If you were looking for a visual representation of the intersection of late 80’s indie pop and rave culture, you’d have a few options. One of The Stone Roses splatter art pieces by their guitar player John Squire. Impossibly baggy pants. Bucket hats. Hand full of E’s maybe? But no image could tell more of the story than a photo of a wild eyed young man, limbs caught in some freaky dance move and waving his maracas around. One man who came to symbolise the hedonism, the indulgence and the joy of being lost in the music of Mad-chester.
Who was this dance music icon?
Was he a DJ?
Was he a singer?
His name is Mark Berry….still nothing?
You would know him better as Bez.
Yeah Bez, psychotic, gurning, dance machine, lost in the music and moving to his own syncopated rhythms, arms and legs flailing about like an electrified octopus. The focal point of the legendary Happy Mondays (and later the criminally under rated Black Grape)!
Bez was in Australia recently, doing some DJ gigs and was keen to chat about the impending Happy Mondays Australian tour that reaches us in March 2019. It’s the original line up performing their best known album in full. And we are pretty excited about it here at Hi-Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles.
When you look up Bez on Wikipedia it lists his pedigree as ‘percussionist, author, dancer, media personality and comedian. He breeds bees and brews beer, he’s driven a black cab, and run a Manchester laundry service. There has been appearances on reality TV show, most recently resulting in a controversial episode of Bargain Hunt (more of that later).
What then, I ponder to Bez, is on his passport as ‘occupation’?
Ermm I dunno mate, I’d have to look. I usually just put down musician on the passport thing unless it’s somewhere being in a band could get me in trouble.’ laughs Bez, ‘I don’t need any unnecessary attention at customs!’. Anyway I’m here now and having a great time doing these DJ gigs but we are coming back to Australia in March with the band with the full original line-up and doing one in New Zealand and seven round Australia. I remember doing the Big Day Out, which they don’t do any more. And we did another festival a few years ago, but I don’t remember what it was called.
The Mondays have been regrouping on a semi-regular basis since the late 90’s…
Well we’ve been reformed a long time really. It was a waste of time breaking up. We should have just said we were having a rest, that would have been better. It’s been said you can’t teach old dogs new tricks and unfortunately we’ve made our beds and our beds is the Happy Mondays. So we look out for opportunities to play were we have an audience to play to.
I remember reading an interview with Rat Scabies from The Damned once and the journalist asked him ‘You guys break up and reform every few years, what is up with that?’ and Rat replied ‘All I have ever done in my whole adult life is bang drums in The Damned. I can’t join an ABBA cover band or work in a shop. So we get an offer for some gigs and head out the road and after a few gigs you start to remember why you broke up and old wounds open and you break up again.
Well we are luckily getting on with each other great. No upsets at all. Thankfully we have leant from out mistakes and these days all the business is done up front and there are no nasty surprises. Everybody knows where they stand, what they are getting and all that. It makes it a whole lot easier to get along as a group of people.
I guess you are all a little older now, wiser perhaps…
(Laughing) Perhaps is right, we are a little wiser.
How is the nuts and bolts of touring different now, it seems like everybody has…calmed down a bit these days?
One thing I can say is, I reckon is that now is that the band is the best it’s ever been. If you are going to come and watch us you are catching us at our best. Shaun is singing brilliantly, the band is playing the best they’ve ever played. When we started out as young men, and playing music, we were actually learning what we were doing as we went along.
We didn’t know how to do things properly, til we met John Cale when we done that first album (*Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile – 1987). When we was running through the tunes so he could hear what songs we were doing, when the band was playing he kept turning around and hunching his shoulders and pulling all these mad faces at me. Here was John Cale from The Velvet Undergound and we were blowing his mind, y’know what I mean? He couldn’t actually believe that we didn’t understand basic music stuff, 1,2,3,4 timing and all that, double time and that. He had some trouble with that we would start off slow, get faster, slow back down and then go really fast at the end. He started shrugging his shoulders going ‘WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS ABOUT?!?’. You could never do that in music today I reckon. We were lucky to come from an era were we had Factory Records and Tony Wilson, who were willing to let us develop as a band. That doesn’t happen today into today’s music industry. I was lucky to grow up in an era where you could get away with so much more. We were allowed to have naivety.
