Skip to main content

XTC -This is Pop (Documentary, Sky 1)

The long awaited - and even longer overdue - documentary about the British band XTC felt to many of us who have considered them the best ever group to emerge from these shores, like a simultaneous roar of approval and a shocking great slap in the face, a sharp reminder of what we have lost now that they no longer record together. Apple Venus Vol.1 and Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2) were released in 1999 and 2000 respectively and together represented the almost perfect distillation of British popular music. I hesitate to just call it "pop" although there are almost unequalled examples of it on both these albums and right through the XTC canon. Andy Partridge's lavishly inventive songwriting, lyrical brilliance and at times almost extra-terrestrial knack for a breathtaking melody or crushingly beautiful harmony seemed to improve and grow throughout the band's 14 album career. It came to a mighty zenith on those final two records. 

Followers of XTC were often torn between a teeth-grinding agitation that the band were not huge and a sneaking pleasure that they were our secret. Mention XTC and someone would pipe up with how much they liked 'Senses working overtime' but we'd list the later albums, each one better than the last, that they had released since then. They really were a miracle of the British music scene. 

This documentary, refused initially - and criminally -  by the BBC was thence commissioned by Sky. The film was clearly made by people who know and love this band, imbuing it with a loving eccentricity (model trains for the band from Swindon) but laced it with an impeccable compendium of XTC's music through the years, and not just the obvious singles either. The final credits rolled to the majesty of "The Last Balloon", the final track on Apple Venus Vol.1 and possibly, for my money, the band's best ever. It is a track that essentially waves the world goodbye and was thus appropriate.

Andy Partridge anchors the film although all the band are interviewed. Partridge is painfully honest about his anxieties and past valium addiction, becoming moved by its recollection, and he exudes the kind of quirky exuberance of a musician who writes music on a synaesthesic level. By contrast, bassist Colin Moulding and the writer of many successful XTC songs, and Dave Gregory, the prodigiously gifted guitarist and arranger fair whispered their way through the documentary, admitting a lack of care to Partridge when he had his early 80's mental meltdown. That collapse, which led to the band ceasing touring, became a central point in the film; their ability to spend more time in the studio thereafter, and the removal of the obligation to write songs that could be replicated live, opened the floodgates of their creative imaginations that led to the achievements of their subsequent albums.

The film called on a number of stars and celebrities to wax lyrical about the genius of the band and thus there was a certain format-familiarity to the film, despite Partridge's opening monologue trumpeting his disdain for rockumentaries. But the talking heads were never intrusive and contributed humorous and in some cases very telling opinions. The overwhelming feeling that the film left me with was one of sadness and melancholia that we are highly unlikely to hear another album by the three of them together. There was no obvious animosity between them on film (although all were interviewed separately) and Partridge, an engaging and engaged member of the Twitter community, never overtly expresses disapproval of his former bandmates. Yet he has been known to politely, but firmly, dismiss the idea of any reunion. 

Since XTC albums never seem to age (and Partridge is slowly remastering them for 5.1) bereft fans have plenty to keep us amused and satisfied. But a recent track for the Monkees, written by Partridge ('You bring the summer') was a tantalising reminder of what we are all missing in their absence.

It is time you explored the XTC catalogue. But if you start with the two Apple Venus albums mentioned in this piece, you won't be disappointed.


  1. Excellent review. And excellent advice. Anyone intrigued to know more about XTC should check out my new publication, The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls ("Music publication of the year" Louder than War). More details on my website Do what you do!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Panic! Culture and the working class

A new report on the working class relationship with culture has been doing the rounds recently.
Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries (which you can find here ( comes at the issue from the point of view of the working class and their opportunities to find careers in the cultural sector. I usually concern myself most with the audience aspects of this debate but this report does touch on matters that relate to that, too. The general issue was also recently making waves with respect to entrants into Oxbridge and with Owen Jones's huge Twitter spat about the class of those in the media. 
The Panic! report takes data from various sources and draws conclusions from it. Some of the conclusions are based on what appear to me to be oddly skewed impressions and some of the report sounds like an argument looking for a validation, rather t…

Emma Dent Coad - putting the record straight

Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad has again used OHP as a tool in her battles against RBKC. This piece once again quotes figures that are manifestly untrue.

The first time she quoted these figures was in her 'After Grenfell' paper on poverty. A great deal of misinformation has been circulated regarding OHP's costs over the years and the amount of money the council spent. Inflating, misreporting and dramatising the cost of supporting public arts only adds to the sense of outrage, increasing the climate of fear around local authority support for culture. When these arguments appear, little reference is made to expenditure on other services the council provides. We are an easy target.

Emma Dent-Coad's "After Grenfell" paper tied OHP to the disaster and quoted a FOI report from RBKC that purportedly revealed the council had spent "£30 million over 15 years" on the…

The Oxbridge divide

In the past couple of weeks the issue of privilege and the Oxbridge divide has been prominent on social media. The argument has essentially been that Oxbridge caters most to the privileged and monied, and further, excludes black students in particular. David Lammy extracted some data from Oxford which he believes shows Oxford is not doing well enough with respect to offering access to bright black and underprivileged students. I am not sure if he is suggesting Oxford is institutionally racist but the inference that Oxford actively excludes black and disadvantaged students is easy to draw from his comments on the matter. The statistics are quite complex and to me don't actually suggest Oxford is doing too badly, but this thread of tweets addresses the specifics very well;

To be frank, I am not entirely sure where to start with this discussion because those progressing the arguments against elite universities appear to misunderst…