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The Inspiral Carpets are the latest band to reunite. Except as Stephen Tudor discovers this is far more than a nostalgia-fest. They’re better than ever before.
This is how it feels to be forty. A club heaving with blokes sporting widow’s peaks, long-perfected nonchalance, and pristine cagoules all lithely grooving to songs they’ve heard a million times through the decades on cassette, CD, then phone. On buses, in battered first cars, and lately slumped on leather settees in post-pub nostalgia the lyrics to these songs have gradually revealed their full depth and meaning as an amphetamined youth gave way to mortgages, gym membership and the frantic demands of fatherhood. Choruses that used to be belted out through teenage larynxes now instead speak directly to the gut but always still with a wurlitzer of sound that gets the endorphins soaring and the Gazelles shuffling.
We are at Central Station in Wrexham to see everybody’s third or fourth favourite band the Inspiral Carpets on the penultimate leg of a tour that’s brought them back to life and that description is intended with no slight. Whether you were immersed in the Madchester explosion, gurned yourself silly in fields to repetitive beats, or were a retro Bowie or Beatles head, if you grew up a bastard child of Thatcher the Inspirals will always be forever cherished amidst bands that became behemoths. Boon and the boys were always too cool as f*** to become one of those – genuine cool, the type to laugh at effected attitude whilst wearing a cartoon cow on your t-shirt. While others sought stadiums and mainstream acclaim they were always content to be the era’s undertow of aceness.
In that strange time of Kylie and Jason, 24 hour party people, and social unrest that briefly hinted at revolution, they were unique, blessed with an armoury of tunes that burst with an unusual spectrum of energy and colour. Even amongst their own musical kith and kin – the Madchester family tied together through time, outlook, and geography – they ploughed a distinctive furrow, the odd cousin with a Paisley shirt and bowlcut who was initially considered eccentric until you discovered an Orange Juice record in their collection.
Perhaps it is because of this individuality but unlike the recent reunions of their contemporaries there is no ambivalence here, no fear that a treasured legacy would be undone. Seeing original singer Stephen Holt – who returned in 2011 after a 24 year absence – impose himself on stage to the opening strains of Real Thing it all immediately makes sense. This is how reunions should be; not a greatest hits sing-along nostalgia-fest (recent offerings such as last year’s one-off single were given prominence in the set) but musicians combining the joy of rediscovery with a lifetime of experience and chops. Bassist Martyn Walsh thumped out ninety minutes of intense showmanship while in the crowd the Boon Army marched to Clint’s psychedelic frenzy. They were, in short, bloody brilliant and the affection in which the songs and men are held only elevated the night further.
Bolstered by the good-will and charged atmosphere the band bombasted through a set-list that supposedly bigger acts would kill their drummer for. The anthemic Move, Caravan and Two Worlds Collide were given an almost disdainful thrashing as tunes of sculpted magnificence were delivered one after another until we were launched to Saturn 5. It all bordered on the masterclass.
The only respite came from the glorious Sun Don’t Shine, a melancholy hymn to love lost and here we must return to the Inspirals’ pedigree in penning songs that have a complexity far beyond the swirling funk that frames them. While the Roses sang about sticky fingered boys and candyfloss and the Mondays espoused getting royally off your tits their baggy brethren from Oldham always explored more gritty fare, an acknowledgement that beneath the hedonism is often struggle and plight. Such downbeat themes are off-set of course by the vibrancy of the music that accompanies them, a bittersweet package that perfectly encapsulates reality. It is no coincidence that their best-known LP was simply entitled Life.
So this is how it feels to be forty and as Joe pounds into my arteries and takes me right back to my fourteen year old self hearing it for the first time and imagining Manchester as an alien paradise I look around at the good folk who have shared the journey.
If someone had told me back then that it would feel this good I’d have been pretty happy with that. Moo.