Alternative Version, Get This!

Runners And Ryders

Happy MondaysBummed was something of a slow burner. Released in November ’88, it was arguably a full 12 months before its clattering industrial funk had travelled its own lolloping path from the margins to the mainstream. I picked up on it in the great summer of 1989, my pal and I each buying it from the old Fopp at the top of Renfield Street. Keen to have a proper look at our new records on the train on the way home, we opened up our respective bags, slid the inner sleeve from the pink-faced portrait of Shaun Ryder and very, very quickly returned the pouting, pube-free porno nude back inside again. Who expected that?!? It made for a ton of pink-faced nervous laughing and some strange stares that didn’t stop until long after after Paisley. Even still, by Christmas ’89, with Manchester in the area and an epoch-defining Top of the Pops episode featuring both Stone Roses and Happy Mondays in the bag, it was the follow-up – The Madchester EP, with lead track Hallelujah – that finally elevated the Mondays from cult act to the band that your mum knew. Loads of folk worked backwards from there, Bummed was that Christmas’s most asked-for LP and suddenly, Happy Mondays were everywhere.

Slower coaches who were still to get in on the act did so a few months later when Step On was released, its rinky-dink Italo house intro a call to arms for the loose of limb and slack of jaw in every provincial indie disco in the land. An almost thrown-away track – it was originally recorded as part of a tribute album for Elektra, the band’s American label, and their version of an old, forgotten John Kongos’ track came to define everything about the Happy Mondays of the era. Suddenly, they were no longer the preserve of Factory Records disciples and switched-on fans of left of centre non-chart music. You were as likely to hear your postman whistling Step On‘s intro as you were to see your local fruit ‘n veg assistant hold up a honeydew or a galia and gurn the words that will surely one day appear on Shaun Ryder’s tombstone.

By this point, the band was already well into the recording of their next LP. With a third new producer in as many albums, Pills, Thrills & Bellyaches eschewed the shouty funk of John Cale and the dark embryonic haze of Martin Hannett and, using Step On‘s success as a jumping off point, was buffed to a glossy sheen by dance producers Steve Osborne and Paul Oakenfold. A true marker of where the band now was success-wise, the album was written and recorded at Capitol Studios in L.A. The daily mayhem and freakscene that followed and surrounded the band fed into the music and the lyrics; a lack of E meant the band switched their allegiances to opium; half a dozen or more dealers would be at the studio every day; the lead singer got so into it and so out of it that he took to wearing a ski mask – “it’s the only thing keeping my head together,”- his fried eyes and half-masked hooked nose freaking out the locals in the sizzling Californian heat.

To paraphrase a line in an interview Ryder gave in his Black Grape days, Happy Mondays didn’t get into the music business and discover drugs, they discovered drugs and got into the music business. Being big business in L.A. meant access to better pharmaceuticals and freakier people. The Mondays soaked it all up and spat it back out on a record where influences and subject matter as disparate as Donovan, Bruce Forsyth and intrusive airport searches co-existed within the grooves.

‘I’m here to harass you, I want your pills and your grass you,

You don’t look first class you

Let me look up your ass you

I smell dope, I smell dope, I smell dope, I’m smelling dope.’

(Happy Mondays Holiday)

Despite the distractions, Ryder remained totally focussed during the sessions. The band had rented an apartment in one of L.A.’s more notorious neighbourhoods, sharing ammenities with petty criminals, porn stars and, bizarrely, Mick Hucknall. Mondays’ drummer Gaz Whelan played tennis with his fellow corkscrew-haired Mancunian everyday while the others sat around the pool eyeing up their neighbours and feeding the experience back into song. Ryder kept a notebook close by, scribbling lyrics whenever they came to him, writing and re-writing with an unchracteristic determination and drive. He’d take rough cuts home from the studio and work the lyrics into finished songs while the others partied.

The end result was an album that, from the sleeve on in was day-glo and bright, a beacon of off-it’s-head light in a landscape of floppy fringes, Fenders and fuzzboxes. Scratch a little below the surface though and you’ll soon dig up the dark matter. It’s maybe not my favourite Happy Mondays record, but it’s one of the most interesting.

All compass points lead to the big tracks – Step On, the asthmatic wheeze of God’s Cop, Kinky Afro‘s Labelle-lifting confessional, but let’s shine a light on Loose Fit.

Happy MondaysLoose Fit

The runt of the litter, Loose Fit was the final single from the album, limping its way to number 17 almost a year after the album was released. By this point in time, Happy Mondays’ stock had fallen to an all-time low. They’d been quoted as saying some unforgiveable homophobic rubbish in the NME, they were happy to pose in a jacuzzi with Penthouse girls for The Sun and were in the middle of unleashing unhappy hell on an unsuspecting Jamaican island where they’d decamped to record what would be their final album. To all intents and purposes, their horse (and Ryder) had bolted.

