This article was first published on Louder Than War on 30 August 2012.
The Inspiral Carpets might have had an unsteady end to 2011 as singer Tom Hingley departed and founding member, and original frontman, Stephen Holt stepped back into place.ÃÂ
This year has been a phenomenal one for them as a band though; recording new music and rediscovering their original garage rock sound as well as playing headline shows, support slots for other Madchester big hitters Happy Mondays and as festivals by the bucket load.ÃÂ
Louder Than War sat down for a chat with Stephen and Martyn Walsh before their set at Kendal Calling back at the end of July.
It’s sunny Sunday afternoon, the last day of Kendal Calling 2012 and the festival goers are still full of exuberance.
Backstage a line of buses contain the headline acts for the day – We Are Scientists, Feeder, James and the Inspiral Carpets. Members of this final band spill out into the sunshine in search of showers to wash away an overnight and most-of-the-day journey to The Lakes after playing a festival in Kent the night before.
They’re relaxed, enjoying their surroundings and their weekend of festival performances. The band go in different directions to find cups of tea at the Tim Peaks Diner, to catch other bands, spend time with their families or talk to the press.
Later on stage they will stare out over a huge crowd gathered in front of the picturesque main stage and grin at each other as the fans chant ‘Boon Army’ and the traditional bellowing ‘moo’ between songs.
When LTW catches up with bassist Martyn Walsh and the band’s original singer Stephen Holt (who has returned to front the band after a 20 year hiatus where singing duties were carried out by Tom Hingley) before their main stage turn they both seem to be both a little surprised by, but also enjoying, the Inspiral Carpets’ renaissance.
Stephen enthuses about the rise of the band throughout 2012: “It’s been brilliant. We did our own tour back in March. Our first headline tour in about four or five years and then we went back out with the Happy Mondays in May.
“Since then we’ve been doing festivals, we did our own gig in Hebden Bridge a few weeks back which was a good one, but plenty of festivals.
“A really nice one in Brighton last night, a good sweaty one you know, in a small club. And plenty more festivals still to come later in the year.”
This band has a long history. Considered one of the main three bands of the Madchester movement, alongside fellow 2012 reformers Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays, the Inspirals have gone from garage band to baggy chart toppers as well as spending a few years in the wilderness living off their history for indie disco classics.
But since parting ways with Tom (and there’s a difference of opinion between him and the band about how this went down) and hooking back up with founding member Stephen in late 2011 they’ve found not only that there is still life in the old favourites but that they have an appetite for being back together as a band and are recording new stuff.
What lies in store beyond the summer of festivals?
Martyn, a quietly spoken but usually smiling solid presence is very definite: “We are going to keep recording. We’re going back into the studio, we definitely want to keep recording.
“We’re trying to keep things fresh and record it quite quickly without having it kicking around for too long. We don’t want to think about it too much, just lay it down.
“And maybe do another tour next year.”
Stephen, who has effortlessly stepped back into the band as if he’d never been away, is excited by the possibilities of what’s to come: “Yeah, we’ve got a couple of tour ideas. It depends which way we go though as we have got a lot of new songs.
“Do we tour, maybe one more time, doing old stuff or do we put the new stuff down, maybe release a couple of singles and then tour that? The stuff we’re recording is really great.”
Could it be that there is a new Inspirals album already percolating in the background and that 2013 will see not just a popularity with punters looking to relive those Madchester years but with a new crowd discovering the band for the first time? Have they been able to get any sense of this from the audiences turning up to their shows this year?
Stephen leans back in his chair, turning a pair of sunglasses over in his hands and smiles contagiously: “Everyone is asking us this and you have to be careful what you say.
“I said the other day that there were a lot more bald patches on show and I think the guys take exception to that! It’s a mix of people, of ages, though really.”
Martyn nods in agreement: “Definitely, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many younger people there are coming to see us.”
They fall easily into the conversation and it’s obvious that it’s the long standing, strong friendships which give off the air of relaxation as much as the confidence of a band enjoying success.
Stephen continues: “Whether or not some of them are offspring or siblings of older fans I don’t know but it’s great. I think it’s interesting though.
“An interesting thing with music, and we’re noticing it at our gigs, that you do have the older audience coming back to see us and take a trip down memory lane but because music is cyclical, you’ve probably a twenty year gap, and then things come back round.
“So, you’ve got kids now…not that I can call them kids, that’s a bit patronising…you’ve got your twenty year olds who are going back twenty years to the golden age of Manchester, Britpop and that.
“We were a part of that and people have picked up on it. It’s definitely a nice mix.”
