Monday, October 15, 2007

XTC's 'Great Fire'

Latest song under discussion by Andy Partridge and Todd Bernhardt over at the XTC MySpace page is the excellent 'Great Fire' from the 'Mummer' album. (I've previously declared my opinion on the song on the blog here.)

Not as instantaneous a pop classic as a lot of their early singles, 'Great Fire' did have to creep up on me before becoming one of my favourite XTC songs. But for all that, I was still surprised to discover that the song didn't even chart when it was released as a single in '83. Coming so soon after 'Senses Working Overtime' and 'English Settlement', I bet it was a bigger surprise for the band and their record company at the time.

Andy P reveals in the interview that the song was played on Radio 1 a grand total of one time! That was when Radio 1 could make or break a song in a matter of weeks. It'd have probably been better if it had never been played at all. That way they could have at least claimed they were victims of some sort of deliberate campaign to kill their career.

I'm trying to think back to why they might have been so out in the cold by '83. I can only speculate that by that point in their career they were caught between the hard rock and the missing chart place of not being pretty enough to compete with the Duran Durans and Spandau Ballets on the one hand and not having that cache of being new or left-field enough to still be championed by the likes of John Peel and Janice Long (the last XTC Peel Session was way back in '79).

Any chance of being part and parcel of the Second British Invasion of America at that time was effectively killed off by Partridge's stage fright and refusal to tour, and it would be another three or four years before XTC would become an overnight sensation in the States via 'Dear God' picking up airplay on college radio.

OK, I'm getting off topic and before I start hunting high and low on the internet to see if John Hughes ever featured an XTC song in one of his films*, I'll jump back on blogging track by echoing the opinion of one of the posters on the XTC MySpace page in stating that this is definitely one of the best interviews so far in the series between Andy P and Todd Bernhardt.

Granted a great bulk of the interview is made up of the muso bits that leaves me in a fog, but even I in my musical illiteracy recognise that it is in the bridge of the song, when Andy P. kicks in with the line "I've been in love before . . . " and the music totally shifts in mood and tone that moves it up from a good XTC song to a great one.

To placate us musical numpties, the interview also carries the by now expected abundance of Andy P's anecdotes, skewed viewed of the history of XTC and the world, and a brilliant humour which spells out once again that you have to be a clever bastard to write with the acuity and wit of Andy Partridge. I especially loved this passage from the interview:

AP: I was listening to the song today, as is the sort of thing I do when you ask me about these songs, so I put it on and had a listen. But, just to show you how paranoid I am -- I know there are some fans traipsing around the town [there was a meeting of XTC fans that weekend in Swindon, to see The SheBeats and tribute band The Fuzzy Warblers play at a local club the night before this interview], so I sat here with headphones [chuckling] so they wouldn't hear the sounds of my music coming out of my house and think, "What a wanker he is, listening to his own songs!"

I actually heard a horrible story about Sting -- where'd I hear this story, about someone who went to dinner with him, and a few other people...

TB: I sent you that! From the Holy Moly newsletter...

AP: Yeah, you did! He pulls out his iPod during dinner, cutting himself off from the conversation...

TB: ... and the guests ask Trudi if they said anything wrong, to make him be so anti-social. She says, "He always does it, and the worst thing is, he's listening to his own fucking music."

AP: Yeah! Unbelievable. Well, I didn't want that to be the case, I didn't want people thinking, "Wow! There's Andy, and he's listening to his own songs!"

TB: [laughing] Right. Sobbing.

AP: [laughs] Yeah. Sobbing gently.

I think that passage is all the more brilliant and funny, 'cos I can hear him telling this story in his West Country accent. (You can check out more wondeful quotes from this series of interviews in this old post from the old blog.)

And after the recent Colin Moulding slideshow on the blog, I thought would also include a picture of the 'Great Fire' record cover with this post. I'm glad that I sought it out, 'cos it tipped me the wink to the possibility that there is another XTC fan within the ranks of the SPGB back in Britain. How else do you explain that the cover of 'Great Fire' carries such a strong resemblance to a particular Socialist Standard front cover from the mid to late nineties?

At the time of the issue's appearance, I remembering thinking that the layout editor of the Standard must have been on something to come up with such an outlandish design but I now think that it was nothing more than being exposed to a bit too much Psonic Psunshine. OK, I'll stop here before this paragraph turns into a Super Furry Animals lyric.

*It turns out that XTC had the song 'Happy Families' on the soundtrack of the 1988 John Hughes film, 'She's Having a Baby'. Never seen the film, never heard the song. Never will see the film, but I'm off to hunt down the song.

1 comment:

japanesegodjesusrobot said...

"Happy Families" was included on the excellent rarities and B-sides collection Rag and Bone Buffet, which came out in 1990. I highly recommend seeking it out, as you obviously like XTC. It's better than some of their proper albums!