After the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets were arguably the third most popular band to emerge from the late-'80s/early-'90s Madchester scene. Like the Charlatans UK, they weren't quite as innovative as the city's two standard-bearers, relying less on the contemporary dance club beats that became Madchester pop's identifying signature. They did, however, share a fascination with trippy psychedelia, particularly the Farfisa organ-drenched sound of Nuggets-style garage rock from the '60s, which set them apart from their peers. It also enabled them to tinker with their sound once the Madchester fad had passed, and the group continued to score hits right up to their mid-'90s breakup.
Inspiral Carpets were formed in the Manchester-area town of Oldham by guitarist Graham Lambert, who'd been playing around the area since 1982. His group -- named after an area clothing store -- finally began to settle on a permanent lineup in 1986, when drummer Craig Gill and Farfisa organist Clint Boon joined up. They were soon augmented by vocalist Steve Holt and bassist Dave Swift, and built up a following around Manchester with their demo tapes (done in a '60s-influenced garage punk style). Clever merchandising helped the band out financially; they sold T-shirts featuring their smoking-cow logo and their slogan "Cool as F*ck," which got them media attention when a student wearing the shirt was arrested for violating obscenity laws. Their first national release came in 1988 with the Plane Crash EP on Playtime Records, but when that label's distributor went out of business later that year, the band set up their own imprint, Cow Records, which was financed mostly by T-shirt sales. The first release on Cow was the 1989 EP Trainsurfing, which got the band even more national attention. At this point, Holt and Swift -- not keen on professional careers involving lots of time and travel -- decided to leave, and were replaced by vocalist Tom Hingley (ex-Too Much Texas) and bassist Marty Walsh. With their arrival, the band's Madchester-compatible style began to crystallize, as evidenced on the new lineup's first release, the swirling, organ-driven psychedelic tune "Joe" (May 1989). The single caused a stir in the indie underground that only intensified with the follow-ups "Find Out Why" and "Move," and after being courted by several major labels, the band wound up signing with the large London-based indie Mute.
Inspiral Carpets' debut album, Life, was released in the spring of 1990. Their first single for Mute, "This Is How It Feels," hit the British Top 20 and landed them a TV appearance on Top of the Pops; the follow-up, "She Comes in the Fall," reached the Top 30. The band recorded sessions with DJ John Peel and appeared at that year's Reading Festival, helping make Life a sizable hit. After releasing the Island Head EP late in the year, the band completed its next full-length, the darker The Beast Inside, which appeared in the spring of 1991. For the supporting tour, the band hired future Oasis mastermind Noel Gallagher as a roadie. Inspiral Carpets scored their biggest chart hit in the spring of 1992 with "Dragging Me Down," which appeared on their third album, Revenge of the Goldfish, released later that fall. Although it produced three more Top 40 singles and got the band a bigger overseas audience, the album proved to be their worst seller to date, possibly because the Manchester scene's moment was perceived to have passed. In response, the group returned to a more basic garage/psychedelic sound for their next album, 1994's Devil Hopping. It was generally well received, with the singles "Saturn 5" and "I Want You" (the latter a duet with the Fall's Mark E. Smith, who did not appear on the album version) returning them to the Top 20. In late 1995, Mute released a compilation called The Singles, and soon after, it was announced that label and band were parting ways. Inspiral Carpets called it quits not long after; Boon formed the Clint Boon Experience, while Hingley formed a group called the Lovers with Jerry Kelly of the Lotus Eaters. Hingley went solo in late 2000, issuing the album Keep Britain Untidy. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi