Carry Bag Man


I'm in love with the Carrier Bag Man
I love the Carrier Bag Man 
Carrier bags strewn all around the room
Ah, the Carrier Bag Man-- I am him
Coz I am the Carrier Bag Man -- I am the carrier bag man (1)

I've no time to sit comfortable down
But I still need armchairs round my home
To put carrier bags on

I am the Carrier Bag Man
Carry a bag man!

I don't make waves, I hide bags in graves
No cash is earned straight nowadays anyways
Please all you onlookers understand
So make gangway for Carrier Bag Man

I am Carrier Bag Man

[megaphone rant]

When in town I keep head down
Kneel on the croft when the mariah comes round (2)
Fat-assed workmen, I scurry around
There's few good places to hide bags behind

Coz I am Carrier Bag Man.
Carry a bag man!




1. A "carrier bag" is a plastic shopping bag; apparently, Mark Smith is in the habit of toting one around with him (courtesy of Reformation):

(From "Various Artists: The Disparate Cogscienti, Sounds, article by Jonh Wilde): Brix Smith: " Mark's always walking around with carrier bags. My parents have bought him a gorgeous leather satchel and a nice briefcase but he always stuffs things in carrier bags. In the streets, to concerts, everywhere. It's good in a way because you can put lots of valuable things in carrier bags and no-one will think of stealing them. Mark carries all sorts around, he's not fussy. Liquor store, Sainsbury's, Boots. As long as it's a certain size and shape."  

The man himself, however, begs to differ (from Dan):

"With the proviso that MES sometimes gives us competing accounts of what a song is about, I just noticed this helpful snippet from an interview: "‘Carry Bag Man’ isn’t about me. I don’t go around with carrier bags full of drugs, do I?'"


2. A croft is a small enclosed field, usually housing a tenant farmer. A mariah, often called a "black mariah," is a paddy wagon.


From Dan:

I think this represents a particular place. There are references to apparently different local places called "the croft" in the comments on this John Cooper Clarke article. Presumably these would be patches of waste land in Lancashire dialect.

TommyD: "Patch of common ground around Prestwich, North Manchester (where MES lived) called the Croft, where people walk dogs and scallies hang out. Now a smart new housing estate by the same name."

"Scally" is roughly equivalent to "chaz" in Northern England, as far as I can make out. A male, boisterous youth, from the lower classes. It is apparently a shortened form of "scalliwag."

There is a Croft Avenue in Prestwich. I'm not sure whether it was created with the aforementioned smart housing estate or if it's been there since the late 80s or before. 

See the comments below...



Comments (27)

Karl B
  • 1. Karl B | 16/11/2014
Theres a story about nick cave carrying the handwritten document that would become when the ass saw the angel around in a carrier bag for many years a wasted state he left from a dealers house and took the rubbish carrier bag with him by mistake.he retrieved his carrier later on when he this song some sort of inside joke about the perils of carrir bag not sure where i read the story but i think it happened whilst cave was in L.A Visiting henry rollins.also smith and cave were quite friendly at this time.just a thought.
  • 2. dannyno | 13/03/2015
"The Croft" - I think this represents a particular place. There are references to apparently different local places called "the croft" in the comments on this John Cooper Clarke article:

Presumably these would be patches of waste land in Lancashire dialect.
  • 3. dannyno | 13/03/2015
So for example in the book "The Salford Lancaster", telling the story about a world war 2 plane crash in the area, there is this:

"The land had originally been used as a tip but in more recent times men played pitch-and-toss on the croft and boys were given sixpence to look-out for the local bobby."

Or this from "What a Life! The autobiography of Jim Whelan" (This seems to be Jim Whelan:, who also grew up in the Broughton area

"Over the road was a patch of waste ground which had been bombed and this site, which we called the 'croft', was our playground as we were growing up."
  • 4. dannyno | 13/03/2015
"Pitch and toss", by the way, was an illegal form of gambling.
  • 5. dannyno | 24/08/2016
With the proviso that MES sometimes gives us competing accounts of what a song is about, I just noticed this helpful snippet from an interview:

‘Carry Bag Man’ isn’t about me. I don’t go around with carrier bags full of drugs, do I?
  • 6. TommyD | 19/02/2018
Patch of common ground around Prestwich, North Manchester (where MES lived) called the Croft, where people walk dogs and scallies hang out. Now a smart new housing estate by the same name.
  • 7. dannyno | 20/02/2018
Thanks TommyD, see my comment #2.
  • 8. bzfgt (link) | 24/02/2018
JCC link is dead. Damn, I wish I'd known how to archive them years ago...
  • 9. dannyno | 24/02/2018
It's not dead, I don't think, it's just you've got the URL as this: ""

And it need to just be this: ""

I've archived it for you. Link:
  • 10. dannyno | 11/03/2018
bzfgt, comment #8: it's not a dead link. The link is mangled.

