Ghosthunting with the Happy Mondays

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It’s a welcome return to this series for Shaun Ryder, who’s joined by Happy Mondays bandmates, Bez, and… two of the other ones? In this case, drummer Gary and singer Julie. We know Shaun’s got an interest in the paranormal, while Bez seems like he is paranormal, and for the research purposes, should probably be locked up inside the big red unit from Ghostbusters. I’ve previously written at length about Most Haunted in my book Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal, with Yvette Fielding and husband Karl’s brief run as gothic power couple at the centre of the mini spiritualist revival in the mid-late 2000s, where stumbling round empty pubs at midnight in a ghost hunt was a popular hobby, and clowns like Derek Acorah and ‘Psychic’ Sally became minor mainstream celebrities, before the fad mostly burned itself out.

2009’s Ghosthunting with the Happy Mondays was a result of Most Haunted‘s enormous success on satellite channel Living TV, taking Yvette onto ITV, to put famous groups through the rigours of a séance. Aside from the Mondays, other featured celebs included Louis Walsh and Boyzone, the Dingles off Emmerdale, and Girls Aloud — minus Nadine Coyle, whom Wikipedia informs me bottled it because she was scared. I feel like I should go on an actual ghost hunt myself at some point, to write about it for the Patreon, if that encourages anyone to sign up and see me eat my words when I’m viciously attacked in the groin by an elemental.

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One thing I adored about Most Haunted was its gradual escalation over the years, from humble beginnings of a former Blue Peter presenter meekly asking ‘is there anybody there?’ into darkened rooms, and eventually leading to her legitimately trying to summon up the Devil on live TV. But these shows work like pro wrestling. To function as they’re intended, everyone has to be playing along, or it falls apart. The format survives on a bubble of tension, constantly riding the knife edge before a jump-scare that never comes, except as a crew member’s sudden yelp at nothing. If one member of the team starts giggling or pointing out how silly or fake it is, the illusion is broken. Sadly for viewers who wear crystals — but great for us — this whole show is basically a school trip to the museum, with Yvette Fielding as the lone, harried teacher, trying to get the kids to listen, but spending all her time telling them off and confiscating booze. Throughout the 90-minute show, Bez and Shaun will repeatedly let Yvette down, let the school down, and most importantly, let themselves down.

Bez is a fascinating character. To his credit, has anyone ever made more out of less? A dancer who can’t dance, he wears the haunted eyes of someone who did terrible things in ‘Nam, and the most frightening parts of the show are the frequent green-lit close-ups of his face. Before they set out, he assures us he’s not scared of ghosts, having gone ghost hunting in school, “but we never found one yet though…” Shaun’s likewise unafraid, sure that if he can become a pop star he can “certainly manifest a fuckin’ ghost.” Also on the crew is a psychologist and ‘body language expert,’ commenting from outside in a taxi, where he describes the band as “four extreme individuals,” and outright states at multiple points that they’re all so mentally ruined from drugs, we can’t trust anything they see or hear.

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Our first location is Lincoln Jail, said to be haunted by “countless tormented spirits” of former inmates who were hanged, or in keeping with prison policy, kept in isolation and sent mad. I’m sure they’ll be fucking thrilled to meet Bez. Unfortunately, due to the inherent flaw of these shows, we already know they won’t be seeing any ghosts. Pre-taped and edited for transmission months later, shooting was not followed by an immediate world-wide press conference, where Shaun Ryder held up a jam jar with a poltergeist in it, thus finally proving the existence of an afterlife.

The gang rock up to the jail in the middle of a beautiful summer’s day; birds singing, rooms aglow in golden sunlight. No, of course not. It’s night-time with everyone wrapped up in black jackets, as every fool knows that ghosts sleep in all day after staying up to wander about and wank themselves off watching still-living naked sleepers. Proceedings begin down in the prison chapel, which is lined with creepy mannequins in full-faced hoods, gazing blankly towards a coffin that lays at the front of the room. A female prisoner killed herself here, says Yvette, before calling out with the old “knock twice if there’s anyone here.” Sadly, ghosts never do the joke of just knocking once to show they don’t exist, but a clear pair of knocks are heard, followed by five more in answer to the question of “how many ghosts are here?” A nervous Julie asks “can we go out then?” getting a firm “No” from Yvette.

