Louder Than War Interview: The Happy Mondays – part two
With The Happy Mondays “Bummed” 25th Anniversary Tour just around the corner, Louder Than War’s Carl Stanley sat down with the band for a wide ranging chat about what is, indisputably, a stone cold classic album, about how rehearsals for their imminent tour are going, and about the possibility of new Happy Monday’s releases.
This is part two of the interview. For part one go HERE.
Louder Than War: Going back to when the album was released, it was Bez and mostly Shaun that would do the majority of the interviews wasn’t it? It always seemed like the band weren’t really interested in that side of things, talking to the music press … is that different now? It seems you’re all quite interested in chatting about the band and the music these days…
Gaz: Well, without sounding pompous or anything like that we (the band) were all about the music back then, writing the music and trying stuff out in the studio you know, we were more into that side of it. If I really wanted to be famous and that I would have done something else, but really I just wanted to play the drums and work on the songs.
Mark: It was always put over that Shaun was the leader and we just listened and said nothing, but if we had something to say we’d say something, if it got printed or not was another matter. But we just felt ‘let them get on with it’ because sometimes they’d take you out of rehearsals or whatever you were supposed to be doing to do all sorts of press and we wanted to spend our time on the songs and put them together so it suited us all really.
Gaz: Also though people are familiar with Shaun and Bez and know their story inside out, plus with Bummed winning the Q award people want to know about the music now I suppose, and were prepared to talk about it.
What would you say was the biggest misconception about the band back then?
Paul: A popular misconception was that we didn’t rehearse.
Gaz: Yeah, that we didn’t rehearse and we didn’t work hard! Even though we toured solidly from like 1983! We were constantly playing, we served our apprenticeship with years and years of playing pubs and everywhere else we could get a gig. The misconception was that we simply didn’t work hard, that we just turned up, plugged in and played!
Do you think that idea of the group still floats around today?
Gaz: Yeah, people still think today that the band don’t rehearse, but we spend plenty of time in pre-production and we spend time rehearsing. Maybe not as much as some bands might do, but we do, we put the work in.
Bummed is probably many fans favourite Mondays album, although it’s a close one with Pills Thrills, but for many, like me, who were too young to catch the Happy Mondays in ’88 / ’89, this will be the first time I’ve ever heard tunes like Fat Lady Wrestlers live.
Gaz: The problem was when we first looked at the songs we realised there’s so much re-verb on the album it’s not really an album you’d want to create live, it’s not like a jumping about / bouncing about album, but we’ve twisted it just a little bit for the live shows. But after five days of rehearsing we were actually going “You know what, this sounds really good,” it felt great playing those songs again.
What’s that like, going back to songs you were really last playing around ’88 – ’90, did you have to familiarise yourselves with them again, remembering how to actually play them?
Mark: It’s been a case of constantly listening and trying to work out how to separate the re-verb and what you’re actually playing.
Paul: Yeah, we’ve had to go back and look at the songs again, like I’ve got my notes with me over there (nodding over to the band’s rehearsal area). My style back then was different to the Pills Thrills days, going back to Bummed is completely different.
If you listen to the video of Happy Mondays gig from the Free Trade Hall in Manchester ’88, while playing many of the tracks from Bummed Paul’s bass is right out front with a real funky punk vibe to it, it’s a real highlight of the album too.
Gaz: Yeah it is, the thing about Bummed is that it’s a real music driven album, a real band album. We’ve not updated the songs or changed them, you know. They’re still the way they are but…
Paul: They’re still the way they are, but they sound great today.
Gaz– Yeah, they sound really good live, in fact, the tune you could hear when you came in (‘Moving in With’) is the one we’ve had the most trouble with actually, it’s the only one we’ve not got sorted yet, but it’s definitely getting there
Mark: The first time I actually sat down and listened to Bummed in 25 years was just 4 weeks ago.
Gaz: I actually bought it two weeks ago on iTunes so I could listen to it at home (everyone laughs). It’s weird though, when we were playing the tunes for the first few times it was like one of us would pull the other on what they were doing. I’d say to Mark “No, that’s not the right guitar part” and he’d say, “That’s not where the bass comes in” and the same with the drums parts … so we all know each other parts better then we know our own! (Everyone laughs again, Gaz is on form!)
