Features Zone

Rowetta: I’m Buzzing – But It’s Not From Crazy Partying This Time…

The “Twenty Four Hour Party People – Greatest Hits Tour” celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Happy Mondays’ debut album “Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)”.

The 26-date trek kicks off tonight (10th November) in Scotland. Singer Rowetta lifts the lid on how the band are all getting on, if she thinks they can stay friends until the end of this seven-week jaunt and how the mad party antics are now all in the past!

 

 

It is no secret that the members of The Happy Mondays liked to party. Yeah, them 24-hour party people were mad for it – not averse to popping a few pills and/or supping their own body weight in booze back in the day.

The Madchester icons set off on a mammoth 26-date UK tour celebrating 30 years and their greatest hits today, but Shaun and Rowetta both told me there’s no chance of excess all areas this time.

Shaun says where it used to be sex, drugs and rock and roll, it’s now just the rock and roll. (See my interview with Shaun also here at Music Republic Magazine in the Features Zone). Rowetta seconds that!

But here’s a good boozy story for you…Rowetta, Bez and 10 of her bezzie mates all dressed up as bees, apart from Bez who is the bee keeper. Partying until the next day in Barcelona’s Manchester bar and around the Spanish streets.

People shoving their babies into the arms of Bez for a photograph, not recognising who he and Rowetta were, and of course, not knowing the backstory about their wild drug and booze-fulled days. So, when was this bizarre apiarian adventure? The 1980s or 1990s? No, it was in fact to celebrate Rowetta’s big five oh, 50th birthday in January last year (2016)!

Looking 20 years younger in the latest promo photos, Rowetta is buzzing (see what I did there?) about being back out on the road with her “family”, and says the band are sounding better and getting on better with each other than they ever have in their entire history

She joined them after the first two albums in 1990, for the hit album “Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches”, and sang on their biggest hits “Step On” and “Kinky Afro”. Rowetta appeared in the Steve Coogan film “24 Hour Party People” in 2002, as herself.

Happy Mondays were from Salford, Greater Manchester. Formed in 1980, the band’s original line-up was Shaun Ryder (vocals), his brother Paul Ryder (bass), Mark Day (guitar), Paul Davis (keyboard), and Gary Whelan (drums). Mark “Bez” Berry later joined the band onstage as a dancer/percussionist. Rowetta Satchell joined the band as a guest vocalist in 1990.

They experienced their commercial peak with the releases “Bummed” (1988), “Madchester Rave On” (1989), and “Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches” (1990), with the latter going platinum in the UK. The album was recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. Singles “Step On” and “Kinky Afro” from this album both reached number five in the UK singles chart.

The band were signed to Factory Records after passing a demo tape to Phil Saxe, a trader at Manchester Arndale who was on friendly terms with Mike Pickering, a DJ at the Haçienda nightclub. Saxe became the band’s manager. The first release from Happy Mondays was the “Forty Five EP”, often called the “Delightful EP” after its first track. It was released on Factory Records in September 1985. Their first album, “Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)”, was released in 1987.

They released “Yes Please!” in 1992, produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth from US legends Talking Heads, recorded at Eddy Grant’s studio in Barbados. By the late 1980s, the Happy Mondays personified rave culture. Numerous world tours meant the band had international success as well as massive success in their home country.

The lineup of the band during this first ten year period never changed, and the six original members Shaun Ryder, Paul Ryder, Gary Whelan, Paul Davis, Mark Day and Mark “Bez” Berry remained a tight unit until the first incarnation came to an end in 1994. The band has had five albums released, the last one was in 2007, the first one in 1987. Five live albums too, four EPs and 19 singles. They appear on shed loads of compilations and there’s a fair few bootlegs knocking about too.

Interest in the band is as fierce as ever, as reflected by a fair few of the current 26 tour dates selling out superfast and some of the other dates having only a few tickets left as the tour kicks off tonight (10th Nov) in Dundee, and ends on 23rd December back in Scotland, in Glasgow.

Buzzing…

Rowetta is bang up for it: “It’s gonna be tough as we have not toured for that long. Done tours, but four days on and two days off, and this one there is really not much time off. But we are getting on really, really well, so hopefully it’ll be brilliant. We just did a gig in Jersey which was just brilliant. We were buzzing. It is very rare we don’t come off stage and go: ‘Wow, that was amazing’. It’s just a great feeling.

