ICE #180 - march '02

contents •
raiding the cupboards
having a rave with xtc

THOUGH NEVER A COMMERCIAL powerhouse, influential British punk/New Wave outfit XTC has retained sturdy critical interest and a loyal fanbase decades since its inception in 1976. Now the band follows up TVT's 1998 Transistor Blast: Best of the BBC box with a new set, A Coat of Many Cupboards, which bristles with unheard outtakes, demos and home recordings, not to mention a mine of B-sides, acoustic versions and live cuts. Astralwerks releases the package April 2, with a U.K. release slated for March 25.

A total of 60 tracks (41 unreleased) chosen by founders Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding are spread over four discs, which blanket XTC's first 10 albums, as well as their Dukes of Stratosphear offshoot. Astralwerks product manager Ashley Warren tells ICE, "The usual approach [with] a box set is an extended greatest-hits package, filled out with a lot of good album tracks and rarities. What's interesting about this box is that all the hit tracks are alternate versions."

For example, four of XTC's most visible singles all appear as demos: "Dear God" is a home recording by guitarist Dave Gregory; "Science Friction" is the band's first-ever recording of the song; "Senses Working Overtime" is from a Partridge home tape; and "Mayor of Simpleton" — their only U.S.-charting single — is performed acoustic. Warren adds, "The tracks that are straight-from-the-album are in that form simply because there was no other available version."

The first disc, 1977-1979, kicks off with the "Science Friction" demo; XTC initially laid down the tune for CBS Records, was turned down by the label, then opted for Virgin instead. Two live cuts follow: "Spinning Top" and "Traffic Light Rock," both derived from a 1977 Liverpool performance. Next is "Radios in Motion" from White Music, then three album session outtakes: "Let's Have Fun," "Fireball XL5/Fireball Dub" and "Heatwave Mark 2 Deluxe."

After the single version of "This Is Pop," three more outtakes follow — "Are You Receiving Me," "Things Fall to Bits" and "Us Being Us," all from the Go 2 sessions. Five more songs round out the CD: a drum-machine rehearsal extract of "Life Begins at the Hop," followed by a discarded single recording of the same song; a "Making Plans for Nigel" demo from Swindon Town Hall; "Ten Feet Tall" from Drums and Wires; and an outtake from that album, "Sleepyheads."

The second disc, 1979-1981, presents 15 more odds and sods, including live tracks "Meccanik Dancing" and "Into the Atom Age/Hang Onto the Night/Neon Shuffle [Medley]" from a 1979 Sydney performance; "Paper and Iron" and "Crowded Room" from a London Lyceum gig in 1980; and "Snowman," taken from a 1981 show at The Hammersmith Odeon. Balancing out the concert cuts are discarded studio versions of "Real by Reel," "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty" and "Helicopter," "Towers of London" and "Generals and Majors."

Lastly, Disc Two is enriched with "Life Beings at the Hop" and "Ball and Chain" alternates, two Black Sea tracks ("No Language in Our Lungs," "Sgt. Rock Is Going to Help Me") and the "Senses Working Overtime" demo.

Home demos comprise about half of Disc Three (1981-1986) — "Love on a Farmboy's Wages," "Wonderland," "All You Pretty Girls," "Wake Up," "Grass," "Let's Make a Den" and "The Meeting Place" — though the aforementioned "Dear God" band demo is also included. Fleshing out the lineup is a live "Yacht Dance" extract from the BBC TV program The Old Grey Whistle Test taken from 1982; an unused version of "Punch and Judy"; and some more album tracks (English Settlement's "Fly on the Wall" and "Jason and the Argonauts," Mummer's "Ladybird" and The Big Express's "The Everyday Story of Smalltown").

The final disc, 1987-1992, is also split mainly between home demos ("Terrorism," "Find the Fox," "The Troubles," "King for a Day," "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead," "The Disappointed") and album selections. However, this CD also features two offerings by XTC's alter ego, Dukes of the Stratosphear — "Brainiac's Daughter" and "Vanishing Girl," from their Psonic Psunspot album — a "Didn't Hurt a Bit" outtake, the acoustic "Mayor of Simpleton" and, closing the disc, a version of "Books Are Burning," recorded live on the BBC's The Late Show in 1992.

Andy and Colin were supposed to write descriptions for just a handful of tracks. They actually produced them for all 60.

With an artistic touch, XTC has configured provocative packaging for the new box. Explains Warren, "You open it up and there are four flats inside that look like cupboard drawers, and you open each flap and there's the CD underneath." Moreover, Warren reveals that "Partridge [didn't] want the title to appear on the box itself, which would require a sticker. He just wanted ‘XTC’ to appear there amidst the artwork."

An unforeseen turn of events rendered the box packaging even more valuable. "Andy and Colin were supposed to write track-by-track descriptions for about a handful of the tracks," says Warren. "And through a wonderful misunderstanding, they actually produced them for all 60 tracks." The notes are encased in an illustrated 60-page booklet, where liner notes by longtime follower Harrison Sherwood are also included.

XTC will also see 24-bit remasters of their first 10 albums — pressed in the Japan and issued in the U.K., Canada and other select territories last year — released in the U.S. four to six weeks after the box set hits stores. Most will feature a brace of bonus tracks (mostly single A- and B-sides), and Cupboards does not repeat any of the reissue extras.

Warren makes note of one specific single-album addition, appended to Skylarking: "Originally, ‘Dear God’ was a B-side. When it caught on, it was placed onto the album and they removed a track called ‘Mermaid Smiled’ [on the 1987 reissue]. So the first pressing of Skylarking did not have ‘Dear God’ on it, and [the song] is being added as an extra track."

A few thousand special-edition copies of the discs — with cardboard sleeves imitating the original vinyl editions — will kick off the series, to be followed by jewel case sets. The cardboard-sleeve versions will come with a simple lyric sheet, while a full booklet will accompany the jewel-case editions. Warren discloses another aspect of the reissues, sure to titillate aficionados: "XTC bought an allotment of the paper-sleeve versions which they sell through their Web site, and they've autographed them. I don't know how many they have, but it must be a fair amount."

Fans can also expect a new XTC studio album, penciled in for a late-2002 or 2003 release on TVT, as well as a potential DVD framing the same era as the Cupboards box.

© 2002 Howard Communcations, Inc.
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