The story of Happy Mondays is one that’s been attempted a few times, with much that has been written regurgitating the same myths and half truths that made the band so tabloid friendly during their pomp. Whereas The Stone Roses projected an air of insouciant cool and are regularly awarded ‘greatest debut album of all time’ plaudits, any mention of the Mondays tends to prompt memories of the cartoonish Shaun and Bez double act rather than any appreciation of the group’s talents or their lasting musical legacy.
Happy Mondays Excess All Areas – A Biography by Simon Spence (Aurum Press, £20) attempts to delve behind the legend and hearsay surrounding the two frontmen and instead tell the definitive story of the band as a whole. The format here is the same as Spence’s previous effort, the excellent The Stone Roses – War and Peace that was released a couple of years ago. Like that book, this latest is meticulously researched and based on many hours of fresh interviews with band members, family, friends, associates and numerous industry faces.
These first hand accounts enable Spence to present a detailed history of the band and paint a vivid (and often laugh out loud funny) picture of greyed out, 1980’s Manchester undergoing its transformation into Day-Glo, early 90’s Madchester. The story of Factory and Tony Wilson has been done to death in recent years, almost becoming an industry in itself – so it’s to the author’s credit that he manages to put a fresh slant on proceedings here. Indeed, one senses that Wilson didn’t really have much time for the band until key earners New Order went into hiatus just as the Mondays suddenly and unexpectedly blossomed into the most exciting rock and roll band on the planet.
Alongside the usual tales of hedonism and excess (nothing you’ve heard previously was exaggerated), Spence’s major achievement is how he skilfully evokes the visceral thrill of the Mondays’ music on those first 3 seminal albums. In spite of being out of control and fronted by a pair of drug-fuelled nutters, the band produced a cosmic slop of sound that was miles ahead of its time then, and still sounds startlingly original now. It made me want to go back and listen properly for the first time in 20 odd years, so I’ll conclude by recommending you pick up this excellent book and then do the same.
Copyright Red News – October 2014