Over the last 25 years Colin Moulding has been responsible for creating some of the most quintessentially "British" music of our times.

Over the same period only a handful of UK songwriters have documented life as eruditely - including Elvis Costello and Colin's partner in crime - Andy Partridge.

Following in the tradition of Ivor Novello, Noel Cowerd and Ray Davies - he has somehow managed to capture a middle England of social clubs, retirement cottages, urban decay and moral decline - where most of his contemporaries were not.

Colin Ivor Moulding was born in Gorse Hill, Swindon on August 17, 1955, second son (he has an older brother, Graham) to Charlie and Vera.

Unusually for the period, Colin's interest in music was heavily influenced by his father - a keen amateur singer - who avidly followed the early 1960's music scene and was a big fan of Bob Dylan and The Kinks.

At the age of 14 Colin and his family moved to a cottage in the grounds of Headlands School when his father became caretaker. Although a regular at local dances, he was not overly interested in music, preferring fishing and astronomy. However, in 1970 Colin Moulding heard the record that would change that forever: Free's "All Right Now."

After much persuading, Charlie Moulding reluctantly helped his son obtain his first guitar, a secondhand bass. The following year Colin was expelled from school for refusing to cut his enormously long hair; he soon earned the nickname "curtains" because his impressive mane covered his face like a pair of drapes.

Taking his first job as a milkman's assistant, Colin enjoyed the freedom that earning his own income gave him, and he soon became a regular face at local rock and blues concerts. Around the same time he bought a new and better bass guitar and became close friends with another local musician, drummer Terry Chambers. Colin and Terry (with friend Steve Phillips) decided to form a band together and, although unsuccessful, the two of them agreed to include each other in any future act that either became involved with.

Towards the end of 1972 Colin ran into Andy Partridge at Kempster's Music Store in Swindon. Colin's first bass came from the shop and had previously belonged to Andy's former Stiff Beach colleague Spud Taylor. The two had often crossed paths in the past and were soon talking about their musical ambitions. Partridge had just abandoned the first version of Star Park and Colin had yet to play with any form of professional act, but the two of them soon hit it off.

Said Colin: "I'd known about Andy for a long time. He was the type of person who drew attention to himself wherever he went. If you were a musician in Swindon you were bound to come across him sooner or later." Within a couple of months the two of them, plus Terry Chambers and Andy's friend Dave Cartner, started to rehearse together as the new incarnation of Star Park.

At about the same time Colin met Carol Evans at a local concert, and the two of them became virtually inseparable.

The new group played their first gig in May, supporting Thin Lizzy at Swindon College. Many of the audience were baffled at their attempt to affect a glam rock image, with most of their outfits handmade from jumble sale bargains, stolen from Andy's Mother's wardrobe or pasted together from cardboard and tin foil. Yet regular gigs followed - they supported heavy rock outfit Budgie and on May 25 headlined their own show at the Swindon Arts Centre.

The band soon became unhappy with their name. Andy was convinced that they needed something more "flash" and urgent, and so - in July they became Zip Code and the Helium Kidz before shortening that to the simpler Helium Kidz.

At this point Andy was writing the vast majority of the group's material, and his fascination with glam rock and space travel flavoured their set - "Saturn Boy," "Jet Shoes" and "Teenage Planet" amongst them.

As the group started to play to a wider audience they picked up a new vocalist, Steve Hutchins, but his "mockney" style and transatlantic accent were at odds with the band's style. However, Hutchins had a proper manager who could get the group dates outside of Swindon and was able to set up recording sessions.

In February - Colin and Carol married, their wedding brought forward when they discovered that Carol was pregnant. She gave birth to their son Lee in July.

The band were going nowhere fast. Hutchins did not fit, and the more cosmopolitan audiences of London thought that the "Swindon Dolls" version of glam rock was laughable. Those early demos show how poorly Hutchins' vocals fitted with the rest of the group. After much cajoling by the band, Steve Hutchins was out and Andy Partridge took over. Reduced to a three piece after Dave Cartner could not attend a recording session at Pye Records, the band approached local guitarists - including one Dave Gregory, but auditions did not go well.

