For years Tom Hingley was the frontman of The Inspiral Carpets – one of the most successful British groups of the ’80s. Now no longer with the group, he’s written a book that sets the record straight about a glorious period in British youth culture, his fall out with the band and why Oasis wouldn’t have existed without him…
TOM Hingley wants to set the record straight. As the frontman of The Inspiral Carpets he was part of a triumvirate of bands that blazed a trail out of Manchester in the late ’80s turning on, tuning in and dropping out as part of a Madchester scene that swept all before it.
Along with The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays, The Inspirals’ organ-fuelled psychedelic pop spawned a series of wide-eyed hits such as This Is How It Feels, She Comes In The Fall and Dragging Me Down.
Now Tom, who is no longer a member of the band having departed last year, has written a warts and all confessional about his time at the heart of the baggy icons.
Carpet Burns, My Life With Inspiral Carpets, is his account of being in a band caught in the eye of a cultural storm, but it’s also about his own story, charting his unlikely journey from rural Oxfordshire to becoming a pop star.
Tom was the youngest of seven children. His father was a renowned Oxford University don who translated works by Chekhov and Solzhenitsyn, but it was music, rather than literature, that he turned to and after watching Ian Dury and the Blockheads play in 1977 he set out to become a musician.
He moved to Manchester in the ’80s to study English at the former polytechnic and got a job working at the Hacienda. By this time he had formed a band, Too Much Texas, and in 1989, he joined the Inspiral Carpets.
His book charts the band’s rise and offers a vivid glimpse into the music business at the time and what happens when the hits start to dry up and the arguments kick in.
‘Music journalists and music journalism in general has been quite lazy about that period of time,’ he tells me, explaining his reasons for writing the book. ‘They had forgotten that we were one of the three biggest bands between 1989 and 1992.
‘They kind of think we’re famous purely because Noel Gallagher worked for us (Gallagher was the band’s roadie before finding fame with Oasis); the truth is Noel Gallagher would never have been heard of and had no career whatsoever if he had not worked for us.
‘No-one forced him to stand at the side of the stage for 250 gigs and watch me sing, no one made him be in the studio where we wrote songs and told someone how to play them. When we did interviews abroad and we were tired Noel would sit in and pretend to be me or Clint (Boon – The Inspiral Carpets’ keyboard player). It was a rock school for him.
‘He met Alan McGee working for us, Paul Weller working for us, he met The La’s working for us. People don’t get that because Oasis were a million times more successful, but I’m sorry the chronology of it was that he couldn’t have worked for The Stone Roses because their egos were too big to accommodate him, he couldn’t have worked for The Happy Mondays because at least a couple of them were really serious Class A drug users, so he would not have gone anywhere if he had not worked for us.
‘He owes an enormous debt to the band and that’s fine because he went off and did something much better and much more successful than we did,’ he adds, letting out a huge roar of laughter.
Tom says he also sat down to write this candid tome because he wanted to redress the balance.
‘The book was also to say that I was a big part of what communally was the success of The Inspiral Carpets. Over the years in any group there’s always people who want to push their views too much. There were certainly those tensions in the The Inspiral Carpets, so it comes to a point where you have to say, no I did that.’
It’s plain that Tom’s severing of ties from the band still rankles, as he talks passionately, at length and with a fair portion of frustration about the circumstances surrounding his departure.
‘I issued a tweet saying the band had split up, good luck with your solo careers,’ he explains, taking up the reins of the story. ‘Then Clint tweeted that the band hadn’t split up, it appears one member has left. However, the band hadn’t really been going for years. The band ended in 1995, but we got back together in 2003 for three or four tours. The fact is though I’m a full-time musician. I did 140 gigs last year and I wrote this book.
‘However, the other members of The Inspiral Carpets all work in other jobs and I think it was those day jobs that were getting in the way and the band as an entity was disappearing over the horizon.
‘It got to the point where the band had been over for a long time and it was like trying to reheat a souffle. If people can’t make themselves available for gigs then it just makes it impossible.
‘We got offered some festival dates and one of the band couldn’t do them because they were on holiday that week. You’re talking about a really high profile festival and I think things just get too comfy. To me a band is going to annoy your wife, your kids and your friends. But you have to play where your band is going to get the best billing and it can’t be fitted around people’s day jobs. It has to come first. So it was a creative frustration.’
Since his leaving The Inspiral Carpets, the band has reformed with original singer Stephen Holt, the frontman when the band formed in 1983 as a garage punk outfit.
Ask Tom about this, and he can’t disguise his contempt.
‘I don’t think it’s very clever because at the end of the day they did a tour where they supported The Happy Mondays; now remember people had been coming to see the band with me singing since they were 13. People were turning up and after 30 seconds realising I wasn’t there.
‘Apparently they told people on Facebook, twitter and on (music journalist) John Robb’s website (Louder Than War) that I wasn’t in the band anymore, but to be honest nobody who paid £35 for those tickets had any idea that I wasn’t going to be there. ‘They had also said they were going to be this garage band like they were when the original singer was in the band, then they came out and did the 17 songs that got into the top 20 that I sang on.
‘The fact of the matter is you can say what you want about it, you can be deluded about it, you can be in denial about it, but over the V Festival weekend (where The Inspiral Carpets were on the bill) I must have had 50 tweets, texts and emails from people saying ‘oh god man you need to sing in that band.’
‘Frankly, they should just call it something else, because it’s not The Inspiral Carpets.’
Tom was interviewed by David Owens for this feature in the South Wales Echo.