Reggae sounds so befitting of Jamaica that it seems if you were to hold the island to your ear like a conch then ‘Three Little Birds’ would be the natural sound it resonates. Thus, like the hush of the wind through the leaves of a tree that sounds closer to silence than sound, reggae is something so natural-seeming the question about how it came to be is rarely asked. Like everything else on the sun-kissed beaches of Bob Marley country, things just seem to peacefully unfurl at their own tranquil pace.
Likewise, in Manchester, occurrences as crazy as a horse parading around a living room simply colour the everyday lives of natives. It is a kaleidoscopic soot-covered utopia for bohemians on the rather more fizzing side of the scale. Thus, much like Marley, the Happy Mondays are wild enough to be considered a sonic glass slipper to the streets of L.S. Lowry where stupefying sights are so common that it is, in fact, a normality that seems amiss.
It was with this in mind that Factory Records sent their wayward Manc assets off to get some sun on their backs, hopefully, soak up some of the serene atmosphere and manage to make a record in peace. As it happens, things would go so sideways that in terms of a travel feature, their tale in the Caribbean serves as a great guide of just how to avoid having the worst holiday of your life in one of the Earth’s most beauteous spots.
The plan was simple: in order to protect the Happy Monday, 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.
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, Ryder had allegedly started racking up 50 rocks of crack in a day. Proving a paradigm of modern music, 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 whizzed up 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.
As it happens, Wilson had also made the disastrous decision to give the renegade band 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 that means). There might have been no heroin on the island, but as Wilson later remarked: “No one told us it was Crack City!”
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. Ryder was suffering from substance-induced writer’s block, and the studio was pilfered of just about anything capable of recording music.
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 an era where the tagline for tourism is ‘leave nothing behind but your footsteps’ their trip is one that stands as the antithesis of how to enjoy Barbados responsibly. Fortunately, the drug problem that the Happy Mondays left in their wake has since disappeared and the serenity that seems amiss in surrealist Manchester has now returned.
The music, however, remains. The Blue Wave studios are well worth a passing visit even at a gentler pace than the manic maelstrom of the Mondays that once besieged it. Converted from an outhouse of an old 18th-century plantation property it is an edifice of the sound that makes the Caribbean sing. It remains a haunt for bands on writing sessions, but it is enjoyed in a breezier disposition. St. Phillips is now the sort of azure sea paradise that could feature on a Bounty advert, but lingering in the sleepiness is a pinch of musical reverie that makes it perfect to crank up some songs as you sip on a daiquiri, just be sure not to take it too far!