I would have made this instrumental...
I finally set off from Windsor at 5.20am and had a slow crawl down the M4. I arrived at the Swandown just in time to get my first hug of the weekend from One Of The Millions, dump my suitcase in my room before sharing a cab with Bryce, Anna and ohmigoditshappeningalready- i'vefailedtorememberpeoplesnamesimsorry.
Friday night's family wedding do was the first gathering event I've been at where I haven't been performing. I was surprised how many people kept coming up to me and smiling and the hugging was heartfelt and widespread.
The weekend got off to a fine start when Tonethelone bought me a pint of 3B and had a friendly chat, so did Brian Marsh. We headed into the big room and it was shock how many people there were compared to the hardy few that were there the first night we played at Riffs, back in 2002.
I recognised many faces from previous audiences, but I felt nervous because I was new at the lets just yak business. Another pint from another smiley person and I started to relax unto the flow. Martin Newell had the toughest task of the evening trying to deliver over a mass of people who were talking and talking and talking and he wasn't helped by a PA system that was under-sized and no lighting on his face. It was only when The Fuzzies joined him that I was drawn into the action and enjoyed 2 or 3 songs.
The beer flowed faster and faster. I will have to apologise for all those people who offered me a drink and never got one back. I think I drank seven and bought 3 and I was in full flight. I took a much needed comfort break and heard the opening bars of Books Are Burning - which anyone who has read my previous ramblings will realise is a big song for me and the root of many an X-sTatiC tiff. I rushed out (washing my hands first) and raced across the room to hear Merv asking if anyone knew the words. Somehow I was on the stage and at the mic before I remembered that my grasp on the lyrics was extremely limited.
Mick has often commented that my vocal style often veers into the territory of football hooligan and this was no exception. I have no idea if the mic was working or not, but what was lacking in lyric or pitch was compensated for in sheer bloody passion and release - Primal scream therapy in action.
Looking at the photo I think I look like I'm singing Mustang Sally and my words also appear to be coming out of my crotch!
Dan seemed genuinely delighted with my performance and if I hadn't been 3 sheets to the wind I might have been a little embarrassed, but I was now on beer cloud nine.
At some point, young Lee M invited the band back to his place. I shared a cab with Lee and Alex and Paul (I think). He lives just around the back of the Royston. Paul nipped back to his hotel to bring back some cans of Tramp juice (very very strong lager) and we settled into a further frenzy of alcohol and music. Alex (Lee's wife) is very cute and funny. She asked what music we wanted and I got us off on a Dr Feelgood track, quickly followed by her favourite the Pink Fairies. Lee played us a couple more of his demos which are frankly great. Other treats included one of Colin's latest songs which sounded a bit like Human League, and a wonderful thing from the upcoming Pugwash.
At some point I was propped up in the corner of the kitchen trying to teach Alex how to play Slade's "How does it feel" on guitar. We didn't get very far. At around 4.30am I staggered back to my hotel (I was staying next door to Dan and Mick) and after at least 17 attempts to operate the key-code lock, I was inside.
My room, which I had seen only briefly when I open the door by about a third and threw in my suitcase, was upstairs at the front. Once again I opened the door by a third because that's how far it could open. It seemed to be slightly smaller than the single bed which filled it, but at least it made it easy for me to sleep with my head hanging out of the window and my feet in the hand-basin. Sensible people would have had a meal to line their stomach before such an evening and would have drunk a couple of glasses of water before retiring, but I failed on both counts.
The person in the next-door room was snoring at a frighteningly loud level and I thought I would struggle to sleep over the racket, but I was out like a light.
Much to my disappointment, I woke at 8.30. Being on a busy road meant that sleep seemed futile, so I pulled on my Gathering 2002 t-shirt, some jeans and went barefoot down to breakfast, reasoning that I needed some food to soak up the alcohol. Thankfully there was a space at the first table inside the door that was otherwise occupied by One Of The Millions, Melt The Guns and Barb. I was still helplessly drunk.
