HAPPY MONDAYS / THE CORTINAS 53 Degrees, Preston 31 May 2007

Manchester quartet The Cortinas were already enthusiastically attacking their support slot when I arrived at 53 Degrees. Apparently bass-less (if they are I didn’t notice any lack of low frequencies at the time) and - how can I put this? – certainly aware of the Arctic Monkeys, they made an entertaining noise peppered with dry, wry lyrical observations. If there’s space in the marketplace, they deserve to plant their flag – or at least park their car – on it.

During what seemed like an interminable between-bands wait, I experienced something of an epiphany. After a succession of sides by noted Mancunians, including Doves and A Guy Called Gerald, whoever was in charge of the tunery put on Hardfloor’s “Acperience”, a thumping early 90s acid anthem. Now, I’ve adored this track for years, but never before have I heard it played ridiculously loudly in a crowded club, and, without wanting to sound like some E-addled rave casualty being interviewed on “I Love 1987”, there was definitely something in the air. If only I’d misspent my youth, I might’ve known what it was.

As that interminable wait drew lazily to a close, a comfy chair was brought to the centre of the stage, and liberally upholstered with what looked like towels. Would Shaun Ryder be performing from a reclining position this evening? Are his new teeth a little gravity-sensitive? Bez’s condition was rather more concerning. Despite functioning as the band’s proxy frontman whilst Shaun held court centre stage, his unkempt stubble and bandaged arm (not his maracas arm, fortunately) suggested he was the more derailed of the twosome.

Sonically, though, in their current configuration the Mondays are a treat. They play some new songs, which sound exactly the same as their old songs (but in a good way, naturally). They play some old songs as well, mainly drawn from their small but impressive pool of hits, including the Can-rifling “Hallelujah”, the elephantine Balearic frug of “Step On”, “Kinky Afro”, “Loose Fit” and their credo in a nutshell, “24 Hour Party People”. There are a couple of surprises as well: Black Grape’s “Reverend Black Grape” receives an airing; anything from “Bummed” doesn’t. Ramshackle their sound may be, but it has an undeniable motive force, like some warehouse party nightmare reimagination of Sly & The Family Stone, whipped mercilessly along by drummer Gary Whelan, who, judging by his between song clatter, is the real motive force of the band (and, alongside Shaun and Bez, the only other remaining original member).

The aforementioned double act splatter the evening with moments of comedy, whether it be Bez scamming cigarettes from the front rows to enable Shaun’s blatant violation of the venue’s no smoking policy, or Bez demanding to be introduced three times, once for each of his personalities. Creaky around the edges and short of set they may be (tonight’s performance barely lasted more than 65 minutes), but the Mondays can still send a crowd out into a Preston night grinning from ear to ear in a way that, for example, the Manic Street Preachers will never be able to.

HAPPY MONDAYS Bummed (Factory)

“Bummed” is one of those rare records that sounds so unlike anything that’s gone before it’s almost impossible to map where it’s sprung from. Prior to its 1988 release, the Happy Mondays’ only previous long-playing form was the cumbersomely titled, John Cale-produced “Squirrel And G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)”, an enjoyable enough disc of slovenly Mancunian indie guitar noise but not exactly the kind of thing genres are hewn from. It's scant preparation, then, for the explosion of psychedelics, psychedelia, experimentation and weirdness that is “Bummed”.

Lopsided opener “Country Song” is a bit of a misnomer, but the album properly establishes itself and its sound with “Moving In With”. It has a curious, kaleidoscopic lethargy, wrapped around a nursery rhyme-turned-terrace chant and swathed in buzzing distortion and disorientation courtesy of Martin Hannett’s divisive, trebly production. Underscored by dialogue swiped from the Nic Roeg/Mick Jagger gangster bad trip “Performance”, “Mad Cyril” clatters along on Gary Whelan’s incredible part-house part-funk drumming. Off-key and clattery, “Bring A Friend” is Shaun Ryder’s fantasy porn shoot made song, and “Lazyitis” is what passes for ethereal on a Happy Mondays album, more corrupted, psychedelic nursery rhymes caught in possession of the riff from “Ticket To Ride”.

How does “Bummed” stand up decades after the fact? Pretty well, as it happens. Its legacy is assured as in less cluttered form, reworked and remixed to oblivion, these songs would become the urtexts of the Madchester movement. The album itself still sounds weird and sinister, remaining a corrupting influence where contemporaries such as “The Stone Roses” have nowadays become comfortable classic rock fodder.

Black Grape