Shaun Ryder’s voice cuts sharply through the mix, every syllable landing cleanly. It’s as unexpected as the sight of a man who has spent most of his 49 years caning it, with a consistency which would put William Burroughs to shame.
But here he is, light on his feet, brimming with bonhomie and perhaps clutching an actual bottle of water (as opposed to the clear liquid Shane MacGowan downs at his band’s reunions). He announces songs by date, as if in a permanent state of amiable surprise at the set-list and his own rock-and-rave years, the music a potted This Is Your Life for a drug-pocked memory.
This is the first full Happy Mondays reunion since their collapse after 1992’s shambolic swansong …Yes Please! (permutations of the original line-up have reunited for sometimes entertainingly unpredictable shows since 1999). Ryder seems wryly intent on causing another bust-up with bassist brother Paul, after a decade’s silence between him and “our kid”. But everyone’s main focus is on putting across a slick 90 minutes focused on their biggest hit, 1990’s Pills ’N Thrills and Bellyaches, while landing on every landmark before it.
“I only went with your mother because she’s dirty,” Ryder leers on “Kinky Afro”, symptomatic of the happy, polymorphous debauchery peopling the life and lyrics of a Betjeman with the sexual brakes off. He reminds us of “God’s Cop”’s context, baiting Manchester’s puritanical 1990s Chief Constable James Anderton - the anti-Shaun - while name-checking Soul II Soul. Gary Whelan’s shuffling funk drum solo on “Twenty Four Hour Party People” and Day’s rasping rock guitar on “Hallelujah” show the range of a band sometimes dismissed back then, even by themselves, as denizens of the drug life who made music on the side.
“Wrote for Luck” sums up Ryder’s defiant philosophy: “You used to speak the truth, but now you’re clever.” “Step On”, though, remains their finest few minutes. Bez, a name usually shorthand for “redundant band-member”, bends with a beatific smile towards the crowd he represents, as Rowetta howls her part as acid-house diva alongside Paul Davis’s triumphant keyboards. Ryder, smile playing on his lips, rasps, “C-call the cops!”, a devil-may-care rebel. The song’s old future shock has been lost along with the Mondays’ anarchy. But this streamlined, nostalgic résumé of their past also unexpectedly, firmly restates why they mattered.
Dennis and Lois
Twenty Four Hour Party People
Bob’s Yer Uncle
Wrote for Luck