He’s the world’s foremost freaky [now sometimes ‘creaky’] dancer. He’s the seminal proponent of [sometimes indiscriminate] maraca shakin’. And now Mark Berry or better known as Bez gets on the blower to Radio 13 writer and DJ Simon William Todd, in hyped-anticipation of next week’s shows by them what put the ‘d’ in Madchester, Happy Mondays.
Entrenched in one of the most important movements in UK music history, Happy Mondays brought rave and indie to the masses with their chart-topping 1990 album, Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches. They will play it in its entirety, with the original album lineup, at Auckland’s Powerstation next week.
The remoteness of Bez’ pastoral living arrangements means that it’s a long while getting hold of him, but he is instantly affable, thoughtful and funny.
I start by asking him about the current state of his knee, which stalwartly stands strong, despite an injury during one of the Mondays’ European festival dates last year. He says, like his Happy compatriot, Shaun Ryder, that he’s taken to cycling to make sure his knee “sees him through” these NZ and Australian shows.
He’s not taking any chances either, and admits to wearing a knee brace these days, though not on the outside of his baggies, like I suggest he might.
We talk about what it’s like getting back together with the original team. Do they hang out in a rehearsal space and think, right, do we need to run through the hits, like Kinky Afro, or shall we just nut out some of those mid-album tracks? Bez says no, he thinks they’ll do “one practice before”. Comfortingly, “it’s all second nature” he adds. Then says that all the band are “really nice people”, with a “feel good factor”.
I ask how much they keep their ‘album-in-its-entirety’ faithful to the original studio sound - created by legendary producer and DJ Paul Oakenfold - and Bez says that, though it might be “cutting off my own nose” that Pills ‘N’ Thrills… “sound better live”. He puts that down to the “genius behind it”, keyboard player and programmer, Dan Broad, and “amazing guitarist”, Mark Day, who Bez credits with really bringing the album to life, live.
You can’t not ask about Bez’ percussive contribution to the Monday’s live show. I ask if, like Brian May from Queen, who ludicrously books his famous guitar its own seat on aeroplanes, does Bez have a special roadie or confidant to make sure his maracas arrive at gigs safely. Far from it, he chuckles in reply. He says he buys the cheapest ones he can. But he does have one custom-painted by an artist, unique to each show - just one coz he always “gives away free” the other.
The conversation moves on to the lucky audience member who might catch that sacred maraca. Are your audiences all crusty old ravers, I ask? “Old and new, across the ages. It’s a great sight to behold” he says. People are bringing their kids with them.
Indeed, Bez is looking forward to visiting New Zealand as he himself has family who emigrated here, who’ll all be coming to the show - it’s gonna be a real “family affair” he promises, though does admit that the 27-hour flight makes Auckland “not an easy place to get to”. He jokes that it can’t be easy living upside down. It isn’t, I retort, but that does stop us all getting nose bleeds - “good for something, then”, he concedes.
We move on to the staying power and longevity of the Mondays’ career. I say I’d just listened to Bob Mortimer’s Desert Island Discs episode, where he puts the continuing success of Reeves and Mortimer down to the lucky fact that no other comedians have ever tried to do the same mix of surreal and silly as them. I wonder if that’s the same reason why Happy Mondays are still held in such high esteem - that they still sound so unique, sonically pertinent?
“Nice one mate”, he agrees. “We were originators”, but admits also, that like any great band, there was a lot of “right place, right time”. I question whether there are any spotty oiks lingering in the wings, ready to contend for the crown? If there are, “I’ve not met ‘em yet”, Bez boasts.
Are there plans for a Bez solo album? No, that’s “a young man’s game”, comes a defiant reply, but excitingly, Bez adds that he’d like to see new stuff from Happy Mondays, all working together on one track. “I’m pushing for it”, he promises, his reason being he needs some new shoes. Me too, I say - before the interview I’d walked down the pavement in the rain and discovered holes in the soles of both. It’s just rained in Auckland for the first time in months, I inform Bez. “That’s coz you’re phoning me”, he jokes back.
We move onto the weather, and it’s just turning into spring in England. As we talk, he’s tending to his bees, helping him get over a hangover after an “unexpected” evening with friends got slightly large! “All the snowdrops and katkins are out”, he lovingly informs me.
He heedfully continues by telling me about the problems he’s having with the bees he’s inherited, which have all been exposed to pesticides and produce tasteless honey. Luckily, he also has bees near Swansea, Wales. The common land he keeps them on has been pesticide-free for 100 hundred years, he says, and they make delicious honey.
I say he’s gonna have to make sure he picks up some manuka honey when he’s in New Zealand when he reveals that it’s “one of the mad things I do, buy honey every place I go”. I tell him about a relative who ate a teaspoon of manuka every day of her life and lived to a ripe old age. “Maybe that’s the longevity I’m looking for”, he ponders, at which point I leave him to his bees; happy after my interview with the sound, caring, maraca-shaking Manc.
See Happy Mondays perform Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches in full in New Zealand on the following dates:
27 Feb at Powerstation (Auckland), 8:30 PM (DOORS OPEN 8 PM) support from The Lula Raes. 9 PM Happy Mondays. Tickets from AAA Ticketing available here.
28 Feb at the Powerstation (Auckland), SOLD OUT