- Mon, 2012-12-17 12:17
Formed in Manchester in the late 80's The Happy Mondays went on to define the Madchester era, blending groovy baggy rhythms with uplifting, rave inspired vocals - bridging the gap between the club and the indie gig like no one had known before. Step On, 24 Hour Party People, Kinky Afro their tunes and ethos have influenced a generation of new music and as a result the band's 2012 reformation has been met with waves of fan excitement and a string of sold out shows.
I Like Music caught up with the band's long-term vocalist (and only female member) Rowetta to chat about the reformation of the Mondays. After years of no communication with front man Shaun Ryder, we were excited to learn that things are good, rehearsals are going well and nine new Mondays songs have been written...
ILM: How are you?
Rowetta: I've had such an amazing year. The Mondays reformed and we never thought it would happen. The reaction from the fans has been amazing!
ILM: There's been a number of big bands reforming recently. As ever, people have different opinions on whether it's a good or a bad thing. What brought the Mondays back together?
Rowetta: Because the Stone Roses got back together and everybody went wild. There was a need. The Roses and the Mondays go hand in hand really, it's Madchester, so a load of offers came in. I could not see it happening. I hadn't spoken to Shaun for tweleve years, his brother hadn't spoken to him for 13 years, a couple of them hadn't spoken to Shaun for twenty years, so I couldn't see how we were going to get over that.
ILM: How did you get over that?
Rowetta: We spoke to his manager. He's very hands on with Shaun. He said "don't worry, there is a way around it. We just don't need to spend too much time with Shaun and he will be pleasant, it will be ok." You know, really, it was just getting that very first meeting out the way. Shaun was like a gentleman at that meeting, so that made it easier. And the manager being there, I could see they have a real bond. So you could see it would work.
ILM: Have you spent much time together?
Rowetta: We spend those times on stage, me and Shaun and the band and Shaun but we don't see loads of Shaun apart from that. He goes home to his kids and it works that way. We're not on top of each other all the time. I think that's what the key is. And respecting each other. We've got a lot of respect for each other now because we think "if we carry on this way, we could go on for a long time."
ILM: So...would you say the reformation has been a success?
Rowetta: All this why people reform is irrelevant to us. We did it. It worked. We're getting along better than ever, we're singing and playing better than ever, we're writing new material, so it's just been brilliant for us personally and professionally. I think it needed to be done.
ILM: If you hadn't seen each other for so long, it must have been quite emotional? Maybe not at the meeting, but surely when you started playing music together again? You can't create good music without investing some emotion into it...
Rowetta: Yeah. It's been wonderful. Last time we played together or went in the studio together or rehearsed together there were people on drugs, people drinking, people with problems, people hating each other. It was a completely different environment. Probably because of the drink and the drugs. Now rehearsals are free of all that it's proper get your head down and work, there's no going to the pub afterwards. We don't do it in Manchester either, where everyone's going to come in and hang out with us, it's not a party, we get our heads down and rehearse.
ILM: Has all that work led to a good reaction from the fans?
Rowetta: Yes! People are surprised how good we are! The last time they'd seen either the pretend Mondays or us, we weren't as good as we were on this tour. We were shocking ourselves, we didn't want a day off, which is unusual! We're all just buzzing about the new stuff and what next year's going to bring.
ILM: What can you tell us about the new Monday's stuff? How much is there, how does it sound, when will we get to hear it?
Rowetta: So far we've got nine completed demos and about three we're still working on. We've not been put together with producers yet so they're liable to change. We might be working with some guests, I don't know. It's exciting. The music, it's very funky, it's very Mondays. Shaun's lyrics are very good, I'm able to sing a lot more than I used to. The music hasn't lost its edge and that's what I was worried about. If everybody's off drugs and drink will it lose its edge? But it hasn't. It's still really edgy and I think that's because of the chemistry within the band.
ILM: You talk about how things spiralled out of control with the Mondays, how things went sour. But what about when you were at your peak? When things were good? There must have been an amazing energy in the band then?
Rowetta: There was, but when we were younger. Without much money and without success, when you've got your youth it can be fun to live that lifestyle and it did feel like fun a lot of it. But when it becomes people being ill and people fighting and hating each other, it's not good. The best of the good times were just as we were going up. When I joined the band they weren't massive, but I just loved them and made it my mission to sing with them. I did Top of The Pops with them for Step On and that was massive for me. If you look at those Top of The Pops everyone looks dead healthy.
