In a year that has seen ‘Madchester’ re-born, the energy of a landmark period exploded once again at Manchester Arena. After a nineteen year exodus the original line-up of ‘The Happy Mondays’ took to the stage for their homecoming gig, a gig anticipated by thousands. Supported by another re-formed local band, ‘The Inspiral Carpets’, Manchester was in for a real treat and a celebrated trip down nostalgia lane to once again have our melons twisted and freaky dance our way into the night.
The Inspiral Carpets’ were received exceptionally well with cries of ‘Boon Army’ from the warm Mancunian crowd in appreciation of the keyboard player who has gone on to further fame through DJing. After several years away from the limelight, nerves could’ve been an issue for a band suddenly thrust into playing arenas, but lest not forgot that this is a band from the ‘Madchester’ era where nerves are squashed through a charming down to earth wit that graces its roots. Playing a selection of tracks including ‘Joe’ and ‘Directing Traffic’ they played a selection of their greatest hits, none better received than the anthemic ‘This is How it Feels’ a song gone down in folklore that’s crept its way onto the football terraces, albeit with slightly more insulting lyrics. The lull in ‘The Mondays’’ arrival was filled by the DJ playing all the old and new classics to keep the crowd warm and whet the appetite for the main event.
The charismatic Bez swaggers onto the stage to announce the band, livening up the crowd with shouts of “Manchester”, “Salford” and “0161”. All the band filter on to euphoric cheers which grows louder when Shaun Ryder arrives last after a brief intro of first track, ‘Loose Fit’. He’s looking cool in a black leather jacket and shades, ditching the baggy attire accustomed with the height of their fame. The arena glides effortlessly as the tune that befits the baggy era of the early 90s is in full flow. Fans favourite ‘Kinky Afro’ is next and the crowd go wild as Bez reappears with maracas for a dose of freaky dancin’, a dance that inspired a generation, coveted up and down the country, the war dance of Manchester’s music scene.
The band settle in well, Paul Ryder on bass, Mark Day on guitar, Gaz Whelan on drums, Paul Davis on all provide the warped acid house backing to heighten the creative twisted words from Ryder. Rowetta, the undisputed Queen of Manchester is looking fabulous and her powerful wails and backing vocals provide the added stigma, offering a haunting Aretha Franklin style liberation to the soul of the set. Ryder is also in fine singing and compere form, sharing meanings behind songs, cheekily thanking Greater Manchester Police and Customs & Excise for the words and inspiration in certain ones, as well as goading the other band members with tongue in cheek mini interviews and light ribbing, all part of the banter expected from such a light-hearted band.
’24 Hour Party People’ and ‘Hallelujah’ brings an eruption, the latter being an anthem of biblical proportions. For the briefest of moments it felt like we’d all transcended back to The Hacienda and the energy of characters now past, pivotal to its memory celebrated with us. The set ends on widely recognised, ‘Step On’, where Bez returns for one last barrage of freaky dancin’, mimicked by the mesmerised audience. Cries of an encore follow where they return for ‘Jellybean’ and ‘WFL’ before the appreciative crowd cheer them off, but in reality we could’ve gone on all night and no one would’ve minded as Manchester sent a reminder to the world that it was once the centre and benchmark for coolness.
Many question marks surrounded the reunion, whether or not they could pull it off, but with their name firmly in the hall of fame it was going to be hard to disappoint a nostalgic crowd intent on relieving a ground breaking music movement. Whether new material is made or they continue to tour in the years to come remains unknown, but on this evidence they’ll be sure to receive a hero’s reception wherever they go. With ‘Inspiral Carpets’ and ‘Happy Mondays’’ comebacks deemed successful so far, it’s now over to ‘The Stone Roses’ to complete the third act.
Denis & Lois
24 Hour Party People
Bobs Yer Uncle
Mad Cyril / Jumpin' Jack Flash
Review by Nigel Cartner - photos by Matt Johnston