ROLL UP – with vocalist/guitarist Neil Thompson from The Carpettes

Here in North East England the Wearside Bloc has given up stories from experienced musicians Ian Munro and Field Music, Sunderland punk Steve Straughan and metallers Spartan Warrior. Now the blog has more road stories from the Houghton le Spring contingent – The Carpettes.

‘Our first North East gig was in June 1977, then we went on to headline gigs with both Angelic Upstarts and Punishment of Luxury opening’ remembers Neil.

The band first featured back in May 2020 with Thompson talking about releasing two singles on the Small Wonder label, moving down south to London in ’78, and signing a record deal with Beggars Banquet – that brought a further four singles and two albums, Thompson looks back at those days.

Just after we finished recording our first album I made a phone call to Nick Austin, one of the bosses at Beggars Banquet, he told us fantastic news – we had a residency at London’s Marquee supporting The Lurkers every Wednesday in November ‘79.

I still remember Honest John in one of the soundchecks giving me a fiver to go to the off-licence to buy him a bottle of red wine.

LEAVE THIS TO HARVEY GOLDSMITH

Our drummer Tim was from Oxford and after a few London gigs he had this idea that he’d book a couple of gigs in Oxford as he knew the venues.

The first one was in February ‘79 at The Cape of Good Hope which if I remember was upstairs in a pub, and it was terrible. Hardly anyone there and it was a disco crowd – we didn’t get an encore.

The next one he booked was in March ’79 at The Corn Dolly this was an established venue. It was just so depressing, horrible and dark. They put an ad in the NME advertising the bands and we were ‘Ta Carpets’. Only a few people scattered here and there and it was a total waste of time, again, no encore.

So I picked up the NME and thought ‘leave this to Harvey Goldsmith here’. There was an Oxford pub in the gig guide called The Oranges and Lemons and they had The Ruts on that week. Perfect, a pub that has punk bands on. I phoned them up and got a gig straight away on Friday, 1st June 1979, our 50th gig.

On the night it was packed. Me and George were talking to people outside who had come from Sheffield to see us – we rarely played outside London in them days. We went down a storm and got an encore. I felt like telling Tim ‘leave it to me from now on mate’.

A QUICK WORD WITH DAVE

The boss of Warners UK when The Carpettes were being handled by them was none other than ‘60s pop star, Dave Dee. When I was a kid I loved Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich.

When we were on Beggars Banquet, one of the bosses, Martin Mills, the other was Nick Austin, eventually took us to the Warners office in June 1980 which was just off Berwick Street in London’s West End. We were told there was a gym there. There was also a sauna and table tennis, all free to use – Angelic Upstart singer Mensi was always in that gym.

Now and then I used to go in the office to talk about The Carpettes to Sharon Wheeler who was press officer, but unfortunately I never saw Dave knocking about. Fast forward 23 years to June 2003 and I’m in Camden Underworld to see the reformed Heavy Metal Kids. Dave Dee was there. He was the one that signed them to Atlantic in the ‘70s.

I watched the band and when they finished the punters were leaving but I still had a lot of my pint left and Dave Dee was standing nearby so I went over for a chat. I’d always wondered what he thought of The Carpettes and now was my chance to find out.

‘Hi Dave, I loved your band in the 60s’. ‘Aah thanks mate’ – he then goes on to talk about his band for a short while.

I tell him ‘I was in a band and we were on the Beggars Banquet label same time as Gary Numan’. So he talks about Gary Numan for a while. I’m thinking when he has a bit of a pause I’m gonna mention the Carpettes.

The next thing I hear is ‘Come on you – let’s have your drink’. I looked up and there was this big bouncer ‘Come on mate, out. We’ve got to get the club ready for the nightclub’.  ‘I’m just having a quick word with Dave here. I’ll not be long’.

‘DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME – GIVE ME YOUR GLASS AND GET OUT’. So I never found out what Dave Dee thought of the Carpettes and sadly six years later he died so I’ll never know.

IT COULDA BEEN A HIT

We nearly got in the Top 100! When we signed to Beggars Banquet they were being distributed by the mighty WEA, and they were up to some dodgy business. They had hyped The Pretenders single Brass in Pocket to number 1 – I’m not saying this record didn’t go on to sell loads but it needed WEA’s help to kickstart it.

So they got our label, Beggar’s Banquet, interested in this idea – and it was a strange one that worked sometimes. Gary Numan & Tubeway Army released their first single Down in the Park. WEA had an idea they would use this single to get the public used to the band and then whoosh – push the follow-up into the charts. Well it actually worked – Down in the Park wasn’t a hit but the follow-up – Are Friends Electric got to number 1. So what happens next ? They try the same with us.

Our single is released and is a warm-up for the next one that they thought could be a hit single – the problem is that the first one didn’t take off. It was played on daytime Radio 1 but WEA didn’t want it to be a hit so it wasn’t a hit.

The next release Johnny Won’t Hurt You – this is the one that’s pushed and hyped by WEA, it creeps into the chart at number 123. But it wasn’t getting any airplay – surely they hyped the wrong one. The next week it shoots up six places to 117 and the next week it’s out the charts altogether.

So that was that as far as WEA were concerned, we’d blown our chance. The follow up – Nothing Ever Changes, was a blinder and could have been a hit, but it was no good cos even though WEA agreed to distribute it, they’d given up on us.

Read the first interview from May 2020:

FIGHT AMONGST YOURSELVES – interview with Neil Thompson from The Carpettes | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

Edited by Gary Alikivi  March 2021.

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