Songs for a family
Sean McManus was at the launch for the Inspiral Carpets' Cool As album where he interviewed singer Tom Hingley and bass player Martyn Walsh.
They told him what inspired the reunion, what will decide whether this album is their last and also gave some insight into the relationships in the Inspirals family.
There's a strange mix of confidence and uncertainty in the Inspiral Carpets: Unshakable pride in the quality of the band's back catalogue, but uncertainty about how the market will welcome the new greatest hits and rarities collection 'Cool As'. "Almost all the songs we did were good songs because everyone wrote," says singer Tom Hingley, adding later "you don't control what happens to the band. You're at the mercy of whatever happens to it."
Tom and bass player Martyn Walsh took time out to be interviewed before the launch party for the album on 7 May 2003. Later that night the full band will play about 10 of their singles to an invited crowd of 200-300, including 50 people who won tickets from the official Inspirals mailing list. The DVD will play on the TV screens moulded into the walls of Manchester's Life Cafe, and the DJ will play mostly classic 80s and 90s indie. By the end of the night, all the posters promoting the new album will have been escorted off the premises by guests and Clint will have sung into a fan's mobile phone during the gig and drawn plenty of cartoon cows.
The spirit of camaderie in the band is clear in Tom and Martyn's answers and in how at ease all the band members are with each other both on-stage and off.
What's inspired you to all come back together now?
The fact that we all get on again and that so many things aligned at one particular point to make it all worthwhile. The fact that we're all available to do it, we wanted to do it, the time was right to do it and in a business sense it was right to do it as well as musically. I think it'll stop working as soon as one of those aspects isn't there.
You said that one of the factors is that you're all getting on at the moment, which implies there was a time when you weren't getting on so well...
I don't think not getting on - At the end of the Inspirals I think we'd taken too many beatings really. Physically [laughs]. It just got to that point where we thought 'this is really f---ing hard'. I think everybody had to go and find their own way of dealing with it. For some people that meant going as far away as possible from Inspirals so our paths didn't necessarily meet. I'm not going to say we were always on the phone to each other for five years, because we weren't, but it never got to the point where we would cross the street to avoid each other.
It's quite difficult really because you've got the emotional side and you've got the dispassionate business side. I don't think all of us always got on in that way [socially], but we always made sure that if money came in everyone got paid and that doesn't always happen. That really is an expression of love - making sure that everyone always gets paid the same amount. I know a lot of people might misread that and think - oh here we go again, they're breadheads, but I think if you just treat other people how you'd want to be treated even though you may all be going through very difficult times, it does show that you care about one another. If we hadn't looked after each other despite slight disagreements we wouldn't be back here enjoying what we're doing now.
I think we have the potential to be the best band in the world - the potential to be the best recording, songwriting, live band in the world but we also - and I'm including myself in this - have the possibility of being the most awkward f---ers you ever met. We're creative people - that's the nub of it. Some of our awkwardness, and humour and peculiarness is what makes Inspirals fantastic. We were mates then, we're mates now. We are like a family.
People say to me why did the band split up? I don't think we did split up - it's just that we put all our energies into not being a band instead of being a band.
You say you've got the potential to be the greatest band. Do you think the critics have short-changed you a bit...
There's no point talking about the critics because you're ripping off your arm so people can slap you round the face with your bloody limb so I'd rather not get into that because it's all negative.
The thing is that there is nothing negative about getting back together and playing because the critics only exist here and now and what people might think in five years time might be quite different to now so it's not worth investing emotions in it. Clint said when we got back together that there's no point concentrating on anything negative and that's very true because you're always smiling through the trials and adversity if you're in a band. Craig was in the gym the other day and this fella fell over and died in front of him - your critics are not really that important in the scheme of things compared to 5000 people at Brixton Academy, 5000 people at Manchester. If you allow the critics to paint you into a corner where you'll let them slap you around the face with your own limbs that have been ripped off, that's not a good thing to do.
We did an interview where in the first 30 seconds the interviewer tried to get us into a self-justification exercise and I just won't do it. I have all sorts of doubts in my life about all sorts of different things and one part of my life that I have absolutely no doubts about - and this may even have caused problems in the past - is the Inspiral Carpets. It might almost have been better for us in some personal ways if the band hadn't been such a total success.
You've both been working outside of the Inspirals in-between, (Tom in The Lovers). What's different about playing with the Inspirals?
Playing with the Inspirals is not like playing with any other band. The other bands allow us to develop our own skills. I was in a band with Martyn for about a year and a half and we did some writing, did some really good stuff. Martyn's much more technically-minded than I am as well as playing the bass. The individual projects allow us to develop our skills whether it's on the technical side or songwriting side or, [to Martyn] you did some singing as well. It's about expressing yourself.
The Inspirals always was very special - best of both worlds. You have your own project you can work on and then you can come home for your family in the Inspirals.
The camaderie - when you grow up with people, you take the knocks and you share the good times as well. That's really difficult to replicate in any other band - that bond that you've got. Irrespective of what we ever do in the future, that will still be there, that legacy. It's not just playing the music, it is how the chemistry works between us. Maybe at times I've tried to reinvent that world when I should just try to let it happen with other stuff I've done. I know that when you get five people on the stage that are all buzzing and all committed equally and equally driven, then it works and I challenge anyone to say that it doesn't work.
How did you pick the tracks for the rarities CD on 'Cool As'?
Well we picked some that we liked, like Paper Moon.
We definitely didn't want to do remixes because remixes were very 'of the time' [both laugh] - or 'shit'
'Very of the time' means 'if only we could go back and not do them'
There were some very good ones. We were the first people to recognise the talent of Paul van Dyck and look how he's going now. I think if we'd had our own way a lot more we would have had even better remixes.
