Review: Sulk steal the show at Happy Mondays’ anniversary

Inide band Sulk. (Picture by  Lilly Creightmore)
Inide band Sulk. (Picture by Lilly Creightmore)

By Graham Chalmers

Happy Mondays + Sunshine Underground + Sulk, 02 Academy, Leeds.

One great advantage Sulk have over Happy Mondays at the 02 Academy in Leeds is youth. They are still full of possibility.

This Harrogate/London five-piece may not quite ‘broken through’ but they have been the subject of national media attention this year since the release of their brilliant debut album Graceless.

Although it didn’t set the charts alight it has the hooklines, swagger and vision headliners Happy Mondays once had when they released their gloriously mental album Bummed 25 years ago.

But times - and hairlines - have definitely changed since the days “think of the future” boomed out across deliriously dazed audiences.

Following an assured but non-threatening performance by Sunshine Underground, who sounded like Hot Chip might have sounded if they had been around during the ‘Madchester’ days, the middle-aged Shaun Ryder, Bez and co shuffle on stage casual as you like to play the whole of Bummed right through.

Rumours abound in the crowd dominated by men of a certain age come to salute their loose-fitting heroes in looser-waisted trousers.

Bez has a separate dressing room to the rest of the band. Shaun only arrives at the venue five minutes before showtime and needs an autocue.

On stage today’s Mondays are a bit of a mess.

The best thing about the Bummed album wasn’t the songs but the atmosphere and feel producer Martin Hannett managed to elicit from them, particularly through the heavy use of echo and reverb on the drum sound - though one track, Wrote for Luck, did help ‘break’ the Mondays after Paul Oakenfold had mixed it for dance clubs.

Sadly, the sound at this gig is the worst I’ve heard for a major band in nearly 20 years, only coming into any focus for the encore and proper hits like Step On and Kinky Afro.

Nothing sounds like it did on the album, though this raw and ugly live performance featuring original rhythm section Gary Whelan and Paul Ryder with Mark Day on guitar may actually be what they sounded like at early gigs at The Haciena.

Everything is destroyed – the atmosphere, the album, what’s left of the Monday’s reputation.

Not that the diehards seem to care. They lap it up.

You’ve got to laugh, I suppose, and Shaun himself sees the funny side through those puffed up eyes. Besides the powerful voice of Rowetta sometimes rescues the situation.

As a grey-haired Bez takes a breather from the exertions of his freaky dancing, Shaun says from the mic stand “Oi, granddad, should I get St John Ambulance.”

It’s the best moment the band I saw alongside 25,000 other fans at their famous Elland Road show in 1991 can manage all night.

The rippling, majestic psychedelic chords and innocent, good vibe vocals of first support band Sulk may not be setting the world alite right now but give me them any day over the band milking Bummed for the money.

The missing link between classic Echo & The Bunnymen and the Stone Roses, Sulk represent tomorrow, not yesterday.