example.org