It was a great time for musicians, but it also seems to me that it was the last period that people like Tony Wilson would see a kind of Don Quixote element in people and would let the artists, run wild, to be the mad fucker they are and see what came out of it.
(Laughing) Yeah yeah yeah, that’s right. He allowed us to develop in that way with no pressure.
Pills Thrills and Bellyaches is one of the most impactful records of the early 90’s. Soaked in rave culture, it was a psychedelic dance records that nodded at the 60′ s while being utterly contemporary. It was an indie record that was informed by dance music production and the album was packed with songs that were equally at home at the Indie Club, on the radio or banging at a rave. Songs like Kinky Afro, Loose Fit, Bob’s Yer Uncle and Step On, their version of the John Kongos hit from 1971 He’s Gonna Step On You Again all became anthems of that scene.
You’re twistin’ my melon man, you know you talk so hip man your twistin’ my melon.
When The Mondays tour in March you’ll be playing the Pill Thrills and Bellyaches album in full and that was such a huge record for me at the time. I was Dj-ing in Brit heavy indie clubs and I played all those songs a lot.
Yeah that’s right, we’re doing the whole album in Australia. Not sure if we are doing other stuff as well. It was the album that sent us from being a small band in England to breaking us into a bigger band and getting us known all over the world and filling stadiums and that. That was with Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osbourne producing. We were the first band, Indie band at the the time , to be using all the modern recording and DJ techniques combined with traditional recording methods. We sort of mixed them all up together.
I have fond memories of almost every week going into the import stores to buy yet another 12 inch remix of Loose Fit or whatever the latest single was. It all added to the joy of it, like it was extending the Mondays universe.
Shaun was saying recently that we were the first band to do that sort of thing. These days everybody does it, but back then it was pretty new.
What do you think the biggest misconception about The Happy Mondays is?
I don’t know really know, but probably most of it is true (laughter) unfortunately.
Are there songs of Pills & Thrills, that you didn’t play when it came out that you’ve had to relearn to do the album tour?
Well we have been touring that album in other places just recently, so we should know it like the back of our hands. But to be truthful my memory ain’t the best about some of our past glories. I remember all the good stuff, but some things are fading into the mist nowadays unfortunately.
It might not be a bad thing if some of those things are forgotten…
Hahhahahhaaa right right. It’s called selective memory isn’t it?
At various times over the years when you have fallen on hard times, gone broke or whatever, you have done a lot of unusual things. Driven a cab, done quite a few reality TV shows (Celebrity Big Brother (with Shaun Ryder), Pimp My Ride, Adrenalin Junkie, etc and in 2014 stood for Parliament. But it seems to me that you look at those things as an adventure and a means to an end?
I think that’s what life’s all about innit? Expanding your awareness through experiences and we have been lucky enough to expand out reality in many different ways. We did do one recently were we got caught cheatin’ on Bargain Hunt. That wasn’t one of our proudest moments. It was never the less really funny. We were up against Jarvis Cocker out of Pulp and he looks like a proper rummager!
If you haven’t caught the show previously, Bargain Hunt is a very low rent show, where they give two teams some piddly amount like fifty pounds, to buy items to re-sell at auction to try and make a profit. On the episode in question, Bez and fellow Monday Rowena, were pitted against Jarvis and Candita Doyle from Pulp. Bez and Rowena was by the dizzying amount of eight pounds. But it turned out Bez’s girlfriend had bought two of his items and they got rumbled and he had to pay back the profit.
Unfortunately not only did we buy all that rubbish, but now I’ve got it at home! I have never learned to say no, and I don’t think the rest of the band has either. Anyway is was a bit of a laugh and provided some entertainment on an otherwise crappy daytime telly programme.
There will be nothing crappy about the Australian tour of The Happy Mondays in March next year. Playing Pills Thrills and Bellyaches in full along with other Mondays classics. They’re gonna step on you again!
Interview by Ian Bell(yaches)
Tickets from https://davidroywilliams.com/tours/happy-mondays/