Category Archives: Interview

BEZ

FOLLOWING THEIR THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY TOUR AT THE END OF LAST YEAR, MANCHESTER’S LEGENDARY HAPPY MONDAYS ARE BACK FOR SOME LIVE DATES THIS SUMMER.

In this new interview with The Mouth Magazine, shamanistic freaky dancer Mark Berry (aka Bez) talks about his more pastoral existence (“the good life” he calls it) decades on from the Madchester phenomenon. He looks back at the late 1980s / early 1990s, when ecstasy, rave, punk spirit and indie music were thrown into a cultural melting pot around Manchester’s Hacienda. Bez, who stood as a candidate in the 2015 elections, also discusses his political views..

 

YOU LIVE DOWN NEAR MONMOUTH NOW…
Yeah, Monmouth, Abergavenny. On the border round there…

I THINK THE INFAMOUS ROCKFIELD STUDIOS IS NOT TOO FAR AWAY..?
It’s not too far away, no. It’s in more or less the same sort of area. I think it’s actually closed down now, Rockfield… It no longer exists. I think that’s right. I think it’s closed, anyway…

I’M PRETTY FAMILIAR WITH MONMOUTH… THE PACE OF LIFE IS NOT EXACTLY AT MANCHESTER LEVEL… SO WHAT TOOK YOU DOWN THERE?
Well, as I’ve got older I’ve been trying to live a sustainable lifestyle. Doing a bit of The Good Life sort of thing. You don’t need much, living like that. You can get by on next to nothing. And this is a good place for it…

IT IS… IT’S A BEAUTIFUL PART OF THE COUNTRY…
Like you say, it’s absolutely beautiful down here and I absolutely love the area. It’s really stunning. I’m getting older now as well, so hanging about in city centres doesn’t have the same appeal for me as it used to… Not that I’m not partying anymore. We’ve built a bar in the garden and we have campfire parties and that – so I’m still having a good time. I just tend to do it at home these days, with friends who I want to be with, rather than going out.

YOU’RE NOT FAR FROM CARDIFF… IS THAT YOUR CITY OF CHOICE THESE DAYS IF YOU DO WANT THE CITY BUZZ?
Yeah, I’ve got friends in Cardiff. I’ve got friends all over South Wales now. Cardiff, Swansea. Cardiff’s a bit of a distance – it’s about an hour-and-a-half to two hours from where I am. It’s a really great city but it’s not quite Manchester, yeah…

WHAT WAS MANCHESTER LIKE AT THE PEAK OF THE MADCHESTER MOVEMENT?
It was good. A really good atmoshere. As kids growing up we used to dream of being involved in something like the 1960s, with the acid and the places and the bands and all that. We dreamed of having something like that in Manchester. We wanted to recreate that psychedelic time, a vibe and a scene. It was unbelievable when it happened. Through Ecstasy we managed to create our own scene along them same sort of lines. Music, drugs and good times…

I’M NOT SURE A SCENE QUITE LIKE MADCHESTER COULD HAPPEN AGAIN…
Yeah, I know what you mean. The Mondays came through at just the right time. There was a wave of independent music and that, and there was a movement there. I’d like to think something could come through again and there be a proper scene, ‘cos people probably want it, but everything’s on the internet now so it’s a different vibe to what it was. Digital has taken away the old industry, in a way. The industry’s different now, so it’d be difficult.

ECSTASY WAS A LIFE CHANGER. DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU TOOK IT?
Yeah, I do. It was great. I had a great time. As you say, it changed my life – I actually wouldn’t be here now without it. I’d started doing all the dancing with the Mondays and that, and I’d been dreaming that there should be a drug what did exactly what Ecstasy turned out to do. It was mind-blowing that Ecstasy came along when it did. So it was all about timing. It was all about the timing and a bit of luck, for me, and that’s what I got. It also meant it was two fingers up to my careers teacher who told me “drugs’ll get you nowhere”…

YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN QUITE MODEST ABOUT YOUR SUCCESS AND YOUR PLACE IN THE MONDAYS… I WONDER WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE DONE HAD ALL THIS NOT HAPPENED? 
Unfortunately, I was a scally-wag before the Mondays. In my youth I got involved a lot in petty crime and things. I don’t know quite where that would have led, ‘cos you can’t really say can you? It’s fairly difficult to say what I’d be… Plus, you do change as a person over time, don’t you?

