TC&I: Swindon Arts Centre – Live Review

 

Colin live

 
TC&I

Swindon Arts Centre

October 29th 2018

XTC Rhythm section make triumphant return in their hometown with appearance at venue of their first ever live performance.

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Having a little knowledge of small towns, I can say with a degree of confidence that the terms “Magical Monday” or even “Momentous Monday” are not usually deployed to describe the start of the working week. However, this is Swindon, crouching in the valley, and tonight magic was way down the pecking order of epithets for what was happening in the splendidly intimate Arts Centre as Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers, half of XTC, returned to the stage, the one where they first played live as Star Park, for the first time in thirty-six years.

This was a return that for years seemed so unlikely as to be beyond consideration by fans, and could certainly have filled much bigger venues in the capital. However, that would never have been the way of the reclusive geniuses who comprise one of the finest bands of our musical history. Coming of the road in 1982 after Andy Partridge’s struggles against withdrawal from Valium made live performance too stressful for him, they continued a campaign of guerrilla – style resistance against record-company- driven musical conformity from their Swindon base. The albums made from this period onwards are each a classic in their own right and the reality is that they would not exist if XTC’s punishing touring schedule had continued. And that’s before we even get onto the Dukes of Stratosphear, that glorious psychedelic stunt that led to two superb albums and much inspiration, not least for the Stone Roses!

However, the end of touring and personal circumstances meaning Australia was to be his family base, saw the departure of drummer Terry Chambers who was never permanently replaced. The last album, Wasp Star was released in 2000 and that was it really, or so we thought. However, Colin and Terry met up early last year and released the Great Aspirations EP just about twelve months ago but live shows were not seriously considered by the loyal fan base. Yet here we are, making the steep climb up to Swindon Old Town for an event that most of those in the room seemed to be struggling to believe was actually happening.

Support for the entire week was provided by the excellent George Wilding, a singer-songwriter of huge potential. He sings real songs with real passion and held the room in thrall, which, considering the main act, is not easy. Check him out, as they say.

This was no ordinary evening though, and the first evidence of that was the appearance of TC&I almost immediately after the support act finished. No time for anticipation to build, or lump in the throat inducing intro-tape, just the band entering the stage and, with a quick guitar riff on Bungalow they were off with the beautiful Say It from the Apple Venus period though not actually on the album.

After that, we were catapulted back into what Colin referred to as The Jurassic Period with Drums and Wires classics Day In Day Out, That is the Way and Ten Feet Tall. It’s round this point that you realises that most people in the room seem to be in the same zombified state as you are – they are seeing it, but having trouble processing it. Yes, that is Terry Chambers and yes, Colin Moulding is singing tracks that have sound tracked our lives.

A special mention for Gary Bamford on keys and guitar who has scored the tracks out and brings a new angle to these interpretations of classics. Then there is Steve Tilling on guitar who turns in a performance that sets everyone talking. He’s a livewire presence with a manner that sets the familiar guitar licks in a new context.

On we go with tracks from the Great Aspirations EP, Greatness and the irresistible Scatter Me before three tracks from Skylarking place reinforce exactly what we are seeing tonight; Grass, The Meeting Place and Sacrificial Bonfire. Classics all, but never performed live and never expected to be but tonight you see the full majesty of the writing and arrangement. Colin Moulding said that one of the main drives for returning to the stage was because he wanted to re-connect with songs he had written but had no interaction with since. Well, here they are in all their glory and you realise immediately that, no matter how good an album is, and Skylarking is one of the very best, there is no substitute for experiencing the songs in a live setting. Very much like Quality Street, these songs are made for sharing.

The Nonsuch period is well represented, firstly by Where Did the Ordinary People Go?, which didn’t make it onto the album but is a song of rare quality. Wardance is even more haunting live than on record while The Smartest Monkeys is a perfect example of the Moulding lyrical genius. However, one of the evening’s highlights is undoubtedly Bungalow; a quirkily brilliant album track that assumes a life and power of its own live as Moulding, voice as pitch-perfect as ever paints the picture of that elusive retirement dream.

