In 1991 at age 12 I was sat on the sofa watching the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party when Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine took to the stage and performed After the Watershed. I immediately realised that I’d been wasting my time on all that boy band nonsense and became a punk.
Actually that isn’t true, although I wish it was, as it’d be a much better opening to both this blog post and my teenage years. Unfortunately my love of terrible chart music continued for some time (and traces are still noticeable today). Carter USM were obviously an interesting feature of the line up, they stood out, got my attention, my ears pricked up and the lyrics washed right over my head. I didn’t understand it, but I knew it was cool.
Fruitbat’s attack of the Schofield was exciting. I couldn’t wait for the Poll Party to be over so I could stop the VHS tape recording (I taped it every year) to rewind back and analyse what the hell had just happened. Damn those TV cameras panning over the crowd, I wanted to see the action! I remember being really excited to read all about it in the next issue of the magazine. I had a subscription, Smash Hits was my bible back then and I studied it’s silly and snarky teachings and learnt lyrics off by heart. Smash Hits were also responsible for introducing me to Morrissey, Jesus Jones, The Charlatans, Blur and The Farm. I am eternally grateful for this infiltration of indie music. It served me well. When I eventually got bored of the charts, I was aware there was other music out there and I found it.
A few years later, I finally got it, I understood why Carter were cool. I developed a penchant for bands with socially astute and clever lyrics and good music that made me feel something. I sought out Carter CDs, began to build my collection and with it, my love for the band. I didn’t get to see them before they called it a day in the late nineties, but I did go to see Jim Bob and Fruitbat perform on their other projects. I didn’t experience the phenomenon that is a live Carter gig until their reunion in 2007. It was incredible.
Carter shows are different from other gigs and not just because I love the band. There is a real sense of camaraderie. The closest thing I have experienced to it is going to a football match, we all wear our team colours, there is much singing/shouting/chanting and a lot of drinking. Of course seeing Carter is much better because (1) their music is more entertaining and less stress-inducing than football, (2) there is a lot more dancing and (3) you always win.
Last night I saw Carter for the final time. I was excited and nervous. I hadn’t been in a mosh pit for a while – at least not the kind of impassioned and energetic mosh pit created by Carter fans. I wasn’t sure my fragile physical body could handle it, but the spirit was willing. The only time I have ever been headbutted in the boob was in the chaos of a Carter gig. This time I wore a padded bra to protect my girls and my trusty boots to protect my toes from the inevitable trampling. As expected, the excitement and enthusiasm was overflowing and infectious. The crowdsurfing started before the band had even come on stage!
The whole evening was perfect because we all made it that way. There was a sense of occasion, a fun finality which put everyone on top form. There was none of that waiting for the main act to get the party started, it was well already well under-way before we got inside the venue, and definitely for the support acts, who each had a huge supportive crowd.
The support acts were superb. I loved The Frank and Walters, they sounded great (and get bonus points for their stylish attire – a big yes to orange shirts worn with ties and braces). The Sultans of Ping were fantastic too, I have a new-found appreciation for them now beyond Where’s Me Jumper? (which always makes me think of my lovely punk chum Lex). Then we partied like it was the 1990s, singing along to James, EMF and Nirvana before the band took to the stage.
With the sad passing of legendary Jon Beast earlier this year, their intro had to pay tribute in some big fat bastard kinda way. Enter 13 bare-chested Jon Beasts giving it all that, each with a huge letter on his chest spelling out Y-O-U-F-A-T-B-A-S-T-A-R-D which we dutifully and joyfully chanted. When Jim Bob and Fruitbat took to the stage and we started Surfin’ USM, it was marvellous mayhem.
Every song was sensational – everything is more poignant when it’s the last time ever. It is hard to pick out my highlights because it really was about the whole experience, but there were especially lovely moments. During Rent I witnessed a blossoming bromance between three men. I swayed melodramatically with a lovely lady during A Prince In A Pauper’s Grave, instantly choreographing moves in the way that seems to be genetically coded into most of us girls. As the song ended we hugged happily and then continued with our own mosh pit journeys.
I danced, I got pushed and pulled and generally thrown about, I waved my arms about and threw myself about like I didn’t care what I looked like (I didn’t). The sequence of nine high energy songs that nearly killed me was Billy Smart’s Circus through to Bloodsport For All (which was dedicated to Nigel Farage obvs). Here’s the full set list. Every time I thought that my legs were going to give out, another awesome song carried me through. It helped that the security staff were such supportive stars and kept the crowd hydrated and happy. Bravo Brixton, Bravo!
The mosh pit mellowed during The Music That Nobody Likes, but I didn’t. It is one of my favourites and I had a bit of space for some seriously bad dancing. Then Impossible Dream, which was magical, the lights, our hands in the air, Jim Bob singing “give me your hands, you’re wonderful”. That moment meant quite a lot. Carter’s music has given me so much hope over the years, it has made me laugh and dance through difficult times, inadvertently teaching me lots of pop culture, and this was the moment I really felt that.
There were two encores. The first started with a skit between cops and robbers to the theme from the Sweeney – I am hoping this was a scratch piece developing Carter USM The Musical – before the band reemerged to perform Glam Rock Cops. They were joined on stage with some awesome dancing PC ladies in a fittingly TOTP style, which I loved. This encore closed poignantly with The Final Comedown.
We all knew there was more as we hadn’t heard Sheriff Fatman (cue more mosh chaos) and GI Blues. A really beautiful ending to an incredible evening.
Today I can barely move, but I am still so happy to have been there, to feel part of it, to be surrounded by and to have shared it with so many wonderful strangers. Thanks to everyone who made it amazing, and of course to Jim Bob and Fruitbat. I am eternally grateful for Carter USM.