What can one write about Shaun Ryder that has not been written or said about him many times before?
That was in my head when I had a chat with the man to plug a 26-date UK tour for his iconic Madchester band The Happy Mondays, which kicks off in Dundee on 10th November and closes in Glasgow on 23rd December 2017.
Simon Redley gets personal with the legendary hell raiser…
The “Twenty Four Hour Party People – Greatest Hits Tour” celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Happy Mondays’ debut album “Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)”.
But first, a wee bit of history: Happy Mondays were from Salford, Greater Manchester. Formed in 1980, the band’s original line-up was Shaun Ryder (vocals), his brother Paul Ryder (bass), Mark Day (guitar), Paul Davis (keyboard), and Gary Whelan (drums). Mark “Bez” Berry later joined the band onstage as a dancer/percussionist. Rowetta Satchell joined the band as a guest vocalist in 1990.
They experienced their commercial peak with the releases “Bummed” (1988), “Madchester Rave On” (1989), and “Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches” (1990), with the latter going platinum in the UK. The album was recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. Singles “Step On” and “Kinky Afro” from this album both reached number five in the UK singles chart.
The band were signed to Factory Records after passing a demo tape to Phil Saxe, a trader at Manchester Arndale who was on friendly terms with Mike Pickering, a DJ at the Haçienda nightclub. Saxe became the band’s manager. The first release from Happy Mondays was the “Forty Five EP”, often called the “Delightful EP” after its first track. It was released on Factory Records in September 1985. Their first album, “Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)”, was released in 1987.
They released “Yes Please!”in 1992, produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth from Us legends Talking Heads, recorded at Eddy Grant’s studio in Barbados. By the late 1980s, the Happy Mondays personified rave culture. Numerous world tours meant the band had international success as well as massive success in their home country. The line up of the band during this first ten year period never changed, and the six original members Shaun Ryder, Paul Ryder, Gary Whelan, Paul Davis, Mark Day and Mark “Bez” Berry remained a tight unit until the first incarnation came to an end in 1994.
“God is great, religion is terrible”
Back to today: Shaun was in fine form when I caught up with him on the dog and bone on a recent Friday afternoon at his home in the Manchester area. I did the interview in two parts: 1. Stuff about the tour and the band, then and now. 2. Quick fire stuff,where I threw names at him, and he came back with his first thoughts.
I’ll begin this feature with the final part of the chat, to set the tone for Shaun’s no holds barred, brutally honest and bloody funny style of answering my questions. A refreshing and natural modus operandi with no filter. A joy to speak to after years of slick, media-trained celebs and music biz people churning out the same old shite they tell everyone they speak to. Not our Shaun. What you see (and hear) is what you get.
God and religion. “God is great, religion is terrible”
Do you believe in God? “I believe in some sort of supreme being and power, God or whatever, yeah. The whole sort of thing with nature and everything else is just too far out and cosmic and mind-blowingly just far out to just be…..”
Theresa May. “Oh, I’m not a fan”.
Corbyn: “I’m accepting him”.
Boris: “Ahh, funny”.
Kin Jong Un: “Who? Oh, him; proper dick head”.
Snakes: “I don’t have a problem with snakes, I really don’t. Even showbiz ones”. If you’ve seen the fabulous scenes from “I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here” in 2010, when Shaun was a contestant in the Australian jungle on that British TV show and came second behind Stacey Solomon – during a trial, he was bitten by a snake on his hand. His facial expression was priceless. More on that later from earlier in the interview. It’s worth waiting for!
The Royals: “Tricky question that. In one way I’m patriotic, and in another way, I’m sort of….I’m a working class labour kid, so I’m a bit schizophrenic on the old Royal front”.
Bez. “Ahh dude, he’s just my dude”.
Rowetta: “Well, Rowetta is Rowetta”. I spoke to that lovey lady with the killer soul pipes a few days after this chat with Shaun. That feature to come very soon…
If he could change one thing about himself, what that would be? “Ohh, I would be slightly taller than Peter Crouch”. Daft bastard.
Let’s get back to the tour promotion for a second. 26 dates across two months. That’s a long tour, Shaun. “Innit, eh? We are not used to doing that sort of stuff now, but it’s probably gonna be the last one for a while. Apart from a couple of summer dates”. The tour starts and ends in Scotland, why? “I dunno know. I just turn up! “There’s a lot of those places that I don’t think we’ve even done before. It’s er, slightly different, playing places we haven’t done. Should be quite good really, a bit rock and roll”.
Taking of rock and roll, Shaun says the band’s mad days of drink, drugs and crazy 24 hour party people mayhem are long gone. “The sex and the drugs have gone; it’s now just the rock and roll”.
“When Newsnight’s finished I’m off to bed…”
His routine after each gig now is a tad more “normal”. “Yeah, back to the hotel, order some room service, watch the news on TV and off to kip”. Really? Is he serious? “At home if I am not working, I’m in bed after the news. When Newsnight’s finished I’m off to bed. I haven’t been taking drugs for over 15 years. I’m a 55-year-old bloke who’s very happy”. Does he still drink booze? When was the last time you had a skin full? “Pissed; oh, a couple of nights ago actually”.
