One of the remarkable things about many of the songs on the This is England 90 soundtrack is how fresh they sound. Not so much because so much time has passed, but more because their time had passed so much. Or so we thought in the late ’90s and early noughties: first everything was pushed aside for the bright lights and political handshakes of Britpop, then we were buried under landfill indie. In the last decade or so, though, old bands have reformed and recorded new material, and new artists have stretched never-the-twain boundaries that once felt so strong.
What’s going on tonight? Is there a discotheque?
Or am I just old and nostalgic? Has watching Shaun Ryder on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and warming to his gruffness and charms bridged a generational gap between then and now? I didn’t see The Stone Roses play Spike Island, but I did see them play the Sziget (translation: “Island”) festival, Budapest in 2012. It was exciting, of course it was, so much so that Ian Brown could have had an off day (as if…) and I wouldn’t have cared. But I was enjoying it as a late thirty-something with a small part of his mind on hoping not to have to wait too long for a train back to the city afterwards, and with 20+ years of Stone Roses listening to fall back on to fill any auditory gaps in the live performance.
Still, there’s no diminishing the glory of the opening bars of “Fool’s Gold”, no matter how much time passes; a preceding snatch of dialogue from the series sets it up perfectly. And no matter that it’s only the single edit, it remains the apotheosis of that glorious indie/dance melting pot. The odd snippet of dialogue are one of the ways This is England ’90 manages to rise above the normal retro-compilation crowd. And it needs to, because the compilation industry has been making hay with some of this material for a long time. “There She Goes”, for example, is no stranger to the compilers, or indeed advertisers, and “classics” radio stations. The problem with these songs is that you don’t really ever need to consciously choose to listen to them: someone will do that for you at some point. See also: Beats International, Adamski, 10CC (the one track here that I am mostly skipping most of the time), and to a lesser extent Happy Mondays. “Come Home”, by James, on the other hand, gets a pass for its appearance on the legendary but flawed Happy Daze compilation.
The album’s running order means “Step On” gives way, jarringly at first, to “Underwood”, the first of three Ludovico Einaudi pieces on the soundtrack. In their every bar they are the essence of twenty-first century soundtrack: sparse melancholy, simple construction, and more moments when This is England reminds you that life isn’t all larks and funny Bez dances. It’s the modern way of signalling misery: keening strings are out, suspense, anticipation, quiet dread are in.
There’s just enough time to for it all to sink in: this is basically still the 80s in all but name. And then you’re into Kiko Bun’s cover of Toots and The Maytals’ “54-56” and the across-decades sampling “Dub Be Good To Me” crash in…
It also demonstrates another win for This is England ’90: even if you can find most of these tracks on plenty of compilations, you probably won’t find one with all of them on. You might, however, find a playlist or two somewhere on some streaming service that comes close: something curated; something with feeling and love, even if it is just the e-talking. Which is maybe how you get “Cubik” by 808 State alongside Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face”, next to a final Einaudi composition.
And then at the end, there’s “God Song”, a rumbling, pounding new track by Toydrum. It’s fitting that it should close the soundtrack to what Meadows has hinted marks the end of This is England, given songwriter Gavin Clark’s longtime influence on Meadows’ art. After Clark’s death earlier this year, Meadows wrote:
He’s penned at least one unforgettable song for pretty much everything I’ve ever made and his latest, as yet unreleased songs, are his greatest and have once again become the emotional heartbeat of my latest project.
It’s a final reminder that this is not so much a nostalgic genre piece as a time capsule. The clever trick is that in some way it’s all our soundtracks, whether you were at The Hacienda or just mentally in madchester. For me, tracks by The Stone Roses, James, The Las kick off all sorts of reminiscences. My indie birth certificate puts me slightly after this time – 1991 was where it all kicked off – and I was very much in the indie guitar camp, looking across at the daft dance crowd. If the likes of 808 State, Adamski and The Scientist crept in, it might only have been through some random compilation backdoor – the sort of album where the compilers either had diversity targets or a preternatural desire to demonstrate their cool chops. Here they’re together for all the right reasons.
Back in April 2014 the BBC ran a series of shows and promotions under the banner title “20 years of Britpop”. The logic behind the choice of time and place for the start of that 20 year period is fuzzy and vague, but they mention the death of Kurt Cobain (5 April 1994) and the release of Parklife (25 April 1994) as touchpoints.
