XTC's Blogs


Last Updated:
Dec 14, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008


Dave remembers 'Making Plans for Nigel'

Song of the Week

This week we're squeezing the last bit of reminiscence out of "Making Plans for Nigel," which Andy discussed a while ago and Colin discussed about a month ago. Originally on 1979's Drums and Wires, the version we're posting this week is the demo, recorded at Redbrick Studios in Swindon Town Hall, in March 1979. Produced by XTC, it was engineered by long-time road-support warrior Steve Warren, and released in March 2002 -- 23 years after it was recorded! -- on Virgin's four-disc retrospective of the band, Coat of Many Cupboards. (Yes, we've posted this before, but hey, it's a great version.)

This week, Dave has graciously agreed to weigh in and tell us what he remembers about this song, which introduced so many people to the ecstasy of listening to XTC.

DG: "Making Plans for Nigel" was the song that finally made Colin's mark as a songwriter, providing XTC with its first Top-20 hit single in the autumn of 1979. In May of that year we'd released "Life Begins at the Hop," his first single as a writer, and my professional recording debut. It had been chosen by the record company from four demos recorded in Swindon in February (the other songs being "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty," "Outside World" and another lost Colin song, "Cheap Perfume"). Though not particularly well-received at the time, it did at least get the band on to Top of the Pops, and had attracted some BBC radio play. Sensing blood, the A&R staff at Virgin decided that Colin's songs might be the key to making XTC "bankable."

In late March, following tour rehearsals in the freezing wine cellar of our manager's club, it was decided that another tape of demos would be required for the record company to consider while we were away. With our sound guy Steve Warren at the controls, we schlepped into the tiny basement studio beneath the Town Hall and quickly knocked out four new songs to 4-track tape: "Chain Of Command," "Ten Feet Tall," "Helicopter" and "Making Plans for Nigel." In due course, Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham were recalled and the Townhouse Studio in London was booked for three days -- 7th to 9th June, specifically -- to record the single. I'm fairly certain we were able to squeeze "Bushman President" and "Pulsing, Pulsing" into the schedule too.

The session marked our first visit to the Townhouse Studio 2, the smaller of the two rooms, with its now world-famous stone room. Hugh had yet to develop his trade-mark "gated ambience" sound, but we were thrilled to hear Terry's kit -- and, in particular, that arresting tom-tom introduction -- hammering away in there, as much a hook of the finished song as the title itself. Colin used a Fender Mustang bass for the pumping 16th-note motif, and Andy contributed a typically chirpy, slightly dissonant guitar figure on the neck pickup of his Gibson Les Paul Standard. (What happened to that guitar?) I played the stabbing chord progression on the bridge pickup of my Stratocaster, with the trusty Fender Tremolux amp through a single ATC 12" speaker. Steve Lillywhite was very keen on double-tracking at the time so there may well be two tracks of both guitars, though the track itself was cut live.

The Virgin people were very excited by the finished mix and set about finding a director who could make a suitable video, knowing that we were due to tour Australia and Japan in July and August. Following the recording sessions for Drums and Wires, a young hot-to-trot Australian film maker called Russell Mulcahy was hired for the job, and the slightly scary video was shot in London on 10th July, together with another put together very quickly for "Life Begins at the Hop."

We left for Australia on the 16th and were away from England for six weeks, missing the release of Drums and Wires in the process! Fortunately, the release of "Making Plans for Nigel" was postponed until September, when we toured the UK again to promote it and the album. Despite glowing press reviews, we were still struggling to fill small theatres in the UK and the brief tour was disappointing. But then, the unthinkable happened -- Nigel got playlisted at the BBC and in early October XTC were back in the charts! And back on Top Of The Pops! Twice!! When we resumed touring in late November, every gig was sold out.

So we have much to thank Nigel for. He continues to pay us regularly, thanks mainly to his inclusion on just about every New Wave/Punk/70s/80s compilation album issued. To this day, I am accosted by Nigels the world over who blame me for blighting their schooldays. It's arguably XTC's best-known song, and I look at it as the Rolling Stones might look at "Satisfaction"; by no means our greatest achievement, but a significant feather in the cap nonetheless.

2:14 AM

©2008 by Todd Bernhardt and Dave Gregory. All Rights Reserved.