Bez looks back: ‘I was always drawn to rebellion’ | Flashback

The Happy Mondays dancer/percussionist recreates a photo taken in Cuba after his band were booted out of the US and talks about his wild youth

Bez in 1996 and 2022
Bez in 1996 and 2022. Later photograph: Pål Hansen/The Guardian. Styling: Andie Redman. Archive photograph: Kevin Cummins/Getty Images

Mark Berry, better known as Bez, rose to fame as the dancer-slash-percussionist for indie dance group the Happy Mondays. He was born in 1964 in Bolton, and his mother was an auxiliary nurse and his father a chief inspector in the anti-terrorist squad. Bez served three years in a detention centre for a robbery he committed at the age of 17. With Happy Mondays and later Black Grape, he toured the world as a pioneer of the Madchester scene. Today, Bez is known for his political endeavours – in 2015 he set up the We Are the Reality party and stood as MP of Salford – as well as his work as an environmentalist and campaigner. A reality TV favourite, Bez has three sons from previous relationships, and lives in Hereford with his fiance. He is competing in Dancing on Ice on ITV, and is an ambassador for homeless charity Coffee4Craig.

This was taken in Cuba. The US immigration authorities had kicked Black Grape out for smoking weed before a gig. One minute we were sitting in Central Park taking in the smoke with a beautiful view of the twin towers – the next we were surrounded by police. I found the whole thing quite funny.

Cuba had just opened up to the west again – we were one of the first planes landing in the country – and it was like walking through a war zone. Everything was crumbling; it was a right old state. But families would cook you a meal in return for a bit of money. In the end we were banned from America, so the press had to come to Cuba to interview us. The journalists were all shitting themselves in fear of what might happen to them, but everyone in Cuba was so lovely to us. One of my favourite memories is sitting at the back of one of Hemingway’s favourite bars with mojitos and big fat cigars. It was unbelievable.

I was always drawn to rebellion. Apparently I was a nightmare, even as a baby. I was an attention-seeker, but well liked at school. The first time I got in proper trouble was when I was five. One morning my mum gave me some money and said, “On your break at school you’ve got to buy a packet of crisps – and nothing else.” I got to the front of the queue at the tuck shop and said to the teacher, “Give us a packet of crisps,” and gave her the money. She said I didn’t have enough for the crisps and tried to give me something else. I said, “No, I’ve got to buy crisps with this money – and nothing else.” She tried taking them off me, so I bit her hand. In my defence, it was a genuine mistake. Mum told me to buy the crisps.

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Dad was a chief inspector when I was a kid. Because of that I was constantly rebelling against authority – which is no bad thing, really. It was a huge part of my psyche growing up; my dad’s since apologised for not understanding my character. At the peak of my rebellion, I did time in detention centres and borstals; my parents kicked me out, so I was living on the street and getting into all sorts of trouble. I lost my teeth at 16 in a motorbike crash. I wasn’t wearing a helmet and was spitting out crumbling bits of tooth for months afterwards. There was no damage to my brain, thankfully, but I still pretended I’d lost my memory when the police came, so I didn’t have to tell them where I was staying. Decades later, I lost my false teeth at Glastonbury. After not sleeping for days, I woke up in the tent, starving, saw a doughnut and took a huge bite. It had been there for ages and was hard as a brick.

By the time I was about 19, I decided I didn’t want to get caught up in the sort of shit I was doing again, so thought the best thing I could do was to have a huge adventure and go travelling. I lived in Morocco for a bit and was shoplifting just to survive; pinching bars of chocolate. I got chased out of town and had to hide in a cave for three weeks until the money I’d been waiting for arrived. You create your own reality, and travelling created one that completely changed my whole outlook on life.

I was mostly homeless and sofa-surfing when I joined Happy Mondays. It was the right place at the right time, and I’ll never forget going on stage with them for the first time. It was at the Haçienda in December 1985, and I had no time to prepare. Shaun Ryder wanted me up there – I said no at first, but there was a bit of banter between us and I ended up jumping on stage with him. I picked up a pair of maracas and shook them so hard I ended up with a blister the size of a 50p in the middle of my hand.

Growing up, dancing was a massive part of our culture: you’d go out to these venues and see different types of dancing in every room – the northern soulers, the metal headbangers, the ska rudeboys, the punks and people who loved disco. I loved it. Even though I get up on stage and dance in front of loads of people, I wouldn’t say I’m a confident person. It’s probably hiding a multitude of insecurities. I’m more curious about the world than confident in it.

I met my fiance, Firouzeh Razavi, nearly nine years ago. It was her 30th birthday and she was having a drink with her friends, while I was out with my mate. We walked into this bar, our eyes met across the table, and that was it. I’m not normally romantic, but I tried to make it special when I proposed to her. I set up a posh picnic basket and got her family and my family to wait on the top of this mountain near where we live. Me and Firouzeh walked up the mountain and she noticed a big letter D that I’d put out in tribute to her younger brother who’d died. Then she saw her dad. And her sisters and everyone else, and I proposed. It was great. And it’s easier if everyone is there so you don’t have to tell them all separately afterwards.

Firouzeh got me at my best, because I’m 58 in April. I’m a grandad and my wild days are out of my system. I live a really good life. I open the curtains in the morning and say, “How fucking lucky are we?” It’s all for being in Happy Mondays. My favourite nights these days are in my own garden. I have a campfire and a bar that I’ve built, and get all my friends round.

I started looking after myself about eight years ago when I thought I was going to start a revolution and set up a political party. I decided that the fight was everywhere in society, and one was with the food industry. Through diet, I realised you can change everything; that’s when I started looking at what I ate. Now I use ginger and turmeric instead of painkillers. I juice every day, using fruit and veg straight out of the garden. If I go for two days without having juice, I start panicking. I’m sure if the version of me pictured in 1996 could hear me say that, he’d tell me to shut up and rack up!

Contributor

Harriet Gibsone

The GuardianTramp

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