The atmosphere tonight is notable; timeless classic is delivered to hushed silence, followed by huge applause that can endanger fragile hands, then another timeless classic and so on. Obviously, every live show is an opportunity for fans to commune with the band and express solidarity and devotion. However, this is different. Maybe it is because the absence of live appearances, and the sheer depth and complexity of the albums produced since 1982, has led the devoted to develop an intimacy with the songs and their creators beyond the norm. It is almost as if a long-lost loved one has returned and, faced with the prospect of telling them all you have longed to say, you simply become tongue-tied and stare intently, absorbing every second of their surreal presence. Maybe I’m talking bollocks and people were just enjoying themselves, but it certainly felt different to me; let’s call it a mixture of anticipation, intensity and disbelief and move on.

Kenny, the ballad of a Swindon footballer that Moulding has used to revisit the theme of town planning and weak councils that first featured in the following Ball and Chain, shows that he retains the sharp lyrical edge and ear for a melody.

Generals and Majors and the inevitable Making Plans for Nigel finish the main set with emphatic proof that Terry Chambers, Post-Punk’s prime purveyor of power percussion, has lost none of his thunderous talent. However, his skilful handling of the intricate songs written since his departure is impressive and it is great to see him back where he belongs.

The first encore was an opportunity for Colin to pay tribute to the man who, while not present, was uppermost in everyone’s mind with the characteristically jerky early Partridge brilliance of Statue of Liberty. The evening ended with the infectious Life Begins at the Hop that simply defied anyone to remain unmoved.

This show was never likely to go wrong; both men are simply too experienced and talented performers to allow that. However, what was delivered was undoubtedly a triumph, and in a room of less than two hundred, including fans who had travelled from Japan, America and Australia as well as all over Europe and the UK, it was very special. So what next? Maybe a London residency or even an Albert Hall spectacular? They deserve it as do the fans but for me, nothing will top the experience in the small room in Swindon Old Town and heading back downhill afterwards (literally, not metaphorically) I got the feeling that not all the magic in Swindon is on the Roundabout.

 

Set List

 

Say It

Day in Day Out

That Is the Way

Ten Feet Tall

Greatness

Scatter Me

Wonderland

Where Did the Ordinary People Go?

Grass

The Meeting Place

Sacrificial Bonfire

War Dance

Big Day

Bungalow

The Smartest Monkeys

Cynical Days

Kenny

Ball and Chain

King for a Day

Standing In for Joe

Generals and Majors

Making Plans For Nigel

Encore 1

Statue of Liberty

Encore 2

Life Begins At The Hop

 

Photo courtesy of Owen Carne

 

For more information on TC&I visit their Facebook page

For information on Steve Tilling go here

For information on George Wilding go here

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5 comments on “TC&I: Swindon Arts Centre – Live Review”

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  1. Incredible magical dreamlike evening I shall cherish as long as I breath…..

  2. Dave, this review captures exactly what I felt, every bit of it. An impossible dream come true, for an impossibly dedicated fan base.

    The concert was fantastic, no doubt. But more importantly, the atmosphere was wonderful! The reception lady at the venue said to me, “I’ve worked here for years and years and have never seen anything like this: People coming from all over the world, shivering in excitement; grown men crying. I knew XTC were from Swindon, but I had no idea they had such a devoted fan following.” The fan experience was incredible. At the Tuppenny before the Thursday gig, another fan told me he sees 20-50 shows a year, and XTC aren’t even his favourite band (Echo & the Bunnymen are), but that THIS was the gig he looked forward to the most, for the concert AND for the fans.

    You got the rest right, too. George Wilding was excellent, as were the rest of the TC&I band. And yes, I watched people shiver in excitement, and grown men cry. It was a beautiful, emotional moment for all of us XTC — and now TC&I — fans. It really happened!! I waited 36 years for this.

    Thank you for capturing it for us.

  3. It was a wonderful night. I have never felt so much raw emotion in an audience. Grown men in tears. I am incredibly lucky to have been there and so glad I made the journey down. I hope and prey for many more gigs from these two but suspect this one will never be bettered in my heart

  4. Great review! And I have to say that coming to Swindon from Norway was a dream come true. We were two childhood friends who has dreamt of this City since first hearing Skylarking in 1986.
    I will never forget the walk from the train station and uphill to the Swandown hotel, the tasteless food at the Jewel in the Crown, the wonderful feeling at The Hop after the concert, and of course the evenings Main Event. It was all magic and childlike Wonder. Just like the songs of mr Moulding. Highlight, if possible to say: Bungalow. Thank you, Colin, Terry and the City of Swindon!

    • All I can is that if you found the food at Jewel in the Crown tasteless, try the vindaloo next time! Funnily enough, a friend of mine was also at the Swandown and we ended up eating there.

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