They never really were ‘cool as fuck’ but then that was the joke they were playing on themselves. Oldham¹s biggest ever band – The Inspiral Carpets never needed to be cool, but that doesn’t mean they should be written out of pop history. Says John Robb, furthermore they were very much part of the Baggy Manc crucial three in the late eighties selling out the huge GMex in city centre Manchester and enjoying a run of hit singles that actually out lasted their fellow travellers the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays.
The Carpets were a great a garage band. Garage as in the old sense of the word, roughshod guitar driven pop- tight, sharp, short songs and loads of ‘em. They were never pompous or overblown and with Clint Boon¹s motif keyboard at the fore they had a distinctive powerful sound.
The Inspiral Carpets are one of those great English singles bands. Up there with Madness or the Kinks or The Buzzcocks- those effortless purveyors of a machine gun rush of fine three minute statements. Pop music as moments in time- listen to the Inspirals singles now and you are instantly transported back to baggy flares, loose tops, Manchester as the fashion leader and a whole youth boom that was as big and as much loved as punk rock had been in the late seventies.
In the late eighties and early nineties The Inspiral Carpets played the pop game perfectly. For some the Inspirals were the outsiders- the runts of the baggy litter but try telling that to the 14 000 who rammed into GMex to see them in 1990 or to the legions of fans who used to parade round town on Saturday afternoons in their ‘Cool as Fuck¹ t shirts and Clint Boon bowl head mops.
The greatest pop music always comes from the least likely places and the Inspiral¹s roots in Oldham and east Manchester served them well. They were from the same streets as the bulk of the new baggy pop generation- it gave them an edge.
Hardly bandwagon jumpers they were playing their psychedelic punk pop in the mid eighties way before anyone was putting the ŒMad¹ into Manchester. They had the trippy light show, the short snappy songs and the frazzled fringes of prime time garage gonzoids. Their early shows (double headers with the Spacemen 3 and key supports at the legendary Boardwalk) were attended by a tough looking scrum of post skinhead Perry boys who were decking themselves out on paisley shirts- it was a psychedelic revival but attended by a much more streetwise gang of ruffians than the sixties original.
Playing gigs almost every week at Manchester¹s Boardwalk they honed down their garage pop- making it more melodic and more exciting. Their anthem at the time was a cover of The Velvets ‘What Goes On¹ which they ended their set with stretching it out for a tantalising rush of guitar chords- an hypnotic wall of sound.
The Inspiral Carpets were out on their own in Manchester- representatives of a psychedelic garage pop scene that flourished in other cities like Liverpool that had always had a strong tradition of bowl headed sixties fused garage bands
In Manchester the scene was more post Factory and foppish jazz singers- with some crucial exceptions like the Happy Mondays- an unlikely signing to Factory Records. The Mondays ware a ragbag crew of misfits with a sound all of their own- a sound that no-one was really picking up on as yet whilst the Stone Roses were getting disowned by the city¹s consengeti after their graffiti campaign- there was no inkling of a baggy scene- a pop movement coming out of Manchester. The city¹s music scene was dominated by The Smiths who were in their pomp with a run of great singles and classic perennials New Order and The Fall.
The Inspirals were just another bunch of local hopefuls but they already had their won definitive schtick.
³We were already experimenting with a light show- we had psychedelic slides- it was always important for us to have the full show and that marked us out from most local bands.² notes Clint Boon.
The band¹s roots go back into the mid eighties. With a series of little known Oldham based bands gradually coalescing at shameless pop fanatic Clint Boon whose ambition was to be as big as Elvis¹ who had a rehearsal room – The Mill. Boon himself was already in a band named after his rooms- a band that boasted The Roses baseman Mani in its ranks and even auditioned Ian Brown one afternoon.
³Ian Brown and Andy Couzens turned up at the Mill. Mani had asked them along for a jam- this was before the Stone Roses had got going. They listened to our music and left before they did anything, ² laughs Boon, adding ³we were pretty experimental at the time- like Einsterzende Neubaten or something and I think they wanted something more melodic than that.²
The motley crew from Oldham way who had been using his rehearsal room included guitarist Graham Lambert- a familiar face from the early eighties Peel band music scene and a hyperactive kid drummer called Craig Gill and original Inspirals vocalist Stephen Holt as well as original bass player David Swift.
³They asked me to record a demo on my 4 track and I added some keyboards- it all led from there…² remembers Clint.
Clint¹s keyboards gave the band a different edge. They made the jump from being a local band to being a pop band; it was the icing on the cake.
The early demos like ‘Waiting For Ours¹ and Songs Of Shallow Intensity¹ showed the Inspirals sound ready formed- the melodic nous, the sixties schtick and the punk edge all fully formed.
In 1987 their debut ‘Garage Full Of Lowers¹ flexi disc was released as a giveaway with local fanzine ‘Debris¹. It continued to showcase their knack for great melody with a tight hard guitar backing.
The Inspirals work rate was beginning to pay off- they were already gigging hard- building up their following. In Manchester the scene was changing. At the tail end of Œ87 The Roses and The Mondays were moving up a gear and although no-one would ever lump the three bands together at the time in hindsight there was a drift towards drug fuelled sixties pop with a punk edge from all three bands.
The Inspirals were ready for the next step up- a record deal.
Playtime records- a budding local indie label set up by local journalist Paula Greenwood signed the band- it as the first of series of step ups for them.
The following year their first single proper ŒPlanecrash¹ EP on Playtime Records showcased their garage pop perfectly- the spunky melancholic pop that was to be their hallmark throughout their glory years. It also saw them getting plenty of Peel play. They looked to be the first band to break from the new look late eighties Manchester scene. Pundits excitedly whispered that they could be as big as the Wedding Present, sorta like a John Peel band that actually sold records. Maybe if the Inspirals broke out on the national circuit then The Roses et al could follow in their slipstream.
They were out on the toilet circuit touring hard and looked set for big in the indie charts¹ status that was the trap for most non mainstream bands of the time.
It’s important here to remember how tough it was for guitar bands to crossover in the eighties- most great guitar pop like Jesus And Mary Chain seemed forever trapped at number 41 in the charts- a chart position that was a bit of an in joke for most bands and although the Mary Chain eventually had bigger hits along with The Smiths and New Order- few bands of that ilk could swan in and out of the charts like they would eventually do in the late eighties and in the mid nineties Britpop era.
The Inspirals were in many ways one of the pioneers of the ‘great indie crossover¹- when every indie band seemed to be able to hold their own in the top forty- and with one single out and firm John Peel faves, they seized their opportunity with hard grafting Oldham hands.
Always the astute business heads the band started their own label, Cow Records, for their second proper release- the ‘Trainsurfing EP’ which consolidated them on the indie circuit. It was the last release with Stephen Holt singing and David Swift on bass. Stephen Holt left on good terms to be replaced by Oxford refugee Tom Hingley. Tom¹s smooth voice and clean cut pop star looks was, along with newly arrived bass player Martyn Walsh, the last pieces of the jigsaw. Hingley was already known on the local circuit- his band Too Much Texas were always getting mentioned in dispatches and although they never really broke though they were one of the many also rans of the time. Another person who went to the auditions was a cocky yet shy kid from Burnage.
Noel Gallagher might have failed the audition but he was retained as the band¹s roadie learning the rock n roll roped with Inspirals endless world tours.
It seemed the band were going to be a big underground band at that point but it was going to get far more doolally than that. The world was changing. Pop was changing. In one of its perennial about turns the pop rule book was getting re-written. Acid House seemed to be everywhere- everyone was going psychedelic even if they didn’t like the dance craze and guitar bands who were a little bit woozy and had light shows were storming it. Even the kids who hated acid house were looking for something a little more psychedelic and in that classic British way of making the past seem like the future people were endorsing the psychedelic pop that was coming out of Manchester.
The Roses and The Mondays became a pop sensation and the Inspirals were the final cornerstone in the triumphant Manc trio who were The sound of young Britain in 1989/90.
Next single ‘Joe¹ just missed the top 40 and the band were picked up by Mute Records. The extra impetus of the bigger label tuned them into chart regulars and their April 1990 debut album ŒLife¹ just missed the number 1 spot. ŒLife¹ is the sound of a band buzzing with ideas- a debut album that captures the heady idealism and pop excitement of the period. It caught the whiff of Manchester at its party central best. Its songs were mini anthems to the second summer of love for the legions of kids into the baggy clobber who were not into the rave scene but wanted a slice of the new psychedelic vibe.
With the whole band contributing to songwriting their Farfisa Compact Duo keyboard driven sound was now cutting the spunky melancholic pop that was to be their hallmark throughout their glory years.
A triumphant run of singles, a tough nonstop world tour schedule and a smart handling of the media saw the Inspiral Carpets right at the vanguard of the new order.
