Happy Mondays made great music; lolloping, scuffed-at-the-knees and forever riding the very limit of their abilities. The producers they worked with – yer actual John Cale, Factory’s in-house madcap genius Martin Hannett and Oakenfold/Osborne no less – coaxed and teased a groove that grew ever larger and ever-more technicolour with each release. The zeitgeist-surfing Bummed proved to be the moment the band outgrew the skinny, scratchy ACR-affected funk/punk of their debut and eased their way into wider trousers and more expansive soundscapes, torch bearers of what came to be termed ‘indie dance’ – dance music that fans of guitar bands could shake a leg to to, guitar music for fans of house music to groove to. Overnight, two tribes collided. The Metro in Saltcoats began playing Stones records. Irvine’s Attic spun A Guy Called Gerald. Everyone got along.
Happy Mondays’ music was gang music, bashed out together in rehearsal rooms with each member pulling the band in their own particular direction until snapped back by one of the others. There’s little in the way of finesse about it. The assembled musicians jumped in as one, hit a groove and rolled with it, clattering and rattling out of the traps like half a dozen Tesco trolleys being pushed from the roof of a multi story car park. What came out the other side was the resultant pull and drag, a cross-pollinated melding of repetitive dance-influenced bass lines and wheezing, tongue-chewed spaghetti western guitars twisted into a Mondays-shaped wonky industrial funk. Such is the wide-eyed fear of failure in the collective, once they hit their seam, they keep at it, afraid to change lest the whole thing falls apart.
Almost every Happy Mondays track from the time has a four bar guitar riff played ad infinitum behind the keyboard stabs and spacious, echoing drums. Go and listen to Bummed and hear for yourself; Do It Better, Wrote For Luck, Brain Dead….none of them deviate from the furrow they plough from the off. Much of it is one chord groove stuff, and it’s fantastic for it. You can bet your last post-Brexit pound that Shaun Ryder wasn’t sitting at the end of his bed with an acoustic guitar and a broken heart, notebook in hand and a “wait’ll the guys hear this in the studio” chain of thought. Gaz Whelan wasn’t creating the bones of Fat Lady Wrestlers when no-one else was around to disturb his mojo, man. This music is instant, spontaneous and reactive to its surroundings. And it’s never aged.
Happy Mondays – Brain Dead
In the case of Bummed, what turns good music into a great record is the vocal line. By the time it came for Ryder to add his wild grown mara-joanna stream of consciousness vocals –Grass eyed slashed eyed brain dead fucker, rips off himself steals from his brother, Loathed by everyone but loved by his mother – the finished item was quite unlike anything else of the time.
Never one to miss a potentially pretentious point of reference, Tony Wilson likened Ryder to WB Yeats. Certainly, the lyrics on Bummed scan well without the music and would make an interesting book of pre-millennial prose; Turkey Lurky, Juicy Lucy…..teachers who eat on their own…..double double good…..what about the detector vans…..You’re rendering that scaffolding dangerous!…..I might be the honky but I’m hung like a donkey…. and teamed with the unexpected twists and turns from the music -the clip-clopping Country Song for example, or Bring A Friend‘s choppy, Chic via Chorley groove, or the swirling, unstoppable shouty house of Mad Cyril, Happy Mondays were the fly in the ointment that soon became the grease on the gears of a music industry looking for The New Thing.
Happy Mondays – Mad Cyril
Street urchin rock n’ roll, wild-eyed on hard drugs and esoteric reference points – had anyone of our age ever heard of Karl Denver until 1988 ? – Happy Mondays ploughed their own wide-legged path regardless. Others might have followed, but all are poor imitations of the originals. You knew that already though.