“IT was hard enough livin’ it...never mind singin it!" Shaun Ryder apologised last night as he struggled to get his breath back after finishing The Happy Mondays’ anthemic soundtrack ‘24 Hour Party People’ at Kendal Calling.
There was no need to apologise. Despite what all the posters and websites and banners and festival lanyards say, The Happy Mondays came, saw, conquered and walked off with unofficial ‘best act of the festival’ last night (Saturday).
In a fair world, they’ll be Number One tonight and booked from now until 2034.
Just after half seven, in a mud-smeared Cumbrian glade lashed with rain, booze, litter and soaked ponchos, Bez limbered up to the front of the packed Main Stage to announce the band.
Rubber-limbed and skeletal in a Guy Fawkes-style hat, he roamed the edge of the mosh pit with a mic - forecasting his forthcoming ‘revolution’.
Bez is standing for parliament as an MP on pretty much a two-line manifesto. He wants to ‘get rid of the bankers’ and he also wants fracking, the parasitic practice of drilling into the earth’s crust, stopped.
Last night, this crowd would have carried him into Downing Street with Ryder tagging along as PM - whose first act would be to suspend all work for the ‘forseeable’.
As the guitar feedback swirled through giant towering speakers in the hot evening sun, the band’s immense engine-room Rowetta, tottered towards the mic in a head-turning cowgirl outfit.
Ryder skulked at the back of the stage, sizing up the crowd in a tight, zipped-up khaki jacket, looking healthy, sounding coherent but comically unsure of which number was next in the set.
For too long now, Ryder’s lifestyle has overshadowed his inimitable lyricism and his ear for encapsulating the caustic, cutting language of the common man.
When he sings, he has always sounded like an ordinary angry bloke shouting in a small bathroom, which of course, is all part of the Mondays' common appeal.
They opened with Loose Fit and if there had been a roof, it would now be located somewhere near the moon.
Some bands have an uncanny ability to nail the mood of a festival and so it was with The Mondays. Loose Fit pressed every button in the valley.
“Gonna buy an airforce base, gonna wipe out your race, get stoned in a different place, don’t you know I’ve got a better taste,” Ryder drawled.
These days, at 51, he conserves energy by moving as little as possible. Standing static, like a Friday night karaoke singer, focussing on the screen.
And when his range dips mid-song, Rowetta’s extraordinary powerful soul lungs kick in to fill in the cracks.
Bez’s contribution was also immense - raving solidly for an hour. He climbed imaginary ladders, bounding across the stage like some manic wooden puppet manipulated by invisible strings.
Across the fields, I saw 10 Star Wars stormtroopers dancing, a Roman Soldier complete with broadsword, people dressed as ET, Spock from Star Trek, Buzz Lightyear, Spongebob Square Pants....Girls so caked from head-to-toe in mud they resembled bronze statues brought to life through music.
The Mondays followed it up with a searing version of 1990’s Kinky Afro. And on the subject of politics, it would be difficult to recall any MP before or since, who has articulated more about real life on impoverished ‘Council Estate Britain’ in the quarter-of-century which has passed since it was in the charts.
“Son I’m 30, I only went with your mother cos she’s dirty, and I don’t have a decent bone in me, what you get is just what you’re seeing. I said Dad, you’re shabby, you’re only here just out of habit.”
The slow-building hypnotic club classic Hallelujah, from 1989, bounced off the centuries old oak trees at Lowther Deer Park like it was written to be played at this venue. And for the raunchy Bob’s Yer Uncle, Ryder, aware of it being a family festival with children present, sang an edited version.
The same could not be said for Frank Turner who needlessly effed and blinded to announce his set.
The loudest roar of the night for The Mondays came for Step On and the Melon Twisters have never sounded so hip, man.
The crowd, from front row to the furthest back, 'twisted' like Madchester never really went away.
Ryder may not have the vocal range any more, Bez may cut a strange figure during PMQ's, Rowetta may yet turn up on another TV talent show, but what a show, what a band, what a defining festival moment this was.
The band bowed out with Wrote For Luck to conclude the best gig I’ve ever witnessed.
As the guitars whined out in a searing assault on the ears to end the set, Bez shouted: “People start the revolution tonight! Think about the future!”