Happy Mondays & Inspiral Carpets Birmingham Academy

A bit late getting to us but here’s Paul Samuels’ gig review from 12th May…. It was worth the wait.

There are a few options for reforming bands with misplaced band members. You can go the Dr Feelgood route (with no original members), recruit from your own tribute act (Judas Priest once, Yes twice) rope in family members (Yes again and Van Halen) or do what the Inspiral Carpets did.  Move the old one back in.  Original singer Stephen Holt looks pleased to be back and the band look rejuvenated. He must have remembered where they kept the kettle.

Inspiral Carpets

Inspiral Carpets

Holt sang on the first single Plane Crash ep and the first Peel session when the band were an odd, dusty garage band before the later hits like This Is How It Feels and Saturn 5

The band rattle through Joe, She Comes In The fall and Directing Traffic There’s still a lot of goodwill towards the band and for many of the audience an Inspirals/Mondays show looks like a perfect double bill.

The band are happy to oblige and bang out a set of crowd pleasers, played with the enthusiasm of band pleasers.  New/old boy Holt throws himself into the material and has bags of stage presence.  His best move is when he holds his mic hand in the air like the Statue of Liberty in a polo shirt. Bassist Martin throws his bass around like he’s baling hay with it and looks surprised to still see it there.  Actually it’s a surprise that there is anyone within a bass length of him.  It’s a health and safety issue and there should be appropriate barriers and signage.

The key to the bands sound is the wheezing, whistling Farfisa, Graham’s cement mixer guitar chug and the interplay between the Stephen and Clint’s vocals.  Unfortunately tonight you can’t hear Graham’s guitar.

You’re So Good For Me was the recent single and is a terrific song.  Not simply a return to form but one of the best things they’ve done.  Clint likes to have a chat between songs and introduces This Is How It Feels as a bit of a football anthem for both Manchester teams.  Cue camera phone activity. People do like that one.

Move is described as another classic Manchester anthem.  Languid keyboard loveliness and a huge chorus. They’ve got 2 kinds of songs (and I like them both) There’s the all on one note hammer on chug. (The Julian Cope garage band approach).  Punky and brief like Generations or Directing Traffic. Then there are the big tunes. The anthems that give an audience something to aim for that they can’t quite hit at a karaoke.  Think of the chorus to This Is How It Feels, Saturn 5 and Move.  Just tantalizingly out of the range of most of the audience….but still loved

Happy MondaysIt’s billed as the first time that the definitive Happy Mondays lineup has played together for since 1992, although Shaun Ryder has shuffled out various permutations over the years.  There was even an album Uncle Dysfunctional in 2005.  I missed that….most of the band did too probably.

Early shows on this tour were apparently under-rehearsed with a stunt double keyboard player visible behind Paul Davies and an autocue for Ryder.  By the time it gets to Birmingham it’s probably as slick as it’s ever going to be.  The set is based around Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches and Bummed.  It’s the hits and resolutely no new material.


Initial rumours were that Bez wasn’t going to be dancing on the tour, citing dodgy knees.  It transpired though that he has been onstage for a couple of songs through the tour…..given his hobbies though it is probably the safest place for him.  He introduced the band and then promptly disappeared.

The band opened with Loose Fit, a song that sounds as baggy as it’s title, and was the soundtrack and instruction manual for a generation of lollopy dancers. And they’re all here in the audience tonight.  The sounds not great though.   Both Ryder and drummer Gary Whelan are in shades, Ryder still favours a leather blouson and Rowetta is twirling tassels off the wrist like castanets.

While the early Mondays were a horrible clattery racket as chaotic as their gigs, the genius of the 3rd album was the spaces it opened up in the music.  And that’s the era that the crowd is here for.   They want to shuffle like they did 20 odd years ago.

Bez is back for the second song Kinky Afro.  After the pre tour “Will he, won’t he dance” tease I like to think that powerful, possibly unearthly (but probably chemical) forces are at work.  Did inaudible maracas come flying straight to Bez’s outstretched hands like Thor’s hammer?  Either way he’s up and gurning and doing his twisty dance like it was 1989 and he was singlehandedly creating a drug shortage.

Ryder likes a chat after each song, wandering up to brother Paul  “All right our kid”, as if to prove the Ryder brothers are back on speaking terms.  Songs are introduced with a context, Rave On is “Back in 89 when we were all raving on”.  When he takes his sunglasses he announces “I’m having a look”.  He has got form on this.  Look at the Step On video.  Iconic video it may be, but it’s key moment is Ryder swaying towards the camera and taking his sunglasses off….and making it look profound.   There’s commentary as much maligned (by Ryder)  guitarist Mark Day changes guitar from a “pink one to a yellow one”

Shaun Ryder’s pervy vocals on Bobs Yer Uncle sounded a bit odd on the night, but I’d forgotten that they sound fairly odd on the original.  Ever the gentleman, he gallantly calls Rowetta a Milf.

Holiday grinds to a halt and the glorious gospel wail backing vocals comes from a sample, as Rowetta who has been in fine voice all evening is not on stage for that song.

Final song is Step On, it’s the big song of the evening and really what the audience is here for.  Bez and Rowetta are back on and it turns into a thoroughly entertaining circus.  Bez does some more arm waving and chewing gum shoe dancing and then picks up Rowetta like a roll of carpet.. deftly lifting up her dress.  She retreats to the back of the stage and then while he’s distracted by more gurning, she creeps up behind him to flick him with the tassels she’s been spinning all night.  They spend the rest of the song in a slow motion chase as they dance around and with each other, she’s pulling faces at him and he’s still having sly goes at her skirt.  As the song ends Ryder bellows “Hey you two, fucking stop that.  You’re a dropout and you’re a Milf.“  Like the worlds least likely teacher.

There is a Youtube clip with the requisite awful sound quality

After encore Jellybean, Ryder is back on Mark Day’s case.  “Listen to that he’s playing lead and rhythm…if you want to learn guitar give him a ring.  But he’s very busy”

WFL is actually the best sounding song of the evening, the sequencing and mechanical feel of the song just seem to cut the through the loud but muddy mix better

Nostalgia and reunion gigs are always odd.  Sometimes you can see bands play and perform better than they were capable of at the time, sometimes you’re just glad they’re still there and the ticket price counts as a Thanks Tax for youthful good times.   Given the chaos around them it was a miracle they even played any gigs in their heyday, let alone now.   It was an unashamed nostalgia fest for the audience and the promise of a hefty tour payout may have smoothed over internal tensions within the band.  But maybe not for Bez and Rowetta.

Inspiral Carpets setlist

She Comes In The Fall
Directing Traffic
You’re So Good For Me
This Is How It Feels
I Want You
Dragging Me Down
Saturn 5

Happy Mondays Setlist

Loose Fit
Dennis and Lois
Gods Cop
Judge Fudge
24 Hour Party people
Rave On
Cowboy Dave
Bobs Yer Uncle
Mad Cyril
Step On
Jelly Bean