Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine (frequently shortened to Carter USM) were a British indie band formed in 1987 by singer Jim "Jim Bob" Morrison and guitarist Les "Fruitbat" Carter. They made their name with a distinctive style of power pop, fusing samples, sequenced basses and drum machines with rock 'n' roll guitars and off-beat wordplay-loaded lyrics. They reached the height of their fame in 1992. Over the following years the band took on new members, topping out as a six-piece, but struggled to regain their earlier popularity. They split in 1998 after releasing seven albums.
Based in Lambeth in South London, England, Fruitbat and Jim Bob originally played in an indie band called Jamie Wednesday, which released two singles - "Vote For Love" and "We Three Kings of Orient Aren't". On discovering they had a gig booked but no-one else to play there, they quickly formed Carter USM, reputedly named for Fruitbat's diligence, aptitude, and stamina. They recorded the backing track of drums, synths and samples, and fused Fruitbat's guitar antics with Jim Bob's lyrics. The debut single "A Sheltered Life" was released later in 1988 on the Big Cat label, but it was not until the classic second single "Sheriff Fatman" in 1989 that the band began to receive real recognition. The song was written about a South London slumlord and was followed by the album 101 Damnations - a critical account of life south of the River Thames, full of black humour, cynicism, wordplay and puns. The album went straight to the top of the indie charts.
The band's gigs became well known for a wall of white stage lights that threw off enormous heat and contributed to the sweaty, stage-diving crowd scenes that became part of the band's image. Such scenes are depicted in the video In Bed With Carter, filmed at the Brixton Academy.
In 1991 - having signed to Rough Trade Records - Carter USM released the album 30 Something which, thanks to non-stop touring, entered the official UK chart at number eight. The accompanying "30 Something" long-sleeved t-shirt became a defining image of the early 1990s indie generation. One of the singles released from the album, "Bloodsport For All", an attack on racism and bullying in the army, was released at the start of the Gulf War and consequently banned by the BBC. Spurred on by infamy, Jim Bob and Fruitbat toured Japan, Yugoslavia and the United States (with EMF) and made a second-on-the-bill appearance at the Reading Festival, with some feeling they upstaged the headline act James. The band also made its first Top Of The Pops appearance with the single "After the Watershed (Early Learning The Hard Way)", a song about child abuse that would become more famous for its subsequent legal battle with The Rolling Stones' publisher over the use of the lyrics "Goodbye Ruby Tuesday" in the chorus. The band also hit the headlines when Fruitbat rugby tackled the children's TV presenter Phillip Schofield in front of millions of television viewers at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party in 1991.
The demise of Rough Trade records necessitated a change of label, and Carter made the switch to Chrysalis Records to work on their third album. That album, 1992 - The Love Album, went straight to number one in the UK charts, propelling the band to pop stardom. Also, in 1992, the band headlined the Glastonbury Festival where Fruitbat, annoyed at the shortening of their headline set due to other bands overrunning insulted Micheal Eavis and was subsequently banned from the festival forever. The band was unhappy, however, and this came across in the anger and cynicism of their next record, Post Historic Monsters.
In 1994, Carter's friend Wez joined the band on drums and the newly inspired trio played America, Japan and Europe, including a major concert in Croatia which was recorded and later released on video. The recording was also given away as a free live album with Carter's fifth studio LP, Worry Bomb - a punk-pop album with upbeat material such as "Let's Get Tattoos" and slow, poignant acoustic songs like "My Defeatist Attitude".
In 1996 Carter left Chrysalis Records and joined Cooking Vinyl. With Salv from the band S*M*A*S*H on bass, Wez's brother Steve on guitar, and teenager Ben Lambert on keyboards, Carter became a six-piece band.
After signing to Cooking Vinyl they released a mini-album, A World Without Dave, and started their longest ever UK tour. The band then went back to Canada and the US for what would turn out to be their final expedition. They decided to split shortly after their 10th anniversary, and their final studio album, I Blame The Government, was released in January 1998. Two further albums, Live! and BBC Sessions, were released in the same year, in June and October respectively.
Les Carter currently plays with the band Abdoujaparov as well as appearing as a presenter on the Brentwood radio station Phoenix FM. James Morrison's projects include the band Jim's Super Stereoworld and solo albums including Angelstrike!. He has also written a book, Goodnight, JimBob, detailing his experiences on the road with Carter USM, and a currently unpublished novel.
