After the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets were arguably the third most popular band to emerge from the late-'80s/early-'90s Madchester scene. Like the Charlatans UK, they weren't quite as innovative as the city's two standard-bearers, relying less on the contemporary dance club beats that became Madchester pop's identifying signature. They did, however, share a fascination with trippy psychedelia, particularly the Farfisa organ-drenched sound of Nuggets-style garage rock from the '60s, which set them apart from their peers. It also enabled them to tinker with their sound once the Madchester fad had passed, and the group continued to score hits right up to their mid-'90s breakup.
Inspiral Carpets were formed in the Greater Manchester town of Oldham by guitarist Graham Lambert -- who'd been playing around the area since 1982 -- and vocalist Stephen Holt, who soon both recruited drummer, Craig Gill. The group began to settle on a permanent lineup in 1986 when Farfisa organist Clint Boon joined up, before bassist Dave Swift came into the fold the following year. '60s-influenced garage punk-style demo tapes, recorded at Boon's studio, helped to get the band noticed in Manchester, as did local support slots with the Bodines and Spacemen 3. Clever merchandising also helped the band out financially; they sold T-shirts featuring their smoking-cow logo and their slogan "Cool as F*ck," which got them media attention when a student wearing the shirt was arrested for violating obscenity laws. Their first national release came in 1988 with the Plane Crash EP on Playtime Records, but when that label's distributor went out of business later that year, the band set up their own imprint, Cow Records, which was financed mostly by T-shirt sales. The first release on Cow was the 1989 EP Trainsurfing, which got the band even more national attention. At this point, Holt and Swift -- not keen on professional careers involving lots of time and travel -- decided to leave, and were replaced by vocalist Tom Hingley (ex-Too Much Texas) and bassist Martyn Walsh. With their arrival, the band's Madchester-compatible style began to crystallize, as evidenced on the new lineup's first release, the swirling, organ-driven psychedelic tune "Joe" (May 1989). The single caused a stir in the indie underground that only intensified with the follow-ups "Find Out Why" and "Move," and after being courted by several major labels, the band wound up signing with the large London-based indie Mute.