Cover photo from the "Island Head" EP (Mute 1990)
By Devorah Ostrov
At this point, several years on from the peak of the 1980s garage-rock revival, any American group still employing a Farfisa organ and wearing paisley shirts would be regulated to the dollar bin of any quality record store. But should the band be from England, especially Manchester (or "Madchester" as it's been affectionately nicknamed), they're hailed as "innovative" and top the alternative charts on both continents. And I say that in all fondness because I really like Inspiral Carpets.
To the band's credit, although Inspiral Carpets (they really deserve kudos for that excellent moniker which, like the Peanut Butter Conspiracy and Chocolate Watchband, sounds cool but means absolutely nothing) make a good job of capturing the essence of mid-sixties garage-punk in their sound, they've never been overly concerned with recreating the whole picture. Only keyboardist Clint Boon has the requisite psychedelic wardrobe and hairstyle.
|Revenge of the Goldfish — Elektra/Mute (1992)|
Originally formed in Oldham, Greater Manchester, by guitarist Graham Lambert and vocalist Stephen Holt (who was replaced by Tom Hingley before the group signed to Mute and released its first album), the Inspiral's current lineup came together in 1986/87 with the addition of Boon, Walsh, and teenage drummer Craig Gill.
At the time, a psychedelia resurgence in the UK saw members of the Damned and ex-Sisters of Mercy drinking the night away to the sounds of the Seeds, ? and the Mysterians, and the Electric Prunes at a London club called Alice in Wonderland.
Boon hung out there too. "I was probably watching Doctor and the Medics!" he says. And, he notes: "When we started out we wanted to sound like the Seeds and ? and the Mysterians."
Inspiral Carpets in America
and on the cover of the NME.
Although we didn't discuss the band's drug use (or lack thereof), I'm pretty sure that for all its feedback frenzy, "Generations" — the lead track off Revenge of the Goldfish — wasn't written while the band tripped on acid.
Take for example the melancholic "Two Worlds Collide" — one of the singles from the new album. "It could be placed anywhere," explains Boon, "every city has them. But it's about the vagrants we saw in Athens last year. It's about all the poor people starving to death in the city of the Acropolis and the statues of the gods." The opening verse goes:
"I steal to feed
I fight to breathe
To hunger not greed
I find these days,
It's the only way I can survive..."
Besides, Boon and his bandmates seem like really nice guys. At one point he tells me how the band's success has afforded he and his American-born wife a better lifestyle. "I've been able to help my parents out as well," he adds. "We bought two brand-new [semi-detached] houses and knocked the wall down between the two dining rooms so we can go through into each other's houses." (I have a feeling that Sky Saxon wouldn't tell his parents where his was living, let alone move in next door.)
|Inspiral Carpets — publicity photo|
NME special "Madchester" issue featuring
the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays &
Boon's voice rises a touch to emphasize: "The scene was christened nine or ten months after John Peel came along and raved about how good we were, so we were already established."
In 1990 the Inspirals had a UK hit with the evocative "This is How it Feels" from their debut LP, Life. (There's also a rather jaunty cover version by Carter USM. When I mention that I heard the cover first, Boon quickly points out: "I wrote that! But I do think theirs is really good, and it's done with respect. Some people think it's a send-up, but it's not. We appreciate them doing it.") Since then, the band has consistently topped the charts in England.
"Traditionally, all of our songs have been No. 1 in the independent charts," states Boon. "Then you have the Top 40 — the BBC charts — where we're always at least in the Top 20."
Elektra Records publicity photo
"It's a lot harder over here because we're not as typical of the '90s as say a band like EMF. They're a very definitive '90s pop group. All the elements that are relevant to the '90s — dance music, attitude, gay culture — are embodied in EMF's image and sound. And that's exactly why they're big in America. To me, they're the Rolling Stones of the '90s. I really mean that. Whereas we're like the Kinks."
I venture that while the Stones may be more popular than the Kinks, the Kinks are actually more important musically.
"Yeah!" agrees Boon. "That's exactly what I think about us and EMF. EMF are friends of ours so I'm not knocking them, but what they're doing is a bit more inventive, very relevant to now. Whereas we write traditional songs. We like melodies and themes, and there's always going to be a demand for that. In five years' time EMF's songs may not be relevant, but I think the albums we're making will always be relevant."
* * *
|An assortment of Inspiral Carpets' merchandise|
Boon: I was raised in an area full of farms; I was as familiar with cows as I was with dogs and cats. That led to some embarrassingly over-publicized audience encounters. We decided to use some photos I'd taken of the cows as projections onstage, and that's where it all began. The audience started mooing at us like cows!
Q: Is your wife a big Inspiral Carpets fan?
Boon: She's into the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction — those are her two favorite bands. She's not an Inspiral Carpets fan, which is quite amusing, although she likes some of the songs that I write. Being in a band, we obviously meet a lot of girls who like us because we're one of the Inspirals. So, it's great when you meet someone who likes you but hates that you're in the Inspirals. That's why I married her!
|"Two Worlds Collide" 12-inch single|
Q: I heard that you bumped into Iggy Pop. What was that like?
Boon: We met him in Toronto two years ago. We were doing the same TV show, and he was a really nice guy. But to meet Iggy Pop... It's not even like meeting God; it's like meeting IGGY POP!
|Inspiral Carpets — publicity photo|
Q: Why is Coronation Street such a big deal in England?
Boon: Coronation Street is the world's oldest soap opera. It's been going for thirty-something years. It's based in Manchester, in a very industrial, poor part of the city. There's one guy in the cast who was in the original show. In the original episodes he played a young boy, now he's approaching middle-age. It's something we've all grown up with. I'm thirty-three, so this program has always been a part of my life. It's not like an anchor point, but it gives you a sense of security to know it's there. It's a very important part of people's lives.
Q: Is it true that the Inspiral Carpets are going to be in an episode of Coronation Street?
Campaign to make the Inspiral Carpets' 1994 hit
"Saturn Five" a Christmas No. 1 in memory of
drummer Craig Gill who died in November 2016.
Q: Have you noticed any big differences between Americans and Brits?
Boon: In England things don't change as fast as they do in America. One of the things I've noticed about America, and Americans in general — every so often they just pack up shop and move to a different part of the country; their families are all spread out. Whereas in England, people are born, and they live and die in the same town. I'm generalizing, but that's the way it works in England. I now live two miles away from the village where I was born. Whenever I drive through that village I see the same people that I went to school with. They'll die in that same town without ever seeing the world. They'll never travel around like we do. Even though I still live in the same place, I've managed to break away. I'm quite lucky in that respect.