It’s 4pm, and I meet Graham Lambert, via Zoom, at his mum’s house in Oldham, the same place she lived (and Graham grew up) in the 1980s. He’s comfortably positioned at what looks like the kitchen table, “where we wrote a lot of the songs in the early days and started the band”. Lambert, despite being a self-taught musician, is clearly a student of music and we begin by discussing Dave Brubeck’s classic Take Five and the intricacies of The Stranglers’ Golden Brown.
“Kev, the new drummer…he was telling me about different timings and even a band like Stranglers – he was talking me through Golden Brown. It’s in two different time codes.” Lambert explains. “And I never knew that. I just thought Golden Brown great song. Slightly odd, maybe? And he tapped it out on the dining room table the other day changing the time signature and it’s amazing for four punks to come up with something like that.”
He credits this dissection of music to Kev Clark, who has stepped into the considerable shoes of Craig Gill who tragically passed away in 2016. But it’s clear that music is inherent to the Lambert household – “I always put a record on when we’re having our tea” – and it remains central to the guitarist’s life as the Inspirals are preparing to head out on the road again.
So how did the tour come about. And the new Singles Collection?
“Every now and again, we’d be getting asked, ‘Do you want to do some gigs?’ And then as soon as you think about doing some gigs, the record label who own the back catalogue, always have an idea about, well, if you do some gigs, why don’t we do dot, dot dot. And then whenever we do shows, it’s generally made up of the singles – the setlist is that mainly, the singles, which just makes perfect sense for a band of our age. So I told the record label, we’re thinking we’d do some gigs.”
And as night follows day, the call came from the label, to work out what could accompany this tour.
“Let’s do the definitive singles album from single number one to single number 24. I think it is lock, stock and barrel in the right order”
The Singles Collection, which is out on March 17th, consists of all the singles, beautifully remastered and running through from 1988’s Keep the Circle Around right through to 2015’s Let You Down which featured John Cooper Clark. If that wasn’t enough for the fans, there is also a collection of the remixes, curated by Martyn Walsh, who until this tour, had played bass with the band since 1988.
I’m interested in how Lambert sees the remixes – are there any that stand out? What role did they play for the band?
“I’ve never really got too heavily involved with them” he admits. “It was mainly Martyn and Craig , in particular Martyn hence him pulling all the best of the remixes together. It’s just because you know, being like an indie kind of kid back in the day and indie at heart, remixes…well, it’s not really us playing that song, you know, but as time has gone on, you realise that some of the remixes are really well done. They were really worth it. I think the Dragging me Down one, if I remember right, was done in the studio in Oldham where Joy Division recorded Love Will Tear Us Apart, so quite a bit of historical artifact to that you know?”
This history, a sense of place and time, the footsteps of those who’ve gone before, is important to Graham, and this emerges as we discuss the upcoming tour.
Which of the venues are you looking forward to playing on this tour?
“I love my rock history. So only last night, I was going through where we’re playing on this next tour thinking about the things have happened in those venues. We’ve been around that long now that we’ve generally played in the venue before when we go somewhere. Having said that there’s a couple of venues on this tour that we haven’t been to before Newcastle Boiler Shop and Glasgow Galvanizers. It’s always good to go to a new place…Manchester Albert Hall, of course, which I’ve been there to see lots of bands. I’ve never played that”
“But there’s favourites, like Shepherd’s Bush Empire. This will be the fourth time we’ve played there this time around, and it’s nearly sold out. The history of Shepherd’s Bush Empire – it used to be the BBC theatre back in the 60s and 70s. So the BBC did the Old Grey Whistle Test from there. So for me, being a bit of a rock historian, I’ve stood on that stage where Ronnie Wood was stood with the Faces or Rolling Stones.”
I had 2 questions about the antipodean leg of the tour, which takes the band back to Australia for the first time in 30 years, and also includes dates in Wellington and Auckland, their first visit across the Ditch to New Zealand.
What reception do you think you’ll get after such a long hiatus? But also how was Lambert, a noted cricket fan, going to cope with missing the potentially deciding Test in the upcoming Ashes series?
“Funnily enough, the last time we were there, which was 30 years ago England were playing Australia in this country like they are this time. Yeah, it’s just one of those things, you know, the band comes first. But I remember last time we were there watching it on TV through the night over there. They absolutely hammered us 30 years ago, so you could just hear the Australian commentators rubbing it in!
