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Inspiral Carpets

One of Greater Manchester’s finest – if not best – combos to surface during the otherwise yuppie-defined mid-to-late-80s, the inspirational INSPIRAL CARPETS were the bees knees among the indie-pop/rock fraternity. A riveting Farfisa-doused, neo-psychedelic 5-piece, their music lay somewhere between ? & THE MYSTERIANS, The FALL and The TEARDROP EXPLODES. When the so-called “Madchester” scene broke out at the turn of the 90s, INSPIRAL CARPETS (Mk.II) yo-yoed in and out of the singles charts over a dozen times, whilst critically-acclaimed high-end parent albums – debut “Life” competed for top slot with MADONNA’s “Vogue” – hooked in fans forever and a day.
Formed 1983 (as The Furs), in the town of Oldham, guitarist Graham Lambert and singer Stephen Holt performed alongside drummer Chris Goodwin and bassist Tony Welsh (a replacement for Glenn Chesworth). The first of many personnel changes for INSPIRAL CARPETS came about in spring ’86, when 14-year-old Craig Gill replaced Goodwin (later of BUZZCOCKS F.O.C. and The HIGH).
Later that year, further modifications were underway, as brief recruit Mark Hughes made way for bassist Dave Swift; ex-INCA BABIES organ/keyboard-player Clint Boon upped the 4-piece to a quintet. This was the line-up – one assumes – that recorded a version of `Garage Full Of Flowers’ for a 7-inch flexi-disc given away free in January ’87 inside an issue of the Debris fanzine.
On the back of a 4-track “Cow” demo (recorded in May ’87) and gigs supporting The WEDDING PRESENT, The STONE ROSES, The HAPPY MONDAYS and SPACEMEN 3, the ‘Carpets – under the wing of indie Playtime Records – subsequently issued their official debut 5-track EP, `Plane Crash’, in summer 1988. Two main tracks, the John Peel fave `Keep The Circle Around’ and `Theme From Cow’, were released exclusively on 7-inch; minus the songs `Seeds Of Doubt’, the aforementioned `Garage Full Of Flowers’ and a timely cover of ? & THE MYSTERIANS’ `96 Tears’.
INSPIRAL CARPETS “axministered” their own “Cow” imprint; an idea that came about when their distributors, Red Rhino Records, went bust. February of ’89 saw a disgruntled Holt and Swift leave to form The RAINKINGS. They were respectively superseded by Tom Hingley (ex-TOO MUCH TEXAS) and Martyn Walsh (ex-Next Step). After a late-1988 “previous line-up” recording, `Train Surfing’ EP, was issued, the all-new INSPIRAL CARPETS recorded the 808 STATE-produced `Joe’ single/EP. A handful of tracks from their forthcoming debut LP had to be re-recorded.
A year on, after the “Dung 4” demo cassette appeared, and the single `Joe’ smashed into the indie lists, the ‘Carpets feathered the Top 50 with `Move’, which led to Daniel Miller of Mute Records taking on both band and their Cow enterprise; incidentally, the band also penned `The 8.15 From Manchester’ (theme) for a children’s Saturday morning TV show.
Around spring 1990, INSPIRAL CARPETS landed a Top 20 spot with earworm single, `This Is How It Feels’, a taster from their debut album, LIFE {*8}. To promote the outstanding indie record, the group employed the services of the Milk Marketing Board, who ran a TV ad on their bottles. One group that had plenty “bottle”, the ‘Carpets secured another Top 30 hit with `She Comes In The Fall’. One could almost cherry-pick from others, `Song For A Family’, `Directing Traffik’ and `Many Happy Returns’, where their next hit might emerge. In America, meanwhile, they inked a deal at Elektra Records, who belatedly issued the debut that October with bonus tracks (`Biggest Mountain’, `Gold Top’, `Weakness’ and `I’ll Keep It In Mind’) from the attendant `Island Head’ EP, in order to hook in astute fans looking for England’s brightest hopes.
