The Carpettes: Unsung UK Punks Back For The First Time
Punk bands like The Clash have been lauded by critics and fans spanning across the globe, while other superb acts like The Carpettes have remained stuck between the cracks of history. This is almost tragic, since their blend of fine-etched, unblemished pop-tinged punk was just as riveting as The Boys and The Vibrators.
Friday, the band launches their first-ever American tour at Mango's, hopefully gaining some much-deserved attention for their brand of fervent tunes. Never heard of the Carpettes? Allow bassist George Maddison to introduce you.
Rocks Off: Like so many bands (999, The Clash, The Jam, etc.) of the 1976 punk era, you had roots preceding it. How did your band Brown Sugar prepare you for that sudden explosion of culture and music?
George Maddison: Hehe..... Brown Sugar! This was mentioned in an interview years ago, and it now crops up regularly. Brown Sugar wasn't really a working band, just a bunch of school friends, although it did include the three original members of The Carpettes.
However, even then back in 1975 we were trying to play Rolling Stones songs, Chuck Berry ... not the progressive rock, which was prevalent at the time. We only played a couple of gigs before we split up and went off to different colleges, universities, jobs, etc.
RO: Small Wonder labels had a very diverse roster, from art-punk like the Cure to street punk like the Cockney Rejects. Having two singles on the label, did you feel bands felt like a community on the label, despite differences?
GM: We were signed by Small Wonder in the very early days of the label when we replied to an ad in the national music press asking for demo tapes. Before The Carpettes, Small Wonder had only released two singles from local East London bands, and they were just beginning to cast their net a bit wider.
When we travelled to London to record the singles, we did meet some of the other bands on the label, like Patrick Fitzgerald and The Leyton Buzzards, but there was no "community." The label simply reflected the taste of the owner, Pete Stennet, who wanted to give new bands a start. He rarely released more than one record by each act.
We were honoured with two, and he always moved on to discover fresh talent. It was only in the later days of the label, after we had moved on, that he seemed to concentrate on just one or two acts.
RO: Having performed two sessions for the late DJ John Peel, how do you feel he impacted listeners the most? Is there any such equivalent today?
GM: At the time, BBC Radio One was the only national radio station playing "pop/rock" music. However, most of the disease were forced to play pretty bland, unadventurous material, dictated by the music charts. John Peel had a nighttime show, and he was given free reign to play anything he wanted and had been doing so since back in the hippy days of the late '60s.
He had a genuine love of the music, and he enthusiasticly championed the new music coming out around 1977-78. He had a huge effect on changing the music scene. Basically, his show was the only place to hear new bands, and he helped the careers of countless bands, ourselves included. Nowadays there are more BBC stations and some of them concentrate on new music, but they will never have the nationwide effect that the Peel show had. As for the local commercial stations, forget it!
RO: Your appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, including "Johnny Won't Hurt You," is a succinct slice of taut pop and limber, reggae-inflected post-punk a la The Members and The Ruts. Being 1980, how did the band fare with audiences splintered into ska/two-tone, Oi! and mod factions?
GM: The Carpettes were formed in the early days of punk/New Wave, and these factions didn't really exist. It was just the new bands vs the old established bands. I suppose it was circumstances and geography that delayed our records until 1980. We never felt connected with any of the factions you mentioned, which could possibly have been a commercial problem for us, as has often been mentioned before ... lack of "image," etc.
RO: The last early album and title track "Fight Amongst Yourselves" seems keenly multi-layered: were you addressing youth, the music world, politics, and the band all in one artistic stab?
GM: By the time we did the second album on Beggars Banquet, we had decided not to worry too much about lyrics and experimentation and concentrate on tightly arranged 3 minute songs, hopefully with a good tune and a bit of energy. So, there are not a lot of messages in the songs.
The title track is an exception. It was written by Neil. I don't think it was a swipe at anyone in particular, just a case of, "You get on arguing with each other, and we'll just keep on doing what we want to do, the way we want to do it."
RO: Your early producers worked with acts like The Beat and Duran Duran. Did they seem to grasp, understand, and capture the band's sound as you imagined it? So many records were sideswiped by producers...
GM: The first album was produced by Bob Sergeant, who had done our two John Peel sessions. We got on really well and were happy to work with him. I think he did a pretty good job overall, although we had to veto one or two of his more "unusual" ideas ... one involving an incredibly expensive and heavy Hammond organ.
At the time, I thought that the second album was produced really well, but when I listen now, I feel that it is a bit overproduced and some of the raw energy of the band has been swamped by the production.
RO: How did playing the infamous Holidays in the Sun fest and touring Japan over a decade ago reignite the band?
Well, the festival was totally responsible for restarting the band. I had been out of the music scene for a few years concentrating on my family. Once we played it, and realised that there were people who still wanted to listen, we just kept on doing things, which led to the tours of Japan, Germany, etc, and the last two albums, as well as a series of re-releases.
The other main factor was the Internet, which didn't exist back in the day. This allowed a self-managed band like ourselves to easily get in touch with interested parties around the world.
RO: The self-titled 2005 NDN record seems perfectly in tune with the early material, especially in tunes like "Black, White, Wrong, Right?" which attacks the ten-foot walls people choose to live behind, both real and psychological. Have the recent spate of incidents in England reminded you of earlier eras of social unrest in the punk era?
GM: Glad you've had a chance to listen to the album. The song "Black /White..." is really about people I spend a lot of time with. Where I live, in the North East of England, most of the old guys are ex-miners. The mines have all closed down now, but they have lived in these communities all their lives without experiencing too much of the rest of the world.
Now, most of them are great people, and I love them to bits, but they often have really extreme views on things like race and immigration, mainly due to lack of education, not lack of intelligence. The recent troubles in England are something else, nothing like protests in the past, just a certain type of person doing things just because they can get away with it.
RO: The band still retains hints of diversity and reggae, like breakdowns on "Next to You." Although many people equate the band with tuneful pop-punk ala the Vibrators, has black music deeply influenced the band too?
GM: Right from the start the inspiration for The Carpettes came from two sources - The Ramones and 1950's rock and roll. Our first rehearsal consisted of five Ramones covers and five Gene Vincent songs! Neil tended to favour Gene and Eddie Cochran while I was more of a Chuck Berry man.
The reggae influences I take full responsibility for, being a big follower in the '70s after buying Catch a Fire by The Wailers in the early '70s.
RO: Tunes like "Perfect Girl" are yearning, wistful, and melodic, almost straight out of The Who. As you've grown older, have the walls between genres melted to you?
GM: "Perfect Girl" caused problems. It was written by our guitarist Jimmy Devlin, who joined the band about six years ago. He has written lots of great songs, and I wanted this one on the album simply because I thought it was one of his best.
Jimmy thought it didn't fit the style of the band, but we put it on anyway. Were we right? By the way, he'll love your comparison to The Who.
With the Shadow and the Anarchitex, 9 p.m. Friday at Mango's, 403 Westheimer.
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