Saturday, October 8, 2016

HARVEST/FALL: "Harvest Festival," XTC

Click and listen: Harvest Festival

When I was informed of the "Harvest" theme that was to take place these couple of weeks on Star Maker Machine, XTC's "Harvest Festival" immediately sprung to mind. And there's good reason for that: "Harvest Festival" is one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. It features a gorgeous melody that builds from a simple piano to a full-blown symphony of sounds, Beatlesque in the best sense of the word. Its beauty and honest grandeur never fail to move me.

If you'll forgive me a bit of overemoting, consider this: if you're not an XTC fan already, this may be one of the most beautiful pop songs you've never heard. I strongly encourage you to listen to it, not just read about it -- stop reading this now if you must, but listen.

In what I consider the Spring-to-Winter cycle of Apple Venus, the 1999 album it comes from, "Harvest Festival" lands, naturally, at the beginning of Fall. After the buildup to Summer ("Green Man"), the bursting forth of the fruit ("Fruit Nut"), and being brought back to earth after a summer romance ("I Can't Own Her"), we turn once again to the serious business of harvesting the crops, returning to studies, and preparing for the chill of winter. In some cases this means formalizing romantic bonds with weddings. As XTC's Andy Partridge has said about writing this song, he commingled the ideas of the harvest festivals of his childhood in England with marriage. (The harvest festival in Great Britain follows the summer holiday as children return to school, and is traditionally held on or near the Harvest Moon, the full moon occurring closest to the autumn equinox. Students bring in produce to display, and then distribute it to local people in need.) In a way, the song exists in two times at once: in Andy's childhood memories, and in the future, when he and his classmates have grown.

As "Harvest Festival" begins, the festival is called to order with a few piano notes and the sound of chairs sliding back as people stand (in this commingled imagining, both for the festival and for a wedding). Partridge recalls the beauty and tradition surrounding the festivals, mixed with the effects of youthful hormones kicking in, then moves forward through the end of those school years, losing touch, and then reconnecting as old schoolmates marry. In all, it's a cycle of life in terms of not only the harvest, but of growing up as well.

See the flowers round the altar
See the peaches in tins 'neath the headmaster's chair
Harvest festival

See the two who've been chosen

See them walk hand in hand to the front of the hall
Harvest festival
Harvest festival
What was best of all was the
Longing look you gave me
That longing look
More than enough to keep me fed all year


And what a year when the exams and crops all failed
Of course you passed and you were never seen again
We all grew and we got screwed and cut and nailed
Then out of nowhere invitation in gold pen

See the flowers round the altar
See that you two got married and I wish you well