So after a gig, you guys do not get out of your brain like you used to then, back in the day? “Oh good God, no”. So you go to the hotel room, watch the news and go to bed after a gig? “That’s what I do. I go back, order some room service, stick the news on and I am off to kip”.
So how is it different touring now, as compared to the days when you were partying 24 hours and out of your head a lot? “It’s a lot easier now. You start getting stoned and doing all sorts of stuff to sort of try and make life easier on yourself, it does become complicated. It’s just so easy now, the sex and drugs have gone and it’s just rock and roll.
“We actually…and I’m not just saying it because I’ve got a tour to sell, we are actually playing better and sounding better than we ever did back in the day. We all appreciate it now and we all enjoy doing it. It’s like when you are on that hamster wheel and just tour and album, and tour and album; get through this and on to the next, you’re just going through the motions.
“Now it’s like….when we went out and did ‘Bummed’, I hadn’t listened to that album since we came out of the studio and it was like; wow, this is a great album, when we had to take it out, and you really do appreciate it. We all enjoyed playing those songs more than ever, all compos mentis, and just really enjoying it”.
There’s no fuss over packing his case for a long tour these days. Essentials for when you are on the road, Shaun? “Er, I don’t know. Me underpants and me jeans and me trainers (sic), and that’s it really. Oh, and me tooth brush; gotta keep me old implants looking good. I’ve just had a new set put in”. Back in the day, Shaun was instantly recognised for his toothy grin with his front teeth missing. But before he went into the Oz jungle, he had his gnashers sorted out and false teeth put in.
Talking of teeth; I am reminded of Shaun’s brilliantly entertaining time on ITV’s “I’m A Celebrity….Get Me Out Of here”, in 2010, and the scenes during a bush tucker trial, where he had his hand in a box where he could not see what was in it, but the viewers could. He got badly bitten by a pissed off snake, which clamped its choppers around his hand and wouldn’t let go. Shaun pulling a face and gritting his teeth in pain, but he carried on. If we could read his mind, that slithery sucker would have had its neck wrung had he not been on live TV to millions.
“It was a showbiz snake…”
I ask Shaun about that unforgettable moment. His response is priceless: “Well, yeah, it was a showbiz snake”. Imagine this said in Shaun’s thick Manc’ accent, one of the funniest and off the wall comments any celeb has ever said to me in four decades of interviews. I keep replaying the tape of him saying it!”.
“It was one of those snakes that was brought in and had its own private dressing room, brought in with minders and it really is a showbiz snake. They’re making movies these things and they slip ‘em in the jungle, get ‘em all going… I watched the guys bring these snakes in. I really did want to kill it, but you can’t do that to a showbiz snake”. I discuss his reference to it being a “showbiz snake” and he reminds me of this:
“Well Gino ate the showbiz rat. He took the showbiz rat; it was probably insured for about three million quid, that rat”, referring to celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo, a fellow contestant, cooking a rat for their supper on the camp fire. He doesn’t keep in touch with any of them he was in the jungle with, but says he sometimes “bumps into” the likes of former MP Lembit Opik, comedian Dom Joly and comedian and novelist Jenny Eclair.
So after his taste of reality TV fame, would he consider going into the Celebrity Big Brother House? “No, no, no. Oh no, no. I got offered that years ago didn’t I, and I put it on to Bez and he went and won it. It’s sort of a load of celebs with mental health issues and throw in a load of booze. I’d go bonkers. I’d kill someone, you know”. Now wouldn’t that be great TV too, eh?
What’s on Mr Ryder’s Santa’s list this year? “Apart from the usual undies, and socks and aftershave? It’s gonna be a weird one this Christmas, because we are all now vegetarians and my missus is a Vegan. So it’s gonna be a very strange Christmas. The one thing I do want is all the family together and hopefully me Dad might still be with us as well”.
Does he do housework when he’s at home? “Me, I have to yeah. I do the bins, I have to wash the pots”. His wife is an ex-butcher, so it is probably best he does as he’s told. “Absolutely I do, yeah”.
But he’s glued to the TV to satisfy his ‘guilty secret: “I watch Emmerdale and Coronation Street and every other soap going. Not the Australian ones. Corrie and Emmerdale mainly. I used to watch Eastenders, but not seen it for that long, I really don’t know what’s going on or who’s in it”.
On the topic of TV shows, I expected him to kick off and give me a good headline when I asked if he was ever invited to be on X Factor or The Voice as a coach or a mentor, what would his answer be. But no, he came back with: “I’d have to think about it”. Again, what amazing tele’ that’d be. Could you imagine him and Cowell up against each other? Picture the scene: Some ropey old, deluded karaoke singer comes on and gives the usual hard luck story about her dead Grandad’s last words being, ‘please go on to the X Factor and win it for me’, and Shaun pipes up, in his Manc’ accent: “Yeah yeah. OK love. We don’t wanna hear all this shit, just sing will ya, I need a ******* beer!” Yes please……………….It’d be the biggest ratings that show ever got if Shaun got the invite and said yes.