It's sometimes hard to eat when you are smiling, even more so when you are still seeing double. But thankfully 27 glasses of orange and a full English stabilised the room and I staggered back to bed where I spent 2 hours failing to fall asleep. I ended up watching two small girls climbing into a paddling pool full of eels in the cause of entertainment, but I might have been spending too much time with Trentie. On the subject of him - it was so strange to see him up on stage with The Fuzzies. I thought their show was great. I appreciate how difficult those songs are and it was nice to see a proper bass-player effortlessly caressing the tortuous Moulding bass-lines. I look forward to seeing them again next time.
Eventually I gave up on trying to sleep, rolled into the shower (which was not easy at it was 20 yards away down a long corridor, through 3 doors) and staggered out in suitably black and grey attire to look for more food.
The hill seemed quite steep and every so often I would meet another forumer who would say "You like you enjoyed yourself last night" and smile at my obvious pain. Half way up I met Trentie and the lady with the long dark hair who reminds me (not in any physical way) of Johnny Vegas, though I'm sure she's from a different part of the country. She was wearing sun glasses, which I tried to steal and we ended up wrestling in an unseemly manner while Trentie shouted "fight, fight" and rushed off for some Swarfega. I might have made that up.
Eventually the top of the hill was reached and I lurched into a coffee shop where I ordered a large bowl of hot chocolate which came with a very small Cadbury's Flake. The music system was playing "Born To Be Wild", but I felt anything but. Mick phoned, "Where are you?" he asked. "I'm not entirely sure", I replied.
After a walk round the block, a few more chats and a failed attempt to find a new pair of shoes, having been told that my white trainers are a serious fashion mistake, I arrived outside The Spot. Sitting in the warming sun I passed some pleasant moments with Mr Tein, Tone, the nice bloke from Slough with blonde hair and the strip of beard and passing Swedes. Oh, and the friendly Welsh bloke from Reading who kept appearing like the shop keeper from Mr. Ben and saying nice things.
After a while I went inside to join the fun, chatting and smiling over and over at the Hereford posse lady who I felt too embarrassed to ask the name of. I chatted over more orange with Chris Twomey, Steve Somerset and many many more before getting down to the serious business of the XTC quiz.
The lyrics round was really, really difficult, not for coming up with the answers (I wouldn't even recognise the ones I sing), but to write fast enough as Mick and Dan reeled off the answers with machine gun speed.
Like everyone else I'm sure I can claim to have crossed out correct answers because my team/band members knew better, but we were pleasantly pleased with our joint third place. We had to miss the auction so we could grab some lunch, but our intended team lunch quickly fizzled out into me and Ade going back to The Spot, Dan for a pizza and Mick for a sandwich.
Ade intrigues me. Part awesome drummer, sweet voiced singer, part self-confessed Rings/H2G2/Pratchett geek, and (larger) part enigma. We shared a long wait for our food without much conversation before I rolled off down the hill to The Swandown where Tone had volunteered to give us a lift to the venue for our gear.
The venue seemed much bigger than I expected, with a nice big stage area though I hated the railings - I wasn't sure if we needed to learn how to play Rawhide. Eventually the sound guy appeared and we set about a tortuous sound checking process where it seemed I was going to have no chance of hearing either bass or vocal. Lee had appeared looking a little sheepish and seemed happy to collapse at various tables. We had a few minutes at the end to play short snatches of the songs which would make up his guest appearance. The doors opened shortly after.
It seemed so early in the evening, and we were due to start almost immediately, but we delayed until 7.30 to allow a few more to get in. Thanks for heeding our warnings! I hid in the dressing cupboard and pulled on my bad-taste, country and western style shirt which looked most odd next to Dapper Dan in his demob suit and tie.
The Big Gig, part 1
Stepping out from the dressing room, the venue still seemed very empty. Youie said a few words of introduction and we paused for our introduction Mussorksky but as nothing was forthcoming we shuffled up to the stage and put on our instruments. I'd not had a chance to check my tuning and was nervous that my guitar, which I'd broken 2 strings from as we were sound-checking, would have gone horrendously out of tune. Just as we were about to kick off our theme tune suddenly blared out.