Finally they settled on a young keyboard player by the name of Jon Perkins and another change of name - to XTC.

All the way through this period the members of the band kept up their day jobs. Colin left the milk-round and worked for a short time as a labourer before he became an assistant groundsman with Swindon Council.

With a young family to support it became difficult for Colin to balance the need for a regular income and still fulfill his duties within the band. In June 1976 the Mouldings moved into their new council house in Ferndale Road, Swindon.

Over the next six months the group's fortunes changed radically. They picked up a new manager and started to attract interest from record companies. The Punk and New Wave scene was emerging and A&R men were falling over themselves to sign up anyone different or quirky. Several other recording sessions followed and the band's momentum was building steadily when Jon Perkins suddenly quit to spend more time with his other group, the Stadium Dogs.

In desperation Andy answered an advert in the John Holmes Organ Centre for a keyboard player looking for a band. That evening after Colin, Andy and the keyboard player had got uproariously drunk together, Barry Andrews joined XTC.

Work continued to improve, with the buzz about the band getting greater and greater. Two sessions for CBS came and went and the label looked close to signing them but their Manager Ian Reid held out in favour of a better deal. In February 1977 Colin and Carol's daughter Joanne was born and in July the band finally signed to Virgin Records.

As XTC rose, Colin's song-writing skills became an integral part of their sound. In fact the band's earliest chart successes were with Colin Moulding-penned tunes such as "Life Begins At The Hop," "Making Plans For Nigel" and "Generals And Majors." Although writing around twenty-percent of the group's material, from the outset Colin had an innate understanding of what would make a hit single.

His bass style has often been compared to that of Paul McCartney or Sting. Colin's rolling, melodic playing added extra colour to XTC's palette and his willingness to experiment with acoustic and fretless basses gave extra depth to the band's music.

After XTC quit touring in 1982 the band's fortunes changed once again. On the brink of becoming massive worldwide, Andy's breakdown in France seriously damaged the band's career prospects. Colin, who loved playing live, found the change of pace difficult to adjust to and always hankered after a return to the limelight.

As Andy Partridge became an in-demand songsmith and spokesman for his generation, Colin started to settle into his enforced domestication. After early difficulties within his marriage, he became happiest at home with his family, writing a handful of songs whenever the opportunity to record came along. There was a marked change in his style, starting with his contributions to Mummer. Less desperate to write a hit, he started to hone his craft and write songs of more depth - such as "In Loving Memory of a Name" and "Deliver Us From The Elements."

In 1991 Colin, along with former band mate Barry Andrews, played a low-key gig supporting friend David Marx at The Queen's Tap public house in Swindon. After almost ten years away from the stage he was still a great live bass player.

Although often overlooked by critics due to the overwhelming canon of songs written by Partridge, over the next seven years Colin Moulding wrote some of XTC's most personal and introverted songs - "Dying," "I Remember The Sun" & "Cynical Days" amongst them. When, after the release of Nonsuch, the band were forced into a seven-year battle with Virgin Records, both Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory kept busy by writing, performing and producing other acts.

Colin has seldom stepped outside of the confines of XTC (save for the release of a solo single as "The Colonel" - his guest appearance as bass player of the 1995 album L'homme aux Milles Vies by Affaire Louis Trio and a 1994 album by Sam Phillips), preferring to spend time on his hobbies, making stained glass - etc. He also nursed Carol through a serious illness.

But these years were not wasted musically. XTC reemerged in 1999 with the awesome Apple Venus Volume One, a collection of songs that Andy and Colin had many years to stockpile. Colin's contributions to this album - "Fruit Nut" and the brilliant "Frivolous Tonight" - and to the follow up Wasp Star, reaffirmed his place as one of the leading commentators on the British way of life.

Colin Ivor Moulding has grown to become a national treasure.

© Darryl W. Bullock and Optimism's Flames