Louder Than War Presents: Part One Of The Excellent Short Story, All My Friends Are Junkies, By Gary Whelan, The Happy Mondays Drummer
As Happy Mondays drummer Gary Whelan looks ahead to not only celebrating the upcoming 25yr anniversary of the legendary ‘Pills, Thrills, Bellyaches’ album with an 18 date tour at the end of the year, but also the release of his own new solo EP ‘Grand Theft Audio’ with his group ‘Love & The Family Tree’ (due out in July) – Louder Than War are pleased to present an excerpt from his own brilliant collection of short stories; with ‘ALL MY FRIENDS ARE JUNKIES’.
All My Friends Are Junkies is Gary Whelan’s hilarious, honest and rather wonderfully written account about his joining the Mondays and the first impressions of both Ryder brothers he made. It’s probably the best inside story about the band ever written, and it’s just as funny as you’d expect it to be. Believed to be just one of 6 – 7 short stories written by Whelan, some Mondays related and some not, it’s hoped that, together with the now Happy Mondays manager Alan McGee, that these stories may be released together at a further date. But until then kick back and enjoy Gaz’s self penned intro into the world of the Ryder’s and of the Happy Mondays; as well as boozers, strippers, drugs and The Hacienda, with Part 2 due to follow soon…
“Fuckin’ell Horse, stop lookin’ at y’swede in the fuckin’ mirror and watch the road.” Shaun blurted out as he casually punctuated his outburst by slapping the rear view mirror towards his direction. His lethargic tone suggested that he was bored rather than concerned with our immediate safety. “Shut up, y’dick,” was Paul’s best response, delivered in a well-rehearsed fashion, whilst aggressively flicking the mirror back into the direction of the driver seat. What ensued were several minutes of bickering and violent threats that exceeded the usual sibling rivalry. I was witness to all proceedings from the rear seat of the ice-blue 1974 Vauxhall Viva. A position I was quickly becoming accustomed to, as I was now the drummer in our newly formed musical quartet, Avant Garde.
The band had formed less than 6 months earlier after I had become the final member following the night I was ‘summoned’ to a rehearsal to watch the Ryder Brothers and guitarist Mark Day run through some rough sounding Joy Division and Depeche Mode songs. I was instantly asked to join for two reasons. One, I owned a drum kit, and two, (and far, far more importantly), I dressed and spoke the same talk as the brothers … I was ‘one of the boys’, or as the Plebes called us, Perry Boys – the Manchester equivalent of Liverpool Scallies.
Mark Day was a friend during the two hour rehearsals we had every Wednesday at All Saints Primary School in Swinton, Salford, West Manchester. In the very classroom I had learned to read and write not 10 years earlier. The brothers had instantly infected me with their coolness, style and originality in the way they wore the almost uniform style of the Perry Boys, always adding an alternative twist to the current trends. Paul, was the cleaner cut of the two wearing expensive jewellery and showering himself in designer after- shave balancing a precarious wobble just on the right side of good taste.
Shaun was an extrovert and Paul the introvert but that was too easy a description. Both, at regular intervals, had casually tried to establish a friendship with me as an alliance against the other, Paul calling Shaun a loud, bigheaded, big-nosed fucker and Shaun insisting Paul was a spoilt, lazy, big-nosed cunt. But this didn’t matter to me, I was as intoxicated as any 16 year old would be with two fascinating contemporaries that were two and four years his senior.
Suddenly the car came to a sudden stop. I used this chance to break the now uncomfortable silence by aiming a question towards both front seat passengers. “Any chance one of you can wind down y’window? It’s fuckin’ stifling back ‘ere”. The July heat was indeed insufferable, but the true nature of my request was to escape the overwhelming smell of the two Brothers potent after-shave fragrances battling for superiority to overpower and potentially asphyxiate me … come to think of it … just like the fucking brothers. The only positive I could subtract from the large amounts of cologne being sported by them both was that it was thankfully, and to my utter astonishment, strong enough to disguise the immensely distressing alkaloid clandestine gas continually escaping from the tail end of my alimentary canal, the result of the previous nights over-indulgence of fine ales and exotic Asian sub- continent cuisine running wild with enthusiasm through an uncultured sixteen year old’s digestive system.
