Rolling back the years

Inspiral Carpets
Inspiral Carpets

NOT many bands have named themselves after Oldham clothing shops. And not many bands mixed heady psychedelia with tales of unemployment and homelessness.

But this was how the Inspiral Carpets came into being when they formed in Oldham in 1983. And this, after all, was ‘Madchester’, when Happy Mondays shows would become on-stage all-nighters and when the city’s musical headquarters was a little known club called the Hacienda.

And today, almost 30 years on, the band has reunited with its original frontman – Stephen Holt – to play a series of dates across the globe ahead of a possible new album later in the year.

Barely adults back then, its members are now, of course, somewhat more grown-up. Clint Boon, the man behind the Inspiral’s defining organ sound, is more likely to be in Sainsburys than into psychedelic mayhem, but nonetheless is keen to revive the band as it was when it first started.

“We got back together in 2003 after a nine year break but our frontman Tom Hingley went last year, so we decided to get Stephen in. We’ve gone back to chapter one in how we make music.”

The band will return to its garage sound of the early Eighties. Throughout its career, the Inspiral Carpets has released four studio albums and a string of singles, including the semi-psych-sounding This is How it Feels, which was about the troubles of a family after the father loses his job.

The Inspirals fused the grittiness of post-industrial Oldham with the exotic soundscapes of San Francisco. “I’m not sure how that happened,” said Boon, to the sound of a supermarket check-out in the background. “I have spent most of my life investigating different music but really it was through punk and listening to the Stranglers that opened up the way for bands like The Doors and that in turn opened up the way for a lot of psychedelic stuff so a lot of bands came into my life on the back of that.”

At the same time, another small Manchester band, known as The Stone Roses were also discovering gems like the Stranglers and sixties psychedelia such as the Chocolate Watchband.

But this discovery of psychedelia, which was key to the Inspiral Carpets’ sound, was also a generational phenomenon, as teenagers across the country were pillaging their parents’ record collections.

“As a generation of young people being raised in a working class background we were exposed to lots of cool music. When I was a kid my mum and dad had all the early Beatles records, Burt Bacharach and musicals like West Side Story and these records meant that I appreciated music.”

But the way we listen to music today, in the digital age, has of course changed. “Now kids listen to music on YouTube, they’re not going on a journey that lasts about 45 minutes. “

This cultural shift has influenced the way in which the Inspirals is recording its new material. “We are doing it one track at a time. We’ve recorded four new tracks in about 16 months, we’re just not planning on an album but I am sure that it will end up being one but at the moment it’s just track by track.”

But while musical trends have changed, the issues that shaped the Inspiral’s early lyrics are very much the same. “Songs like This is How it Feels were inspired by working class families – we were taking these issues and writing about them in songs. Sackville is about prostitutes on Sackville Street and Joe is about a homeless person I knew.”

Not all Inspiral Carpets songs are about gritty social issues, however, as Boon explains. “Our songs are about all sorts of things, including space rockets. That’s another thing that’s part of my generation – space travel.

“That’s what we’d stay up to watch on telly – man going to the moon, like kids do the X Factor now.”

Boon isn’t just responsible for the Inspiral’s swirling organ sound. He was also the man who got Manny the job as bassist for the Stone Roses. “We were pals with the Stone Roses and I remember going into a pub one day and seeing John Squire and Ian Brown sitting there looking really dejected. I asked them what was wrong and they said they needed a new bass player. So I said I’d keep my ears open. Anyway, I saw Manny’s sister in town the next day and I told her that Ian Brown and John Squire needed a bassist.” The rest, of course, is history.

Boon recalls the 1980s Madchester era with fondness. “It was a very colourful time. There was the ‘Mondays Quarter’ of Manchester where the Hacienda was and that was just brilliant to watch but you wouldn’t want to be involved. Watching the Happy Mondays on stage was like a watching a massive party. They would stay on stage until they dropped.”

But there’s no dropping off for the Inspiral Carpets, as they prepare for the opening gig of their full UK tour at the Leadmill on Saturday.