Inspiral Carpets- south American tour diary 2011
moo! Inspiral Carpets- first interview with new line up

Inspiral Carpets have returned with their original singer Stephen Holt, we were the first to hear the new line up…

Inspiral Carpets- first interview with new line up
moo! Inspiral Carpets- first interview with new line up

So I’m sat on a settee in a rehearsal room up in some godforsaken hill town north of Manchester and the Inspiral Carpets are running through a selection of tunes with their new/old or should that be old/new singer Stephen Holt. they sound magnificent. There is the adrenalin rush of garage rock and a band with something to prove and singer returned to the fold after 20 years- a snapshot to pre baggy Manchester and a long lost garage rock band.

Going to an Inspiral Carpets rehearsal is part of Mancunian folklore. A young Noel Gallagher made roughly the same trip when Stephen Holt left the first time back in the late eighties. Noel was going to audition for the new singing post but ended up becoming the roadie because his voice was too similar to Clint’s. A couple of years before a pre Stone Roses Ian Brown had been up to jam with a pre Inspirals Clint Boon but left when he heard the industrial music racket Boon was playing at the time.

That’s the cool thing with the Inspirals, they are so much part of the local fabric that they cut the cloth.

Holt was the original singer of the band, forming the Carpets in 1983 with guitarist Graham Lambert and has been given the recall after the band’s two decade mainstay Tom Hingley recently quit.

It’s a smart move, Tom was key to the band’s success but the band have opted to go back to their roots- the garageband shuffle that made them the hippest band in town when they were signed to key local label Playtime Records, before the baggy era. The last time I interviewed this line up was in a city centre pub in 1987- weeks before Stephen left.

They run though some songs and they sound fantastic, for someone like me this raw shock of garage rock is what they do the best. Clint Boon’s wheezing Farfisa is locking with Graham’s shrapnel rhythm guitar and that deceptively tough rhythm section that survives an imploding bass amp to really kick.

It’s great to hear the Inspirals like this, back at their garageband peak, the band sound tough and it really works and Stephen Holt fits in perfectly, but then he would because he formed this band with Graham nearly thirty years ago and his presence was a key part of the band’s original attack. His voice sounds really good and his presence is perfect, the band sound reinvigorated ”“ a mixture of having something to prove and reconnecting with what made them great in the first place.

They play a clutch of songs including a thrilling roughhouse version of ”ËœSaturn 5′ that really suits the new punky version of the band as well as a new one they have just written that has a killer chorus and a fab guitar hook that is sort of like mid period Fall with an Inspiral’s pop twist. It’s a song that Holt sings like he has sung for years and the band look and feel perfect. Between songs there is plenty of banter and the loose relaxed atmosphere of people who have lived and worked together for years, even if they didn’t really see one of them for two decades!

By the end of the mini set, which is the first time anyone has heard this line up outside the band, one thing is for sure- The Inspirals have turned a potential disaster into a triumph.

It’s an interesting twist in the story of the Inspiral Carpets- the third corner of the classic Manc baggy triangle. With the Roses and the Mondays they were the sound of back end of the eighties.

They may not have had the perpetual cool of their fellow travellers- being the dome haired gonks to Ian Brown’s haughty, cheekbone cool or the Mondays scuzzed up chemical chic but they were oddly loveable and musically brilliant- the quintessential garage band who made good with a run of hit singles that truly stand the test of time. They were Top Of the Pops regulars with those Farfisa driven pop anthems and with a wily knack of writing a great pop tune they managed to survive through baggy and into Britpop.

They remain one of those bands that people forget just how good they were. They had an innate garage band toughness that was the proper backbone to all their pop adventures. Go and listen to them on Spotify or your old CDs and you will be reminded just what a good band this really was.

For older watchers like me, though, there is another story. There was another band that existed before the famous Inspirals. This was the garage band fronted by Stephen Holt. Holt split from the band just before they found fame and looked like he was to become a footnote in their history. His replacement Tom Hingley was key to the band’s success- his polished neo Julian Cope voice was perfect for the pop years of the band but there was always a lingering feeling of ”Ëœwhat if’.

Pre fame the Inspirals were a cult band in Manchester, gig goers in mid to late eighties the city would talk in awe of this psychedelic garage band with the bubble light show and 24 minute version of the Velvets ”ËœWhat Goes On’. The true music heads in town, like a youthfully shy Noel Gallagher, Roses types and other assorted sonic heads would always gather at the Inspiral’s gigs at the Boardwalk or at long lost city centre venues with someone like the Spacemen Three in support, tripping out to this great band.

