In 2011 I was ejected from Inspiral Carpets, a band for whom I had sung, composed and recorded with over a twenty-two year period. I had joined the Inspirals in February 1989, four months after their first lead-singer, Stephen Holt, had left. I hit the ground running by helping to promote the band’s first 2 EPs, Plane Crash and Trainsurfing, which Holt had supplied the vocals to. We then recorded the Life album, which reached No. 2 in the UK charts in April 1990, kept off the No. 1 spot by a heavily TV-advertised compilation by The Carpenters.
In 2013 my ex-bandmates and EMI Records re-issued the debut album Life in an extended format (imaginatively titled Life: Extended Edition), encompassing the songs from the original album plus pre-Hingley tracks taken from the band’s 1988 John Peel session and the two EPs: Plane Crash and Trainsurfing. The repackaged album also includes a DVD of our seminal gig at Manchester’s GMEX centre, 21790.
Relations between my former bandmates and myself had become so poor that the reissue was put together without my involvement (and without me even knowing about it until it was announced publicly), despite my contribution to the original material i.e., lead vocals and co-writer on the Life album and accompanying live performance DVD.
The new record credits the 13 original album songs as having been sung by me. There are then a further 13 extra tracks sung by Stephen Holt, which were not originally on the (1990 release) Life album, and do not therefore represent material from the era of that record. With this in mind, this album isn’t so much Life: Extended Edition as Life: Re-imagined.
No serious claims towards the inclusion of the pre-Life tracks on the basis of them being collectable for the completist record buying fan stand much scrutiny, with the majority of the Holt-era tracks having already received an airing on the 2003 Cool As… compilation disc, Rare As… Plus, to my ears, mixing material from the two different vocalists makes for a messy, incoherent feel and sound to the record. Given that Stephen Holt returned to the band after I was ejected, it seems to me that Life: Extended is an attempt to re-invent the album to suggest greater involvement by the departed Holt. I’m not for one second suggesting that Holt didn’t play an important part in the early days of the band, but this didn’t stretch to the Life album, which is why you won’t find mention of him in the original album sleeve notes.
The genuine highpoint of this reissue, and worthy due to its relation to the Life album, is surely the 21790 DVD – spectacular footage recorded during our triumphant hometown gig at the GMEX in July 1990. This performance is stunning and it signifies what Inspiral Carpets represented when I was one fifth of that classic line-up: romantic, drawn on a big scale, explosive, punk driven and inspired. The songs that I wrote, and that the other members wrote for me as their vocalist and muse, were made successful by all five members, through our individual and collective contributions.
In the early days, Inspiral Carpets were a good band who were on the gigging circuit, had built up a following and – like me before I joined them – recorded a Peel session, but the truth is they/we only became that mad pop mongrel, mixing the Garage elements with the Romance of soaring scales of ‘This is How It Feels’ when I was brought into the fold. And that’s not, by any means, to take all of the credit for our commercial success, but to recognise the five of us that were in the band when it enjoyed its heyday.
There is a footnote in the artwork for Life: Extended Edition stating that the line-up of the band features Stephen Holt, but no mention of myself – whilst this may be true of the current time, it’s certainly not true of the Life album line-up. With this in mind, I can’t help but feel that my former bandmates have gone some way to consciously airbrush me out of the band’s long, medium and recent history.
There is an image in Milan Kundura’s novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting where a Communist leader is airbrushed out of a propaganda photo after falling out of favour with the men in charge. Ironically his hat, which he passed to his friend, still remained in the photograph for posterity:
In February 1948, the Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to harangue hundreds of thousands of citizens massed in Old Town Square. That was a great turning point in the history of Bohemia. A fateful moment of the kind that occurs only once or twice a millennium.
Gottwald was flanked by his comrades, with Clementis standing close to him. It was snowing and cold, and Gottwald was bareheaded. Bursting with solicitude, Clementis took off his fur hat and set it on Gottwald’s head.
The propaganda section made hundreds of thousands of copies of the photograph taken on the balcony where Gottwald, in a fur hat and surrounded by his comrades, spoke to the people. On that balcony the history of Communist Bohemia began. Every child knew that photograph, from seeing it on posters and in schoolbooks and museums.
Four years later, Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately made him vanish from history and, of course, from all photographs. Ever since, Gottwald has been alone on the balcony. Where Clementis stood, there is only the bare palace wall. Nothing remains of Clementis but the fur hat on Gottwald’s head.
With this in mind, I feel like I’ve left my hat on the Inspirals tour bus!
Click here for more on Tom and his book Carpet Burns.