Sailing Away From Shore with XTC
I’ve been thinking recently about the artists I admire in the business of creativity, be it writing, music, art or film. And I realised recently that what connects them all is the publish and be damned ethos they all seem to share. That maverick sensibility which impels them to carve their own path through that minefield of what is known as a ‘career in the arts’, and forget what anybody else thinks, including their audience.
Possibly this has been on my mind recently because I have been listening to a lot of XTC. Formed in 1972 and disbanded in 2006, XTC moved from punk through to electric pop, lush melodic symphonies of English summers alongside some Beach Boys harmonies and Beatlesesque tunes whilst carving out their own original place in British music history.
I’ve been a fan of XTC since I first discovered them in 1983. And I have always admired their left of centre attitude and their refusal to be tied down to current musical tastes and thinking.
I remember reading a review of one of their albums which concluded with the line, ‘XTC have now sailed so far out to sea that they have no hope of ever reaching the shores of commercial pop music ever again.’
And I remember thinking, Wow, that’s brilliant.
Because they were like no other band around at the time or since.
Who else would have renamed themselves as The Dukes of Stratosphear and released an album of original psychedelia in the 1980s? They then went back to being XTC again, but 25 O’Clock proved so popular they were pressured by Virgin Records to release a second Dukes album a few years later.
XTC never reached the height of popularity they could have done but are now considered to be one of the unsung heroes of British music.
That’s because they did their own thing, and they never gave up.
It is easier now that it ever was to do your own thing, but it’s also harder. It’s easier because the route to DIY publication is accessible to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. But that’s what makes it harder. It is so easy, everybody is doing it and so it is difficult to get noticed amongst all the noise.
The publishing industry has changed enormously over the last decade, and is certainly unrecognisable from the point of view of an artist in the 1970s, say. And the publishing industry is continuing to change as new technologies come to the fore, and as we learn how to use the technology we already have.
But I believe there is one strategy that all creatives seeking to make their mark, to express themselves and maybe even connect with others through their music or writing or film making, should have.
And that is: Persistence.
And that’s it really.
Because when I think of XTC and the fights they had with their record label, their resistance to touring, their insistence on directing their own musical style rather than simply repeating what had worked on the last album, I see that dogged fight to carry own. To carve their own path.
To never give up.
And it’s hard.
Especially in the face of criticism and negativity.
But it’s the only way.
Don’t follow the mass of popular thinking and reading and listening.
Go your own way.
And keep going.
That way you might well end up somewhere nobody else has ever been.
Just like XTC who sailed so far away from land they never had any hope of reaching it again.
But instead they found something better.