How many dates are on the coming ‘Bummed’ tour?
Mark: 17 dates altogether, with a gig every other day around the UK, starting on the 15th at the Ritz Manchester and with the final gig at Bristol on December the 14th. Four weeks of solid touring.
Fair to say the whole reunion, and come back as a whole, has been very much organised in every way by the management company hasn’t it, with the band just concentrating on the music?
Gaz: How did we find out it was all happening (the reunion)?
Gaz: We didn’t even know about it right at first. We didn’t know it had been offered or that we’d accepted! I mean it was looking to be confirmed, but they were still waiting for us to say, “lets do it”, you know what I mean? But some people started advertising real early on when they shouldn’t of done. It’s like when people release all these greatest hits, it’s got nothing to do with us, it’s the labels, they’re all over the place. But we just get told things and we’ll say, “yes” or “no” or “definitely not doing that” or “we’ll do that” type of thing.
So back to last year when you were playing the original reunion dates, was there a plan to maybe go on the road playing the Bummed album back then?
Gaz: No, not at all, it was just that original tour then, we were going to go our separate ways.
…and now that you are still here and about to go on this tour, do you think maybe there is still more to come from the band, for example could there be a chance that we could see Happy Mondays back at Glastonbury say next summer maybe?
Gaz: If they offered it to us…
Paul: Didn’t Micheal Evis say, “I’d never invite them back”? (Regarding some of the bands party of people apparently using fake passes).
Gaz: We don’t know about the festivals really, we’ve done Glastonbury before, but we’ve not done Reading Festival. They’re both great of course. But we’ll have to wait and see what we get offered, to be honest I really can’t say what’ll happen next year.
Mark: Well, we’ve got more anniversaries coming up next year haven’t we? (Pills Thrills & Bellyaches.)
Gaz: We’ll do the Bummed tour and then see what’s what. Just take one thing at a time. We did the reunion tour and that went better than we thought it would, enjoyed it a lot, and got on better than we thought we would so we carried it on to the Bummed tour, after the Bummed tour we might not be still getting on (everyone chuckles) or we might be all still getting on, who knows, can’t say what’ll happen next year.
Looking at the return of that whole Manchester music scene from that late ’80s early 90s era, why or what exactly is it that has kicked off such an interest in it all again do you think? It seems as popular as it ever was. Could it be we’ve all had to go back to the music of the early ’90s to get our kicks as new music today maybe doesn’t seem to influence or move the youth compared to how the music of past eras did?
Gaz: These days there are too many distractions, kids have a million things to do apart from play music. When we were kids that was all there was, we were obsessed by music, we just took it all in, but I don’t think kids are like that now are they?
Mark: Some of their parents were Mondays fans and it rubs off, like my daughter, she loves us now, but she’d never heard of us before (the reunion tour), but they’re all Happy Mondays fans now!
Gaz: When we were growing up we had loads of time and there were loads of outlets to do music if you wanted, but now there’s that many bands that are trying to get so little air play on the radio or whatever, they’ve all got to go commercial straight away, or do this or do that. We didn’t have to play that game so it’s hard on them today. We were just obsessed by music when we were young, it was all we had.
Mark: Yeah, like we only had three channels on the TV, there wasn’t fuck all else to do (laughs). But they’ve got everything now, times have changed, some of them have the concentration of a gnat! (Mark mimics looking and staring into a mobile phone.)
Gaz: Music wise we were lucky, our parents were into ’50s rock ‘n’ roll music. We were born in the ’60s, growing up listening to the sounds of the ’60s, then of course punk happened when were teenagers – so we’ve got those three great musical eras in our blood and I think its a reason why ’80s / ’90s music has become so popular again maybe.
Would you say that the classic era of rock ‘n; roll, from the ’50s artists to the influential bands of the ’90s has passed on now and that we’re sort of heading for a new phase in music? After all, rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t die it just changes … doesn’t it?
Gaz: Well, I think it’s nearly dead, I think it’s in a coma, it’s had its last rites read over it.
