There’s a visceral reaction to most bootlegs. Even as some of the “labels” have moved to creating elaborate slipcases, boxed sets and booklets, their product is still flawed by obvious deficiencies in typography and design, in spite of the increased availability of design software. (A good example: the Sea of Tunes Unsurpassed Masters series of unreleased Beach Boys material, which missed a perfect opportunity.) The Sonic Books series of microbiographies published by Italy’s Stampa Alternativa/Nuovi Equilibri is more visually appealing, but their twenty-first book, A School Guide To XTC, can’t stand alone without its illicit demos CD.
A School Guide consists of Massimiano Bucchi’s concise history of XTC, a 1999 interview with Andy Partridge dealing with Apple Venus Volume One and a discography (purloined from John Relph’s Chalkhills web site). If there is such a thing as a casual XTC fan, they’re not going to be bothered enough to invest in such a book; the more attentive XTC listener will already be familiar with most of its contents. A School Guide to XTC is less a compliment to full-length books like Neville Farmer’s Song Stories or Chris Twomey’s Chalkhills and Children than it is a print equivalent to a web site possessing a few unique MP3s and a well-written introductory vignette. The interior design and typography are admirable, giving A School Guide a linear clarity a web site would have probably lacked, but the scattershot approach precludes A School Guide from being indispensable. The disc itself has that generic pseudo-legal look peculiar to discs pressed in countries with copyright loopholes. It is not worthy of XTC’s high standards of quality.
The Guide’s 6 track CD of 1972 demos from XTC’s embryonic incarnation Star Park is modestly surprising but the discovery falls short of being a significant unearthing. The languid “Star Park” and the jumpy, neorockabilly “Yabber Yabber Yabber” aren’t dissimilar from what Prince and the Revolution would record more than a decade later. Andy channels his amusing Big Bopper vocal on “Saturn Boy” and “Walking ’cross the Ceiling.” However, curiosity aside, it takes patience to listen to this demo reel more than once. The early version of “Neon Shuffle” sounds too similar to the repetitive “Do You Really.” The sound quality is muddy and primitive; the set does not hold up well to repeated listening and lacks the historical punch of, for example, the early Pink Floyd demos included with the Syd Barrett Sonic Book (“(I’m a) King Bee” and “Lucy Leave”).
©2000 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.