Happy Mondays' Gary Whelan looks forward to their headline show at GuilFest

GuilFest 2009 interview

published: Mon 8th Jun 2009

Happy Mondays

Friday 10th to Sunday 12th July 2009
Stoke Park, Guildford, Surrey., England MAP
£110 with camping, Child (aged 12-15) £60
last updated: Wed 17th Mar 2010

Gary Whelan has been providing the backbone of the Happy Mondays from behind his drum kit since the band started in January 1981. When I phone him at home in Toronto, Canada, he's out in the garden complaining about his plaster cast foot. He has had a gardening accident, and tore three tendons, but he'll be fine for GuilFest.

Happy Mondays
I ask if he's looking forward to headlining GuilFest, he replies, "Yes, I am actually. I like all festivals, I prefer doing festivals to tours. They're always good fun." Whelan doesn't know who is on the line-up, he doesn't have it in front of him, so I read it out to him... "The Brian Wilson? Christ Almighty, okay! Brian Wilson will be sound. I'd like to see The Stranglers as well, and The Charlatans are playing as well?" He sounds possibly genuinely disappointed that Will Young is playing at the same time as Happy Mondays, We could have got him on stage for a number, couldn't we?"

The Wailers are on stage before Whelan, Ryder, Bez, and co. take to the stage. Coincidentally the drummer had been watching a documentary about the famous reggae group the night before. This reminds Whelan of another time when the band met The Wailers, year's ago in 90's when they both appeared at festivals in Portugal. "They were playing a different festival in Portugal to us, but they'd shoved us and The Wailers in a hotel together. I remember coming down for breakfast and the herbal smell hit me as I got into the lift. I went into the breakfast room, and Bez was up for breakfast. Well, if Bez is there for breakfast it means he hasn't got up for breakfast, it means he's arrived back for breakfast, if you know what I mean. Bez was sat at the table with them all, as he does, being a social dreamer. I remember particularly the really smokey room, this was in the days when you could smoke indoors."

"They are actually Bez's heroes Bob Marley And The Wailers. I don't think The Wailers ever got the credit they should have done. Bob Marley always saw them as a band, rather than a backing band." Whelan thinks their performance at GuilFest will be fantastic in the sun.

The Happy Mondays have played hundreds of festivals since their formation, although Whelan has never been a big festival person, and he wouldn't attend festivals if the band wasn't performing. "I prefer gigs, I've always liked proper gig indoors. I was never a big festival viewer, I prefer playing festivals, but watching I prefer gigs. I think a couple of have been great that really stand out." I ask Whelan who his most memorable bands he's seen at festivals, "Watching Oasis, and The Chemical Brothers, stand out, both those bands are made for festivals."

The band are also appearing at V Festival, and possibly some festivals in Europe, "I've just got the emails about our itinerary, I'm in Canada, but I'm going to the UK from the 1st July for three weeks, then I come back home for a couple of weeks, and then back there again, and then we're doing the States from September until the end of the year. I think there will be some dates in Europe, there usually is, it's always really last minute with us, like everything."

I'm interested in knowing whether Whelan will explore the festival whilst he's at GuilFest, "I never used to, but I do these days now I'm older and boring, but when I was younger, it was from wherever the alcohol was, to the bus, to the stage, to the dressing room. But these days, now I'm older and more grown up, I do like to have a look about."

The Happy Mondays haven't just been resting on their laurels, they have new material on the horizon, "We've done six new tracks, which have vocals on. They are a lot more electronic sounding, electronic grooves, and more commercial." He doesn't like to compare the sound to anyone else, but says the nearest comparison, if he has to make one, is to the 2005, collaboration with their lead singer and Gorillaz on the 'Dare' track. The sound is, he says, more, "An electro punk, electro funk, kind of thing. We've had the demo of them done, but we've put it on the shelf in the studio for now. Shaun's doing other stuff, I've got Baby Matthew which is another band I do, Bez is doing TV stuff, and then we're going to re-visit the tracks again, in January once we get back from the States, finish the album of and then we'll release it some time next year."

So will any of these new tracks get an airing at GuilFest, I ask. He replies, "Usually for festivals it's mainly the old stuff we play, with one or two newer tracks thrown in, but it will be 85% old stuff festivals. It's not our crowd, so we can't put them through stuff they don't know."

Whelan is keen to showcase the old stuff, he says, "Shaun says he gets bored of playing them, but I never do. We change them a little bit so it makes it more exciting for us. But, it's hard to change the vocals, so he's got to do the vocals as it sounds. But, if it gets boring for us we change things around. I do think he just says that at times, I think he does really enjoy doing them."

With all the festivals the band has played over the years I wonder if Whelan has any advice for festival goers. He laughs, "Pace yourself!", He chuckles, "That would of course be me being a huge hypocrite."

The band have indeed grown up a bit these days, and all have got family with them now, do they go to festivals with them? "No. Well, actually it depends. GuilFest there might be. Well, my wife and the two kids are coming back to England, for the three weeks, because they have a big school break here. And it's a family festival, so that's what I might bring them down to. I think they might come for the day. But, it's an extra hassle for me, I'd rather just get on and do the job, rather than always thinking about someone else, but they're probably going to stay with friends in London for a couple of days, and come down."

Whelan has branched out into DJ sets, performing particularly over in Canada, does he enjoy it? "I love it, I love doing it. When I'm on my own ver here (Canada) I do mainly dance stuff. I like to do some aftershow Happy Mondays ones sometimes, I do it on the decks with Bez, I play electro soul funk, and indie dance stuff. I put the headphones on and just watch Bez. I just have to keep him off the decks. He's always spilling drinks, and jumping on the decks, and stuff. He's always trying to find a microphone to shout stuff down, you know what he's like. I do love it, that's what I do here most weekends."

