Tag Archives: The Happy Mondays
Ignored 125: Classic Canchester
Ignored 78: Big breaks
Ignored 39: A Canadian in Salford
See this poster of the Smiths?
I had it on my wall as a teenager and a university student, at the height of my discovery-and-admiration phase with this band. I’m pretty sure that the Smiths are one of those outfits you’re supposed to grow out of but somehow, I never did and I never want to. I still enjoy them quite a bit and listen to them quite a bit, now well into my third decade of fandom.
I’m not sure Morrissey’s lyrics and Marr’s chirpy guitar licks “speak to me” (whatever that means)the way they did when I was 18. However, as the years past, my appreciation for the subtext of the Smiths’ music has grown. In their words and sounds, I now hear more humour, more bombast, more classicism and more appreciation for the way things were (and the way things aren’t).
Their debut full-length is more than 30 years old but the Smiths kinda nailed that timeliness that many bands aim for and very few achieve.
On a solo jaunt through the UK in late Spring of this year, I found myself in Manchester and through a small amount of Google research, I learned not only could you visit the Salford Lads’ Club itself, there was a room (shrine?) housed within dedicated to the Smiths and Morrissey.
That sounded just great. So I went.
A bit of geography. Exiting the Metrolink tram at the Exchange Quays stop for the 15 minute walk to the club, you’re close to two other Manchester landmarks that should be of interest to anyone else with Anglo-ish leanings. One is Old Trafford, home to the Manchester United football club. The other is the massive (and semi-new) Media City development which contains a mix of retail, theatres, museums, residential properties and most notably, a good chunk of the BBC’s present day operations (including the sound stage where Coronation Street is filmed). Both are worth exploring in their own right. But I digress…
The Salford Lads’ Club is tucked away in a fairly dense residential area that was, at one time, proper council flats and now, appears to moreso be a sleepy working class neighbourhood. After a few false turns, I finally came upon the Club which I should mention is also notable for its appearance in the tremendous bike-based video for the Smiths’ “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before”.
The Lads’ Club is still very much a lads’ club, although there weren’t any lads mincing about upon my arrival. The opening foyer was full of present-day schedules for youth programs, rosters and various other artifacts from Manchester’s sporting past (with a large focus on soccer/football/futball and boxing). It’s a slightly bizarre juxtaposition considering you’d never really associate sports and the Smiths (with the exception of the decent Morrissey tune “Boxers”) so while the parallel is pretty incidental and purely based on some album artwork, a poster and a music video, visiting the club does give off an aura of Manchester past and present that is quite impactful on a few levels. At least for somebody who grew up in suburban Toronto.
Here are a few snapshots from my visit with a few descriptions for context and commentary.
The very understated name plate on the door frame. Kinda perfect.
Note THAT SAME POSTER in the top left, alongside tons of press clippings, fan photos and some really old gym equipment. Again, nice contrast that kinda works somehow. I do wonder who could bench press more–Morrissey or Marr? Important question, there.
Tons of Post-it notes from fans across the globe. And I mean, literally across the globe: Brazil, Peru, Mexico, China, Australia, Thailand, Russia, etc. All represented. I declined writing my own note. Seemed a bit too “grade school” but I’m happy other visitors took advantage. They were fun to read.
Some transit geek replicated the Manchester tram and streetcar map with all the Smiths albums. A magnificently nerdy and wonderful effort. A better look at the map here. Loosely related, I enjoyed blogTO’s recent TTC/bar breakdown in the same vein. Good job.
A cool and slightly creepy mosaic that used to reside downtown on the outside of the campy art/fashion haven Afflecks in downtown Manchester (worth visiting with low expectations BTW). It has now found a second home in the Smiths room (obviously) and the piece contains likenesses of various Manchester notables. Morrissey was front-and-centre and I was able to pick out Noel and Liam Gallagher (Oasis), Bez (the Happy Mondays), Bernard Sumner (Joy Division/New Order) and Ian Curtis (Joy Division). I checked in later on who everybody else was: Factory Records bawse Tony Wilson, writer/theorist Frederich Engels and footballer Denis Law. Blame the Morrissey message board if this isn’t accurate.
A thank you postcard sent by Morrissey circa Boxing Day 1985, thanking photographer Stephen Wright (not Steven Wright) for the Smiths’ photo shoot at the club.
After my tour, I was shown a selection of Smiths and Club keepsakes, all quite reasonably priced given the premium put on nostalgia these days. I went with the Salford Lads’ chocolate bar and the (not pictured) coffee mug which I now obnoxiously display on my office desk like the aging hipster I consider myself to be. It’s an attempt to stay relevant, I guess.
