Book Reviews

Happy Mondays: Excess All Areas (Aurum Press)

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Happy Mondays: Excess All Areas
Simon Spence
Aurum Press

Factory Records’ legendary leader Anthony Wilson lived by John Ford’s famous statement, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” A man who wasn’t afraid of hyperbole, overstatement, and often outright fibs, Wilson’s persona was such that he was often more popular than many of the bands on his label. Since his word was not always congruent with accuracy, it made for compelling reenactment, making the film 24 Hour Party People enjoyable, especially his hyping of Happy Mondays and its charismatic leader, Shaun Ryder. One would think nobody in the world but him appreciated their genius, misunderstood lads with a leader who wrote lyrics on a par with Yeats, but the historical record speaks for itself. 

Even though there are aspects of Wilson’s version of the Happy Mondays story are creatively incorrect, their antics surely made up for the half-truths. Simon Spence’s Happy Mondays: Excess All Areas, takes on the job of separating fact from fiction. The core of the misconception lay in the background of the Ryder brothers—more middle-class than working class, with more of a musical background than one was led to believe, with Shaun Ryder being much more intelligent than the loutish hedonist he is often portrayed.

And yet…the wild party animal reputation wasn’t a myth. The group’s enjoyment of the pleasures of a good time were legendary, and even though they might be loaded out of their heads, the music never suffered for it—if anything, the chemical assistance often enhanced their performances…at least for a little while. The Mondays would self-destruct right at the point where they should have been making their best music to date; the international success of the aptly titled 1990 album Pills n Thrills And Bellyaches would prove their undoing, especially considering the insanity that went into making follow-up Yes Please. They would split, and Ryder would clean up his act, returning with the excellent Black Grape, whose debut album, It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah!, would pick up the Happy Mondays’ cross, until various reunions and one-off releases would take place, leading up to a superb comeback album in 2007.

For a generation, Happy Mondays soundtracked excess and hedonism. They talked the talk and walked the walk, and though at the time it cost them dearly, they happily recovered and now have the respect they deserved. At times Happy Mondays: Excess All Areas is a hard read, because you know that Ryder and Bez deserved better, as the Happy Mondays were, ultimately, the brilliant madcap geniuses Tony Wilson believed them to be. 

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