Martyn interjects: “And I think because we are doing new songs as well that has re-invigorated it for everyone as well.”
Stephen thinks for a minute: “It’s weird though, Friday night in Brighton we played with Space, Cast and The Farm…”
Martyn picks up where Stephen trails off: “And Echo and the Bunnymen and James. The average age of all those bands, well, it’s older! Even if you don’t like them musically you’re going to know a few of their songs.
“But it’s testament to the quality of these bands and their music. If they weren’t any good they wouldn’t be being booked. I think it’s almost throwing the gauntlet down to the younger bands, it makes us put more of an effort into the performance.”
Thoughtfully, almost hesitantly, Stephen adds: “It’s one of those criticisms that’s thrown around isn’t it? Maybe not so much at us but the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays – that you’re stopping newer younger bands coming through.
“Well, you’re not, are you? If the young bands are good enough they’ll come through anyway.
“If they’re good enough people will go and watch them anyway.”
Martyn sighs deeply: “The problem these days is that people sat in front of their computer with some music production software on think they are a producer and they’re not – they’re a programme operator.
“Supply totally outstrips demand. Something is going to have to be really good to just get heard through the absolute massive amounts of music being put out. Ultimately, if someone has put a song on their iPod for free or paid for a 7″ single if it’s shit they’re not going to listen to it anyway.”
Next year will mark 30 years since Stephen formed the band with guitarist Graham Lambert and they had their first proper release in 1987 with Cow, followed by the Plane Crash EP in ’88, which bought them to the attention and playlist of John Peel.
They may have been recording, releasing and touring for pretty much all of the last three decades, in one line-up or another, but once upon a time they were the fresh-faced band pushing the boundaries and nudging at the established acts of the time.
Once they were the new band: “Absolutely” agrees Stephen, sitting forward as the pair get into their stride, talking not just about their own personal and professional history but about the thing all the members love; music.
Martyn returns to this idea of old vs new bands: “The time is there for young bands to do it. I think our work ethic is really good at the moment so if there are people in bands now who are half our age they should have twice the energy!”
Stephen speaks confidently, his northern drawl extenuating the passion for the subject: “I think live music is on the up again at the moment. We were talking to Will Sargent from Echo and the Bunnymen and he was saying in Liverpool at the moment there is a lively scene again, loads of smaller venues.
“And I think that’s happening in Manchester too. When we started off it was the Boardwalk and The Venue, your bigger venues. Then they closed down and there weren’t the small venues there, just the bigger ones like the Apollo and the Academies.
“But it seems like there’s more of a grassroots thing now, smaller venues there again. Shows there is a passion and an appetite for new bands out there.”
The band has a reputation for being real music heads, all in love with the music and the scene. Almost a second front-man throughout the band’s tenure Clint Boon is a regular DJ on Manchester’s XFM, in local club South and turns up as a talking head in many a rockumentary. The rest of the band too each have a sideline related to music in some way, whether it’s promotion or music tours of their home city.
There’s no way of stopping their chatter as we get onto music and bands they love, old and new.
The pair look at each other and smirk as Stephen laughs and says: “Ha, music is where we get divided isn’t it?”
“But I’ve been going through my CD collection to sell stuff recently and so I feel I’ve been a bit bombarded with music! I’ve been a bit lazy and just rediscovering stuff out of my own collection rather than new stuff.
“But yeah, Savages are good.”
Stephen cuts in, unable to keep his own enthusiasm for music contained: “And Deadbeat Echoes are a great band. I think we all rate Deadbeat Echoes and it was great to have them support us.
“The Janice Graham Band as well. They’re local bands that we rate.
“A band called Daystar as well although I’m not sure what’s happening with them at the moment.
“I love Pete and the Pirates as well. They’re amazing, they’ve released two albums and they’re both amazing.”
Martyn holds up a hand, and I may just as well be earwigging on two mates down the pub: “Not Johnny Kidd and the Pirates?”
Stephen laughs and goes along with the cheeky comment: “No, no…that’s someone else, his brother I think.”
He returns to the subject in hand though, clearly wanting to finish his list of current loves: “I like The Minx as well. They’re a really good band, I love that single, No Friends. They’ve got a really tight Northern Soul sound.
“There’s definitely some great bands out there, you can’t catch everything but I love finding new bands, hearing a song that you really like, it’s exciting.
“Like that The Minx song, I heard that and I though ‘yeah, this is great, where can I hear more?’. That’s a good thing about downloading really, that you can check out new bands, a sort of try before you buy. That’s what I do, try it out and then buy it if I like it.”
So, in terms of discovering new music and building a collection is downloading something that the band are in favour of?