Shaun and Paul rotated their heads in my direction in one simultaneous and slow mechanical movement. This indicated the trouble that was about to follow. I came face to face with two detached yet disgusted and appalled expressions that you could be excused in thinking that I had just asked them both to strip naked and jump in the back seat with me. I was starting to realise that ‘front windows down’ was a huge faux pas, but I couldn’t understand why? I didn’t have to wait long to find out. With Swiss clock precision and as if acting out the role of ‘twins in a trance’, their explanation began. “If we roll the fuckin winda’s down then it’ll fuck arr hair up ya daft cunt!’ the letter R rolling off the teacher’s tongue’s to emphasise my lack of knowledge on such matters. In fact, I was excessively enthusiastic about my own hair but not to this fucking degree! Both Shaun and his younger brother possessed hair so short (in a short back and side style, very cool and popular) that a blast from a jet engine would spread and paste both respective noses on to the back of their heads well before a hair on their heads would be even slightly displaced. I responded with a shrug, head tilt and lower lip curl that any Frenchman worth his salt would be proud of. This seemed to diffuse the situation and I proceeded to look out of the car window at the early evening skyline.
As if aware of the menace that night-time brings, a low-slung sun was slipping sneakily behind the urban Hulme skyline that separated Salford – our home from Moss-side – our destination. We crossed the narrow River Irwell and entered Hulme. I was immediately out of my comfort zone and plunged into a world of students, squats and Afro-Caribbean communities. Although only separated by several feet of industrial water, Salford and Hulme were worlds apart. Salford being predominantly white, tough, working-class folk of mostly Irish, Scottish, German, Jewish and a dash of Sioux Indian (I’ll explain later) descent. Hulme, containing all of the above (minus Jewish and Sioux Indian) but with an extra infusions of Afro-Caribbean and anarchic students.
Hulme, like Salford, had a proud history (the birth place and first factory of Rolls-Royce being one of many) but in the early seventies Hulme had been chosen as the first experiment in urban redevelopment by the British government. Terrace housing was demolished and the UK’s largest estate of curved row factory-built low rise dwellings were erected with a vision of new inner city Utopia. Deck access linked the industrial designed blocks trying to create ‘streets in the sky’ for safety and in an ill-fated attempt to retain community spirit found in the terraced streets of old Hulme.
In fact, the opposite happened. The flats were small, damp and the industrial design fast became dangerous and unfit for families. Manchester city council quickly saw Hulme as a dumping ground for its anti-social members of society and it soon became a communal magnet and breeding ground for students rebelling against the cultural values of the larger society that they were part of. The decks that linked the flats became rabbit warren escapements, a concrete maze perfect for criminal activity that was swiftly dubbed ‘rat runs’ by the police. The problem became so serious that Manchester city council was reduced to handing out keys to anyone who would take them, resulting in a black market exchange between squatters. Instead of urban utopia, Hulme had materialised into an anarchist playground.
I sat back in my seat and tried not to show my mixed feelings of apprehension and excitement for something that would seem so trivial to my companions. Shaun had been a young postman around Hulme and Moss-side so he was more than familiar with the immediate environment. And Paul, a postal delivery driver (due to his acute laziness disguised with a doctors note for asthma) prided himself in knowing every street in the central Manchester region.
After only a few minutes and a couple of short left turns down barely lit streets that were bordered with run down shops looking like withering flower beds festooning the dark land-mass surrounding us as we entered into Moss side. The character of the landscape changed within seconds. We were no longer treated to occasional flashes of a dignified sky that had been sitting patiently in between the elevated high rise council flats of Hulme. Instead, a less intrusive and concrete-free sky was beginning to unfold, a comforting and more familiar skyline. However, all of this was short lived as soon as it became apparent that the liberated heavens were supported by a foundation of densely populated run- down 1970’s- built housing estates littered with small council-planned grass wastelands that had become home to defecating stray dogs and playing children alike.
The first thing I noticed was that all of a sudden everyone outside of our car was without exception of Afro-Caribbean descent. I sat upright as if to display confidence and also to dispel any signs to the passing pedestrians that I was a first time visitor to the parish. We slowly turned down a dark, straight narrow street that sliced through a dingy housing estate and did a casual slalom through burnt out motor cycles and rusty skeletal car shells, the remnants of the previous summers riots I hoped and not a reminder of what became of previous visiting white boys from beyond the river Irwell.
At last, I spotted our destination, The Western pub came into view. It was a giant Victorian pile that I’m sure had once been very sure of its own importance but sadly had been ruined by time. We slipped unannounced into the rear car park that was surrounded by a high red brick wall sitting beneath a perimeter of tall leafy trees stooping curiously over the walls as if trying to get a glimpse of the entertainment unfolding inside of the crumbling Tavern. This only helped to deeply shade the empty car park and produce a dark eerie setting. The moonlight reflected and illuminated the seedy looking rear entrance making it look like a Hammer Horror movie set except with a greater budget and an inner-city art conscious director. At some point during the twelve short steps we had to take from our parked vehicle to the pubs antique doorway I noticed three individuals loitering either side of the door displaying a unique style of non verbal communication.
