Here it is. We 6000 strong are not teens on the bedroom floor spinning “Ceremony” on an LP on repeat wanting to ingest it, young enough still not to know the darkness (and Light) of what we wish for. We’ve teleported from those dull suburban unseen places where these records were totems, where the right T-Shirt compliment could set the course of your entire adult life and marriage and all the grey areas between, where we once talked late into the night in cars parked in driveways about how much this music meant to us, hardwired in to the best place in us no matter how remote we were from it.
It was currency, the only currency that mattered. It still is, as evidenced by this weekend. As kids we talked about “Hooky” like we knew him but could not fathom what it might be like to be in close proximity to musical genius and see, if not ever understand, how it’s made. But through some strange alchemy, we’re right here. All these years later. It all still matters. Musically, its not been replaced, not at all. Rather, its legacy is assured. As Shiiine On Weekender’s James & Steve said so well in their editorial: “We are the last generation to whom loyalty to a band means something. We are a subculture that’ll never die.” “Forever, watching love grow.”
Midday: Now rounding the 48 hour (party people) stretch, festival success is assured. People who’ve been on site since Thursday have settled in to, not a routine, but an ease, a homeliness that is rare anywhere, let alone among thousands of people. Ok, yes, it does include a routine of good-natured heavy drinking. With pride, festivalgoers celebrate as taps are drained here and there (but never alarmingly). The balance between proper crowds to build excitement and space to breathe has been struck. The organizers are getting well deserved shout outs from the main stage. Saturday’s screens already shiiine with the delightful news that 2016 dates have been booked and are already on sale. It’s not a one off. It’s now the best of all possible things: a new tradition. It’s Christmas Eve. Let the wish lists begin, or leave it to the wizards.
Full disclosure: the Step On team has fallen off plan Saturday midday via a long pub lunch with new festival friends who are, themselves, a side stage of delight. We’ve no choice but to like them better than the idea of Bez’s Pool Party that was in the plan for months. There is time for chats with pub staff about earlier and later visits, its swiftly become the “local” and suddenly, languorous time is made: for a long lunch where we eat chips with beans or with cheese, and for good measure, crisps as well, in a plan that revolves around a packed house of agreeable Leeds fans (who win) the usual cider “it’s only cider” and lager, a random bit of darts, and a whirlwind of music talk and great stories that circle through the hit parade of the 90’s that we are here celebrating (but, to be clear “this is not a retro festival…it’s a celebration and hopefully a reminder to people that a lot of these bands never went away and still carried on and made cracking music.” ) If people in general have forgotten some of this music, it’s down to the demise of old media that ate itself and a push towards trendy music in the years since.
Today, this whole four days, that all melts away and numerous great old gigs and amazing stories that are not mine to tell are remembered like sporting achievements, for they were to us. The plan to get us ruined completely leaving us with just a tale of the time we missed Happy Mondays and Peter Hook in the same night whilst passed out minutes away JUST fails and balance is restored to the universe. (Nice try lads. We owe you rounds before a future Wedding Present gig.)
2:00 p.m. While this is going on, Saturday rolls on with Winachi Tribe (we heard raves) and Space Monkeys “would have loved to see that one…how long is this football match/lunch, anyway?” minds fuzzily wonder through the cider haze and the impossible coziness before finally hauling it to the Skyline main stage. Had you not been corrupted by Welsh hospitality, it would be entirely reasonable to catch at least some of all the early Saturday gigs, as the three other stages did not get going until late evening. Deja Vega and Sulk hold down slots at Jaks, and we get to see some of each of their sets on different days, and each time they are very good.
The Main Event.
4:30 p.m. Northside takes the main stage to a full house, and people are really happy to see them back out: Saturday boasts the biggest crowds, and convergence is happening. There may be some nerves at play but the crowd responds well and the music is great. There’s a tambourine, and there’s a bit of a salute, is that what I see coming from the stage? Some of us have same day hangovers so hard to tell. This band is beloved by other musicians on site and fans. They are of The Mondays realm: great songs about illegal drugs that broke into the charts and landed in America, too.
5:45 p.m. Peter Hook and the Light (featuring a guest appearance by friend Rowetta) is on. Hooky has been out with the Light for a couple of years now, and having seen a very early gig of theirs as well as one in 2014, it can be stated with authority that they’ve hit their stride and get better and better every single time. All 6000 of us seem to agree that Hooky came, saw, conquered, and wiped the floor up using the weapon he’s perfected like no one else, his bass, and his music of a lifetime. Moving away from the cut-for-cut album formula which The Light had done on earlier tours (as much as fans love it it’s a format that can be very tough to play) Hooky tonight moves into both comfort and power within his vocal style that complements the Joy Division material that has come to reside in the very marrow of music fans and needs to be played. Hooky’s God-like status intact, we are the lucky ones at a very special gig. Here we get no less than an assault of Joy Division and New Order’s finest, and their finest can touch you in places in the heart you thought for sure had died along with your innocence.
It’s nothing short of perfect to see the godfather of Manchester’s music and club scene, whose very musical labour built the bricks and mortar that would house Factory records and fund the brilliant, mad, Hacienda (not to mention have a part in launching The Mondays) rise like a phoenix from that bad and tragic New Order baggage that we, the fans, refused to drop for so long. It’s also genius: unencumbered by the grind of breaking in new music and at last answerable only to himself, the fans get an intense and pitch perfect wave of nothing but gold. This alone would have been worth the trip, and the ridiculously reasonable ticket price.