YOU DO… I’VE ALWAYS FOUND IT INTERESTING THAT YOU’VE LED THE LIFE THAT YOU’VE LED, DONE THE THINGS YOU’VE DONE… YOU’RE A COUNTER-CULTURE ICON… AND YET YOUR DAD WAS A POLICEMAN…
Well that was part of the reason, wasn’t it? That was part of why I became who I am and led that life. He believed in discipline and he didn’t really get who I was or why I was like that. So that was part of the reason I took the path I took. I was in full ‘rebellion mode’ from an early age – from about five years old onwards. I remember always being in a rebellious mood, and I was in and out of institutions, borstal and all that.

SO, LOOKING FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF BEING SUCCESSFUL, WHAT DOES YOUR DAD THINK NOW – “GO ON THEN, LAD… FAIR ENOUGH, WELL DONE”… 
Err, yeah… He doesn’t exactly say “Well done,” but we are on talking and friendly terms now. I befriended him again, quite a few years ago. It was just part of life at the time and we get along great, now.

I TALKED WITH SHAUN [RYDER] A FEW YEARS AGO AND HE SAID HE COULDN’T REMEMBER LARGE CHUNKS OF THE HAPPY MONDAYS ‘JOURNEY’, WHICH SOMETIMES PISSES HIM OFF BUT SOMETIMES MAKES HIM LAUGH WHEN HE HEARS THINGS – OTHER PEOPLE TELL HIM THINGS HE’S DONE OR PLACES HE’S BEEN… IS IT LIKE THAT FOR YOU?
Ha ha, yeah, it can be sometimes. But I do remember all of the good stuff, and some of the bad things, you know what I mean? It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, all of it. Some of it is a bit of a blur – but the really good things I do remember.

… SO WHAT WAS THE MADDEST OR THE MOST MEMORABLE HAPPY MONDAYS SITUATION YOU’VE FOUND YOURSELF IN?
That Rock In Rio gig we done, at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro… About 200,000 people… That was one of the most memorable things. That was one of the most memorable five days the Mondays ever had! More recently was when we done the singing in the rainforest with the Embera tribe. That was a bit mad but it was really good, really special. That was one of the things what we done that’ll stick in my mind forever. There’s lots of other things as well – but they’re the two that have just come into my mind that were mad or memorable, past and present as they say…

IT’S BEEN ABOUT TWENTY YEARS SINCE THE PUBLICATION OF YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY FREAKY DANCIN’… OBVIOUSLY THAT COVERED THE FIRST 35 YEARS OF YOUR LIFE, OR SO – ALL THE INTERESTING TIMES UP TO THEN, WITH THE MONDAYS AND WHATEVER ELSE… BUT I’D SAY YOUR LIFE SINCE THEN HAS BEEN EQUALLY INTERESTING – IF NOT MORE SO, ACTUALLY… COPING WITH FAME AND NOTORIETY, THE TV WORK, THE POLITICS, THE SUSTAINABLE LIVING… ANY CHANCE OF ANOTHER BOOK COVERING THAT STUFF?
Ha ha… Nobody’s asked me to do it! The reason why I actually done the first one was, back then when the Mondays split up I was desperate for ways of making money. So the book was one of my ideas for that – but it was such a bloody painful process writing that thing, I tell ya… ha ha. So I don’t actually know, to be honest. If somebody asked me to do it I might consider it. But I’m not actually planning to put pen to paper at any moment now…

… SO FOR NOW IT’S THE SUSTAINABLE LIVING AND THE DJING AND THE OCCASIONAL LIVE GIG OR TOUR…
Yeah. What I’ve learned in this life, though, is that you can never say never. Anything can happen. I just live one day at a time. I just see what comes up from day to day. I’m not one for planning for the future. I’m more about living for the moment, living in the moment. It’s a bit like dancing on the edge, ha ha ha ha…

I LAST SAW YOU ON STAGE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO AT THE HACIENDA CLASSICAL THING, IN LEEDS…
Yeah, I love that. I’m still doing the classical thing. There’s quite a few classical gigs going on again this year.