At the very moment of initial contact from Shauns leading foot onto the first of the four steps leading up towards the decaying oak door all three individuals suddenly came to life, like the mannequins guarding the haunted house at a fair ground who immediately spring into action as you innocently walk by. With a well-rehearsed whisper tinged with Jamaican and Mancunian character and as lifeless as a child’s apology the sales pitching began, “Sensi?’ said one, “coooool tablets?’ lazily sang the next, “herb, hash wiz, acid?” whispered the last individual trying not to exclude any potential market. Shaun and Paul chose to ignore all offers out of sheer coolness while I just tried not to make eye contact as I concentrated on keeping close to my partners.
As Shaun, always the leader, entered the building first, Paul unenthusiastically held the door for me. As I precariously took my first steps into an unknown world I was suddenly halted in my tracks by the smell of stale ale, mixed sweat and several concoctions of cannabis herb wrestling in the smoke filled air as it assaulted my nostrils. The interior was decorated in a late sixties austerity and seedy excess. Nineteen seventies paintings and empty picture frames hung with crooked abandonment on the nicotine stained walls that played host to long lines of seated older west Indian gentlemen of varying heights who’s dark distinct heads dotting against the backdrop like a perfectly aged musical score interrupted only by the occasional small vanilla female skull giving the impression of occasional erased mistakes.
The clientele were of mixed ages ranging from eighteen to eighty. But they all had one thing in common…they were all smoking Joints. Or so it appeared! Nobody seemed to notice our entrance and my heart began to return to its regular tempo. As we headed towards the small rectangular bar we passed by a huge stack of speakers pounding out distorted dub accompanied by a lethargic MC with a warbling voice holding a microphone that amplified his voice to a booming, distorted level. He gave the impression of a reluctant ringmaster directing a slow motion carnival. A large grin expanded across his ebonite face as he announced the arrival on stage (a ten by ten foot empty space of soiled carpet) the evening’s entertainment. ‘Tonightssss jack da ripper is Margaret’…What a strange fucking name for a Stripper I thought? ‘Midnight or Lancelot Galahad around?’ Shaun asked the Middle aged barman who was too preoccupied with the now dancing stripper to visually acknowledge Shaun’s question but polite enough to swiftly mumble, “playeen pooool’. ‘Gaz, wait here we’ll be back in five,’ Shaun ordered as brother Paul raised an eyebrow and smiled as he followed Shaun towards a mysterious back room. My attention returned to the evening’s entertainment.
Margaret the stripper was by now rather quickly performing her routine and almost smiling. I was confused as to her age? She had a friendly face in a brutal, vitamin deficient kind of way probably due to substance abuse of some kind. Her hair was crudely bleached and stretched firm into a pigtail on top of her head tight enough to raise her over-used deflated breasts just above her ribcage which was almost as prominent as her large abused pink nipples pointing in opposite directions looking not dissimilar to signposts at a crossroads. Although Margaret had clearly chosen the wrong path and with this any ambition or expectations had long been relegated in time. The lower end of her grey body played host to wire thin legs and an explosion of un-kept greying pubic hair that looked like she had boxing promoter Don King gripped tightly in a headlock between her spotty, transparent thighs. As her presentation of artistry came to a stumbling conclusion I took the opportunity to take a quick look around the room for signs of my companions, but as I did this I unfortunately attracted the nomadic eye of Margaret who began to walk in my direction, still naked! Maybe she reasoned that it wasn’t worth getting dressed again as she would only have to take them off again sometime in the very near future. ‘Fuckin ‘ell’, I began to mumble under my accelerating breath as I nervously began to stare at the grubby carpet that encircled my feet.
All of a sudden we were face to face (well we would have been if I hadn’t still been staring anxiously at the carpet which had now been replaced by a dense mass of dismal pubic hair). It immediately became apparent that the grey hairs that I thought I had seen, was in fact talcum powder sitting on her mutinous mound . Fuck in ‘ell, what a Pandora’s box of odours does that help conceal was my initial and worrisome thought? Even more worrying was the realization that this was the closest I had ever been to a fully naked woman.In fact, as a
late developer I had only been Pubic for about eighteen months after suddenly (and thankfully) being visited one night whilst I was asleep by the ‘Pube fairy’… or so it seemed!
