Carpet Burns: My Life with the Inspiral Carpets – Tom Hingley : book review

Carpet Burns: My Life with the Inspiral Carpets – Tom Hingley (Route)
Hardback / Kindle
Published 17 September 2012

Tom Hingley may no longer be a member of Inspiral Carpets but he’s definitely got some tales to tell from when he was! Covering his time as singer with the band, his place in the Manchester music scene and his current career his autobiography is a page-turner full of anecdotes and memories.

Musician memoirs are gaining traction and by now we all know what to expect; the hard slog to fame, the numerous ways the industry did them over, tell-all tales of rock n roll debauchery, the inevitable squabbles and the enlightenment which has brought the author to their current place in life.

Tom Hingley, singer with the Inspiral Carpets during the height of their fame, covers this but in a rather restrained, distanced manner. The title perhaps is telling – this is his life ‘with’ the Inspiral Carpets rather than ‘in’ the Inspiral Carpets.

His background as the son of an Oxford don, the youngest of seven children, sets him apart from the majority of his contempories on the Madchester scene. Certainly, as he points out, he felt it set him apart from the rest of the Inspiral Carpets with their working class backgrounds and Oldham accents.

Taking a predominently chronological look at Tom’s life the book focuses on his experience of the Manchester’s music scene in his job as a glass collector at the Hacienda, as singer with his group Too Much Texas then with the Inspiral Carpets as well as where he is now performing solo or with his band The Lovers.

Although he’s clearly been an intrinsic part of the Manchester music scene and vital to the Inspiral’s success he strikes a solitary figure throughout much of his tale. Through his prose it almost seems as if the other four members of the band are on the other side of a glass partition to Tom – that he is merely viewing this band, their success and their struggles rather than actively being a part of it.

The way they parted company at the end of 2011 is likely to have impacted on this view. The final chapters of the book cover the frustration he felt towards the end of his time with the band, the exchanges on Twitter which announced his leaving and his final meeting with the band. There is much sadness in this part of the book as well as a fair dose of bitterness – how Tom feels about the renewed popularity of the band, who have reunited with original singer Stephen Holt, enjoyed UK headline tours as well as supporting Happy Mondays and are set to play festival dates through summer – is left unsaid.

The rock n roll tales are also perhaps tamer in comparison to recent revelations from other bands (yes, I’m looking at you Tim Burgess) but then Tom presents a probably accurate picture of the Inspirals as being a hard-working, family-focused band with an eye on making a livlihood rather than glamorous excess.

He’s had a fascinating position though at the forefront of a vibrant stage of music history and is story-telling is a mix of his rightful pride in his ability and achievement with a sense of increduality at the fame.

“I attended a concert by The Charlatans at the Royal Court in Liverpool. The venue was a lovely Victorian theatre, and I remember traipsing through the section underneath the stage to go and give my congratulations to the band for an impressive and well received performance. Before I got to the dressing room, I spied a young girl sprawling on the floor in agony from a broken or severely twisted ankle. There was a St John Ambulance person attending to her as she screamed out. As I walked past, her face lit up in recognition and she temporarily forgot about her ankle as I lent down to give her a kiss. I was at the height of my fame and its power worked like clinical heroin on her pain, like some kind of Indie Jesus. If only for just a few seconds.”

There are many anecdotes of episodes of silliness during time away touring or the occasional glimpse of the band being mates as well. His recounting of the time spent with Mark E Smith recording his version of I Want You and their subsequent performance on Top Of  The Pops is particularly enjoyable.

Insight too is given to the band’s relationship with Noel Gallagher and his position as roadie with them may have influenced his own career and the super-stardom he found with Oasis.

But, again in fairly typical fashion for this sort of book, there is the opportunity to air a few grievances and while Tom’s tone hints at an underlying frustration and hurt his words are restrained.

Even for an autobiography this is very much a book about the author. The other members of the band are sketched out but little colour is added about their character. Little is said about his personal relationships either, beyond the practicalities of his relationships or meetings with people. This is perhaps more about Tom’s nature – it’s a misconception that all frontmen are flamboyant attention seekers – than about him holding back as an author.

Pettiness does creep into the tale on occasion though but in this too it’s not so different a read from other musician’s autobiographies. It’s been said before that bands are like families and there is an amount of alpha-male posturing, bullying, squabbling and grudge holding shown within this group, as if with a set of brothers.

While it’s not a romp of wild debauchery Carpet Burns is an interesting glimpse into Tom’s career, the Madchester / Baggy scene and the Inspiral Carpets themselves, albeit just one view of the band and the relationships within it.

Tom Hingley will be launching Carpet Burns at The Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, Salford,  on Friday 27 July where he will be in conversation with Mike Joyce (The Smiths / Beatwolf Radio). The book is published on 17 September in hardback and Kindle editions.

All words by Sarah Lay. You can read more from Sarah on LTW here or follow her on Twitter.

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