Rowetta: Yeah but Shaun was on a really bad drug at the time. He looked well because he was young and stuff and probably not over-indulging. But all those things become illnesses and it's a horrible thing. Addiction is horrible. And we saw that a few years later, but at the time 1990-91 we were having a ball. We really were. Yes there were some arguments but it was more like really bad banter. We used to laugh more than we used to cry and hate each other. We used to laugh a lot.
ILM: I love that you say you made it your mission to sing with them. How did that happen?
Rowetta: When I was a teenager I was a punk. When I realised I could sing I thought "oh dear, when you open your mouth you sing more like Tina Turner, what are you going to do?!" I'd done a lot of singing, then I'd stopped and I'd been married and then I just saw this band on The Other Side of Midnight, Tony Wilson's programme, Happy Mondays performing a song called Performance and I just thought WOW. I'd just started singing in a dance band and their agent was Happy Monday's agent so I asked him to take me to a gig.
ILM: What was that gig like?
Rowetta: The whole crowd were dancing to every tune. I'd never been to a gig like it where everybody young and old...it was just an amazing atmosphere. I loved all the songs. I loved all the music. I loved the fact that the band looked like the audience and the audience looked like the band. It was like one big party and I felt like part of it. I'd never been to a gig where I felt like that, it was like we were all on stage. It was an amazing feeling and I just wanted some of that.
ILM: After that gig how did you feel about singing for them?
Rowetta: I just knew. I just thought as soon as they see me they'll like me and they'll like my voice. I wasn't worried about singing 'cos I knew I could sing well, I was worried about whether I would fit in. I'd been in Nathan their manager's office the whole time saying "oh! PLEASE let me sing with them!" and he kept saying "no! It's a lad's band! We've got no room for a girl." So I've gave him a ticket to come and see me sing and after he said "Oh, you're brilliant, you're off your head, yeah I'll try and find a role for you." So they got me to sing Step On and then I didn't ever not sing with them ever again. Literally two weeks later I was on Top of The Pops.
ILM: Haha! Incredible! Aside from the Mondays you've done a few other projects...
Rowetta: Yeah. I've done other stuff, X-Factor and things and I loved that because it was a challenge. But what I really love is Mondays, Hookie, the dance stuff. I am so lucky I get to sing in my favourite band!
ILM: A career in music naturally has its ups and downs. How have you stayed driven and focused to keep doing music?
Rowetta: I think it's something within me. My kids can sing but it's not in them the same way. I love it. I'm always doing something. I would never sit at home and be content with my life. I think that's boring and I don't do boring. I realise now that going out, getting plastered, getting drunk all the time, that's not the way forward either 'cos then you can't do anything the following day. That's a rarity, I've learnt that now. I don't need to do that because that doesn't make me happy. What makes me happy is working.
ILM: What else are you up to?
Rowetta: I'm writing a book now, that'll keep me quite busy. Luckily I'm emailed a lot by bands asking me to sing with them, producers email me tracks. Because I've been around a long time I get asked to work a lot. I'm going to do some more gigs with Peter Hook because I love singing with him, I love the Joy Division songs, the reaction from their fans is brilliant. Other stuff too. I've fronted a domestic violence campaign, I go to the Styal prison and see the ladies there. I've just opened a unit there. It's just doing something. I'd rather do that than do nothing, sit watching television wishing my life away.
ILM: Now Mondays are back together will you keep working with new bands?
Rowetta: Yeah, I like doing that. Also the look on their faces when I say yes, they never think I'm going to say yes and I get asked a lot. I don't do it that much because I think it should be special and I must love the song, I have to love the song. I did it last year with The Rainband. I just did it with a band called Post Zero on a song called The Shallows which will be out in January. They can't believe they've got the girl from the Happy Mondays singing with them! How flattering is that!
ILM: What else can we expect from the Mondays?
Rowetta: From April I think we're doing a world tour, Dubai, Australia, Japan. Then a new album coming out. So at the start of the year I'll do as much writing as I can, do my dance tunes. Then get my book done. I really want to do that. Tina Turner's book inspired me. I want to do that. And I will!
On the 19th and 20th December 2012 Happy Mondays will play two back to back gigs at London's Roundhouse. Each night will be followed by an after party with Bez on the decks. Book tickets and find out more at http://www.capitalmusicevents.com/happy-mondays