There’s also a claim that Stuart Maconie coined the term Britpop, a claim that will come as news to John Robb, who runs www.louderthanwar.co.uk and who has said that he first used the term in the late ’80s while discussing the “madchester” scene. John Harris doesn’t offer anything as vulgar as an exact date in his book “The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the demise of English rock”, but he does tie the term’s mainstream acceptance with the rise, in 1994-5, of Blur, a band who had come a long way in a short time: from windy Primrose Hill to Westminster, to be precise.
Like my Mum always used to say, though, it doesn’t matter who started it. And I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s touching to commemorate the anniversary of the death of a musician by scheduling two weeks of programming in celebration of the scene that his music was often placed in direct opposition to. What we do know is that between the death of Cobain and the birth of Parklife, a new band from Manchester burst onto the scene. Their rivalry with Blur (fabricated or no) would do as much as anything to shape the public perception of Britpop.
“Supersonic”, the debut single by Oasis, was released on 11 April 1994. It went into the charts at #31, three places below “Standing Outside the Fire” by Garth Brooks and four behind “Why Me?” by pop titans PJ & Duncan, both of which were also new entries that week. It was also a week that saw the artist then known as the artist formerly known as Prince at number one (I think. He’s listed as “Symbol” on the Official Charts web site at this point): other than Terrorvision at 24 with “Oblivion”, there was a general dearth of British guitar bands in the chart.
The singles chart wasn’t entirely forbidden ground in 1994: Suede had reached #3 in February with “Stay Together”, while Elastica bruised the Top 20 with “Line Up” in the same month, and Inspiral Carpets had also reached the Top 20 with both “Saturn 5” and “I Want You”. Inspiral Carpets had been in the charts since “Move” reached #49 in 1989, though, and these were their 12th and 13th hits respectively. “I Want You” also featured a typically shouty vocal from Mark E Smith of Manchester legends and Peel favourites The Fall. As powerful as this combination was, it hardly felt like the future.
You need to be yourself
One man who might have taken an interest in the fortunes of Inspiral Carpets was their former roadie, Noel Gallagher. In 1988 he had auditioned, unsuccessfully, to replace Steve Holt as the band’s lead singer. Tom Hingley, whose band Too Much Texas had supported Inspiral Carpets a few times, got that gig, but the band saw something in Gallagher’s cocksure attitude and soon enough he was on tour with them. Hingley, who hadn’t known about Gallagher’s audition at the time, later described Gallagher as “a very smart, funny, street urchin: a bit like the Artful Dodger”. He lugged and delegated until 1992 when Inspiral Carpets could no longer afford to keep him on, by which time he had joined and pretty much taken charge of a band that already featured his brother Liam on vocals, along with Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, Paul McGuigan, and a “just-about-competent drummer named Tony McCarroll”. Instilling a keen work ethic in his band-mates and creating relatively straightforward songs for them to play, he set about turning Oasis into the biggest band in the country.
You can’t be no-one else
Part of that plan was finding the right record label. At the end of May 1993, Creation records boss Alan McGee was in Glasgow to see the live debut of the Big Star inspired Sister Lovers, whose members included his good friend Debbie Turner. Oasis weren’t on the bill that night, but shared rehearsal space at the Boardwalk in Manchester with Sister Lovers and came along to blag a support slot. The way the story is generally told from that point is that a pissed up McGee heard one song and knew there and then that he was going to sign this band of cocky Mancs.
Oasis’ first release was “Columbia”; it was well received and even made its way onto Radio 1 despite being a limited edition promo only 12″. Their first single proper, “Supersonic”, was released in April 1994. It entered the charts at number 31, and dropped out again after just one week.
At this early stage, in the eyes of my friends Oasis was just one of those weird bands I was into, where weird means new, not very popular, not obviously destined for greatness. One day, though, in the not-too-distant future, they would be queueing with me in Manchester city center, part of an early morning snake of freezing bodies, gloved hands wrapped round cheap coffee in cheaper polystyrene cups, constantly batting back rumours that the gig was sold out, until those rumours became fact and there was no choice but to trudge home. Seeing Oasis live would have to wait.
But back to April ’94. Maybe it was tied up with being in Manchester during the ripples of the Madchester aftershock, the ruination of Factory and the corporatisation of the clubbing scene. Maybe it was all those endless 80s student nights (Club Tropicana at the Manchester Academy, anyone?) and cheesy Manchester clubs that the characters from Coronation Street would visit on a big night out in town (Royales, anyone?). Maybe it was a lack of competition in the “exciting British bands” category at the time. Whatever it was, “Supersonic” was a bolt from the blue.
