Happy Mondays On Top Of The Pops: Excess All Areas

Just a couple of geezers loading up on gear and debuting on national television...
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Just a couple of geezers loading up on gear and debuting on national television...

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In late October 1989, Shaun and Bez posed in front of Central Station’s distinctive Madchester logo for the front cover of Sounds, the Mondays’ first press cover for two and a half years since Shaun had appeared on the front of Melody Maker in May 1987. The pose this time was far from studied: Bez was wearing a straw hat with a marigold glove draped over it. Sounds called the band a ‘howl of innovation’ and ‘purveyors of the non-stop party spirit’, who had ‘lit the touchpaper on the smouldering Manchester scene’. Local journalist John Robb wrote that ‘the Mondays’ spirit permeates the city’ and ‘everyone is loosening up – including the Roses’. In the same issue of Sounds, Madchester Rave On was single of the week. ‘Clap Your Hands’ was called a ‘giant of a disco song’.

The EP was officially released on 13 November, the same day The Stone Roses released their new single, their iconic ‘Fools Gold’, built on a dance groove that marked a departure for the band. While the timing wasn’t ideal – although McGough tried to put a positive spin on it, suggesting that people buying ‘Fools Gold’ would then buy the Mondays single – Factory radio and TV plugger Nicki Kefalas finally got the Mondays on Radio 1’s daytime playlist with the Lillywhite edit of ‘Hallelujah’. This was of much greater importance, and would make the band accessible to up to ten million listeners, more than they had ever been exposed to before. Meanwhile, The Bailey Brothers had filmed a slick black and white video of the band miming to the track with Shaun, Bez and Mark Day showing off their groovy moves under a downpour of feathers. There was now talk, with ‘Hallelujah’ blaring out from the radio, of Madchester Rave On making the Top 40, of perhaps even appearing on Top of the Pops.

‘We didn’t expect it because there was no one like us in the charts,’ said Whelan. ‘There was the odd indie band on the show but very rarely.’ The first time he thought it was possible was when they did a gig in Newcastle and 808 State were on there doing ‘Pacific State’. ‘They were the first [of the ‘Madchester’-associated acts] to go on it.’ The gig in Newcastle, on 16 November, was the second date of a four-week tour of the UK to support the EP’s release. That night Paul Ryder set fire to the bed in his hotel room when his cigarette butt fell onto the mattress and remained smouldering as he slept. He woke up in the morning to a fog of smoke and news that Madchester Rave On was number fifteen in the midweek charts, and that the band were wanted on Top of the Pops – something that even Wilson, for all his love of what the Mondays represented, had only ever dreamed of.

First the band played Manchester’s 2000-capacity Free Trade Hall – the same night that The Stone Roses were playing to a crowd of 7500 at Alexandra Palace in London, a sign that Madchester was steadily reaching the masses. The Mondays’ request to have the venue’s seating removed had been denied and Shaun said before the gig that he hoped the audience would rip the seats out. At the start of the evening a large gang of lads rushed the door in a show of strength, forcing their way past the doormen, and there were fights out front between ticket touts, merchandisers and bootleggers. None of this was new to the Mondays, but it was on a different scale to what they had been accustomed to, and they revelled in the madness. Bez said he couldn’t get stoned enough to cope with the excitement before the gig. Then he hit the stage. ‘I knew as soon as the music started up that I’d taken too many drugs,’ he said. ‘By the third tune I’d completely lost my body – something bigger than me had taken over control of my arms and legs.’ By contrast Shaun frequently sat down on the drum riser looking bored, a pose that Liam Gallagher would come to adopt, and the crowd loved it. 

The Mondays cancelled their next gig in Leeds on 21 November as they headed to London to record Top of the Pops. Madchester Rave On had entered the charts at number thirty; meanwhile, ‘Fools Gold’, which The Stone Roses would be performing on the same edition of Top of the Pops, was at thirteen. The battle was truly on, although there was never any animosity between the bands themselves. 

Most of the Mondays had grown up watching Top of the Pops, and even after five years of touring, for the first time they were really nervous. The Roses too were nervous. They had wanted to pull out of the show, fearing they wouldn’t be allowed amps on stage to make their miming look vaguely real. They arrived at BBC Television Centre with a warning from their manager to be careful around the Mondays; they might try to spike their drinks!

