Happy Mondays

TrackSingle / EP / Album
Tart TartFactory FAC 176
Kuff DamSquirrel And G-Man...
24 Hour Party PeopleFactory FAC 192
Wrote For LuckBummed
Do It BetterBummed
Lazyitis - One Armed BoxerFactory FAC 222
HallelujahMadchester Rave On EP
Step OnPills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches
Loose FitPills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches
Cut 'Em Loose BruceYes Please!

 

Happy Mondays photo 1

Happy Mondays (l to r): Paul Ryder (bass), Mark Day (guitar), Bez (percussion), Shaun Ryder (vocals), Gary Whelan (drums), Paul Davis (keyboards)

 

 

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Happy Mondays playlist

 

Contributor: Stuart Huggett

Old pop fans like me mourn the loss of Top Of The Pops for many reasons but one that often gets overlooked was the programme’s ability not just to break bands but entire musical movements. On 23rd November 1989, Happy Mondays crashed into the nation’s living rooms performing Hallelujah with credibility-enhancing guest Kirsty MacColl, boosting the band into the Top 20 for the first time. With the Stone Roses also making their TOTP debut that night with Fools Gold, the burgeoning Manchester scene was tipped into the national spotlight and soon the international one.

Hallelujah’s parent EP Madchester: Rave On gave the scene a name and elements of the Mondays’ and the Roses’ collective sound, image and attitude swept the country’s impressionable indie-kid youth for a good 18 months. I know, I had that haircut. Thirty years on, Happy Mondays have beaten the odds and survived a career of mishaps and mistakes, near death experiences, drugs, fall outs and make ups, to still be an active touring, if no longer recording, concern. There are plenty of wildly entertaining books telling their gob-smacking story, not least Shaun Ryder’s and Bez’s autobiographies, so pick them up for the tall tales while we take a look at the music itself.

In his recently published book of lyrics (“Wrote For Luck”, Faber & Faber, 2019), Ryder suggests that Happy Mondays were “signed to Factory so early in our career that we were thrown into the recording studio before we were really ready” and the band’s initial releases (1985’s yowling Forty Five EP and the following year’s funkier Freaky Dancin’/The Egg double A-side) back up his assertion.

It took a mismatched collaboration with John Cale as producer for the unique qualities of the band to start coming into focus, first revealed on 1987’s raw single Tart Tart. Ryder’s tale of the death of a friend of the band is told obliquely, mixed in with sketches of other characters in their orbit, including legendary Factory figure Martin Hannett (“Maggot sleeps on his desk”) and Ryder’s bassist brother Paul (“He’s getting too bothered about the spots on his chest”). Underrated guitarist Mark Day constructs riffs seemingly at random but with great skill, keyboard player Paul Davis drops in only when he sees fit, and the Paul Ryder/Gary Whelan rhythm section speeds up and slow down at unexpected moments.

Not all of the Cale-produced debut album that followed was as inspired as its bewildering title, Squirrel And G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out) but opener Kuff Dam was a highlight. Not since the Fall’s Hex Enduction Hour masterpiece had a band challenged curious listeners with an album opening track whose lyrics were as potentially alienating as “Jesus is a cunt and never helped you with a thing that you do”.

Needing a replacement track for swiftly deleted, Beatles quoting album track Desmond, Happy Mondays came up with an after-the-fact title song. 24 Hour Party People was their fourth single and first real potential crossover moment. New producer Dave Young brightened the music’s colours compared to Cale’s abrasive approach and Ryder’s lyrics were getting closer to the collage of quotable lines that would help them break big. “One two three four five six seven / Three six five, all the time”, the song’s forward motion doesn’t let up. Its spirit and influence would grow until it became the theme song and title to Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 Factory movie (in which the adventures of the Mondays would form a key comic strand) and Tony Wilson’s tie-in autobiography of the same name. In self-descriptive terms, it’s the Mondays’ own Hey Hey, We’re The Monkees.

Striking up a productive partnership with estranged Factory Records producer Martin Hannett and an even more productive one with new club drug ecstasy, Happy Mondays recorded 1988’s disorientating second album Bummed. If fans thought that simple title was a bit rude, its inner sleeve was worse, but the Mondays’ efforts to amalgamate house, funk and soul influences into their grimy sound were now bearing serious fruit.

On lead single Wrote For Luck, Hannett maximised every element of the Mondays’ self-taught musicianship, with multiple waves of guitar and thundering drums right up front and Ryder mixing some of his smartest lyrics (“I don’t read / I just guess”) with wordless howling. Over six relentless minutes, the album version (the first Mondays tune I heard, thanks to Annie Nightingale’s old Radio 1 request show) remains my favourite but it’s the track’s succession of remixes (most notably the career-making Think About The Future mix by Paul Oakenfold and Terry Farley on its W.F.L. reissue) that pointed the whole scene forward. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our new friend, the indie-dance crossover.

The Mondays’ appetite for ecstasy was all over Bummed, even if it would take a while for their audience to catch up and realise it. Most clearly, there’s the classic Do It Better (working title: ‘E’) and its at the time apparently gobbledygook refrains “On one, in one, did one, do one” and “Good good good good / Double double good / Double double good”. Urgent, catchy and compact, it should have been a single, and almost was, but was shelved in favour of album closer Lazyitis.

