Review: Bez In Conversation @ Thornbury Theatre (Melbourne)

Bez in Conversation took place at Thornbury Theatre (Melbourne) on 23 October, 2023.
Bron is a Melbourne-based science journalist who loves to return 'home' to a band room any chance she gets. She has 25 years' experience and has worked for Rolling Stone, Blunt, The Sydney Morning Herald, JUICE and many more.

You don't have to be a Happy Mondays or Black Grape fan to know of Bez, the maracas-shaking madman onstage with those rather infamous British acts.

While now 59, and he himself having admitted that his wild days are behind him, Mark 'Bez' Berry still indulged the adoring and large crowd gathered upstairs at Melbourne's Thornbury Theatre (23 October) for this one-off 'in conversation' event, as part of the massive The Eighty-Six festival happening along Darebin's beloved and often memorable tram line, the 86.

At the civilised start time of 7.30pm, Melbourne community radio host Joe Brnadic perched in an armchair invited Berry onto the stage to sit in one opposite. While Brnadic's drink of choice was a local beer, Berry had an impressive large pour of vodka on ice.

While it took Berry a moment to warm up, the chat largely centred around his recently released autobiography, 'Buzzin': The Nine Lives Of A Happy Monday'.

And credit where credit's due: the fact Berry could recall so many wild times throughout his career, while I can't even remember more than a glimpse of a moment from the several occasions at which I saw the Happy Mondays play live (though I always enjoyed it), is quite impressive.

Stories of wild drug adventures, bad managers, of meeting Mondays main man (aka 'Horseman') Shaun Ryder, winning the UK's 'Big Brother' in 2005, being hit on by Julia Roberts, getting into various degrees of mischief and legal strife across the years, and his painful introduction to beekeeping kept the audience well entertained for the hour.

Bez In Conversation 2023.2

There were a couple of downsides, however. Brnadic, clearly a fan, committed one of the big journalistic sins of having done his research but forgetting to ask questions along with his statements that showed he'd done his research.

It became very obvious that Berry was not someone to have a 'discussion' with, but who was best served asking direct, specific questions. Sadly, this meant a lot of the brief time was eaten up by the host's rambled musings that put the journalist in the spotlight, instead of the actual talent onstage.

Joe also missed the nuggets of gold Berry offered, instead sticking to his script rather than going where some rogue tale might lead things. One of the hardest things of live interviews is being able to act on the unexpected and to probe a subject, while making sure you still somewhat direct the proceedings. Unfortunately this was one of the flaws in tonight's design.

There were also a few odd moments from Berry. Among his stories, he went off on a tangent about how unfair his guilty domestic violence charge from 13 years ago was, and mentioned the WEF (of course, the WEF is a dog whistle tied to a whole smorgasbord of pandemic-driven conspiracy theories, relating to assorted elite-global-government tyranny narratives).

However, Berry didn't labour on the topics of either for them to warrant more than a 'hmm, a bit weird', as a thought from the audience.

Not surprisingly, Berry was at his most entertaining and funniest when discussing candidly his life as one of the most famous 24-hour party people of the late 20th century British music scene.

Following the stories, fans had 30 minutes to ask questions, but they were a little disappointing too: one northern Englander asked Berry to support a joint being closed down through noise complaints, someone else asked what the worst record he's ever heard (Paul McCartney and Wings' 1973 'Red Rose Speedway'), and others as memorable.

Though you wouldn't blame the audience; there was a sense of music royalty being present in the room, and as such a collective shyness (and probably also a lack of beer-soaked courage, given the time and day) was felt throughout the crowd. What I'd have given to instead have a question box out in the foyer, for fans to submit questions and Berry have a field day with them onstage.

However, it was nonetheless a great evening that flew by much quicker than the 90-minutes run time, due largely to how entertaining a storyteller Berry is, and has always been.

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