Lock up your maracas and call the cops - Happy Mondays’ icon, freaky dancer, reality TV star, raconteur, and beekeeper, Bez, is blazing a trail to Abergavenny’s Borough Theatre next week with tales of pills, thrills, and bellyaches. After five decades of having it large and taking no prisoners, Bez’s one-man’s show is a white-knuckle, adrenaline-fuelled tour-de-force through the highs and lows of rock and roll that leaves no stone unturned or swamp undrained. Prior to what Bez describes as “almost a homecoming gig for me,” the Mondays’ man sat down with local writer Tim Butters to twist the local author’s melon about the new band he’s formed with Shaun Ryder and his love for the seven hills of Abergavenny, particularly the Skirrid.
“I’m not exactly renowned for being Mr. Health and Safety,” laughs Bez, when describing the gung-ho approach he first took to beekeeping over ten years ago. “I made some rookie mistakes that landed me in a spot of bother at first, but I’ve learned my lessons and now I have bees in Hereford, bees in North Wales, and bees in Manchester. The buzz is spreading!”
Bez’s surprising enthusiasm for bees is as infectious and boundless as the way he throws himself into life in general. Chatting from his home on the Herefordshire border where he is into his eighth week of recuperating from a motorbike accident, Bez explains, “I went on holiday with a bunch of pro riders. Lost control and used up another one of my nine lives, but what’s life without a few accidents along the way?”
During his youth, the Bolton-born son of a prominent detective inspector did not exactly appear as a prime candidate for longevity, let alone fame and fortune. Early brushes with the law, homelessness, and a stint in prison all seemed to suggest Mark Berry was heading further into the shadows as opposed to a life lived in the spotlight. A chance meeting with a fella named Shaun who was in a band called The Happy Mondays changed all that. After getting up on stage with the Mondays one night to dance and offer a little moral support (Bez promises to reveal exactly what happened at the Borough), a legendary partnership was born.
“I’ve never made plans,” revealed Bez. “In my experience, they always have a habit of falling apart. My approach has always been to follow my nose, play it by ear, and hope for the best.”
After the Mondays run out of steam and collapsed before their race was really run, Shaun and Bez rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the Madchester scene as Britpop era band Black Grape. Once again they were riding high on the wave of a new zeitgeist and confounding the expectations of naysayers everywhere.
Since those dizzy, distant days, the names Shaun and Bez, much like Fagin and the Artful Dodger, have become part of the cultural fabric of Britain.
Nowadays, a new generation has become familiar with the two riffing with one another on a couch like an old married couple for Channel Four’s Gogglebox. Age mellows us all, and the battle-hardened veterans of various reality TV shows have almost, but not quite, become a British institution, they’re too rough and ready around the edges for that.
Let’s not forget, Shaun and Bez first burst onto the public stage as the frontmen of one of the edgiest, innovative, and uncompromising bands the UK has ever produced. Like The Sex Pistols with a disco beat, the Mondays had the attitude, the authenticity, the tunes, and the swagger to carry it off effortlessly.
Head to YouTube and check out “Wrote For Luck” for a glimpse at how a gang of lads in Lacoste and Fred Perry gear with a penchant for partying hard and ploughing their own path, paved the way for bands like Oasis to follow. While you’re at it, check out Bez’s dancing. It’s unrehearsed, unchoreographed, and embodies a scene, an attitude, and a way of life. It’s a dance that launched a thousand imitators and saw Bez crowned as the “chemical generation’s bug-eyed pied piper.”
Bez admits he looks back on that era with fondness and believes there was more of a sense of freedom and joy in the world back then because things didn’t unfold in such a claustrophobic bubble. He recalls, “We were lucky enough to have been part of a generation that had a great run of it. There were no wars, pandemics, or even social media. Looking back, we got away with murder in my day because there was no one filming your every action or monitoring and passing judgment on your every word.”
These days Bez likes to “put my feet up and enjoy a good night’s sleep” when he has some downtime because, “you cannot underestimate the importance of getting a solid eight hours in.” However, he’s still not ready to replace his dancing shoes with a comfortable pair of orthopedic shoes just yet.
“I’ll be 60 soon and I’m looking forward to throwing a huge party,” explained Bez, who added, “I’m not surprised to be still alive, everybody else is, but not me. I just keep on keeping on and looking forward to what comes next.”
What comes next in the immediate future for Bez is his new band, Mantra Of The Cosmos. Together with old sparring buddy Shaun Ryder, Andy Bell (Oasis, Ride), and Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey (The Who), the lord of the dance and sacred keeper of the buzz is gearing up for one more rodeo.
“Zak got in touch with Shaun about putting a band together and asked if I was interested,” explained Bez, who added, “Obviously Zak comes from rock n’ roll royalty and he’s an amazing drummer, so I jumped at the chance to be in a band with him, Shaun and Andy.”
Revealing that Mantra Of The Cosmos has less of a Mondays or Black Grape vibe but more of a 1970s Miles Davis vibe in terms of experimentation, Bez said, “It’s like nothing any of us have ever done before and I’m very excited about it. We’ve signed a record deal and Zak has even written me an amazing maraca solo. Getting to know Zak and listening to his stories has been great because obviously he grew up in a very unique environment and he has played with The Who for a long time now.”
Mantra of the Cosmos are set to play this year’s Glastonbury, and Bez can’t wait. “I’m really looking forward to playing Glasto, it’s a bit like Xmas except longer. The celebrations go on for a week and it’s great to catch up with mates I only usually see once a year.”
With one-off gigs with The Mondays also on the horizon, the 58-year-old is keen to get back in shape for a stage where he’s required to dance as opposed to talking. “Because of the motorbike crash I’ve spent the best part of two months taking it easy and being quite inactive and at this age, it takes its toll,” he explained. “So I need to get fit. Get on the push bike, start doing squats, going for hikes, that sort of thing.”
Fortunately for Bez, his Herefordshire home on the Welsh border is within easy reach of an abundance of mountain and hill walks. Something he takes maximum advantage of. “You can throw a stone from my back garden and it’ll end up in Wales, that’s how close we are. I love Wales, I spent years living there and I always knew I’d either end up remaining there or living a cat’s whisper away. Sometimes I wake up and have to pinch myself because I feel so lucky to be living in this neck of the woods - it’s such a beautiful place to call home.”
Bez added, “That’s why I regard the gig in Abergavenny as a local one. I’ve spent a lot of time in Aber and love all of its seven hills. I’ve been up the Blorenge, or the Blacmange as I like to call it, the Sugar Loaf, the Deri, and the Skirrid.
“I proposed to my wife, Firouzeh, on top of the Skirrid. It’s a very special place for me. I fell in love with it when I first saw it. When you approach it from England it looks exactly how you’d always draw a mountain as a kid. Me and Firouzeh have been up there countless times, chilling and foraging. We often come down from it with blue mouths from all the berries we’ve been eating. At our wedding party, you could see the Skirrid from the garden and it just looked majestic.”
Bez’s love of bees, the great outdoors, and hiking up mountains in search of berries as opposed to mushrooms may seem a million miles removed from the 24-hour-party and pill-popping lifestyle he was once renowned for, but as far as he’s concerned it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry.
“You can’t stand still, and if you refuse to change, you stagnate, and what’s the fun in that? I’ve no regrets because life’s all about living and gaining awareness of who you are and your place in the world. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. It’s all part of the ride!”
Bez - In Conversation will be at Abergavenny’s Borough Theatre on Thursday, May 25, 19.30. Tickets are available at the box office on 01873 850805.