When they split came it was felt that what they gained with Tom they also lost with Stephen.

The news this week, though, gives us an opportunity to check these back pages. Tom has left the Inspiral Carpets to concentrate on his own solo adventures and the band, always a tightly knit family unit, did the obvious but still beautifully shocking thing and pulled Stephen back into the band.

The ex vocalist had not sing in a band for two decades had rarely been in touch with his former band mates and was just getting ready to slip into middle age when he is suddenly thrust back into the limelight.

After playing me the songs the band are in a perky mood as the ever effervescent Clint Boon explains.
”ËœWe are starting here. We will play the garage stuff and see where it leads us, maybe to a great edgy guitar contemporary band like Interpol or somewhere else.’

So why did Tom leave?

It was the availability of the whole bands for gigs we had been asked to, like festivals last summer. Because we are all involved in other projects we have a situation where three of us could do a festival but two could not and it was not getting anywhere. If you were free for gigs like Tom it was frustrating but equally if you were tied up it was understandable as well.
This went on for a bit and it got the better of Tom. We couldn’t be free was frustrating but that’s the way it is. Obviously there is far more to it than that like we always liked to play fast, punky, garagey stuff. The four of us were in shape to do it but Tom didn’t want to play 2 gigs back to back. It was getting the better of Tom, would you agree?’

”ËœWe were going with it but in February Tom pretty much pulled out. I think he was in a phase of life out, gigging solo and playing with lots of different people and he didn’t think there was anything wrong with using session men. We didn’t want to go into that world though. The core of this band has been together for 25 years- so few bands have got that. I’m not knocking Tom so when he left we decided to carry on. None of us are teenagers, life is short and we got the opportunity to work with Steve and celebrate the garage stuff.
It was a result of Tom leaving and not a reaction to it. It was not spiteful, Tom had gone ”Ëœfuck it’ and we said ”Ëœlets get Steve back in!’.

‘The first 5 years of the band was Steve and Graham, Craig joined in 84 and me soon after. There is a five year part of this band that was never made public. The man in the street is not aware of it. By the time we did ”ËœJoe’ and ”ËœMove’ and ”ËœFind Out Why’ and we became a successful pop group a whole period was lost. Whilst the first album still sounds like a garage band the second album has gone somewhere else with songs about concentration camps and different kind of music.
On the third album, Pascal Gabriel came in and we made good garagy stuff again and he was making it sound contemporary- tightening up the beats and made us a garage pop band. By then we were diversifying, the b sides are magnificent at that time, so off the wall like ”ËœBoomerang.’

”ËœThe second album rebelled against the first album- Steve had been around for about half the songs on the first album. The second album was a complete contrast to the first album. The third album should have been second and second should have been third”¦’

‘The Second album should have been a free giveaway with forth one (everyone laughs).

So was this return to the garage Inspirals forced up you by the line up change?

I’ve had a passionate urge to do garage music for years- to the point that I wanted to do it outside the Inspirals. Tom leaving gave me the opportunity to do that.’

Steve, how did the initial approach to rejoin the band come?

It was weird. It came out of the blue. There was a text from Graham. I hadn’t seen the band for years, apart from bumping into Clint a year ago. It was mad, totally unexpected. In the text Graham said do you fancy doing some singing for us and I thought it was a side project that Graham was doing. I didn’t think it was Inspiral Carpets- so it was a surprise. I suppose regretted leaving the band for years. I left because of a few things, personal things going on in my life and maybe because of the way the band was moving and pressures of stuff led to it. When you are younger you make snap decisions, decisions I regretted over time but to get this second chance is brilliant.’

When you left the band it was understandable we were jumping off edge of a cliff! I was a self employed company director stepping into a world of paying ourselves ten quid a week to go full time- Steve had a decent job.’

I had the Rainkings after that and gradually turned into a smoking and drinking club! We would rehearse a couple of times a week and then end up in the Marble Arch pub. Since then with music I was watching and lsitening and working- it was pipe and slippers time for me until that text!’

”ËœWhat was interesting was that we had been around the music industry for years and worked with a manager and agents and had all the trials and tribulations of the music industry whilst Steve had been a music lover for those 20 years and comes in fresh and untarnished and it reminded us of that genuine love of making music. It made us think lets play music, lets get on with it. With this band now who knows what will happen, we could play a small venue like the Roadhouse or a massive one like Gmex or no gigs atall. We actually enjoy making the music. It’s like back into 1987 when Clint wheeled his keyboard uninvited into the rehearsal room and we got together and made music, we would come in from work and rehearse with a genuine love of making music”¦’

”ËœI still do my day job and the do the band”¦’

It’s a bit of a posher job now!