Although the Roses were being linked to Acid House, they had not been around The Hacienda at the start of the movement and the Mondays had never hung out with them as a band. While the Mondays had stayed essentially the same since the two bands emerged on the Manchester scene almost simultaneously in 1985, the Roses had chopped and changed styles and line-ups and looks. They weren’t close friends but there was now a deep respect between the two acts. And the Mondays had been listening to the Roses’ debut album on their tour bus, seriously impressed. With the two bands having also shared soundman Si Machan and scenester/roadie/dancer Cressa, there was a sense as they exchanged hellos in rehearsals for the show that this was Manchester against the world. Both bands had been shopping for new clothes to wear on the show, and if there was any rivalry between the two it was over who had the best gear. As it happened, both Gary Whelan and Ian Brown were wearing the same new Jean-Paul Gaultier jacket. ‘We pointed at each other and started laughing,’ said Whelan. They tossed a coin to see who would wear it on the show and Brown won.

With both bands oozing anti-establishment vibes, it wasn’t long before they hatched plans to make mischief. In one rehearsal, Roses bassist Mani played drums for the Mondays while Whelan played bass for the Roses. They planned to do the same when they came to be filmed for the show. But someone had evidently noticed and threatened to pull both bands’ performances if they didn’t stop acting up. ‘So we never ended up doing it,’ said Whelan.

The Roses played ‘Fools Gold’ in their voluminous jeans and colourful tops, looking pretty and pop perfect. Ian Brown radiated insouciance, mouthing the words and doing his monkey dance, shaking the microphone above his head. The Mondays, by contrast, were smartly dressed like top lads on a night out. Shaun was all in black, his shoulder-length hair freshly washed. Bez was in black too, strangely subdued but doing his groove, as was Paul. Kirsty MacColl, who the band had never met before this moment, mimed her backing vocals in a matching light denim oversized shirt-and-jeans combo.

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Shaun oozed a deviant charisma, lost for moments in his own euphoria. He smirked and mimed smoking heroin to the lyric ‘Shaun William Ryder will lie down beside you and fill you full of junk’. For anyone who had grown up through the indie scene and watched the birth and burnout of the previous decade’s bands before they had made it into the mainstream, it would have been a mesmerising experience to see Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses on the same show. But what the moment really brought into sharp relief was Madchester. For the Ecstasy generation, here were two bands that clearly were like them, in dress and attitude. For the indie kids who had read about the bands but never seen them it was a perfect introduction: here were two bands of the now. The closest equivalent would have been something akin to the Sex Pistols following The Doors, such was its wider significance as a cultural weather vane for the new decade in Britain.

After the show Tony Wilson turned up backstage laden with champagne. While Whelan ran around the BBC naked, as was his wont when drunk, Mark Day excused himself to go home. For all the excitement, the band was still not making enough money to live on and he had his Post Office round the next morning.

It was clear that the Roses had the much easier look to identify with, the more rave-friendly and easy to copy. Their sound too was more crystalline and – crucially, it was felt, in the search for superstardom – they were the prettier group. Plus there were four of them, each member easy to recall, whereas there were six Mondays; music was entertainment, not a memory test. There was a growing sentiment that the Roses were destined to become the bigger of the two bands. Even the Mondays felt that way. The studied Roses gave little away but the Mondays just weren’t bothered; they would have felt embarrassed to speak, like Brown, of being the best band on the planet and wanting to be the bigger than The Beatles. Good luck to them and watch your heads.

Wilson saw it differently; in terms of Madchester the rise of the Roses was perfect. He framed it in terms of a battle, just like The Beatles versus the Stones, a war of the bands that defined who you were. It was clear he felt Happy Mondays were the Stones. But there was no war; instead there was a growing respect between the two acts. This was not the battle that would ensue between Britpop bands Oasis and Blur, both deeply influenced by Madchester, when the animosity was transparent. In contrast there were never any but kind words for one another in the press from both the Mondays and the Roses. Wilson was left to stir things up. Backstage at Top of the Pops, he ridiculed the Roses’ recent poor-sounding Ally Pally show, claiming the band couldn’t handle their drugs. When it came to clothes, well, the Roses were plainly wearing the Mondays’ cast-offs. He passed comment on the Whelan/Brown jacket issue. ‘Gaz is only the drummer and he dresses as good as their singer,’ he crowed. Live, where it counted, ‘the Roses couldn’t even begin to compete’ with the ‘untouchable, dirty, funky, sexy Mondays’. Then there was the question of originality: musically, ‘no one else was doing what the Mondays were’, he said. ‘If there was a group like Happy Mondays in Britain and they were on another label then I’d be terribly upset.’