A second John Peel session recorded that May and a Reading Festival appearance in August maintained a growing support for the Oldham tinklers; and by May ‘91 (previewed by the shoulder-shrugging `Caravan’ er… smash), THE BEAST INSIDE {*7}, shot into the Top 5. Although the jury was out on the 13-minute epic, `Further Away’, catchy chart indent `Please Be Cruel’ and `Niagara’ (at 7 minutes!) competed with The STONE ROSES, The CHARLATANS, HAPPY MONDAYS and several other burgeoning “Madchester” acts emerging from the proverbial woodwork.
With a further flourish of Top 40 singles already under their belt (`Dragging Me Down’, `Two Worlds Collide’ and `Generations’), the seminal INSPIRAL CARPETS only managed to reach No.17 with REVENGE OF THE GOLDFISH (1992) {*7}. Whilst ballad `Bitches Brew’ stirred up a similar chart ripple, there was slight criticism for Boon dumbing-down the Farfisa for a more synthesized approach.
A year of reflection in ’93, in which only `How It Should Be’ dented the Top 50, INSPIRAL CARPETS preceded a fourth consecutive Top 20 set, DEVIL HOPPING (1994) {*6}, with a couple of classic, back-to-basics 45s, `I Want You’ (co-starring The FALL’s Mark E. Smith) and the cosmic `Saturn 5’. The Farfisa organ that had projected Boon and the boys beyond mere stars, was back with a bang. Ironically, as the Britpop scene was beginning to shape up around their former roadie Noel Gallagher and his “Supersonic” OASIS “Starmaker” brigade, the genre forgot to invite the ‘Carpets to the party; in the kerfuffle, umpteenth 45 `Uniform’, just fell short of a Top 50 place.
After another subsequent stab at the charts for the sunny-side-up `Joe’, Mute Records gave them the heave-ho after a customary cash-in “Singles” compilation breached the Top 20. The whole episode seemed unfair and downright fickle for an act, not so long ago, was top of the pops.
In the aftermath, the man behind their trademark Farfisa organ sound eventually struck out on his own accord with The CLINT BOON EXPERIENCE! This spacey quintet released several 45s (two showing off operatic tenor Alfie Boe) and a pair of albums, “(The Compact Guide To) Pop Music & Space Travel” (1999) and “Life In Transition” (2000). Meanwhile, Hingley had emerged with locals, The Lovers; an enterprising indie supergroup of sorts that had in their ranks ex-LOTUS EATERS guitarist Jerry Kelly, until he was superseded by former FALL brothers Steve and Paul Hanley, among others.
The heady memory of the Inspirals was resurrected once again in 2003 via a reunion tour and a more comprehensive anthology. “Cool As” – featuring a revived `Come Back Tomorrow’(from 1995) – and including a bonus singles disc of lesser known tracks, entitled “Rare As”, also offered up a DVD of live clips and promos, “Spool As”. For the following several years or so, a sporadically touring INSPIRAL CARPETS dusted off the cobwebs from time to time.
In early 2011, the group looked to have hoovered up their last particle of support when Hingley was fired; pushed out, or whatever. Boon had his own frayed account on the matter in hand. Then, just as it looked all over bar the shouting, up popped original frontman Stephen Holt. With concerts extended to far off places like Greece and South America, a Record Store Day single (`You’re So Good For Me’) was given the green light the following April; `Fix Your Smile’ was added to their Discography CV exactly a year later.
Finally, after a long wait, the eponymous INSPIRAL CARPETS {*6} comeback album was dispatched by Cherry Red Records in October 2014; it reached No.63. Described as diverse and a little bit edgy, there was the psychedelic chug of `Spitfire’, and songs that recalled The DOORS, The BEACH BOYS, JOY DIVISION, or even R.E.M.; one track that stood out from the pack was their collab with Manc poet, JOHN COOPER CLARKE, on `Let You Down’.
All ‘n’ all, INSPIRAL CARPETS were now looking forward; not back. Then tragedy struck the whole band and their loyal fan base, when Craig Gill committed suicide on 20 November 2016; he was the youngest at only 44. Close friends of the drummer had spoke of his tinnitus, causing two decades of anxiety and insomnia. There was, understandably, uncertainty to the band’s future, but as yet they haven’t given up.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2018

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