THE BUST AND THE BOON TIMES
Clint Boon was offered a six-figure sum to revive Inspiral Carpets, but as the keyboard player tells Fiona Sturges, he's got self-respect. As his Sunday-lunchtime radio show proves...
3 November 2000 - The Independent
Clint Boon. Contrary to popular belief, the name is real. So, too, is his enthusiasm for dodgy Hawaiian shirts, though today he has abandoned the usual kaleidoscopic get-up in favour of a respectable navy coat. His hair is neatly cropped, too light years away from the abominable mushroom cloud of old.
Despite having had only a few hours' sleep between a late-night DJ set in Sheffield and the long drive to London, the erstwhile Inspiral Carpets' keyboard player is in a chipper mood. Conversation veers from the sublime to the ridiculous one minute, he is poetically reflecting on life's ephemeral nature; the next, he is telling me about the time he was nearly thrown out of a Chinese restaurant for accidentally munching on a vegetable carving.
There was a time when Boon seemed destined to lurk in the wings of pop, a solitary figure sitting side-stage with only a keyboard for company. But in recent years the Oldham-born musician has undergone a dramatic overhaul, and I'm not just talking about the haircut. In his latest band, The Clint Boon Experience, he has moved centre-stage, for a start.
"I always wanted a greater role in the Inspirals," he confesses. "I was never envious of [the lead singer] Tom, but I thought, 'One day I'll get the chance to do something in the middle of my stage.'"
To call Boon a musician doesn't quite capture the spirit of CBX "entertainer" would probably be more apt. We're talking glitter balls, lurid purple suits, fairy lights, a dancing goon (the spirit of baggy lives on) and more chatter than you get on a Saturday night at the Comedy Store.
"On stage I think I'm more of a character than a voice," he ponders. "But I don't pretend to be anything apart from me. I've just got too much energy."
Boon's Farsifa organ is also an integral part of The Clint Boon Experience, even though he doesn't think much of his talent: "I'm crap, which is ironic, really, because it's the thing I'm most famous for. I'm not a good singer, either. What I get a real kick out of is writing songs. Perhaps I could make a living selling songs to Cher, or to that lovely Ronan Keating."
At their first gig, in April 1998, CBX already had a loyal following. The fans were quickly anointed the "Boon Army", and songs such as "White No Sugar" and "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down", from the first album, The Compact Guide to Pop Music and Space Travel, were instant anthems. Musically, The Clint Boon Experience inhabit the unlikely middle ground between Scott Walker and The Doors. On the first track of their forthcoming second LP, Life in Transition, a Southern belle coos: "The Boon Army is so cool." The album also employs the talents of the tenor Alf Boe, cementing the "space opera" tag that has accompanied the band from the start. A more famous name on the album, though, is Travis's Fran Healey, a self-confessed CBX devotee.
"It was about a year ago that I got an e-mail from Fran saying, 'I've got a band called Travis. Would you like to support us on tour?' I thought it was a wind-up," recalls Boon. "We got on so well that we decided to do this duet. I thought I'd write a song about him and came up with 'Do What You Do (Earworm Song)'. I always call him 'my little Scottish earworm'. OK, he came up with the earworm thing, but he's not getting any royalties for it."
The "earworm" refers to a song that lodges in your head for days on end. "It's the sign of good song. Travis's songs are like that," Boon says. What does he make of the backlash that has accompanied Travis's success?
"Listen, if there was a badge that said, 'I am a Travis fan', I would wear it. People are just jealous. They are just four kids who made the music they wanted to make and happened to make lots of money out of it."
The same cannot be said of Boon's former band, Inspiral Carpets. He says he was almost bankrupt when they split in 1995. He was struggling to pay the mortgage and look after his two children and was eventually forced to sign on.
Never quite achieving the notoriety or success enjoyed by their "Madchester" peers, Inspiral Carpets always lingered in the shadow of the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses. Nevertheless, their organ-drenched pop became synonymous with the era, and the band did at least manage to dent the charts with "She Comes in the Fall" and "Caravan". They were as well known for their merchandise as for their music; their "Cool as fuck!" T-shirts got one fan arrested for breaching obscenity laws. Perhaps even more famously, Noel Gallagher was their roadie.
"Noel and me used to bunk up on the pull-out couch in a friend's flat in Muswell Hill," recalls Boon. "Them were the days, when I used to sleep with superstars."
But as baggy began to fade, so did interest in the Inspirals.
"The first thing I did after we split up was sit down and write some songs," remembers Boon. "I felt that even though I didn't know where I was going, I would try and get a band together. I had no real profile at the time, as the Inspirals hadn't done anything for a year.
"There were times when my wife was asking me: 'Why do you keep writing songs? You haven't got a band or a record deal.' I kept saying, 'One day, one day.' "
So, does he have any regrets about his career?
"Not at all. You can't come out of an experience like that grumbling, 'Why didn't we get the credibility of the Roses or sell the same amount of records as the Mondays?' I came out thinking, 'That was brilliant. I saw the world. We achieved more than we thought we would ever achieve in that band."
The big question is: would he do it all over again? The Inspirals are known to have been offered vast sums of money to reform and capitalise on the baggy revival started by the Happy Mondays last year.
"Let's just say it was a six-figure sum for two gigs," smiles Boon. "I mean, that's more money than we made in the first place. But no, I wasn't tempted. I could have done with the money at the time but I knew I would lose my self-respect if I did it then. Life's too short to repeat the things you've already done. I'd rather get on with the Clint Boon Country and Western album."