No-one’s gonna tell you what I’m on about
It starts with a confident piece of no-nonsense drumming (“Meat and potatoes” as I swear I heard Tony Parsons once describe it, although I can’t find a reference to back that up) from McCarroll, met by one of Noel’s simple but incredibly evocative guitar melodies, and a slice of rhythm guitar from Bonehead that’s as dense as your granny’s fruitcake. And then Liam of the ridiculous vowel sounds chips in with the kind of lyric that I am sure is exactly the sort of thing my friends meant when they said “weird bands”.
Let’s be clear: this is drivel.
You need to be yourself
You can’t be no one else
I know a girl called Elsa
She’s into Alka Seltzer
She sniffs it through a cane on a supersonic train
She made me laugh
I got her autograph
She done it with a doctor on a helicopter
She’s sniffin in her tissue
Sellin’ the Big Issue
But what a chorus, what a racket, what a feeling (hell – more than a feeling!). And what’s more, it fades out on one of those double-tracked loopy, bendy guitar solos that I’m a complete sucker for. It’s Teenage Fanclub’s I Don’t Know (Burnage boys are mad for it remix).
I’m feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic
Did you know that Oasis have had eight number one singles in the UK? That’s as many as The Rolling Stones, and only one below ABBA and The Spice Girls. Remarkable, really, especially when you consider the list includes songs like “The Hindu Times” and “Lyla”. You probably don’t remember those two songs all that well, because you probably stopped listening to Oasis after the musical cocaine party that was Be Here Now. Many people did the same. And yet many (enough) people went out and bought each new single as though it was actually an exciting event. Mostly, they did this during the song’s first week of release, because not one of Oasis’ eight number ones have lasted more than a week at the top. This feat of short-evity puts them in interesting company: of the artists with four or more number one UK singles only Eminem, David Guetta and One Direction have also failed to spend a second week at number one.
Perhaps more remarkable is that while some of their late career singles reached the top, the song that perhaps defines them more than any other only reached #2. And no, I don’t mean “Roll With It”, the joke-inspiring single that battled with Blur during Britpop’s commercial peak and creative nadir. Not that, but “Wonderwall”. Iconic, instantly recognisable, and tragically easy to play on an acoustic guitar, as anyone who’s ever spent a night in a music festival campsite can attest. As good as it is, though, some might say (ahem) that Oasis’ version of the song is not the best. Personally, I would put this above it:
And also this, depending on the jollity of my mood:
Brilliantly, the Mike Flowers Pops version of “Wonderwall” was released at the end of 1995, while the Oasis original was still in the chart, and very nearly stole the Christmas number one position from Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song”. I say “Oasis original”, but after it was cheekily declared on Radio 1 that the Mike Flowers Pops cover was in fact an original song from the 50s, Noel Gallagher received a transatlantic phone call from a nervous record label suit to verify that he had in fact written the song. “You bunch of dicks”, said Noel, later.
But he can smile about it now, perhaps helped by the fact that “Wonderwall” reversed its descent out of the top ten and spent a few extra weeks in the chart on the back of the success of the lounge cover. This bonus chart time might also have helped soften the blow of being beaten to the top spot in the first place by singing soldiers Robson and Jerome and their double a-side “I Believe / Up on the Roof”.
But before tomorrow
When did it become the norm to dismiss Oasis, eh?. They did get progressively rubbisher as time went on, it’s true, but it’s sometimes hard to square the modern-day revisionism with the astonishing sales figures of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? and Be Here Now and the scale of live events like their immense two days at Knebworth. In a way they became victims not of their own success, but the failures of others, doomed to be forever remembered for Noel’s visit to Downing Street, getting chummy with Blair and the now faintly embarrassing notion of Cool Britannia, or their part in Britpop’s downfall with the ludicrous chart face-off against Blur. There’s also backlash to feel in the form of music journalists of the day hastily recanting their 5-star-fulsomeness for Be Here Now. On its release said to have been a masterpiece; subsequently: an overblown wreck. Journalists, perhaps, were themselves too happy to indulge in some of what we might call “Gallagher’s ruin”.
I don’t listen to Oasis very often any more, but when Definitely Maybe was re-issued earlier this year I enjoyed some quality nostalgia-time with it, hearing “Slide Away” and “Cloudburst” (originally a Live Forever b-side) for the first time in a long time. It’s been a long time since I was excited by anything new from Oasis, but I can’t deny that for a while back there in the 90s I was just a little bit mad for it.