IT WAS AMAZING THE EFFECT YOU HAD ON THE AUDIENCE. WHEN YOU CAME OUT ONSTAGE IT FELT LIKE THE WHOLE PLACE LIFTED. THE MOOD JUST WENT UP AND UP… WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
That’s a good question, mate. You know what? I have actually spent time thinking about that, ‘cos I’m a bit puzzled and I’ve never quite worked out why. I used to ponder it a lot. I’ve actually not got any talent, any musical talent, or anything like that. I don’t feel like I’m anything special at all – I’m lucky to be in this position. You know as young kids growing up you look at guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and all people like that? Not everybody could do them things. Everybody wants to be able to, but not many can. So I think that’s where my popularity came from – people look at me and they all know they could probably do the job. That’s the only thing I can think of, about where the popularity arose, you know what I mean?

SO, LIKE THE OLD PUNK THING… “I COULD DO THAT”…
Yeah, exactly. When I go out on stage everyone looks at me and thinks “I could do that”. It’s a bit of a strange phenomenon and, like I say, I have really given it some thought over the years – and that’s the best answer I can come up with for it.

THAT – AND THE FACT THAT YOU ARE QUITE A MOVER…
Ha ha… Well I’m not even that good, really, am I? That’s the funny thing about it. I just move about and make a bit of a cunt of myself. What I lack in skill I make up for in enthusiasm though, ha ha…

WHEN I CHATTED WITH ROWETTA LAST YEAR SHE SAID WHEN THE MONDAYS ARE OUT ON TOUR THESE DAYS, YOU’RE ALL CHILLED OUT, HAPPY TO BE ALIVE, SAVOURING THE MOMENT… I GUESS TOTAL CHAOS IS LONG BEHIND YOU?
It’s more that we save it for special occasions now, rather than a daily occurrence, ha ha…

SO THERE WAS PROBABLY SOMETHING FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO..?
Ha ha! There was, yeah. I went down to London and celebrated my birthday with a few friends there, yeah… which I really enjoyed.

YOU TURNED FIFTY-FOUR…
Fifty-four and still wanting more, as they say…

… SO WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR KICKS THESE DAYS? HOW DO YOU KEEP YOURSELF ENTERTAINED?
I do this sustainable living, what keeps me busy during the day, and I do the DJing at weekends a lot. Me life hasn’t changed that much, really, apart from I’ve got more knowledge now…

… WISDOM…
Yeah. I’ve changed my diet. I have juice every day and I do other things every day, make sure I get the right nutrients in my body and that. I make some of the old medicines every day, too. Like this year we’ve had that flu epidemic, but I’ve not had so much as a sniffle. That’s ‘cos I kind of know what to do, what things to put into my body on a daily basis, to prevent myself from getting ill.

YOU’RE ALSO A BEE-KEEPER, AND YOU BREW BEER…
Yeah, the bees… That’s a really enjoyable thing to do, it’s calming. And we do ‘hedgerow booze’, as I call it. We do brews from the hedgerow, all sorts of brews from the hedgerow. We’ve just done some really nice cider what’s got a bit of yarrow in it. Yarrow is this healing herb and it’s very highly intoxicating… We do honey beer, which is really good, and at the moment we’ve got this elderflower wine that’s about 20% proof, which is really nice as well…

… AND THERE’S POLITICS, TOO. YOU STOOD AS A CANDIDATE IN SALFORD, IN THE 2015 ELECTION. WHERE’S YOUR HEAD AT THREE YEARS ON WITH POLITICS?
I don’t think I’ll ever stand as a candidate for election in politics again, ‘cos when I did last time I discovered the meaning of ‘a petty tyrant’. I had a party full of ’em, ha ha… What I realised is that how you get anyone to agree to anything is near impossible, you know what I mean? The proudest thing what I think we achieved is that we kept Farage out with UKIP, our campaign what we did in the Ramsgate area…

THERE’S BEEN THE RISE OF UKIP AND OTHER ALTERNATIVE PARTIES, BUT WE STILL HAVE TWO PARTY POLITICS IN THE UK, ESSENTIALLY…
Yeah, that’s right. We have two party politics here, yeah. Corbyn’s the better choice, but the parties just play the blame game with each other and I’m not fooled by any of it. But Corbyn’s by far a better candidate for me than May. Look at the Daily Mail, or the Daily Fail as I call it… They give him such a hard time in that paper, it’s funny really.

