Not so happy days with the Happy Mondays

Credit: Karin Albinsson
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Happy Mondays have been planning a big show for March 2017 and asked me if I would be one of the DJ’s on the bill along with Graeme Park and Darren from 808 State. I’m not a massive fan of the retro scene but on this occasion I said I’d like to be involved. It’s a great chance to exorcise the memories of one terrible meeting with the band and one traumatic DJ gig thirty years ago.

In May 1986, the band was being managed by Phil Saxe. He was an ex-DJ who had worked at the famous Northern Soul venue the Twisted Wheel and sold jeans in the Andale Market in the mid-1980s. I have a feeling that’s where he met the Mondays – they went in there to get jeans.

Phil was looking after them and they’d been signed to Factory Records. The first single hadn’t done particularly well and they hadn’t got much media coverage. They were so low down the Factory pecking order they weren’t given free tickets for the big Festival of the Tenth Summer gig headlined by New Order and the Smiths, which Factory had organised.

I was a fan, though, twenty four years old and just been asked by the NME to do some writing for them. When you’re a newcomer at the NME and living outside London, they love it if you write about some local talent in your area, making them out to be the new big thing.

happy-mondays-manchester-academy-by-karin-albinsson-31
Karin Albinsson

So I went over to a flat on Leicester Avenue, off Cheetham Hill Rd, to get some words from the band. Only two of them turned up. – two out of five, and they were more interested in smoking dope than talking to me. I remember asking them who writes the lyrics. They told me it was Shaun. I asked if they knew where he was? “Nope.”

I didn’t stay long after that. I got the bus back into town and went to track down Mr Saxe in the Arndale Market. He was more chatty. He said that Happy Mondays were the new Velvet Underground. He told me some stuff about them and I cobbled together a short article from that afternoon in Cheetham Hill.

Later in 1986, Nathan McGough became their manager. I would end up working alongside Nathan on a load of things, including putting on bands at the Boardwalk and we began to share an office together on Princess Street in town.

Early on in Nathan’s reign – I think it was October 1986 – the Mondays had a gig at King George’s Hall in Blackburn and Nathan asked me to go up there with the band and DJ before they came on.  As the name suggests, the venue is an old-fashioned, semi-ornate building. The audience had more than its fair share of football hooligans –  quite a dysfunctional and pretty drunk crowd who I think were keen to smash the place up. For them, it was part of a parcel of what made for a great night out in Blackburn. Sometimes you can just feel in the air that it’s going to kick off.

Having said that, I bet there were at least five people there who’d read in the NME that the Happy Mondays were the new Velvet Underground.

A few songs in, the first fight broke out. Then some Nazis started sieg heiling at Bez and the whole room turned into a riot. His dad is a policeman so Bez is very hot on law and order. He grabbed his maracas and waded in.

I know that the best thing that could have happened in terms of telling this story is if I’d taken a couple of hooligans out with a punch to the head and then skimmed a 12” single across the crowded room to knock out a Nazi who was about to attack Bez.

What actually happened when the fight started is that I hid under the DJ decks. This was where I wanted to be. I was crouched down under the decks at the back of the hall and I could hear roaring, shouting, and the sound of breaking glass.

The only time I looked up from my hiding place, I saw some guy run in from the adjoining room wielding a pool cue. There’s a weird unwritten rule of nightclub brawls that there’s always someone wielding a pool cue even if there’s no pool table in the building.

Nathan gave me £50 and said take a taxi home so I did, over the hills and far away.

Happy Mondays with support from DJs including Dave Haslam and Graeme Park, Saturday March 11, 2017. Tickets here

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