March 29th 2013
Every band has a career span.
You start off, back in the garage as fans, and with a bit of luck get out on the local circuit then the national circuit. You have a clutch of hits and the fashion discards you. If you are in love with music you continue with the hits as a currency and you celebrate your sound with new tunes added – that’s the way it is.
This is the Inspiral Carpets’ world. And they thrive in it.
Tonight’s gig is a celebration of everything they did and feels more ribald and wild than the big Manchester gigs they played at their peak – maybe because they don’t give a damn about ‘crossing over’ any more or it’s because they have reverted to their punkier roots and play their music with an adrenalin and seat of the pants excitement that fills the Ritz with a new power.
Way back in 1987/88, when they were Manchester’s best kept secret with their bubble light show, psychedelic nuggets fused rushes and gigs in places like the Boardwalk (or one night at Berlin club with Spacemen Three in support) they were the coolest band in town.
There was nothing else really going on the local circuit – the Roses had gone to ground after their initial flurry and the Happy Mondays were making great wonky records for Factory that no one else seemed to understand, maybe because no one else was on mad drugs.
The Inspiral Carpets were the first of the soon-to-come wave of Mancunia to actually get out there and make it. John Peel had picked them up and they were gigging up and down the country, building a cult following and looked steeled to be a quirky tripped out garage band with a knack for great tunes – a real cult band that would slot into the indie chart circuit of the time.
When Stephen Holt left they brought in Tom Hingley and were suddenly engulfed in the Manchester baggy era. Caught in the slipstream of the rise of the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses and, like James, were seen as a new band when they had their own sturdy history before them.
It was not a problem as the band were smart enough to ride these treacherous waves of fashion and make sense of it on their own terms. They were the first indie band to really understand the power of the t-shirt and their Cool As Fuck shirt was playful and caught the moment and it was everywhere.
They released a series of catchy singles and scored number one albums, they even survived out of the other side of baggy and were still scoring hits in the Britpop era that was sent into the stratosphere by the former roadie, young Noel Gallagher.
The Inspiral Carpets were so much part of the fabric of that period that it is imposable to remove them from it and when it all petered out, like it does for nearly every band, they did the smart thing again and came back for the odd reunion tour. Blasting out all the old hits with a vitality and freshness of a band that understood the thrill of playing this kind music and were content to become again the cult underground band that they once were before fashion plucked them from the stormy oceans of playing on the live circuit.
In 2013 it’s all gone full circle and Tom has left/been retired/parted company with the band and Stephen is back in again. For the past couple of years the Inspirals have reverted to being a punky garage pysch band, a move that really suits them as they reinvigorated their grassroots and played gigs because they actually really liked playing this kind of music and loved hanging out together.
Backstage tonight you can feel the camaraderie of the band who leap around the dressing room shouting at each other like a school party gone slightly loopy.
They ooze fun, rock ‘n’ roll should be fun even if the music is serious and there is the tidal wave of adrenalin and great spirits to surf on as the band go down the narrow stairs behind the stage of the sold out Ritz, ready for the homecoming celebration of one of the strands of local music that has been so key to the city sound – northern psychedelia.
This is the wonky world of obscure underground sixties records and John Peel warped punk and post punk that made up their teenage diet and that they have somehow filtered through a pop nous of the typically quintessential British singles band – bands who knew the power of song but also the power of weird and wonderful music and somehow matched the two together. This is a very British pop of the likes of the Kinks, Madness and the Stranglers – bands that didn’t fit into their era but were allowed a space and some chart time for their wonderful melodies that never compromised their original visions.
The Inspirals are one of those bands, not as heralded as some of the others but equally great at making pop sense out of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators or ? And The Mysterons and they kept doing it and tonight adrenalised and somewhat charmingly ragged show is a reflection of this.
The band play with a sheer joy and are like a Farfisa driven jukebox. You forget how many great songs they have in their catalogue and as they pump them out the crowd is in rapture. All the way to the back of the room arms are raised and everyone is singing along.
It’s very Manchester – a community celebration of music with big burly blokes with their arms around each other and a surprisingly large amount of teenagers getting their first dose of an idiosyncratic world where those classic sixties psyche records are mashed up with Bogshed B side, old John Peel show cassettes and a knack for knocking out pure melody.
By the time they play the fantastic Saturn Five for their encore there is not a dry thigh in the house. The Inspiral Carpets have turned them selves from a chart band to one of those great bands who soundtracked the jukebox generation,
They seem quite content to not bother with the chart world anymore even if their last two singles, which they play tonight and the latter of which, Fix Your Smile, is about to be release on Tim Burgess’s O Genesis label for Record Store Day, are as good as anything they released in their hit making prime.
As Stephen crowd surfs for one final time and the band’s wheezing keyboard driven sound clatters to a halt there is a real sense that something quite special happened tonight and that these songs sound as timeless as the songs that inspired them.