Tag Archives: XTC

July 2021 – single & track reviews – Colin Moulding’s ‘The Hardest Battle’; ZOLA’s ‘Glitter and the Gold’; Filed Fangs’ ‘Conduit’

2 Jul

Inspired by an e.e. cummings line about the struggle for selfhood, Colin Moulding‘s new solo single turns out to be a song about solidarity. Sort of. While XTC’s impish streak means that they were wilful and rarely that straightforward – and while their former bassist and part-time hitmaker was a big part of this – he was also the warmer side of the partnership. Much of this comes through in ‘The Hardest Battle’: an encouragement to personal integrity, sheathing warnings and assertions in a gently pounding cream-tea arrangement of English brass and Beatles piano. “The hardest battle you can fight / is just to be yourself – / face the dragon on a hilltop shelf. / But you’ll see – /  yeah. that’s a lonely place to be.”

The lyrics might be English underdog poetry writ cosy (there’s a touch of children’s story to Colin’s choices of maxim and metaphor) but the music belies it. This is a confident summery thumpalong, like a march to a rural fete, anchored firmly back in the Ray Davies Anglo-pop tradition but with lashings of organ and doo-wop overdubs, and confident shifts of rhythm and arrangement. It’s pretty trad, pretty veteran in its tradition and indeed much of its execution, but it also gives the feeling of shaking out fine old linen and finding it as good as new.

Ultimately it’s a reassurance, and a heartening one in every respects. A little conservative, perhaps, at a time when that concept’s being tied ever more closely to intolerance and narrow-mindedness; but in this case never reductive, never exclusive, and flipping underdoggery away from sourness. “My guardian angel said to me, / ‘whether a magpie or whether a crow, / whether your plumage might spoil the show – / but you’ll do. / Yeah, there’s room in the world for you… / To thine own self be true, / so let’s stick like glue to our true colours now.”

There are plenty of differences between ‘The Hardest Battle’ and ZOLA‘s ‘Glitter and the Gold’. In contrast to the former’s brassy, ’60s-pop strut and bounce, the latter’s R&B beats cradle gently tinkling arrangements in a slow-dreaming groove (as if ZOLA were lazily rolling a set of jingle toys across the floor) and chopscrews a stray vocal phrase into a muted jazz trumpet line. There’s also a considerable gap between Colin’s endearing, avuncular bloke-singing and ZOLA’s own cautious, conversational soul-girl tones; and while Colin keeps his subject matter wrapped up in a package of universal maxims, ZOLA’s are more explicitly tied to one field, one situation. Nonetheless, this is another integrity piece.  

Colin’s a multi-decade veteran of pop music, but ZOLA’s a relatively fresh starter, still preoccupied with its behind-the-scenes demands and its public masks, still fending off dubious wheedlings from starry-eyed friends and potential managers. “If I don’t move to southern California, / smoke weed on your couch or write a song for Coca-Cola, / if I’m not there when you have people over, / will I miss something big?” she asks, “I asked you what you thought about the words I sew together. / You say I missed the chance to meet this famous rapper…” Swimming uneasily through the glad-handing and the game-playing, she’s unsure of whether resisting it will stunt her (“if I remain somewhere that fits my nature / will there be inwards and upgrowth?”) or whether she just doesn’t have it in her to make the compromises. (“Sometimes I’m not social and I’m shy… / and I don’t like being asked to talk about myself. / Some might think that’s humble but you might think it’s weak. / If I want to make it somewhere, gotta learn to sell my art – / but my art is me…”)

In spite of her trepidations and her skepticism, there’s enough spine in ZOLA to resist; there’s enough perspective for her to establish where her music needs to fall into place; and she can find the right words to describe her own value. “You follow me on Instagram and comment on my pictures,” she comments, pointedly, “but you’ve never seen me spill my heart to a room full of strangers. / Maybe, just to start, we can have a conversation?” By the end, she’s cut it down to the core  – “so maybe, maybe get to know me?” – and corralled the key point of singing, of communicating, of being original enough in yourself to be worth listening to in the first place 

Taking an altogether more abrasive approach, Filed Fangs return with ‘Conduit’. Their glassy squall of post-punk guitar and their dance culture tussles of blipping sequencer and romantic synth are now applied to cognitive behavioural therapy and with routes out of disillusionment. “I was once an enthusiast – it didn’t last,” Paul Morley observes, tartly, over the colourfully melancholy motorik riffs and the drum-machine whack.  

