The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: Happy Mondays in The Altered States of America
On the eve of releasing the notorious Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches album, Manchester's drugged-up Happy Mondays invaded the USA and created mayhem. Betty Page tagged along to file this report for Vox magazine in October 1990——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
"Get that thing off, man... get that dangerous f***ing motherf***ing thing off!"
Shaun Ryder has just had the tip of my sleek black Olympus microcassette machine thrust into his unsuspecting face. But this face can smile, because he knows it's all his fault. The day before he had been in the bar of the Ommi Park Central hotel in New York showing off the very same toy to me — a deadly miniature bugging device ideal for the clandestine Watergate-style taping of interesting conversations.
For Happy Mondays' frontman and voice has been up to some serious mischief, having managed to record for posterity an entire "bedroom situation" experienced by one of the Mondays' entourage. The victim remains nameless, but as a piece of aural entertainment, Shaun has it rated as "double mega", due to the fact that prior to the achievement of any result, 40 minutes of "bullshit" had been endured by the female party in question.
Shaun never has minded a little sneaky behaviour. "Sneaky thieving" has often been on the Mondays' agenda, but that's now largely a thing of the past.
The Mondays' shoplifting exploits have been well documented, but now that they've earned themselves a bit of cash, they want to spend it. And America provides them with excellent opportunities for conspicuous consumption; Shaun is dead happy that he's just blown a grand on some Armani gear, Bez has been showing off an expensive new Tag watch he bought in Chicago. Let it be said that the Mondays are not the scruffy, spotty, greasy yobs of yore. Nowadays they're smart lads in more ways than one, and they've come to take on the United States; where there's a wad, there's a way.
In the summer of 1990, Happy Mondays are visiting the Big Apple for the third time, their previous forays now being the stuff of legend.
The first came three years ago for three brief but action-packed days. The scruffed-up Salford lads would've done anything to get to New York for the first time, and they thought they knew it all. They arrived on holiday visas, and hired equipment when they arrived on the advice of Factory Records' boss Tony Wilson, who duly booked them into that notorious Bohemian hang-out the Chelsea Hotel (infamous for being the place Sid Vicious allegedly killed Nancy Spungen) in the hope that some kind of scam could be pulled.
They played at the Limelight club, the gig was dreadful, the gear was rubbish, so they duly trashed it after the show. Then, deciding to ignore the fact that drinking alcohol on the street is illegal here, the band ended up having arguments with the police because they didn't see why they couldn't drink their beer like they did at home.
They were young, brash, brattish, looked cheap and behaved even cheaper. Shaun remembers now that "we even had Gazelle trainers on. Wouldn't be seen dead in them now."
Visit number two happened last summer, when the band toured with the Pixies, one of a select few quality bands on independent labels (also including the Sugarcubes) that had been picked up by Elektra Records in America to form a neat package to take full advantage of the US college radio and club circuit.