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Happy Mondays, O2 Academy, Birmingham - review

By James Driver-Fisher | Music | Published:

Brandishing his now trademark bomber jacket and sunglasses, Shaun Ryder strutted out on stage – as unpunctual as ever – to applause and cheers.

The Happy Mondays play the O2 Academy in Birmingham. Pic: Chris Bowley

No one at the O2 Institute in Birmingham last night appeared bothered by the lengthy wait however, because once Ryder and the Happy Mondays began they had whole crowd dancing and clapping throughout their top set.

It’s been 30 years since the Madchester mavericks released their debut album and so, luckily for us, the band has decided to go back out on tour to play all those hits that have stood the test of time.

The band has received mixed reviews in the past with some fans accusing members of forgetting lyrics or singing out of tune. But they were all on top form last night and it was great to see Ryder and his 24-hour party childhood best mate Bez both looking so well.

Bez did his usual thing, getting the fans jumping armed with two maracas and plenty of enthusiasm, while Ryder took time out between songs to chat with the crowd and share a few jokes – he was certainly on good form.

For me, however, the star of the show was fellow singer Rowetta. Her voice was as good as ever and she really got into the swing of things from the opening track.

Grinding and dancing in between her powerful deliveries, she set the tone for what was a fantastic gig that marked three decades since Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out) – to give it its full name – was first released.

Opening with Loose Fit was the perfect way to reintroduce the legendary band to the crowd, with the fantastic, stomping drum beat, Rowetta’s stunning voice and then that clangy, chugging guitar style that epitomised the Madchester music scene, making way for Ryder to take over.

There was a lot of love in the room for entire band from the opening riff to the last, and it was great to see.

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The equally-melodic Kinky Afro soon followed with the lovely guitar picking backed up by more of that simple yet effective drum and bass, which drives the song home. It’s no wonder Bez finds it so easy to dance non-stop when the group is in full flow.

Funk then took over the audience and band as they reeled off Donavan, which is just such a beautiful, easy going tune that is impossible not to sway too. It contains more of those guitar-picked riffs, which were played discreetly over and over again in the background in time to the drums, before the tune suddenly sped up and turned into a proper rock song. Fantastic.

But a Happy Mondays gig wouldn’t be complete without some of the out-and-out classics, the ones you can put on for any music fan and they would have heard of it.

Hallelujah was one of the best songs of the evening, but not just because it’s one of the classics. What really topped it off was the brilliant intro that came before it. Ryder and co just let the music do the talking for a good five minutes until the guitar, drums and bass built up to crescendo and then that opening note signalled Hallelujah had arrived.

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And just when the crowd thought it was time to relax, they came straight back in with Cut ‘Em Loose Bruce. The fans really were ‘seeing the sunshine’ at that point on a crisp, winter evening in Brum.

The band lived and breathed the hedonistic times that marked the late 1980s and early 1990s when Manchester really became the centre of English music and, perhaps, the Happy Mondays’ 24-hour Party People track summed the era better than any other. The crowd certainly appreciated it and it was fair to say some were still trying to party as hard as they had back in the day.

There was still time for an encore too and just when it seemed time was running out, Step On – the Happy Mondays iconic song – was played to a raucous reception.

All that was left for the band to end the night in possibly the most perfect way with Wrote For Luck, but there was nothing simply lucky about this performance and it showed, as the band took further applause and cheers from their adoring fans.

The whole evening was simply a great way to kick off the up-and-coming festivities in style.

James Driver-Fisher

By James Driver-Fisher

Entertainment and food reviewer for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star

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