Now established as a cockle warming Christmas tradition, unlike the vast majority of office do’s or being sat in overcrowded pubs, the Happy Mondays biennial December tour rolls into Liverpool. Following DJ Jon Da Silva’s stage warming support set, the powerhouse soul vocals of Rowetta signals the start, as she appears on stage, leather tassels whirling.

Arriving one by one, the band effortlessly build up the intro of ‘Kinky Afro’, as Shaun Ryder’s unforgettable opening lines “Son, I’m thirty/I only went with your mother cos she’s dirty” cut through the air. The band’s irresistible rhythms, best described by Mancunian music writer Mick Middles as the Mondays’ ‘sway’, the indefinable quality that makes the entire crowd at every venue dance to them, remains as evident as ever.

Resembling a club doorman about to begin a long shift in particularly bad weather Ryder, decked out head to toe in black with his cap pulled down low, positions himself in front of Gaz Whelan’s drum riser, his vocals spot on amidst the band’s lopsided funk. Bez affably patrols the front of the stage, his freaky dancing boosting energy levels, while Paul Ryder in classic Bill Wyman/John Entwistle fashion simply stands there and holds the set together.

With box set ‘The Early EPs’ recently on the shelves, the setlist has been overhauled to shine a light on the group’s embryonic material. ‘Performance’ named after the seminal cult film from an LP heavily inspired by the flick, 1988's indie rock/house alloy ‘Bummed’ makes a very welcome return to the set alongside an energized take of ‘Mad Cyril’.

Ridiculously underrated bassist Paul Ryder, equal to fellow Mancunian Mani powers an atmospheric rendition of ‘Loose Fit’ while similarly undervalued axeman Mark Day supplies the brilliantly off-beam riffs of ‘God’s Cop’ and early days classic ‘Tart Tart’. Lesser-spotted tracks, monolithic dancefloor-filler ‘Rave On’ and ‘Clap Your Hands’ from 1989's ‘Madchester: Rave On’ EP are brilliantly essayed alongside a lascivious version of ‘Bob’s Yer Uncle’.

The keyboard riff of ‘Step On’ heralds a mass outbreak of mates-on-shoulders, dancing, jumping, attempted acrobatics and general mayhem before a motoric version of ‘Wrote For Luck’ brings the curtain down. If Rowetta is always the first onstage, Mark Day is always last, wringing noise out of his Fender guitar until the lights go up and the theme tune to long defunct BBC1 sports programme ‘Grandstand’ booms from the PA.

Bez commented in a recent interview that this jaunt might be the last full-scale Mondays tour for a while, a crying shame on this evidence as the Salfordians live firepower remains as potent as ever.

Photos by Andrew Twambley

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