You've got, but of course it should just be:

I created an archive link for you:
  • 11. dannyno | 01/02/2019
Another angle, which upends current theories:

From Lindsay Reade's The Life of Ian Curtis: Torn Apart (Reade was Tony Wilson's first wife):

The full story of the Leigh Festival disaster belongs elsewhere but for Ian Curtis, performing to a scant gathering in the open air next to a defunct colliery, it was arguably the most ludicrous gig he had undertaken since Bowden Vale youth club.

Backstage on the final day, Curtis was nose deep in a book. Distractions singer Mike Finney enquired as to the nature of this tome, and it turned out to be Jean Paul Sartre's The Age of Reason, the first volume of Sartre's claimed trilogy, Les Chenims de la Liberte (The Roads to Freedom).

This was extremely hip reading matter of the time and as liberal arts philosophy goes, quite an accessible and enjoyable read. Unknowingly, Curtis had started a trend here insofar as his habit of carrying esoteric reading matter around in a plastic bag - initially a Manchester joke of the time - would soon be copied by a number of supporting bands. Arthur Kadmon of Ludus would never be seen without his 'hip bag', more often than not containing the works of Camus, Mailer or Fowles. Mark E. Smith even lampooned the trend in the song 'Carry Bag Man."

I would just observe that Reade may be off beam here. Carry Bag Man was first performed in January 1988, and Curtis died in 1980. Ludus split up in 1984. The Leigh Festival was August 1979. So if this song is a comment on the trend, it would be commenting on a trend which Reade is saying started nearly a decade before, which strikes me as implausible. And in the notes, MES is on record as saying the song is about carrier bags of drugs. However, MES was known for using carrier bags himself, and it is interesting to have the information that carrier bags were not just an MES thing.
  • 12. jensotto | 24/02/2019
There is a sudden interest about Ursula Le Guin and the essay "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” (6p, just sesrch)
Some mention this work
BBC Genome suggests Wizard of Earthsea on Jackanory, November 1974 (+76, 95, 09)
Moomins + Earthsea on 22nd Nov 1974.
Radio, 4D + Kaleidoscope

Any traces of and his Cadbury series in othet songs?
  • 13. bzfgt (link) | 16/03/2019
The Le Guin essay (about which there's nothing in that Wikipedia entry that I can find) was collected in 1989, at least. Any idea when it was written/delivered?

I'm not persuaded by the Curtis story.

I don't see why he couldn't be commenting on a trend that started the decade before if it was still a trend--are you now claiming that MES didn't comment on trends that hadn't started more or less contemporaneously with the writing of the song? There's a car in "Athlete Cured"...automobiles were invented in the 19th get the idea.

I know MES seems to us to be a master of caustic omniscience who couldn't possibly have missed a carrier bag trend in the late 70s, but on reflection isn't it possible he didn't know about the trend until the late 80s, even if he would have huffily refused to even acknowledge its existence had he known how stale it was by the time he sat down to write the Frenz material?

Surely you've noticed how perplexed I am by your methodological razor, one of these days maybe you'll expound the theory behind it to my greater satisfaction?

Nevertheless, there doesn't seem to be much reason to take this theory seriously. The Carrier Bag Theme is overdetermined as it is, I'm not sure we need to cram anything else in...unless of course there was some sort of corroboration that this is indeed what MES was up to. It just seems like someone connecting the dots in a way any commenter here could, and if someone posited this in the comments I'd say it's worth considering, and I'll keep an eye out for corroboration. I don't see anything extra to recommend this except the fact, thin under the circumstances, that the woman who came up with it published it in a book...on the other hand, it is indeed worth considering and we should indeed keep an eye cocked for some sort of corroboration. If she's right, you'd think the trend of others copying the carrier bag move--not necessarily MES mind you, but just some other people besides Curtis and Kadmon doing it, or even some confirmation that Kadmon's bag habit is related to Curtis's, which would strengthen it a little--might pop up, and that would get my attention.

There are some strong subliminal persuaders in this account--Sartre was pals with Camus who the Fall got their name from, and Kadmon worked with the Fall. I don't want to note it simply because it's the kind of thing that would seem more persuasive than it should were I to put it in a note. It's like when someone's first biographer tells a story without any citation, and no one knows where she got it from, and then subsequent biographers cite that, and you see the story and a little footnote number at the end and think "Oh, well that happened I guess."

