The most talented band in the world at their creative peak. Ferociously energetic on stage. Crafters of wondrous lyrics that dance into your ears and make you think. Musicians with an endless well of earworms of riffs and hooks to draw on. Charismatic, bona fide stars.
Happy Mondays are none of these. But for one night in April 1999 at the Manchester Evening News Arena, they gave the gig of my life.
I took the train from Hull through the Pennines to Manchester Piccadilly. You could feel that lolloping Manc beat pulsing stronger, as the carriages filled with fans at each station.
‘I saw them in 1988, mate. I went to the Hacienda when I was 12. Balls you did. I ran Salford when it was proper rough. Can they actually play instruments? Will Shaun remember the words?’
Armies of late twenty-something Leeds professionals bigging up their rave years, and post-Madchester virgins like me who were just starting secondary school after the 1989 summer of love, banged out acid house piano on the Formica tables: ‘der-der-der-duh-der-der-der-duh.’
Manchester Evening News Arena felt like one great club night rather than a gig. The Mondays’ rhythm section drove hard in the groove, never letting the tempo drop. EP versions and 12-inch remixes by Paul Oakenfold, Andrew Weatherall and Steve Lillywhite dominated the band’s set – the best representations of the Mondays’ music.
At the centre of the stage, Shaun recited and riffed on his own lyrics, remixing himself in a world of his own wordplay.
Bez cheerleaded the masses, gurning and grinning, bouncing like a daft older brother who can’t believe his luck at being the centre of a great party.
Rowetta whipped the crowd up, keeping us dancing, spiralling us ever higher amid the blissed-out beats. Her vocal solo in Angel was incredible. (It’s up there with Merry Clayton on the Stones’ Gimme Shelter.)
By WFL, Kinky Afro and Step On, the Arena was a sea of dancing Zebedees from the hall floor to the back rows of the stands. No one was still. Everyone was in it together, joined in the groove – all hoping against hope that the Mondays could defy their chaotic reputation, play the gig out, and keep the crowd flying to the very end. And they did. Hallelujah, they double double did.
This feature was written for Gig of My Life, a fanzine produced in response to the suicide bomb attack at Manchester Arena in May 2017. It features contributions from fans, music writers and musicians. Sale proceeds go to the National Foundation for Youth Music, a national charity investing in music-making projects for children and young people experiencing challenging circumstances, and the Red Cross We Love Manchester fund.