Sunday 2 April 2023

Inspiral Carpets - Manchester Albert Hall - 1st April 2023

Inspiral Carpets made an emotional return to Manchester for their first show there for seven and a half years since the passing of drummer Craig Gill. A hits-heavy set with a poignant tear-inducing surprise in the encore delighted a packed out Albert Hall who transmitted so much love to the band on what Clint Boon described as "one of the greatest nights of my life."

There's no room to move upstairs or downstairs in Albert Hall well before Inspiral Carpets take to the stage as Dave Sweetmore warms up the room with the most predictable yet appropriate of Manchester playlists, predominantly taken from the era when Inspiral Carpets were in their commercial heyday. It sets the audience up perfectly for the clock turning to nine o'clock and the band striding onto stage to the sound of the lesser known Manchester anthem of the time The Storm by World Of Twist.

For the next eighty-five minutes Inspiral Carpets remind an adoring audience of the strength of their back catalogue from their earliest singles Keep The Circle Around and Butterfly through the sole post-reformation track on the setlist tonight, the John Cooper Clark collaboration Let Me Down. The band developed their infamous Cow logo and spent most of their time just half a mile from here in an office in Sackville St, which gives the name to one of the non-single crowd favourites played tonight, so whilst they're an Oldham band, it very much feels like a homecoming for the prodigal sons. Songs are sung back at the band at a volume that almost drowns them out, as the older members of the crowd relive what they can remember of their youth, while the younger ones are maybe seeing the band they grew up listening to because of their parents for the first time.

Inspiral Carpets are about these songs and the mood they create. Their line-up has changed over time. Without Steve, there would have been no band for Tom, without Tom no band for Steve to come back to. With Craig sadly no longer with us and Martyn stepping out for now, the line-up may not be the familiar one that many will know, but Jake and Kev on bass and drums step up to ensure that the sound hasn't changed too far. They can't replace those who aren't in the band, but they don't try to, just be themselves. Steve has shown this since he stepped back into the lead singer position, huge boots to fill given Tom's distinctive vocals, and gives probably the finest performance we've seen and heard from him since he reformed, moving around the stage and losing himself in the moment. He can't however resist asking if anyone knew the football score from earlier, although every one knew at that moment his beloved City must have won.

The songs remain the same though; This Is How It Feels still induces a singalong, Saturn 5 a moshpit and arms raised in the air and Dragging Me Down and She Comes In The Fall that military marching sound with the drums. Everyone in the room seems to know every song, either by heart or through hazy recollections of a mis-spent youth hollering out some slightly off-key and wrong lyric. Clint, who does most of the talking as usual, says he was here for The Lottery Winners' show before Christmas and was blown away by the love in the room and felt they might not be able to match that, but he tells us he was wrong. And he's right in that assessment. After the excitement and thrill of the Ist Ist show the night before, we were drained of energy but from the opening bars of Joe through the dying strains of Saturn 5, with Steve down on the barrier with the audience, the music brought us and every one else to life (if you pardon the terrible debut album pun).

The moment that everyone will remember the show for and talk about for years happens at the start of the encore though. This tour has been billed as a celebration of Craig Gill's life - that had so far been very restrained but heartfelt, as Craig was the effervescent heartbeat of the band from the day he hijacked them as a fourteen year old and effectively installed himself in the band. A young man with a full head of ginger curly hair struts on stage and for those of us old enough to have been around in the late eighties, it could have been Craig himself given the absolute resemblance, the cocky yet loveable swagger and the fearlessness. 

He gets behind the drums and plays Commercial Rain with them before soaking up the cheers of the audience. We're in floods of tears, this is the third gig we've done since they got back together and this is the first time it's overwhelmed us, and that moment has a few times since. It's beautiful and the most incredibly perfect tribute they could pay to their family and our friend. 

The final two songs are a slight anti-climax after that, as would anything, as people recompose themselves. We're not sure how the band managed that because we, and some around us, struggle to. 96 Tears is dedicated to Mike Sweeney, one of the band's earliest supporters, and Saturn 5 has Steve down on the barrier as a room full of people raises its hands and hail the man who walks up in heaven today. 

It's emotional just writing about this. It was always going to be so, but we didn't quite understand just how much after having been at the first show in Northampton. It's why there was no warm-up, this was the only way to come home, among two thousand of their own people in a show of love, remembrance and solidarity. 

Inspiral Carpets played Joe, Generations, Weakness, Butterfly, She Comes In The Fall, This Is How It Feels, Two Worlds Collide, Let You Down, Caravan, Find Out Why, Move, Sackville, Directing Traffic, Keep The Circle Around, I Want You, Uniform, Dragging Me Down, Commercial Rain, 96 Tears and Saturn 5.

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

They play Leeds O2 Academy (April 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.


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