IT WAS THE YEAR OF NESSUN DORMA AND CHRIS WADDLE SENDING A BALL INTO ORBIT FROM A PENALTY SPOT LAUNCH-PAD IN TURIN, A MATTER OF A FEW HOURS AFTER HIS OH-SO-EIGHTIES MULLET HAD BEEN HACKED OFF. IT WAS THE YEAR OF THE POLL TAX – AND THE POLL TAX RIOTS. IT WAS THE YEAR OH-SO-EIGHTIES PRIME MINISTER MAGGIE THATCHER WAS OUSTED BY MEMBERS OF HER OWN PARTY. IT WAS THE YEAR THE UK’S FIRST ALDI AND POUNDLAND SHOPS OPENED, MR BEAN APPEARED ON TV FOR THE FIRST TIME AND MILLI VANILLI WERE EXPOSED AS MERE SMOKE AND MIRRORS. IT WAS 1990…
It was a pivotal year for music. Ecstasy was now firmly entrenched within certain creative quarters, and Manchester toughs Happy Mondays put out their third album, the zeitgeist-grappling PILLS ‘N’ THRILLS AND BELLYACHES. The year previously a Paul Oakenfold remix for single WROTE FOR LUCK had propelled this unlikeliest of bunches to what seemed to be a new beginning. Inspired – and sanctioned by the progressive imagination of Factory head Tony Wilson – Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder asked Oakenfold to helm the group’s next album (with Steve Osborne). PILLS ‘N’ THRILLS AND BELLYACHES was a peculiar hybrid of edgy white-boy-with-guitar rock and black-influenced groove. The single STEP ON was intense but spaced or, if you prefer, spaced but intense. It captured something of the few-fucks-to-give of a late ’80s / early ’90s dancefloor – the few-fucks-to-give of a late ’80s / early ’90s life – and set it right down into the vinyl. It was a huge mainstream hit (sidling up to number five in the UK) and it endures to this day. Happy Mondays eventually disintegrated amid drug chaos, financial disaster and ego clashes, though have reformed on a couple of occasions – even going so far as to release new material in 2007.
PILLS ‘N’ THRILLS AND BELLYACHES itself sits right in the middle of a trio of albums spanning two flashpoint years for British music. Each now tends to be viewed as a classic – the other pair being the self-titled 1989 debut by The Stone Roses and 1991’s SCREAMADELICA from Primal Scream. In its own way each redefined dance / rock and came up with – as Shaun Ryder puts it in TWISTING MY MELON, his brilliant autobiography – “a new kind of pop music”. New Order had been tweaking, tinkering and hammering at this particular anvil for years – arguably with far more aesthetic gravitas – but, despite their minor successes, New Order music was outsider music. The Stone Roses’ debut bridged the gap over to Happy Mondays and Primal Scream and, without question, theirs was insider music. Just how many pairs of trainers have shuffled forwards a bit and backwards a bit to these genre-defining (and in many ways life-defining) records during the last quarter century?
This Autumn the classic line-up of Happy Mondays is scheduled to tour PILLS ‘N’ THRILLS AND BELLYACHES in full for its 25th anniversary. In this new edition of The Mouthcast Shaun Ryder (now also fronting the reformed Black Grape, working on solo material and hosting his own TV show about UFOs) chats about going back out on the road, looks back at the Madchester era and gives a brief but jaw-dropping clue as to what the new – imminent – Happy Mondays song will be like…
See dates and buy tickets for Happy Mondays’ 25th anniversary tour of PILLS ‘N’ THRILLS AND BELLYACHES here
Shaun Ryder portrait by Karin Albinsson
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