'This is Respectable Street!' —Nightclub’s namesake band humbled to play West Palm Beach show Nov. 4
Updated: Oct 14, 2022
ONE DAY LAST month, English drummer Terry Chambers was looking over the schedule of his band’s upcoming fall U.S. tour when the name of one particular venue jumped out at him:
Respectable Street in West Palm Beach.
“I couldn't believe it,’’ Chambers recalled the other day in a phone interview from his Swindon, England, home. “I thought, ‘Is this right?’’’
Chambers’ reaction was understandable: “Respectable Street” is the name of a landmark song by XTC, the influential post-punk pop band Chambers played for from 1972 to ‘83.
He wondered if the venue’s name had been omitted from the tour’s itinerary and that perhaps Respectable Street referred to an actual West Palm Beach road.
But he soon learned what many regulars at the popular downtown nightclub at 520 Clematis St. don’t even know: Respectable Street doesn’t just share the song’s name; it was named after the song by design.
On Nov. 4, Chambers will perform "Respectable Street" at Respectable Street with EXTC, a collaboration with three other musicians that pays homage to Chambers’ original band by playing live classics from the XTC songbook.
“That's just unbelievable, really,’’ Chambers said after this interviewer explained the club’s connection to “Respectable Street,’’ the lead track on XTC’s critically acclaimed 1980 album Black Sea, which showcased Chambers’ big-drum sound.
“I hope that we can do the venue justice when we play the song there,’’ he said. “It's going to be quite a humbling experience for me in light of the history of the place.’’
Patrons enter Respectable Street nightclub in downtown West Palm Beach in 2021 (Photo by Nicole J. Stephens for Sub-Culture Group)
Respectable Street in West Palm Beach
For Rodney Mayo, the ex-film student who opened the venue in 1987, naming the club after the XTC song was a poetic no-brainer.
When Mayo paid $200,000 for the building in December 1984, many friends thought he’d lost his mind. At the time, the 500 block felt like a demilitarized zone separating “downtown’s lawful daytime businesses to the east and illegal nighttime sales operations to the west,’’ as The Palm Beach Post described it in a 1988 story published eight months after the club opened.
“Prostitutes in the rooms above the stores across the street have hurled insults and worse at the cafe’s nighttime patrons. And less than three blocks away, at the corner of Rosemary Avenue and Second Street, you can buy crack cocaine,’’ The Post story said.
But Mayo, who was 23 when he bought the building, had a vision. He wanted to make it into West Palm Beach’s version of the cool music venues he visited in New York City, where his sister lived, and Los Angeles, where he’d attended Occidental College.
Mayo was a music lover who immersed himself in new and alternative sounds by bands like Joy Division, New Order, The Swans and XTC. And he didn’t just listen to the songs, he studied the lyrics.
As he worked on the renovations to his Clematis Street nightclub, at times looking the other way if homeless people walked off with his tools and supplies, he found comfort and irony in the lyrics of the XTC song.
Heard the neighbor slam his car door, don't he realize this is Respectable Street?... It's in the way their curtains open and close. It's in the look they give you down their nose…
“Respectable Street” is not as popular as other XTC songs like “Dear God,” “Senses Working Overtime,” “Mayor of Simpleton” and “The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead.’’
But in 1987, seven years after the song’s release, Mayo knew “Respectable Street” was the perfect name for his music venue, a nod to both the problems and potential of Clematis Street’s dubious 500 block.
“People were worried that I was making fun of the street because it was anything but respectable. But those lyrics were spot on. It just fit,’’ he recalled the other day.
“My mother said, ‘It’s going to fail because that’s the most ridiculous name ever – Respectable Street.’ That’s when I knew it was good, when everybody said it was a terrible name. Perfect: We’re calling it Respectable Street.’’
When the club opened June 5, 1987, music-starved hipsters lined up to get in, the first of what has grown into a loyal following eager for a hangout to call their own.
It also attracted media attention for boldly going where few businesses dared.