What we wanted to do [on the rarities CD] was show the whole diversity of what we did as a group where we would do more experimental stuff and stuff with Basil Clarke and other collaborations. It was to give a whole spectrum of different songs - not necessarily 'rare' in that you can't get hold of it - that was our reasoning behind it.
The criteria was to put the record out that Mute didn't put out in 1995. Mute did the best they could at the time but that record represents a big minus sign to me and this one represents a big plus sign so we're back to where we would have been if we'd been part of that release. It's got tracks that Steve and Swifty played on which have only been available on very limited runs before, which either the first label we were even on did or on bootlegs. It's got three new tracks on it - 'Come Back Tomorrow', 'Iron' and 'You've got what it takes' and it's got our favourite b-sides on it.
A few of the very anorak-y fans aren't happy with the choice. Well I'm really sorry [insincerely] but it's the records we wanted on it - I'm really sorry about that. Next time we'll do a compilation which is all the records nobody else has ever heard of - only joking - but this record has what we wanted to put on it to correct some omissions in the past.
Of course if you are a very devoted fan, you don't want everyone else to have all the early recordings. You don't want everyone else to have what was on our first two singles - in fact you would largely resent it. Unfortunately, we can't choose what's going to go on the record on the basis of what 16 people in North America or what 24 people here think.
Is there more stuff in the vaults to come out, or is this album the final statement from Inspiral Carpets?
I don't know. I really don't know. It's a difficult question. All we're prepared to do up to now is go to the 1st of September . And then that is it. As far as we're aware. We'll take everything as it comes and then re-assess everything. There's lots of stuff that's been recorded to different stages of completion. Whether or not that sees the light of day is another thing entirely.
Where we are with this CD is that for the first five years of CD production, about 60% of CDs sold were to people who were replacing their vinyl collection of Led Zepellin, Pink Floyd or whatever it was. Now the record industry is basically repackaging greatest hits records with DVDs and we're in the front of this rather than being at the scraggy arse of it.
Is there a chance you will write together again?
It's not up to us. I'd say it's up to the audience. If people go and buy it I'd say there's a greater chance and if people don't buy it the chances are less than 0.1 because we're not here as a vanity project. It's not worth us saying we're definitely going to do this, or we're definitely going to do that.
One of the nice things about the band when we've been operating since the end of last year/beginning of this year is that nobody is keener than anybody else. We're just doing what we discussed. There isn't one person sitting there like Beethoven with smoke coming out of his head desperate to do loads of things while someone else is being really despondant and trying to act like they don't give a shit. None of us is trying to push it further than what there seems to be interest for.
Isn't the enjoyment of performing before the crowds you spoke of enough to make it worth working together?
It's difficult to say because the sort of things that made us the sort of band that was doing the right things in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 might be the sort of things that lead us to not doing anything more in the present day. I'm not ruling it in or ruling it out. But we've done a great body of work, we've done a lot more things than most bands have ever got to do. That doesn't necessarily mean that we have to do any more.
It's a very difficult question. The thing that's been on my mind most while playing the gigs is that it's fantastic having those people there but I wouldn't want to just go and do the same again year in year out. [laughs] You'll always get some f---er throwing it back in your face when you end up doing it five years down the line.
Everything we've done about getting back together we've done with integrity. The fact is that we want to do it and we're doing it because we want to enjoy ourselves and as soon as that stops, that's when we will re-assess it.
You're asking us at a very difficult time because you're asking us two weeks before the record comes out. We don't know whether anyone is going to buy it. I genuinely mean that. Just because we've sold 20,000 tickets for the first tour we've done in nine years it doesn't necessarily quantify that anyone will buy the record. I'm not saying that people won't buy the record, but we don't know.
The last thing we'd want to do is say we'll definitely do this, that and the other when we don't know if there will be any interest it. There's nothing worse in musical enterprises or love or anything than people being desperate to do something when there isn't any demand. I always think one of the saddest things in the world is a lad expressing interest for a girl who just isn't interested or a girl expressing interest for a lad who just isn't interested. I think the same thing applies to music. I don't think we have to say now 'we're definitely going to do it'.
To finish then, what would be your favourite Inspirals tracks?
What do you think, Martyn? You choose five and I'll choose five.
What was really weird was coming back to the songs we're doing in the set like Butterfly and Find Out Why - the real, throwaway garage stuff which I thought we might feel a little bit embarrassed about but which I think come across really well now. There's tracks that maybe got overlooked, like Born Yesterday and Skidoo and that sort of era. I think we were really quite dark but in a Joy Division sort of way - still quite uplifting dark, not morose. I think the Beast Inside era was a weird time for us. It was a really great album recorded at the wrong time - or put out at the wrong time maybe. I like the more garage-y punky stuff but the flip of that is tracks like Born Yesterday and Skidoo.
Sometimes I like the stuff like 'I Want You' and 'Dragging Me Down', 'Saturn 5', like Martyn said - 'Butterfly'. I think you should be able to say what you are trying to say in three minutes and people assume quite wrongly that that's an easy thing to do. It's the most difficult thing in the world to do, to write a three minute pop song.
The triple-pack Cool As (including a CD of singles, a CD of rarities and a DVD of videos and live footage) was released 19 May 2003. The single Come Back Tomorrow was released 19 July 2003.
- Cool As - tracklisting
- Sean's Inspiral Carpets site - archive interviews, gig reviews and photographs
- Inspiral Carpets official website - subscribe to the newsletter and get the latest news here
- Ian Tilton - rock photographer who took the photos on this page
- Order 'Inspiral Carpets: Cool As' at Amazon.co.uk