A new decade
The radio plays the sounds we made
And everything seems to feel just right
So sang Richard Ashcroft on The Verve‘s song “A New Decade”, released in, er… 1995.
A new decade: a time of excitement, anticipation of what might be. But also a time of looking back. Thinking of what might have been. “They’re selling hippy wigs in Woolworths” lamented Danny as his decade of fug reached a close at the end of Withnail & I.
It’s the end of an era.
Madchester was looking good in the late 80s. In the city that had already served up a generous helping of seminal 80s indie – Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses – everyone was high on… I dunno I was too young for all that, and anyway with my customary timing didn’t get to the party until it was down to its last bulb… but high on something, let’s say. No matter how underground you start, get high enough and someone will notice. Clubs started closing, authorities starting taking dim views, and didn’t like what they found in murky corners. By the mid-90s, a Conservative government clinging, terrified, to the precipice of power (a MORI poll in August had them 33 points behind Labour), brought in the “Turn that racket down, don’t you lot have homes to go to?” act, which effectively banned young people from cheering themselves up with illegal highs and “sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” (aka rave).
The Charlatans – probably the best Manchester band not to actually come from Manchester – had released three albums by mid 1994. The run started with Some Friendly, which went straight in at number one in the album chart. The pressure, or the glory, or something must have gone to their heads by the time they went back into the studio to record its follow-up, the mostly mediocre Between 10th and 11th, but partial redemption came in the form of 1994’s Up to Our Hips.
Two tracks from Some Friendly found their way onto two 1990 compilation albums of very different quality, both of which found their way into my music collection. Let’s get the less good of the two out of the way first.
Rhymes with Hit Pack
The Hit Pack was a 1990 compilation album that moves from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous in 24 chart hits. 24 because I bought the luxury cassette version with its extra tracks, and not the CD version, which was limited to 21. It starts promisingly: Deee-Lite‘s “Groove is in the Heart” takes Herbie Hancock‘s Bring Down the Birds and makes popsicles out of its bass riff. It’s largely a downhill journey from there, with everyone’s second favourite Black Box track, Fantasy, and everyone’s second favourite SNAP! track, Mary Had a Little Boy starting the ride.
The Hit Pack meanders around for the rest of its tracklisting without settling on any genre. I say meanders, but the transition from 808 State (“Cubik”) to Aztec Camera (“Good Morning Britain”) is not as bucolic as all that, while following “Show Me Heaven” by Maria McKee with Berlin‘s “Take My Breath Away” is as much of a transition as a non-committal step forward in quicksand. The standout track was “Then” by The Charlatans, with its baggy backbeat and Tim Burgess singing just outside the intelligible range of my tin ear for lyrics (the opening line is “I want to bomb your submarines”, apparently).
The worst is saved for last, however, with the unspeakably dismal “Fog on the Tyne (revisited)” by Gazza & Lindisfarne.
Let’s talk Happy Daze (Volume 1) before I start feeling retrospectively violent. In the words of Gary Crowley’s liner notes:
We feel it sums up the year the Indie Guitar Pop finally left the bedroom, hooked up with some strident dance grooves and had one hell of a bender / night out!
Not a bad summation. Apart from the curious selection of “Hippy Chick” by Soho, and the inclusion of a remix of “Circle Square” by The Wonder Stuff, it is for the most part a solidly danceable indie-dance collection. At the time it was my introduction to Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine (“Sheriff Fatman”), Ride (“Taste”), and the splendidly named New Fast Automatic Daffodils (“Big”). The Charlatans track on offer was “The Only One I Know”, which lifted lyrics from The Byrds’ “Everybody’s Been Burned” and swirled them around in a big baggy Hammond organ soup, with a strong bassline for a ladle.
I Know I’m Too Necessary
“Sproston Green” is the last track on Some Friendly, and was said to be lead singer Tim Burgess‘ favourite Charlatans song at the time. It’s the kind of song that sits up and begs to be played at a neighbour or parent-offending volume, and that’s generally how I listened to it. It’s one long groove driven by sustained chords and that insistent Hammond. Or, in the words Ian Gittins of The Guardian, it is “leaden psychedelia”. Listen to either the album version here, or the live version back up at the top of this page, and make your own mind up.