And his track he likes to drop to get everyone up and dancing? "Well usually I have a Felix Da Housecat track with Nina Simone, Sinnerman, which starts off as a four, four and has a great vocal on it. I always drop that one, and there's the obvious ones in party clubs, but I like to drop in anything by the Chemical Brothers, and 'Fight For The Right To Party' by the Beastie Boys is always a good one."

He doesn't like to play the band's own material though. "I never play any of our stuff, I've broken away from all that. 'Drive Yourself' by the Stone Roses is another good one as well, it's guitar driven, and there's a great drums in that, that you can keep looping. If it's a dance crowd I'll throw something guitar orientated in."

He's a big fan of mixing things up in DJ sets, "I don't understand these people who stick to one genre of music. I don't know anyone who has a music collection of one genre, I think it's pretty sad if someone has. Our band is hip-hop but we're guitar based hip-hop with harmonies, it's the Beatles meets Public Enemy. That's the two things I've always loved, soul music and guitar. I've always loved the Velvet Underground, and The Temptations, and Beatles, and the Stones, all mixed in."

Although we are used to people liking cross sections of music in England, it seems that fans on the other side of the Atlantic have far more streamlined tastes, "You'd be surprised. It's a very English thing. If someone comes from a different genre, people here just won't listen to it. That was the initial difficulty with us in the States very early on, when they would say, well are you a dance band or a guitar band. We'd reply, well we don't really know what we are, we're just a band. It's changing a little bit, here in Toronto it's mainly rock, and I'm not a big rock fan. I like punk rock, and The Who and Led Zeppelin, and that's about as rock as I get. People talk to me about music by rock bands, and I don't know what they're talking about, I just don't know my rock music."

So what is the music he does like to listen to? He replies, "I'm a huge fan of The Bees, and there's a band in Manchester called Twisted Wheel, they're quite good. There's a Canadian band called Spirits, they're kind of like Killers-eque stuff with big beats in, not the kind of stuff I usually like, but I do. Montreal has most of the best bands, all of the great bands come from Montreal."

I'm intrigued to know with his dislike of going to festivals as a festival goer when the last time he slept in a tent was. Whelan says, "That would have to be when me and the wife drove across America, which was ten year's ago." And would he like to sleep in a tent again? "No. I'm over forty now, too old for that. But I say that, there's a big camping culture here in Ontario, with people going up there with families. So, I probably will end up going up there at some point, but the weather is a lot hotter here. Growing up in Manchester Camping is not really ideal. Somewhere in England where it's greener and less urban, without smog perhaps. I think I did once camp out in the back garden, although having said that, we did have the Lake District, but I never ventured up there."

I ask Whelan if he was to curate his own festival and able to choose any line-up who would he choose. The drummer opts for a bill of classic live acts. "I think it would have to be The Who, The Stones, Oasis, Chemical Brothers, the Beatles are my favourite band, but I'm not sure about them live, Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash, Sly & The Family Stone, The Band, Dylan, Elvis, all the text book usual ones. I'm also a big fan of Saul Williams, although I don't know if he'd be good for festivals."

"I think The Doors would probably be great at a festival. They'd be great festival band, they used to play indoor gigs as though they were festivals. Just the way they break the songs down, and ad lib, and that's something bands usually only do at festivals. I think The Doors would be the ultimate festival band."

Before the end of the interview I ask Whelan how he sees the music scene compared to what they started in the Eighties. He reveals that he felt in the Eighties the pop music scene was absolutely appalling. "Like any era, there's always a lot of dross. Although, the real underground scene of the Eighties was very good. There was a lot of real indie sounding bands back then, they're all forgotten now. People forget that indie bands didn't get on Radio One, or Top Of The Pops. We toured with some great bands like Colourfield, and lots of other Velvet Underground inspired bands, such as Pop Will Eat Itself. All those kind of bands were great. We did a full tour once with the Weather Prophets."

"I think it's a lot different these days, nowadays the attention span is a lot shorter, it shortens as each generation goes by. The concept of the album has gone really. You don't get time as a band to indulge yourself. That was a great thing about being a fan of the band finding the album tracks, and the B-sides, and the lost tracks. I think those days are behind us now, that was the beauty of having not just the tracks that grab you in, but also the rare tracks you could find."

"I was in Manchester last year for In The City, and there was bands with attitude, but the attitude appeared to have been schooled. and it just didn't ring true. Now, I'm not saying that every band needs to have attitude. But sometimes a band needs a bit of attitude not arrogance but belief is different. It just seems to me that they're playing the game. They are forced to play the game to a certain extent, but it doesn't seem as real. It's just the nature of modern day."

"There's also a lot more bands about these days, trying to appeal over the net, and to a certain extent live to people with short attention spans, so I think it's difficult these days."

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Whelan and Happy Mondays appear as headliners of GuilFest's main Stage on Sunday 12th July. GuilFest takes place at Stoke Park, Guildford in Surrey with the dates confirmed as Friday 10th to Sunday 12th July 2009.

Tickets are priced at £100 for an adult weekend, £110 weekend with camping. For children aged between 12 and 16 years old tickets are priced at £50 for the weekend, or £60 for weekend with camping. N.B. Children between 12 – 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Children aged under 12 have free entry with a ticket holding adult.

To buy tickets, click here.

The music starts at around 5pm on the Friday, and noon on Saturday and Sunday. Music finishes at 11pm on Friday and Saturday, with an earlier 9:30pm finish on Sunday.

interview by: Scott Williams

Friday 10th to Sunday 12th July 2009
Stoke Park, Guildford, Surrey., England MAP
£110 with camping, Child (aged 12-15) £60
last updated: Wed 17th Mar 2010


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