“I’m hoping we can turn this part of Clematis Street into an outdoor cafe area that will draw people downtown at night time,’’ Mayo prophetically told a Palm Beach Post reporter in 1988.
“But as far as the location goes, I don’t think it will stay depressed. If revitalization even starts, it will push the bad areas out.’’
Respectable Street in January 1988. (Palm Beach Post via Newspapers.com)
More bars and restaurants followed, including many owned by Mayo. The city poured millions into not one but two streetscapes. Brightline built its train station a block away.
Today, Respectable Street is among South Florida’s top music venues and the 500 block of Clematis is very much a respectable street, hopping both day and night.
Many regulars consider the venue a home away from home and affectionately refer to it simply as “Respects” or “Respectables” — even if they don’t know the history behind the name.
While the nightclub’s name remains the same, one early Respectable Street gimmick didn’t last very long.
“For a while, we played “Respectable Street” as a closing song,’’ said Mayo, who now owns 17 restaurants and clubs and five coffee shops from Miami Beach to Palm Beach Gardens.
“It was a tradition and then we stopped that. After like the first two years, it got really old.’’
XTC in 1979 (L-R) Colin Moulding, Terry Chambers, Dave Gregory and Andy Partridge (Virgin Records)
"Respectable Street" in Swindon, England
A few years before Mayo decided to take his first chance on downtown West Palm Beach, XTC frontman and songwriter Andy Partridge was standing in the front window of his apartment in Swindon, a town 80 miles west of London.
He was looking for inspiration. In front of him was a street called Boxwood Road, which would become his musical canvas for “Respectable Street.’’
“His bedroom window looked down the road. It was sort of like a T intersection. He noticed for long periods of time people had caravans (small RVs) in their driveways and yet they never seem to leave their front gardens,’’ Chambers said.
“That was all part of the lyrics. He sort of wrote a song about his visual experience of living in this flat, basically.’’
“Respectable Street” was “more of a song of people with double or hypocritical values. You know the sort, blind drunk one night, church the next,’’ Partridge told writer Todd Bernhardt, author of “Complicated Games: Inside the songs of XTC.’’
The song, partly inspired by a neighbor who banged on his walls when the music got too loud, is about "the hypocrisy of living in a so-called respectable neighborhood. It's all talk behind twitching curtains,’’ Partridge said.
The song’s lack of commercial success has been blamed on the BBC, which considered the lyrics too controversial. Partridge changed a few words — “contraception” became ”child prevention” and “abortion” became “absorption” — but he said said the BBC still refused to play it.
Thanks to hits such as “Generals and Major” and “Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me),” Black Sea caught the attention of U.S. audiences, peaking at No. 41 on the Billboard 200 as their most successful U.S. album and introducing Americans like Rodney Mayo to the song “Respectable Street.’’
“It's quite a strong, powerful song,’’ Chambers said. “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.’’
The song and album also highlighted the gated reverb big-drum sound pioneered by producer Steve Lillywhite and engineer Hugh Padgham, who went to work on Black Sea in June 1980 after finishing Peter Gabriel’s third album, Melt. (While making Black Sea, the producer and engineer received a test pressing of the Gabriel album. Vinyl scratches from the pressing can be heard during the 30-second intro to “Respectable Street.’’)
During the recording sessions, at the famous Townhouse Studios, Chambers and XTC bassist Colin Moulding referred to “Respectable Street’’ as “the wombat song” — “wombat” being the word they used to describe the powerful sound of the bass and drums in the opening phrase (after the record-scratch intro).
“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,’’ Chambers said.
“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.’’
Black Sea was followed up in 1982 by another landmark XTC album, English Settlement. Later that year, Partridge suffered bouts of stage fright that forced the band to permanently stop performing live, a factor that led to Chambers’ departure from the band. (One of the earliest instances of Partridge’s condition came during a live performance of “Respectable Street’’ when he walked off stage mid-song.)
Chambers moved to Australia and spent the next three decades with his wife. XTC transitioned into a studio-based project that ended in 2006.
