The Bodines were due to play Leeds Warehouse one night in the spring of 87. But arriving at the venue we found a note pinned to the door. An incoherent explanation of the band`s absence, which I think involved a gun. Instead of The Bodines we got the Happy Mondays. The place was empty. It was a mid-week gig. Me and H were smashed ourselves, and we shook about, flailing, oscillating wildly, at the foot of the stage impersonating “percussionist” Bez* – who was already locked into his trademark trance-dance. Doing various banging exercises with two blocks of wood. I`d read a review of their debut LP, Squirrel And G-Man…, in the NME, but I hadn’t heard it. The band carried on, oblivious to the two cunts in front of them. In hindsight we were lucky we didn’t get a shoeing. After the gig I borrowed the LP from the University record library, but I didn’t actually buy any Mondays records until Factory reissued Freaky Dancin` in 88. By which time everyone`s landscape had changed. The record had been name-checked in London’s “acid house village newspaper”, the Boys Own fanzine, and I wore my t-shirt bearing the Central Station Design everywhere. Before a friend of my sister`s claimed it one morning after.
When I looked at the cover I imagined the twisted Ralph Steadman-like skeletal silhouette was Ecstasy’s excess, and the background a beach in Ibiza. But the E.P. dates back to sessions recorded in 1985. Pre-the drug’s flood into Manchester, London, the UK. Sure Manchester had house in 85. Mike Pickering and Martin Prendergast, as MP2, since 1984, had been spinning more and more music from Chicago and Detroit at Nude on a Friday night at The Hacienda. Factory Records founder Tony Wilson would also recall the floors of the Mondays “digs” being littered with vinyl, dance 12s on labels like Trax and DJ International. But the E / house music connection wasn’t made until late 87. When some of Manchester’s enterprising “traveling” community (“Everyone on this Stagecoach likes robbing and bashing”), having experienced the incendiary effect of mixing the two together that summer at Ibiza`s Amnesia, brought a load of pills in from Amsterdam. Fuelling a secret that in 1988 exploded out of the alcoves at The Hacienda, at Nude and then Hot, and the lock-ins at Stuffed Olives. In parallel to what was happening in London at Shoom, Future and then Spectrum.
The frantic jangle of The Monday’s first E.P. Forty Five – produced by Mike Pickering – sounds like The Wedding Present on too much sulphate. Cavernous with haunted dancehall reverb, tumbling tom-toms, Peter Hook bass-lines, and Martin Hannett`s “a certain disorder in the treble range”. But the same year, gave us the unwashed, wah-wahed funk of Freaky Dancin`. Its guitar lock-grooved in a space between motorik and Johnny Marr. Its lyrics, a list of customer critique, a dealer’s blues. You don’t like me, you don’t want to be seen with me, but you need me.
“You don’t like my face because the bones stick out.”
“Do ya do ya just want some coke?”
On its flip, The Egg “mooches” to a dark danceable rock. Juice harp, bottle-neck slide and bongos. The vocal hushed and delivered with menaces. The musical change may well have been down to drugs – but it wasn’t down to E.
The tale of Tart Tart suggests it was smack. The now John Cale-produced Perry Boy Stooges cataloguing a chronicle of prostitutes, pushers, scorers and users, needle-sharing in the age of AIDS, to a clipped jazz-funk. A suggestion reinforced by the state of the band`s singer, Shaun Ryder, in the accompanying video.
“At first it was a “Yes” and then a “No” then “Yes”.”
24 Hour Party People recorded in 86, and released in 87, was still pre-E. Its mutant synth-stabbed Northern soul stomp and growl of
“How old are you? Are you old enough?”
instead ripped on acid. Its plastic face, whited-out, carnt smile. Its “I mean full time, I don’t mean part-time” pre-dating Flowered Up`s Weekender by six years.
The reason The Mondays were so prophetic and captured the mood, the zeitgeist?, was because they represented the first wave of the acid house army. They were the disaffected youth who ignited the second summer of love, and rave. Shaun was the confrontational, unapologetic voice of a non-working class forced into black market commerce by Maggie`s neo-liberalist reforms. Lean and nimble privatizations that benefited investors and fucked the workers. Kids forced to look for alternatives. Stealing their way around Europe. Forced to look for a means of escape. He recounted street scenes, never-ending parties generated out of necessity, out of having nowhere to sleep, stories of “robbers and bashers”, dealers, dancers, chancers and blaggers, in the argot of robbers and bashers, dealers, dancers, chancers and blaggers. He so accurately captured where I was by 89, running around that race track, attempting to press the pause on the self-destruct,
“Trouble and trouble, trouble and trouble.”
that I thought he was some kind of savant, a genius.
Happy Mondays` Early E.P.s box-set containing four, remastered, 12s in a day-glo rainbow of green, orange, blue and yellow, is released today, October 25th, care of London Records.
PS – Pete Fowler`s video for The Egg is brilliant, but perhaps makes the band seems a lot more cuddly than they actually were.
*Bez may not really have been the “percussionist”, but like many have said before he was the energy, the engine.