Frozen in time
Inspiral Carpets - Live At KOKO, London

Inspiral Carpets returned last year with 'You're So Good For Me', a driving slice of angular garage pop that reminded us why this band were so important to the Madchester scene that they were supposedly a part of. While the band's distinctive sound was as classic as ever, one major change was revealed in the restoration of Stephen Holt, the Carpets' original singer following Tom Hingley's departure, taking the band right back to their earliest days in the early 1980s.

Apart from Holt's return to the fold, and Clint Boon's slightly more “sensible” haircut, Inspiral Carpets looked like a band frozen in time, the only possible nod to maturity and their now older fanbase being the cute kids T-shirts for sale in the lobby bearing the lyric “This is how it feels to be small”. In all other senses, nothing had changed - still the same heavy bass passages; still the same punk-infused guitar lines; and still the same immediately recognisable Farfisa organ riffs and gleeful backing vocals courtesy of Boon.

Opening with the distinctive 'Commercial Rain', it becomes clear that the frontman of this band is not necessarily the lanky Holt, nor Boon, but bald bassist Martyn Walsh. Walsh dominates centre stage, pogoing and gurning madly like a slightly dangerous court jester while, gleefully knocking out bass sections that feel far lower slung than they actually are. For most of the gig Holt can be found somewhere behind the dominating form of the band's animated bass player, resting his microphone on his shoulder during the instrumental sections and only springing to life when required to sing, moving in vague, jerky circles like a latter day Ian Curtis.

Any concerns over Holt's ability to fill the shoes left by Tom Hingley are mostly unfounded, the original singer ripping through some of the Inspirals' best-loved tracks with casual ease, as if they had been written by or for him anyway. Crowd-pleasing hits like 'She Comes In The Fall' and a feisty 'Generations' have the audience singing along at the top of their lungs on the choruses and mooing – not booing – appreciatively after each and every one. Mesmerising new track 'Changes' includes the defiant lyric “I don't care what you say”, which may or may not be a message to the doubters; with 'Changes' and 'You're So Good For Me', as well as the early track 'Head For The Sun', Holt seems to settle into his role as designated frontman, delivering his own songs with a depth and confidence, and by the time of 'I Want You', the singer was into sneering, angry frontman territory. Many of the songs are delivered with a rushed, punk intensity, the band rattling through staples such as 'Joe' and 'Weakness' like their lives depend on it, or possibly because Boon's wife went into labour just before the gig and he needs to get a train back to Manchester.

Aside from the raucous encore of 'Saturn Five', the inevitable highlight of the set is undoubtedly 'This Is How Feels', still a contradictory blend of the downright desperate and the strangely euphoric, its lyrics of struggle and hopelessness holding a new poignancy in today's straitened times, even if the boisterous crowd sing-a-long renders this more like a new terrace anthem than a wry social comment. In contrast, the band's penchant for arch humour creeps in with the video playing behind the band for 'Keep The Circle Around', showing a private jet emblazoned with the infamous “cool as fuck” slogan. Unsurprisingly, those three words – still the most apt description imaginable for this band – are only available on the full-size adult T-shirts at the merchandise stall.

Words by Mat Smith
Photo by Andy Sturmey

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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