❉ A momento of XTC’s Colin Moulding & Terry Chambers’ live shows.
“I was as excited about these gigs as I was in 1973 playing our first gig at the Arts Centre Swindon as a 17 year Helium Kid, and the first time to be playing with Colin together on stage since San Diego,” – Terry Chambers.
Though they never came close to the level of success enjoyed by Electric Light Orchestra or Oasis, XTC nonetheless channelled the spirit of the Beatles more successfully than many of their contemporaries. Bucolic, kabbalistic, crepuscular and periphrastic, the combined song-craft between the members showcased a precocious versatility demonstrated by one other fab act. Colin Moulding’s fingers glided through the fretboard with Paul McCartney’s fluidity, yet his songwriting stance always resembled George Harrison’s the most.
Hidden behind a portmanteau of Andy Partridge standards, Moulding’s work amassed to only a song or two per album. It needn’t have been that way, Moulding’s work a vindication to his status as one of England’s most accomplished songwriters. Verification to the fact comes in this live set, showcasing Moulding’s melodic four string prowess and a songcraft that proves him a talent far more deserving in title than merely Partridge’s bass player.
Moulding pays tribute to XTC’s bandleader with a tasteful cover of Statue of Liberty. Behind him, XTC drummer Terry Chambers counts in the gated drum intro to Making Plans For Nigel, reuniting the pair onstage for the first time in decades. “I’d never heard a lot of these tunes in any concert hall and I felt I deserved a chance to put that right” Moulding recalls. “Yes, a bit of TC&I too, but my songs have been stuck in the closet too long, and I wanted to dry clean them and give them an evening out, or six.” Taken over six nights, Naked Flame demonstrates the band’s strongest performances over six nights. Understanding the band’s histiography, Swindon Arts Centre comes as the perfect stage container.
Age has been incredibly kind to Moulding’s voice, not least on the pastoral Grass (a gorgeous number, complete with lyrical chord movement), whose lyrics and word paintings suit his Autumnal style. Funereal blues number Scatter Me suits the stage with stylised aplomb, while Wonderland invites guitarists Gary Bamford and Steve Tilling to roar over their rollicking parts with virtuoso skill. And yet the formidable rhythm section remains the album’s most attractive proposition, Generals and Majors thumping with invited chest pumping zest, Chambers’ drum parts pummelling through the triumphant Big Day. Fittingly, TC&I end their set with Life Begins At The Hop, XTC’s first hit, one of their best at that.
The sound’s a bit rusty, even for a live album, and there’s a dearth of material from TC&I’s excellent E.P. (Kenny is a prime track for this funk tinted line-up to explore). But that’s by the by. Moulding’s at a pivotal point in his life to show his artistry for the nuances, idiosyncrasies, indolence and inspired pieces that they have.
In all its permutations, Moulding’s life work offers the idiosyncratic pop testimonials of many. Laced with irony, the installation of produce paves the power of greatness (another piece from his E.P. he could have played). It’s his life’s work in all its rawest , most sinewy form. We haven’t mentioned John Lennon in this review. He had Live In Toronto. Moulding has Naked Flame.
❉ ‘Naked Flames: Live at Swindon Arts Centre’ is available on CD exclusively via Burning Shed. A bundle order is also available, including two CDs from TC&I – the ‘Naked Flames’ album and their debut ‘Great Aspirations’ EP. Both options Include signed postcards (while stocks last). Studio photos and cover artwork by Geoff Winn. Live photos by Simon Hogg.
❉ Eoghan Lyng is a regular contributor to We Are Cult. His writing has also appeared in Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies, Phacemag and other titles. Follow him on Twitter. Visit his homepage.