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Throughout, Jumpy Julie’s skittishness is a perfect counterbalance to the naughty schoolboys of Bez, Shaun, and Gary, forever quaking and squealing at shadows, and at one point, quitting altogether and having to be talked back in. Before even leaving the first location, she gives us the classic Most Haunted trope of the ‘standing coma,’ where a person becomes so filled with ghosts, they pass out with their eyes open, refusing to respond to their own name. In any other context, this would be a dire medical emergency, but in the setting of playing pretend, her bandmates react to their friend’s collapse with nudges and raucous laughter. Perhaps Julie’s high point is the moment she becomes so filled with fear as to scream in a panic that she’s gone blind, when someone turns out the lights.

Now well into Yvette’s Aleister Crowley period, she has the Mondays perform a séance, on top of an actual coffin in the chapel. Calling out to the spirit of a woman who was hanged there gets an immediate response, in the form of a great big fart from Gary the drummer. This sets the tone, with Yvette’s serious demands for ghosts to “vibrate this coffin… vibrate it please!” while Shaun and Bez accuse each other of moving it and continually piss about — “Lift the coffin in the air, oh great spirit one!” Another ghost hunting trope, cupping one’s ear for a sudden, distant noise, is interpreted a number of different ways. Yvette thinks it’s a dog, Bez a baby, and Shaun, “sounds like my neighbour gettin’ fucked on a Friday.” Has nobody any respect for the sanctity of the coffin-seance in an old chapel?! The scene ends with Bez fishing a bottle of brandy out of his jacket and pouring it onto the lid. Incidentally, while the coffin does mysteriously move throughout, it’s clear that Shaun’s just lifting it with his leg.

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Everyone’s then split up and ensconced into scary parts of the prison. They’ve been blindfolded, to “heighten their other senses,” and help them find ghosts, rather than say, doing it with the lights on so they could actually see them. Alone in the dark with but a night-vision cam for company, genre convention states this is the point they’re supposed to sit quietly, so’s to better yell “WHAT WAS THAT?!” at little taps and creaks. Shut inside the old condemned cell, where prisoners would spend their final night before a swing on the gallows, a jigging Bez immediately whips the blindfold off and sets about inciting an uprising in the centuries-dead prisoners. “The revolution starts in the condemned cell, man, you ready for it lads? All you fuckin’ long lost souls, we’re gonna give it ’em, man.” He tells them there’s gonna be a breakout tonight — “Doors open, I’m gonna set you all free, man. Set. You. Fuckin’ free, man. Freedom is ours!” Christ, just imagine Bez marching out of that place with an army of ghost convicts at his back like Aragon in Return of the King, ready to drown the elites in Ketamine-laced ectoplasm.

Continuing the school trip feel, “I need a wee,” says Shaun, who’s told by Yvette he’ll have to wait, and taken to “a very nasty place.” I hope it’s a toilet, or it’s about to get a bit nastier. Meanwhile, Gary’s been put in the matron’s room, though the spooky atmosphere is somewhat ruined by the sound of Bez trying to spark a spectral Attica down the hall. But not a sceptic like Bez, Gary’s soon taken by the fear, and emits shrieks of terror at the repeated touch of ghostly hands, before offering the incredibly Mancunian “nice one, Matron.” The yells of ecto-louts Shaun and Bez echo through the prison, with Bez bellowing across to Gary with a football hooligan chant of “Gary, Gary, Gary Whelan!” Eventually, with Bez still harping on about jailbreak — “escaping with me tonight, the lot of yer…” — comes the first genuinely scary sound of the night; the parental shout of Yvette telling them to “SHUT UP! STOP TALKING TO EACH OTHER! SHUT UP!

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The solo vigils end with Shaun falling off a chair after a ghost “put a cigarette out on me fuckin’ leg.” On Yvette’s demand, he drops his trousers, blaming Bez for sneaking in and burning him, though there’s no visible mark. Again pulling his trousers down, he reduces Gary to hysterics, and flashes his bare builder’s arse to camera. When discussing it with the show’s psychologist, Shaun accuses Bez of sneaking in through “a back passage,” eyes immediately twinkling with mischief, and slipping in the phrase again through barely-contained laughter. Before leaving the prison, the gang venture down to the underground cells, which Yvette describes as being too dangerous to go into alone. There’s a hole in the wall, leading to a little room, but alas Bez can’t squeeze through it as he’s wearing layers to protect from the cold – “I’ve fuckin’ got too many pairs of pants to get in there.”