Out of time and context though, Loose Fit has proven itself to be the ace up Shaun Ryder’s Gio-Goi sleeve. Wafting in on a riff that’s as airy and wide as the 25″ flares it celebrates, its mid-paced groove still delivers. Don’t need no skintights in my wardrobe today, fold them all up and put them all away. As far as songs about fashion go, only ‘she wears denim wherever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo‘ is better. You knew that already though.

Notice that slow exhale of breathe at the beginning as Ryder wakes up from his opiate slumber and stretches himself yawning into the verse; voice whispered, eyes hooded, goofy stoned immaculate. Backed by the ever-present Rowetta, they make for an unlikely double act, yet it works.

Happy MondaysLoose Fix

It turns out that exhale of breathe was something else entirely. The less than subtly-titled Loose Fix version tells you all you need to know. Light up, lean in, far out. There’s a guitar line that predates Flowered Up’s Weekender by a good year, some processed beats that Gillespie and co would cop for their own experiment in dance a few months later and a production that keeps the whole thing riding the zeitgeist of turn-of-the-decade indie dance.

Sounds good to me, as someone once sang.

Hard-to-find

Hook (Nose), Lines And Thinkers

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 MondaysBrain 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 MondaysMad 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.

 

Get This!, Hard-to-find

Excess All Areas

Fritter about on the margins of success. Get signed. Release a hit single. Release a hit album. Tour bigger venues. Release a small run of future classic singles with killer b-sides. Release further singles and albums with ever-decreasing returns. Implode around 5th/6th LP when key member leaves or dies. A year or so down the line, entice same member back (unless dead) for one last hurrah and pay-day, but by then the magic is gone. All this is of course played out to a backdrop of drink and drugs and guns and girls and boys and Bentleys and bad and/or bent management. The trick for all bands is to make the upward trajectory as quick as possible, plateau for as long as everyone can stand you then make the downward trajectory as smooth and pain-free (and lucrative) as you can. (cf. most of your favourite bands, even that Stone Roses lot,  – they all fit the model to some degree or other, but you knew that already).

Happy Mondays were well into the downward trajectory of their life when they decamped, in part to escape the Manchester drug scene, to Barbados to record …Yes Please!, the album that proved to be their last. Unable to secure the services of Paul Oakenfold, the uber producer who’d sprinkled their previous work with hit-making fairy dust, the band instead chose to work with Talking Heads’ rhythm section, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. On paper this sounds great – a decade earlier, Weymouth’s Tom Tom Club had taken the Talking Heads scratchy funk/punk blueprint and created proper full-on dance records, of their time, yet simultaneously ahead of the game, and Happy Mondays, via Oakenfold’s magic touch, had taken their clattering industrial funk and  propelled it into the charts, the mainstream and the collective minds of most of the under 25s in the UK. In practice, however, things were not so great. Never has an album been more aptly named. Paul Ryder and his brother Shaun (suffering heroin withdrawal when he left Manchester), a pair of walking, talking Scarface caricatures who at the best of times could make any substance shoved under their noses disappear in Dyson-quick doubletime, arrived in a Barbados that was buckling under the weight of a crack epidemic. Want some? Yes, please. The cost of funding this adventure eventually broke Factory Records and Shaun spent so much time building crack dens out of sun loungers beside the studio pool, that he forgot to write a single lyric for the album, a fact only discovered back in the UK when Tony Wilson was forced to pay £50 ransom to Ryder for the return of the studio mastertapes.

When it eventually materialised, …Yes Please! took a bit of a kicking. Melody Maker posted a lazy, half-arsed review that simply said, “No thanks.” Nirvana and their ilk were in full flow and for the first time ever, Happy Mondays seemed antiquated and irrelevant. It’s right there on the shelf behind me, but I can’t even remember buying it. Like many bands once they reach a certain point in their life, I bought it out of blind loyalty rather than musical merit. However….

…listening to it again recently had me doing some sort of mini re-appraisal. First single Stinkin ‘Thinkin’, with its ringing guitars and stoned, whispered vocal still stands up to repeated listens. The very antithesis of twistin melons, callin’ the cops and all that jazz, it’s downbeat, reflective and unlike anything Happy Mondays had done before or since. Drug confessional Angel is another that still cuts the mustard. “When did the Simpsons begin?” slurs Shaun, eyelids heavy with the fug of the night before. Although spoiled somewhat by foghorn-voiced Rowetta, the big haired, big mouthed wannabe rock chick the ill-advised Mondays brought into the fold for their later stuff, it‘s still a cracker. Currently appearing in pantomime at a medium-sized arena somewhere near you, Happy Mondays seem certain to eke out a living, Drifters style, from now on in. Stinkin’, yes. But not really thinkin’. Stop! Now!

