BEZ HAPPY MONDAYS – EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWOctober 26, 2018
An iconic dancer, in an iconic band, from an iconic city, Bez, the original bad boy of one of Madchesters musical hierarchy the infamous Happy Mondays, heres his story first hand!
Iconic Underground: What was going through your mind the first time you jumped on stage with the ‘Happy Mondays?
Bez: The band were supporting New Order in the Hacienda and I was actually tripping at the time (laughs). I had no intention of actually going on stage, it was Shaun Ryder who actually made me go up because he was so off his head and I just grabbed the set of maracas and started to do that mad dance. It just happened automatically, I didn’t think about it.
The next day some lass said it was really nice that they let that special needs kid up on the stage last night, but it was just me off me nut shaking me maracas (laughs).
Tony Wilson, the Factory Records boss, actually suggested that I joined the band because he enjoyed what I did so and that night I became part of the Happy Mondays (laughs).
IU: The freaky dance that you do became totally iconic. How did that come about?
B: It was actually when I was a rude boy and how I tried to dance to reggae. It’s actually a really bad copy of rude boy dancing cos I couldn’t actually do it (laughs). Funny thing is not long after then I went off travelling abroad. On the way I was actually dreaming of people doing this mad dance of mine in front of me but it ended up that everywhere I went people were doing that mad dance so that dream came true!
IU: Tell us about the early days around the time of the Squirrel and the G-man album?
B: That’s actually really another funny experience man.
When we were in the studio recording that album we were all off our nuts as usual back then and the producer was sat there looking at us holding his hands out going ‘’what the fuck is this then?’.
He couldn’t believe that we didn’t understand the basic principles of music to keep it in 3,4,3 time. We used to start up slow, get a little bit faster, then slow again and then speed it up towards the end. The beat was always changing and he actually couldn’t believe that we didn’t know the basics!
That’s one of my biggest memories of actually doing that album. It was a mate in a pub who gave us the idea for the name of the album. Because we were all speeding off our nuts off he was taking the piss out of us saying Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)
IU: (Laughs) We heard you lot brought in the first pills into the Hacienda. Is that true?
B: That’s not an urban myth, it’s fucking true and we were actually some of the first people in the country to have pills.
Friends of ours had gone to Ibiza the year before in ‘85 or summat and brought them back. We never looked back and the funny thing was again I’d been thinking/dreaming about a drug that could keep me going and dancing to music all night so my dream came true then again! (Laughs)
I used to get loads and hand em out to people in the Hacienda. I gave so many people their first, you wouldn’t fucking believe it. In the early days as well
I had that much money it was falling out me pockets. I couldn’t get any more into them
so Tony used to put it behind the bar for me (laughs). Before the pills took off in the Hacienda the place had been going through a really bad time and then when the dance scene kicked off it changed the fortunes of the place. I think we’d something to do with that as well, but then the success also brought misfortune when the gangs got involved!
IU: It was a really mental time back then?
B: At that time it just seemed normal to us but yeah, it was mental looking back. Some of the stories that can be told about it are unbelievable. I remember one time I was in there with me pal walking into the toilet and this kid pulled out a flick knife. My mate’s reacted so fast, grabbed the knife out of his hand and just stuck it in the kids bag of coke and shoved it under his nose and the kid’s just sniffed it up. That was just that sort of situation that was going down in there (laughs).
They even tried carrying me out of the club one night as well but I was that covered in sweat from dancing I was wriggling like a wet fish and the bouncers couldn’t keep a hold of me I was able to fuck off back into the club (laughs). They were always giving me thick ears as well, I’d be wobbling for a week.
IU: Crazy times man, was it all just the Hacienda or did you hit up other clubs?
B: Yeah we did but
when the Hacienda did come along it was like a dream come true. You could actually just do whatever you wanted in there cos there was no dress code. You dressed how you wanted, we smoked weed in there, the DJs were brilliant, the bands were brilliant and it was like you died and gone to fucking heaven you know I mean?
IU: (Laughs) Sounds like it man. What other music were you listening to at that time apart from dance music and your own?
B: It was such a great era there was so much different music about. I was really fortunate cos I was in the Northern Soul area we had Punk and Ska as well. Me mates were into Led Zeppelin and all that American psychedelic shit.
There was such an array of different styles growing up we were really lucky.
It was unbelievable the amount of music that we used to listen to it was a great time to grow up with so many different influences.
So I listened to everything man and every time you went round your pals house we would listen to the latest new music and get stoned,
it was a journey of musical discovery for me in my teenage years. It was incredible.
IU: So is that part of the secret then for Manchester producing so many good bands or was it something else?
B: Well yeah there was that but the weather did have a lot to do with it! Because it was always bloody raining people were forced indoors so we had to do summat and come up with some other ways of entertaining ourselves.
IU: Do you remember much about playing on Top of the Pops in 1989 on the same night as The Stone Roses?
B: To be honest I don’t remember much about it at all but it was the start of the Manchester takeover, and we knew the Roses before then anyway. Loads of bands had come before us as well like the The Smith’s, New Order 10cc even the Bee Gees, you know what I mean. We were just really keeping up the legacy that’s actually still going today and is great to be still be doing what we were doing. We were part of a cult movement and it’s nice when the kids come up today and ask us about those days. I’m really thankful for it because it allowed me to live the lifestyle that I’ve lived by being in a band.
IU: And you’ve still got the respect after 30 years!
B: Yeah I’m just happy to have been a part of it and part of that time in Manchester. It was a really important time. You need a bit of luck and right place at the right time and we got the two together it came perfectly.
IU: You all went on tour to the States with the Jam MCs and the Stereo MCs supporting, do you remember any of that?
B: Bloody hell, I can’t really remember much of that as well (laughs) just bits and bobs. We were in a bit of a state at the time we were high-flying living the lifestyle to the fullest what happens on tour and all that (laughs).
IU: Pills and Thrills was massive at the time and you were one of the biggest, most in-demand bands. How did you manage the fame and success?
B: As I always say regarding the fame game, you make your bed in it and you lie in it. That’s my attitude towards it, I never get upset about being recognised because that’s what I’ve chosen to do and you can’t be moaning about it. It comes with the territory.
What you set out to do is to become a successful band
and obviously that’s part of the gig so you can’t be crying about it.
IU: So Tony Wilson and the whole Factory Records experience you lived, was he a mentor for you?
B: I always have fond memories of Tony. He was a true gentleman and an old-fashioned socialist. He died poor because he didn’t have any contracts with the bands that he made successful! He was also really supportive to me afterwards. I wrote a book after we split up from the Mondays and he came on my book tour to support me. He was a good friend and a gentlemen. I used to laugh at him a lot as well about his old-fashioned social issues but you know what it turns out that he was right about everything, spot on his view of life and I actually agree with that now.
IU: He was an integral part of your adult life anyway?
B: If it wasn’t for Tony we won’t be where we were or are today. He was a great influence honest and a huge part of Manchester’s music culture. A lot of it wouldn’t have gone on if it wasn’t for Tony Wilson. He was a one-off you don’t get many of him running about anymore that’s for sure.
IU: So how mental were the infamous Yes Please sessions in Barbados then?
B: Some of the urban myths don’t even come close to actually describing what happened over there. Yeah it was a pretty crazy time
At the same time, I’ll never regret that we lived life to the fullest and lived that rock and roll lifestyle. That album I really like, but a lot of people were disappointed cos we’d moved into this new style of production from Steve Osborne and Paul Oakenfold on Pills n Thrills. Maybe in hindsight we should maybe done another one like that but what Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads) produced over there is really, really good. I honestly think it’s a brilliant album and an underrated album. A lot of people thought it was like a backwards step in production Style, I don’t agree with that.
IU: Was the backlash hard back in the UK?
B: No not really because we’ve always had a lot of backlash with everything that we’ve ever done. We’ve always struggled in our lives so it was just another struggle. Like I said we are hardened to it anyway and out of all that eventually came the next band, Black Grape. That album Yes Please was a stepping stone because that was the first time that Kermit sang with Shaun.
IU: Were you expecting to be part of Black Grape?
B: After the Mondays split we dusted ourselves down and recovered cos me and Shaun have always been good mates and stood together. We tried to stop the band splitting but there was lots of things going on at the time. Drug problems, money problems, poor management decisions. It was a catalogue of disasters actually, you live and learn from it don’t you? We could write a book on how not run a band! (Laughs)
IU: How’s the recent 30th-anniversary tour with the Happy Mondays gone down?
B: We’ve not done a big tour in a long time so it’s been great to be on the road again. I really enjoyed it, but don’t know if I can call it freaky dancing anymore, it’s more like creaky dancing now! (Laughs) I’d done both my knees in at the end of the 27 days because I’ve gone from no exercising to dancing my socks off so my knees have taken a bit of a hammering but it was brilliant anyway.
IU: So is there a much of a difference from the touring back in the days to where you’re at now?
B: The band are actually at the best they’ve ever been. Shaun is singing the best he’s ever sang, the band are playing brilliant together. Watching the Mondays now is better than what it would have been back in the day!
IU: What you listening to now these days?
B: I’ve actually got two really powerful forces in my house, my girlfriend who is in a metal band and my son who is a DJ producing techno and house you know I mean, so I’m always listening to their stuff.
IU: Do you have any good memories of any gigs that you played in Ireland
B: I’ve always had great times in Ireland. I love the Irish and love the hospitality. I remember I played a DJ gig on the west coast with (TV presenter) Terry Christian and it was as far westerly as you could possibly go in Ireland! The people that we were there with made me stay all weekend and miss me flight (laughs). They made me stay till the Monday.
Anyway one of the nights I was walking back to the house I was staying in along these cliffs and passed all these houses that had the doors open and I couldn’t remember which house it was so I had to keep popping my head in the doors and looking and going ‘’no that’s not right’’. Then I go to the next house and it’s the same! I couldn’t believe it every fuckers door was open!
In the end one house had a nurse getting ready for work so I tapped on the window and she saw me and knew exactly who I was
and where I was staying! Yeah it was a proper mad weekend ya know (laughs).
IU: Nice one Bez, it’s been a total pleasure mate.
B: Nice one, Mike & Tony