One of the more unexpected and pleasant surprises in the music world this year was the announcement in September of a new EP recorded by former XTC members Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers. Not a complete reunion of the pop band from Swindon, England behind such indelible favorites as “Dear God” and “Making Plans For Nigel,” but exciting enough that hundreds of fans from around the world flooded the PledgeMusic page for this new project — named simply TC&I — to pre-order their first EP Great Aspirations.
Self-recorded by the pair, the four-song release nestles in comfortably with the many songs that Moulding contributed to XTC over the years. It’s a look at the rapidly changing world around him, expressed in “Kenny,” a barbed rocker that wonders about the fate of children losing their playgrounds to urban development, and on “Comrades of Pop,” a warning call to young musicians (“You start out high school buddies / and swear allegiance for all time / but when the checks come rolling in / it’s cash or I resign”). And he peers inward, appreciating his own mortality (the piano driven bouncer “Scatter Me”) and his still-burning hope to reach the heights of Paul McCartney and Alfred Hitchcock (“Greatness”).
TC&I is a small step back into the fray for Moulding. Outside of a few guest appearances on albums by prog-leaning artists like Days Between Stations and Billy Sherwood, the 62-year-old musician hadn’t made any music of his own since XTC came to an end. “I think for two years, I just watched TV!” Moulding remarks about his semi-retirement.
His and Chambers’ timing couldn’t be better, though, as a renewed interest in XTC has stirred up thanks, in part, to a campaign that their former bandmate Andy Partridge has undertaken to reissue the bulk of their back catalog and the arrival of This Is Pop, a documentary about the history and legacy of the group.
Here’s what Moulding had to say about reuniting with Chambers for the DIY project, the recent XTC documentary and whether they’d ever get back together.
It’s been a while since we’ve had some new songs of yours. What inspired you to finally want to write and record some fresh material?
XTC fizzled out in about 2006. We decided we weren’t going to make another record because I think it had run its course. We’d had a pretty good run up until then. Both Andy and I decided to call it a day. There was no official announcement but it was a natural thing just to give it up really. But something that’s been a big part of your life for so long, it takes a bit of getting used to. It’s almost like going through a divorce, I suppose. I think for two years I just watched TV! I was coming down off a huge hangover, I think. Then slowly I started to get back into it. Somebody contacted me from Los Angeles, a guy called Billy Sherwood. He now plays bass for Yes, I think. He was in-house producer for Cleopatra Records and said, “Would I do some singing on some projects?” I said, “I’m not doing anything at the moment so I may as well.” That went okay so he kept asking me back. Mainly it’s to do prog rock sessions with people like Rick Wakeman, Geoff Downes and all these sort of guys. So, I thought, well, prog rock’s not really my bag, but I’ll give it a shot. That was the story for a few years until Terry turned up back in the country. We went out together and got very drunk. I said, “Well, I’m messing about with a few songs of mine. Do you fancy having a go?” And then things began to take on solid purpose.
Did it help ease you back into it knowing you’d be working with Terry, who you played with in XTC for about a decade in the ‘70s and ‘80s?
It was probably something in the water, I think. He and I grew up together. We started playing together when we were 16, 17, and obviously we met Andy and the band took off. I guess there’s just some sort of synchronicity, maybe. It’s just the fact that he was born probably within one mile of where I was born, and he was born in the same year, in the same town. There’s an affinity there. There’s something about his foot lands on his kick drum that goes well with my bass note, I think. [Laughs]
Was it difficult at the time when Terry decided to leave the group while you were recording Mummer (1983)?
I think Terry was having a few personal problems. His wife is Australian. And we were making the record in England and she was over here. A combination of factors, really. It was just about the worst English that one could imagine. The spring of 1983 was probably the wettest spring in living memory. I think he was having problems with playing some of the songs. It wasn’t really his bag. A lot of Mummer is really light and folky. That’s not Terry, really. He decided, “Well, this is not for me, fellas. I’ve got a baby on the way. It would make sense if my wife and I go back to Australia.” It made sense for him.
I wanted to ask about a few of the songs on the new EP, starting with “Greatness.” Do you still feel like you haven’t accomplished great things?
