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For Happy Mondays' Bez, the party days are over

Mark Berry, AKA Bez, is best known as the affable and boggle-eyed nutter shaking the maracas for the Happy Mondays, the band at the “Madchester” fore. 

While the image of living large remains, Bez isn’t quite the 24-hour party person anymore. These days you’re just as likely to find him pottering about the garden or tending his bees on the roof of a Manchester print works as down at the local. In fact, it’s wholesome that Bez starts the day with a slug of apple-cider vinegar in water and a green juice freshly squeezed from produce he’s grown himself. 

“It gives me purpose, because every day I’ve got something to do,” he says. “There’s never a day where I get bored. Boredom used to be my worst enemy, because that’s when I used to go on bloody benders for days on end, know what I mean? And now, because I’ve got this purpose, I’m not out at the pub every day drinking. I’ve got things to do instead.” 

A Salford lad born to a policeman who found him bewildering at best until recent years, Bez’s infamy as the Happy Mondays’ mascot was totally unintended, albeit a suitably surreal outcome given it was fuelled by psychedelics in the first place. 

“It came about by pure chance,” he says. “I’d gone along one night to watch the Mondays support New Order on a program called The Tube. During that day, me and Shaun [Happy Mondays’ frontman and co-founder Shaun Ryder] had taken a load of acid and he was absolutely off his nut, and he’d gone to me, ‘Bez, you’re gonna have to come on stage with me. I can’t go onstage.’ I was all, ‘get lost, I’m not coming [on] stage.’ He said, ‘listen, if you don’t you’re a soft cunt.’ 

“So, I ended up having to go onstage, and I picked up these maracas … shook me maracas like mad and I did this mad acid dance that we were doing at the time.” The rest is history.      

As much as they were renowned for wild, drug-fuelled antics, the band was a lifesaver for Bez. “If it wasn’t for this ramshackle group called the Happy Mondays, god knows where I’d’ve ended up,” he ponders. “In my early teenage life, me old fella was a policeman and through rebellion I got into petty crime and was sent to prison a couple of times, so for me, it completely changed me and changed the direction of my lifestyle and where I was going.”  

Bez often marvels at the fact that he’s managed to turn his very Bez-ness into a career, cementing his iconic status along the way. “It’s unbelievable, when we first set up as kids we’d never have said that 30-odd years later we’d still be doing this,” Bez explains. “Especially for me, because I never intended to be a musician or in a band, so it’s even more unbelievable.” 

And while Americans never quite got the point of Bez, the Brits embraced him – he’s the subject of a much-quoted joke on Peep Show, he beat out Bond-girl Brigitte Nielsen to win Celebrity Big Brother (which he only entered to pay off a tax debt), and nigh on caused a national riot this year when he was robbed of victory on Bargain Hunt. The winning title went to Jarvis Cockerafter it was discovered that Bez’s girlfriend had purchased some of his team’s wares for the princely sum of $8.  

It all makes sense – Bez is endearing, and so much more than meets the eye. For instance, he’s super passionate about environmental issues, sustainability, permaculture and politics. Hell, he’s even run for parliament, not that he’ll repeat the exercise. 

“I’ve learned my lesson. The thing about the politics was not that I had any ambition to be a politician, even though I would have liked to bring down the government. The main reason was to raise awareness about the freaking issue. Politically we did absolutely rubbish, but as for raising awareness, we done the job.” 

Happy Mondays will play their seminal 1990 LP Pills ’n’ Thrills and Bellyaches in full at The Forum on March 9, 2019 [sold out] and Golden Plains from Saturday March 9 – Monday March 11. Tickets via Ticketek.