Thursday 16 March 2023

Inspiral Carpets - The Complete Singles

To accompany their massive tour Inspiral Carpets release the most definitive and complete collection of their singles on a remastered double vinyl album and a 3 CD set with a whole host of classic and new remixes.

When Inspiral Carpets first split in 1995, at the end of their contract with Mute Records, the label released a sort of half-arsed singles compilation cash-in. It didn't include all of their singles, added a few b-sides, had an incorrect running order on the sleeve and generally wasn't well received by band or by fans. Mute put that right in 2003 with the excellent CD / DVD box set Cool As, which featured the band's long out of print EPs Planecrash and Trainsurfing which were issued for the first time on cd. However, a definitive vinyl compilation has never been issued until now. 

All tracks have been remastered for this new release and every single from 1988 through to 2015 is included. Forming in the early 80s in Oldham the core of Inspiral Carpets were guitarist Graham Lambert and singer Stephen Holt. By 1987, they'd worked through a series of bass guitarists and drummers and recorded a few demos - the rare-as-hens-teeth tapes Waiting For Ours and Songs Of Shallow Intensity which were recorded at a little studio in Ashton, and produced by Clint Boon, who was impressed enough to join their ranks.  The trio of Lambert, Holt, and Boon were joined by David Swift on bass and 14 year old drumming sensation Craig Gill. Things really started taking off for them; their first London show, the legendary Dung 4 demo tape recorded at the end of 1987, their first Peel session and a national tour supporting The Wedding Present at the tail end of 1988. 

Their legendary debut 12” EP Planecrash from 1988 featured five tracks and lead track Keep The Circle Around opens up this new 2023 compilation. I could tell a tale about every single song on this album (I won't though!). The Keep The Circle Around 7" and the Planecrash EP were the rarest Inspiral Carpets records with only a thousand or so issued on local label Playtime. Keep The Circle Around is a classic slice of garage pop, full of swirling Farfisa, a fast drum beat, a commanding bassline and Graham Lambert's subtle but essential guitar riffs. A strong debut and the start of an mightily impressive run of singles. A run far stronger (and longer) than most of their Manchester contemporaries. In fact, only friends James have produced such a volume of singles. 

As good as Planecrash is, I've always favoured the follow-up Trainsurfing. Lead track Butterfly features here but in truth any one of the four songs on offer could have been the lead track. Butterfly continues in the tradition of Keep The Circle Around with the added bonus of vocals from both Holt and Boon this time. At two and a half minutes long, it's that punk sound that the early Inspirals always aspired too. By the time Trainsurfing hit the shops Holt and Swift had decided to concentrate on their careers and families and left the band seeking a new singer and bassist. 

Martyn Walsh from local funksters The Next Step was recruited on bass in early 1989 but the band couldn't find a singer. Step forward Anthony H Wilson, who gave the 4 piece singer-less band a spot on his Granada TV show The Other Side of Midnight to help them recruit a singer. The band rattled through an instrumental version of Directing Traffic at the end of January and soon after Tom Hingley joined. 

Within days, early demo Joe had been re-recorded as their third single and the band embarked on a tour opening for James who were out in support of their new live album One Man Clapping. The Fall inspired Joe features more classic Gilly drumming and for the first time he's joined by his parter in crime Martyn Walsh in The Engine Room. You can really hear Martyn's bass to full effect on this remaster. 

The Inspirals had an incredible run of singles in 1989. They regularly had multiple singles in the top twenty of the Independent charts of which Find Out Why was next. It was later reworked as theme tune for kids' tv show The 815 From Manchester. It features everything we've now come to expect from their sound and exemplifies what I love about the band; there's just no one else who sounds like them. 

There's a change in sound and pace for last single of 1989 Move – a song that would have been a hit had more copies been pressed! Throughout the year, the band worked their socks off, constantly touring and yet somehow found time to record debut album Life and sign for Mute Records. They had lots of offers to sign for big labels but elected for Mute as they allowed them to continue using their own Cow Records imprint. Move saw the band shift up another level as this was the first time the band had national TV coverage, featuring on Saturday morning show Wacaday, where an audience of bemused kids were entertained to a rendition of Move, an interview with the band, and a phone call to Clint from his Mum Marie.

1990 saw Inspiral Carpets move into the mainstream with their biggest single to date, the classic This Is How It Feels. The first release on Mute saw the band appear twice on Top Of The Pops. This Is How It Feels should need no introduction; it was one of the biggest and most popular singles of 1990 and has become an anthem on football terraces and a staple in alternative clubs ever since. I even sung it with Clint at my wedding. Opening with Clint's multitracked Farfisa before Tom's vocals come in and a relentless drumbeat. Along with Saturn 5, it's the most famous and celebrated Inspirals tune.

Follow up singles She Come In The Fall was every bit as powerful and went on to become a live favourite again thanks to Craig's incredible drumming and arguably one of Martyn's biggest and best basslines. 1990 ended with new material and a new 4 track EP Island Head. Lead track at the time was the reflective Biggest Mountain which resulted in yet another Top Of The Pops appearance. Retrospectively the band favoured second track Weakness and both are included on The Singles Collection. Both showcase different sides to the band. 

The timescale of these opening songs is quite remarkable; in just over two years, the band produced three EPs, an album and a series of stand-alone singles. They never stood still and this is exemplified on the first single of 1991 Caravan. The lead single from stunning second album The Beast Inside and another chart hit. Opening with just Martyn's bass and Clint's piano before the rest of the band join in and there's a big chorus from Tom too; a timeless classic. Please Be Cruel, the follow up slows the pace down a little and was every bit as good as the preceding single. It still sounds as fresh as ever. The Beast Inside I think is sometimes an overlooked masterpiece and well worth investing in (a new vinyl pressing was released in 2021).

