"I had a phone call from Dave Gilmour and he said, 'Would you be interested in coming down?' Former XTC man Colin Moulding on how he almost joined Pink Floyd

Colin Moulding
(Image credit: Press)

Out of the spotlight since XTC broke up in 2006, Colin Moulding found himself back in (music) business at the end of 2017 alongside former bandmate and drummer Terry Chambers in a new configuration called TC&I. So far, they’ve released a four-track EP, Great Aspirations, and have just done a handful of live shows in their hometown of Swindon. With Great Aspirations out now on limited 10-inch vinyl – and
a mighty 40 years since XTC released their debut album White Music – it was time for a catch-up with the celebrated bassist.

What’s TC&I all about? Is it a nod to the film Withnail & I?

[Laughs] I suppose the name is with Withnail in mind. Lovely film, isn’t it? Terry had been married and living in Australia, but divorced and came home. I had some songs I’d been working on when I heard he was back, so we went out, had a few drinks and
I sort of popped the question. It was quite well-received

It’s all very home-grown, isn’t it?

Yes, it was recorded in my music room and very hands on. When one was singing the other was working the controls, just two of us flying this plane. I’d recorded my voice before but I hadn’t much experience of recording other things. That was a learning process as one went along.

And you’ve released it yourself, with the help of PledgeMusic and Burning Shed?

I could have got assistance – I’m used to being signed to a label – but I didn’t. It’s a shock to the system, suddenly you’ve got to go out and get your own milk [laughs]. The DIY world is really nice, though. We had the CD out then somebody said, “You need to do vinyl, Colin.” Really? Oh, alright. So we are.

There are four songs on the EP. Comrades Of Pop seems pointed in the direction of XTC?

It’s not, it’s my outstretched hand is offering new bands a bit of advice. We’ve been singed. A lot of people get burned at the stake. Our manager was a very naughty man but we lived to tell the tale. Then when we left Virgin in ’87 and went into the independent label world, that was murky and a mistake. I thought, “Come back Virgin, all is forgiven!”

What about the track Kenny?

It’s about building on playing fields and asking where will the children play? We knew a Kenny at school who went on to play professional football. He played on the fields and waste grounds of old Swindon and nurtured his imagination there. I was the son of a caretaker at the biggest school in Swindon with the biggest playing field and it’s now been built on. The bungalow where we lived has gone too. The summers of ’69-’71 were idyllic, I’d go out of my gate and there were 10 acres of freshly mown field ahead. Not anymore.

Scatter Me sounds light and fun, but is quite heavy?

I wanted to prove that you can write about death and it would still be a positive thing. There’s been lots of poetry about death and when I read it, there was a connection for me. I think it sounds uplifting. Scatter Me also comes from a lovely walk I do outside Swindon. The Marlborough Downs, the Cotswolds, Uffington White Horse. It’s good exercise, but you also see these little shrines – a photograph, a posy – for people who also walked there. 

What were you doing before TC&I?

XTC fizzled out in 2006 when me and Andy [Partridge] had differing visions of how we’d like to see the band. It was a shock when it all ended. Expected, but a shock. It was like getting a divorce, you can’t take on a new love because you’re still betrothed to the old one in a way. I went into tailspin for a couple of years, wondering what the fuck I was going to do. So I didn’t do anything, I just sat and watched TV. I missed the human connection. It’s pretty soul-destroying working on your own. 

You did contribute to Billy Sherwood’s Return To The Dark Side Of The Moon project, though?

Oh yes, and that was good. Also working with Allyson Seconds and Anton Barbeau. I’m proud of those songs. I’ve never been one for being a hired hand, though. I didn’t want to be the outsider. 

You were asked to join Pink Floyd, too? 

They were looking for a bass player and singer as they were going out on tour. I had a phone call from Dave Gilmour and he said, “Would you be interested in coming down?” I said, “I haven’t toured for 25 years,” and there was a big silence at the other end of the line. They wanted to go out for a year and that’s just not me. So I said, “It’s very kind but I wouldn’t be interested,” and we left it.

Are you surprised that XTC are so loved by prog fans?

We dipped our toe in the warm waters of prog a few times. We’re not huffy about different areas of music, it’s all music, good or bad. It’s my background; I was a big Tull fan, and Atomic Rooster.

And for a bass hero, Chris Squire?

I was a Chris Squire fan, absolutely. We were working on Oranges And Lemons in LA and I was putting on a bass part and [laughs] you don’t want Chris Squire walking through the door at that point, do you? He stood in the doorway, this imposing figure, nodding his head. It was slightly off-putting, but I bore it as best I could. 

You’ve been partial to a pseudonym: The Colonel, The Red Curtain (in The Dukes Of Stratosphear)… what’s the appeal?

Most people do that as a slight disclaimer so if the whole thing explodes they can walk away from it with some dignity. It takes the pressure off, you can be anyone. One time, Andy and I thought about doing a bubblegum pop sampler. We thought, “Why don’t we invent 10 different groups for this?” Ludicrous, really. You go to the record company with the idea and their face just drops. The success of The Dukes was a shot across their boughs, though.

This article originally appeared in issue 93 of Prog Magazine.

Jo Kendall

Jo is a journalist, podcaster, event host and music industry lecturer with 23 years in music magazines since joining Kerrang! as office manager in 1999. But before that Jo had 10 years as a London-based gig promoter and DJ, also working in various vintage record shops and for the UK arm of the Sub Pop label as a warehouse and press assistant. Jo's had tea with Robert Fripp, touched Ian Anderson's favourite flute (!), asked Suzi Quatro what one wears under a leather catsuit, and invented several ridiculous editorial ideas such as the regular celebrity cooking column for Prog, Supper's Ready. After being Deputy Editor for Prog for five years and Managing Editor of Classic Rock for three, Jo is now Associate Editor of Prog, where she's been since its inception in 2009, and a regular contributor to Classic Rock. She continues to spread the experimental and psychedelic music-based word amid unsuspecting students at BIMM Institute London, hoping to inspire the next gen of rock, metal, prog and indie creators and appreciators.