Thursday 23rd November, 1989, and The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays both make their debut appearance on Top Of The Pops, bringing the twin engines of the breaking Manchester scene into the nation’s living rooms (808 State were on the week before – brilliant). That weekend, the Mondays played Brighton’s Top Rank (now Oceana). Well on their way to becoming Britain’s biggest band of the era, the original group never played here again, until tonight.
Well, that’s the myth surrounding this Bank Holiday bash, but it’s not quite the truth. A half-hearted version of the band (leader Shaun Ryder, sidekick Bez, drummer Gaz Whelan plus session musicians) played a secret gig on the pier for The Great Escape 2007, and, although the proper line-up are now back together, Whelan’s broken his leg two days before the gig. There’s a stand-in drummer filling his shoes, but when Ryder introduces him he’s clearly forgotten his name.
Anyway, forget splitting hairs, for the couple of thousand punters here, this is the big Mondays show Brighton never had, a baggy celebration of their youth. Some nostalgic DJ support, including the 808 State Soundsystem, sets the mood with dozens of welcome house, bleep and techno classics from the Haçienda heyday. We’ve been seated up in the balcony, but skip that and descend into the rave mass below.
Cheered onto the stage by Bez, the Mondays slide into ‘Loose Fit’ from their peak Madchester album ‘Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches’, played almost in its entirety tonight. Ryder’s cheerful, lucid, puffing on an electric cigarette and revelling in the attention. You could never say he’s in good voice, cos he never had one, that’s his mate Rowetta’s role. But he knows his strengths, flattering the crowd (“These are all my mates. I think I met every one of you in the lobby today.”) and his band.
What Ryder understands these days, after so many fall-outs and slag-offs and mixed reunions, is that it’s the unsung members of the Mondays who shaped the group’s unique sound, just as much as his own twisted wordplay did. No one ever quite figured out how those unprepossessing blokes at the back (Ryder’s bassist brother Paul, guitarist Mark Day and keyboardist Paul Davis) created such shifting funk hybrids, but then, maybe no one ever asked. Ryder knows though. “I love Mark,” he tells us, “He plays lead and rhythm at the same time.” He’s right too.
If there’s one disappointment, it’s that Bez hasn’t got the stamina to shake his maracas for a whole gig these days. Absent from most of the night, he only leads the dance through ‘Kinky Afro’ and ‘Step On’. The crowd adore him nonetheless, phones held aloft by the hundred.
With the group as loose and fluid as in their prime (unexpected turns like the mangling of ‘Mad Cyril’ with ‘Sunshine & Love’ keep the set surprising), tonight is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than we expected. Slickness still hasn’t come knocking and Happy Mondays are as peculiar and unpredictable as ever.
Brighton Centre, Sunday 26th May 2013
Words by Stuart Huggett
Photos by Mike Burnell