Re-recorded as a duet between Ryder and veteran Scottish singer Karl Denver, Lazyitis was a cut and paste assemblage of lyrics from the Beatles, David Essex and Sly and the Family Stone that made little sense on Bummed and even less on the single version. Now subtitled One Armed Boxer, Martin Hannett proved he could fashion a commercial sound with a lush, country and western production and Tony Wilson loved it, comparing it to a folksong round. It was bonkers. It flopped. Heroic failures are still heroic though.

The band’s final work with Hannett produced the aforementioned crossover hit, the Madchester Rave On EP. Pop fans heading to Woolworths following that Top Of The Pops debut might have been disappointed if they’d picked up the four-track EP itself: bypassing the lessons of Lazyitis’ beauty and the dance direction of the W.F.L. mixes, the EP is a throwback to the dense confusion of Bummed, with Hallelujah itself appearing in an unruly, six-minute take. Only on the 7̎”could you find Steve Lilywhite’s radio-friendly ‘MacColl mix’ whose tightened-up vocal sweetness smuggled some truly degraded lyrical matter into the charts, with Ryder promising to “lie down beside you / fill you full of junk”.

By looping the track’s most effective hooks and bringing his partner in to smooth over any of Ryder’s vocal shortcomings, Lilywhite showed the Mondays how to construct a hit. They wouldn’t need Martin Hannett again but nor would they ever be as wildly experimental. Producers Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne came on board for Step On, the chopped-up cover of John Kongos’ 1971 single He’s Gonna Step On You Again, and third album Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches, creating the band’s imperial peak. Ecstasy-fuelled club culture, the optimism of a new decade, the Manchester scene reaching critical mass, all combined to help Happy Mondays own 1990.

Repeating the success of Kirsty MacColl’s contribution, Manchester singer Rowetta was brought in for Step On: credited on the single sleeve for “guest vocal” she immediately became an integral part of the band. Reaching the Top 5, Step On already seemed over-exposed when it reappeared on Pills ‘N’ Thrills… later that year but nowadays nothing else evokes that early 90s spirit like its tripping piano motif, the shuffling rhythm and Mark Day’s twanging riff, while Ryder’s ad libs (“You’re twistin’ my melon man / Call the cops”) remain in the language of popular culture. Not bad for what started as a throwaway cover.

Their commercial high water mark, Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches contains many of Happy Mondays best songs not mentioned here. I’ve picked out Loose Fit mainly because its laid back groove showed a casual ease the band had never captured before, particularly in Oakenfold and Osborne’s single mix, with its introductory sound of a spliff being lit. Despite all the sex and drugs present in previous Mondays singles, it was the Gulf War and BBC jitters over the lines “Gonna buy an air force base / Gonna wipe out your race” that almost saw the band banned, at least until some hasty radio editing occurred.

It was almost inevitable that, after being the band of 1990, things would never be as good again for the Mondays. A nasty, ill-tempered interview with NME’s Steven Wells found Bez descending into homophobia. The fall-out overshadowed the band’s standalone Judge Fudge single but even so, its moodier sound and lyrics were evidence of a collective comedown as harder drugs than ecstasy took hold and band relationships deteriorated.

That the band held it together to record one final album, 1992’s Yes Please! is remarkable, particularly bearing in mind its tortuous, chaotic gestation (and again, I can’t recommend any biography of the Mondays highly enough if you’re unfamiliar with the tales). Recorded largely in Barbados with cheery Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club duo Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth producing, it’s hardly the sunny album almost any other group would create in such an environment. Tracks like comeback single Stinkin Thinkin and Angel are musically downbeat, lyrically unwell in mind and body; the band’s final Factory single Sunshine & Love falls far short of the optimism of its title.

There is some fun left in the band though, even if it struggled to show itself as they disintegrated, most notable on Cut ˈEm Loose Bruce. Upping the album’s percussive tempo, it’s lyrically not much more than Ryder’s re-write of the Beatles’ Rocky Raccoon (“I’ll tell you the story of Cut ˈEm Loose Bruce / He was the man who set the outlaws loose”) but the band can still carry a tune and a groove and, with its guest verses from Ruthless Rap Assassins’ Kermit, it again points to the future and Shaun and Bez’s successful post-Mondays vehicle Black Grape.

Since 1999, Ryder has recorded and toured with various iterations of the Mondays, with a full, original band reunion finally occurring on their 2012 live dates. I can’t pretend any of their reunion releases are as essential as their first golden era (although Tony Wilson was enamoured enough of 2007’s belated fifth album Uncle Dysfunktional to award it a Factory Records catalogue number) but they’re still excellent entertainment value in concert, as haphazard and brilliant as ever. So Hallelujah for that.

 

 

 

Happy Mondays photo 2

 

Happy Mondays poster

 

Happy Mondays facebook

Happy Mondays UK Tour 2019

Happy Mondays Discography

Happy Mondays: Live at the G-Mex 1990 (YouTube)

“Twisting My Melon: The Autobiography” by Shaun Ryder (Corgi 2012)

“Freaky Dancin’: Me And The Mondays” by Bez (Pan 2000)

“Happy Mondays: Excess All Areas” by Simon Spence (Aurum Press 2015)

Happy Mondays biography (Apple Music)

Stuart Huggett cut his teeth writing fanzines and blogs and running tiny indie labels in Hastings, before moving to Brighton and fluking his way into an on-off career contributing to NME, The Quietus and more. His blog is here.

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