Does Chambers have any regrets about leaving in 1982?
“It’s difficult,’’ he said. “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.’’
Rodney Mayo in 2016 at his West Palm Beach restaurant Hullabaloo (Photo courtesy West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority)
"Respectable Street" at Respectable Street
For the past 35 years, West Palm Beach’s Respectable Street has hosted notable bands big and small, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jesus and Mary Chain to surf guitarist Dick Dale and The Dead Milkmen.
In recent years, Mayo has tried to book personal legacy acts, such as Peter Hook and the Light for the venue’s 30th anniversary show. Hook is the former bassist for Joy Division and New Order, whose song titles Mayo has used for his companies and projects, such as the Subculture Coffee Roasters chain, Interzone Inc. and Closer magazine.
In September, he brought in Belgian electronic music band Front 242 for the 35th anniversary party. “Front 242’s (song) ‘Headhunter’ is the biggest dance song hands-down that we’ve ever played at Respectables,’’ Mayo said.
Even though the original XTC stopped touring 40 years ago, hosting the closest version of the band has long been on Mayo’s Respectable Street bucket list. He said he’s excited Chambers and EXTC are finally coming for a show that will honor the popular nightclub’s humble beginnings.
“It's good that we’re coming full circle,’’ Mayo said.
EXTC’s journey to Clematis Street sprang from a brief collaboration between Chambers and Moulding in a band called TC&I (Moulding’s cheeky acronym for “Terry Chambers and I”) from 2017 to '19. When Moulding decided he had quenched his creative curiosities, Chambers and TC&I guitarist Steve Tilling decided to continue with a band that would pay homage to XTC.
With Partridge’s blessing, EXTC was formed in early 2020.
EXTC: Steve Hampton, Terry Chambers, Matt Hughes and Steve Tilling (Dommett Young Photography)
EXTC played two shows in Swindon, England, in March 2020, marking the first time in nearly 40 years that XTC’s music was performed live with an original band member, before the pandemic forced a hiatus. EXTC was finally able to launch a U.S. tour in August 2021.
In March and April, they played 14 gigs in North America. The band’s fall U.S. tour kicks off Oct. 23 in Denver and includes other Florida shows in Tampa, Fort Myers and Gainesville.
Tilling handles lead vocals (which Partridge had done for XTC). On guitar is Steve Hampton, who has worked with Joe Jackson, The Vapors and Ashley Campbell (daughter of the late country star Glen Campbell). And on bass is Matt Hughes, who has played with Robyn Hitchock and Rick Wakeman.
“I am completely confident the band we are bringing there to Florida will deliver the goods,’’ said Chambers, 67. “You're only here once. You really need to grab any opportunity, I think, by the horns.’’
He said the reception from audiences so far has been both therapeutic and invigorating, reminding him of the energy of XTC’s earliest North American gigs opening for bands like The Police, The Cars and The Talking Heads.
Terry Chambers drums "Respectable Street" with EXTC in Manchester, England, in July. (Steve Tilling)
“I don't want to be in a situation where I sort of go out there and people go away thinking, ‘You know, he should have left it where it was.’ I want people going out there thinking, ‘Shit, that was a damn good show. You know what? I would have paid an extra 20 bucks for that show,’’’ he said.
“But that will be up to everyone who turns out in West Palm Beach and everywhere else. They can be the judges.’’
While he is quick to point out that the venues on this tour are much smaller than Madison Square Garden and Nassau Coliseum, he said he expects a special buzz and energy at Respectable Street on Nov. 4.
“The story about the beginnings of this club and how one thing led to another, it's going to be quite an emotional experience to be there. I’m sort of a bit stuck for words regarding this, really,’’ he said.
“It's quite staggering to think that's the way this thing came about,'' he said before bursting into a laugh.
"Yeah, Respectable Street, there in (what once was) a pretty seedy part of the neighborhood! I guess it just goes to show progress perhaps can be made.’’’
© 2022 ByJoeCapozzi.com All rights reserved.
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About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.