Great Aspirations: Colin Moulding Talks

Reuniting with drummer Terry Chambers, the XTC bassist is here to talk about his newest project, TC&I.

To all intents and purposes, Colin Moulding has been retired for ten years from the public eye, writes Eoghan Lyng. Yet, now, he’s back with a brand new E.P. What’s better, it’s a perfectly splendid collection of songs! This sees Moulding reunite with XTC drummer Terry Chambers (it’s credited to the moniker TC&I), the first time they’ve played on a record together since 1982’s Mummer.

The debut EP by TC&I sees Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers put their XTC past behind them in order to create some truly original music (well…maybe and nod and a wink here and there….).

As a teenager of the 1970s, is it reasonable to assume Paul McCartney was a formative influence on Colin Moulding as a bass guitarist? “McCartney was both a bass playing influence and a song-writing one”, Moulding replies. “He was one of my heroes and I wanted to name some of my heroes on the new record. I wanted to put in David Lean, but it didn’t fit the rhyme of the song”.

Colin Moulding, best known for his bass work with XTC, is one of the most underappreciated singer/songwriters of his generation. He was the second songwriter in XTC’s camp and although not as prolific a writer as vocalist/guitarist Andy Partridge, it was Moulding, not Partridge, who wrote early XTC radio classics Making Plans For Nigel (1979) and Generals and Majors (1980), the latter of which features an irreverent cameo from Richard Branson in its music video.

“What the hell was he doing there?” Moulding laughs down the phone. “But seriously, we were about to go to Australia and Generals and Majors was chosen as the single. We realised we didn’t have a video and time was running out. We were at Branson’s manor, where there were BBC cameras filming, and we told him we needed a video, and he said he’d ask the BBC crew to film one just here! So, the bouncy castles in the video, those had been there before XTC came to the manor. Branson looks very cheery in the video, I must say.”

Critical darlings, more than band du jour, XTC were still one of the best New Wave bands of the late seventies/early eighties. XTC perfected the single from day one, and with Skylarking (1986) perfected the album format. A critical classic from the moment it was released (Creem magazine called it a “somewhat baroque and ethereally-textured collection” and Rolling Stone boasted it was “the most inspired and satisfying piece of Beatle-esque pop since … well, since the Beatles …”), Skylarking is one of the go-to cult records of the eighties, Moulding’s Grass and The Meeting Place perfect examples of post sixties psych-pop on an album both steeped in the contemporary and the retrospective.

Moulding is modest, attributing the success elsewhere. “I think a lot of it is thanks to Todd Rundgren, our producer. He was assigned to make the album, as the band wasn’t doing so well at the time. Andy and I sent him our demoes, and he sequenced it, structured it and said this is the record from the demoes. Cocky in one way of him. But Dear God, which was pulled off the album and then became a hit, was in Todd’s original running order. I know Andy had his grievances with him, but I have to say, Todd’s linear way of thinking helped the album and a lot of the success is thanks to him”.

XTC continued to write and perform music until sometime in 2006, where Partridge admitted in interviews that Moulding had seemingly lost heart in music, effectively ending XTC. To all intents and purposes, Moulding has been retired for ten years from the public eye. Yet, now, he’s back with a brand new E.P. What’s better, it’s a perfectly splendid collection of songs!

This sees Moulding reunite with XTC drummer Terry Chambers (it’s credited to the moniker TC&I), the first time they’ve played on a record together since Mummer (1982). What clicked with them? “Yeah, its thirty-four years, quite a break” he laughs. “Terry left XTC in 1982, he was getting married and he moved to Australia. Touring was a bit of a thing for Terry. He worked in the Australian Construction Industry for years. He gave up drumming for construction work- maybe there’s no difference between them [laughs again]. We’d meet at funerals and such, but we hadn’t been in huge amounts of contact in that time. Terry and I met up properly in August 2016, where there wasn’t a structure to the songs at that point, he came to my place to play and one thing led to another, and we decided to make an outfit of it. It was quite a fun record to make, there were saxophone players in my kitchen recording, all very local.”

Great Aspirations opener Scatter Me is a pleasant journey into the world of John Cale/Neil Hannon Baroque pop. “Scatter me fondly” Moulding intones, his Autumnal years evident behind the delivery and lyrical content of the song. “There’s been a number of bereavements, my mother in law, and my wife and I have lost two Jack Russells, so all those ashes are in our house, so it’s about the scattering, I suppose. Ashes are scattered and that enters the subconscious. I play piano on the track, with some help from Mikey Rowe, who also plays for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Mikey helped with the ornate stuff at the beginning of the song”.

Kenny enters into funkier forays, Moulding’s bass at its songful best, Chambers swung and hip behind the kit. Greatness (The Aspiration Song), as the title suggests, sings of attaining greatness, namechecking Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, George Gershwin and, of course, Paul McCartney in its three minute, fifty-three second run time. Lastly, Comrades of Pop, seems the most lyrically cutting, with pointed lines “It’s the guy who writes the hits/ who gets the money in this funny old world of pop/ the bassist and the drummer might be lucky/ they never seem to get a lot”. Is Moulding making a statement? “Some people think it’s about my problems with Andy, but really it’s a warning to the next generation of musicians. Try not to bring the money-people involved. It’s not really worth it”.

Chambers and Moulding recently participated, alongside XTC’s Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory, in a documentary entitled XTC: This Is Pop, a Sky Arts retrospective of XTC’s career (the documentary features a talking head segment of Stewart Copeland transmitting his gratitude to how XTC challenged punk and New Wave music, a testament to their repertoire). What was the documentary like from Moulding’s perspective? “Very flattering that it was made. There has to be a balance between factual information and entertainment. It’s mainly told through Andy’s eyes, the main character, I guess, with other talking head parts. It coincided with Terry coming back to the country, so cameras came into my house to film, not knowing we were recording. The documentary has just come out in America, around the same time as the record, so it’s all a nice coincidence really.”

Nice coincidence and a nice new project to boot.


❉ TC&I  – ‘Great Aspirations’ EP is available from PledgeMusic and Burning Shed, RRP £8.49.

❉ If you have a Sky TV account, you can watch or download the Sky Arts documentary ‘XTC: This Is Pop’ here.

 Eoghan Lyng is a writer, part-time English teacher and full-time lover of life. 

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