Drummer Terry Chambers is an unlikely keeper of the XTC flame. He powered the band over its first five increasingly ambitious albums, from White Music through English Settlement, but while touring the latter album in 1982, frontman Andy Partridge had a breakdown before a Los Angeles show and abruptly ended the band’s days as a live act.
Chambers enjoyed studio work but lived for touring, so he was not in a positive frame of mind when the band regrouped to make the album Mummer with producer Steve Nye, whom Chambers considered a step down from Hugh Padgham, the producer of English Settlement (and engineer of the previous Black Sea and Drums and Wires, with producer Steve Lillywhite). Chambers thought Partridge’s songs were a step down too and left the band in the middle of a session.
He moved to Australia and briefly played with the band Dragon before staying away from the music business for about 30 years. What was he doing all that time? As you’ll learn in detail when you listen to the Caropop conversation with him, he spent a shockingly long time working off the massive debt from that final canceled XTC tour.
Yet in 2016 he moved back to the band’s hometown of Swindon, England, and soon he and XTC singer/bassist Colin Moulding were recording an EP of Moulding’s songs under the banner TC&I. They played six shows in Swindon in late 2018, and then Moulding pulled the plug on that project. This time, instead of retreating, Chambers responded by planning his own tour, teaming up with TC&I guitarist and singer Steve Tilling to form the band EXTC. Chambers says Partridge not only gave his blessing but helped name the band. Moulding may not have been so thrilled.
EXTC played City Winery Chicago last week, and for a deep XTC fan like myself, it was a fun, fascinating show. Chambers nailed his powerful parts on “No Language in Our Lungs,” “No Thugs in Our House,” “Making Plans for Nigel” and other songs, and he recreated his wonderful fills on “Senses Working Overtime.” He’s still got it.
Just as intriguing was hearing him and the band interpret XTC songs that came after he left. He had played on the Mummer recording of Moulding’s “Wonderland,” but the four members of EXTC (who also include guitarist Steve Hampton and bassist Matt Hughes) took the synthy studio version and gave it a dreamy guitar arrangement that made the whole thing feel more organic and groovy. Chambers also added some giddy-up to Moulding’s Skylarking songs “Big Day,” “Sacrificial Bonfire” and “Grass,” the latter two played with mallets. He also kicked into “Earn Enough for Us,” “The Mayor of Simpleton” and “King for a Day.”
Side note: Tilling sounded more comfortable singing Moulding’s songs than Partridge’s, which makes sense given that Tilling played in TC&I with the XTC bassist but also is a reminder that Partridge is such an idiosyncratic singer that it’s tough for anyone to interpret his songs without sounding like he’s putting on a show. (You try emitting those growls and elongated vowels on “No Thugs in Our House.”)
This is the second Caropop episode featuring an XTC member. Guitarist Dave Gregory was a wonderful, gracious, insightful guest for the epic Episode 15. Chambers colors in more of the picture here, including thoughts on how Partridge’s breakdown might have been handled differently given the accumulated knowledge about mental illness over the past 40 (!) years.
If we can’t have an actual XTC reunion—and Chambers says who he thinks may be the biggest obstacle—then maybe we can get them all on Caropop.
Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, you’ve been warned.