Published on October 16th, 2022

Dommett Young Photography

The influential English post-punk band XTC scored modest hits including “Dear God,” “Mayor of Simpleton,” “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” and “Senses Working Overtime” before disbanding in 2006. But one XTC song in particular has resonated in downtown West Palm Beach for 35 years, even if it never came close to topping the charts.

Respectable Street,” recorded in 1980, provided the inspiration and the name of the nightclub that an emerging promoter, Rodney Mayo, opened in a vacated Salvation Army building on Clematis Street in 1987, when “respectable” wasn’t anybody’s word for that neglected patch of downtown.

Scene-starved hipsters unfazed by the surroundings showed up, and new bars and restaurants followed. The city climbed aboard, pouring millions into a pair of streetscapes. Brightline built its train station a block away. Today, many locals consider the 500 block downtown’s beating heart. All because of a club and a song.

“That’s just unbelievable, really, the story about the beginnings of this club and how one thing led to another. I’m sort of a bit stuck for words, really,’’ original XTC drummer Terry Chambers tells PureHoney in a phone interview from his Swindon, England, home.

Chambers, whose playing powered that original track, brings his new band, EXTC, to the selfsame club on Nov. 4, wielding an XTC songbook full of apt hooks and biting British charm. (Retired XTC co-founders Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding have blessed Chambers’ project.) And “Respectable Street,” the song, is on the set list, says Chambers.

“It’s going to be a humbling experience in light of the history of the place,” he says. “I’m confident the band we are bringing there to Florida will deliver the goods.’’

Joining Chambers is singer Steve Tilling (from a Chambers-Moulding XTC spinoff TC&I), guitarist Steve Hampton (Joe Jackson, The Vapors) and bassist Matt Hughes (Robyn Hitchcock, Rick Wakeman).

Dommett Young Photography

A pair of EXTC shows in March of 2020 in Swinton marked a heady first time in 38 years that XTC’s music was performed live with an original member. A tour beginning in England got underway — and then the pandemic hit. EXTC finally made it to the States 17 months later, in August 2021. They are making up for lost time measured in decades. A new U.S. tour for EXTC kicked off in October and includes Tampa, Fort Myers and Gainesville.

Chambers was home in England talking to his agent in New York and looking over the fall dates when he spotted Respectable Street, West Palm Beach, Florida. “I thought, ‘Is this right?’” he recalls, “I couldn’t believe it. It’s just too ironic, really.’

Calling the club “Respectable Street” was a no-brainer, founder Mayo tells PureHoney, even if others close to him didn’t like the name and didn’t know the song or the band. “My mother said, ‘It’s going to fail because that’s the most ridiculous name ever — Respectable Street,’” says Mayo. “That’s when I knew it was good, when everybody said it was a terrible name. ‘Perfect: We’re calling it Respectable Street.’ ’’

“People were worried that I was making fun of the street because it was anything but respectable,” says Mayo. “But those lyrics were spot on. It just fit.”

The name outlasted some of the house traditions. “For a while, we played ‘Respectable Street’ as a closing song,’’ says Mayo, who now owns 17 restaurants and clubs and five coffee shops from Miami Beach to Palm Beach Gardens. “After like the first two years, it got really old.”

The club became a stop for bands on the rise (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Misfits, The Damned) and a home for indie, punk, alternative and electronic music.

Many regulars consider it their base and refer to it simply as “Respectables.”

XTC’s touring arc, ending years before the club opened, was short but noteworthy. They played L.A.’s legendary Whisky A Go Go and New York’s Madison Square Garden — the latter as an opener for the likes of The Police, Talking Heads and The Cars.

With Chambers on drums, XTC made five albums, including the influential and critically acclaimed “Drums and Wires,” “Black Sea” and “English Settlement.” A sonic feature was the gated-reverb, big-drum sound pioneered by engineer Hugh Padgham (who co-produced the Phil Collins hit “In the Air Tonight”) and producer Steve Lillywhite. (U2, Peter Gabriel, Morrissey).

“Fortunately for me, Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham just felt the songs we were doing at that point in time were pretty heavy in the drum sense,’’ says Chambers. “These guys had a vision: ‘Let’s drive this along.’ They just sort of bring this to the fore, this quite powerful sound. Fortunately for us, we were in a studio that was a stone room and it really gave the drums life.’’

“Respectable Street” opens “Black Sea” and rides on Chambers’ drumming. “It’s quite a strong, powerful song,’’ he says. “Arguably ‘Black Sea’ is my favorite album. It had a powerful sound about it. I think the band was at its peak at that point.’’

After “English Settlement,” Partridge suffered bouts of stage fright that grounded the band as a live attraction. XTC’s last show ever was at a theater outside Baltimore, Md., in May 1982. Chambers quit and moved to Australia, where he lived for the next three decades before returning to England. XTC transitioned into a studio-based project with Partridge and Moulding that made several successful albums, and then signed off.

Does Chambers have any regrets about leaving? “It’s difficult,’’ he says “Obviously Andy was in his situation and I wasn’t aware at that particular point in time that this was an illness rather than being a decision he decided to make. On reflection, the whole situation could have been dealt with a little bit better had we had better management and had sort of said, ‘Let’s take a backward step here and assess the situation before anybody makes any drastic decision.’ The situation without a doubt could have been dealt with differently, for sure.’’

Playing a song from XTC’s heyday at a venue with the same name will be “quite an emotional experience, thinking how all of this has taken place,” he says.

EXTC perform Friday, Nov. 4 at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach. https://www.extc.co.uk/ ~ Joe Capozzi
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