A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – Mummer

XTC's albums on CD

Mummer – 1983

XTC are the Village Green Preservation Society.  

Mummer is the most bucolic of XTC’s albums, where they virtually abandon the suburbs for the countryside, but the album is underpinned by a malevolent and disturbing spirit.

It is with a mild sense of shame that I have to report that Mummer is also the last of XTC’s LPs that I bought in real-time. I too wandered off into pastures new for a while, Devon for further education, having to play catch-up later for their last four efforts before the first break up.   

It is also the first album where we have three core members to the band, Terry Chambers having got as far away as possible, emigrating to Australia after leaving the band. Chambers left the tub-thumping to a series of session musicians for the rest of the band’s recordings.   

One of the earliest, who appeared on Mummer, was a throwback to the first music that I bought with my own pocket money – Glam. I’d like to tell you that it was the artier ends of things that first appealed, Bowie, Roxy etc, but an eleven-year-old me was more interested in something a bit more basic and stompy, so Sweet and Slade, although Sparks did provide the first window into a too clever for their own good world that would prove irrestible to me.  

And I responded enthusiastically to the tribal beat of the double-drummed Glitter Band (and he who shall not be mentioned), a trick nicked to great effect by Adam after he was left in the lurch by his first colony of Ants. One of those glamtastic drummers, Peter Phipps, provided the beat on all but two of Mummer’s tracks, Terry Chambers’ last hurrahs coming in the form of Wonderland and Funk Pop a Roll. Terry’s now back with us and currently recycling the grand days under the moniker of EXTC.  

Apart from the throwback Funk Pop a Roll, stuck on the end as a bit of an anomaly, we’re very much rooted in a past guided by the seasons and the elements – Great Fire, Deliver us from the Elements, Me and the Wind.   

“Several tracks are a bit summer hazy, slightly queasy, we’ve seen Wickerman too many times than is good for us …”

Mummer’s two key tracks present the two sides of the same pastoral coin. Love on a Farmboy’s Wages is one of Andy Partridge’s sweet love songs and is echoed on the album by Ladybird and, to an extent, Wonderland. But Wonderland also contains that other, darker side to nature. Several tracks are a bit summer hazy, slightly queasy, we’ve seen Wickerman too many times than is good for us, exemplified by Human Alchemy. Human Alchemy is a wee bit disturbing to be truthful, particularly musically.   

That feel doesn’t end with Human Alchemy. Both Beating of Hearts and Deliver us from the Elements both have that same unsettling quality to them. We’ll visit this neck of the woods again – think Summer’s Cauldron from Skylarking.  

The strength of the shift from town to country, from present to past leaks into other songs, like In Loving Memory, which when you listen more closely don’t actually fit into the pattern.  

Mummer is a fine album, but such an ostensibly quiet album was a shock to the system at the time. Maybe that is why I fell away for a bit. Maybe I wasn’t yet ready to give up the noise of punk and post-punk, I’m not sure that I ever have been. A bad decision in hindsight, it lost me a few years with a few great albums but did allow me the joy of rediscovery, prompted by FOPP bunging the compilation Fossil Fuel out for a fiver and finding the post Mummer singles as a gateway to those missing years. 

Top Tunes 

  • Beating of Hearts
  • Wonderland
  • Human Alchemy

Toppermost of the Poppermost 

  • Love on a Farmboy’s Wages

In case you missed it …

XTC's early releases
Singles and album from the White Music era

A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – White Music (1978)

Herky and, indeed, jerky. The sound of speed. 100mph. Non-stop. 

Singles and album from XTC’s Go 2 era
Singles and album from XTC’s Go 2 era

A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – Go 2 

Probably the most unloved XTC album and probably rightly so. The second album of the year and it shows. (1978)

Singles and album from XTC's Drums and Wires era
Singles and album from XTC’s Drums and Wires era

A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – Drums and Wires 

Ah, that’s better! Preceded by the criminally neglected single, Life Begins at the Hop, Drums and Wires is a really good album. (1979)

Singles and album from XTC’s Black Sea era
Singles and album from XTC’s Black Sea era

A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – Black Sea

Is this my favourite XTC album? Not quite, but we’re almost there on our journey through Swindon’s finest’s back catalogue. (1980)

Singles and album from XTC’s English Settlement era

A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – English Settlement

English Settlement is the pivotal album for XTC with both cover and name signalling a shift in perspective for the band. A shift from suburban to countryside, from contemporary to timeless.   (1982)

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