As for the audiences, it’s quite interesting, the response we’ve had on Twitter, it’s been fantastic. The sales have been amazing. We’ve added an extra show, since we announced the tour – we’re doing two nights at Perth now. And it kind of feels like the audience will probably be slightly younger than the audience over here. By the time that ripple of the band gets to the other side of the world, you’ve missed out a few scenes. When we went there 30 years ago, we were touring our third album Revenge of the Goldfish, but because we’d gone over there it was kind of perceived as our first album over there. So I wouldn’t say they were behind because of the mentality thing. They’re just behind because of where we’re from, you know, from the other side of the world. We say we’re going so they pick up on the latest album, so I guess, the Complete Singles album coming out, that’ll be the album that a lot of people will be buying over there for the first time.”
It’s been 8 years since the band last hit the road, back in 2015. Were the preparations the same? Is the process a bit different now?
“We are rehearsing at night at the moment.” Graham explains, “because Clint (Boon, on keyboards), he DJs on the radio during the day. So rather than doing early mornings, which we probably will do once we get nearer the tour, everybody does whatever they’re doing during the day, and then we rehearse about three or four times a week. But it’s good really, because there was a break of eight years from Craig passing away in November 2016. And we haven’t done anything. I mean, literally nothing. We’ve barely even been in touch with each other.”
Graham’s daytimes involve “dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s” on t-shirts, merch, artwork and the like while the rest of the band go about their daily business as session musicians, or radio DJs.
And then? What happens when the dayshift is over?
“We come together magically three nights a week and stand there at eight o’clock at night go right, let’s do the setlist and, you know, talk about the old times and it feels like the old days”
The old days, yes, but Graham explains how there’s something more enjoyable these days without the pressure of having to churn out new songs and find the singles that would mean they’d be able to extend their record deals. “Those days are gone” he continues, “But that makes it less pressurised, you know, almost more enjoyable because it isn’t a job. I do firmly believe anything you do day in day out whatever it is, eventually feels like it’s a job no matter how much enjoy it in the first place. It did with me anyway, with the band back in the day when you’re on full time wages.”
To be clear, this isn’t a complaint about the band’s most successful period. Rather a reflection on how to get things done. He tells me about the discipline of being in the rehearsal room at 10am, writing songs, breaking for lunch then getting back to it until you’re heading home for tea in the evening. “You’ve got to have that structure, so people know where they need to be at certain times”.
Thinking ahead to the tour, with the new rhythm section in place, I explored the sound of the band, and if that had evolved with Kev and Jake Fletcher in place. We go back to discussing the study of the music and a deep understanding that the new boys have of their oeuvre.
“Really, it’s almost been like stripping it all back down and playing what’s there on the record, which we did 30, in some cases, 35 years ago. These guys are just really good musicians. Kev – he knows his stuff. He sat on his stool on the first day, got his little notebook out and said “Right what do you want to do?” And we said, well, This is How it Feels, he said, right OK. Got his notebook open and just started playing.
Jake is a very experienced musician, he’s worked with Paul Weller, The Specials, The Lathums, Jamie Webster – he’s a great musician. And he’s local, from Oldham, it’s great having him on board.”
And the dynamic between the new and old members?
“Personality wise, it’s different. Because obviously, these guys are younger than Craig and Martyn were, last time we played. So there is a bit of a change of dynamic. But the only thing about that is that me, Clint and Steve just seem older!!”
We close out the conversation with another reference to music history, this time in the shape of Inspiral’s support slot for Blossoms this summer at Castlefield in Manchester.
“That’s a nice little story. coming full circle because we had them supporting us in maybe 2014 when we did a tour, similar to what we’re doing now. It’s been great watching their progress, you know, watching them change and grow their craft on stage. They’re really nice guys. And it’s great. It’s a privilege to be asked to play with them, you know, because we just had a little bit of involvement in helping them on the way back in the day, you know, so it’s nice that they’ve asked us to join them at Castlefield and it’ll be full, the home town gig and all that, it’ll be fantastic.”
And with that, we say goodbye, leaving Graham to go and choose tonight’s record to listen to while the family eat their tea. I hope it’s not Dave Brubeck again…that 5/4 time signature put his wife and daughter off their food last time.
Inspiral Carpets The Complete Singles Collection is out on 17th March and the UK tour kicks off in Northampton on 23rd March