On this day, of all days,the anniversary of the passing of the late and great Anthony H Wilson – who died 12 years ago to this day the Happy Mondays are owning a 10 000 capacity tent in the damp British countryside and celebrating their former label boss and mentor by being their own glorious madcap selves.
Lakefest Festival is a fast rising new event in the Midlands and this is their biggest year yet and it’s a measure of the continuing cultural shadow of Manchester that two of the headliners are James and the Mondays – both bands championed by the much missed cultural force of Anthony H.
Can it really be all those years since Wilson, band mentor, mercurial label boss and inspirational force of Manchester checked out leaving behind the foundations for a city that has changed beyond all recognition but would probably make sense to him if he popped back for one last stride down Whitworth Street.
Modern Manchester is a long way away from the post industrial malaise that Tony and his maverick droogs like band manager Rob Gretton and key force in the Hacienda Mike Pickering sought to change with the power of pop culture. In 2019 Manchester is way beyond the post industrial city of the seventies and is now the post punk city.
In modern Manchester it’s quite fitting that no-one dominates the city’s cultural discourse like Tony did – it’s a measure of the power of the city that it has a multitude of voices now – each one rising like one of the gleaming city centre towers.
A big part of this story was the Happy Mondays – the Salford renegades may have had no grand scale agenda like the Factory Records boss but they somehow soundtracked it. Tony was enthralled by Malcolm Maclaren and wanted his own Sex Pistols and the band’s renegade mutoid post-punk funk with a swag bag of bizarre influences topped off with a perfect, leering, street poetry fitted the bill.
Folk heroes the band are now like Robin Hood and his very merry men galloping from one British festival to the next playing to packed houses and celebrating that glorious run of hits that are deeply embedded in the national psyche.
They may not have had the instant zeitgeist demolition of the Sex Pistols – that pivotal moment of revolution but their slow burn changed everything. Their look, style, attitude, accent and swagger somehow imbued every other band in the city and beyond from fellow Salford droogs to the Stone Roses and their 24 hour party people stance perfectly captured those loose fit years of freedom around acid house.
In 2019 the band deals out a perfect greatest hits package as a reminder of just how many hits they had. Now managed by Alan McGee, they have tightened their operation into a perfect show-a James Brown style review of their own warped genius that is guaranteed to make a packed house dance.
Interestingly, despite being pop, there is a weird quark to their genius and few pop bands have been this off kilter. The rhythm section still commands those lolloping grooves of bouncing bomb-b-lines inspired by sniffing the sulphurous groove genius of Parliament Funkadelic or northern soul fused through a post punk landscape. They really swing but when you add Mark Day’s genuinely odd, off kilter guitar on top then you are veering almost into prog territory in the best way with Zappa-esque ambition, Dave Gilmour reverbed bliss blues and Beefheart licks. There are keyboard washes that give the songs a reverberating space that reminds of the Hacienda’s echoing sense of space that was so accidentally crucial to that period’s sound
There’s plenty there to move into a strange space but somehow there is also a discipline and a pop nouse filched from what Tony would call ‘Manchester’s great record collections’, maybe is Shaun Ryder’s ear for melody and a genuinely captivating leering voice full of Salford and the dust and magic of memory delivering those brilliant darkly hilarious lyrics that document the wild adventures of long lost youth in a then broken city followed by adventures on pop’s big stage.
Rowetta’s powerful presence adds a powerful frisson and a soulful power with her stunning voice delivering a whole different texture to the sound whilst Bez is still the charismatic dancing bear loon walking along the catwalk like the bug eyed icon that has made him a national treasure.
The Happy Mondays are the greatest and weirdest party band in the world, tonight Step On is enormous and Wrote For Luck is as hypnotic as ever and still the greatest song written in the late eighties period when the possibilities seemed endless and the drugs and the music matched the wonk optimism. 24 Hour Party People sounds more urgent than ever like we are all in a rush to have a scuzzy good time before the whole house comes down.
Tony would have understood- the band have already sparked the cultural revolution he was so fascinated by and now they are their lap of honour, getting the deserved rapturous response for making life more dayglo when the world seemed so dreary…