Happy Mondays - Gaz Whelan interview
- 22 December 2008
On the eve of the Happy Mondays show at the Print Factory in Glasgow, we grab five minutes with Gaz Whelan, the original drummer of band, where he tells about life in Canada, Manchester and on the road with the Mondays in the early days.
You’ve recently moved to Canada, how did that come about?
“Well I’m in Canada now and have been here for four months. Actually, prior to this I also lived in Australia for four years. When the band split up between 94 and 98 I moved there and lived there till the Mondays struck up again doing the odd gig here and there, so I came back. The gigs got more and more and it was too much hard work doing the travelling back and forth.
“With Canada I’ve got kids now and it’s a really nice place to live. I wanted a change really. I’m back in Manchester all the time doing the Mondays stuff and I’m also working with this hip hop band, The Hippie Mafia, so I’m back at least once a month.
Looking to the Glasgow Academy gig, you’ve always held a good rapport with Scottish crowds. What makes playing in Scotland so special and what memories have you got of playing there?
“Scotland’s always a great gig and Japan’s always really good too but we’ve always love playing in Scotland. The first Barrowlands gig we did, on the way there, the tour bus broke down in the middle of nowhere and we went to this farmhouse and there was this farmer, his family and his wife. They ordered us a load of taxis to get there, we were about thirty miles outside Glasgow and we only just made it. The equipment turned up at the last minute, we went on without a real soundcheck and it was one of the best gigs that we’d done up to then.
You’re playing with The Hacienda which is where you first started out?
“When people talk about it as a 'Hacienda revival' then to me the word revival makes it sound really bad, but when you talk about the Hacienda you have the likes of The Ministry Of Sound and Hed Kandi doing all their nights and whatever but The Hacienda was the coolest club on the planet. For the Hacienda to do its own nights, it doesn’t need to prove anything nowadays. It speaks for itself. It was the coolest club in the world.
“The line ups for both gigs we’re doing are amazing, with some of the people who for me are the best DJ’s in dance music. It’s one of the things Mancunians forget about Manchester - how big it is for dance music. Over here in Canada, people are like “Oh the home of Mr Scruff, 808 State” rather usual guitar stuff that people associate with the city. The dance side has always been groundbreaking.
“Back in the day, we used to go pretty there much every night, mainly cos we got in for nothing and it was more of an indie club, The Hac, and the Saturday night was the funk night - like electrofunk, hip hop and the early breaks stuff. Greg Wilson was the DJ who got us into all that and this break dance crew Broken Glass used to do all the b-boy stuff. That was what brought it all to Manchester and that’s what people remember the Hacienda for.
What do you think the legacy of Factory and the Hacienda is today?
“Factory or The Hacienda, well they’re both part of the same thing really. When we set up the label in Australia with a guy at Sony Australia who was Shaun’s cousin, we were like "what do we want the label to be like?" and we realised pretty soon that we wanted it to be like Factory. Maybe not run like Factory, but it was the coolest label, it really, really was. We were completely different to anything that they’d signed before but it was still the coolest label. If there was one label we could have chosen to be on at the time then it would have been Factory without a doubt. We pushed it out of our minds and thought there’s no way Factory would sign us, we were completely the opposite to everything they’ve got. We jumped at the chance, we were all made up. It’s bizarre, it took us all round the world, and I think when we first started we would play mad little venues in wherever it was - whether it was in Arkansas, America or up in the Lake District - and you’d turn up and there were people there in long coats who were Joy Division fans who were there just because you were on Factory. They probably didn’t like what they’d hear - a lot of people were surprised on the tour because we were on Factory - so that definitely helped us without any doubt.
“Both the club and the label were cultural melting posts if you like. The time we first started going to the club - which was the early Eighties - there was no sign outside, there were no lush carpets, no cheesy DJ, no handbags on the floor, none of that - and all clubs back then were like that. You got into the Hacienda, it was fucking freezing, the acoustics were appalling and it was always empty - in the early days at least - but it was great. With the design it was like stepping into Eastern Europe.
What do you think was so different about those times and why do we remember them?
“I think that now, with the Obama thing, everybody was ready for change, the time was there. Manchester was on the point of going from the biggest city in the North but playing second fiddle to London to becoming this major European city. What comes of that is good and bad obviously cos it’s changed a lot over the last five years. It was ready for that though and dance music was the vehicle in a lot of ways. Manchester’s always been submerged in black music and culture. Always. Even every indie band had that - A Certain Ratio, New Order, The Mondays - it’s all there and that time for dance music, it just exploded, - it was perfect. The legacy that should be remembered is that it was the club that brought hip hop to the UK, even before parts of America. It had come out of the South Bronx and before it had even hit Manhattan, it has hit Manchester. It was as important as The Twisted Wheel was in the 70’s. People like Greg Wilson and Mike Pickering were the first to bring it across.
Tell us a little about the new outfit you’re working with The Hippie Mafia?
“That’s a new thing that I’ve been doing - me and some kids from Manchester. There’s four of us and we’ve had a couple of name changes but we’ve settled on Hippie Mafia. It’s kind of sixties psychedelic mixed with two singers mixed with hip hop, but like Gil Scott Heron hip hop - political awareness hip hop. It’s definitely not gangsta rap. I was chatting to the lads in Hippie Mafia about this the other day - political lyrics in hip hop - it’s about time really. It started off like that with Public Enemy and now it seems to be going back to that bit by bit.
“With Hippie Mafia we’re drawing on stuff like Gil Scott Heron mixed with Spearhead with Primal Scream and The Beatles. Its got a really dirty feel, kind of The Mama’s and The Papas meets Public Enemy.”
The Happy Mondays play The Hacienda Warehouse Party at Glasgow Academy which also features Darren Emerson, Slam, 808 State, Arthur Baker and A Certain Ratio.