I don’t know what it’s like in the States, but I just think lately that things have been dumbed down a bit. It’s, like, “Well, we’re all the same, aren’t we?” Well, we’re not all the same, are we? This dumbing down of standards. We can all fulfill our potential? Some people don’t. I’d like my lords to be very haughty. ‘Cause that means I can climb harder and bite and scratch and try and get up there with ‘em. That’s what I think about standards. If they set them really high, they shouldn’t be brought down artificially. That’s what makes the human race great. We’re all aspiring to attain great things.
What can you tell me about “Kenny”?
Oh, that’s very local. I’m not sure whether our American cousins will get most of it. There’s a lot of name-checking of local places. But basically if I had to sum this track up, it would be that Kenny is just the central character in the landscape. We’re building everywhere in England at the moment, on playing fields and waste grounds where people used to kick a ball about and attain great things. My beef is that we shouldn’t be building on playing fields. They’re sacred. We have this thing where it’s, like, “Well, we’ll build on the playing field but we’ll turn the school into an academy.” It’s a trade off. But an academy is just a school anyway. So, it seems to me we’re losing more than we’re gaining. And I think it’s a bit of ruse to just build and make money.
The last song on the record, “Comrades of Pop,” sounds like a bit of a jab at your experiences in XTC. Is that true?
That’s been leveled at me the last couple of weeks, but it’s actually not! People have been saying, “Well, it must be about Andy.” But it isn’t about Andy. It’s actually me saying to all the young kids coming into the industry, all the young popsters, “This is generally how things turn out. But what you mustn’t do is get involved with the money because they are going to make mincemeat out of you.” It’s just a passing on of the baton to the young people coming into the industry. Okay, a little bit of poetry set to music is not everybody’s cup of tea. I can’t understand that, but I thought, “It’s probably the only time I’m going to do it.” Especially to talk about the industry as well. I just want to put over a simple message in poetic form to all the young guys. My comrades.
The cover of the EP is a really interesting image. Where did that come from?
We thought we’d like to put something striking on the front and a little bit Quaker-ish. It’s actually part of my bedstead. I’ve got a brass bed. And because I tend to write in bed, I just plug the keyboard into a laptop and start tinking away, I’ve been staring at this emblem for about the last two years. So, I thought, “Why not put that on?” It’s a striking image and a little bit Quaker-y, in with the spirit of the record. A little bit humble.
How do you feel about the work Andy has been doing to release these deluxe editions of XTC albums?
Andy’s been firing them out, all this XTC stuff in a number of formats. Surely the barrel must well scraped by now, I’d say. The splinters must be coming up off the barrel. He seems to taken it on as his crusade in life. So, I don’t know. I’m glad we’re not bound for the bargain bins. I saw a Blondie CD the other day selling for three quid. I thought, “How much is the band getting out of that?” All this business is a damn sight better than that. I have voiced some disapproval over the years about the amount of demos that have gone on them. But he said, “Well, the fans want them,” and I said, “Surely the fans have had them already.” I would liked to have had a bit more say in how they’ve gone out. Generally speaking, I’m all up for it.
You also participated in the documentary about the band This Is Pop. How did you feel about the finished project?
I think it was pretty good. I mean, Andy was the central character which I felt was better for the story. The river has other tributaries as well, but I felt it was quite well done. Yeah, I quite liked it.
I feel like I have to ask whether you would ever consider working with Andy and Dave [Gregory, XTC’s longtime guitarist] again?
They say never say never, don’t they? It would seem unlikely, put it that way. If any of the others really voiced a concern that we should work together, I wouldn’t go out of the way of not considering it. It’s not breaking my heart, put it that way. I’m pretty ambivalent about it, really.
Now that you’ve gotten this first EP under your belt, do you and Terry have plans to make more music together?
We don’t know. We don’t know what we’re going to do from here on in. We’d like to do some more recording. It was quite novel recording the record. We did it ourselves in my garage. That’s principally where the bulk of everything was recorded. I took lines into the house to record saxophones. It was all very Joe Meek really. Saxophone players in the kitchen. Soprano singers under canopies. So it was very DIY. For that reason, I think we enjoyed it all the more. I think we’d like to do some more of that.