Vanity shot of me outside the club. I wish I moved my backpack out of the frame.
Thanks to Leslie and the staff at the Salford Lads’ Club for arranging my visit. Most appreciated.
Ignored 33: Beyond Creation
I recently watched the (not new) documentary Upside Down: The Creation Records Story. While not a perfect doc by any stretch (too static in the pacing, unnecessary fake grain on the film), it did manage to collect most of the main tellers of this story for interviews, recollections, grievances and such. Front-and-centre was label mastermind Alan McGee, who tends to get interviewed a lot but somehow never comes off as being self-congratulatory and/or attention-starved. Good for him!
A worthy watch for anybody into the UK indie of the 1980s and 1990s, here are five questions (some rhetorical) that this doc posed:
1. Musicians like drugs. Why won’t they admit it?
This documentary has some refreshingly honest accounts of “musicians on drugs” that we don’t often see in this kind of setting. In documentaries, most drug “adventures” are either recounted in terms of annoying burnouts waxing about “the good old days” or the flipside: heavy-handed warnings about the dangers of coke or heroin and how they mess up lives and will ruin your family and will kill you. The drug memories in Upside Down, in addition to being oddly lucid, were shared in a very matter-of-fact fashion, often with a slight grin and a shrug. The general takeaway from the Creation crew? Drugs are fun but ultimately, counterproductive. Something most drug addicts (with the possible exception of Shaun Ryder) are aware of but also something most never admit.
2. Is it possible that Oasis were undervalued as a band?
The Gallaghers’ brand of “big, dumb rock” made Creation a lot of cash but after watching this doc, one is very much reminded of the band’s indie roots. Not only were they well aware of the exploits of more critically-acclaimed Creation acts such as My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream, the Oasis lads slotted fairly easily as “next steps” for the label once they played this gig. It made sense at the time and it REALLY makes sense now that there’s a bit of distance to reflect.
Because Oasis became so massive, I don’t think Noel Gallagher ever got his due sonically for his “guitar exploits” in a broader sense. He certainly didn’t have the obsessive craftsmanship of Kevin Shields and yet Oasis’ more interesting sonic moments did seem to somehow blend the sounds of more-austere Creation faves with completely-mainstream outfits like the Beatles, T-Rex and tons of others. The approach clearly worked as Oasis became the biggest Brit band of the 1990s while somehow not completely alienating fans of BMX Bandits and the Pastels. Strangely, the best example of this “everything into the pot” approach may be the band’s bloated 1997 effort Be Here Now. The album sold a ton of copies, spent years getting spat on by haters and now, is started to get some belated appreciation as a sorta fascinating byproduct of studio excess and (yes) drugs. Be Here Now is exactly the album that you’d expect for a band at that place at that time. Tons of misguided ambition abound as nine of the 12 tracks clock in at more than 5:00. Hell, the lead single “D’You Know What I Mean?” alone runs 7:22!!! It’s a mess but at its core, Be Here Now has a ton of (non-obvious) quality songwriting that is completely washed out by the dual impact of guitar overdubs and mountains of cocaine.
The fantastic shoulda-been single “My Big Mouth” is the perfect example of this. This song is an obvious companion piece (in the self-referential arena) to 1995’s “Acquiesce” and it’s largely Noel Gallagher calling shit upon himself, using tons of noisy guitar licks to kick his id’s ass. Oasis were really overexposed when Be Here Now was released so at the time, the song just seemed like a variation of tabloid fodder. Now, it’s a sprawling snapshot of how Noel was living in 1996. Better still, the opening features a massive squall of feedback, not unlike Teenage Fanclub’s “The Concept” (a doubtful tip-of-the-hat). It smooths out (slightly) and the song churns in a fashion the band would revisit a decade later with “The Shock of Lightning”. Sonically, I think it’s far more memorable than anything bands like Sonic Youth were “doing” in that era, especially considering Oasis wrote THIS from the penthouse while Sonic Youth wrote THAT from the fake underground. And I even sorta liked A Thousand Leaves!!
3. Do we remember the Jesus and Mary Chain completely differently if they had never released “Upside Down” and Psychocandy?
