Interview: Still twisting his melon… 909originals chats to Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder
If the ‘Madchester’ era could be summed up in one frontman, it would undoubtedly be Shaun Ryder, the Happy Mondays’ lead singer, whose stage presence was only matched (or in this case, exceeded) by 20-plus years of glorious hedonism.
As the man himself will tell you, when he was younger, he was a bit of a ‘garbage head’, open to trying any substance going… often to excess.
Now, however, at 57, he’s clean and proud of it, and while more than a decade has passed since the last Mondays album, 2007’s Uncle Dysfunctional, Ryder has had a busy few years – he’s released two books (an autobiography and a lyric collection), got married, appeared on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, Mastermind and any number of TV shows, and even reformed Black Grape alongside longtime sparring partner Kermit.
The wild days may be over – “on New Year’s Eve, we were all in bed for just gone 12,” he says – but the artist affectionally known as Shaun William Ryder (who’ll “lie down beside ya, fill you full of junk”) has lost none of his love for the music.
In fact, with his bacchanalian days behind him, maybe he loves it even more.
Ahead of his appearance in Dublin this weekend as part of a speaking tour, An Evening With Shaun Ryder at The Sugar Club [click here for tickets], 909originals caught up with him.
We’re standing at the start of a new decade. How is Shaun Ryder feeling these days?
Well, I’m feeling great, but my body is falling to bits. I seem to have developed all the stuff that my nana had, with the thyroid and all that; I’ve got it all. A couple of my nana’s sisters had the same thing.
None of the men in the family have had it, which upsets me. I must be a woman! Actually, with my nana, they ended up taking both her legs off.
Ok, let’s not go there. In general though, when you look at what you’ve done over the past few years, you seem to be busier than ever.
Yeah, but it doesn’t seem like that. Years ago we just spent a lot of time on the road. It seemed like I was always on the road, with the Mondays and then Black Grape, and I never there to see my kids growing up. Nowadays, I’m at home a lot more.
Twenty years ago, I was still on that mission of going out every night to the pub or the club, and obviously now that I’m nearly 60, I’m not doing that any more. I’m pretty chuffed about that actually; I get to spend a lot of time with the kids and the missus.
As you’ve got older, have you been able to draw more of a line between Shaun Ryder the ‘man’, and Shaun Ryder the ‘character’ – the anything goes, court jester side of your personality?
Yeah, the character I used to call ‘X’ went out the window after I turned 40.
When the movie 24 Hour Party People came out, I never met the director, Michael Winterbottom. The way I was portrayed in that movie was just a caricature, taken from the pages of NME and Melody Maker, the guy who used to go on TFI Friday and swear. It wasn’t me, it was a parody.
Since then, you’ve sort of reclaimed who you are?
Even I had I forgotten who I was. The real me had disappeared years and years ago. It was my missus that brought me back to ‘me’.
Having that reputation though, you probably still get offered drugs by people when you head out to the pub, or club or whatever?
Oh God, yeah. It happens all the time; I get offered coke, E – you name it and I get offered it. It’s usually from really young lads. They would be like ‘go on, go on‘, and I’m just ‘no lads, just you wait until you’re in your fucking 50s’.
A lot of young lads that are into music and everything and they’ve read the stories – they think I’m still running around like I’m 22 or whatever. But I’m not. I’m a fucking old man.
It’s like with George Best; he used to say every time someone met him, they wanted to buy him a drink. The difference being, he took it.
I don’t even let people buy me drinks anymore. I’m too paranoid that someone will stick something in it. If you’re going to buy me a drink, I have to know you really well.
In your autobiography, you said that you were ‘never comfortable being the frontman’; that it was something that you grew into when you were in your 40s. Now that you’re in your mid-50s, do you enjoy it more?
I’m not as I hung up any more. When you’re a kid you’ve got a lot of hang ups and a lot of shit, going on and a lot of self-doubt and everything else. I masked a lot of that by being off my face.
Actually one of the reasons that Bez was there because he took a lot of the limelight off me.
But as I got older and I learn to deal with things, it became a lot easier. There wasn’t as much stuff going on in my head.
Was it a confidence thing?
Yeah, absolutely. If it had been up to me, when I was younger, I would never have done any shows. I was quite happy in a little room, where we wrote songs or rehearsed. I never would have left there.
Of course, eventually you have to go out and do gigs, but once you start doing that, you’re like ‘ahhh, fucking hell, this is a different world’.
Now that you have more time on your hands, do you look forward to gigs more?
I’ve always enjoyed doing gigs, but it was under false pretences, because I was off my tits.
But now, with the Mondays, we have the original band together, and every one of us loves it, and appreciates it.
We got to the stage years ago, doing gig after gig and album after album and tour after tour, that it was like being on a treadmill. You sort of stop enjoying it.
But now, the band is playing better, we’re not all off our tits the whole time, and a lot of the bollocks between each other that we had when we were younger is all gone as well.
So that thing about ‘it wasn’t the drugs that split up the band, it was the egos’; there’s an element of truth in that?
Yeah, pretty much. Me and our kid [Paul Ryder, Shaun’s brother and the Mondays’ bass player] still have a go at each other, but that’s family, isn’t it?
