Beautiful Days Festival
It’s time we took the Happy Mondays seriously.
Now managed by Alan McGee – the maverick former Creation boss who seems to be specialise in pouring magic dust onto classic bands and making them seem cutting edge like his other charges Jesus and Mary Chain, the Mondays are on fire.
This may be the best drilled, tightest version of the band yet playing their greatest hits set live, a set of songs that soundtracked a glorious period of rock n roll insanity when music went wonky and the lunatics overtook the asylum but there is still a serious fire in their belly.
These days their backstage is still full of friends and acolytes but also their grandchildren – many of whom end up on the stage with a mini Bez bouncing beside his grandad- pop’s eternal generation shift making sense with a band who seem to have somehow grown up under their own rules.
Watching them turn Beautiful Days festival into a joyous party brought back fleeting memories of that 1989 tour when they stormed the UK in that winter of madness when the drugs kicked in and the good times arrived on the sterile indie scene. Then the Happy Mondays were a dayglo masterpiece of great songs and an off kilter zig zag wanderer attitude.
They were like no other band and invented the lolloping groove that so many bands attempted to copy but forgot about the killer rhythm section part and also the bug eyed chemical madness that became the totem for UK alternative culture for years. Every town and every indie disco had its Bez but none was like the original who joined the band after living in a cave in Morocco and now lives in the middle of Wales on a self sufficient farm breeding bees- the world’s most unlikely eco warrior living out his own manifesto.
Pre gig Bez looks at wild as ever with his eyes telling a million stories and as he bounces up and down the stage he is the MC and mediaeval court jester rolled into one and still far more than ‘just a dancer’. More a charismatic council estate shaman – and the extrovert part of the band’s curious one frontman split into two set up with Shaun Ryder.
Tonight the good times are back giving us time to really listen to the music that is often buried in the myth. Somewhere in the great rock n roll narrative the Happy Mondays have become tabloid tales of drugs and madness, celebrity TV shows and lunatic lives lived on the helter skelter – and that’s the good stuff. But the music is the real message.
Watching them tonight you realise just how musically inventive this band can be. Beefheart jamming with George Clinton and that old school north west love of black dance music is all in there with a part of that old Factory Records melancholic northernness- the bastard children of Joy Division dancing like lunatics in the northern rain.
The Happy Mondays somehow took all these left field musics and made them into a glorious pop music when they were a hit making machine, musical rule breakers who made music out of the battered vinyl they found lying around and their own fetid imagination.
Mark Day is a killer guitar player – more likely to be listening to Zappa or UFO on his headphones he never goes for the obvious part and his twisted runs mould the songs into the weird shapes that are so key to their sound. He is more avant garde guitar hero than pop star and his playing tonight is stunning- never on the script and peels off into its own directions. The rhythm section of Paul Ryder and Gaz Whelan still nails that groove- it really rolls along, the drums have the swing and the bass playing is damn great – funky Manc bounce – a mash up of old funk records and post punk rule breaking – they could rent themselves out to any juicy funk jam band in the world as a sideline.
The front row is Bez doing his gonzoid bouncing and Rowetta and adding northern glam to the proceedings and her powerful voice lifting the choruses whilst Shaun hunches over and delivers his caustic poetry over the top. Manchester is full of leering lunatic poets who deliver their spittle shards and snippets of hilarious cruel wit, acidic observations and crooked lines with little interest in rules and that’s their genius – Shaun is up there with Cooper Clarke, Mark Smith, Moz, Ian Curtis and now Mike Garry – deliverers of dark wit in rasping lived in voices that somehow sound perfect.
The Happy Mondays tonight are a band on fire again. It’s their legacy and they have come to celebrate it. And so they should. They are the national treasures waiting to be discovered for what they really do- deliver genius, brilliant wonky and weird pop music that makes thousands of people want to dance and it’s time we recognised them and remembered that even if the Roses are currently the northern baggy powerhouse megaband in terms of ticket sales they are equals with the Mondays in terms of cultural effect and without the Mondays they too would have been such a different affair.
As they encore with hypnotic funk meets drone masterpiece of Wrote For Luck you remember when the E’s first arrived and the gigs went weird as the weird went pro, you are bouncing to one of the great superyob anthems that transfixed the party generation in those pre internet days. Hallelujah is acid gospel and Loose Fit the party political broadcast for the chemical generation.
History had bagged The Happy Mondays as the prophets, the tripped out John the Baptists to the Stone Roses resurrection jive but the reality is more complex. They are still one the great British bands and need to be celebrated for that they are and not the picture postcard version that they have been tagged as. Musically inventive, utterly original and with the skill to turn their madness into pop music they were true innovators and it’s to be hoped that they may make a new album again one day – not to bother with such lightweight piffle as the charts but to create some more musical genius for a cult audience who really get this kind of thing.