100 Greatest Songs of the 70’s #77 XTC – Making Plans For Nigel

Released : 1979

Talking about his experience whilst on tour to Pete Paphides in 2004, XTC singer, songwriter and willing/unwilling talisman Andy Partdridge described the scene in his shared hotel room “I was always in bed by midnight reading Letters From A Lost Uncle by Mervyn Peake, and then five hours later I’d be woken up by the sound of Colin (Moulding) creeping in.” His foil in the band hadn’t been out until five am flower arranging, but regardless of the assignations the man with whom he’d formed Swindon’s most famous musical exports in 1972 was becoming less and less mentally equipped for life on the road.

This wasn’t however simply a case of expressing his desire for control. Partridge had grown up in a single parent family and his mother had experienced mental health problems, leading to an anxiety curbing addiction to Valium which began in his teens. None of this was much in focus when XTC – named after a phrase in a Jimmy Durante film where he exclaims on finding the lost chord “Dat’s it! I’m in X.T.C.!” – released their first album White Music, produced by the then fresh faced John Leckie. Some critics felt that was tilting too hard at the American new wave market, but by 1979’s Drums And Wires the quartet were already nudging away from the tether of orthodoxy.

Making Plans For Nigel proved to be not so much a turning point as the catalyst for events which would eventually force Partridge to demur from live work for good. Ironically Moulding felt their third album had finally created a place for them; “We were viewed as a poor man’s Talking Heads..when we came out with Drums and Wires it was like a different band.”

Moulding accepted some of the blame, to an extent because it was his song. The subject was a child for whom parental support meant being kept on a leash of their expectations, his future though was theoretically secure in British Steel, a nationalised institution about to be devastated by Margaret Thatcher’s new government. With guitars inspired by funk and and the space of dub, drummer Terry Chambers reversed his percussive selection and a keyboardist then added the distinctive crashing note to resemble a foundry in process. When Partridge laid his yelped vocals over the top, what in basic form was a slightly eccentric pop song took on the guise of a mini rock opera and much to the group’s surprise, the record buying public responded. A few weeks later, a 100,000 steelworkers went on strike.

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