Happiness, The Beloved’s first album, was one of the defining records of the long, hot summer of 1990 in the UK. Following the 1988 acid house explosion, dance music was in a state of fervent activity and invention. Traditional musicians were falling over themselves in their haste to take inspiration from the burgeoning rave scene – but few captured the optimism of dance culture in quite such pure fashion as Jon Marsh and Steve Waddington.
The Beloved had started out as a normal, four-piece, guitar band in 1983, releasing a few singles and compilation tracks – but it was when they slimmed down to a duo that they truly found their sound. After falling hard for American club music on visits to New York from 1986, they were already well-placed to surf the huge cultural wave when the UK caught in on ’88. By 1990, singles like “The Sun Rising” and “Your Love Takes Me Higher” had become much-loved classics. The Beloved were now full-fledged pop stars; Happiness and its quick-to-follow companion collection of remixes, Blissed Out, instantly became staple post-club and poolside listening tracks.
As the title suggests, the album’s preoccupation centres on pleasure-seeking, but it’s a long way from just being mindless hedonism. Marsh’s lyrics captured a sense of dance culture as culture in itself: a place where not just people, but ideas came together, perfectly illustrating that come-one-come-all spirit through the roll-call of pop and historical figures in the huge hit “Hello”. It’s bittersweet too, capturing the ephemeral nature of moments of pleasure, including some classic songs of romantic love and loss that perfectly fit with the “loved up” air of the time.
The Beloved would continue changing – going on to make two more albums as a duo of Marsh and his wife Helena, while Waddington went on to work with prog rock legend Steve Hillage on his electronic System 7 project. But Happiness in particular still stands up as a unique document of a unique time – now, exactly 30 years after its first release, it’s out again, remastered, sounding impressively fresh, with a load of bonus material.
Here, Marsh tells us a little about the atmosphere surrounding it, and how they channeled that in this special record.
“We were globetrotting the whole year, and we'd already crossed over by this point, so we were just going hither and thither trying to do whatever the record company wanted us to do. As soon as you become big in your own country, all the other territories prick their ears up and say, "Can we have a bite of this too?" so we were all over the place. A lot of time we were in Australia – which was interesting because they had a very parallel experience to what we did with acid house and all the rest of it. The timeline, the clubs, the scale of it… a lot was run by ex-pat Brits, so we had an amazing time over there because they were all tuned into similar sensibilities, whereas in other countries they really didn't have a clue what house music or any of the stuff we were talking about was!”
“The collision of indie and dance music was happening in very different ways for different acts. People like us and The Shamen started in that C86 guitar indie thing, but had moved rapidly as we'd got our hands on technology and went to clubs and had become completely electronic by 1989. We played an amazing gig with The Shamen at a club in Paris at the start of 1988 – I think we were supporting them – they were still a four-piece, and we'd just become a two piece, just me and Steve. And they saw how we'd managed to slim down the lineup and actually make more exciting music on stage by not having a drummer or having a bass player. A few months later, they did exactly the same thing.”
“We used to spend a lot of time with The Shamen’s Colin Angus around then, because we shared a similar background and shared an evangelical belief in the power of the club scene. We were coming at it from a very electronic direction by the time we did the tracks that would become Happiness. A lot of what was called "indie-dance" was still bands with their traditional lineup: they'd have remixes done to get crossover appeal, whereas while we were technically indie-dance, I suppose inasmuch as we’d started as an indie band, we definitely saw ourselves as more dance than indie.”
“Part of the magic of the time was that there was a massive amount of inspirational music to draw on – people getting turned on to this well of at least three years’ worth of amazing American club music that hadn't really been given that much exposure prior to 1988. Then there was access to affordable sampling technology. So much was driven by minds being expanded at this time – by a load of drugs obviously – but also by certain samplers coming out; even in 1986 you'd go into a big studio that would have synths but they wouldn't have samplers. There weren't any; there was this reverb thing that could sample two seconds of sounds but you couldn't edit or manipulate it. With the best will in the world, with guitar, bass and drums, however different you might want to be, you ended up sounding a bit identikit. Now, suddenly you're being thrown into rooms with bits of technology, that if you've got the imagination or desire, you can do something genuinely different.”
“Everybody needed someone to do it for them. With Primal Scream, they had Andy Weatherall and Hugo Nicholson doing the legwork. With us, we had Martin Phillips (who ended up producing Happiness), who was "just" a programmer, but we quickly realised that everything great coming out of our sessions wasn't because of the producer, but was coming from him. He, Steve and I would just be jumping up and down for joy, having an absolute blast, putting our heads together, working out "how can we achieve this" or "what happens when we do that", trying to copy dance records knowing that by trying to copy them, we'd get it hopelessly wrong but create something unique.”
“By paying homage to music that you love, knowing full well that given your background and knowledge, you couldn't possibly recreate it, yet loads of people made amazing bits of music that captured that excitement, that innocence and wide-eyed sense of adventure. It was amazing that you had so many people discovering this simultaneously, and I think that's what unifies the experience if you listen back to those couple of years. You're not going to get those moments in music very often where you get a bunch of people looking for something new – and finding it, and managing to create from it – all at the same time.”
“There was such a palpable sense of adventure and excitement and a rollercoaster of change. You had that sense that anything was possible: gay club, straight club, hooligan, pacifist… It was all irrelevant, because it was just people sharing a new experience together, making friends, sharing stories, all the rest. But on a wider scale, you had the Berlin Wall coming down, you had Mandela coming out of prison: these were massive things. If you had a vaguely politicised sensibility, those things fuelled the optimism that I wanted to put into the music... it honestly felt the whole world was changing, for the better. And look at it now – fxxking hell.”
“Though maybe we the British ingested so many chemicals, we lost sight of what was happening everywhere else – that was the bittersweet side. But was it transformative? Yes. It wasn't false. It's not a false memory. I still have incredibly good friends I made from those experiences, but the lifespan of all that, as a social movement that we'd, perhaps naively, thought might grow into something more... I guess that wasn't very long. Although musically it changed everything, and changed things for the better. It maybe spawned Britpop as a backlash, but thankfully we went through that and out the other side! And the romantic optimist in me might have lain dormant for a while, but looking back, I can't help wondering if things happening in the world today might make us think again about getting out of the blind alley that humanity seems determined to head down!”
Cover Image: The Beloved
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs