The world of the Happy Mondays is different to the one you and I live in. They are a band who exist on another plane, one where sitcom folly rules the roost to such an extent that they seem primed for a rollicking miniseries. The pinnacle of season one would be perhaps the biggest album recording farce in music history. This is the tale of that sun-drenched disaster…
One of the beautiful things about modern music is that the engines of income are often the least reliable folks in history. If you were sat in the waiting room of a job interview and Bez wondered in with his pilot’s hat on and whizz to his eyes you’d fancy your chances, but as fate would have it, he was technically a lynchpin figure in a multimillion-pound corporation.
In order to protect their assets, Factory Records decided the best plan to mitigate issues going into the recording of their fourth album would be to stow the band away on a Caribbean Island free of the heroin that had begun to besiege Shaun Ryder’s life. Even Ryder couldn’t turn down Barbados, so he happily braved withdrawal to get the album made in the luxury of white sands, coral seas, and, as it turned out, monumental amounts of crack cocaine.
The Happy Mondays arrived at Eddy Grant’s Blue Wave studio in Barbados with all the right intentions. Late Factory Records manager Tony Wilson felt assured by the optimism going into the recording, only to be informed that within 48 hours of their arrival, that Ryder had started racking up 50 rocks of crack in a day.
Wilson had also made the disastrous decision to give them a hefty per diem, thinking it would go towards the record and, seeing as though drugs weren’t a problem in the Caribbean, they’d have a tough time squandering it. However, once he heard about the spiralling crack problem, he chartered a flight straight over and as his plane was coming into land, he witnessed Ryder and Bez wheeling a sofa down to the street apparently to sell for binge funds.
Sofas were the least of Wilson’s worries, he soon found out that the band had begun selling Grant’s recording equipment and had crafted a makeshift crack den out of sun loungers in his swimming pool (the melon twists trying to even imagine what this means). There might have been no heroin on the island, but as Wilson later remarked: “But no one told us it was Crack City!”
Adding: “The day we pulled the recording because it completely collapsed due to crack, a person from the band was stopped at 1am with the backfire doors of the studio open. He was taking two sofas out of Eddy Grant’s studio to town to sell for crack.”
As if the burgeoning crack issue hadn’t hindered the album enough, Bez later overturned a hired jeep and was fortunate to escape with merely a broken arm that nevertheless halved his maraca shaking capabilities. And Ryder was suffering from substance-induced writer’s block.
After splurging hundreds of thousands and, in the process, leaving a small crack epidemic on the island in their wake, they returned to the UK with unusable recordings with no vocals and a heavily hindered sonic fidelity owing to the rapidly diminishing equipment available to them in the recording studio. Ryder held firm on these master tapes nonetheless and threatened to destroy them if he wasn’t given some money. He was happy to settle for the £50 he was offered.
In the end, the flagging Factory Records were shortly declared bankrupt, and the release of the album, Yes Please, did little to save them. While time may have allowed the baggy dust to settle on the ordeal, and Ryder himself has been quick to condemn his own actions, both The Mondays and Factory Records had a monumental impact on music, culture and Madchester. The frolics were just the half of it.