XTC – “Playground” (MP3), “Stupidly Happy” (from Unconditionally Guaranteed 2000:5, free CD with Uncut magazine)
It is 1962. The town of Swindon. Not quite as modern as large parts of it have come to look (it didn’t receive ITV until April 1965, nearly a decade after London) but you can be instantly fooled otherwise, so aligned is the place to the new affluence of ITV rather than the timeless establishment culture of the BBC. A housing estate is filling up, largely with workers moved from London. The long-since-defunct ITV company TWW are there for filming purposes. The estate’s children are out in the early evening sunshine, dressed in that beautifully plain, casual and straightforward style that marked the transitional years between austerity and mass commercialisation. I want to believe that two great British pop dreamers were among them, laying the first seeds.
John Betjeman sneers, of course. What could he know? Better for him to discreetly turn the camera away, to the deserted Devon village of North Lew, to the old town of Swindon, to revel in his mental idyll, his lavish personal myth of an unchanging rural stasis. He could never see that, in the estates that he mocked as “not Swindon, not anywhere”, a dream was being created that would, 38 years later, hold for many of us all the romance his beloved ruralism held for him.
And now I hear “Playground” and “Stupidly Happy”. While these first two tracks on “Wasp Star” have a rockier and less quietly pastoral sound than most of last year’s “Apple Venus Volume 1”, they are both wonderful. The first is a reflection on the experience of school, our shared past, and an acknowledgement that the effects of those years, however much we may disdain them, never fully leave us. The second is impeccably joyous, a distillisation of how you feel when, after so long going wrong, everything’s going right for you and you couldn’t care less if you’re closing your eyes to the depressions of ther wider world. Their finest achievement is to make me love what I tend to find smug and self-satisfied (chiming guitars, gentle elation, deep personal nostalgia).
Those boys playing cricket and running towards the mobile shop 38 years ago, I think I know who two of you were. If I’m mistaken, well I probably am, but I think I deserve the illusion that I do. Andrew and Colin, there in your perfect open-plan primary school with your Aertex shirts and light grey exercise books, now I think I know where it began. And I feel happier for it.