‘After gigs, we’d drop off our drummer to do his paper round’: how Inspiral Carpets made This Is How It Feels

‘Part of the song’s appeal was the sound of our Farfisa organ, which featured in everything we did. Our former roadie Noel Gallagher borrowed it for the last Oasis album’

Clint Boon, songwriter, organist

I used to stand in front of my mirror pretending to be Elvis. Then punk came along in 1976 and I saw the Sex Pistols at the Electric Circus in Manchester. The Clash, Johnny Thunders and the Buzzcocks were also on the lineup. The ticket cost £1.50! It was my road-to-Damascus moment. I thought: “I don’t have to dream. I can do this.”

Inspiral Carpets started as a punk garage band in the style of the Seeds or the 13th Floor Elevators. It took years, but by 1989 people were coming to see us and buying our records. It was everything I’d dreamed about and just got better over the next five years. At the height of Madchester, the music press called the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and us “the holy triumvirate”. The Inspirals were seen as the runt of the litter, but history has been very kind to us.

Despite being very excited about what was happening, I wrote This Is How It Feels when I was down. I wanted to put my feelings into a song so I wrote a kitchen-sink drama in which my emotions could play out in a fictitious world. I pictured a working-class family: in the first verse, the mother is depressed but no one knows why; in the second, it becomes apparent there’s been a suicide. The guy that’s just died has been having an affair with the woman from verse one. It goes: “She can’t say, they can’t see, putting it down to another bad day.” She can’t tell anyone why she’s so upset. So within the song you’ve got infidelity, deceit, mental health, suicide and loneliness. On the single version, I changed a couple of lines to make it less graphic. “It seems they found him under a train” became “He left a note for a local girl”.

A big part of the song’s appeal is the sound of the 1966 Farfisa organ, which was at the heart of everything we recorded. The oboe effect in the middle sounds like the instrument is crying. I found the Farfisa through the small ads and I’ve still got it. Noel Gallagher borrowed it for the last Oasis album. In fact, it’s the same instrument he used to set up for us when he was our roadie.

Craig Gill [drummer who died in 2016] did that iconic rolling beat that gives it a different energy. He joined us when he was 14 and had a paper round. When we played in London, we’d drive back through the night and drop him off to do his paper round before school. We’ve got a drummer called Kev Clark now, who was a friend of Craig’s and replicates his rhythms beautifully. The song feels more poignant when I listen to it now.

Graham Lambert, songwriter, guitarist

Whenever someone brought a song in, the rest of us would descend on it like vultures, all suggesting changes. But I don’t remember much changing with This Is How It Feels. Clint just came into the practice room with the melody and said to our singer Tom Hingley: “These are the lyrics and this is how it goes.”

Noel Gallagher working as a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets, Manchester 1992.
Noel Gallagher working as a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets, Manchester 1992. Photograph: Peter J Walsh/PYMCA/REX

We recorded it in the Out of the Blue studio in Ancoats, Manchester, in autumn 1989. We hadn’t signed to Mute at that point so we paid for the session ourselves, doing it on the cheap. I can still remember how cold it was in the studio but it had a sound that suited us, with lots of reverb on the drums.

After we signed to Mute , they wanted a remix. I walked into Out of the Blue – and found the tape of the song all over the floor. Luckily, our producer Nick Garside managed to spool it all back up and send it to Flood – who’d done U2 and Depeche Mode – for remixing. We made the video on Snake Pass between Manchester and Sheffield. It was January, freezing, and we got this director who looked like Dr Death but it turned out to be Anton Corbijn.

This Is How It Feels was our first hit. The song seems to have resonated down the years – it’s been taken up by football crowds and such. The recording is a bit ropey in places but the vibe captures how we were at the time: young blokes just going for it.

• Inspiral Carpets: The Complete Singles is available on Mute on 17 March. The band’s UK tour starts at Northampton Roadmender on 23 March

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org


Interviews by Dave Simpson

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