The Happy Mondays are comprised of seven lively musicians: vocalist Shaun Ryder, vocalist Rowetta, guitarist Mark Day, drummer Gary Whelan, bassist Paul Ryder, keyboardist Dan Broad and Mark “Bez” Berry who doubles as a percussionist and dancer.

Their ambitious 30th Anniversary Twenty-Four Hour Party People Greatest Hits tour began Friday, November 10, 2017 in Dundee, Scotland and will end just short of Christmas, on December 23rd with opening act Jon DaSilva at every show except for opening night.

One could not help but feel the excitement in the air. At every turn of the spacious and imaginatively constructed Roundhouse, fans chatted about the songs they hoped to hear on the evening’s set list.

The legendary group blew into Camden’s historical venue on a drizzling November 16th, and began their truculent set about 9 p.m. By that time, hundreds of fans had already squeezed their ways towards the stage, hoping to catch a good glimpse of the casually-dressed Shaun Ryder, the effervescent Bez and the ever-exuberant Rowetta, whose choreographed moves, glass-breaking vocals and flowery dress with flowing sleeves added even more panache to the band’s truly psychedelic vibe.

That vibe was extended to the backdrop, where chunky letters belched out the band’s name in disarming hues. Armed with electronic keyboards, heavy percussion, thrashing guitar and bass, and Bez to egg them on, the Happy Mondays drove the crowd mad as soon as Ryder hit that very first note.

Many fans from the band’s native Manchester were in attendance; even some who had been too young to enjoy the camaraderie at Tony Wilson’s Hacienda, where the Mondays had set off the Madchester rave scene of the late 1980s. Although this cross-section was familiar with the records and shamelessly sung along to the familiar set list, they may have longed to experience the excitement of their parent’s generation. And there was an overall feeling of gratefulness throughout the stadium, as this is a band that selectively tours.

The early on highlights of the extended set list included ‘Kinky Afro’, with its delightfully singable “yippie yippee yi yi yah” refrain and the quirky ‘Donovan’-Ryder explained that he had “ripped off Donovan’s words and made it our own.” They began, however, with the engaging ‘Loose Fit’. The dreamy synth section of this song is absolutely beguiling. When Rowetta and Shaun teamed up for the chorus, “Do what you’re doing, say what you’re saying,” and the band followed it up with an even more pronounced instrumental flavour, it was easy to understand how pervasive the Mondays were in the famed rave scene; how they managed to thrill and swallow up an entire generation.

‘Dennis and Lois’ went from pop to an almost punk vibe in seconds flat. Ryder’s voice added an urgency to the story. The clacking keys and weird blips and beeps really carried through the theme.

I loved Shaun’s swooning on ‘Clap Yer Hands’, which of all the songs that night seemed to borrow from the R & B tradition, and, for that matter, even ‘Judge Fudge’ maintained a bluesy flair.

But ‘Hallelujah’ was the crowning glory of the night, courtesy of those absolutely infectious, electronic riffs that drifted in and out of consciousness like tsunamic waves; not to mention those swirling vocals, set against pounding, multi-rhythms.

It was fun to hear Ryder juice up and revitalize the lyrics with his deep, rebellious voice, which still, in my opinion, has a strong Lennon-esque quality, and to relive the joy of those hypnotically, contagious keyboard riffs and virulent, percussive pulses.

Fans melted on the dance floor during ‘Rave On’ and ‘Freaky Dancin’’ — a vast sea of bobbing heads drew my second-level eyes downward.

Whelan, Broad and Paul Ryder really rocked out on ‘24 Hour Party People’ as Shaun Ryder’s voice grew increasingly hoarse and aggressive. ‘Bob’s Yer Uncle’ was a definite contrast with its Calypso beat, subtle intro. and quasi-Incan instrumentation.

Towards the end, ‘Step On’ and ‘Holiday’ from Factory Records 1990’s ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches’ brought any remaining seated fans to their feet and set off a sea of arms pumping purposely into thin air.

But although the Zen-centric phrases filled the senses, this wasn’t solely about the music. Ryder’s personality came to the fore vis a vis the occasional wry comment: “I remember the ‘60s better than the ‘90s,” he quipped during one transition, when he wasn’t swaying and swerving the mic at his musical counterpart.

Although the sound was full, the dynamics were tastefully balanced, and in my balcony seat I had a wonderful view of the ongoing antics. Whilst I can’t speak for the sound on the ground level, it was clear, visually, that the crowd was loving and losing itself in every electronic phrase, declaring their appreciation with wide smiles and dreamy-eyed stares.

As luck would have it, I made contact that night with a youthful Mancurian native, Elliott Howarth-Johnson. He was there with his girlfriend Ailish and they both seemed very excited to be there. Because he seemed to know every song by heart, I wanted to know about his connection with the Manchester-formed band. His responses to my queries follow:

“I’ve been a fan for about three years, I guess, but I was always a fan of the song ‘Step On,’ which I think most people are, without realising it’s the Happy Mondays. Then I just started listening to the albums and went from there.”

“I think I first came across them from one of my dad’s old tapes. I remember thinking the name was really cool and listening to them when I was about twelve or thirteen, but I didn’t really like it then. I think you have to listen several times before you get why Shaun Ryder is such an amazing part of the band. There is no doubt that Shaun can’t sing all that well, but his lyrics are just so, so good that it doesn’t matter!”

“I had a wicked time the other day and would have liked to have been standing but it was amazing to take Ailish for the first time to see them and she really enjoyed it, too, so thirty years on, they are still getting new fans! The best song for me is ‘Tart Tart’ which they didn’t play, but ‘Step On’ will live on longer than they will. Also, the lyrics to ‘Kinky Afro’ must be some of the best written.”

Like Elliott, I feel I can say that I’ve become a true fan after tonight’s pumped-up performance. The Happy Mondays may go down in history as having defined a generation, but their legacy, undoubtedly, continues on.

Set List:

Loose Fit
Kinky Afro
Dennis and Lois
Clap Yer Hands
Judge Fudge
Rave On
Freaky Dancin’
24 Hour Party People
Bob’s Yer Uncle
Step On


W.F.L. (Wrote For Luck)

Photos by Philamonjaro

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