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45 at 33: Inspiral Carpets’ This Is How It Feels 

Basil Fawlty: “Let me tell you one thing. Depression is a very bad thing. It’s like a virus. If you don’t stamp on it it spreads throughout the mind, and then one day you wake up in the morning and you can’t face life any more. We didn’t win the war by getting depressed, you know.”

Sybil Fawlty: “And then you open a hotel.” 

Fawlty Towers, Basil The Rat (1979)

Or you become a social worker. 

Or a gravedigger.

Or start a band.

Something like Radiohead. Or Joy Division. Or Sigur Rós. Or (you could see me coming) perhaps Manchester indie cowboys the Inspiral Carpets. 

After all, their first and most celebrated hit went something like this: 

“So this is how it feels to be lonely

This is how it feels to be small

This is how it feels

When your word means nothing at all”

Well, that’s enough to keep you in bed for the rest of the day then. Would you like some of this?

As a new decade shuffled into view, the cheesy wheedle of an electric organ immediately locked the Inspirals into rock nostalgia. Remember 96 Tears? Particularly the Stranglers’ remake, which hit the charts exactly a month before the kitchen sink dramas we’re discussing today. 

This Is How It Feels featured those great big Hammond organ chords to distinguish itself from such momentary superstars of the Madchester explosion as Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. It’s easy to class their elevation from boardwalk second division to the ranks of top Mancs, but that very act of sculptural aural nonconformity not only straddled the post-punk present but married the melancholic quintet to doomy psychedelic groups of the past, particularly very early Dead Or Alive, Echo & The Bunnymen and, in a case of going back to source, Jim Morrison and The Doors.

Amid a dense wall of keyboards and guitars, I’ll go one further and politely point out the song has a remarkable sonic lineage to Pink Floyd’s Arnold Layne as well. Fightin’ words, maybe. Yet it’s always how I heard it.

All along the line from their humble beginnings to the heights of Top Of The Pops, Clint Boon and co thrived off (and poached notoriety from) the Inspiral’s easily recognisable identity – both in those keyboard-stoked melodies, and the trappings, the Cow logo and the Cool As Fuck T-shirts.

Indeed, my sister* was a fan (“I’m an Indie girl,” she’d point out, while discreetly hiding her Bucks Fizz and Baltimora records at the back of the crate), but I loved This Is How It Feels enough I went along and bought the CD single anyway.

Visually similar to The Fleshtones (only one Three Stooges bowl cut necessary), the boys were a touch too reminiscent of The Swingin’ Medallions at a time when I personally didn’t need that refresher button hit. But this… This, no denying, is one hell of a mahoosive tune, and the first of 11 top 40 hits for the occasionally fabulous fivesome.

And so say all of me.

Steve Pafford

*Sister Stella did accompany me to see one of David Bowie’s Sound + Vision concerts at Milton Keynes Bowl later that year. Curiously, the Inspiral Carpets had been offered one of the support slots for his two dates at the grassy amphitheatre, though the official line is the band turned the gig down because of their headlining appearance at the Reading Festival three weeks later that August. Ahem.

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