“The other day, I walked on stage and said, ‘everything’s perfect; sound’s perfect; everyone’s getting along; everyone’s playing and singing better than ever. It’s just a great time to be in the band. When you can see everyone’s just buzzing and the audience are really loving it, we are getting great reviews, it really is fantastic”.

It is on record that the band fell out with each other and then split in 1994, reforming a couple of times since. Shaun and his brother Paul did not speak for a decade, but are pals again now. Rowetta takes up the history: “We did reform once before without the keyboard player and the guitarist, and it was not quite the same. Mark (guitarist) was such a big part of the band; the sound of the guitars; he didn’t play guitar for 19 years.

“So, it’s just brilliant to have the original line-up back. It feels fantastic; everyone’s in a good way, playing so well and in a happy place. It feels amazing, and any band that goes on so long are like family. Me and Bez are like brother and sister. We travel together and work a lot together away from the Mondays. It’s a joy to be able to do this as a job with the people that you love, and you’ve known for so long”.

Rowetta has not really stopped working in her own right since the Monday’s heyday. As we speak on the telephone, she is lead vocal on a dance track that is number three on the Beatport charts. She is often in Ibiza and Majorca for her own dance club gigs, and she fronts Peter Hooks’ band The Light and his Hacienda Classical project with an orchestra. There’s house music producers queuing up to get her voice on their cuts right now. But she is very choosy as to what projects she says yes to. Not wanting to ever regret anything she does. She sets the bar high.

Rowetta, who her friends call Ro, sometimes sings at after show parties with Bez on hand too, but says she has to be very disciplined these days about not going nuts after a gig and making sure she gets sleep.“I have to make sure I don’t party, because it is a tour, and so I don’t go off with the fans and go partying after the gigs. Can’t, need to sleep.

“With Happy Mondays, people expect you to party after the gigs and Bez does quite a lot of after parties and I sometimes sing at them. It’s just making sure you do get some sleep. I can’t afford to do that on this tour, it’s proper back to back gigs”.

So what essentials does Ro make sure she packs for a tour? “Loads of clothes. I love wearing really crappy, cheap clothes on stage with the Mondays.  I just think it’s funny. I wore a schoolgirl’s uniform the other day. Loads of whips, tambourines…

Sleeping with the boys…

“I’m on the tour bus sleeping with the boys. But I do have my own room at hotels, and my own space as a girl to get changed and do my makeup. I am very low maintenance. I don’t spend half an hour doing makeup in the day. I often don’t wear makeup in the day. Tie my hair back and put a hat on is the key! I don’t fuss…”

Rowetta hit the headlines back in 2004, when she entered the X Factor on TV, came fourth and was the last woman standing. Simon Cowell loved her. Is she glad did it?  “The biggest thing that came after the X Factor was the Black Eyed Peas using a sample of mine on their hit ‘Boom Boom Pow’, which gave me more work”. That song was their first US number one in 2008. She says she also won a large gay audience from doing the X Factor. But the real reason she did it, was for her Grandmother.

“My Grandma was in her late eighties and thought it was a waste of talent that I was singing with the Happy Mondays. She wasn’t a fan of the Happy Mondays or any of the house tunes I’ve done. She wanted to see me on TV and doing well, and in her eyes; famous. Because nothing I did with the Happy Mondays or even later when The Black Eyed Peas sampled me on their records, would have made her think I was a star.

“She wanted all her friends to see me on TV and what a great voice I had, in her eyes. So, she died thinking I was big and famous because I’d been on the X Factor and Simon Cowell loved me! That was important to me, and to sing a couple of her favourite songs. I didn’t care what other people thought; I didn’t tell anybody I was auditioning.

“I wasn’t doing much at the time. But I didn’t see it as a way of making a career really. I wasn’t with the Mondays and was in a bit of a limbo, so I just thought I’d make my Grandma happy. To do so well in it; to be the top woman in it, I was just amazed, when you think of how many entered. It was a big honour really, that people vote for you, to keep you in. That exposure definitely allowed me to do so many ‘Prides’ around the world”.