Wilson’s war of the bands was a good publicity stunt and a marketing tool to promote the cause of Madchester and the Mondays, but it never really caught on. Although it was true he’d disliked the Roses for many years, disparagingly calling them a Goth band, at the start of 1989 he’d had them play on The Other Side of Midnight, an appearance that had set their rise in motion, admitting in his introduction that he’d been wrong about them. Instead of being seen at war, over the next year the Mondays and Roses were often seen as a two-headed beast, the twin focal points of the Madchester era. As it happened, from this moment the Roses were to head backwards, towards nullifying court cases, creative collapse and management problems, releasing just one single – the disappointing ‘One Love’ – in the coming years. The Mondays, by contrast, were heading towards their biggest and best music.

Wilson saw the moment as a vindication. He’d been slow to come round to Happy Mondays but had backed them without question for the past year. In three months he’d be forty, an event he celebrated, he said, by taking eleven different drugs on a wild rampage involving the Mondays. Despite his commitments to TV – he was, after all, still the respectable face of Granada’s evening news show – Wilson seemed committed to the Madchester lifestyle. In fact, at Factory his behaviour was a cause for concern. Erasmus had a massive row with him, telling him to sort himself out. Rob Gretton had his own label now and New Order’s solo projects were being pursued amid rumours they might split up. When he did visit the office he called Wilson a ‘cunt’. Peter Saville was in London, watching his friend become increasingly dictatorial and autocratic.

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Blame often fell on the Mondays for leading Wilson astray, their success a catalyst for his loss of focus. The new offices, still incomplete, were over estimate to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds, but instead of taking a close look at the state of the label’s finances, in the face of warnings that they were less healthy than he believed, he preferred to fly to Los Angeles to pursue the loss leader of the Mad Fuckers! film. Meanwhile, although it would be some time before the news became public, he was embarking on a relationship with 21-year-old Yvette Livesey, a former Miss UK. He felt good. Finally, after ten years, he felt he had a band that could be as big as Joy Division/New Order. No more listening to Gretton calling him a cunt, and running the label around him. Now he had his own New Order, but better – figureheads of a culture that he was going to sell to the world, the saviour not just of music but a city: Madchester.

Wilson felt even better when he saw the 3 December 1989 issue of the NME. He was on the cover, and no one could recall when any other record label boss had been on the cover of the NME. Wilson was depicted alongside Shaun, posing in front of the Madchester logo. The headline read: ‘Manchester so much to answer for’ and inside, ‘Mad mad Madchester’. Manchester had now reasserted itself as the UK’s ‘musical capital’, declared the NME. ‘Where rock meets dance,’ said Wilson in the article. He also told the story about how he’d described the Mondays to John Cale as ‘scum’ and said gleefully: ‘My psychiatrist asked me whether my immaturity bothers me. I told him in this industry it was an asset.’ There was talk of a rock revolution, and of Madchester as part of the ‘death pangs’ of Thatcherism, even of the wider uprisings taking place in El Salvador, in China and in Berlin, where the wall had just come down. Shaun, in the same interview, remained more prosaic. ‘Wilson goes over the top, always has done,’ he said. ‘This is real for us, it’s our way out.’

The Mondays had the utmost respect for Wilson. They’d take the piss, but only in the same way they did with one another. ‘No way were we running circles round him,’ said Paul, responding to the way some saw it. Wilson had kept faith in the Mondays, invested money in them when others at the label had told him he shouldn’t. Now his belief was borne out. ‘It was his belief that powered it through,’ said McGough. ‘My job was just to make it work. Tony financed it all.’

‘I knew as soon as the music started up that I’d taken too many drugs,’ he said. ‘By the third tune I’d completely lost my body – something bigger than me had taken over control of my arms and legs.’

The Madchester Rave On EP peaked in the UK at number nineteen in early December and sold well in January. The joint Mondays/Roses Top of the Pops sparked a fevered interest in all things Madchester. The same day as the Shaun/Wilson NME front cover, the band was also on the cover of Melody Maker, and the Roses too were on the cover of NME and Melody Maker that month. Programmes from Panorama to Blue Peter clamoured for a piece of Madchester. Acid House raves were being slowly strangled by new laws passing through Parliament that increased penalties for organisers and allowed confiscation of ‘criminal proceeds from illegal parties’ – in Norfolk 10,000 ticket holders were turned away from a massive Acid party that had run into licensing problems and the scene looked dead. The Madchester scene offered a ready-made alternative. 

