Colin Moulding (left) and Terry Chambers, as ‘TC&I’. Photo credit to Geoff Winn.
It is a peaceful, sunny Sunday evening. Looking out of the window, I am able to cast my eye over what is surely some of the most beautiful countryside in the county, if not the entirety of England; clear blue skies, a patchwork of fern-green and bangle-gold fields weaving their way into the distance, framed like a postcard by the cascading leaves and branches of trees that mark the edges of the surrounding woodland. ‘Picturesque’ is the first word that comes to mind, swiftly followed by ‘idyllic’ and ‘serene’.
Very soon, the view is accompanied by the sound of the delightful Wiltshire tones of a certain Mr Moulding. Colin Moulding to be exact, who is ex-bass player, songwriter and vocalist (the latter two duties shared with bandmate Andy Partridge) with one of the most underrated bands in history, XTC, and purveyors of fine tunes such as ‘Making Plans For Nigel’, ‘Life Begins At The Hop’ and ‘Generals and Majors’ since the band formed in the early ‘70s, and until they went their separate ways in 2006.
Ever the gentleman, Colin kindly agreed to talk to The Sound Of The Crowd about his current project with ex-XTC drummer Terry Chambers (known as TC&I), as well as songwriting, playing live for the first time since 1982, and all manner of things in between...
The Sound Of The Crowd: Obviously the reaction to the recently-announced TC&I gigs [a four night run later this year at Swindon Arts Centre] has been immense, particularly on social media...they sold out incredibly quickly. Was this the reaction you expected?
CM: Not really! I mean, about a year ago I went to an XTC convention that I was told could have sold out ten times over which also surprised me. But that was what sort of got me thinking about whether people would like to see a gig.
TSOTC: Particularly as this will be the first time in over thirty five years, or even the first time ever that some of these songs have been played live, I suppose?
CM: Oh yes. Obviously because of XTC not playing live [after 1982], once you’d recorded a song you sort of said goodbye to it in a sense, so to revisit some of them has been interesting.
TSOTC: Can you tell me a bit more about the band you’ll be playing with?
CM: Well we were recommended musicians by a guy called Stuart Rowe who mixed our EP [‘Great Aspirations’, released in November 2017 and TC&I’s debut record]. He asked if we’d want to be playing with local guys, and considering the logistics of it in terms of rehearsals I said yes, that was probably the way to go. So he recommended Steve Tilling, who’s done some stuff with [ex-XTC guitarist] Dave Gregory, and Gary Bamford.
My first association with Gary had actually already been about a year beforehand when he was playing keyboards for a local musical. [At the time] I’d thought he was very good, so when Stuart mentioned his name I thought, oh yes, we’ll have him.
TSOTC: How are you finding rehearsals for the gigs so far then?
CM: I’m enjoying them. XTC were a band that never really rehearsed in that way, so it’s quite refreshing. A bit of a new experience in a sense, so I’m still getting used to it. So far it’s actually been only three of us as Gary is up in Edinburgh playing at The Fringe festival, but once he’s back we’ll hopefully really get going.
TSOTC: In terms of the EP itself, am I right in thinking that you already had the songs written when Terry Chambers came back from Australia?
CM: Three of them were written. We needed another one and it got to a point where we were quite desperate. I’d had this chord sequence for a while though, and... [pauses]. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the song ‘When I’m Dead and Gone’ by a band called McGuinness Flint?
CM: Well it was sort of based on the idea of that song, leaving someone behind when you go. Anyway, that chord sequence ended up becoming [lead track from the EP] ‘Scatter Me’. I sent it to Stuart Rowe and said ‘what do you think of this?’ and he said it was the best song out of the four!
TSOTC: Did the finished songs sound how you’d expected them to originally?
CM: Well the three that had already been written had been demoed before with another drummer but I wasn’t happy with them...I knew I was looking to take them in a slightly different direction. ‘Scatter Me’ was more organic whereas the others were a bit more orchestral.
TSOTC: Who would you say are your greatest influences in terms of songwriting?
CM: I’ve always been influenced by the proper ‘composers’...Brian Wilson, The Beatles, Jimmy Webb...I think it’s important to have a good musical idea that underpins everything. I’m not one to ‘jam’ stuff...I know some bands do and if that works for them that’s great, you know, but I wouldn’t subscribe to that way of writing.
TSOTC: Do you think your songwriting methods have always been the same then, or has that changed since you were in XTC? Is it the lyrics that usually come first for example, or the melody?
CM: Well nowadays I can write songs in bed, with a keyboard plugged into a laptop! I definitely can’t do it at the same rate as when I was 23. My mind is occupied thinking about other things now, I suppose. But personally I think ‘Scatter Me’ is the best thing I’ve ever done.
In a way I think a lot of the writing that took place on the EP came from that ‘old life’ so to speak...experiences taken from when I was younger, but maybe formed in a different way from how I used to do it.
And it’s nice when the melody and lyrics develop together...I try not to let one get too far ahead of the other. The way I write, I like to underpin it all with good musical ‘composition’, subtle chord changes, things like that. You have to have a certain amount of tension...it can’t always be ‘sweet’. If you have a very ‘sweet’ melody you have to counteract that with something to make it...well, ‘bittersweet’ I suppose. That’s a direct route to people’s hearts, I think.
TSOTC: ‘Bittersweet’ is a great way to describe a lot of XTC’s material, I think.
CM: Yes, I think it sums up quite a lot of what we wrote.
TSOTC: Have the experiences of the last few months been enjoyable? Has it made you want to record more, a whole album for example, or has it had the opposite effect do you think?
CM: I enjoyed making the EP immensely. It’s been great recording with Terry again...he’s really light and jokey...although he can be a miserable git sometimes as well! [laughs]
To be honest I think we made the EP knowing that we probably wouldn’t make an album. We don’t really have that time anymore...being the age we are we want things to happen slightly quicker.
I am looking forward to the gigs too. I just hope we live up to expectations!
TSOTC: I’m sure there’s no doubt at all that you will! People are getting really excited about them, I think they’ll just be happy to see you play. I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot, but do you know if the gigs are being filmed or recorded?
CM: I think they are being recorded...as a memento of the occasion. God knows it might be the last time we ever do this. But we will ask if people can refrain from filming...I just think if people are posting things to social media and others see it who haven’t been to a gig yet, it will take the wind out of our sails a bit. And some of us are looking a bit scurvy round the edges!
TSOTC: [laughs!] I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot as well, but do you think there is a chance of any more TC&I gigs? Maybe a small U.K. tour or something like that?
CM: We’ll see how these gigs go. Obviously with only releasing an EP so far, what we don’t want to do is make something out of what is really very little!
Personally I never enjoyed touring, that sort of lifestyle didn’t suit me. At the time I had young children as well and I missed out on a lot of their childhood. Now I’ve got grandchildren who are 5, 6, 7...I don’t want to miss out the second time round as well.
- - - -
The Sound Of The Crowd would like to say a huge thank you to Colin Moulding for taking the time to do this interview, as well as to Steve Tilling and Shauna McLarnon for their invaluable assistance.
For more information about TC&I, please visit: www.burningshed.com
Check out the official video for TC&I’s ‘Scatter Me’ here