Happy Mondays Star Gaz Whelan Sings The Praises Of Belfast Author

Gaz Whelan (far left) and Happy Mondays

IT’S not often that local creative talent is adequately appreciated beyond the shores of Northern Ireland, but that’s exactly what has happened for Belfast-born author Gary McElkerney.

His debut novel, Volunteer, has not only been published and received successfully by a wide audience, but it has captured the attention of Gaz Whelan of iconic band Happy Mondays.


Pic: Icon Images

Gary’s exhilarating story follows a young university student from Belfast who travels to Ethiopia to build houses for charity. The character’s thirst for adventure turns into a living nightmare as the real horrors of war become apparent.

After praising the book on social media, Happy Mondays drummer Gaz Whelan is now working with Gary and Janine Cobain (publisher and producer) on The Ultimate Creative Challenge, a combination of creative mediums that seeks to write and publish a novel, develop it into a film and create an album for the soundtrack.

Gaz spoke to BAM about this exciting collaboration and of his upcoming Belfast show that will finalise Happy Mondays Pills n Thrills 25th anniversary tour.

“I first saw Volunteer on Twitter, then Janine (Cobain) sent me a copy to read. I didn’t stop until I had finished the book in one sitting” he said, adding: ‘The story fights with all our emotions…mostly the ones we try to ignore when we see or hear about any of these war zone situations.”

Volunteer clearly struck a chord with the musician and he admitted he felt “pretty helpless” while reading the book.

“I would say expect a full experience of emotion…love, anger…and maybe the realisation of just how privileged we are in our day to day lives. I have spent time in West Africa (Ghana) and my father in law is from there. Although I never witnessed any violence, I saw an awful lot of poverty” said Gaz.

Janine Cobain and Gary Mcelkerney

Janine Cobain and Gary McElkerney

The novel’s relevance is even more pronounced in light of recent global events.

Gaz explained: “Its hard to believe from the comfort of a European home, but I think people are becoming more aware that these things are happening.”

As a result of his interest in Volunteer, Gaz has now got involved with Janine and Gary’s new film project Just A Box through TUCC.  It was one of only six projects to receive funding from Northern Ireland Screen this year. So what can we expect from Gaz’s contribution to The Ultimate Creative Challenge?

“Gary and Janine are using one of my songs, Phoneys and Freaks, from my side music project, Love & The Family Tree.’ revealed Gaz.

Not only will Gaz be lending his talents to this creative production, Belfast will see Happy Mondays reunited on Saturday December 12 at the Mandela Hall in the final date of their 25th Anniversary tour.

He said: “We played Belfast back in 80’s and were always treated very kindly. It’s one of my favourite cities, I really mean that”

“I think audiences are similar in the respect that if you play a good show and are honest on stage they show their appreciation…I remember the first time we came to Belfast and the beauty of the place. Our tour manager was from Belfast so he showed us around.”

Much has changed since the bands formation in 1980, but audiences can expect a fantastic show combining both nostalgia and exciting new material.

Still from 'Volunteer' film adaptation, 'Just A Box'

Still from the film, Just A Box

“We were just a bunch of young lads from Manchester on a 10 year holiday (back then). We all accept each other for who we are these days, and its very calm….except Bez. He has never changed since school” said Gaz.

“We all have different songs we like most on this album. If I am honest, Bobs Your Uncle is a great one to play on drums. It goes from breakbeat to a balearic groove in one song.”

And, luckily for fans, this hopefully won’t be the last we see of the band…

Gaz said: “We have been offered to record a new album next year, but I’m not sure at the moment. I think fans expect consistency, which we have these days.

“I have a side music project, Love & the Family Tree, where I get to sing a bit and play guitar. Rowetta is amazing on the tunes. But my passion is Traditional Yoga and Indian Philosophy. Not the type you see in the gyms, but the original styles and health practices…this is probably how I will end up spending more and more time.”

Check out Facebook.com/ultimatecreativechallenge to follow Gary McElkerney’s Ultimate Creative Challenge or contact info@writepathni.com, and see Happy Mondays at Mandela Hall, Belfast on Saturday December 12.


About the Author

Abby Williams
Belfast based author/writer specialising in entertainment, mental health and human interest.