“We’re up for it and ready to be a full time band again” - Inspiral Carpet’s Stephen Holt talks to Muse


Alfie Sansom (he/him) talks with lead singer Stephen Holt about their latest tour, Nostalgia and whether Man City will win the Premier League

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Image by Sonic PR

By Alfie Sansom

Inspiral Carpets are a Manchester band, breaking through in the Madchester scene with Top 20 hits like ‘This Is How It Feels’ and ‘Dragging Me Down’. A few weeks before they embark on their first tour since 2015, lead singer Stephen Holt is on the phone to me, talking about how the rehearsal schedule is heating up.

Are the rehearsals quite strenuous? Do you enjoy doing them?

“We’re putting a shift in at the moment,” he laughs. “A couple of us are still working, but come the next couple of weeks we’re going to be mainly a full-time band again. Clint’s keeping his DJ duties going and whatever but, yeah, the rest of us who are working are taking a break or stopping working and becoming full-time musicians again. It’ll be quite nice but last night I think we were going from about half seven until about half twelve, so we’re putting quite a bit of time in.”

Sounds like it. Are you excited to get back out on the road again?

“Yeah, it’s a weird one really, because obviously, if you would’ve asked me the question: ‘Do you think the band would ever play again?’ a year ago, I probably would have said no. There just wasn’t an appetite between any of us, after Craig’s death. It was hard because he’d been with us since he was fifteen and had been through everything with us – it’s a long time and it really affected us. We were doing some writing in early 2016, getting ready for another album but when Craig died, it was really hard and we didn’t think that we would probably ever do anything again. The offers coming in last year must’ve just hit at the right time because Clint, Graham and I were all up for it and wanted to do it. Unfortunately, Martyn, our bass player, has decided to sit this out for the time being and that was a difficult decision to move on and bring people in. But if the rehearsals with the new people hadn’t sounded so good and gone so well, we wouldn’t be doing it now. Things have gone brilliantly, we’re sounding great and we’re all loving it – it’s almost like being in the early days again.”

From what you’ve said it sounds like it’s going to be a cracking run of shows. As you’ve mentioned, there’s been some line-up changes – do you think this will change the performance and match your fans’ expectations of what an Inspiral Carpets gig should be?

“I don’t think so, Alfie. Sound-wise, I think we’re sounding absolutely brilliant at the moment. I’m not going to say we’re sounding better than when Craig and Martyn were playing, because they’re an integral part of the band – that would be a dishonour to them. But I think we’re sounding as good, and people won’t be let down at all. You’re always going to get fans who say ‘it’s not the same without Tom’, and I’ve had that too. I came back into the band in 2011 and at every point I hear something like that, and we will be hearing it again from people – it’s not the same without Craig, it's not the same without Martyn. Whether or not that’s visually for people expecting to see a certain thing, or it won’t sound the same, or people just like to knock sometimes, for me, I know we won’t let the fans down. We will give them a really good gig, because we’re sounding so good and looking good and we’re all really enjoying it, and that’s part of the thing, in anything like work, sport or football: if you go in one day not feeling it, then you don’t give it your best; if you’re really enjoying it and being around the people you’re with and getting a buzz from it, then you give it your all. And that’s all I can say at the moment, we’re all giving it our all and we’re up for it.”
Definitely, and at the end of the day, going to live gigs is about energy, and if the performers have that confidence, then it’ll shine through.

“Totally, you can pick up on a band that is not really interested, and I think for our music, because a lot of our early music had that punk edge to it, energy matters. If you’re thinking about songs like ‘Joe Butterfly’, ‘I Want You’ and ‘She Comes In The Fall’, they’ve all got that kind of energy. If we didn’t think we could do it right, then we wouldn’t do it – we’re not people who rip people off and go through the motions. If our hearts weren’t in it then I know Clint, Graham and I would say no because it wouldn’t be right. We’re all up for it and we reckon that people will have a good night coming to see us.”

I’ve noticed you’re going on tour in New Zealand and Australia later in the year.

“Yeah, it’s around the end of July, and honestly we’ve been so pleased with the response. When we announced the main tour, Manchester sold out within half an hour and we’re up to about seven other ones that have sold out – it’s great that there’s an appetite to see us. What we’ve been especially pleased about is when we announced the Australia dates, the Perth one sold out within a week and we’ve added a date. I think there’s an appeal to see those older bands too. Times are hard with the cost of living crisis and not much money going around – life’s a bit shit and the world’s all a bit crap – and there’s a resurgence in those nostalgia trips. You want to go see a band like ourselves, with your mates, get pissed up a bit and have a dance, arms in the air, and have a good time. I think people want that and they know that they’re guaranteed a good time. I feel sorry for young new bands because people probably don’t take a chance on new bands when they could have just as good a night, but they won’t know the songs or what a band is like, so they won’t take that kind of risk. You want to go out and have a good night.”

Obviously, as the lead singer, you took a break with the band between the late Eighties and 2011, but when Inspiral Carpets first came together, do you think you’d be doing these big international tours?

Chuckling to himself, Stephen continues, “I don’t think so. I can remember when it was me and Graham who started the band and we got our first Manchester gig and we thought that was it and we made it. We were playing in Manchester and that was the best we were going to get, and then you get a London show and that’s amazing as well. No, I don’t think any of us dreamed that when we started in 1983 that we would be going to Australia and New Zealand. And when I left in ’89, the band was going from strength to strength with Tom, and he did such a brilliant job really, and for them I don’t think they’d ever believe they were going to Japan or America as well. I think we’ve achieved way more than we ever thought we would. In some ways I would equate us to, I don’t know if you’re a football fan, but that kind of steady player who is there and always in the team, has a great career because he is so consistent, that’s what we’re like in some ways. We’re not brilliant musicians, but we’re a steady band who work really hard and got our just deserts for the work we put in. We work hard and want to make sure it’s right for people”

I think it would take a certain degree of arrogance to start off and assume you would be touring internationally.

