Behind the lens: NYC, Barcelona thrills with the (reuniting!) Happy Mondays
I photographed Happy Mondays from inception to disintegration. On their first trip to New York in 1987, Shaun Ryder told me that they’d gone straight to 42nd St. (it was pretty dangerous back then and was virtually a no-go area after dark). They’d bought some beers and were walking down the street drinking from the bottle when a police car stopped alongside them. The cops quickly realized they were English and one told them they couldn’t drink in the street. Before he could finish his sentence, Bez (Mark Berry) told him, “No one tells me where I can drink, pal.”
A second later, Bez was in an arm-lock and his face was squashed against the roof of the squad car. The nice policeman explained that if they wanted to drink in the street, they could indulge in the activity of “brown-bagging,” or essentially keeping your bottle hidden in a brown bag so as not to corrupt minors – or whatever the reason. I saw Shaun the day after the gig. He was drinking Perrier water in a brown bag. I laughed and he said, “Straight up, man. They’ll bang you in goal if you drink in the street.”
I thought to tell him it only applied to alcohol, but he looked happy enough, so I left him to it. I obviously wanted a very New York shot of the band and had initially thought about doing it at night with all the neon around 42nd St. / Times Square. But I realized there’d be too many distractions. I needed somewhere where I could be sure they wouldn’t wander off.
Tony Wilson, who was on the trip with us, suggested the Staten Island Ferry. It was a 45-minute or so round trip, and they couldn’t escape. Perfect.
I love this shot because with Shaun yawning, it looks like he’s already bored with the Big Apple. However, the truth is more prosaic: He hadn’t slept for three days; the last thing he needed was to be incarcerated on a boat with the rest of the band. He needed sleep.
I traveled all over the world with Happy Mondays – shooting Shaun on a huge ‘E’ on top of a Barcelona hotel roof being a favourite (and enduring) image. I’d been shooting Shaun and Bez under the first three letters of Hotel, ‘HOT,’ Summer of Love, etc., when it suddenly occured to me what the fourth letter was. I didn’t think the NME would use it, but they stuck their necks out and put it on the cover – thus perfectly capturing the zeitgeist.
In 1990, I was shooting them for the short-lived NME companion magazine Vox. They were to be the cover of the first issue. I suggested to Shaun that we reprise the brown bagging incident from that first tour – but without the police violence. I got Shaun to stand in a variety of locations on 42nd St drinking from the neck. He was still a bit wary of drinking beer on the street though, and again it’s a bottle of Perrier in the brown bag in the photo.
Another shot from this trip was a gift. We were hanging around after the sound-check at the club they were due to play when we noticed the signs on the backstage door. I shot the band in pairs against it – knowing that I’d only use the Bez one – but politically I wanted to involve all six of them. Bez duly gave me his best wasted look – well I think he was acting for the camera anyway.
Good to see them back… Now it’s only the Smiths we’re waiting for.
Editor’s note: It was recently announced that Manchester’s Happy Mondays are set for a reunion in May (yay!), bringing the orginal line up back together for the first time since 1992. For more of a look back through the Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches of the Happy Mondays, click here; meanwhile, I’ll be digging around for some Vision Street Wear. Good times…