This is a Covid lockdown anthem, of sorts. It’s also another solidarity piece, this one aimed at those whose mental health has swayed or bent during the quarantines (or whose existing problems have been exacerbated). Bits of programmatic psychological jargon are buried, violently echoing, within the mix, but Paul and Boz seem keen to bring out something hopeful. Offering a childlike freshening to (or a highlighted road map out of) trouble, the conduit they’re talking about leads “back to the electricity that is denied us… depression extinguishes that spark.”

For a song connected to the talking cure, however, it’s surprisingly short of words. Paul’s vocal skims intermittently over the top of the instrumental drive, or diffuses into barely comprehensible splinters. Very Manchester, in a way: there are clear echoes and contemporary reworkings of the city’s post-industrial post-punk and its chattering Madchester vocal licks in what Filed Fangs are doing. Certainly any mushy sentiment is barred from the song, pared back to guarded understatement.

The empathy, the message isn’t in the words; it’s in the instrumental cadences and tones, the glinting light bouncing off the top of those freeze-dried guitars, the rippling ascendance of the electronic sequences, the assertive slam of a riff that’s caught artfully between weightlessness and buttressing strength. The rouse-yourself dance imperative, beside which the blips of laconic Mancunian speech are just seasoning, understatements; a refusal to submit to sentiment when there’s proper work to do. With ‘Conduit’, Filed Fangs have honed the understated pick-me-up to a fine point.

Colin Moulding: ‘The Hardest Battle’
Burning Shed, CMCD01 (5060164400530)
CD-only single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Burning Shed, YouTube

Colin Moulding online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music    


ZOLA: ‘Glitter and the Gold’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify

ZOLA online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music 


Filed Fangs: ‘Conduit’
German Shepherd Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon Music

Filed Fangs online
Homepage, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music 

 

October/November 2018 – upcoming gigs – XTC’s Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers (as TC&I) live in Swindon (29th October to 1st November)

30 Jul

On sale as of this morning… tickets for the closest to an XTC live reunion that you’re ever likely to get.

“The thirty-six-year wait is nearly over. After releasing their debut ‘Great Aspirations’ EP under the moniker TC&I ten months ago, songwriter and XTC co-frontman Colin Moulding and original XTC drummer Terry Chambers have announced a string of live dates in October. XTC’s Andy Partridge also announced the shows via Twitter: “Well I never, CM and TC playing live. They should have done it years ago.”

TC&I, 29th October to 1st November 2018

2018 marks the 40-year anniversary of XTC’s first studio album ‘White Music’. While XTC was founded in 1972, it wasn’t until 1979 that XTC had their first UK charting single. Moulding had written the first three charting singles (‘Life Begins at the Hop’, ‘Making Plans for Nigel’, and ‘Generals and Majors’). Chambers left the lineup in the 1980s, while Moulding continued his partnership with frontman Andy Partridge through the group’s dissolution in 2006.

The new collective will be playing an exclusive mini-residency at Swindon Arts Centre, consisting of four evenings – on 29th, 30th and 31st October and 1st November. Other dates may be added for the following month.“These dates are probably commensurate with our output thus far. We’re not going to do the usual promoters’ circuit. Besides it’s kind of special this way. Like a stationary West End show or something,” says Colin Moulding.

“Exciting times. Eighteen months ago I couldn’t see this happening – I’m as excited about these gigs as I was in 1973 playing our first gig at the Arts Centre Swindon as a seventeen-year-old Helium Kid, and the first time to be playing with Colin together on stage since San Diego,” says Terry Chambers.


 
XTC’s long-standing rhythm section will be joined by music veterans Steve Tilling on guitar and Gary Bamford on keyboards and guitar. This is not the first XTC encounter for multi-instrumentalist and session musician Tilling, the man behind Circu5, whose debut album ‘The Amazing Monstrous Grady’ featured a guest appearance from XTC guitarist Dave Gregory. Swindon musician Bamford has an extensive history of music writing, orchestrating, teaching and collaborating, including working with The Beautiful South to orchestrate twenty-five songs for the musical ‘The Slide’ and as bandleader for the show at their premiere performances. His debut album ‘Jadj’ was co-produced with Jim Barr (Portishead).

In addition to their new material as TC&I, Moulding and Chambers plan to play a selection of the songs from the XTC catalogue written by Colin, several of which have never been played live (due to the fact that the band stopped touring in 1982, not long before Chambers’ departure).”