Anyway, whether he’d ever acknowledge it or not, those two Happy Mondays tracks above were a definite influence on Damon Albarn when he wrote the tracks for Blur‘s final LP, Think Tank. I’ve been playing Think Tank a lot lately, what with the Blur reunion (of sorts) and the excellent No Distance Left To Run documentary on the TV the other night. The dark horse in the Blur catalogue, Think Tank is famous for being an almost Coxon-free zone, the guitarist contributing to the woozy, wobbly Battery In Your Leg before having left after being increasingly frustrated at the (sigh) direction the band’s music was going in. Recorded in Morocco, there’s a noticeable space between the grooves that allows the album to pop open the top button of its trousers and, like, breathe. (Sadly) it’s not tied up in any of those jerky, spasticated 2 minute shouty freakouts that Coxon does so well. (Thankfully) there’s none of those terrible bleep/bang/bleep/scree tune-free bits or free-form atonal rackets best saved for b-sides or solo LPs. Think Tank as a whole is dubby, spacey and tinged with African bangs ‘n beats. Now that I think about it, it’s basically a precursor to Gorillaz, without the big-name special guests. Best track by a country mile is Brothers And Sisters, a track so clearly in debt to those two Happy Mondays tracks that Shaun Ryder would indeed call the cops if he was ever sober enough to listen to it properly. Built on a bed of elastic band bass, Albarn’s loose, stoned, vocals practically stage whisper, “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Shaun Ryder!” Caffeine. Codeine. Cocaine. White doves. He reels off a tick-list Paul and Shaun would’ve had no bother putting away before breakfast.

Think Tank is also notable for featuring Me, White Noise, a hidden track you can find by rewinding from the start of the first track. With a backing track sounding like a fly trapped in a bass bin, Phil Daniels mutters and mumbles and shouts and swears his way through almost 7 minutes of thrilling stuff. “Fack orff!” he snarls. “I’ve got a gun, y’know…and I’d use it!” Thanks to this and Brothers And Sisters fore-mentioned prescription list, Think Tank got one of those stupid Parental Advisory stickers.

My parental advice? Split up when you’re at your peak. Leave them wanting more. Don’t reform. Ever. You’ll come back looking like this:

You might even become a respectable, bespectacled married member of society…

Holy fuck

*Bonus Tracks!

Although a Coxon-free zone by the end of the LP, Blur as a 4-piece recorded tracks during the Think Tank sessions that were never quite finished due to the guitarist walking out. Here’s a couple of Coxon-enhanced crackers that turned up on future b-sides.

Money Makes Me Crazy

Morricone

This half-considered Damon nicking off the Happy Mondays theory of mine may have legs. On the b-side of Happy Monday’s 24 Hour Party People single, you’ll find a track called Wah-Wah (Think Tank) Call The Cops!

Punch. Repeat. Punch. Repeat. Punch. Repeat.

Why could he not have walked out instead?

 

Cover Versions, demo, Hard-to-find

Can Gone Congo! Total Jungle Funk, Man!

 

 Hey! Hey! Hey! A-Hey! Hey! Hey! You’re twistin’ my melon, man! You know you talk so hip man, you’re twistin’ my melon, man! Call The Cops!

And with that carefully chosen piece of garbled nonsense Shaun Ryder, the thinking man’s Poet Laureate, put his band the Happy Mondays and a whole host of shuffly drummered 3rd rate copyists into the mainstream where they set up camp in Nedville for every Joe Bloggsed-up ned, bam and ‘yeah but no but yeah but right but’ wee hairy to claim them as their very own. Not that us music snobs were in anyway put out of course.

john kongos

Yer real actual music fans could tell you that “Step On was a cover, actually“, by the wonderfully named John Kongos. Sounds a bit like Congo, doesn’t it? Which is fairly appropriate, as his original version is a thumping tribal chant of a record. With a brilliant guitar riff. Replicated note for twanging note by Horse, yer Mondays tragically under-rated natty hat-wearing guitar player. Much like the Sex Pistols and Glen Matlock, the rest of the band hated him. He didn’t play in any of the comeback gigs. There’s yer problem right there, reformed Happy Mondays.

happy mondays

South African-born Kongos was also responsible for giving the Mondays another hit in the form of Tokoloshe Man. The original features a bluesy, swampy guitar riff and more tribal drumming a la He’s Gonna Step On You Again. The cover is pretty faithfull, although the Ryder brothers have flung a big bucket of Salford grime, muck and scuzz all over their clattering industrial funk and most of it’s stuck.  Paul Oakenfold does his best to polish it up, but it’s not too glossy. A perfect example of (gads) late 80s/early 90s indie-dance, in other words.

Johnny Wakelin

The 2 John Kongos tracks really remind me of In Zaire. The 1976 original was by Johnny Wakelin. Written about the Ali-Foreman 1974 Rumble In The Jungle boxing match, it has since been recorded by numerous no-mark disco artists. When I first started going to discos as an under-ager, In Zaire was regulalry played. I loved it. Johnny Wakelin’s version is the best. Chanting, repetitive riffs, tribalism again, it’s like Can gone Congo. Total jungle funk, man! 

Bonus tracks!

Happy MondaysStep On (Stuff It In mix)

Happy MondaysBring a Friend (Bummed album demo)