“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

In 1977 every young musician in the UK cut their hair, ditched their flares and practiced their fiercest snarl in the bedroom mirror. Any songs they had written were made shorter, sharper and angrier. The Genesis and Pink Floyd LPs  were consigned to the wardrobe. If you were not punk or New Wave you were nowhere in this momentous musical year. Over a decade later a number of the veterans of the Punk Wars were still around. Older for sure, wiser maybe & probably not that richer. Now the music they made could channel their inner Lennon & McCartney, the music they had grown up with. Here are three fine examples of quality melodic pop made by three bands who started in the 70s.

As the 70s became the 80s I lived around Greenwich and Deptford and Squeeze were the local band. “The church and the steeple, the launderette on the hill” from “Tempted” always reminds me of the walk back to my flat from the station up Royal Hill. I saw them bash out a great set, on borrowed instruments at a gig to celebrate the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (“Let’s finish the job”). Glen Tilbrook had a team in a monthly quiz which we entered at a local pub. The drummer and I shared a coke dealer. They were part of the fabric of that lovely area of South East London.

The hits stopped coming and continuity was disrupted by personnel changes.  In the 80s every Squeeze LP seemed like a come-back. Each one contained great music and finely crafted lyrics by Difford and Tilbrook, “If It’s Love” is just one of them. These guys should have been writing musicals. The clumsily assembled generic storyline stapled on to a band’s back catalogue is an insult to our musical tradition. Difford and Tilbrook are successors to Ray Davies and could have been just the men to do the job properly.

I saw Robyn Hitchcock’s first band, The Soft Boys, as support to the legendary Pere Ubu at the similarly renowned Russell Club/Factory in Manchester. Blimey, that was some gig. With the Egyptians his wide musical influence and his tendency towards lyrical surrealism meant that he could be all over the place. The records, though, did contain attempts to get played on the radio and some of them are the finest pop songs of the time. “Flesh Number One (Beatle Dennis)” is an obvious variation on a Fab Four theme. The distinctive guitar of Peter Buck  (nowadays in Robyn’s touring band) adds to what sounds like a hit record to me.

I love Hitchcock’s later work. I have heard his interpretations of tunes from a wide range of music but it’s his own songs that I prefer. I must try and get three of them onto this thing but there are a lot to choose from.

From the same year, 1989, as the Squeeze track this is my favourite track from XTC’s “Orange’s and Lemons” LP. I have written before about the songs of Andy Partridge .https://loosehandlebars.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/stand-up-naked-and-grin-xtc/ Here he channels his inner McCartney for his own version of “All You Need Is Love”. It is such an uplifting piece of music which has to go on repeat whenever it comes around.

All of these songs were produced by mature musicians who had probably given up on the dream of the Number 1 records but still made music. They are all worthy entrants into the list of finely crafted, intelligent British rock. It’s just that to be a “classic” you had to be around in the 60s or to be as useless as the platitudinous nonsense of Queen or Sting (spit !). Not round here they don’t.

Stand up naked and grin (XTC)

By 1982 XTC had 12 singles ( from 5 LPs) compiled as ” Waxworks: Some Singles 1977-1982″. The band did not call it a Greatest Hits, only one of the releases had reached the U.K. Top 10. It is a fine collection, from the abrasive electro pop punk of the “3D EP”  through the hook-laden, wry, radio-friendly 45s which served as effective ads to albums which were becoming more successful. Unfortunately in 1982, while touring to promote the LP “English Settlement”, singer, guitarist & composer of two-thirds of the songs, Andy Partridge collapsed. His subsequent breakdown & major aversion to performing live interrupted this momentum. The biggest band to come out of Swindon were never to regain their visibility and acceptance as creators of considered, intelligent, polished British pop music.

We played that “Waxworks” collection regularly. It was a toe-tapper, “Making Plans For Nigel” a guaranteed ear-worm for the rest of the day and a high quality throughout. I had friends who were still buying their subsequent 5 records. A couple of psychedelic LPs released as the “Dukes of the Stratosphear” caused interest. In 1996 Virgin released “Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles 1977-1992”. It is a 2 CD set and it was the second CD, post Waxworks, which has become a big favourite over the years.

It is understandable that Andy Partridge’s music became more introspective in this later stage. There is an acoustic, pastoral atmosphere to the later LPs. There had always been a craft to the writing but now, being studio bound, the production became more immaculate, the lyrics more mature. The music had always been touched with the brush of the Beatles. Now Partridge’s songs could be tagged McCartneyesque and I mean that in an “Abbey Road” way not in a Wings way.

“Mayor of Simpleton” is a lovely, self-deprecating love song. “The Disappointed” is a great 30-something anthem. For a while then it did seem that they did “congregate at my house” It’s a very funny song…really, people don’t come around to tell you how happy they are but if they have something to beef about…well…try keeping them away. The hits just kept on coming only they were not hits.

I do not want to ignore the contribution of Colin Moulding, bassist & composer, to XTC. It’s just that my own preference is for Partridge’s work. This final song, placed at the end of “Fossil Fuel”, was withdrawn as a single and marked the end of the band’s relationship with a major label. Andy has continued to record music for his “Fuzzy Warbles” series. Even for someone like myself who still keeps an eye out for interesting music they seem to have been released in secret.

“Wrapped In Grey” is  a song to be put on repeat. It needs to be folded into “Carry That Weight” or “Mean Mr Mustard”. “Nonesuch”, the final XTC LP is perhaps the most consistent of all the later records. OK the band were not sticking themselves in front of your face begging you to buy it but surely music of this quality should be able to make an impression on it’s merit. Apparently not. Lyrically the song is the best advice possible to the youth to ignore those who have allowed the world to wear them down. Just because it has happened to them does not mean you have to follow. I don’t think I have pasted lyrics into any of these things I write. This is an exception because I do think it is a great and important verse.

Awaken you dreamers
Asleep at your desks
Parrots and lemurs
Populate your unconscious grotesques
Please let some out
Do it today
Don’t let the loveless ones sell you
A world wrapped in grey

Man, that’s some good advice.