Review by John Kerrens
What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Happy Mondays?
It’s Manchester, England 1985. The Happy Mondays imploded onto the “Acid House” scene as a shambolic free-for-all and ended up being held in the same high regard as luminaries like the Velvet Underground and Sex Pistols. And then out of nowhere-it all ended.
Simon Spence, who has already written a Stone Roses biography, is well-placed to write about the Mondays, having already been involved in the “Madchester” scene during its early days.
The band’s lineup consisted of Shaun Ryder, vocals; Mark Day, guitar; Paul Davis, keyboards; Gary Whelan, Drums; Paul Ryder, Bass, and Mark “Bez” Berry, dancing and chemistry. More than any other band, the Mondays encapsulated everything that was exciting and dynamic in the Manchester scene of the late 80s/early 90s. By combining rock with the electronic effects of the dance scene, bands like Primal Scream, Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays created a hybrid sound that appealed to both traditional Rock audiences as well as the more hedonistic, pleasure-seeking ways of the acid house crowd.
Tony Wilson, the excitable head of Factory Records – the Mondays’ record label – said the band were “spearheading a cultural revolution.” And for a while, “Madchester”was at the cultural cutting edge (though there were ominous noises coming from Seattle).
“Excess All Areas” is written in a matter-of-fact, unsensational style; nicely done, considering the sheer sweeping potential for lurid gossip and outrage, afforded by Shaun and Bez in particular. Just as Jagger and Richard became “the Glimmer Twins” in the Stones, so did these two become the public face of the Happy Mondays specifically, and Acid House generally (Shaun even posed on the cover of NME with a large ‘E’ prop), which would cause some resentment among the other band members.
Like the Rolling Stones (and countless others), the Happy Mondays’ public persona was that of “Rock & Roll Bad Boys”, but they in fact grew up in the middle-suburb of Swinton and worked for the Post Office before miraculously transforming into, “Scum, car thieves, robbers and drug dealers.”
Spence is non-judgemental in his reporting but as the Mondays’ story progresses, it becomes obvious that Shaun Ryder’s increasingly monstrous ego and prima donna antics would end up hurting the band and probably hastening its demise. His treatment of the other members was frequently insensitive and contemptuous. As his ego-problems escalated in tandem with his drug addiction, his behaviour became increasingly erratic and unreliable.
Yet, for all their chaotic ways, the Happy Mondays achieved a great deal of mainstream success, record sales, tours and festivals.
None of this translated to financial success, though. Given the often volatile, unpredictable nature of Factory Records and the drug problems of various members, the band mostly ended up penniless and embittered; their business partnership, Wabash Communications was placed in receivership. Eventually, their debts were sorted and the band reformed in 1999, touring successfully and having a minor hit with a cover of ‘The Boys are Back in Town’.
Unsurprisingly, their successes would be erratic and unpredictable but the Happy Mondays would go on to inspire countless future Brit bands.