Double Double Good
For far too long the Happy Mondays have been considered some kind of northern freak show and the music has been overlooked.
Of course the madness and the myth is a very important part of the ticket. Living beyond the law, the law of the land and the laws of nature, like Keef Richards the band’s indestructible cockroach like, street style survival is part of their whole schtick.
Shaun and Bez have become cultural icons, the kings of the chemical generation who never faked it and were always real to themselves. The Salford lads who personified those mental years of acid house and survived and became celebrities in their own right winning celebrity shows and making headlines.
This is all great and they are perfect at it- a breath of smoky air on the too clean world of modern celeb culture but it does tend to overshadow the band’s true genius ”â the music.
Tony Wilson, god rest his bones, would always stand on his soapbox shouting about the brilliance of the band’s music and Shaun’s great lyrics calling him a modern day Shakespeare whilst the singer would cringe.
But Tony was right, this is no normal band, the Happy Mondays are not just the vehicle for hi jinx and tabloid headlines- they are brilliant at that- but there is a brilliance here that is underlined by this compilation that would be a shame to overlook.
When they first appeared on the Manchester scene all those years ago no-one knew where to place them. They stumbled out of Salford, street wise in many things, but brilliantly naÃÂ¯ve in the ways of music and this was their strength. They didn’t know what you were meant to do and gatecrashed the polite jangly party and hipster hairdresser music of mid eighties trendy Manchester.
Their second gig was in the tinsel walled Wheel tappers and Shunters environment of the Blackpool GPO club. It was a gig that their postie dad had fixed for them and he watched them come last in a talent show. This was not because they were crap, far from it, but more to do with the fact that they were already brilliantly and fantastically off kilter with the surrounding mundanity of ”Ëproper’ bands.
Tony was always very keen to point out that Manchester kids had the best record collections and we always knew he meant the Happy Mondays who seemed to be referencing the weird and the wonderful and plain pop in their composite sound.
There was that loping funk groove from the rhythm section who were already serious business from the start. Paul Ryder is no slouch on the bass and it’s no coincidence that the current reformed Mondays is the best sounding since the first time around perhaps because Paul has reinstalled his northern soul and Parliament/Funkadelic fused bass ÃÂ to the band’s core. It’s an automatic call to dance, a black magic shuffle of bass brilliance that locks in with Gaz Whelan’s slightly off kilter drums.
All the great bands have a natural rhythm section that play just behind or ahead of the beat, it’s the human heartbeat. You can’t fake this feel and they had that groove down so perfectly. The groove is like all the great black dance records but with a northern feel to it.
Black dance music with that northern druggy twist is such a bit part of the Happy Mondays story and big part of Manchester music, from the invention of northern soul at the Twisted Wheel club in the city centre in the late sixties to electro and acid house decades later- it’s the Manchester story.
At the Twisted Wheel the speed driven mods demanded faster and faster records to do their bug eyed dancing to in the sixties and ended up with their own soundtrack that was so unique that it shocked London music journalist Dave Godin who termed it northern soul on a visit to the club in the late sixties. Earlier on there had been the jazz and blues of the American GIs in the war, every decade was affected by a wave of cutting edge black dance music and this all fed into the Mondays.
Manchester has solid bedrock of black dance culture that permeates many of the bands and was a profound affect on the Happy Mondays.
New Order and Factory brought the New York club feel back with them after touring and created the Hacienda- the first UK super club where the Mondays had their own corner where all manner of chemical experimental was going on.
Bez and Shaun were turning the city on and hooking yet again into that old northern equation of drugs and black dance music. All this was feeding back into the band who had also been influenced by the DIY spirit of punk- the idea that you didn’t have to be virtuoso to make virtuoso music.ÃÂ It was about the idea or in the Happy Mondays case- the ideas because every song was crammed with ideas.
I remember when they started rehearsing in the Boardwalk in mid eighties and the off kilter jive coming out of their rehearsal room was something else to listen to. The band would play football in the street and get stoned and then go back in and groove along till they found something. Seeking the moment when the groove kicked in and Bez’s head would start nodding, it was then that the band knew they had something.
Shaun would start hammering out those madcap lyrics off the top of his head and somehow a song would come out of the beautiful chaos. The constituent parts flowed together so perfectly, Mark Day’s guitar- such a key part to the sound, wending its way round that bouncing rhythm section with guitar parts that sound like the sort of shrapnel that made Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band so amazing to listen to.ÃÂ Every guitar lick was laced with imagination and craft, embellishing the songs with ideas and catchy riffs that were so important to the Mondays sound. The keyboards, initially were a wash that gave that northern melancholic feel to the music that is so much part of northern pop and on top of this were Shaun’s’ lyrics.
A dark and fevered imagination that came up with words that were funny and tragic, clever and biting- he may dismiss them but they are entwined with a generation. Each line is loaded with an arsenic humour and sulphurous, filthy innuendo referencing films, in jokes, 3D humour and cosmic weirdness and plane common sense- perhaps Tony was right afterall, the double meanings and playing with language that made Shakespeare so timeless. Of course calling yourself a poet in Salford is not the done thing but Shaun was as much of a poet as John Cooper Clarke.
They could only have signed to Factory; no-one else would have got them. Record labels came to so see them in the early days and were bamboozled by this band that didn’t dress up or speak the language. Only Factory understood what they had. Tony Wilson was in love with the Mondays, their unpredictable madness but also their innate genius which he spotted instantly. When they broke big it was because the rest of the nation was as wonky as they were and suddenly they seemed like Top Of The Pops naturals.
When pop music is like this, at its most pure, at its most natural and off the cuff then it is perfection. Self taught, just pouring out- that’s real genius- the Happy Mondays were never schooled- they learned together. They just got in a room and played and somehow their interlocking, very different personalities came up with something. They were far smarter than they would let on, their music more complex than would be reported and quite brilliant whilst the lyrics are pure street genius. They documented those times so perfectly- the mad mid eighties onwards rush of druggy street UK, where the concrete started to glow withÃÂ chemical madness and, somehow, they made all this into great pop music with a pop touch that was underlined when they stormed the charts with the Stone Roses and seemed so natural at it, a pop touch underlined when they added Rowetta to the line up to underline Shaun’s slurred genius.
The compilation is a reminder of this brilliant ride from the opening Wrote For Luck, which is the ultimate, hedonistic anthem of the times sung perfectly with that slurred snarl whist Kinky Afro is sublime pop music, Halleluiah reeks atmosphere and Loose Fit is an anthem of the times; 24 Hour Party people sums up their lives with their great bouncing groove whilst Gods Cop is a hilarious take down of the hard-line Manchester chief of Police at the time, James Anderton.
Dennis and Lois references our great New York friends- the toy collectors and music freaks who befriended the Mondays whilst Freaky Dancin’ is yet another invaluable document of the madness that was going on around Manchester at the time.
You don’t need documentary makers, you don’t need photo exhibitions- it’s songs like these that capture the whole era better than anything else. Lazyitis is all those dole days getting stoned caught up in a beautiful melody and Stinkin Thinkin is the sinister sound of a band at the end of its tether.
You may already own all these tracks but your vinyl will be scratched and the sleeves scoured with years of rolling joints on them, If you’re new to this world then welcome in- music of this kind of imagination and daring is hardly possible these days. This comes from a time when the lunatics were running the asylum and bands like the Happy Mondays were free to to indulge themselves in their imagination.
It’s all here on this compilation- an invaluable document that tells you all you need to know about what life was really like in the UK in that period and a collection of songs that never ages.
These are real folk anthems and the sound ofÃÂ people answering back and celebrating their own culture instead of taking the crap that’s served up to them.