Even now, though, when people think of the Mondays, they think of you and Bez. The rest of the band are ok with that?
Yeah, Gaz [Whelan, Happy Mondays’ drummer] he loves the fact that he could just wander around without anyone recognising him and coming over to talk to him. Me, Bez and Rowetta are basically the front people of the band now.
Our kid sometimes gets a bit narky, but that’s just him. I’ve just got to accept that he’s a bit of a moody twat. You’ll never see him smiling on stage. I always say to him, ‘give the audience a smile you miserable get…’
Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches is 30 years old this year. How are you going to commemorate that?
It’s all being remastered, or whatever it is they do with it. It’s being re-released, anyway, I know that much, because I’ve just given the ok on it. Also, we’re re-releasing a lot to the old stuff, like Freaky Dancing, the early singles.
Sort of like a Beatles Anthology, with the outtakes and demo versions and things like that?
Yeah, that’s what’s going on. We’ve actually been doing some of the really old stuff on stage. We did The Egg on the last tour, and we did Tart Tart. They went down really well.
Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches came out around the same time as The Stone Roses, but they’re quite different albums.
With the Roses, their big influence was the Sixties stuff, and our big influence was, well, everything.
Of course they were influenced by the dance scene as well, like we were. I think it’s great that they are two very different albums.
When are we going to get some new Mondays music? The last thing you did, Ooo La La To Panama [from 2015], was quite polished, it sounded good.
None of us have ever said ‘no, we don’t want to do another Mondays album’, so at some time it will happen. But at the moment, I’m about to do another Black Grape album.
It’s so much easier; in the Mondays you have six people that have to have a say, whereas in Black Grape it’s just me and Kermit. We can go in the studio tomorrow if we like.
What led you to get Black Grape back together?
I got an email from the people that looked after Black Grapes music, in America. They were saying it was 20 years since the first album [1995’s It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah], and ‘what was I going to do?’ I hadn’t really thought about it. So then I thought, ok, let’s see how Kermit is, and I reached out to him.
And then around the same time, Paul Oakenfold got in touch to see if we wanted to do a football song [We Are England, released for the 2016 European Championships, which featured Shaun, Kermit and Goldie].
So we went into my little studio at the back of my house, and put that together and when that was done, we just carried on and started writing new music.
The opening track of the 2017 Black Grape album Pop Voodoo, Everything You Know Is Wrong, is quite politicised; you mention Trump and the NHS and things like that. Is that a sign that you yourself are more politicised now?
Not at all! To me, that track was just an intro. It was a skit, really. We were just talking, and messing about, and the producer, Youth, recorded it, and put music on top of it, and that became the opening track.
We just write about anything, to be honest, whether it’s political or not. Anything that comes to our minds.
That album also has a track called Nine Lives – is that a ‘fuck you’ to anyone that says you’re past it?
Oh yeah. I mean, Kermit has had about 99 lives, and I’m not far behind him.
You don’t play the social media game that much – you’re on Twitter, but you don’t ‘get involved’ like other artists?
I don’t do it all that social media stuff. Anita from my management company looks after that. I would only go on it if I had to, like if a mate has put a photo up or whatever.
I know it’s important, but I just can’t be arsed.
Last year, you released Wrote For Luck, a collection of song lyrics. How did that come about?
I didn’t really have that much to do with it! Luke Bainbridge, who’s a good pal – he’s the journalist that helped me with my autobiography – said he was thinking about doing it, and I just said ‘knock yourself out’.
But when he put it together, and I looked at it, I said, ‘why haven’t we got that in there‘, or ‘let’s take that one out’.
There were a couple of songs from Squirrel and G-Man [also known as Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out), the Mondays’ first album], that I didn’t want on there. I explained to him what some of the songs were about – that was my contribution – and the book came together.
Before we wrap this up, I want you to gaze into your crystal ball and give me your predictions for the coming decade…
I really want to get to my 60th birthday without my body falling to bits. At the moment , I have Alopecia Totalis, which means that my hair is falling out on every part of my body. And then there’s something with my thyroid and my legs are going – I’ve just had a hip operation, and I need to have another one.
I mean, mentally I’m fantastic, but my body is falling apart at the moment. I might even be in a wheelchair in a few years.
You could always come back as a hologram?
Yeah, or download my consciousness somewhere.
How about predictions for the world at large?
When you think about it, this planet has always been at fucking war. We keep repeating the same old shit; we’re on a loop. It keeps happening again and again – we’re fucking launching missiles at Iran or Iraq or whatever. It’s going on forever.
One of my girls was saying to me the other day, ‘daddy, is this the end of the world?’, and I was just like, ‘no, it’s just the same loop going over and over’.
We’re all still arguing over the same bollocks. We’re not learning anything, we’re just repeating ourselves. Put that video on again, the same one we’ve always had on.
Right, let’s not end the interview on that note though. Give us a positive thought for the year.
I just think the planet should be a beautiful place. Let’s make it even more beautiful.
[Click here to buy tickets for An Evening With Shaun Ryder, taking place this Saturday, 11 January, at The Sugar Club, Dublin. Main photo by Paul Husband.]