Rick Witter (Shed Seven) interview
CBD Hemp Flower Sour Space Candy
It was a bizarre, comical, almost surreal introduction to the crazy world of Manchester’s finest. We first came across The Happy Mondays when we were playing a gig in Manchester Boardwalk in 1987 where we played to a typical NME/John Peel/student type audience. At that time we were performing in Liverpool and places like Leeds to riotous terrace types but when we were in Manchester it was a totally different story. The football/music crossover didn’t seem to exist there in the same way it did in Leeds it may well have done but we weren’t aware of it. We played our usual set and noticed some young lads dancing like loons. We thought nothing of it until they ‘invaded’ our dressing rooms shortly after the gig speaking in strange tongues that would become popular with the music press in later years. They had cricket hats on and if my memory is correct literally ‘danced’ into our dressing room. Initially we were very wary of this as they looked like football types and of course we thought we were being set up, as the ‘troubles’ between our cities were very much still alive and kicking!
The dressing room ‘invaders’ turned out to be Shaun Ryder his brother Paul and Bez. They said they loved our attitude and had seen us on the Oxford Rd Show some time before– we still thought we were about to be ‘ambushed’ and weren’t exactly welcoming them with open arms but after a while we relaxed as we realised they were genuine. This had never ever happened to us before in Manchester so you can understand why we weren’t joining the party straight away. After all we were in Manchester and my mindset was football. The whole band warmed to them though so we offered to sort out a gig for them supporting us in Liverpool as they said they were finding it difficult to arrange a gig there. The Farm/Happy Mondays gig was arranged for May 1st 1987 at the Picket in Liverpool.
This gig has gone down in Liverpool folklore but I only caught a bit of the Mondays set as I had been trying to persuade Farm fans to leave the bar area and watch them. I was also selling The End magazine that night so as I sold people a copy I recommended going to see our new mates from Manchester. More often than not I was met with almost complete apathy and sometimes-downright hostility. All I can remember is that there were only about 20 to 30 in the audience and about 200 in the bar (many nowadays claim to have seen them) I remember the Mondays were very loud and they had that distinctive chaotic sound of the 24 Hour Party people period. Carl Hunter our bass player watched the whole gig with our guitarist Steve Grimes and they both loved it. Carl recalls ‘they were fantastic, they didn’t look like other bands at the time they looked more like us and they had a Sex Pistols attitude. I fell in love with them that night and have carried on the affair on to this day’.
After that brief Scouse/Manc flirtation we lost contact with them and to be honest we were probably a bit embarrassed that most of our fans hadn’t watched them. However in 1988 we noticed they were getting more and more column inches in the music press and Tony Wilson was championing them as the next big thing. Shaun Ryder wrote in his autobiography that he thought or had been told we had become jealous of their success, which wasn’t strictly true. When we saw them on front covers of music magazines and then on Top Of The Pops in November 89 with The Stone Roses we were actually pleased as a group who looked like us had actually broken through into the mainstream we knew it was only a matter of time until they turned to us if we got our act together.
We had spent years trying to convince ‘the music industry’ that our ‘image’ had mass appeal but they never really understood the intricacies of the retro scally misfit chic. What we really objected to was the way journalists (not the Mondays) were calling Manchester bands ‘scallies’ as they didn’t have a name for the indie/dance crossover and even called it ‘scallydelic’ much to our amusement. Retrospectively they settled on ‘baggy’ though groups like Flowered Up/Bridewell Taxis and ourselves never wore the outrageous baggy clothing that became associated with certain elements of that scene. It still feels a lazy description as we saw ourselves more as ‘neo mods’ wearing Paul Smith classics and nothing to do with Joe Bloggs.
