Why it took The Inspiral Carpets 40 years to play their first ever show in New Zealand

The Inspiral Carpets in their heyday never made it to New Zealand - that's about to change.
The Inspiral Carpets in their heyday never made it to New Zealand - that's about to change. Photo credit: Supplied

The 1980s and 1990s were a fertile time for music around the world.

But in England, it predominantly signalled the rise of the iconic Madchester scene, spearheaded by the likes of Stone Roses, Oasis, Happy Mondays, The Charlatans, James and many others.

Madchester alumni Inspiral Carpets, with their mix of psychedelic sound and gritty working-class lyrics, formed in 1983, and surfed the wave of success that came with the scene - but they made it distinctively their own with their sound. 

Their debut album Life made the New Zealand charts, reaching number 22 on September 30, 1990. Reigning supreme at the top on that date were the likes of Gloria Estefan, George Michael and Mariah Carey.

Conversely in England, Life peaked at number two in the album charts a few months earlier in May of 1990 and went on to spend 22 weeks in the UK charts.

But it's taken them 40 years to physically make it to Aotearoa's shores, something organist and original co-founding member Clint Boon tells Newshub he's bemused by.

"Well, we went to Australia a couple of times, but for some reason New Zealand, like, never happened," he smiles, launching a charm offensive in his broad Mancunian tones.

"I don't know why, you know, whether we weren't popular in New Zealand at the time, but we didn't really get the call to go. I mean we were kind of the mind of wherever we got invited, we went, you know what I mean? At the drop of a hat, we'd go to any country in the world - but for some reason we never made it [there]."

The band will play two dates in Aotearoa as part of an Australasian tour: Wellington on Tuesday, August 8 and Auckland on Wednesday, August 9.

Boon, who now DJs five nights a week on one of Manchester's top-rating radio stations as well as putting on regular gigs around the city for new up-and-comers, may be in his early 60s, but he can't contain his excitement to finally get his group here.

The Inspiral Carpets in their 2023 line-up.
The Inspiral Carpets in their 2023 line-up. Photo credit: Supplied

"I'm looking forward to having a taste of the crowds in New Zealand, seeing the scenery there, the idyllic vistas that you see on TV and in magazines," said Boon.

"It's a beautiful looking place, but then again, on a very personal level, seeing this with [my son] Oscar Boon in another country is superb. We've not been able to have a family holiday abroad for a few years with everything that's gone on here."

"I can't wait to see the place. I mean the feedback I get is not to do with the music but culturally, the word serenity comes up a lot. So it sounds like a very serene place to be."

Serenity is probably something the band could use.

The group's been through several stops and starts in their 40 year iteration - the most recent of which saw them call time after original drummer Craig Gill died in 2016, a victim of years of tinnitus.

To Boon, that seemed like the right moment to draw the line under the band. But six years later, an innocuous email from a former bandmate made him reconsider.

"We didn't want to do it without him. I didn't want to do it without him. And I spent years thinking, that's probably where we should just underline it. You know, Craig's death should be the end of it. And it was in July of last year, 2022, I just got an email one Saturday morning from Graham (Lambert, the group's guitarist) saying, 'We've got an offer to do some gigs next year'," said Boon. 

"I read the email, I just felt myself get excited at the thought of getting the band back out there. So I think time is a great healer and I think the five or six years since we lost Craig, you know, we've done a lot of grieving obviously, but then you come to a point we think, 'Well, you know, we've got this amazing machine that we've created, there's still a demand out there for it'. So yeah, it felt like the right time."

That decision paid off with sell-out tours in the UK since the reformation news back in October 2022, along with rave reviews.

Clint Boon behind his beloved Farfisa organ.
Clint Boon behind his beloved Farfisa organ. Photo credit: Getty Images

Boon reckoned going back on the road was also a chance to thank the fans for their support after Gill's death and to give them another chance to revel in the tunes that may have defined many of their youths.

Boon admits he had to relearn some of the elements, having stashed away his musical instruments, but told Newshub "muscle memory" kicked back in.

"When you're rehearsing for a tour, you know that you're going to be able to remember the songs, you're going to play well and look all right, but you can't predict what the crowds' reactions would be like. You can't imagine them at all," said Boon.

"You can't imagine the reviews you're going to get online or in the press. So yeah, it's a bit of a grey area, but suddenly we're out there and we're doing it and it's a hundred percent positive vibes for the Inspiral Carpets, which is amazing.

"I worked in a sheet metal factory when I was 17 years old. It was just the most dangerous and depressing environment I've ever been in. Graham is a printer by trade, and I think when the band took off, it was like none of us wanted to go back to those day jobs and that world."

Boon said he doesn't care if people see the Greatest Hits tour as nostalgia, because it's about giving back to the fans.

"At this moment in time, this band is all about nostalgia because we're not doing the new music yet," he said.

"It's all music from a back catalogue, you know, spanning 34, 35 years. So the moment is very nostalgic. I think it's fair to say the younger generation that will be seeing us for the first time are completely blown away with the, you know, the fact that the music is quite timeless, even though it's of the nineties - but it's still very contemporary and the energy on stage from the band, I think that's something that is connecting with the audience.

"We're doing a set of 21 songs, and they're all just amazing songs, you know, even in 2023, they still touch nerves and resonate with people, you know, sonically and lyrically."

The Inspiral Carpets with former roadie Noel Gallagher in Australia in 2023.
The Inspiral Carpets with former roadie Noel Gallagher in Australia in 2023. Photo credit: Inspiral Carpets / Twitter

One person who may not be part of the Greatest Hits tour though is their former roadie - a young man by the name of Noel Gallagher, who once auditioned as a singer for the band, didn't make it but stuck with them regardless.

He went on to form Oasis with younger brother Liam, so Boon reckons he didn't fare too badly.

"I was speaking to him recently actually, he's still in touch. If he asked us to support [his band] High Flying Birds, we'd do it at the drop of a hat," Boon said.

"If Oasis got back together, it would be the same. Musically, it would be ace to collaborate with either of them. He was our roadie for four years or five years. He always has said he loved that time of his working life because he had no stress. He was well paid, he was looked after - but after with Oasis, it was all on his shoulders."

As Newshub's time with Boon drew to a close, he acknowledged some will be disappointed singer Tom Hingley won't be part of the journey, having left the band back in February 2011. Hingley claims he was sacked and original singer Stephen Holt reinstated.

Plus with a new drummer and son Oscar on bass, Boon knows some may be surprised with what they see live and what they perceive as the "proper version" of the Inspirals.

"Tom was with us for a lot of years. He made all the big records with us. Great singer. That was a different chapter, that's how I look at it. He's still a massive part of the Inspirals family, he's certainly a big part of the Inspirals story, but he's not with us now," Boon said.

"It's like you look at a football team, you know, if you follow Manchester United today, it's not George Best and Bobby Charlton any more, is it? Some bands do change line-ups over the years, but it's still the band, it's still The Inspiral Carpets.

"I always remember one time when Bill Berry left R.E.M, I remember Michael Stipe saying a three legged dog is still a dog!"

The Inspiral Carpets play Wellington's San Fran on Tuesday, August 8 and Auckland's Tuning Fork on Wednesday, August 9.