On the other hand I think this comment is the sort of thing people have in mind when they say we are "overthinking" things...
  • 14. Albtwo (link) | 29/03/2019
I think yer all overthinking this one, I'm afraid. I'm buying 'the croft' as a patch of waste land in salford - coming from the wider area that sounds naturalistic/authentic to me. But kadmon / Curtis - Sartre - Camus - cave sounds way too forced. The carrier bag is just a northern, possibly slightly affected way of carrying stuff around! Ricky Tomlinson (for the benefit of overseas readers, originally a socialist firebrand turned comedy hero from Liverpool) famously used to turn up to glitzy awards ceremonies in London with his own beer, bought from the off license, in a carrier bag, just to make a personal/political point

I'm sure it's fairly common currency that mark carried things around in a carrier bag, brix dubbed him thus, and there's not much more to it other than a hooky tune. Frenz is relatively under written, lacking the depth of almost all other 80s albums so nothing to see here, for me. Northern folk carry stuff in plastic bags! Including drugs!
  • 15. bzfgt (link) | 13/04/2019
Well, since your comment is basically a paraphrase of my last comment, you're overthinking it! Nyah, nyah!
  • 16. bzfgt (link) | 13/04/2019
I hasten to add that "overthinking" is a compliment around here--of course.
  • 17. nutterwain | 24/04/2019
Somehow just don't think MES would hide bags of Camus et al in graves...
  • 18. bzfgt (link) | 27/04/2019
"I don't make waves, I hide bags in graves"

Sounds kind of like a rap lyric for some reason
  • 19. Karl71 | 23/07/2019
I just noted on page 6 of Johnny Marrs autobiograhy, he states his family moved to Ardwick in the inner city when he was still a child. He mentions a patch of waste ground there called 'the croft'. It was a rough spot populated with Gypsies and travellers. Johnny also mentions the railway tracks . Maybe this is the croft of the song lyric and also the site of Ardwick bridge from Wings.
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 09/08/2019
It's possible but it seems kind of generic, it could be any number of things if it's a specific place, couldn't it?
  • 21. dannyno | 11/01/2020
Comment #19.

See my comment #2.

"Croft" is a generic name, at least in Lancashire/Greater Manchester dialect or slang - i.e. lots of places would have a patch of land that would have been referred to locally as "the croft". In the song, I think it is a particular "croft" the narrator has in mind, but there's no clues as to where it is in the lyric. The place identified in the notes that is now a housing estate is a plausible candidate, but we don't really know.

There is no reason to think that Johnny Marr's "croft" is the same "croft" as the "croft" in this lyric. Which doesn't mean it isn't, but you'd need to have some further evidence. But Marr lived in Ardwick Green, which is south Manchester and Salford is to the west and Prestwich/Bury to the north, so there is good reason to think it's not the same place, if we assume MES is likely to be writing about places closer to home.

Marr's family lived at 19 Brierley Avenue, off Higher Ardwick (the street was subsequently demolished). That's only about about a mile away from the location of Ardwick Bridge, but the arches he talks about seeing from his house are not where the Fenian Arch was.
Jonathan Swan
  • 22. Jonathan Swan | 18/12/2022
There's a Salfordian ex bank robber known to locals as "bag man", during a botched robbery he was hit on the head with his own hammer and put in coma, but he didn't fully recover. The robbery occurred in 1984. Here's a link to the story as told by his son, listen from about the 14 minute mark, where he states that locals call him the "bag man".
jonathan swan
  • 23. jonathan swan | 18/12/2022
sorry here's the link:
Jonathan Swan
  • 24. Jonathan Swan (link) | 14/08/2023
Updated link
Jonathan Swan
  • 25. Jonathan Swan | 14/08/2023
Palmer Eldritch
  • 26. Palmer Eldritch | 17/12/2023
John Peel birthday at Royal Festival Hall with Dick Dale. Fall group was the American lot. Started playing, Smith didn't show up for about half an hour. Eventually shuffled behind the drumkit with his plastic bag and spent the entire gig pulling bits of paper out of said bag and mumbling into his mic. Finally wandered off, putting all amp knobs to ten on the way. Most beautiful feedback I've ever heard. Walked offstage past Peel, no acknowledgment.
  • 27. dannyno | 07/01/2024
A couple of corrections to Palmer Eldritch, comment #26.

The gig with Dick Dale at the Royal Festival Hall was on 22 September 2000 (not on Peel's birthday, which was the previous month, but billed as "Peel Sessions Live"), which of course means the group consisted of MES, Julia Nagle, Tom Head, Adam Helal and Neville Wilding.

The "dudes" were recruited during the US tour several years later, after subsequent line-up Ben Pritchard, Spencer Birtwistle and Steve Trafford abandoned the tour. The Americans' first performance being San Diego on 9 May 2006.

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