In Manchester, indeed, the party never stopped. In addition to The Hacienda, Konspiracy and Thunderdome, new nights at clubs like Isadora’s packed them in with a mix of Madchester rock, sixties psychedelia and dance music. The Dry bar was a beacon for small businesses which began to spring up around the previously derelict Northern Quarter, where cheap rents and creativity gave it the feel of a new Haight-Ashbury. Wilson was delighted. Madchester fashion was everywhere you looked; the city was full of flares, bucket hats and vibrant band T-shirts, or more generic city-proud T-shirts declaring ‘Madchester, Just Say No to London’, or famously, ‘. . . AND ON THE SIXTH DAY, GOD CREATED MANchester’. Local clothing firms began to turn over big money. Joe Bloggs made £60 million as the fashion spread around the UK and Identity in Afflecks Palace became a Mecca. Entrepreneurs (read borderline bootleggers) sold improvised T-shirts, posters, postcards and live bootlegs of bands such as the Mondays and Roses. Record stores such as Piccadilly and the dance-orientated Eastern Bloc thrived, becoming a hub of gossip amid talk of the new bands that were emerging.

With Manchester bands becoming the hottest properties in the business, A&R men from major labels descended on the city, the rumour being that they had been told not to return to London until they had signed a native. Inspiral Carpets, James (for a second time) and 808 State were three of the big beasts to be snapped up, all signing big-money deals, and a wave of sub-Roses/Mondays bands were formed, signed and celebrated in record time, the first being The Charlatans. Manchester University became the most sought-after destination for university applicants in the UK.

And ‘Madchester’ did sum up very precisely an atmosphere in the city at the dawn of the new decade. The city was steeped in marijuana – the Northern Quarter stank of the stuff, smoke billowing out of the doors of clothes shops and record stores. There was a sense of lawlessness about the city, of opportunity and hedonism. It had gone a bit mad and it was genuinely exciting, a very vivid, intense period. The genie was out of the lamp.

The final dates of Happy Mondays’ Madchester tour in early December took the scene to cities such as Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and Glasgow, and the gigs were triumphant and chaotic as demand for the band swelled. In Liverpool they were filmed for a second feature on Snub TV, introduced on the show as the ‘top band of 1989’ who had ‘captured the manic spirit of the year as no one else quite managed’. They were shown playing ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Wrote For Luck’ to a packed audience with a swarm of people dancing on stage. For all the bravado that he didn’t care about the music, that the band was just a ‘blag’, Shaun was as delighted as the rest with their reception, and they gave the crowds some of their most assured performances to date, even if behind the scenes the door stayed open to ‘the lads’ – the bootleggers, the drug dealers, the touts, the party animals, the liggers, gangsters and hooligans – and McGough struggled to control the strong personalities in and around the band.

Of all the people at the centre of the storm as Madchester crashed into 1990, Bez was the one who offered some genuine perspective. Through the haze he would remember that the feeding frenzy around the band now ‘moved up a notch’ as the hangers-on clambered for their piece of the cake. Whereas before the band’s ‘entourage’ had included thirty or forty close, if dubious members, now when they played there might be over a hundred people, some barely known to the band but with terrifying reputations, all off their heads as cocaine rather than LSD became the drug to mix with Ecstasy and Madchester became currency.

The tour had lasted just under a month, the Mondays’ longest stretch of dates yet, and during that time Shaun, who had always been somewhat aloof from the band, became further estranged as stardom grew and heroin took hold of him. Happy Mondays were not just music press darlings now; Top of the Pops had propelled them to new levels of recognition. As the band’s frontman, Shaun was hassled on the street, his picture used whenever Madchester featured in the mainstream media. He was being elevated above the band; everyone wanted to speak to him, wanted a piece of him. And if they didn’t want Shaun, they wanted Bez. The tabloids, especially given the Mondays’ colourful background, saw good copy to be had from the pair. The band, of course, were pleased – with all the publicity, their back catalogue had started to sell and there was talk of bigger, more lucrative gigs ahead – but they could not help but notice that whenever their name was mentioned, there was a picture of Shaun or Bez and description of the Madchester scene was not far behind. A large feature in the Daily Mirror in early January 1990 was typical. ‘The whole world’, the article said, was ‘raving at a new hot spot . . . the hottest place in Britain, the place where it’s all happening’. Overwhelmed Factory PR Jeff Barrett, who had seen the Mondays phenomenon blow up beyond his wildest dreams, was quoted in the article, sounding as if he was catching his breath. ‘The Hacienda is at the core of it all,’ he said. ‘These bands are really different. They’re building up a huge following and believe it or not it’s only just beginning.’