Such was the buzz on The Farm early in 1990 (after we employed a press officer) The Face actually gave us a four-page ‘fashion’ special without us even having any chart success or even having a record out. They wanted to know the origins of the fashion side of things and we made our big statement by dressing up a stuffed sheep in flares, kickers and a cricket hat and putting it on the front cover of Stepping Stone. Our cover of The Monkees classic became the underground club hit of the summer of 1990. Suggs from Madness was our producer and he was also helping out on ‘distribution’ driving in his car around hip record shops in London trying to keep up with demand. As soon as he arrived outside these vinyl specialist shops he would be mobbed and relieved of the 12in singles he was brandishing. (we only released it on 12 in vinyl)
Something was happening and it had everything to do with the reaction against journalists and their lazy stereotypes surrounding Madchester and indie/dance as much as anything else. We produced life-size cardboard sheep as depicted on the front cover to be placed in the main indie shops/clothes shops in the UK and as soon as the single was released people were running into the shops and running off with our cardboard sheep. It was latter day ‘sheep rustling’ and even shops in Manchester were reporting extraordinary scenes of sheep stealing. When we played the Hacienda in April 1990 we knew we were on the crest of a wave as Manchester’s finest turned up including Ian Brown and Shaun Ryder. Early on our set was temporarily halted due to a power cut and we immediately suspected sabotage by Tony Wilson but eventually staff sorted the problem and we went down great.
We recorded Groovy Train in the summer of 1990 shortly after Stepping Stone. Our pluggers/press played the track to several DJs/journalists who all thought the song was going to be massive including the promoter Simon Moran of SJM. Our plugger told us that the features editor of the NME James Brown (the Kingmaker) had heard the track and thought we could get a front cover but might need a ‘Liverpool’ personality on the photo shoot to convince the rest of the staff.
We decided to invite Bill Dean (the distinctive perennial grump Harry Cross from Brookside) to appear in the video at Southport fun fair. In the meantime we had travelled to Ibiza on the insistence of our manager Kevin Sampson. He had a cunning plan that the group reluctantly agreed to. We were to travel to Ibiza to play at the legendary Ku Club and perform a short set which included Groovy Train but we weren’t going to be paid. Kevin needed all his powers of persuasion to convince the group that this was a good idea and we should treat it as a promotional holiday. On the grapevine we had heard that The Happy Mondays and Flowered Up had knocked it back because of the arrangements but 808 State had agreed to go so Kevin was able to convince everyone we would have a great time and get some good promo footage for a video and some of it including our gig in the Ku Club, some boat scenes and belly flops actually made it onto the Groovy Train video.
We had been playing quite a few gigs/club nights in London for several months for promoters like Charlie Chester who ran the Flying nights and we had been going down a storm. Ever since our Face front cover we had become the one of the most fashionable groups in the Boys Own/Flying Balearic crowd. Kevin had been working for the Channel Four Youth commissioning editor and had convinced him to consider screening a documentary on the Ibiza club scene that was still relatively underground at that time. Kevin had ‘forgotten’ to tell Channel Four that he was also working as the manager of The Farm so it was a ‘McClarenesque’ stroke of genius. The documentary was actually broadcast on the week of release of Groovy Train and after a good mid week chart position we crept into the charts at No 40 (when the top 40 meant something.). The next week it was No 28, which meant that we were going to make our debut on Top Of The Pops. We were on the crest of a wave and Top Of The Pops was broadcast on the night we were booked to play the legendary Town and Country Club. I don’t think we even saw our debut live on the BBC as we were on our way to the venue. When we arrived there it was chaos with queues around the block. The gig was sold out but word soon got back to us via our management that the touts were charging ‘top dollar’ for tickets. We all cheered – we had arrived – but we still tried to get as many in through the side entrance as our mentors The Clash had taught us!
The atmosphere in the venue was incredible and it seemed the hippest people in London were there rubbing shoulders with football types who had joined the party. The previous year we were struggling to get even a few column inches in the music press and now everyone wanted to know our thoughts on everything.
All Together Now became a massive hit during Christmas 1990 and Spartacus was a No1 album in March 1991. In June of 1991 we met up again with the Mondays when we played Elland Rd with them. This was probably the high point of indie dance and was certainly a meeting of the ‘tribes’ from all over the UK. We played quite a few gigs with the Happy Mondays during that period including the Feile 91 festival in Ireland and were due to play a bull ring in Valencia with them until the lighting system fell in on the stage during the sound check. We have played on bills with them off and on ever since and have always got on well. The only surprise is that we never went to the States together but on reflection this was probably a blessing in disguise – from Nov 15th- 18th at Shiiine On Weekender the journey continues – get on board!