Carter USM: live review from Beautiful Days festival

Carter USM
Beautiful Days Festival
Live review
August 2011

Carter USM are one of those bands that you love because they broke all the rules, sometimes forgetting just how many great songs they wrote.

Those hipster rules of cool, those ingrained ideas of sulky so called cool that dominate indie. You could never have accused Carter of being cool. They were shyly modest, surprised that anyone liked them and were not given to huge statements of opinion. They just got on with writing catchy songs and defying hipster gravity. They also wrote songs with great words that captured the rotting underbelly of the UK with a romantic twist that turned the dole culture of the times into bittersweet vignettes of love and lust complete with endless punning and sly humour.

The hipsters ran a mile. Here was band that didn’t dress right, didn’t brag about themselves and didn’t have the right connections. They went from being one of those hard working tail end of post punk indie band like the Mega City 4 to being number one in the album charts looking as confused at the fact as anyone else.

They captured a moment in time when indie kids wore doc martens and big baggy t shirts with slogans on them and their cover lyrics caught the eye of the post Smiths kids who liked words about their lives that were poetic and funny.

Like all bands they fizzled out. They didn’t go out of fashion, they were never in fashion! And seemed set for one of those brow-furrowing footnotes in pop history. One of those band’s written out of the history of stuff because they just did not fit. The rock historians have tampered with history so much that the story bares little or no resemblance to reality and a band like Carter have been edited out.

Trouble is no-one told the fans and when they reconvened last year the gigs were instant sell-outs and the same this year as well. two shows gone in seconds and a headline slot at Beautiful Days festival that sees a packed field of T shirt clad fans singing along to every word.

There is big love for the band that documented something in many of these people’s lives as well as crazily packing in a large chunk of under twenties down at the front who know a good thing when they hear it. They band are still MC’d by Jon Fat Beast who enters the stage dressed as a plump cop to the chants of ‘you fat bastard’ before switching on that huge retina burning light show that he designed for them. The band themselves almost, oddly, look cool, Jim Bob resplendent in white suit and black doc martens looking like a foppish cross between late sixties Pete Townshend and Mick Jones, thankfully Fruitbat looks gloriously rubbish in baggy shirts and baseball cap that is swiftly forgotten about as the band kick in with a huge wall of sound for two people and a backing tape.

This should really not work on any level atall. There are not enough people up there to make this wall of sound but there Sex Pistols on the dole meets the Pet Shop Boys mash up is powerfully effective and the songs that you remember far more of than you think you do come thick and fast. Cleverly written, powerful as fuck dirty disco this is the sound of two decade old dole culture that still makes sense today. The band’s classic ‘Sheriff Fatman’ could have been written last week having lost none of it’s musical or lyrical power.

This should really not work but Carter USM are stroking it here, Jim Bob has a fantastic voice, a gutter poet croon and a self effacing charisma and Les is the boffin in the engine room, that’s all they need the two of them, proof that if you strip band down to it’s core it beautifully effective.

Maybe it’s time to take Carter seriously in way that they would be just too English and self effacing to allow you to do but these songs are perfectly preserved documents of another period in time and have to be added back into the lineage.

They should also add to their canyon of songs, they have something clever to say now as they did then but are adamant that they won’t. What will become of these occasional reunions is anyone’s guess and as the last shout of ‘you fat bastard’ is hurled at Jon Beast and the band exit the stage they leave more questions than answers after a real festival highlight of the summer.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Brilliant John. This is what I have been trying to explain to people for two decades now. Jim and Les deserve to be even bigger legends than they already are. How could history write out a band that mean’t so much to so many people. Can’t wait for Brixton this year.

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