Happy Mondays had not played by the rules most bands follow in order to become successful. They hadn’t compromised in any way, and they had broken into the mainstream as radicals and rebels with a sound and look that was unique. But they were not immune from the consequences of fame and success. This was no longer the tight gang of Squirrel or Bummed, and the pressure of the spotlight would force them even further apart. They called Shaun names behind his back: ‘vandal twat’, and worse. To some extent the musicians were left even more bewildered by what was happening than Shaun, who had heroin as a comfort blanket. They were not in charge any more, the band’s world had suddenly exploded in a way they’d never expected, and in the eye of the Madchester storm they had a third album to write and not a great deal of level-headed input from the fast-living Wilson, partying McGough or a singer whose moods changed in tune with the supply of drugs. One minute he was high and everything was cool; then, coming down off heroin, he’d be argumentative and unpleasant – ‘a worst nightmare’, said Day. Other drugs too – chiefly cocaine, but also acid, with booze and spliff ever-present – fractured the band’s inner dynamic. The days of Ecstasy euphoria and non-stop laughs in endless rehearsals were over: they were quitting The Boardwalk, too big for it now (the years’ accumulation of detritus required a visit from the city council’s sanitation department), and looking for a place they could call their own.

Some adapted to the regime more easily than others. Day, in particular, was growing increasingly disillusioned and withdrawn. ‘I would get mega pissed off about everything,’ he said. ‘It felt like Nathan only wanted to manage Shaun; that the band don’t matter, who gives a fuck about that band, they’re replaceable.’ He had stopped talking to Shaun. ‘He wasn’t going to listen to my point of view because he said to me, You don’t know nothing. I wanted us to work as a team, but all I was good at was playing guitar – that’s what Shaun thought of me. Fair enough,’ he thought, ‘I’ll just play guitar.’ Paul Davis and Shaun had not had a conversation in months, maybe years. Only the bond between Whelan and Paul Ryder remained strong. The band knew this was their time but there was a sense they were charging straight over the edge. Feelings of triumphalism mixed with trepidation at what lay ahead.

They would not let this chance slip, though. Eight years it had taken them to get here. There was a resolve among the six that was rarely acknowledged in public. Even Shaun seemed to accept a level of responsibility, spending early 1990 in rehab at The Priory in Altrincham. He had moved into a city centre flat with Trisha, the charges against him for importation and possession of cocaine had been dropped after a judge ruled that the amount of cocaine wasn’t enough to warrant a guilty verdict, and there was plenty to look forward to now Madchester had opened a world of opportunity. ‘I always said the better we got there was no way we’d be wasting our time on drugs,’ he said. ‘I’m looking to take me more seriously.’

But kicking heroin addiction was no easy task and the scene that his band were at the centre of was too hedonistic to simply step out of. He smuggled whisky and cans of Guinness into The Priory, argued with the staff, and then discharged himself. Shaun had problems, doubts, deep down inside about his own worth as a singer, writer and artist – and about the band. He’d talked himself into believing they were a blag and his words were just thrown together carelessly. It was difficult for the band to get close to him, difficult for anyone to see the smiling, handsome, sharply dressed Shaun with the attractive young Trish on his arm, cruising the Manchester hotspots, and think he was troubled by words and singing and music and the constant demand to perform, to be the Shaun Ryder he’d created in the eye of the media. And heroin took it all away; on heroin the pressure lifted, the super-confident Shaun Ryder came back for a few hours. ‘I had no empathy or anything toward him simply because I didn’t know,’ said Paul. It was only going to get worse, as Wilson expected the band to turn the world on to whatever it was they had in their possession. But maybe there was a chance it would all get better too?

Extract taken from Happy Mondays: Excess All Areas by Simon Spence published by Aurum Press on 30th October.

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