'All Of This And More'

Inspiral Carpets Interview

 Rob Allen talking to Graham Lambert and Martyn Walsh (+Mark E Smith).

As we enter the well-worn public house, I stall at the bar as Graham (Lambert, guitars) shoots off into the lounge to take a seat, with Martyn (Walsh, bass) hot on his heels. As always, the interviewer gets the first round in and as I’m stood at the bar I realise that something has taken the attention of my two guests. They haven’t come back to give me an order or asked the usual questions about how we were going to conduct the interview. I stick my head around the corner and a fast talking Mark E Smith (he of “The Fall” fame) has absorbed Graham in conversation. Martyn loiters hesitantly on the fringe as Smith holds court as I go back to the bar, a little dumbfounded and admittedly cautious.

Some may recall the last time these men all gathered for any sustained length of time. It was to record the single “I Want You” which not only dented the top 40 but made it to the prestigious position of a TV advert theme tune for a car. As Mark E Smith leaves the pub to meet an agent waiting at Piccadilly Station he ponders over the recent refurbishment of his destination, moaning “It’s nearly in fucking Hulme. It used to take ten minutes from here, now I get fucking lost”. Which leaves Martyn in hysterics and Graham sinking into nostalgia.

“He had to come into the confines of somebody else’s group, when he was used to being in charge. To his credit, he became a good team player. It was the most interesting three days we’ve ever had. Having spent three working days with him, I don’t know how he does it. He’s Manchester’s Neil Young.” Martyn looks up to pose the question, “What, the guy who played for City?”

But, with this purely chance reunion now over with, we must concentrate on the reformation of the Inspiral Carpets. Back together for a tour, back together with a new “Greatest Hits” package and back together with an emphasis on the music.  In getting to grips with their hugely successful past and evaluating their careers to date, Graham explains the origins of the band. “It initially stared in 1981, but that’s a really tenuous link. We first made a record in ’88 but it was only in ’89 that we settled on the final line-up”. That line up was of course, Tom Hingley (vocals), Clint Boon (organ/keys), Graham, Martyn and Craig “Gilly” Gill (drums). This was the line up to attack the charts with a distinctively infectious pop agenda, flood G-Mex with eager fans in cow t-shirts and then dissolve into nothing under the collective line of “retirement”. They were the band who sat uncomfortably amongst the baggy scene. Whilst the ‘Mondays and the ‘Roses took the press and public through incredible highs and heartbreaking lows, aided by loudmouths such as Anthony H Wilson, the Inspirals signed a huge deal with Mute and worked their socks off until they found that they were the last “Madchester” band standing.

“I think we took the shit for all that” declares Martyn. “A lot of bands went out of the firing line really. The ‘Mondays were all in rehab, the Stone Roses were in court and we just kept on going”. And they did, until 1995, when everything that embodied the scene that had given birth to, and seemingly sustained them, had vanished. So, with the fickle nature of the record buying public and a new breed of guitar bands coming through from across the country, why did they go on for so long? The reason was simple enough for Martyn as he explained “I play bass and I like being in a band. We never saw it as anything else but that.” He also finds that the eventual end of the Inspirals, the first time around, has left loose ends that needed to be tied up. “The way that it all ended was that it just disintegrated, in that way it’s not left a bitter taste in anybody’s mouth, “ he continues to put the record straight by saying, “We didn’t outstay our welcome or whatever, I think we can come back and it be a poke in the ribs to say to people that we’ve stood the test of time.”

With the recent reformation of the Happy Mondays and ever present performers such as The Chameleons and even Morrissey coming back to entertain local crowds, the path seems to have cleared for vintage bands to return to the stage. There has been huge demand and very little criticism of the decision and little of the controversy that may have surrounded a reported reformation of The Stone Roses. This brings me to suggest that, the importance of the Inspirals is a little diluted and that in fact, they were everyone’s second favourite band. They didn’t have an emotional slant that made them adored but everyone had a copy of “This Is How It Feels” on repeat play. Surely if it had been Brown, Squire and the boys the debate would have raged on. “It’s interesting that you should say that, I get the impression that a lot of people would want to see the ‘Roses. Ian Brown is quite timeless and he’s doing very well. We’ve sold thousands of tickets and not been in the same room more than four times in the last 7 years. There will be a lot of people wanting to see them, “ says Graham, continuing to discuss who he’d most like to see reform, his answer is that “The Police would be good.”

When the news came through of the dates at the Academy, it was with a smile that most people greeted the news. Others immediately turned into grizzly cynics, bleating about the five of them needing the money and milking the final drops of a career that had died some time ago. Martyn bites back saying “When we first started talking about reforming one of the buzzwords that came into my head was ‘integrity’ and I think that was one of the things that kept us together in the first place.” So, the decision doesn’t sound all that much to do with cash as much as it has to do with coming back to get a job done. “We had the need to do things right and be seen to be doing things right. That has allowed us to come back and people have been quite appreciative about it. We’re doing it for the reason that we want to make some music and there’s no underlying motives.”

Then the question arises of, why now? They hadn’t featured in “24 Hour Party People”; they hadn’t seen a trail of tribute bands committed to heavy touring schedules and their music rarely hit airwaves either on radio or television. Graham explains, “After a year, I was always into the idea of reforming. After that year, it was like a bit of a cold slap in the face and I realised that being in a band was one of the best things you’d be lucky enough to do. I’d got out of music completely and felt drained but, if you can do it and make an OK living out of it, it’s one of the best things you can be doing.” Having accepted the fact that it’s a laugh being in a touring band, when did the offer come in and the idea start being taken seriously? “It came up every year,” Graham reveals “It just shows that we’re not desperate for the money. The buzz that we’ve had from rehearsing is worth X thousands of pounds because just playing the songs with us five together has a certain buzz about it.”

There are now five men in a room who haven’t had a settled conversation on the history of the Inspirals’ or held talks over any future for the band until now, for nearly a decade. The potential for a situation of settling old scores or winning that argument they started in 1992 must be massive. Are they seeing eye to eye now that they are all in the same room? “Maybe, more so than ever.” Exclaims Graham cheerfully “Seven years is quite a long time. The time line that ties us all up together from Craig at 31 to Clint at 42, that thing that strings the five of us together is that we were the five guys who did these songs.” Martyn is honest in his view, “Everybody knows that shit has gone down. We haven’t sent each other Christmas cards over the past few years, but I think everybody’s grown up. If it was all petty squabbles going on then, it wouldn’t happen.”

And that’s the story of how the Inspirals have come to be taking to the stage again, all a little older and wiser. The conversation continues to thread through the lives of various musicians, bad jokes and recollections of the years in between. These two fifths of the band are more than relaxed and happy about taking their greatest achievement back onto the road and are clearly looking forward to greeting their patient audience as they head off down the motorway again. But, before we part there appears to be a final pang of regret about the one thing that was missing from their rise to the top. They never had celebrity wives.

“Maybe that’s where we went wrong” Graham jokes, “I’m happy as I am, a famous wife must be a nightmare. One that’s not is bad enough!” He is, however, caught up by the idea of an Inspiral Carpets with the rich and famous women of the world as a compliment to their craft. “Who’s would Clint’s be?” he asks. “Cilla Black?” offers Martyn. “Craig’s would be some dolly, who’s’ would mine be then? Liz Hurley? No, Kelly Brook!” decides Graham before allocating Dolly Parton to a grateful Martyn Walsh.

words: Rob Allen

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this interview (p) (c) musicdash 2003 - all images (c) inspiral carpets