Dragging Me Down saw the band return in 1992. At the time it seemed liked they'd been away for ages but in fact they toured the world and still found time to record third LP, Revenge of the Goldfish. As ever, the singles from the album were impressive. In fact, I've often commented that the album sounds like a singles compilation. Dragging Me Down saw the band deliver yet another top pop single and a slight return to their earlier garage sound. 

Two Worlds Collide features one of Tom's best vocals; rich and emotive. Album opener Generations was the third single and reminiscent of those 60s pop bands so coveted by the band. Fourth and final Revenge single (Bitches Brew) was the best yet – a beautiful drum and bass intro with a delicate Tom vocal. 

The fast paced stand-alone single How It Should Be followed in 1993 before the Saturn 5 saw the Inspirals back on Top Of The Pops in early 1994. Saturn 5 has become bigger now than it was then and a big sing-along anthem. Follow up single I Want You saw their legendary collaboration with The Fall's Mark E Smith. A much harder song than Saturn 5, I Want You saw Mark and Tom duet and was Mark's biggest hit. Final single from fourth album Devil Hopping was Uniform; the 7” single being released in a stitched cloth bag! 

The band effectively split as their contract with Mute expired. However you can't keep a good band down and they regrouped in 2003 for a series of well received UK tours and the career spanning Cool As box set. My favourite compilation, it gave us all their singles, the complete Planecrash and Trainsurfing EPs on cd for the first time, a selection of their best b-sides (Inspiral Carpets always produced excellent b-sides and many fan favourites could be found tucked away on the flip side of a 12” single) and some new unreleased material including the single Come Back Tomorrow. It was a spectacular return and the final single to feature Tom before the return of Stephen. 

Stephen's return was marked in 2012 with the release of Record Store Day 7” single You're So Good For Me, the Martyn Walsh penned tune that he actually wrote for pop star Robyn. The band reworked it and gave it a proper garage makeover. It was the perfect introduction for Stephen's return and those tunes kept on coming. Fix Your Smile instantly became a fan favourite thanks to Stephen's uplifting “things never looked so good” chorus. Spitfire was another anthem and one of the finest songs on their self-titled album. Another collaboration followed, this time with John Cooper Clarke, on the last Inspirals single Let You Down. We get the 7” edit on this compilation. It's a bit Doors in parts and that's no bad thing; the Inspirals were always acknowledging of their influences. 

Over the course of this album it is clear how consistent the band have always been throughout their career. They have always had the knack of writing top pop songs. Of course, it helps when all members of the band contribute to the song writing process. Only three Inspirals appear on all of the tracks here - Clint Boon, Graham Lambert and the late Craig Gill. This album serves as both a tribute to, and a reminder of his genius. 

For those who opt for the 3CD set, the final disc is like a classic mix tape. As well as including exceptional new tunes on their b-sides, Inspiral Carpets often had their songs reworked by DJs for the 90s dance floor. The best of those – and 2 new mixes by The Go! Team and Martyn Walsh & Simon Lyon – are included here. 

The remixes have all aged well, from the Jon Dasilva mix of Dragging Me Down to Renegade Soundwave's mix of This Is How It Feels. Bitches Brew – Horse, mixed by Fortran 5, has a chilled ambient vibe and b-side Skidoo gets a radical club friendly overhaul. Meanwhile, The High Energy mix of Saturn 5 has a euphoric charm. Mark Reeder's pounding rare remix of You're So Good For Me has been available digitally in cyberspace for a while now and is a welcome addition on an Inspirals compilation for the first time.

Dubville - a reworking of Sackville by Chris Nagle – takes its inspiration from influential Manchester bands like Yargo and Dub Sex. Commercial Reign was remixed several times and was released as a 12” single in the United States just after Life was released. The Rub-a-Dub mix here from Forgemasters has a house vibe and is a welcome addition.

The new remix of This Is How It Feels from The Go! Team bounces along and somehow reminds me of Strawberry Fields Forever. It's a welcome addition and something new for the Inspirals completist, as is the new remix by Martyn Walsh and his new musical partner Simon Lyon of fan favourite Changes. The two have been crafting their own dance music for a few years now and taken from the last album, this new version of  Changes retains much of the original including Stephen's vocals yet adds more synths and pounding beats creating a massive sound. It's the standout track on the third disc. 

How can I sum up an album of a band I've followed for over 30 years? In truth I don't know how to summarise. Let's just say it's the compilation of the year and an essential purchase.

Inspiral Carpets official website is here. They are also on Twitter and Facebook.  

They play Northampton Roadmender (March 23), Newcastle Boiler Shop (24), Oxford O2 Academy (25), Brighton Concorde 2 (26), Cambridge Junction (31), Manchester Albert Hall (April 1), Nottingham Rescue Rooms (2), Leeds O2 Academy (8), Glasgow SWG3 (13), Sheffield Leadmill (14), London Shepherds Bush Empire (15), Coventry HMV Empire (21), Frome Cheese And Grain (22), Holmfirth Picturedrome (May 25), Hull Welly (26), Warrington Neighbourhood Festival (27), Buckley Tivoli (June 15), Cardiff Tramshed (16), Church End Sign Of The Times Festival (17), Dunfermline PJ Molloys (July 20), Edinburgh Liquid Rooms (21), Sunderland Kubix Festival (22), Perth Rosemount Hotel (28/29), Brisbane The Triffid (August 3), Sydney Manning Bar (4), Melbourne Croxton Ballroom (5), Wellington San Fran (8), Auckland Tuning Fork (9), Derby Hairy Dog (24), Norwich Epic Studios (25) and Portsmouth Victorious Festival (26). 

The Complete Singles is out on double vinyl and triple CD on March 17.


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