Rough transcript of an argument I’ve had more than once on the internet:
Me: I used to listen to a lot of indie music Them: Indie isn’t a genre. Me: Yes it is. Them: No, “indie” means independent. It means “not major label”. Me: OK, firstly, no it doesn’t. The “indie” in indie chart says nothing about the label the artist was signed to. It merely refers to singles that did not use the distribution network of any of the major labels. Artists signed to labels that were subsidiaries of or owned by major labels could be included in the indie chart.
Secondly, ask anyone roughly my age who grew up listening to a certain type of guitar band in the late 80s and early 90s, and at some point they’ll use the term “indie” to describe this broad set of bands in a generic but usefully concise way.
Them: indie just means independent… [etc etc]
Now, not to cause Atlantic consternation, but the person on the other end of this argument is usually American. I think the problem stems from the fact that where our chart distinctions have always been relatively clearly defined – ie singles chart, indie chart, dance chart – charts in America have always, as far as I can tell, been completely screwy.
For example, there’s a chart called “Active Rock”. Active Rock, in case you don’t already know and are unable to intuit definition from such a vague and meaningless two-word combination, is best described as rock that isn’t quite alternative and isn’t quite as heavy as metal. More accurately, but less usefully, it’s music played by Active Rock radio stations. What is an Active Rock radio station? Why, it’s a station that plays Active Rock of course!
There’s an alternative rock chart as well, of course, which is for non-mainstream rock, but I think it can be active or inactive. Oh, and modern rock; that’s one, too. To be honest I’m not really sure where the boundaries are, and I doubt I’m the only one.
Which is why the indie chart is a perfect conception: identify a possible new chart, create a rule for it, apply the rule. Defining “indie music” might still be like catching water in a net, but saying whether a single belongs on the indie chart or not is a simple matter of checking the rules.
It just so happened that a lot of the time, the sort of music being created by bands whose work was eligible for the indie charts tended to share certain characteristics. It happened because the musicians tended to have similar goals, outlooks, influences. They were following on from 80s outsider scenes like post-punk and indie-pop. There was a desire to eschew the mainstream, to avoid the obvious, to strive for authenticity. As Richard King writes in How Soon is Now?
An “indie” band’s songs document their passage into adulthood with the odd jarring chord sequence, a sense that no one has been through this kind of thing before, vague or confused lyrics and an underfed look in their video.
Now there’s a description I recognise in much of the music that formed my early music collection.
You might think, then, that the indie chart would be a pasty, nervous, introverted thing. To an extent it was, but then a group of guys who did not at all fit that description invaded the indie charts. Here’s a list of indie chart number ones from the Spring and Summer of 1989:
If you were expecting a panoply of British alt-rock greatness, you might be confused by the presence on the list of Kylie, Jason and Beatmasters. The clue to figuring out what’s going on here is the presence of Stock Aitken & Waterman, number one in May with a version of “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, recorded in support of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster the month before, in which 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives. Their label, PWL, was independent of the majors, so they were indie-chart eligible even if their methods and music represented a complete opposite of almost everything indie fans and musicians stood for and craved. Their songs were number one in the main singles chart as well as the indie chart, their artists were former soap stars, and while Pete Waterman might have felt like a spiritual successor to Berry Gordy’s songwriting teams at Motown, that only holds if you can imagine Holland-Dozier-Holland desperately trying to cobble “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” together in half an hour having just remembered that Marvin Gaye is popping into the studio to pick up his latest track. “The respectable face of capitalism”, he called it. A production line; an efficient hit-generating machine, in other words.
(This awkward interloping, though… it’s still better than the “Active Rock” chart. I understand that the market in America is bigger and broader than in the UK and that expanding and fragmenting charts could lead to more exposure for artists, but this can cause problems of its own, when it becomes a matter of publicity and marketing to be able to announce that your act is flying high in a particular chart. The charts then become something used to generate popularity, rather than a reflection of popularity.)
I hear my needle hit the groove
In the late 1980s, Manchester bands The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, on a diet of Ecstasy, house music and a mutual appreciation for the tradition of British guitar bands, took their danceable indie to the masses. As Ian Brown said to Nick Kent –
The Mondays and The Stone Roses have the same influences really, cos we’ve been to the same clubs. Blues nights, reggae nights, house nights, a bit of Parliament, a bit of Funkadelic… we’re all takin’ it from the same record collections, just doin’ it up different.
