All documentary programmes about Manchester will discuss the pivotal moment The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses played Top of the Pops. They will argue how it redefined the centre of pop – how it re-presented the working class as saviours of music – how it broke boundaries and fuelled dreams.
In Scunthorpe on that Thursday 23rd November, 1989 we had a power cut.
The North East were not witness to this seismic shift.
We did not yet have that Madchester feeling
There was a time when the Happy Mondays were seen as the bottom of the heap, the underbelly of the working class – drug dealing rough youth with fried eyes and crazy dancing. Compare that to the real misspent working class of today – the uneducated and illiterate- this cultureless mob that is shat on a daily basis.
The Mondays look like fucking professors – do you get me?
It’s been a week or so since I saw them – the show – at Brixton Academy a revisit of Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches – plus a couple of other classics thrown in. It was excellent. Just so you know – if you weren’t there. I’ve written about Ryder somewhere back in the past – all explaining his impact on pop culture and how his lyric flair and rhythm are worthy of study and this and that. I mean it maaaaan. Sometimes pop transcends its boundaries – sometimes we can transcend our boundaries.
I’m writing this in south London – after an hour of idiocy and inarticulate mutterings. I worry about the working class – perhaps it’s because they don’t have Top of the Pops anymore – we are fractured and disparate – no commonality or shared experience.
Back then – when the spirit of 86 had manifested into 89 and beyond - all tribes and outlooks had come together – learnt from one another – listened and lifted the spirits – community and action were up for grabs – discussion alongside hedonism and dirty mags. The Happy Mondays emerged with a rawness and authenticity - so sadly lacking in the independent scene of today - that took the breath away. This was not a typical NME band - but they had to cover them - they had to write about their fried funk - Parliament meets the Velvets by a route taking in John Denver - TB303s - disco and freaky dancin'.
It’s an odd venue the Academy – considering what’s its seen in rock n roll excess it feels a little faded these days. It looked like it could do with a lick of paint and some 'shake n vac' on the carpet. It looked like it could do with a new lease of life.
And here were the Mondays – looking like they'd had a new lease of life – alive and with it – on it and surviving. Clean living in dirty times. This was no haggard run through of past glories – it was putting it right back out there and making people remember why Ryder and Bez are actually celebrities. This wasn’t about ‘effs and jeffs’ on TV shows or political musings in Manchester. It was the music that made the paaarrrttty – and these are no jesters – working class freak shows – they are the talent – the raw fucking ingredients of a funked up childhood and living life excessively and expressively.
It’s straight into the Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches anthems – beginning with Kinky Afro - Rowetta literally whipping up the crowd and Bez commanding the mad proceedings - so pivotal to all that is the Mondays. Without him they'd still be a wonderful band of brothers - with him they are future funk muthas - a juggernaut of pop party arriving in your town.
At one point Ryder reminds us that this would be point when you turned the record over. That slight pause - getting your breath back and then on with the party. They really are tight - no updates of the tunes- played as there were written - tight and discordant house funk freak sounds - wonderful. Inevitably the place errupts when the band launch into Step On - all fake maraca shakes and moves as Bez conducts up front. He looks great - it's great when you're straight - oh yeah. We are twisting our melons - we are talking so hip - we are with the Mondays - on their ship and they are guiding us ever higher and to happy climes.We are existing in Harmony - right here in the confines of a faded concert venue - but this is no faded band.
And then they are gone. But not for long. Emerging to the shouted Higher - Hallujah chants - we are happy for Shaun William Ryder to lie down beside us and fill us full of junk. He may not have been sent to save us - but itsurely feels like it. The Mondays articulate the possibilities that were there for the taking back then - combining fun with fulfilment. They were never really gone work for the man - but the sure helped those stuck in factories escape from him. Finally - they end with Wrote for Luck - I can't describe how much that tune was a revelation then and still stands strong now - like this band - still standing strong.
A long may that continue.
What with The Mondays, Black Grape and a Shaun William Ryder album on the horizon it seems that all that premature talk of rocks and lost form was merely that - all talk - SWR and Bez and band are made of much sterner stuff. He breezed through the jungle and Bez made that stint in the house look like a stay at a holiday camp. These men were built to last and deserve the recognition and appreciation that some of the other 'baggy' groups still get.
I wrote for luck and they sent me you.
Here are the Mondays doing what they do best - enjoy