Mark: It’s not about bands now really, it’s personalities, buying into boring plastic personalities. But how can new bands make a start and get anywhere these days, they’ve got to have a website with 20,000 ‘clips’ or ‘likes’ before they can do anything, and even then they have to give their first album away as a free download!
Gaz: Spending all your time on that is going to take you away from the actual music. But then you know, we’re middle aged men so really in a way we shouldn’t have a say in it, you know? If you’d of said to us back when we came out what, say, Pink Floyd thought of us we would have said we weren’t bothered with what they think, and it’s the same thing as us commenting on it all now I suppose.
Paul: One thing that I saw which I couldn’t believe was bands having to pay to get a gig! … “Pay to play.” You can’t get a gig unless you pay for it? That’s disgusting.
Perhaps a controversial thing to say, but all the great music scenes had a drug at the center of them, powering it all along, however if you go to any town or city centre on a Saturday night today you’ll find it’s packed with kids totally pissed. Do you think the absence of such substances may be having an impact on the lack of musical movements and motivation today?
Gaz: What’s that saying about the three integral things for an influential music scene to happen? I think one of them is a substance, another is times of low economy and I can’t remember the third one, but yeah I know where your coming from!
Mark: Well, most bands have experimented haven’t they, you know, we did dabble, but that was 20 odd years ago. If you know what your limits are and you know what you can play with … I think that did something to me anyway because previously to that I was a beer monster – then I met you guys (laughs)!
Paul: Yeah, you were a real beer monster weren’t you?
Gaz: I don’t think it’s the most important thing, but for a generation of fans growing up, going to shows and coming together it’s always been there, without condoning it of course it does seem to play a part in it all. But we’re all clean and sober now, that’s all in the past for us, but they’re all still experiences you can draw from if you want to.
Bringing it up to the present day, might you be releasing new material, or maybe you have some old recordings still to see the light of day … do you think we’ll ever see any new releases from the band?
Gaz: Well, we’ve some demo’s but we just haven’t got the time to do them so we’ve just shelved them for now, you know.
Paul: There are some Mondays tunes that never saw the light of day, Phil’s got some unheard stuff … and new stuff! We’ve got some bits…
Gaz: I don’t know about you two, but I’m not sure if we’d record again, it would have to be under the right circumstances. It would be for the music, definitely not the money. I think that’s another thing about being young and joining a band, don’t join a band if your thinking of making money, forget it, go be a banker or something else…
Mark: Carry on your day job.
Gaz: That’s another thing, if you’re in a band you can’t really have a day job, even if you rehearse six days a week you’ve got to live it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Personally, I don’t think you can have a day job and do it, I don’t know, maybe times have changed but…
Paul: If not you won’t get the gigs, and you can’t play the gigs unless you play to pay!
And lastly, what’s the best thing about being back and playing these songs live again?
Mark: The buzz, getting on stage after all that hard work of rehearsing, then you get on stage and see the crowds reaction.
Gaz: You know what it is, it’s experiencing things we missed the first time around, not because of partying or anything, but you kind of get caught up in it all.
Mark- …a bit of nostalgia, you can’t beat it, it’s good for the heart and soul.
Yeah, were definitely living in an age of nostalgia right now aren’t we?
Gaz: Yeah. But it’s not what it used to be is it? Actually, if we did do an album maybe we could call it that … ‘Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be.’
END OF PART TWO
If you missed part one of this interview go HERE.
The full dates for the tour are as follows, but be aware some have sold out already sadly:
- Manchester The Ritz (Extra date) (15)
- Canterbury Kings Hall (21)
- London The Forum (22)
- Manchester Ritz (23)
- Norwich UEA (25)
- Leicester O2 Academy (28)
- Newcastle O2 Academy (29)
- Leeds O2 Academy (30)
- Glasgow O2 Academy (1)
- Hertfordshire The Forum (4)
- Bournemouth O2 Academy (5)
- Birmingham O2 Academy (6)
- Liverpool O2 Academy (7)
- Sheffield O2 Academy (12)
- Oxford O2 Academy (13)
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by Carl on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.