Granted, I had lost my virginity around three months earlier at a party in a dingy flat above Bryan’s Fry Innfish and chip shop in Swinton, but the girl in question had remained partly dressed so as to assure her swift departure. Not quite Wuthering Heights I know, but it was real enough to me. “I’ll pull yer dick for a fiver”, Margaret said in a clear and unambiguous manner. I nervously ignored her tender-proposal, hoping she would move on to some other ill-fated victim. Unfortunately, my lack of response was interpreted as someone who wanted to haggle. Something she need not have worried about as I was struggling to ignore the rush of blood that was surging to my over keen ‘love finger’ creating a Vesuvius like re-enactment in my boxer shorts that was threatening to end negotiations prematurely. As I looked up to face her like a man Margaret leaned in even closer, her eyes now moist with sincerity and encouragement; she delivered great beauty and poetic rhythmic grace the words. “Fuck it, I’m a Christian, I’ll throw in a suck as well!” But alas, Margaret’s sweet prose was blemished by her gripping breath that dealt a combination of stale cigarettes, cheap Brandy, spicy chicken and what appeared to be the collective works of several different samples of … let’s just say ‘Gentlemen’s relish’.
This, fortunately had the immediate desired effect of causing a hasty retreat in my trouser department and gave me a chance to spot my fellow musicians coming to liberate me from my embarrassing situation. “Lets go” Shaun commanded as he approached Margaret and I. But as I quickly turned to leave I stumbled into a table that seated four elderly west Indian gentlemen playing an almost hostile game of Dominoes. Just as I was about to apologize for my clumsy stumble Shaun winked at the oldest of the four players. “Hey Shaun, how ya doing dread?” said one. “Yo Shaun, you’s in here more than I,” said another. “Alright Winston, Winston, Winston and Winston”, responded Shaun with a humorous grin that suggested he was well acquainted with all four. I straightened myself up and quickened my step to catch up with Shaun and Paul who were already exiting the door. This was the fastest I had ever seen the pair of them physically move. I caught up just as they were climbing into the safety of Paul’s car. I jumped in the back and asked “What ya get”? Shaun was busy emptying his pocket and generally being too cool to answer such naïve questions. Paul as always playing things cool but he was also wanting to let me know that he was part of the transaction nonchalantly mumbled “two quid raps of weed!” I abruptly butted in, “I thought all three of us put a quid in each?” “We did, but I took a quid for petrol”. “Oh, OK”
“Our kids a tight cunt, you should know that by now”, interrupted Shaun. Paul, ignoring his brother, continued with his inventory of purchases. “Our kid’s got 3 trips for later and some cool tablets so we can get our heads down in the morning”. In the morning? Fuck me! I thought, I was under the impression we were only going to be out for a few hours? Shaun had already rolled, ignited and was enjoying the first spliff “mmmmm sensi”, he purred. By this time Paul was engaging himself in the almost origami like pursuit of joint-rolling. “Were all four of those geezers really called Winston”, I asked openly to either brother expecting at least one of them to reply.” ‘Course”, came Shaun’s answer “do you know why Winston Churchill became so famous?” before we could answer Shaun continued, “because he was the very last white man to be Christened Winston!” I laughed as Shaun swivelled in his seat so he could pass me the now half smoked spliff.
I took hold without caution even though it was my first time smoking any kind of cannabis. I had welcomed alcohol with open arms just over twelve months earlier and found it liberating for my acute shyness, so I was ever willing to see what beneficial effect ‘weed’ would have. Shaun instructed me to inhale deep as I eagerly began to ingest the west Indian export. I inhaled deeply four or five times before passing the joint on to Paul who then passed his to Shaun and so on and so on. After two joints I was fully satisfied. I had even enjoyed the smoking part of it. Unlike Shaun, Paul and I didn’t smoke cigarettes. Paul had asthma and I had recently watched my Grandfather James Patrick, (a hundred a day man) shrivel up like a scrotum in an igloo due to lung cancer. It had relegated him to the size of an undernourished Irish version of Mahatma Ghandi.
But nothing exciting seemed to be happening. By now we were driving out of the run-down estate that somehow looked profoundly different and in to the direction of Manchester city centre. “Where we goin’?” I asked. “The Hacienda” came the unison reply.
‘All My Friends Are Junkies’ – by Gary Whelan, with part 2 featuring Gaz’s first trip and night out at The Hacienda coming soon…
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