1990 – Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches – Happy Mondays

1990 - Happy Mondays

Going under the name of The Holy Rollers, we managed to secure our first gig at the beginning of February at the New Lonsdale WMC in Whiston. Fran, the new music teacher at Wingfield School, had recently played the drums in the band at a school show. She wasn’t very good but an idea had come to me, one that appealed to my indie-rock mentality. The Jesus And Mary Chain and The Stray Cats both had a stand up drummer playing just a snare drum. Why couldn’t we? We’d still use the backing tracks but turn the tape machine around so no-one could see it and have Fran stand centre stage and hit a snare (she’d manage that!) Everyone would assume we’d got a live drummer. She was up for it and joined us for our last rehearsal.

The first gig was a real success. Somehow, we got a review in the Rotherham Advertiser the following week. A review by the so-called ‘Clubman’ could make or break any act, particularly a new one. Under the headline, “Local talent set to keep on rolling” he said, “Last week I saw the first performance of a new act, The Holy Rollers, a six piece group from Rotherham.” He went on to say, “These performers were deeply engrossed in the sheer enjoyment of the project of performing,” and, “if they continue like this they will be around for years to come.” He finished by describing the, “terrific ovation” and the “three encores.” We’d made it! Bookings came flooding in from then on and we even played some of the bigger clubs at the time, clubs like Greasbrough and Silverwood WMC. We had other reviews too, saying how we’d “captured the imagination of the club going public.” We just loved playing every week, even the longer journeys to clubs further afield. On these occasions, we’d usually stop at the motorway services on the way back and watch all life passing before our eyes. We’d see other bands having a drink, wedding parties, young lovers and old married couples. Justin usually had a coke and spent the rest of the journey home with the empty coke cup in his mouth shouting, “Get out of bed, it’s time for breakfast!” out of the window. No particular reason, he was simply full of nervous energy.

It was on one of these evenings that he and I hatched our latest plan. After a few Holy Rollers gigs we decided we’d take the songs out and do some busking. York seemed like the place to go, I’d seen loads of buskers there over the years and even done a bit of street theatre. Our first attempt was in the February half term holiday when we just went in jeans and T-shirts and made about one pound fifty! On the way home we wondered why. Of course, the image game again! For our second attempt, we dressed in our stage clothes of Blues Brothers suits, white shirts, black ties, pork-pie hats and dark glasses and made an absolute killing. Justin danced and sang his heart out, I played and did backing vocals and in our first thirty minutes we’d made forty five pounds and been invited to a party by some stranger! That was it, we went pretty regularly after that. The plan was simple – play some songs, make some money, go to Jack’s Record shop and spend it all.

We had to cut down on our busking when Justin eventually got a job working at a place selling home entertainment systems, but at least he was able to get me a discount on a decent CD player. I was still buying vinyl but recognised that the new format was becoming increasingly popular. The first CD I bought was Led Zeppelin 4, not because I particularly like Led Zeppelin but because I thought I ought to have it and didn’t have the record. I’d made a vow that whilst I would embrace the new format, I wouldn’t ever duplicate the albums I’d already got on vinyl. (I’ve since broken that vow with music by The Smiths!) The next CD I bought was “Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches” by Happy Mondays. The lack of crackle was astonishing, the instruments were so clear.

Shaun Ryder’s not-quite-singing of urban rhymes comes on sounding like Lou Reed with a Salford drawl. With a lazy, baggy beat and a rock guitar, you just know they’re taking copious amounts of drugs and barely managing to stay upright enough to play. Its danceable (“Step On”), sexy (“Bob’s Yer Uncle”) and chilled (“Donovan”). For me, “Loose Fit” epitomises the whole feel of the album and pushes to the limit the baggy genre they’d tapped into on their earlier “Bummed” album that I’d bought on cassette – it’s The Stone Roses times ten and Madchester at its best. With lyrics like, “Son I’m thirty, I only went with your mother cos she’s dirty” and, “We were born to the woman whose husband did quite well” it’s got the same humour and poetry of the mundane that The Smiths had – “Manchester, so much to answer for” as Morrissey once sang. It was excellent.

Or “the dog’s bollocks” (sometimes shortened to “the dog’s” or “the bollocks”) as Jason and his mates at The Powder Room studios in Rotherham were fond of saying. Tired of getting a somewhat tinny and ‘narrow’ sound on the Tascam four track tape machine, I had decided it was time to go into a studio to do some proper recording. After looking around in the local papers I opted for the studio offering the cheapest rates. Justin and I arranged to go down to the place which was in an old warehouse on Masborough Street, just to meet the bloke who ran it and talk about what we wanted to do.

The studio was a jumble of equipment in dimly lit corners, the walls carpeted in grey. Jason himself was a bundle of restrained energy, constantly pushing his long hair behind his ears and always smiling. He languished behind the mixing desk in a battered office chair and chatted happily with us along with Steve and Spud, two other members of the rock band he sang in. We told him what we were after and he was keen to do it because it was so different from what he usually did. He’d only really recorded rock bands before so was excited about the prospect of using drum machines and samples. In the end we spent a few nights in the studio recording “The Day The Earth Stood Still” and our baggy-style dance version of an old Dave Mason song called “Give Me A Reason” into which I’d put a short rap along with a sample from a Frankie Goes To Hollywood song and one from my beloved Bonzos. They didn’t charge us for half of the time we were there, as we all just spent ages drinking tea and laughing at their band’s exploits – Jason was apparently ‘wanted’ by at least three jealous husbands in the area for getting “a bit friendly” with their wives! The lads all called us “the hip hoppers” and assumed we were regularly taking ‘E’ and going to raves. The tracks sounded fabulous on their huge studio speakers, but, playing the rough mix on a cassette in my car on the way home, we were always a bit disappointed at how flat everything sounded. I know we were all learning, including the lads in the studio, but I wanted it to sparkle and shine like the Happy Mondays CD and it never really did. Back to the drawing board.

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