Steve Brookstein won the series that year, much to many viewers dismay. But Rowetta feels she has a much better career than he does, even though she did not win the show. “People who don’t win usually do better. It’s not my cup of tea. My career is a lot better than his. I’ve not stopped. I didn’t want to do an album of cabaret stuff, which they make you do when you come out of that as the winner. I didn’t have a tour that flopped! I have done want I really wanted to do. I’m number three in the Beatport dance charts today with a song I’ve written. I’m in a really cool place….”

They wanted me to perform like a seal…

Cowell said you were “barking bloody mad”. Is he right? “He saw me with three nicotine patches on and I’d had a couple of drinks. But he got to know me and realised I am a very intelligent woman and I work really hard. I think that’s why I did so well.

“My audition was a bit mad, but he would say to me on the show: ‘Can you not be a bit more mad? Half the reason you got on the show apart from your amazing voice, is your personality’. But I just switch off when I am bored, and just wanted to go back to my room and learn my words. They wanted me to perform like a seal and that’s not really me.

“I’ve not watched it for years. I don’t like the audition shows; I hate novelty acts, can’t stand sob stories, so it’s just not for me. I didn’t think some of the judges are very talented to tell other people they couldn’t sing. It’s everything I am against. I did it for my Grandma, but do not need to watch it now. But I do like Simon and Sharon and get on with them very well”. She wuz robbed!

Funny factoid: Rowetta was in a Search for a Star contest in Salford as a youngster, two years after Lisa Stansfield won it. Rowetta beaten by a duo in her year. She did win a singing competition when she was 12, and she got binned by the choir she was in for standing out too much! Big mistake…

Bez won “Celebrity Big Brother” in 2005, Shaun Ryder went on “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here” in 2010 and came second to winner Stacey Solomon. Rowettta reveals she has been asked to go on most of the reality TV shows, but has so far said no thanks. But she says “never say never” though, but you will not ever find her doing the jungle show, that is for sure. She explains why.

“I can’t do heights. That’s why I said no to the Jungle. I was asked to go to the audition a few years ago. The money they offer is so ridiculous, but I said no straight away.

Getting high!

“I couldn’t even walk across the bridge, so it’s a no-no for me. I cannot stand the thought of walking across that bridge when I see it on TV; that’s bad enough for me. I am really bad with heights…Never say never, but up to now I have said no to all of them because I’ve not needed to do them. None of them are to do with singing”.

Recollecting the best moments of her career thus far; Rowetta reels off a list, including singing Joy Division songs with Peter Hook, appearing at the Royal Albert Hall, appearing at Glastonbury, and leading a minute’s silence for the Manchester Arena bomb victims with Peter Hook, and then performing with Hacienda Classical. She’s appeared at Glastonbury three times, done the huge stadium in Rio and played Wembley stadium with The Mondays opening for Oasis.

What made the Mondays such a success back then in her eyes? “Well, it was the right place and the right time. The focus became on Manchester, but I think that was because of the music: The Mondays, The Roses, Factory Records, Joy Division, New Order, and everything that went around that and all of a sudden, all eyes were on Manchester.

“The Hacienda being this massive, amazing club and all the people. I was lucky to be there at that time, because to me; I wanted to join The Mondays in 89, and they were more of a punk band to me. I didn’t see them as this big iconic Mancunian band that they became. I went to see them and thought, ‘wow, they’re like a punk band’.

“I want to sing with these because I’m into punk, and it just appealed to me like any other punk band would. I would probably have wanted to sing with Joy Division, but that wouldn’t have worked. But that worked out great because now I sing Joy Division songs with Hooky. So, I’m very lucky”.

But Rowetta never had any desires to be, or disappointment that she was not, the lead singer in the Mondays. “I was into punk as a kid, and I knew I could never front a punk band. I didn’t want to be Polystyrene, I’m not Debbie Harry to look at or vocally.

I never stand at the back…

“My voice is too distinctive really to front a punk band, so the closest I get to that now is singing Joy Division songs with Peter Hook. But I didn’t see that then. So, the nearest I could be to being in a punk band was the Happy Mondays, and doing what to me; Gloria did with T Rex; you know, where the girl came in and lifted all the songs.