”ËœWe are not worried about record sales and downloads. We don’t play that game any more. We are loving nothing more than creating and playing. Although it would nice to have enough success to make this a priority, if we could look on this as the main sort of gig that would be great but if all we do is rehearse and make great tunes then that’s fine.’

Stephen what was the first rehearsal after all these years like?

”ËœI met Graham once before we did a few things in Clint’s cellar but then it was bang and straight in and it gelled pretty quicly.’

Not only are the band revisiting the past but they are moving forward with new songs”¦

”ËœWe have some more new ideas to look at and some stuff to revisit from years ago. What’s great about garage music is that we can knock out songs quickly.’

”ËœTom’s input to the band was good. But in the end you get twisted when you start thinking that you’re not Noel Gallagher or not Paul Weller and it can affect your songwriting ability. Now instead of 15 chords we have got back to three, I’m not a muso . I dread anyone coming round with that Guitar Hero game, I’m really stuck. the kids leather me on it. We were sat on deckchairs in the garden recently playing guitars and we couldn’t tune the guitar! that’s brilliant, the two us cant tune a guitar together (laughs).’

”ËœWe are very punk in that way.’

”ËœWe started from a time when you didn’t want to be the next Beatles or U2. It was punk rock. It was from the heart. You would find a shape on the guitar and it sounded good then you would do it.
Martyn started the basics of the new song, we kicked it around and changed it with Clint’s backing vocals and Farfisa on it and added other bits. If someone comes up with idea and we all work on it.’

”ËœWhere we are in life with four of us having multiples of kids, all the hang ups when we were younger are not worth it. We are so relaxed about who writes stuff now and that will carry on being the case.’

”ËœHere’s an interesting snippet for your piece- this line up played one gig with Stephen at the Cricketers in London in 1988. So his is the definitive Cricketers line up, Martyn had just joined the band and we played one gig with that line up with Stephen. Jesus Jones supported us at the oval cricket ground club. I remember being on the bus before played and New Order doing were ”ËœTrue Faith’ on Top Of The Pops.

Everyone laughs, Graham is legendary in the band for his ridiculous memory recall”¦
I ask if there is plan of action”¦

”ËœThere is nothing planned yet. We have one serious gig in Chile and we like the idea of that being the comeback gig. We get gigs offers all the time and can’t always do them. The excitement of the announcement of the reformation means that we have to put the infrastructure together- a manager and an agent and get some British dates sorted.’

”ËœOddly you are the first person to see this line up- that Cricketer’s gig there was no-one was there”¦’

And what do your old road crew think of this…

”ËœLiam Gallagher will be buzzing when he hears of the new line up, Noel as well. It’s weird to think but if Steve hadn’t left in the first place then Oasis might never have happened”¦’

”ËœWe did amazing stuff with Tom and that would have carried on but he left so we sat down and told him what was going to happen and that we would carry on with Steve, who knows, we may even work with Tom again in the future”¦’

Stephen, did you ever meet Tom?

”ËœNo, I have never seen the band after I left! I was listening to different type of stuff and mixing with different people. I was aware of what the band were doing but they did not feature on my radar that much, it was not a case of ”Ëœfuck them, don’t want anything to do with it! just different musical interests”¦’

”ËœSteve retained an individual indie ear!”

”ËœI got two indie ears!

”ËœSteve was more into JohnPeel show and bands like McCarthy and the Wolfhounds and we almost left that. We have been away from that and now Steve is talking about bands I haven’t heard of. If John peel was still alive Steve would be listening to him”¦’

”ËœWithout a doubt!’

”ËœWhat about XFM!’

Everyone laughs”¦.

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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. I was devastated when Steve left, I was too young to go to loads of gigs and had only seen them a couple of times… saw the Hingley fronted band a lot more times (and oddly the second album they seem to hate is my favourite of the Tom Hingley ones) but they were never quite the band I loved and lost. Still can’t believe they’re back after 23 years.

  2. Great interview. I love all 4 albums. Some great tunes on “the beast inside”. I wouldn’t knock it. I probably play “dung 4”, “trainsurfing”, and “life” more than any other inspirals record although a white label copy of “devil hopping” arrived today; inspirals sound great on vinyl!

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