Not sure who’s playing in support yet. Note that the Monday and Thursday dates are already sold out, so you’ll need to get a move on if you want to get a chance at attending one of the remaining two…

TC&I + support t.b.c.
Swindon Arts Centre, Swindon, Devizes Road, Old Town, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN1 4BJ, England
Monday 29th October to Thursday 1st November 2018, 7.45pm
– information here and here
 

September 1995 – live reviews – Shriekback + Holly Penfield @ Upstairs at the Garage, Highbury, London, 6th September (“madly danceable but bursting with wild and intriguing approaches”)

9 Sep

Holly Penfield, delayed by technical problems, is not having a great night. For those who haven’t previously seen the Diva of Dysfunction, this is maybe not an ideal introduction to her unnerving songbook of emotional explorations, cramped as it is into a shortened set-time opening for Shriekback.

Nonetheless, as she sings out her heart and wrings the notes out of her synth, her quality shines through as she leans on the more conventional songs of her standard set – the vulnerable unwindings of Parts of My Privacy, the clarion-blast of Calling All Hearts, Over the Edge’s stormy tribute to city derelicts. The long frozen yearn of Stay With Me is as potent as over; the climactic anthem and disintegration of Misfit still jolting and captivating. Tonight she may seem only a few degrees different from most mainstream songwriting women, but they’re important degrees.

Shriekback may be familiar to those of you who’ve followed the career of XTC. Frontman and lubricious singer Barry Andrews was once part of that band, although now – shaven-headed and muscular in black singlet and leather trousers – he looks more like an escapee from Right Said Fred. Watchers of the ’80s alternative scene might remember the band as being artily plastic white funkers (during the time when Dave Allen and Carl Marsh made up a fierce creative triumvirate alongside Andrews) but they’ve changed quite a bit since then.

Thronging the stage like a post-civilisation white road tribe from ‘Mad Max’ or Circus Archaos (and always seeming to be twice as numerous as they actually are) Shriekback still play what could be described as funk, but it’s a mutated progressive variant: still madly danceable but bursting with wild and intriguing approaches. The instrumentation has something to do with it. A vast array of percussion instruments played by the entire band (like a mongrelised salsa band) include giant mutant tambourines, Arabian dumbeks, Irish bodhrans, cymbal-clappers and what looks like an array of motor springs on a huge chunk of wood, in addition to the standard kit, congas and bongos. Guitarist Lu Edmonds has dumped six-string in favour of a couple of electrified Turkish instruments – the cümbüs (apparent bastard child of a banjo and a twelve-string guitar) and the saz (like a bouzouki with moveable frets) – chopping and rolling out subtly different parts. The bassist loops and taps on a full-toned fretless. Courtesy of Mark Raudva, didgeridoo and mandolin both make appearances during the evening. Andrews himself plays accordion as if he’s wrestling with a giant python, and somehow manages to extract an eerie sound for a wired-up tree root.

Funky it may be, but “get down y’all” is not on the agenda. Shriekback are progressive funk barbarians with a cunning primitivist edge, as happy with a sort of savage pagan sea shanty or primal drum throb as with a Prince-ly groove. Stately it isn’t: the wild percussive stomp that opens proceedings is as far from po-faced art seriousness as you can get, and they possess the super-greasy compulsive rhythms of prime funk. But their sheer enjoyment and eclectiveness in the ingredients they brew into their music marks them down as yet another oddball manifestation of the progressive spirit…. and who said barbarians had to be dumb? There’s a roiling intelligence in evidence throughout their set. Barry Andrews has always played the hooligan-intellectual card really well, and he’s not stopping now.

Shriekback follow a different and ever-so-slightly alien logic in the way that they look at the world, too, as in Un-Sound’s list of “un”-things (“unacceptable, unreliable, unheard”) or the semiotic question/percussion barrage of Signs in which traffic signs, car logos and football graffiti all become part of one great rush of urban information which you need to understand for survival. This comes to the fore on the nightmare didgeridoo-led parable Captain Cook Said, in which Andrews narrates the story of Cook’s omen-ridden first meeting with indigenous Australians back in the eighteenth century and of the destructive force of the civilisation which he trailed behind him – “we’re here to transmit the virus called the future…” Some XTC cleverness emerges, too, in the wryly cynical Pond Life and in the hard rhythm’n’blues/country-inspired wallop Seething, with its fierce accordion.

All of this plus the fact that you can dance to this band without having to leave your brain at home. On all counts, Shriekback deliver. If you occasionally need to let the barbarian out of yourself, there are few better bands to do it to.

Shriekback online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Tumblr Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music

Holly Penfield online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music

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