Happy Mondays

Shaun Ryder and co rock Falls Park, with support from The Charlatans, at Féile an Phobail

On a balmy evening in west Belfast's Fall Park, it's back to the late 1980s and early 1990s as Féile an Phobail welcome Madchester’s finest, the Happy Mondays, with support from The Charlatans, making this a laid back Mancunian double-bil of the highest order.

The underrated Charlatans formed in the shadow of the Mondays and Stone Roses, but it’s unfair to compare the great Manchester bands, who all scaled the heights in their own unique ways. The Charlatans were, of course, one of John Peel’s favourites, and they justify that accolade tonight by delivering a tight set with strong vocals from frontman Tim Burgess.

The large crowd mingle in the sunshine when the first licks of opener, 'Then', emanates from the marquee. Cue a colourful, comedical stampede towards the marquee entrance – lets just say Mani fisherman hats are at a premium.

The Charlatans have been consistently recording and performing since their 1990s heyday – while the likes of the Happy Mondays have segued into semi-retirement – and have managed to keep their sound relatively fresh in that time.

Their set tonight includes many old favourites, such as 'North Country Boy', 'Can’t Get Outta Bed', and finishes with their biggest and best hit, the crowd pleaser 'The Only One I Know' – a suitable curtain raiser to the much anticipated main event.

The headline act feature frontman Shaun Ryder, the stunning Rowetta Satchell on backing vocals and court jester Mark 'Bez' Berry shaking his maracas. Lead guitarist Mark Day, keyboardist Paul Davis and drummer Gary Whelan complete the lineup of the band that formed in Salford, Greater Manchester in 1980.

Chart prominence was not achieved, however, until the release of the Paul Oakenforld-produced Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches in 1988. The band then went on to become a leading act on the Factory Records label, based out of Manchester’s iconic Hacienda club under the management of the legendary, now deceased Tony Wilson (played by Steven Coogan in the hilarious 2002 biopic, 24 Hour Party People).

Bez appears on the Falls Park stage shortly before 11pm to rapturous applause. He proceeds to give the introductions, and then, after a cool vocal introduction from Satchell, we are off with the sultry 'Loose Fit' from the aforementioned album.

Ryder greets the crowd with a pleasant, 'Hello Belfast, did you enjoy the Charlatans?', then leaps headlong into 'Kinky Afro'. He follows this up with a bit of banter with 'our kid', his brother Paul on bass, before announcing that Rowetta is taking a break to go and 'powder her nose'.

Ryder also jokes that the band can hardly remember their own songs, but once they launch into 'Mad Cyril', from the album Bummed, you know he is joking – it's as vibrant and tight as ever. A barnstorming, anthemic dance highlight 'Halleluiah', from the Rave On EP, maintains the momentum.

Rowetta returns, Bez dances on wildly as he interacts with the crowd, clearly enjoying himself, and the concert grows to a thrilling climax with 'Step On', Ryder bellowing the familiar, 'Call the Cops, you’re twisting my melon man!' The crowd go wild as 'Wrote for Luck' plays out in a thunderous encore.

Local celebrities in the crowd include Gerry Conlon and boxer Brian Magee, and there are even unconfirmed reports of north Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly doing an impromptu Bez style Madchester dance, before being swarmed by photographers. It's an undisputed hit for Féile an Phobail 2013 – well-marshalled, efficiently run and reasonably priced, with the bar well stocked throughout.

Féile an Phobail continues in venues throughout west Belfast until August 11.

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