We blasted through "Radios", "Mecannik" and set off into "Nigel". You could see some people looking surprised that we were using up the big hit so early, but a smattering realised the "opening songs off all the albums" setlist. The room was gradually filling up and as more came in the acoustics improved and I could hear my bass and my vocals - for the first time at any X-sTatiC gig!
The room was still warming up and we gradually settled into our flow. "Respectable Street" came far too early, but the in the mosh pit people were starting to move about. Apparently at this point Steve Warren told someone, "Fuck me, they're tighter than the originals". If only.
I got to play guitar on "Runaways" and had to refer to my lyrics sheet throughout. We'd worked out that this needed to be played faster than the original but I got us off far too slowly; we managed to get through all right though, I think.
Beating Of Hearts was next - a Dan rearrangement which seemed to go well. Two years ago at the Victoria "Wake Up" had been causing me all sorts of timing problems but thanks to Ade's help I hit all my entry points this time around.
Sticky Mike was kind enough to praise "Summer's Cauldron", though I feel his judgement might have been distorted by his state of bliss and I expected a few complaints that we weren't going to go into Grass. I enjoyed my brief 'bee' impersonation.
Garden Of Earthly Delights, another Dan reworking, followed and went far more smoothly than at the Dublin Castle, or so Screaming Seagull told us later.
One of my favourite moments at the Victoria was "Peter Pumpkinhead". Dan subsequently robbed it from me at the Dublin Castle gig which followed and my attempts to sing it while playing bass rather than guitar had meant it didn't make the cut back in July. This time around Dan, Mick and myself all shared out the vocals, though I realised too late that I really hadn't practiced the bassline enough and I was all over the place.
Mr Tein and others had been making all sorts of cracks about "River of Orchids" so I was stunned to hear that when we got to it he had completely failed to realise that we were working our way through the album openers. A duelling-banjos country-style joke version had been fashioned into a 3 part sing along and we were knocked out by how well everyone rose to the challenge. If we hadn't started into Playground I think you'd have still been there singing. The last song of the set was a complete disaster in the bass department, but I was running short of beer, so that explains that.
It was good to take a short break, to grab pints three and four and to get some positive feedback. So far so good.
The Big Gig, part 2
When we started up X-sTatiC, all those years ago, our aim was to bring XTC's songs back to a live audience. Along the journey we've tackled many, won some, lost some, but always pushed ourselves to do better and better. The consistent growth in audience, the ever-expanding family and the blur of incredible evenings has left us stunned every time.
From the start of the second set I was in a state of complete surrender to the music of the band I love most. The songs raced by - always greeted with a roar of approval and played by a band that was firing on all cylinders. Sure there were mistakes (I know where the bodies are buried), but just like everyone else I felt like I was at the best party ever. I wish I could have gone in the mosh pit. For those that care about such things this was the second set.
Life Begins At The Hop
Are You Receiving Me
Paper And Iron
Statue Of Liberty
This Is Pop
Burning With Optimism's Flame
No Language In Our Lungs
This World Over
Church Of Women
Funk Pop A Roll
Senses Working Overtime
Towers Of London
Generals And Majors
I loved every minute. Steve Warren told us repeated that he thought that our "No Language" was better than XTC's and whilst I can't believe that, it did feel great. I thought Ade's singing of "This World Over" was magical, and Dan was attempting some outrageous drum fills behind. I completely forgot the "statue stop" in Snowman and ended up like the guy at the end of Police Story. Mick did a great job on his signature "Towers".
We broke at Generals and took a brief pause for breath before "Neon Shuffle" which was played at breakneck speed. Next it was time for our special guest appearance from Lee. He'd suggested "My Love Explodes" and we were driven along by a tumult of drums. I clung onto the guitar for dear life and tried to focus on getting as much Johnny Rotten / Liam Gallagher into the vocals as I could. I attacked "No Thugs" knowing that it would be my last ever X-sTatiC lead vocal moment and I began to choke up in the last verse, but Mick was on hand to help out. Dan got to sing Nigel the second time around with all of us playing an unfamiliar part - Dan played my basslines, I did Mick's guitar part and Mick did Dan's. Lee was superb and did a great off-the-cuff speech - "The old feller's proud, but he thinks you're all mad - he wouldn't go further than Bristol for a gig".