“That’s what I wanted to do, but I didn’t want to do backing vocals. I never stand at the back; I’ve never been one of those backing singers who stands at the back. I’m at the front dancing with Bez. Me, Bez and Shaun really front the band and do all the interviews, so I get the best of both worlds without being mithered. If we go to an airport, Bez is stopped every single step of the way. I get people saying, “Oh aren’t you…” I get it every few steps, he gets it every single step. To be recognised all the time is a headache, but I can walk round with my head down and get the odd person say, “You’ve got a great voice”, which I love.

“I sing on my own at the front when I do my dance tunes and I’m happy with that. I sing at the front with Hooky and the Light, and Hacienda Classical. Shaun stands at the back and he’s the lead singer, but he has great presence. I get the best of both worlds, as I front a lot of projects, so I am really blessed”.

We were too close all the time…

Rowetta feels the biggest thing she has learned in her career is with the Mondays; they were together too much all the time and have learned they must each have their own space to avid the rows and aggravation like it was back in the day, and eventually split the band up.

“We were too close all the time. I can send vocals to the boys with the internet, and I don’t need to be with them 24 hours a day. We used to record always together, live together all the time, travel together on the bus.

“Now I do travel with some of the band. Bez and Shaun travel separately. We are not on top of each other all the time, get a lot of our own space and that’s a big lesson learned, I think. If you spend too long with anybody, eventually there’s going to be big cracks, and that’s what happened with this band.

“But again if we are not careful on this tour, the longer you spend with each other, everybody gets on each other’s nerves eventually. We are like family, and like any family there’s going to be problems. We haven’t had any because we are all getting our own space.

“I am lucky being a girl having my own room all the time. As soon as we arrive somewhere, I go and sit on my own for a bit and have my own little breathing space, go on social media, take myself away from being with the band all day long, and all night long. I do sleep on the bus with the boys and I will be on this tour, but it can get to you. You need to make sure you have that space”.

Shaun doesn’t do soundchecks or rehearsals, and he arrives shortly before a gig and clears off straight after, often back home to his wife and kids. A real changed man these days. No drugs, no crazy stuff, just the odd drink in moderation. A new set of gnashers too!

Rowetta is single, happy, has two grown up kids – son and daughter of 33 and 34, but no grandkids yet. “I’m too young to be a Grandma, and I’d miss them too much when I am on tour…”  Back to the mad and crazy partying of the old days, Rowetta says none of the band are doing anything to excess today. “I couldn’t party like I used to if I tried”.

Rehab

She had a stint in rehab’ in Malibu in 2009, initially for a TV programme which paid her £20,000 to go into a rehab’ facility with a bunch of other celebs, and talk about their addictions and issues with drugs and alcohol.

“I just drank a lot. I was a binge drinker. What it did teach me wasn’t really about being an alcoholic, because I didn’t miss the alcohol at all. But I needed therapy for being a battered wife, and that’s what I got while I was there”.

Rowetta fled the marital home after being badly beaten and abused for many years by her now ex-husband, and found refuge in a battered wives hostel. She explained more about the TV rehab’ stay. “I stayed two weeks without the cameras and got that sorted out. It was all about domestic violence. I can drink when I want to, but all I like the taste of is whisky. I don’t drink in the day, but I drink when I want to.

“To be honest, I need to sleep more than I used to do. I can’t be sat up drinking all night, and just be wrecked the next day. I’ve got too much stuff to do and I like driving my car. I have a couple before and after a gig, and that’s it”.

In September 2018 she will be in New Orleans to perform at a major gay event.  She also aims to record more house and dance records. Shaun told me his next year will be focused on his other band Black Grape, but after that he hopes they can write and record a new Happy Mondays album, which Rowetta is well up for too.

Rowetta – who signs herself in at hotels as “Rowetta Manchester” – gets the last word here, when asked to sum herself up in one sentence: “Lover, singer, friend, funny and Mancunian”. That Ro, she’s a top girl…

 

By Simon Redley

Photos: Paul Husband (group shot), Angie Wynne (Rowetta x 2) and Elspeth Moore (Shaun Ryder)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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