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Happy Mondays Party Hard with Stereo MCs and Inspiral Carpets at Liverpool’s Mountford Hall [Show Review]

Happy Mondays, with help from Inspiral Carpets and Stereo MCs, held a massive indie party in Liverpool. Del Pike joined in the fun…



Happy Mondays
Happy Mondays, press photo

There is a moment towards the end of Michael Winterbottom’s film 24 Hour Party People (The Steve Coogan starring story of Factory Records) that makes us realise just how powerful Happy Mondays were back in those Baggy, Madchester days of the late 80s / early 90s. It’s an arial shot of Manchester at night, a glimmering landscape of multi-coloured lights disguising the culture of drugs and gun crime lurking below.

Happy Mondays’ “Hallelujah (Club Mix)” pounds on the soundtrack with the euphoria of that opening wail and the trademark lazy beat kicking in. The acid-soaked technicolour of Happy Mondays didn’t so much hide the sordid backdrop of the era as highlighted it. In retrospect, it seems short-lived, but for a limited time, the Central Station produced poster designs that appeared to cover every spare wall from Manchester to Liverpool to London and beyond and sold a million tee shirts in the process. The music was good, too.

Happy Mondays are still partying hard, and despite the cleaner living they still know how to enjoy themselves. Shaun Ryder and Bez have become the friendly faces of the ’90s music scene now, appearing on game shows, reality shows, and Bez’s Covid-era keep fit webcasts. They even hosted their own web-based tea and cakes chat show, Call the Cops (Still available on YouTube and essential viewing). When I interviewed Bez in 2019, he described Shaun and himself as “An old married couple,” it remains pretty accurate.

Their latest venture resembles an old-style revue show, bringing a few old mates along for the ride, which makes for a nostalgic and ecstatic evening.

First up are Stereo MCs, who, despite their short set of just over 30 mins, managed to fire up the audience with their timeless party anthems, “Ground Level,” “Creation,” “Step it Up,” and the one we all crave tonight “Connected.” I would never have considered myself a Stereo MCs fan per se, but these tunes threw me right back to my Uni years in the nightclubs, student bars and kebab shops of Bolton, and for just half an hour, I felt 30 years younger. An excellent starter for tonight’s party.

Next up are Inspiral Carpets. This is a band who somehow never quite had the status of Happy Mondays or The Stone Roses, but alongside The Charlatans and James helped to complete that rich era of massively popular Manc-Indie. During their hit-making years Tom Hingley fronted the band but he left in 2011, now original 80s vocalist Stephen Holt is back on the mic and in my humble opinion is the true voice of the Inspirals.

A grey-haired Clint Boon still remains an absolute icon of swirling keys and MCs, and Graham Lambert anchors the sound as ever with solid guitar lines.

It’s a Greatest Hits set as expected, starting with “Joe,” a massive hit for the band in 1990. This is one of seven songs from their Life album out of the eleven played tonight, a reminder of how great that record was. “Butterfly,” “Weakness,” and “Two Worlds Collide” are all solid choices, but it is the late Mark E Smith’s (The Fall) sampled vocals at the start of “I Want You” that offer the first true high in the set tonight. And what a song, a sheer wall of sound.

After “Commercial Rain,” a run of absolute crowdpleasers rounds up the session. “She Comes in the Fall” has the hairs on my back tingling and the whole room is singing, and “This is How it Feels” almost blows the roof off. Hingley’s voice always grated for me on that single; I always thought he sounded too much like a pub singer, so Holt’s voice is a welcome addition to tonight’s outing of the song. I couldn’t help thinking of the single sleeve tonight, a photograph of the crown of Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral taken from the altar in all its colourful glory, not 100 yards from where we are standing tonight.

“Find Out Why” is a bonus that wasn’t on the planned setlist tonight, and the finale of “Dragging me Down” and “Saturn 5” do very little to disappoint. Inspiral Carpets are easily as entertaining as Happy Mondays tonight and it’s a shame that their set is limited to 45 minutes but in fairness we are being spoilt tonight.

Ears are ringing by the time Shaun, Bez and Rowetta take centre stage so the whole of the Mondays’ set sounds somewhat muffled, but that kind of adds to the ramshackle nature that has been the watermark for the band for so long. Sadly though it does mean that its difficult to make out what they are bantering about between songs.

Starting with an obvious but welcome “Kinky Afro”, the song that along with “Step On” rocketed the band to stardom from their indie roots, the room is jumping. As expected, there is a rogue element in the crowd tonight who are looking for a fight but the security at Mountford Hall were excellent in diffusing the aggression of those who the audience pointed out, without needing to remove them.

“God’s Cop”, “Donovan”, “Dennis and Lois” and “Loose Fit”, all from 1990’s Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches album provide a solid sequence to get everyone in the Mondays’ Mood. Shaun stands stock-still in shades and baseball jacket while Bez does his thing with the maracas that have made him a legend without singing a word or playing a chord. Genius or lucky – you decide. Looking at those two alongside vocalist Rowetta, you can only imagine what those six eyes have witnessed over the years; probably best to leave it there.

“Performance” from 1988’s Bummed is dedicated to Gaz Whelan tonight, who still mans the drums, and Mark Day is still present on guitar, but sadly the absence of Paul Ryder, who died in 2022, is noticeable, and the band lacks some swagger since his passing.

“Mad Cyril” also from Bummed is a banger and the band delve even deeper to 1987’s Squirrel and G-Man… album for “Tart Tart”, a song that Shaun admits, they “couldn’t play then, still can’t play now so why fucking bother”. (Or something along those lines).

“Rave On” and “Hallelujah,” more than any songs tonight, encapsulate the rave culture that raised The Hacienda Club to dizzying Heights but also brought it crashing down.

“24 Hour Party People” sounds as cool as ever, and Shaun takes time to namecheck Velvet Underground’s John Cale, who produced the track nearly 40 years ago. Give it a spin today and that production is still breath-taking. I always find his involvement fascinating in the Mondays’ story as much as Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz’s involvement in the production of 1992’s ill-fated Yes Please! album, unsurprisingly, is not represented tonight.

“Step On” is Bez’s signature and allows him to play out those iconic moves that made the music video so memorable, and it’s at this point that his maracas sail through the air into the hands of two lucky audience members. An encore of “Wrote for Luck” finishes a perfect set, and Shaun and Bez shuffle off for cocoa or whatever it is that pleases them these days.

Happy Mondays may not be vital anymore, but nights like this remind us that just like Elvis, The Beatles and The Sex Pistols, music was never quite the same since they Twisted Our Melons in the ’90s, and any night as enjoyable as this must be a good thing.

Del Pike is a University lecturer in Film and Media in Liverpool (UK). He writes film, music, art, literature and culture articles and reviews for a number of websites. Del loves nothing more than snuggling down in a dark cinema, getting sweaty at  a live gig or drifting off late at night to a good book. He loves cats. He enjoys promoting new talent online so please say hi if you have something to show.