EMI released Anytime Anyplace Anywhere, a "best of" record featuring tracks from the band's birth until their switch to Cooking Vinyl. This reportedly annoyed the band as they were not consulted or even made aware of the release of the record. In 2004 two new Carter CDs were released: a live album of BBC concerts from the early 1990s, and Brixton Mortars, a compilation album of tracks from their final two studio albums. In 2006, Carter released a new compilation of unreleased tracks and rarities called The Good, The Bad, The Average And Unique. Echoing the earlier Starry Eyed And Bollock Naked, the sleeve features a Volkswagen Beetle - this time a bright green new model convertible. Autumn 2007 sees the release of a band-authorised best of compilation album spanning their entire career on EMI, currently under the working title of You Fat Bastard. The title comes from a chant performed by the crowd at gigs, which now haunts the former members. It originated from one time manager Jon "Fat" Beast's topless on stage band introductions.
In 2001 and 2002, Jim Bob and Fruitbat toured as Who's The Daddy Now?. The pair's two bands, Jim's Super Stereoworld and Abdoujaparov, would play a set each, after which the pair would combine to perform a number of Carter USM songs. Until 2006, Who's The Daddy Now? was the closest thing to a Carter USM regrouping after their split in 1997.
On 4 March 2007, almost 10 years after the band last performed, Carter USM's original two-man line-up played a set of four songs as part of a gig to celebrate the life of former Mega City Four frontman Darren 'Wiz' Brown, who died in December 2006. The band had been booked to play acoustically but surprised the audience by playing a traditional electric set at the last moment.
In 2007, Carter reunited for two "farewell" gigs. The first show announced - taking place on 2 November 2007 at London's Brixton Academy with support from Sultans of Ping - sold out in five days with little advertising except word of mouth. This sell-out prompted another concert to be arranged, taking place at Glasgow Barrowlands on October 20, 2007. The reunion celebrated twenty years since the band's foundation and ten years since their split. The gigs were performed as the original two-piece of Fruitbat and Jim Bob, who more or less kept their promise to play "all the hits and all the favourites".
On February 6, 2008 Jim Bob and Fruitbat hinted at the possibility of further Carter USM gigs when they sent the following email to the members of the band's mailing list.
Since the victorious Carter gigs last year, we've received a lot of emails and web messages pleading with us to play again. Messages from people who either had such a great time and wanted more or were among the many who missed out on the two shows. There have also been a number of offers from promoters for us to play more Carter shows.
Last November we felt the Brixton and Glasgow gigs were definitely it but because of all the requests and offers and because we enjoyed the gigs so much doubts have begun to creep in... Just that one more time?
So, should we play another gig - or something similar - or do we leave it where we have? We can't think of anyone better to ask than you, so if you have any opinions either way, drop us an email at:
Jim Bob & Fruitbat”
Two dates were then announced for Birmingham Academy and London Brixton Academy for 21st and 22nd November 2008...(Jim's Birthday)
Their self-confessed "worst gig of all time" was at Kidderminster Market Tavern where the drum machine broke down and they were forced to continue the show without any percussion. Jimbob claimed in Melody Maker that this led to the crowd chanting "Carter need a drummer". During the band's peak, fans of the group were famous for terrace-like chants before and often during their sets, most notably "You Fat Bastard" (a reference to the band's lighting engineer and compère Jon Beast which would remain popular even after Beast renounced both lamp and mic) and "Schofield is a wanker", a reference to Fruitbat's aforementioned televised altercation with Schofield during the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party. In another problematic appearance, Fruitbat suffered a back injury whilst cleaning the bath, leading to an in-chair performance at the Reading Festival in 1995.
Jim Bob and Fruitbat are both fans of cycle racing, and "Surfing USM" was used by Channel 4 as a theme tune for their coverage of the 1991 Kellogs Tour of Britain cycle race. Fruitbat's band Abdoujaparov was named after the Tour de France cyclist Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. Fruitbat frequently appeared on stage wearing a cycle racing jersey and casquette (cotton cap), notably Del Tongo team strip.
In 1993, Jim Bob and Fruitbat made a brief appearance as themselves in the recurring sketch Persons of Restricted Seriousness in the BBC 2 comedy series Newman And Baddiel in Pieces.