This doc prompted me to go back and listen to the Jesus and Mary Chain’s (non-Creation) debut LP Psychocandy a few times. The experience re-hammered home why that album has a been a mainstay in my all-time Top 10 list for most of the past two decades. Interestingly, without that album and their manic debut single “Upside Down”, JAMC are a completely different band. Namely, maybe a slightly less-interesting version of Love and Rockets or a perhaps a slightly cuter version of Echo and the Bunnymen?
Personally, I find pretty much every other JAMC full-length to rank somewhere between “OK” and “sorta good”. It’s the kind of music that is completely fine in a lot of respects and memorable in no respects. Too many drum machines, repetitive guitar work and whereas on Psychocandy, they sounded so bored, it was cool… on everything else, they sounded so bored, it was boring. For what its worth, my favourite post-Psychocandy tune is likely “Teenage Lust” which always seemed like a reworking of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” fed through effects pedals and dusted with feedback squalls. It was a nice balance between the more New Wave-y JAMC and the noisier version that split in 1986. And yet that was a 1990s tune.
4. Would Ride have been more popular if they had a different name?
Ride were a pretty solid, pretty noisy indie outfit from Oxford. They released some fun EPs in 1990 and then four full-lengths later in the decade, the finest of which (1990’s Nowhere) features some awesome cover art. They had a fan base no doubt but due to their proximity to My Bloody Valentine (in label, sound, hair), they often were regarded as a companion piece rather than a separate entity. I always got the sense that people who listened to Ride (especially those who defended their last two albums) were perhaps just biding their time until the new My Bloody Valentine disc came out (uh… more than two decades later). You know what didn’t help? Their name! Ride is a really weak band name and the word “Ride” doesn’t evoke much of anything which is unfortunate because Ride had a bunch of awesome moments. Like this.
It probably didn’t help that there were two other shoegazer-ish bands from that era (Curve and Lush) with not-dissimilar names and not-dissimilar sounds. Granted, both those outfits were fronted by females although Ride frontman Mark Gardener was arguably every bit as pretty/handsome as Miki Berenyi and/or Toni Halliday. In short, solid band but personally, I think Ride could’ve used a rebrand in spite of the Brits brief obsession with single-syllabel band names (in addition to Ride/Curve/Lush, you had Pulp, Suede, Moose, Cranes, Gene, Space, etc.)
5. Did the Lemonheads kill Teenage Fanclub’s momentum in North America?
Here is a theory: if the Lemonheads hadn’t broken in 1992 vis-a-vis It’s a Shame about Ray (which is quite plausible, given Evan Dando’s “habits” during those days), Teenage Fanclub would’ve been far more popular in North American.
The band had some serious momentum going circa 1991/early 1992:
– They had graduated from a cool indie label (Matador) to a semi-cool fake indie-ish label (DGC) where they slotted alongside Sonic Youth and Nirvana.
– Spin Magazine absolutely loved Teenage Fanclub. Semi-obsessively so. For a few months, anyway. They named the band’s Bandwagonesque its 1991 album of the year (over Nevermind and Loveless!!!) and spilled a ton of ink over the outfit, slotting them on their Class of ’92 list of hot young bands that ultimately nobody ended up caring about.
– Teenage Fanclub played Saturday Night Live in February 1992 where they played four Bandwagonesque tracks and were introduced by Jason Priestley, who wore a t-shirt tucked into jeans. Needless to say, a UK indie outfit playing SNL in 1992 was unheard of.
By spring 1992, Teenage Fanclub stood alone in the “cute, sorta mainstream power-pop band” arena. However, once the Lemonheads re-emerged that summer and Dando started flashing his doe eyes on MTV and Sassy Magazine, “the Fannies” days were numbered, resigned to power pop’s second division alongside Sloan and the Posies (both, ironically, also on the DGC roster).
Small aside: here is a list of outfits with “UK indie” roots (in a loose sense) that have been booked on Saturday Night Live since Teenage Fanclub’s appearance. Given the collective mainstream appeal of these outfits, it makes the booking of Teenage Fanclub seem even more perplexing in hindsight!
– February 15, 1992: Teenage Fanclub
– November 14, 1992: Morrissey
– October 4, 1997: Oasis
– January 17, 1998: Portishead
– October 14, 2000: Radiohead
– April 7, 2001: Coldplay
– February 5, 2005: Keane
– May 21, 2005: Coldplay
– October 22, 2005: Franz Ferdinand
– March 11, 2006: Arctic Monkeys
– March 17, 2007: Snow Patrol
– October 25, 2008: Coldplay
– December 19, 2009: Muse
– September 24, 2011: Radiohead
– October 6, 2012: Muse