Ade came back for the final attack on "Complicated Game" - a song that Dan has made his own. As we neared the climax my right hand got seriously cramped and started folding over on itself - I ended up beating the strings with my fist, as our peak grew ever louder. To go into Beatown in such a state was not a good idea and I ended that song with both hands in spasm.
We were drained, but the crowd called for one more. We'd agreed that as long as we didn't cock up, this was to be the last show. So Dan made the announcement and suggested "Mayor Of Simpleton" to finish. His bass playing was as faultless as ever, Ade was perfect, Mick magnificent and me cack-handed and lost for words as usual. Mick took over the middle 8 once more.
The end is a blur. As we linked arms for a final bow I was sobbing helplessly. I continued to cry over everyone who came up to me for the next couple of hours - among those receiving the wet shoulder treatment were Carol M, Trentie, Ali, Mike and Lee, who was actually holding me up at one point. The beer total rose rapidly - thanks again for all the un-returned pints - and I became as calm as a newt. Several young fillies were enquiring as to whether Dan was 'available', and I hugged my way from person to person.
Our "Manager", Screaming Seagull, sorted out our ill-gotten beer tokens and eventually I staggered off up the hill pausing for a bacon roll and sometime later a chicken burger.
About half-two, back at the hotel, I passed a pile of fast food wrappings outside my snoring neighbour's door and settled down to instant coma.
Not a bad result.
Too little sleep. Too much beer. I started with a shower, climbed into my third pair of jeans and made it down to breakfast with Mr. Ben. As the bus was leaving for the white horse at 9.15 I realised that I would probably be too late if I checked out, said goodbye to my snoring neighbour (who turned out to have been Youie) and went to pick up my gear from the venue, but set off anyway. I drove 18 times round Swindon before coming across the right place by sheer fluke. Everything was locked up and I completely failed to realise that the pub next door which seemed to have punters in at 9.15 was in anyway associated. I headed back up to The Swandown and was delighted to be able to get on the coach where I spent a happy half hour talking new music with Mr T.
I walked up to the horse with my (this is so embarrassing not to know her name) friend from Hereford who told me all about how her son Matt had brought XTC into their lives. Matt is a great lad and I hope he carries on his interest in music to create his own masterpieces one day.
It was truly wonderful to be up there in that amazing landscape, which my photo fails to convey.
I chatted with Brian and hugged with Karen and had the cobwebs blown out of my system. I was glad I'd made the effort. Back at the hotel I raced off and got my gear and then on to Riff's which was happily still where I'd left it 2 years ago.
Dan and Mick were already there and the next few hours passed in a happy haze with just the odd input of 6X, warm praise, complimentary curry (my mouth is still numb) and amazement over the sound produced by someone drumming on a wooden box.
Ade was the first of the band to depart and we had our last ever group hug.
Sometime later I saw Ali making her departure and figured that I could sneak out as well. I tried manfully to say my goodbyes without dissolving into yet more tears and failed miserably.
I hugged Mick and Dan in the car park and made my dramatic exit with tears streaming down my face... only to return 30 seconds later to get my bag from Mick's car.
Half an hour later I was sleeping soundly in the car park of the Membury services and sometime later returned to the bosom of my family.
So. There it is. The story of a truly memorable weekend as best recalled as I can as the sleep-deprived, delirious and still emotional ex-bass player to the greatest XTC tribute band that ever existed between 2001 and 2005.
I'd like to thank all those who were there, all those who organised, all those who cared and all who shared. I really don't think Andy, Colin (and Dave) have any concept of what has sprung up around their music.
The journey's over.
To my fellow X-sTatiCs, I repeat my gratitude and apologise for the moodiness and repeated musical inadequacies. We ended up as close to gig heaven as it is possible to get. I've learnt so much about the music and have never worked so hard in all my life. I wish we could have got closer as friends but it was not to be.
"I would have made this instrumental, but the words got in the way".
Thanks for reading.
Ed Percival, 3 October 2005. email@example.com
This article was extracted from Ed's Gig Preparations Blog on the xtcidearecords forum.