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  • Writer's picturematshakesjones

The Happy Mondays - poets from the streets

Like Charles Bukowski, who prided himself on writing the “truth”, the Happy Mondays spoke about the world as they saw it, and, to quote one of my favourite authors “Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.”

The Happy Mondays spoke of the inner cities. They spoke about 24 hour parties, drugs, nightclubs, crime and dysfunctional friends and family. Not only this, but they had a groove, not fast like the techno played at the illegal raves of the time, not heavy like Jesus and Mary Chain, not house music like the scene they emerged from, and not twee like a lot of the more pretentious indie bands to emerge, but still groovy as hell. They weren’t good looking, they weren’t good dancers, they weren’t great musicians but somehow that further made them appealing, they were real.

A few hip hop artists claim to have been gangsters, or to have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but when journalists have researched the story many attended good schools and came from middle class backgrounds. Jim Morrison claimed he didn’t have parents to further heighten his mystique, but it turned out his Dad was a retired U.S. Navy admiral, representing the very establishment Jim fought so hard against. Ernest Hemmingway often bragged about his boxing ability, until several boxers testified to how appalling he was in the ring.

The Happy Mondays were, tragically, what they said they were. Anti heroes, for all their human weaknesses, captivate our attention, like car crashes we can watch from a distance but we wouldn’t want to be too close. Shaun Ryder, the lead singer of the band, when arrested by police in Jersey in 1989 for cocaine possession, was asked if he wanted an advocate, and replied: "I don't want no poncy southern drinks". Over the years he also stole and sold every item in Eddy Grant’s studio in Barbados to help fund his crack habit, and broke into New Order’s dressing room to steal alcohol. The Happy Mondays are also unique for having a member who’s title was “mascot”. Bez began his relationship with the band as their drug dealer, and began dancing near the stage at their gigs. Shaun, perhaps to feed his growing drug habit invited him on stage and history was made – Bez with no ability to play any instrument or sing became one of the most important members of the band, and appeared on stage dancing and shaking the maracas.

Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches the title of the album leaves nothing to the imagination. The album itself is arguably the height of the Madchester scene and with production in the hands of Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne, it took indie music into the house age. The album takes inspiration from hip hop in terms of its sampling, borrowed melodies and stolen lyrics. “Step On” which became the band’s biggest hit from the album was a cover of John Kongos' "He's Gonna Step on You Again”, although sounds absolutely nothing like the original. God’s Cop has an excellent guitar intro and delightfully peculiar lyrics which only the band could have ever written: ““I can virtually do anything I read/ Someone somewhere swam between your knees/ Hand me out fish, did some big tease”.

Anyone who has ever spent time in Manchester can feel the slow hypnotic groove of its musical heritage moving the city. The way people walk, the unapologetic pride, the loveable roguishness, the cool without pretension, and of course the danger. Perhaps the best quote I have read on this album is by Stephen Thomas Erlewine who called Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches a hedonistic album that was the peak of Happy Mondays' "career (and quite arguably the whole baggy/Madchester movement) ... a celebratory collage of sex, drugs, and dead-end jobs where there's no despair because only a sucker could think that this party would ever come to an end."

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