We live in an information age. Actually we live in a too much information age, especially when it comes to knowing about your favourite bands. There was a time when musicians where a thing of mystery, strange nocturnal creatives, slinging guitars and waxing lyrical, today..well, not so much. Want to know what artist X had for breakfast? There’s a picture on instagram. Want to hear the next record before it is officially released? There’s a free teaser video on their Facebook page. Interested in what other, like-minded fans think about any and every aspect of the band in question? Join a forum, go without sleep and give up work.
It seems almost unbelievable today but there was a time when none of that was possible, before the internet, personal computers, mobile phones and reality TV, a much simpler time indeed. How did bands and fans communicate with each other? The answer of course is The Fanzine. Outside of going to gigs and buying the records, fanzines were the main, possibly only, conduit between band and fan. A type written, black and white, Zeroxed collection of words, pictures, Letraset and staples that would come through the post a few times every year.
This talk was the story of just one of them. Just as the 80’s got underway, Mark Fisher discovered XTC, and at time when every music fan worth their salt was either forming a band or writing a fanzine, with the encouragement of the band themselves (he has the letters to prove it) he and friend Paul Badger set up Limelight. The timing wasn’t ideal, within a short period of time the band had taken the decision to forego playing live and embrace the studio, thus putting paid to the dream of following the band around the world selling large amounts of the ‘zine and getting rich. But fanzines are driven my passion not profit, the clue is in the name, and Limelight appeared on a semi-regular basis for the next 10 years.
It was only in the last few years when Mark’s work as an arts writer in Edinburgh led him to the realisation that people might be interested in a compilation of those old articles, reviews, missives and think-pieces and with some new material thrown in for good measure The XTC Bumper Book of Fun For Boys and Girls.
Mark does lecture as part of his day job, but here we get to experience him returning to the fan-boy of his formative days, wide-eyed and full of enthusiasm for the band in question and where better to give this talk than in the heart of the town that most of XTC still call home. And with the great and good, not to mention the lowly and questionable, of the town’s music fans, of a certain age, gathered to listen, he guided us through the world of XTC, fanzines and his own journey through those musical waters. And if the talk seemed informal enough to begin with, the Q&A, at times, became a wonderful free for all, Mark himself acknowledging that with the bands lyrical canon being intrinsically linked to Swindon and the countryside around it, a local view on such matters was encouraged.
It was a lovely hour spent being regaled by the coincidences and chance encounters, passion and effort that made Limelight a labour of love then and a charming, insightful and nostalgic, not to mention important, historical and social document today. If you are a XTC fan, a music fan, have an interest in the post-punk era, want to understand the history of media or music better, enjoy trivia, local music or just a good read, The XTC Bumper Book of Fun For Boys and Girls is for you. In fact I am hard pushed to think of anyone who won’t enjoy it.
For more information about or to order a copy of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun For Boys and Girls click HERE
Photo with kind permission of Gaz Barrett, Swindon XTC Convention organiser and all round top chap.
Article first appeared in The Swindonian as part of the coverage of The Swindon Festival of Literature