“Yeah, of course, that’s been another thing with the band – there’s never been an ounce of arrogance in any of us. Unfortunately, I think you do get that in a lot of bands, and it spoils a lot of younger bands – and older bands – where there is that arrogance. I don’t know if it’s because once they’re in the music industry they think they have to act in a certain way as they’re now ‘stars’, drinking and taking drugs, having this rock and roll lifestyle.” I could sense the smirk through the phone as he added, “yeah, we’ve done bits and all kinds of things. But there’s never been an arrogance in it, and we’ve always been there to put the work in and get the most out of it ourselves, and to make the fans happy.”

This tour is your first one back since 2015 and it’s been labelled as a “celebration of everything that Inspiral Carpets has produced”. You’ve also got the Complete Singles album coming out as well, and it seems like quite a nice milestone, or even bookend. What’s the plan after this?

“It was about December 2015 when we were last on stage, wasn’t it? With Shed Seven in Leeds? It was a brilliant tour, and we were writing new songs for an album. We had a few songs that we demoed and rehearsed, and ended up with about five or six that we got recordings of. It would be nice, because Craig is on those, if we could at some point do something with those and maybe work on them and get them ready for release. Once we’re actually in gig mode again and band mode, back together again and playing, I think it will come naturally that we will start to write and get ideas. There are no guarantees at the moment but we would love to be releasing new material at some point, and we hope Martyn would be a big part of that. He doesn’t want to play live at the moment but we want him to come back and be part of the band and of any writing and releases we do. Hopefully, any gigs that come up, we’re hoping from the news that we’re touring and going abroad like Australia, that other international gigs get booked, like America. But you never know, do you? We’re up for it and ready to be a full time band again, to celebrate everything that we’ve done over the years and everything about the band.”

Brilliant. I actually noticed that with one of your latest singles, 2015’s ‘Let You Down’, you had a collaboration with Dr John Cooper Clarke. Is a reunion on the cards?

“With John Cooper Clarke? Oh God, if we can track him down. I don’t think he’s got a phone or a computer or anything. We were really lucky to get him for that one song, and to have him write a special piece for it, too. You never know, we were really honoured to do ‘I Want You’ with Mark E. Smith, another legend, so there might be someone else we pull out of the bag this time. They’re special moments for us really, we’re all massive John Cooper Clarke and The Fall fans, so to be able to do those kinds of things are really special for us.”

It'd be really exciting if you could! You seem like a group of humble chaps so you probably don’t want to overstate anything, but what impact do you reckon Inspiral Carpets has had? Do you listen to bands now and hear yourself in their music?
“Oh, I’m not too sure. I suppose it comes back to that ‘arrogance’ thing, I’d never listen to a band and think ‘they’re a fan of ours and sound like us’. One thing we love to do is give new young bands a bit of a chance to get a break, because that’s what happened with us. I know some of the bands that we have touring with us at the moment, particularly De Je Vega and Dirty Laces, are massive fans and loved what we did, and I’m not saying that we’ve had a massive influence, but we probably have influenced them a bit. You hope that in some ways, in whatever you do, inspires people and it would mean a lot to me. I hope that we’ve done some good over the years – that people have listened to our songs and wanted to start a band and be like us. That’s what it was like for me and Graham in the early days, listening to bands like Bunnymen, Joy Division and Magazine, that’s what made me want to do that and have a go. We’re all music fans and we’ve all got these bands that we love and inspired us, and I can only hope that for ourselves.”

Back in the nineties there were lots of different regional scenes – you came through the Madchester scene with the Happy Mondays. Do you think that there’s a bit of a hegemony at the moment with chart music?

“It’s something that I talk about with my family actually. When I was growing up, we were part of an area and we were aware of more scenes, like the Liverpool one with the Bunnymen and Wild Swans, and the London scene with the House of Love, and the Birmingham scene with The Mighty Lemon Drops. With the Manchester scene, I never felt that we were really part of that – it was more of a trip-hop sound that wasn’t really our thing. I think with today’s music it’s quite weird, because things are less defined. When I was growing up you had mods and punks, Bowie fans and all these different defined genres. Nowadays they take wider influences, and people aren’t as defined in their influences, or even how they dress. I listen to a lot of new bands and I’m always trying to find new stuff, and listening to them is always interesting because you can pick out the different genres and influences. If you think of Yard Act, an absolutely brilliant band, in some ways, they’re like an indie hip-hop band with their lyrics. They cross borders and aren’t as defined as in the past. Does that make sense?”

Yes, I agree. I suppose with wider access to everything now, that’s more true than ever.

“Exactly, I think that’s right. And with social media and Spotify and everything, you have huge access to stuff. When I was growing up, you would listen to John Peel, a couple of local radio stations and head down to Eastern Bloc Records in Manchester and you try and find the stuff you’ve heard. Now I can pick up my phone and listen to radio stations in America and other places. The exposure is huge, wider and bigger than we ever had.”
Do you think that something’s lost without these cliques and regional scenes, like Mods or the Madchester scene?

“No, I think in some ways it makes it a bit more interesting. From a listening perspective, you go to gigs sometimes and you look at the audience, you get such a broad range. Music wise, I think it’s really exciting, and bringing out some really interesting new stuff, especially if you try and piece together its influences. It’s really creative and really exciting, and there’s lots of good stuff coming out of this increased exposure.”

Just for the last question, do you think Man City will win the Premier League this year?

He chuckles a confident laugh. “I always think Man City will win the league. Well, I always think, but I’m never too sure.”