BIG INTERVIEW: Shaun Ryder: ‘The sex and drugs has gone so it’s just the rock’n’roll now’

The Happy Mondays. Picture by Paul Husband Photography

Given their well-documented chaotic history, it’s not only impressive that The Happy Mondays still exist as a band, but that the original line-up are all still present and correct.

And the Mancunian chancers are back with a greatest hits tour to mark 30 years since their debut album, the snappily titled Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out).

In rude health and exuding an easy-going charm – and peppering his language with more naughty words than The Guide is allowed to publish – frontman Shaun Ryder says the band is in a good place right now.

‘It really is fun, I’m not just saying that because I’ve got a tour to plug. The Mondays are better now than we ever was back in the day – we’re playing better, we’re all compos mentis.

‘Fun was different back then. Partying was just as important as getting up on stage and playing the album, but I was young, and we did that and we went around the world, sleeping around and being rock’n’roll. I think any young lad should do that, and we did that. You don’t want to miss out on that – it would be a shame to miss out on that!’

‘But now we’re a different age, and it really is about the music – we sound better, we’re tighter, we’re playing better and we enjoy it more.

‘When we was young, you were basically on the treadmill – album, tour, press, and then another album and tour and you just keep doing it because that’s what you do and you don’t have time to enjoy it or appreciate it, and now we do.’

During their late-’80s, early-’90s peak, the band were at the forefront of the Madchester and baggy scenes, effortlessly combining indie-rock with dance grooves and Shaun’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics, they created hits like Step On, Loose Fit and Kinky Afro.

But they fell apart after the disastrous 1992 album Yes Please! Sent to Barbados by their label to record the album and in a bid to break the heroin habits of Shaun and his brother (Mondays’ bassist) Paul, they instead ended up hooked on crack-cocaine. Infamously, they stole the furniture from the studio they were working in and held their master-tapes to ransom to fund their new habits.

Kermit and Shaun Ryder perform as Black Grape at The Wedgewood Rooms in 1995. Picture by Paul Windsor

The sessions ultimately contributed to bankrupting their record label, Factory, and the band initially split in 1994. Since then, there have been several reunions, and one more album, 2007’s Uncle Dysfunktional. For this gang of working class lads, though, Shaun says he doesn’t think it could have ever panned out differently.

‘One minute you’re on the dole, and the next minute you’re in a successful band doing rock’n’roll, which is what you’ve always wanted, and you’re doing it for real.

‘Being in a band is like having a kid – it doesn’t come with a rulebook. You can read all of the rock’n’roll books you want, right – we did – and you’ll still end up with every one of the clichés, the drugs, the bird who splits you up, you name it.

‘We were young lads and we fell to all of that, personalities and egos, it’s a new experience to you and you adapt as you’re doing it. I really don’t think it could have gone any other way.

We’re very mature now. I’ve now got the mental age of about 13 where it used to be a lot younger back in the day!

Shaun Ryder

‘If you look what we did with the Mondays we did album after album after album and I got burnt out.

‘We always wanted to keep the Mondays together but we couldn’t, and you know what, I went to on to form Black Grape, and that was great.

‘The personalities involved, being with each other for so long, being with each other every day, it couldn’t have happened any other way.’

Black Grape (pictured right when the came to The Wedgewood Rooms in 1995) were started by Shaun with rapper Kermit, releasing two successful albums including the wryly titled platinum-selling debut, It’s Great When You’re Straight... Yeah. Like The Mondays, they dissolved in bitter recriminations. However, in 2017, this band has also returned to life, with a new album Pop Voodoo appearing this summer.

‘We started trying to get a Mondays’ album together, it really should have been Mondays’ album time, but when you do that there’s six of us, and everybody’s got an opinion, everybody’s got to have a say, there’s all these characters, and trying to get everyone together and back in the country is pretty difficult.’

With Shaun and his old sparring partner Kermit back on friendly terms, the singer says: ‘So it was, you know what? While we’re messing about, why don’t we do a Black Grape album? And we did it in four weeks.

‘I think it’s a better album than the first one. Go and download it – it did all right and all, it was number one at midweek and then dropped to number 16, but we’re happy with that.’

‘It’s the same thing as with the Mondays, isn’t it? We’re just two old farts now, the sex and drugs has gone so it’s just the rock’n’roll, isn’t it?

‘There’s no bull about being young and all that rubbish that goes with it, so it’s all good. We’re very mature now. I’ve now got the mental age of about 13 where it used to be a lot younger back in the day!’

When it comes to putting together the setlist for the Mondays’ new tour, Shaun is content to let others take the lead.

‘It’s not hard for me – what I do is, I just really leave it to them lot. Whatever the rest of the band enjoy playing, and whatever the fans say they want to hear on social media, I’ll do.
‘They’ve even got me to do something off Yes Please! which is not a favourite of mine at all.

‘And we’ll do a few off the first album - The first album is really sort of spaecy, almost like on borders on mogadon, on amphetamines, all mixed up in some mad pea soup. Because we’ve not done those songs for 30 years, they’re still like the original sound, but we’ve had to tighten them up and put them back together.’

Back in the Factory Records days, the band were under the wing of label svengali Tony Wilson – renowned for his chaotic business practices – who died in 2007.

They are now looked after by Creation Management, which was set up by Creation Records founder Alan McGee. McGee has also had a reputation for his hedonistic lifestyle back-back-in-the-day as he kept pace with the bands on his roster like Oasis and Primal Scream.

‘Alan’s brilliant,’ says Shaun. I’ve known him since day one, oour paths have crossed loads of times since the mid-’80s, he’s an amazing bloke, we’ve been through shedloads of managers and Alan really understands the history of the band, he understands music, he understand me and what I do. He’s just amazing bloke.’

Shaun is looking ahead to a new Mondays album though: ‘At the end of the year, once we’ve done this tour, the Mondays is going to be going to bed for two years, apart from festivals, while I go off and do Black Grape around the world. And then after two years, that’ll be 2020, we’ve got to do a new Mondays’ album.’

• The Happy Mondays 24 Hour Party People Greatest Hits Tour is at The Pyramids Centre, Southsea, on Saturday, November 18, doors 7.30pm. Tickets £32.50. Go to pyramids-live.co.uk.

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