Inspirational Carpets guitarist Graham Lambert tells Marc Evans about the band's visit to Oxford and on being in a group that's been there, done that... and sold the T-shirt

The Inspiral Carpets have truly come full circle, in more ways than one.

The band, who came to fame during the Madchester era, are back on the road, arriving at the Oxford Academy tomorrow night. Their first new album for 20 years is due out later this year, with their original singer, Stephen Holt, replacing Abingdon’s Tom Hingley on vocal duties.

One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is their infamous merchandising – namely their ‘Cool as...’ T-shirts, containing a picture of a cow and a very rude word. So rude, in fact, that an Oxford Polytechnic student was reportedly prosecuted on obscenity charges for wearing one more than 20 years ago.

“I’d forgotten about the prosecution,” says Graham, founder member of the five-piece who graced Top of the Pops, the Reading Festival and even The South Bank Show. “That student who was prosecuted – he’s welcome to come to the gig. Put the word out.

“Yes, we’ve still got the very same T-shirts. My dad was never happy with them. He never liked them.”

So would dad-of-three Graham let his own children wear one now?

“Good question! When the boxes of them arrived, my 10-year-old daughter wanted to try one on but I wouldn’t let her. I suppose we all turn into our dads in the end.”

The group, whose hits include Saturn 5 and This is How it Feels, were formed in Oldham in 1983, split in 1995, reformed in 2003 and changed singers in 2011. So did Graham have any inkling that they’d still be going strong, more that 30 years later?

“No,” he says. “At that time we just went bit by bit – would we get a drummer? Would we get a full line-up? Would we get any gigs? Would we get a record deal? Would we release a single? It’s about moving the goalposts “Because we weren’t an out-and-out pop band, we were always a cult band. That’s always helped us stay credible.

“Nowadays there’s not enough demand to make it a full-time job, but we really enjoy it.”

One thing he’s particularly enjoying is making the new album, Inspiral Carpets, due to be released in September on Cherry Red records.

“It’s excitement like I had 30 years ago,” he says. “It’s a fantastic feeling. We’ve put our heart and soul into it.

“I was listening to it today while cycling – it’s a really good cycling album! We’re going through a ’50s and ’60s phase at the moment – Joe Meek-style [pioneering Telstar producer and songwriter]. It’s going down well.”

Cycling, indeed, has become one of his great passions – quite appropriate for someone about to visit Oxford’s Cowley Road. Not that he’s bringing his bike along.

“There’s no room for it on the band’s bus, but I like a bit of exercise,” he admits. “I find that most bands these days have at least one member who’s always in the gym. I come from a very football background. I’ve always liked the idea of keeping healthy and eating healthily. It’s not very rock ‘n’ roll, but I’m not in bad shape for an old man!”

Keeping young at heart is something he also achieves by dabbling in the music promotion business.

“I do a lot of stuff for music promoters, working on the admin side. I see loads of gigs – passing on lots of tips, and meeting up-and-coming acts like Miles Kane. It keeps you young in spirit.”

They’ve always been associated with bringing on music’s next generation. Before he made it big with Oasis, the Inspirals famously boasted a certain Noel Gallagher as their roadie. Or should that be ‘guitar technician’?

“No, we called them roadies in those days. Usually preceded by an expletive!

“I still see Noel a little bit. I spoke to him in the studio where he’s working on new material. He’s always good for a funny comment.

“He definitely learned from us. He saw you had to get stuck in. I’m very pleased for him and his success. He wrote some of the best songs of our generation.”

However, one person he hasn’t seen for a while is Hingley, the former Larkmead School pupil who fronted the band during their 1980s and ’90s peaks.

“It was a very acrimonious split,” says Graham. “He tweeted that the band had split up. I guess things just weren’t going his way. I’m baffled to this day. There’s no going back from that. I said to the others ‘that’s it’. He clearly wasn’t happy.

“I have to write him a cheque now and again. I offer to drop it round, but he always tells me to post it!”

Luckily, a replacement wasn’t far away in the form of Graham’s old school friend Holt – who had left the band, in much more amicable circumstances, in 1989.

“Our organist Clint Boon said ‘give Steve a ring – he’ll come back’. Clint’s always been cocksure.

“I asked Steve if he fancied coming back and he said ‘yes, of course I do’. Everyone’s happier this way round.”

The Inspiral Carpets play the O2 Academy, Cowley Road, Oxford, tomorrow. Doors from 7pm. Tickets £20.25 inc fees. Go to