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On This Day in Music… April 18, 1964: Mark Berry, aka Bez is Born... Twenty-Five Years Later, He Became Pop Music's Most Unlikely Star

The story of how Bez came to be a part of the Happy Mondays is as ridiculous, as funny, and as endearingly shambolic as the man himself.

Source: Mark Obstfeld / WENN/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Bez has somehow, wonderfully, become a national treasure.

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Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. And some, as Shakespeare might have added if he’d been born four centuries later, get dragged on stage by a friend while off their face and somehow become the most recognizable member of the band, despite playing nothing more complicated than a pair of maracas.

The man the world would come to know as Bez was born Mark Berry in Bolton, Lancashire on April 18, 1964, and brought up in Little Hulton, Salford, where he fell in with local scallywag Shaun Ryder.

“I first met him when he came round with a mate we had in common to pick up some gear,” Shaun later recalled. “We got on like a house on fire. It was love at first sight. Back in those days, it was a constant hustle, doing bits of this and that to make it through to our next giro. I always shared my giro with Bez, but when he’d get his, he’d disappear for five days and then come back with nothing.”

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bez shaun ryder
Source: mega

Bez and Shaun Ryder: nothing to see here, officer.

By 1983, aged 19, he had moved into Shaun’s flat, where he witnessed the beginnings of what would become the Happy Mondays – at that time little more than a band of troublemakers centered around Shaun and brother Paul Ryder and so named (so one of the stories go, at least) after the local slang for the day that unemployment benefits were issued. (Shaun later disputed that story, claiming he invented the name on the spot and never got round to thinking of a better one.)

Though he was a constant presence in band rehearsals, Bez was never a fully-fledged “member” – given that he couldn’t actually sing or play an instrument – so much as an unofficial mascot. A few years later that situation would be amplified in the most ridiculous, and endearingly ramshackle, way possible… and, quite by accident, give the Happy Mondays a touch of magic.

In 1985 Hacienda DJ Mike Pickering and Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson staged a Battle of the Bands contest at the Manchester club. According to one story, Happy Mondays, who had barely played a gig at all by that point, blagged their way on to the bill thanks to Paul Ryder’s connection to New Order bassist Peter Hook. “It was me that introduced them to Tony (Wilson) as Paul was my postman in Little Hulton,” Hook later recalled.

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bez happy mondays
Source: Mark Obstfeld / WENN/Newscom/The Mega Agency

The Happy Mondays first single 'Freaky Dancin'' was named in honor of Bez.

Interviewed for the 2007 BBC4 documentary Joy Division to Happy Mondays, Shaun Ryder described the talent contest.

“You had one band that was like Culture Club,” he said. “Another band that was like Haircut 100. Another band that was like Madness… and then us. And you know, we was pretty sh-t, we couldn’t really play. I think only about 10 or 15 junkies turned up to watch us, and only because they could blag beer and rob the handbags off the students.”

Perhaps mindful of the fact they had no chance of winning and so might as well make the most of their short time on the Hacienda stage, Ryder dragged best mate Bez up to join them, handing him a pair of maracas and shouting at him to dance.

“I was actually tripping at the time,” Bez later said. “I had no intention of actually going on stage, it was Shaun who actually made me go up because he was so off his head and I just grabbed the set of maracas and started to do that mad dance. It just happened automatically, I didn’t think about it.

“The next day some lass said it was really nice that they let that special needs kid up on the stage last night, but it was just me off me nut shaking me maracas.”

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Naturally, the Mondays’ shambolic performance was reflected in the public vote.

“And of course when the votes came in we was last,” said Ryder. “But when Tony announced it, we’d won it. That was the great thing about Tony. He was like, f--k what they voted.”

Wilson not only apparently overruled the official vote, he also had a word of advice for the band. “Tony Wilson, the Factory Records boss, actually suggested that I joined the band because he enjoyed what I did and so that night I became part of the Happy Mondays,” remembered Bez.

Factory Records signed the Happy Mondays and put out their debut EP the same year. Two years later they released the album Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out) and a year after that, Bummed, which made No. 2 in the British Indie chart. On the sleeve notes, where each band member is credited with the instrument they played, Bez is listed as being simply “Bez”.

By the time the Madchester Rave On EP was released in 1989, Happy Mondays, along with fellow Mancunians the Stone Roses, had become the leading lights of the Madchester scene… and wild-eyed, rubber-limbed, maraca-waving Bez one of the most iconic rock ‘n’ roll stars to do nothing more than… be Bez.


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