Martyn thinks for a moment, sighs: “It’s difficult really, being a consumer as well as a producer. You can see it both ways.
“Being a producer I can see the benefit of getting more music out there for people to hear but ultimately someone has to pay for something, you know studio time and that. But, if it’s a good song, it’s a good song and people will want to go out there and buy it.
“Or maybe, bands just have to find another way of making money to pay for what they do.
“It might be that recorded music is just another way of promoting a band and you have another product then that people are willing to pay for. Whether that is gigs or whatever…”
There’s a nod from Stephen, considering his words more carefully now: “It is a weird one isn’t it? Because it does divide opinion.
“I agree with Martyn though. People have always lent each other albums and taped songs off the radio and now it’s just downloading.
“One of the things I said on Twitter recently about this was to think of another form of art where you’re expected to give it away for free.
“It’s like asking a builder to build you a house for free. Are you going to do it? No you’re not.
“I think there has to be that thing where if you’re putting your heart and soul into something, an album, a record, and you’re putting it out there then you should get paid for it.”
They both think for a moment, obviously playing out different scenarios in their head, comparing the options for getting hold of music when they started to where the world is today.
Martyn realises that if musician’s don’t get paid it might cut down who can viably consider it as a career, a life: “You don’t want to end up in a place where the only people who can make music are those who’ve already got money. It becomes niche. I don’t think that’s a good thing for music.
“It’s always been the people who have had some sort of struggle who’ve got something to say, that make the music and if the only people who can make music are already privileged then you lose that.”
Stephen gives a little grudging laugh: “Yeah, there’s not really the same resonance to ‘I woke up this morning and my swimming pool was full of leaves’. It’s not the sort of everyday life, struggle, that many can relate to.”
We chat a little more about downloading, about various people’s stances in the debate and end up talking more generally about the internet and how band’s can make use of it. The Inspirals are all pretty active on Twitter, both as individuals and as an official band means of giving out news and chatting with fans.
They then went on to use the network to announce Stephen’s return and chat to fans as they recorded new material and started playing live dates. I wonder if they feel social media has made a big change to their relationship with the fans?
Martyn shrugs: “I think we’ve always felt like we were an approachable band, it’s almost just an extension of that.
“It can go the other way and people expect to know to the Nth degree what you’re doing. It can be difficult to manage letting people know what they need to know when they need to know it, but that people who want more than that aren’t feeling, I don’t know, ignored or something.”
Stephen agrees with him and expands on how it feels: “It is a brilliant way of getting things out there and talking to fans about what’s happening.
“You know, like when I came back into the band to replace Tom. We were able to start tweeting things out there about the gigs we would be doing and the new single.
“That was brilliant but Martyn’s got a point, people almost expect you to be at their beck and call. You’ll tweet something, we have some banter and I love that, but you’ll someone will reply, you’ll reply back and then when you don’t reply a second time they get all ‘what the fuck? Are you too big for us now or something?’
“You can’t be there 24/7 and you do get a lot of replies. It’s all balance but generally we love it.”
There is definitely still a strong fan base who have welcomed the wider return of the band and the strengthening of their original garage punk sound alongside the baggy anthems.
Do they think that some of their success this year is on the back of the other big Manchester reformation – the Stone Roses?
Stephen shakes his head: “I think with the Inspirals we always have something going on with the name. It might be Clint being on the radio (he does an XFM show), or the DJing, it doesn’t always have to be band stuff but it’s related to the Inspirals and keeps the name in people’s minds.
“In fact recently we seem to have gone into a whole new audience of sports with Graham and I being on Cricket AM, recently in 20/20 cricket when someone is out they’ve been playing ‘This is How It Feels To Be Lonely’. It’s brilliant.”
Are they a nostalgia band though or are they still a growing, evolving band?
Martyn sounds assured as he says: “I think when people come to see us they want to hear the old songs and they’re bloody good songs so why wouldn’t they?
“But to keep it interesting for us we want to do new stuff. I don’t know that we’d do a tour where we just played 15 new songs though.”
Stephen nods: “We kind of got a nice mix going on our tour. We’ve gone back to our roots really but of course people are going to want to hear the big songs – the Saturn 5s – but to put those one or two new ones in as well it keeps it current.”
Martyn smiles: “I think we’ve recaptured the energy that got us out there in ’88. We’re all just really excited about carrying on doing this…”
Stephen smiles broadly, clearly enjoying being back with the band: “We’ve definitely come full circle in many ways. But there’s nothing better is there? Than playing songs with your mates. Just fantastic.”
All words by Sarah Lay.
Images by Elspeth Moore.