The Inspiral Carpets were everywhere- their goofiness made them more lovable, their staunch Oldham roots (a couple of Oldham Athletic season ticket holders in the band) made them closer to their fans, they had the gritty sense of humour and down to earth appeal that cemented them right in the middle of the biggest working class pop movement for years and in Clint Boon¹s haircut they had their photogenic image- the number of live shots of that mop with the psychedelic light show beaming out of it is endless!
Oh and the live gigs were fantastic- great guitar pop rushes, never forgetting the adrenalin rush of punk rock and combining it with sixties hooks and that Farfisa pumping away they were all at once tune laden and euphorically exciting live- the gig were awash with beer and good times and they started the rise up the circuit ladder- all the way to festival headlines and Manchester¹s huge GMex centre- the converted ex Central station that was the key venue in Manchester big time boom.
GMex seemed like the regular local gig at the time – with all the big Manc bands swaggering through the venues grand Victorian shell.
The Inspirals may not have been the kings of the E scene like The Mondays or the coolest band in the world like the Stone Roses but no-one could deny their effortless knocking out one great pop tune after another.
This was their glory period- anthems like ‘This Is How It Feels¹, a virtual residency on Top Of the Pops and the classic Reading festival headline and that sold out GMex show- and then the master stroke of the ‘Cool As Fuck¹ T shirt- the Inspirals were one of the biggest bands in the country.
The Cool as fuck T-shirt was a brilliant masterstroke. No-one put ‘fuck¹ on their T-shirts at the time and that combined with Clint Boon¹s frankly daft hand drawing of a spiffed up cow- the t shirt became a massive hit in the second summer of love- starting off as the cool kid¹s shirt and ending up everywhere- it also opened up yet another revenue stream for the band and the money raking merchandise boom was born with every band in the land bunging out a whole series of T shirts.
This was the Inspirals glory days- their ugly mugs were never off Top Of The Pops and they even graced the pages of girlie pop mags. It all seemed very effortless.
But the clouds were appearing on the horizon and the Manchester scene had its two year run and was dying in a hail of bullets and gangsterism. Where the clubs had been exciting and fun a couple of years before they suddenly seemed edgy and dangerous, the drugs didn¹t work anymore and smack was fast replacing E as the drug of choice. The inevitable crash and burn of a pop scene would have a knock of effect for the Inspirals and the hits were getting harder to come by.
Their second album April 1991¹s ‘The Beast Inside¹ was a darker affair but spurred on by the high pop profile of the Inspirals still reached the top 5, whilst October 1992¹s 3rd album ‘Revenge Of The Goldfish¹ was a surprise lower seller reaching only 17 in the charts- despite being stuffed with classic Inspiral singles and big hits like the feisty ‘Dragging Me Down¹.
Post baggy The Inspirals may have a lower profile but they were still respected enough and held onto their large following. As the Britpop era started to flower the Inspirals seemed to find themselves a new audience- they slotted in pretty neatly as Madchester turned into Britpop.
In this pro guitar pop era where even radio one was playing guitar music and their ex roadie was the main man in the biggest British band since the sixties they inevitably had a renaissance with the fantastic ‘Saturn 5¹ and ‘I Want You¹ two of the best singles of their career. Great slices of garage rock n roll hinting at sixties ŒPebbles¹ compilations, dank eighties revivalism, sweaty party basements and punk rock energy. They even got the legendary Mark E. Smith from The Fall to sing on ‘I Want You¹ and onto Top Of the Pops for his first ever appearance on the only pop show that matters.
³That was crazy week that was, laughs Noddy hanging out with Mark Smith was mental and when we did Top Of The Pops he drove all the people there crazy- they were insisting that we had to do the show without Mark but we put our foot down.²
The Inspirals were back in business. The top twenty as there’s again. years after the Manc boom they were hitting the charts under their own steam but just when it seemed like they were going to storm it again they disappeared from view. March 1994¹s fourth album ‘Devil Hopping¹ was their swansong and saw them back in the top ten of the album charts. But Mute couldn¹t put another record out and the band fizzled out.
Their reformation is powered by a great new/lost single…. is a blessing. Too many British pop bands burn out before they get their pay day, and if this under-rated band that taught their ex roadie Noel Gallagher the ins and outs of rock n roll can get their
With Guitars hope that your all now fans of all things Inspiral. Tom Hingley & The Love are bringing The Beast inside album in it’s entirety, around the UK – after we caught the first night of the tour in Newcastle, I hope the 2012 tour adds even more dates.