Here’s the setlist: Digital, She’s Lost Control, Shadow Play, Transmission, Atmosphere (with lovely, lamenting vocals by Rowetta) Blue Monday, Love Vigilantes, The Perfect Kiss, Ceremony, True Faith, Temptation, Love Will Tear Us Apart. We all went to pieces after. Need we say more?
7:15 p.m. Picking our brains up off the carpeted (!!!) arena floor, Stereo MCs are there as the Mondays warm up band, just as they were back in 90/91 for those of us who saw them on their U.K. or North American tours. This feels right. “Connected” is still a perfect appetizer for a Happy Mondays show. And people are warming up and into Saturday night with this soundtrack.
8:45 p.m. Close your eyes: remember Shaun Ryder in that 1990 haircut worn better than anyone else with less care, in proper workingman’s clothes, and we all have shiny unlined faces and hair free of silver, stomachs defiantly lean and bodies able to work all day at a shite job and dance all night spending all we made that week and call it happiness. Open your eyes: We’re all older (except Queen Rowetta who’s forever 29) but the truly cool are still cool. We’re all HERE for a start, and we don’t look so bad.
And we’re all still alive. And you can read on Shaun Ryder’s face, even with shades, even with that cool Steve McQueen reserve that can’t be faked, he is happy and he will remember it all this time. The Ryders, Day, Bez & Whelan seem relaxed and at ease. Gaz Whelan smiles and laughs though he’s badly cut his finger moments before hitting the stage and the drums. Our vibe, you see, Shiiine On’s dreamers and, importantly, doers, and all of ours, has spread everywhere. It has been helped and carried aloft in pieces by all the different acts from Thursday and Friday up to now, and all those cracking late night DJs, and the crew at Butlins who make it easy on us.
The Mondays, at the start of their 25th Anniversary Pills n’ Thrills and Bellyaches tour, deserve the packed arena before them and the nods to their lyrics that pepper the festival’s literature, the insider lingo that brought most of us here. The same words inspired this independent mag’s title and ethos. These lyrics have endless melon twisting wit, weirdness, rawness and grooviness. It’s a deeper code within an obscure language of Manchester music culture that separates the wheat from chaff in musical discussions, and can form new friendships just like that. And so here we all stand, through equal parts fortune, fortitude, and hustle.
Happy Mondays still have their edge. Even when a muppet appears hanging over the barrier and gets Shaun Ryder to crack up. Bez is working the full length of the stage, still well able to amuse his mates (job one) and hype the crowd (job two). His maracas say “Sorted” and “Big Medicine”. Rowetta comes out with her whips as all of us who wish we could be her for a day. But being the girl in this gang (not to mention Hooky’s) is only for the toughest and the coolest. After Mondays run through Pills n’ Thrills it’s a short set with essential tracks “Wrote For Luck” or “WFL” (an eternal club anthem and lately, commuter rage survival tool) and “Hallelujah” which is a Rowetta stunner much copied and rarely touched that also allows all of us to play act as someone who could “fill ya full of mace!” Or maybe we just might, but not this weekend. These songs get better, funnier, sharper with time. Like almost everything out of Manchester. No doubt some fans wanted more of Bummed and the back catalogue but there are some of us who want for nothing.
1:00 a.m. Guess what, starting from his hosting of the midday pool party, and last to bed again, Bez is not done. Reportedy he takes to the stage during 808 State’s STUNNING late night set until removed by friendly security (who will later tell us he put “The Happy Mondays” off the stage). Rules are minimal but this is one. No word on whether 808 invited him or he just wanted to Freaky Dance for us, but there is a lot going on up there with live drums, horns, electric guitar, and all the electronic gear. I don’t think it could take maracas too. 808’s is an immense performance, and like nothing we’ve ever seen or heard. It’s yet another must see/mega draw that does not disappoint. No one who’s still out on the road these years later is anything short of brilliant. The strongest survive. As for those festival goers who’ve not soldiered on to make the 1:00 a.m. start time for 808, tsk tsk tsk. Key there is a disco nap and a reset. Avoiding corrupting influences of the delightful midday drinker just for awhile.
2:00 a.m. 808 is followed up by none other than House legend (yes that’s him in old pictures spinning at the Hacienda) Graeme Park who shut it down in style at 4:00 a.m. Oh yes: “900-Number”, “Deep Inside”, and we are in his hut now…all of this gives the crowd a new lease on this day of days: one day when the years have rolled back and we remember needing little sleep when fueled by all of this. So good is this late night Saturday that the house (Centre Stage) is still heaving with people who boo the Gods for having invented time/limits. Will never forget one guest hanging off the DJ booth, every inch the Cate Blanchett Oscar contender, bellowing “YOU’VE RUINED OUR NIGHT!” at the good natured security guy. He’s a bit of a drama queen. And it’s a joke of the weekend. The phrase now means “this was the greatest night ever”. Tell the kids. Call the cops.
Words by Jacqueline Howell, photos by Dave MacIntyre.
Friday’s write up and photo galleries here.
Thursday’s write up and photo galleries here.
More to come as we round out Sunday. No Days Off!
With very special thanks to Shiiine On Weekender & North Country Boys. *Quotes from the Shiiine On Weekender Official Souvenir Program, editorial. What, you didn’t buy one?