The next location is Wollaton Hall, a Tudor mansion famously overflowing with spirits, and with a sordid history of debauched upper-class parties, though by now, the slurring Mondays, swigging from almost-empty bottles of brandy, and increasingly merry, probably have the horrified ghosts looking up from their orgy to call the police. In the darkness of the great hall, everyone’s hearing groans and taps. “I can hear ’em all kicking off,” said Bez, as a strange noise comes from a far corner. Gary thinks it was the Stereo MCs, while Bez offers the explanation, “it’s an owl, it’s a fuckin’ owl.” Yvette challenges him to command the ghosts, which he does with a confusing “make an owl noise if you’re not an owl.” It seems to respond, confirming itself either as an owl, or not an owl.

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A relaxed Shaun gets sent off alone to a “very violent room” containing an agitated poltergeist. With Shaun Ryder screaming and swearing at bangs, and proffering plaintive cries of “Hello? Hello?” in the darkness, truly this is the Golden Age of Television. Just him repeatedly jumping out of a chair at loud noises in the dark would be an incredible show on its own, with thirteen 1-hour episodes on Netflix of “Whoa! Fuckin’ ellllll…” When they’re later split into groups, a definitely-taking-it-seriously Shaun locks a terrified Julie in the room while taunting her with “your mother sucks cocks in Hell!” through the door, before pretending to steal a cash register from the gift shop, and then actually pilfering a Mars Bar from the counter.

But amid the farts and horseplay, in terms of the science of paranormal investigation, there is one genuinely interesting scene, when the Mondays use a Ouija board. Initially, Bez is uneasy, with protests of “I don’t like witchcraft,” which I’d love to know the backstory of, but soon relents and puts his finger on the glass. Funnily though, while everyone’s jumpy with noises and ghosts blowing on their hair, with a bunch of drunken Madchester types at the helm, the glass spells out nothing but gibberish. Weird. Though Bez does hear his owl again. Returning from a solo vigil, after calling to be let out cos “somefing’s strokin’ on the back of me fuckin’ ‘ead,” Shaun reveals a neck that’s covered in scratches from a poltergeist. “I fink it’s bullshit, mate,” says Bez, not buying it for a second. Bez’s unyielding scepticism is much of the evening’s story, with him (almost certainly correctly) pegging Shaun’s injury as a fake to try and change his mind. But then, something happens to give even the most rational of melons a proper twisting.

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They’re all below in the servant’s quarters, supposedly haunted by the ghosts of a man and woman, and the child they murdered and buried there. Things start harmlessly enough, with Bez claiming “I heard someone go ‘woo’ down there,” before they find a bricked up wall with a little hole in it. In a classic horror movie fake-out before the real scare, Bez sticks his hand in there, letting out a big scream that makes everyone jump, helpfully explaining with “I put me ‘and in the ‘ole, you know like in that fuckin’ film; what’s it called?” Fascinated by the hole, he starts chucking things in it; first stones, and then 5p coins — “Throw it back, mate.” Out of small change, he lobs in a whole pound coin. Then, it happens, a thing to finally cut through all the posturing and tomfoolery; the metallic sound of a pound coin hitting the wall. “Fucking hell,” says Bez, “that came back out again.” Even with a CV filled with wraiths and goblins, Yvette’s jaw hangs open, and everyone’s in shock, barring an unnervingly calm Shaun. Hardened cynic Bez, whom Yvette had promised would be a believer before the night was out, is shook, unable to deny what he’s seen.

The final location takes them to Lincoln Castle, and down to the old oubliette; a pit where condemned prisoners were thrown and left to die. “Stinks of piss,” says Shaun, on a solo vigil that sees him let out a shriek at his own shadow like he’s got out of the shower and slipped penis-first onto some Lego. Bez eventually has his own trip to the pit, descending the ladder with a “fucking hell, it stinks of alcohol!” Yeah, well Shaun and Gary have just been down there. The perfect narrative callback would be for an owl to fly out of a hole and scare the shit out of him, but sadly, it doesn’t. But we do get a gold star Bez anecdote of his own paranormal experience, as he jigs about from foot to foot, telling Yvette about being with some friends in an old house. “We was all sat there talking ESP to each other, having full blown conversations…” He knew it was real, because he psychically told his mate to stand up and pass him a light for his bong, and he did.

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A postscript sees the band look back on their night, with Bez, a hard man to convince, even having heard an owl, saying that “I still don’t believe it, ghost bullshit and all that crap.” For him, the scariest part of the night was “hanging about in them dark holes.” Shaun had had a whale of a time, and further expanded on his thoughts in a 2015 interview with the NME, who asked if his experience on the show had convinced him of an afterlife.

Not really, said Shaun. “It certainly convinced Bez, but I was the one lobbing the pound coins everywhere so other people would think there were ghosts there.”

Oh.

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~ by Stuart on November 3, 2018.

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