Published Aug 01, 2001In the early part of the 80s, XTC were riding rock'n'roll's "new wave" with sublime confidence. Writing some of the best tunes of the day, their albums and concerts were selling like hotcakes. These were heady times in Southern Ontario and weekly visits to Toronto from what seemed a never-ending stream of British acts created tremendous interest. Along with many other Canadian music fans, my wife June and I had our curiosity aroused and proceeded to find out more. It was backstage at one of XTC's concerts that June suggested a Canadian fan club, a wonderful solution to fill the void that surrounded this Swindon, UK foursome. The band gave their approval and so began an odyssey that would consume a good part of our lives for the next 18 years.
Fan clubs and their accompanying "zines" were quite common at the time, although most never got past the photocopy stage. The Little Express's progress was from the beginning fuelled not only by the enthusiasm of many intense XTC fans (whom we gradually found to be in very large numbers), but also by the band itself, who, after snipping their tenuous ties to punk, learned rapidly about songwriting and recording. They developed the power of lyrical expression and pushed their creativity through many different styles. All this fascination sustained the fanzine through the years. Not only were we blessed with intelligent articulate subscribers, but our contact with XTC themselves was only a phone call away. Our conscious effort to remain as unobtrusive as possible gained respect and trust from the band and in turn genuine friendships developed.
It started tentatively and modestly with a single 8 1/2 x 11 sheet with some upcoming concert dates, a short profile of the band and a couple of photos. It was photocopied and mailed to about a dozen addresses. At its peak in the mid- to late 80s, this fun idea had grown to a 32-page quality magazine with exclusive interviews, photos, fan letters, articles and ballooning to a 2000+ world-wide mailing list.
We eventually produced some 43 issues and it took two or three months to assemble a single issue, with lots of "pre-computer" cutting and pasting. Mailing alone could sometimes become a three week project, and June answering literally every enquiry with a personal reply. There were thousands of wonderful correspondences, fans baring their souls about how much they loved the music of XTC. Envelopes and packages filled with long letters, photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, Christmas cards and more. Artists, musicians and writers happily contributed their talents to make The Little Express the good read that it was.
The band members, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory (drummer Terry Chambers we only knew for a short time) were always the most gracious of artists. Telephone conversations, visits to their homes, meeting up on tours, photos and letters were all contributions on their part that ran parallel to our own efforts.
The Little Express was one of the few sources of information for dedicated XTC fans, a lively vehicle for "cross-pollination" between the band and their fans. It became a centre from which the ebb and flow of letters, photos artwork and news were assimilated, eventually producing a small readable entity that captured a part of the group's world.
Eventually our ongoing desire to keep improving the look of the fanzine became even more time consuming, and printing became increasingly costly. When the internet became more accessible and readership gradually subsided, our ability to put out issues on a regular basis became difficult. Although the printed word still exists and thrives in many quarters, we came to the realisation that The Little Express had reached its final destination. It was a rare experience that we all shared and remains a tangible reminder of the band's history as well as our own.
The recent reissue of XTC's albums by Virgin is a tremendous opportunity to revisit this amazing and influential British pop group. XTC is probably the most misunderstood band in an industry riddled with misunderstanding. In the end, XTC turned out not to be a punk band at all. They were laughably tame by hardcore standards, not snarling bondage-wearers with curled lips and metal teeth, but a mischievous small-town pop group, one of a cluster who hitched a piggy-back ride on punk, capitalised on that moment when a stunned record business lost control, panicked and threw the doors wide open. In went Elvis Costello, Paul Weller of the Jam, Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers, Sting of the Police and Andy Partridge of XTC British pop songwriting's last big boom.
But XTC inspires tribute bands and albums, fan conventions and the admiration of many a musician. Indeed, even the name inspired similarly lettered band names, U2, INXS and R.E.M. spring to mind. XTC carry their legacy intact. That The Little Express has been afforded a small place within that legacy is an honour.