November 26th 2011
Shaun Ryder, the poet Laureate of the dispossessed and of Mancunia, is back out on tour again,
His excellent auto/biography, ‘Twisting My Melon’ details a madly brilliant life with more highs and lows than a punch drunk boxer looking for the buzz after being the heavyweight champ of the world. Where most rock n rollers play at it, Shaun smoked it, swallowed it and sang about it. In his crazy madcap world he caught the spirit of the times with brilliant lyrics that connected with a late eighties generation very high on their own supply.
The Happy Mondays were a purely natural band who contrived nothing and meant everything. They documented the acid house era better than anyone and had the instinctive feel for what was going down. No wonder Joe Strummer loved them and befriended them.
I remember the band rehearsing at the Boardwalk in town. They were always smoking dope and kicking a football around whilst also spending hours on their music. They may have been stoned but they worked hard and their magic was that of a gang of naive mates who grew up musically together creating an off kilter, zig zagging funkoid groove that was pure natural magic.
There has never been a band like the Happy Mondays. They were totally original. Many have tried but none have captured that lolloping feel they had and pre acid house, no-one really understood them. They were an avant garde musical party band who mashed up Can, Captain Beefheart, Parliament/Funkadelic and a whole mish mash of musics from perhaps the ultimate of one of those eclectic Mancunian record collections that Tony Wilson talked lovingly about into a clattering whole of their own.
No one got them until they were as off their heads as the band. When the E’s started flooding town- mainly from that famous Happy Mondays table at the Hacienda- it all started to make (non) sense.
Somehow they had hits and were the key band of the period with the Stone Roses. More than two decades later and the Stone Roses seem set to be the biggest band in the world with a perfectly managed comeback whilst Shaun is playing the small Factory Club. Maybe too many comebacks and hit and miss management deals have stymied his progress but he’s bang on form tonight.
The gig may have started off a bit wonky with the band actually sounding too tight! good musicians they play the songs perfectly but you can never capture the feel or the slight dragged beat that made Mondays- a band that jammed together from mid teens in youth clubs so perfect. By the time they hit ‘Hallelujah’, though, it all kicks into gear and the groove is back and the crowd feel it.
Shaun Ryder is the sole frontman now. Bez is not involved this time and it’s down to his old mucker to carry the show which he does far more convincingly than he once would have done. This is the professional Shaun. Never happy with being the sole frontman he has grown into the role and even seems to remember most of his lyrics. He dusts down the catalogue from the very early days of the Happy Mondays with ‘ 24 Hour Party People’ to the ever anthemic ‘Wrote For luck’ which, with it’s guitar drone and chanted vocal line is the perfect anthem of the E days- the song that will forever perfectly reflect the blissful optimism of those times before the hangover kicked in.
The Roses may have sold thousands of tickets with their music still sounding like perfect classics but it was the Mondays who were at the dead centre of all the action. They were the band that arguably started it all. Their relationship with the Roses, that friendship forged in Corbieres bar in Manchester is the crux of the whole story. The South Manchester scooter boys hanging with the Salford ruffians was an unlikely combination that would eventually become the heart and soul of the soundtrack and wardrobe to a whole generation.
It was the Happy Mondays jokingly buying lares from Phil Saxe’s stall that would eventually kick start a fashion trend. It was the Mondays with their genius weird take on the world that the rest of the world would eventually catch up with and right at the heart of it all was Shaun Ryder, the poet who would deny his poetry, the brilliant wordsmith that thought his own words were shit jokes, the man whose phrases and couplets were the hooks for a generation.
Tonight underlined this. He works the back catalogue, there is even some Black Grape in there and two songs from the criminally overlooked last Happy Mondays album, 2007’s ‘Unkle Dysfunctional’- the deranged and brilliant ‘Andy Warhole On the Dancefloor’ and the equally weird and wonderful ‘Jellybean’. There are even a couple of promising new songs with surreal shards and snippets of great lyrics coming through the sonic muck that underline the fact that’s hasn’t lost his tongue twisting lyrical brilliance.
Could this be a new start? Another unlikely comeback? He’s done it before. Black Grape was Uu H hglorious Si and grab from the wreckage of the Happy Mondays and there have been other moments. Creatively he’s still got it but he should be as big as the Roses, the two bands who were once so intertwined are so far apart now. Granted the Happy Mondays were weirder and more off the wall, left field without even knowing it but somehow they turned themselves into a pop band, the least likely people to ever appear on Top of the Pops but they were massive yuun with several hits and the band play them all a tonight. I guess if he reforms the original Mondays line up (and there are rumours) he would have a chance of the big time but currently Shaun Ryder seams happy with his band and even praises them on stage, and with his brother Paul’s son on drums he still has the family connection.
It always a victory when real raw talent like this gets through. the Happy Mondays success was one of the great stories of the time, it’s so rare that anyone truly original and mind meltingly weird gets through the boredom cordon. The set tonight is a brilliant reminder of the stinking genius, the sprawling madness and the charismatic present of Shaun Ryder- who on one hand perfectly captured the stoned immaculate brilliance those times and on the other hand was impossible to copy.
A true maverick like Tom Waits, or Mark Smith, Shaun Ryder or and Ian Dury, wordsmiths who howl like fairground barkers and sing with their own voices and their own figured language, unique talents in a world of average bores, the annoying thing is the mediocre get rich whilst Shaun Ryder doesn’t get all the credit he deserves.
Shaun Ryder seems determined to get things right this time though, and when he fights like this he’s great and when he actually seems to enjoy being on stage it’s a relief.