Still Mad for it: Getting our step on with Happy Mondays

Indie rock dance hybrid pioneers, Happy Mondays, are returning to Australia for their Twenty-Four Hour Party People Greatest Hits Tour this month. The band, led by Shaun Ryder, was one of the leading proponents of the highly influential Madchester scene that rose from the UK’s underground in the late 80s and exploded into the mainstream across the world in the early 1990s. Known for their hard-partying ways as much as their unique genre-fusing sound, the band have sacrificed their vices in order to ensure they can continue touring and playing live around the world to great acclaim. Ahead of the band’s arrival in Perth for a show at Metropolis Fremantle on Wednesday, October 25, MICHAEL HOLLICK chatted to Rowetta about what she thought of the band originally, their recent live success and what it’s like to be in a band with Bez.

What are you and the band up to at the moment?

Festivals are our focus at the moment. Most recently the dates have been with Noel Gallagher and Primal Scream and that’s been a heap of fun. Festivals are all different though, the audiences are unique and not everyone there is a Mondays’ fans. The band did another festival earlier in the summer. Marc Almond and Bananarama were on the bill, so there was a more pop feel. And there were these girls at the front who were yelling out and being like, “oh Rowetta, we love you,” as they were obviously more into girl singers and pop and that sort of thing, so I thought that was great being the star over Shaun or Bez just for the one night.

It sounds like the band have really found their stride in recent years then?

To be honest I think we are playing better than ever. That’s actually why we kept going after our reformation in 2012. Those gigs (in 2012) were supposed to be a once off tour of the larger arenas, but as it went so well and we were all buzzing within the group, so we have just kept going with it since then.

Speaking of back in the day, do you remember what got you into the band in the first place?

Back then I was a punk and when I saw them early on, in a real smallish club, I was like, ‘this is really punk.’ This is the band for me. And I thought maybe I can do what Gloria Jones did with T. Rex hopefully and just lift you up a bit and you know, get girls to like them. I think my vocals did did lift those songs up, such as on Pills, Thrills, the songs like Step On and Kinky Afro. I mean I loved the band as they were but I also understood that adding a voice like mine did help them as a group be more commercial and catchy.

I think the proof is in the pudding as people still love these songs. What do you recall from the last time you came out to Australia?

2019 was the first time we came to Australia as the full band, the real Happy Mondays. I think the band has technically been there before without the original members. It was just so amazing to see all ages coming to our gigs and dancing because a lot of them had grown up with it through the dads, the mums, the brothers, the sisters and thinking they’d never see us again because we’d split up or because we were getting old. Or maybe they thought we’d be rubbish if they came to see us. But it was the opposite. We got amazing reviews and most of the shows were sold out. Nobody expected us to be that good, and that’s what I love.

Has the band’s recent live success been a surprise to you?

I’m very confident when I come out, so when we do any gig I know it’s going to be good. But we’re not a band that follows a routine. It’s different every time we hit the stage, we’re far from some old boring band. I know some people just literally go out and play their albums and you know, they are never different. They just do it. And it’s like a routine. But we love this band thing and playing these tunes and we’re really buzzing at the moment.

How has the band taken the loss of original member Paul Ryder?

That was just heartbreaking. It’s only been just over a year, so we haven’t got over it yet. Personally, getting used to him not being there is really difficult, you know, as he used to sit opposite or next to me on the bus and he would always be there on stage. So yeah, it’s hard. We decided to continue because that’s what Paul would have done and that’s what he would have wanted. We’re very lucky as Mikey [Shine from Black Grape] has stepped in to fill in Paul’s role in the live band. Mikey used to step in before as Paul lived in LA and was not always able to make the gigs. So, in that sense, we were lucky to have someone ready to step in like he was.

I believe things are different on the road than they were back in the day?

Definitely. We were a party band into late nights and all that. And that’s great when you’re young, but you can only do that lifestyle for so long. Back in the day we used to go everywhere with a big entourage, like, we wouldn’t go anywhere without our friends. Bez had like a million friends, I mean so do I, but I didn’t let them all on the tour bus. So Bez would get everyone on there, and then we’d have everyone back stage, and in our dressing rooms, stealing drinks and doing whatever they were doing. It was all a bit mad. It’s a lot calmer backstage now.

I like to be quiet sometimes, and a bit serious before a gig. Bez likes the opposite. He still does. He’s like, music on, party on, get in the mood, ready to hit the stage, getting the vibe up. But I’m just the opposite. I like a bit of calm and reflection. Get my voice warmed up and think about the lyrics and the words. It used to be too manic for me back stage. I would lock myself in my room, but then Bez would come and join me to esacpe from all these mad people that he bought online on tour.

Because at the end of the day, you don’t really want all that. You think you do, but when it happens, you don’t really. Like half of the people he might not have even known, he’d just invited everybody and that’d be friends of friends and whatever else. So he would end up escaping from the madness too. But we are still mad for it, we just leave that for the stage and with the people these days.

And finally, have you ever worked out where Shaun Ryder finds the inspiration for his lyrics ?

No, not really. I know Shaun puts it down to his ADHD and that, but I don’t know. Where as some people might talk more about feelings, he will take things from a film or a magazine he’s seen, and make something about that. And because he was on something when he was doing it, it just had that extra twist that made it so kind of unique. And I know that that is the case for other poets and lyricists who have really excelled.

Those are the sort of people who are willing to go where other people don’t. And with those influences, their minds go to other places that it wouldn’t otherwise go. Take the first line of Kinky Afro, it’s just brilliant, it hooked everyone in as much as any melody could have. A lot of the words he writes they sound so simple but that’s what the best lines do.