7 Nov 2019
Happy Mondays - The Early EPs Review 
Happy Mondays - The Early EPs Review

Maybe I'm flying in the face of conventional wisdom but the early years of Happy Mondays' lengthy career have always been my favourite. I'm not one of those who obsess about a band having a limited underground following and selling just a handful of records until they become mainstream and then accuse them of selling out.

I genuinely believe there is something really special about the run of releases by Little Hulton's finest from 1985 to 1989 (up to the 'Madchester Rave On' EP) where you hear a band and their lyricist experimenting (not just with pharmaceuticals) whilst growing in confidence which set them apart from other indie bands at the time and still keeps them sounding fresh today.

This remastered, limited, coloured vinyl box set release featuring the 12" releases in their colourful Central Station sleeves from 1985's debut 'Forty Five' EP through to 1987's call to arms '24 Hour Party People' highlights this best.

In Shaun Ryder's 'Wrote For Luck' book containing selected lyrics he practically dismisses the first two of these, saying "some of our early recordings shouldn't have made it on to vinyl really, 'Kuff Dam' and 'Tart Tart' were the first tracks we managed to record in the studio that I felt truly captured the sense and potential of the Mondays".

I can understand his view to a point but I would make the case for 'Forty Five' and 'Freaky Dancin'.

The Mike Pickering (post Quango Quango, pre M People) produced 'Forty Five EP', featuring 'Delightful', 'This Feeling' and 'Oasis' was released in late 1985.

When you look at some of the 'C86' bands and the scene created by the NME which they were actively promoting with their 22-track cassette 6 months later, any of the songs on this EP could quite easily have held its own against them and honestly would have probably fit better... it's perhaps fortunate however that this didn't happen though as it could have stalled the group's career before it really began.

What you do hear is a band, with emerging talented musicians, with elements of label mates James and Shaun borrowing lines for the first time with Oasis liberating lines from Les Reed and Gordon Mills, previously made famous by Tom Jones.

Personally I have a soft spot for the 2nd single 'Freaky Dancin' after hearing it at DeVille’s in Manchester. It would have been early in 1987 and one of the first nights out I'd had in the City Centre. I'd have only been 17 at the time and for some reason we though the infamous indie club with the bucking bronco in the connected 'Lazy Lil's' would be a good place to hang out...

At the time I'd been listening to John Peel sporadically really getting into a lot of the aforementioned C86 scene such as The Bodines, Mighty Lemon Drops, Wedding Present and only been to a couple of gigs; The Primitives and the Soup Dragons both at Manchester International on Anson Road, Longsight. I suspect anyone reading this will be familiar with the legacy of the club so I won't go into detail, although I will tell you I bought a copy of Dave Haslam's 'Debris' fanzine on my second visit which had a flexi-disc attached featuring Inspiral Carpets.

Anyway, the Bernard Sumner-produced track really impressed me as there was a shambolic confidence to it which I don't think ever copied. Whilst it had elements of the jangly guitar bands of that era, there is something fresh about it too. It isn't a full-on aural attack like some tunes of the era, it has space in it and it breathes.

What's more, it made people dance. (Well, shuffle a little quicker).

Worth noting, and mentioning it's great that the B-side 'The Egg (Mix)' which has a wonderful swagger about it is being reassessed due to this release and the accompanying promo video/clip to promote it

The 3rd single, 'Tart Tart' sees the band move up another notch with production by the legendary John Cale (I'm not sure why I'm saying that as I'm confident most people reading will know that already).

Whilst musically the style hadn't changed but the vocals appeared higher in the mix and clearer.

The first two verses are apparently about Martin Hannett, this then leads on to verses about Paul Ryder, before closing with the songs title character, an amphetamine dealer from Chorlton who had befriended Shaun and Bez but sadly passed away suddenly.

This was followed by the debut album, 'Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)' a month later.

By the time the 4th single, 'Twenty Hour Party People' came out in late 1987, indie dance had become a thing and was crossing over from the pages of the NME to Smash Hits, with MARRS' 'Pump Up The Volume' spending a couple of weeks at No 1 in the Official UK Top 40. The Mondays themselves though were still quite underground but it’s clear something was about to happen.

Despite being a live favourite, I don't think the song every really reached the public conscious and received the acclaim it deserved until the release of the film of the same name 15 years later.

It's interesting to note that despite the hedonistic lifestyle attributed to the band since the early days, the releases on this box were all before ecstasy had hit Manchester with the tracks fuelled by heroin, weed and speed...

Not quite days of innocence, but a great snapshot of the birth of an era.

- review by Iain Key for Cerysmatic Factory

See also: Central Station Design, Happy Mondays

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Happy Mondays - The Early EPs (London, 2019)

FAC 129 - Forty Five EP 12" - Green Vinyl
FAC 142 - Freak Dancin' 12" - Orange Vinyl
FAC 176 - Tart Tart 12" - Blue Vinyl
FAC 192 - Twenty Four Hour Party People 12" - Yellow Vinyl

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