YOU ACTUALLY STOOD AS AN ANARCHIST…
Yeah, I stood as an anarchist. Some people don’t really realise what anarchy means. Anarchy means that you want freedom from the state and freedom from corporations. And freedom from all the Abrahamic religions – so any religions to do with the ‘fallen angels’. They just cause nothing but trouble in our lives, they’re everything it’s been about. We need to break free from, like, 40,000 years of history and the control these people have had over us. How we’re going to do it I just don’t know – ‘cos the social engineering’s that deep and ingrained so far into our everyday lives that it’s gonna be a really hard thing to break. We need a different mindset. A libertarian lifestyle. I’ve got a… not hatred… but huge dislike for the powers that be. So, yeah, in that election I stood as an anarchist. It used to upset people when I’d tell ’em I wasn’t a commie, you know what I mean? I stood for the main reason being fracking, really.

THEY WANTED TO FRACK IN SALFORD…
Yeah, they was gonna be fracking in Salford – three miles away from the city centre! I didn’t know anything about fracking so I looked into it and when I found out about it I thought “This is fucking insane, what are we doing?” – so I decided to stand for election. What makes me laugh is, we’ve recently gone bombing Syria for a chemical attack on the people – and for me that’s exactly what fracking here is. Fracking’s not safe. The safety of people don’t come into question – it’s about profit. That’s all they care about. When is a chemical attack on your people deemed to be alright? When it’s a huge corporation that’s doing it and when the powers that be let them…

THE GOVERNMENT AND BIG BUSINESS ARE NOT REALLY AS INDEPENDENT AS THEY SHOULD BE…
They’re not. I think it’s a joke. It’s a bloody joke. They’re all double-agents, they’re all in each other’s pockets. They’re all working towards the same aim, which is war – ‘cos there’s money in war… The people are poor but we can afford to spend billions on these illegal wars what we’re engaging in, can we? I’m all for defending our shores if we need to, but what are we doing going bombing foreign countries? Going in and forcing these ‘regime changes’ in countries in the Middle East, to suit ourselves. It’s unbelievable. They’re all war criminals. It’s a crime against humanity, you know what I mean?

YOUR VIEWS ARE VERY VERY STRONG, BEZ… 
Yeah. They are. And I’ll always be dead against the fracking issue. I think it’s absolutely insane. Fracking’d destroy all of our agricultural land, all of our water, all of our aquifers. It’s gonna destroy our country, and for what? Twenty years of gas..? These big companies, the gas wouldn’t even be for consumption – it’d be to power their own power stations and things like that, for making more poisonous chemicals. So they sell fracking by talking about it creating jobs for people – it doesn’t create any jobs. We should be looking at renewable and green energy. We should be looking at ways of expanding that, and that would also create millions of jobs for the country at the same time.

ALTHOUGH YOU’VE STEPPED AWAY FROM POLITICS AND YOU SAY YOU WOULDN’T STAND AGAIN, IT SOUNDS TO ME LIKE YOU MAY HAVE THE MOTIVATION TO STEP BACK IN…
No, no. Like I said a minute ago I don’t think I’ll ever stand as a candidate again, even though I feel the way that I feel. I do think the government has got its priorities really wrong. This country’s run down to fuck, you know what I mean? We’ve got no workable NHS, and everything’s being dismantled or is falling to pieces. How the powers that be get away with it, I don’t know… Well, I do know… We just stand aside and let ’em do it…

 

Happy Mondays play DONCASTER RACECOURSE on Saturday 19th May (tickets here) and ZEBEDEE’S YARD, HULL on Friday 24th August (with guests Peter Hook & The Light, tickets here)