With their legendary, nihilistic pursuit of hedonism having contributed to the bankruptcy of their label, Factory Records, it's easy to remember Happy Mondays as the 24 Hour Party People they so famously depicted in song. But the primary adulation of such behaviour often undeservedly eclipses their musical contributions.
Happy Mondays were doubtless the best and most important group of the Madchester era. In fact, as Madchester was supposed to represent the merging of rave and alternative rock, its arguable that they were the only band that truly defined it. Sure, The Stone Roses managed to make one truly timeless album, but surely theirs was closer to a combination of psychedelia and funk? Neither The Stone Roses nor any of the other bands of the time (save perhaps the unique World Of Twist) embraced the exploding rave culture like Happy Mondays.
From their punk funk beginnings to through their front row seats, allegedly supplying drugs in the dark corners of The Hacienda, The Happy Mondays always had one foot on guitar pedals and the other on the dancefloor.
The band released five classic albums between 1987 and their split in 1993 alongside several chart topping singles and era defining remix EPs. They toured consistently, sometimes proving to be the live powerhouses of the danceable new movement and at others, as drug abuse crept into the lives of some members, they appeared far from peak form. In the live arena, perhaps one member more than any other epitomised why Happy Mondays were the figureheads of Madchester.
Wide eyed and loose limbed, maracas in hand, Happy Mondays dancer Bez aka Mark Berry was the rabble rousing cheerleader whose rave dancing and physical freedom every audience member attempted to emulate.
Both he and Ryder would go on to further musical endeavours in Black Grape following the Happy Mondays split, but the band have reformed and toured in various incarnations since 1999, including 2015 when they celebrated the 25th anniversary of their Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches album. 2017 sees Happy Mondays hit the road again on the 24 Hour Party People – Greatest Hits Tour. At its commencement, Marko Kutlesa caught up with Bez to ask the former reality TV champion about life back on tour with Happy Mondays.
Hiya Mark! How's the tour going so far?
It's going very well, thank you. I'm really enjoying it.
Which songs are the audience reacting to best?
They like all the classics. But we've done some what we've not done before, such as 'Judge Fudge', 'Monkey In The Family', which have also gone down really well. To be honest it's really difficult to tell which ones they like best, but obviously they like the classics. They always get a good reaction.
John Cale produced the first Happy Mondays album. During the recording did he tell you any interesting tales of life in The Velvet Underground?
No. I wish he did. We were all in awe of him because he was one of our heroes, we'd covered The Velvet Underground and that. But almost none of us spoke a single word to him right through the whole recording. It was really funny, in one song he was looking at me going “What the fuck, son?”, shrugging his shoulders like, what the fuck's this?
I thought he was talking about some mad bassline change, but he wasn't. He couldn't believe the band didn't know 1, 2, 3, 4 timing. He actually taught us how to play a song in time. Before, we'd start off slow, get faster, then get really fast at the end. So, I suppose that's one of the most memorable moments for me.
As you've all grown up a bit and mellowed out, who's now the bossiest on the tour bus? I'm guessing it's Rowetta.
Yeah, well, that is a really good guess that, mate. Ahahahaha. Row, being the only female member in the band, I suppose she's entitled to a moan every now and again.
You guys don't party as hard as you used to. When you go away on tour, how do you now spend your free time when you're not on stage?
It all depends what's going on, really. I still like to socialise a lot with everybody. I'm a social being. I always enjoy a good social occasion. Any chance to have a pint of beer in me hand and a good old chin wag, I'm there.
We've obviously mellowed a bit with age, like I say, we're in our 50s now, you know what I mean? If we make it through our 50s I'd say that for us that would be a good innings. I've put so many people in their graves the last few years it's unbelievable. Friends who we've grown up with.
How do you get your buzz when you're not on tour? Do you still keep bees?
Yeah, I still keep bees. I've made an amazing shack – we call it the shack – in the garden. So we have great camp fire parties. That's still going on. We had one the other night when we got back. I got the camp fire started, got the tunes on, we just sat round the fire for an hour or so.
Do you still live in Chorlton?
No, no. I live in the Hereford area now. On the border of Hereford and Monmouth.
Do they understand your accent down there?
Er, well, they're getting used to it, let's put it that way. I'm alright with accents though. Cos we're right on the border, nobody can say anything about my accent because they're all either Welsh sounding or south west accents round here. That's quite a bit of an accent they've got themselves ahahaha.
You recorded the single 'Lazyitis' with Karl Denver. Did you ever go to see him in concert and, apart from what he recorded with you, what's the best Karl Denver song?
No, I didn't personally. I can't remember how that came about. But we were all fans of him after we'd been introduced to him. I think it was more Shaun, that. It was great to work with him, sad that he's died now, you know what I mean? It's sad to lose people along the way, but it's an inevitable part of living. Same with Kirsty MacColl (she provided backing vocals to 'Hallelujah' and appeared with the band on Top Of The Pops), she's also passed away. There's quite a few friends that have passed on around us.
Your tour is called '24 Hour Party People – the Greatest Hits Tour'. Now that 15 years has passed since the film 24 Hour Party People was released, how do you feel about it? I think I like that film even more now.
I still haven't actually watched that film, you know. I've never actually watched it. I need to watch it. But I'm saving it for one of them days, you know what I mean? But, no, I've not watched as of yet. Apparently it's quite a funny film. I suppose some things do get better with age. I'm just waiting for the right moment to watch it. Probably when I'm on my death bed, really ill and dying, I might watch it then.
Tory MP Douglas Ross got into trouble in October when he missed an important House Of Commons vote because he was attending a Champions League game in his other career as a referee. If you had become an MP in Salford (Bez ran as a candidate in Salford and Eccles in 2014), what issues would be important enough for you to miss a gig with Happy Mondays?
Yeah, well, erm... (mumbling) whatsit. I'm not really a socialist, you know what I mean? But, for me, I'm an out an out anarchist. I like to think that my politics are verging on anarchism. Things what are important to me would be demolishing the bankers. Bringing an end to the banking system as it stands at the moment. Having them all jailed would be good.
My policies were free everything. So, free food, free public transport. That would have been really important to me. So, yeah, I'm an out and out anarchist. I'm against the state and I'm against the bloodline rule. I would have liked to have seen the end of all that. The end of the state, the end of corporations, the end of bloodlines and religion. Nothing would have kept me away from all that.
Is your career in politics now over?
Yeah, I reckon. I have to say I was driven by ego at the time, but I did actually mean every word that I was saying at the time. I did want to bring an end to the system as we know it. But for now I'm just happy being back on tour.