Forty years ago this month, the English group XTC abruptly ended their live career. They were on stage in Paris when frontman Andy Partridge suffered a severe panic attack, forcing him off stage for good. XTC continued to make great records for another two decades, scoring US hits with “Dear God” and “Mayor of Simpleton”. But they never played another live gig.
And now XTC is back, sort of. An official spin-off group, known as EXTC, put their songs back on stage and hit City Winery on April 8. Ironically, the only original XTC member involved is drummer Terry Chambers, who initially left the band out of frustration when they stopped touring. But their West Coast shows were well-received as fans got to hear XTC songs that haven’t been played live in decades – or at all in some cases.
“It’s not something I thought would ever happen,” Chambers said last week. “It’s like being born again, really – I just wish I was younger doing it. I was quite surprised to see young people who weren’t born on the band’s last tour, as well as old people who have seen us before. The love for this group is really a good surprise.
The project originated a few years ago when Chambers, who had moved to Australia, returned to the band’s hometown of Swindon, England for family matters. Original XTC bassist/vocalist Colin Molding then approached him to do a recording; they put together a band to play some local gigs. Then Molding gave up, not wanting to hit the road again; but the rest of the new group decided to continue.
The three missing members of XTC – Partridge, Molding and guitarist Dave Gregory – have given this band their blessing. “Andy has been very supportive; he actually named this band and supported it all the way. I walked around his house and he showed me the chords to the songs,” says guitarist Steve Tilling who does lead vocals for EXTC. “I’m a Swindon lad, so I fit in pretty well. I first got a call from them when Terry and Colin were playing together and they gave me an audition. I think they said ‘It’s cheap, it’ll do’.
Chambers says he didn’t follow XTC’s albums after he left, but he’s okay playing songs from those albums now. “I was in the rock and roll wilderness, so to speak. But from what I’ve heard from those albums, I think they’ve become a bit too layered. My roots are in rock music and I like to hear a good song – I thought they spent too much time in the studio trying to get the most out of it. Tilling adds, “Once they stopped filming, they started throwing the kitchen sink in there. But they are strong songs and we do them justice, in our own way. It would be cheesy if I tried to imitate Andy’s sealbark voice, and I destroy my voice enough already.
Although Winery’s show is made up entirely of former XTCs, the ultimate goal is to write and record new songs. According to Chambers, “Our guitarist Steve Hampton has country roots, and his favorite band is actually Crowded House. So it will be interesting to see what we come up with. Tilling adds, “We stay true to the XTC thing of being very harmonically rich, with Terry’s quasi-tribal drumming style as a model.”
This of course raises the question of whether the original XTC will ever come together. “Funny enough, they’re all talking to each other more than they’ve ever been since Steve and I started this project. So we got there,” Chambers says. But Tilling adds, “People always say XTC should reform. And I’ll remind them it’s been 40 years, so be careful what you wish for.