At first The Stone Roses sounded heavy, gritty. “So Young” felt like it wanted to toe the Joy Division bassline, but Ian Brown was no Ian Curtis. John Squire could be Johnny Marr Mk II, however, and by the time of “Sally Cinnamon” and its b-sides – “Here it Comes” and “All Across the Sands” – there were hints of a lighter, looser Stone Roses sound. Perhaps it was just the E talking, but by the time they released their debut album, they had perfected the Madchester rock/dance fusion, and were no longer so obviously in the shadow of their record collections. Tracks like “Fools Gold” and “I am the Resurrection” stretch out into the forever, groovy, funky, full of regional self-confidence, and when Brown sang, he was “the first rock vocalist to stake a claim for the Manchester accent”.
The Stone Roses opens with “I Wanna Be Adored”: it’s a statement of fact and intent. That intent would be achieved by never stopping, never standing still. The album’s second track, “She Bangs The Drums” became The Stone Roses’ first indie chart #1 and their first top 40 hit in July 1989. “The past was yours but the future’s mine”, sang Ian Brown, unaware of the brick wall around the corner. Liam Gallagher, the next to let his natural Manchester sounds sheeee-iiine, once chose it as his favourite summer anthem. Sound choice, Liam.
The following year, The Happy Mondays stormed the charts with Pills “n” Thrills and Bellyaches, and recorded two top five singles with Step On and Kinky Afro, but that was as good as it got. Madchester was over almost before it began, and both its shining indie lights lost their way. The Happy Mondays lost it in paradise, almost spending Factory into oblivion during hedonistic recording sessions in Barbados, while The Stone Roses were stuck in legal wrangle hell. Unable to record or release a follow-up, they stagnated, and when Second Coming arrived in December 1994 it was a huge disappointment, almost entirely lacking in the youthful arrogance of its predecessor, bogged down by a reliance on the old rock gods.
As word gets round that The Stone Roses are to split again, it takes me back to when The Stone Roses was regularly topping bestest album of all time polls in the NME and elsewhere, I would nod sagely: this was it, we’d found a winner, the album to end all albums, no need for a recount, no need to run this poll again thank you.
It might have occurred to me that it wouldn’t last forever, that something would come along and oust The Stone Roses, or that – forfend! – tastes would change, but I might not have considered it for too long from inside my cosy bubble. I was indie forever.
Then came the legal disputes, and – worse – Second Coming. Lead single “Love Spreads” was a canny move, allowing The Stone Roses to say they hadn’t lost it during their years of legally enforceable silence, but its groove was an illusion: opening track “Breaking into Heaven” illustrates most of what was wrong with the album, taking over eleven minutes to deliver one sumptuous chorus melody. The rest of it is solidly rocky, but all too often uninspiring. Only “How Do You Sleep” really harks back to the infinitely superior debut, and even then only by demonstrating what a remarkable moment of creative coalescence that first album was.
The Stone Roses are one of those groups that even though I rarely listen to them, will always be a welcome sound on the radio, in the pub, in the club(!), wherever. “I Wanna Be Adored” will always be one of the most glorious statements of intent made by any band at any time: as a song it’s irresistibly cool, perfectly pitched to squeeze maximum swagger out of lead singer Ian Brown, while John Squire on lead guitar quietly goes about his business with the riffs and twiddles.
Oldham’s Inspiral Carpets were one of those classic 80s/90s indie bands who came out of the North-West. Along with Happy Mondays, Stone Roses and others, they fused the original brit-rock and indie-pop influences that created their guitar-band sound with a house or disco vibe (and signature organ sounds in the case of the Inspirals) to create what became known as “baggy”. Manchester became “Madchester”, its underground rave scene exposed to the world, its indie music scene ready to take it over.
Starting out as the meant to go on, with their ‘Cool as f**k’ logo, their first EPs in 1988 and 1989 didn’t chart, but they hit the Top 20 in 1990 with “This is How it Feels”. In 1991, “Caravan” – from their album The Beast Inside reached number 30. Inspirals followed it with a further 11 singles, never quite managing to breach the Top 10.
There are two reasons I can think of why Inspiral Carpets are so low on my list: firstly, they are something of a nostalgia band for me now – if a track came on a 90s radio station I was listening to I would grin and turn it up, but I can’t remember the last time I picked out a whole album of theirs to listen to; secondly, going back a few years to when I bought their Cool As box-set, which contains greatest hits, rarities, and a disc of videos and live performances, it’s a fair bet that it would have been played mostly as part of a late night CD collection treasure hunt, sifting through all the old classics looking for something to accompany a cheeky late night ale.