His personal favourite moment of a circa 35 year career, involves a TV show appearance, in fact, Not a a talent show though. “I think it has got to be when you first do Top of the Pops. You actually think you’re a rock star-superstar and you’ve made it. Back in the day, that was it; from being a young kid I’d watch that . I think everybody who was in a band at the time, as soon as you got on Top of the Pops, you just thought, I’ve arrived”. The band did their first TOP in late 1989, with their breakthrough hit single “”Hallelujah”.
The worst moment of his career so far, he says was when he lost maybe up to £5m in earnings when he got into a legal dispute with former management of Black Grape, lost the case and refused to pay the £150,000 awarded to the other side. He stood his ground to avoid bankruptcy and was forced into receivership, and spent 12 years where all his earnings, royalties and spare cash was taken from him. He got clear of that mess when he came out of the jungle in 2010. His biggest regret. “If had my time again, I would have just given them the £150,000.Oh yeah, really. I should have just paid it”.
He should earn a good few bob from this mammoth tour coming up. What will the fans get at each show. Any new songs? All the hits? “Not any new songs. We haven’t played any of the songs from ‘Squirrel and G-Man’ for over 20 years, so we are gonna do a few of them. What we’ve had to do is, if you listen to that album, we must have been going through our Doors phase, because it’s really spacey, so it doesn’t quite work doing it live. So what we’ve had to do is pull them in and tighten them up a bit. We put the feelers out with the old anoraks and what would they like us to play, so we’ve come up with a few of them”.
The band has had five albums released, the last one was in 2007, the first one in 1987. Five live albums too, four EPs and 19 singles. They appear on shed loads of compilations and there’s a fair few bootlegs knocking about too. There’s a new Black Grape album “Pop Voodoo” which was released in August this year. New Happy Mondays album on its way?
Exclusive: New Happy Mondays album due…
“Next year really is gonna be Black Grape. We’ve released the album this year and we’ve done a few festivals, but really next year, 2018 and 19 really is Black Grape. So, I’m really thinking of 2020, to hopefully get a Happy Mondays album done. We will do a few summer festivals with the Mondays, but that’ll be it. Do Black Grape and then come back with a new Mondays album. That’s the plan anyway”.
So, for the first album, who came up with the bonkers title? “Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Ca’nt Smile (White Out)” and what does it mean? “That was mine. I was basically the dude who got labelled (sic) with doing all the album titles and track titles. Basically, Squirrel and G Man was Paul Davies’ parents, Paul was the keyboard player who couldn’t play keyboards.
“So his Mum looked like a squirrel and his Dad was a high ranking police officer, so they were Squirrel and G Man. The 24 Hour party people plastic face carn’t smile, was us lot. Obviously, the white out was referring to some powdered substance”. Oh Vim? Shaun laughs, and says: “Yeah, which is pretty much what they were probably selling in Manchester, packed in with the powdered substance!” I have no idea what he is talking about, of course….
Does it feel like 30 years since your debut album? “Yes and no. Sort of, but when you really think about how we was back then and….” he laughs loudly: “…and how we survived. But er, you know, I mean, well I think about ‘Bummed’, and that really does only seem like yesterday, you know”.
The tour brings back together the full original line-up, including of course, Roweta, Bez and Shaun’s brother Paul. The pair didn’t speak for more than a decade, but things seem OK now. How did you guys sort it out and get back together? “We got all the members back together to do a greatest hits arena thing a few years ago, must be getting on for four years ago now. (It was 2012). So yes, it is absolutely the original line-up now. The only person who is not the original is the keyboard player, and that’s for the reason that Paul can’t play keyboards.
“He walked off to go for a piss in the middle of one of the songs…”
“He triggered off samples back in the day, but because he’s been away from the game for so long he was finding that difficult. So we programmed a lot of stuff in for him, but then we were playing in the Evening News Arena (Manchester) and he walked off to go for a piss in the middle of one of the songs, so…” Shaun laughs “….we couldn’t have him with us”.
How long did you and your brother not speak? “Oh, it lasted quite a few years. Yeah, 10 years or something. But we sorted it out when we all got together for the meeting about getting the original band back together really”.
Do you still clash? “We are brothers; the problem is when you are in a band and you’re working with your Dad and your brother, you are together 24 hours a day for you know, long periods of time. So any sort of little niggles turn into madness. We wuz young and full of, you know, bullshit, so you know, we’re just pretty placid old blokes now really”.
There’s another pair of musical Manc’ brothers who seem to have got the right hump with each other, by the name of Gallagher. What’s his message to Liam and Noel: “Keep it up lads!” Does Shaun think there will ever be an Oasis reunion? “I would have said yeah, er, not for a few more years yet. Not until Noel’s got a big divorce bill or something”.
So, with that city spawning many famous and great bands such as Oasis, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, 808 State, The Charlatans and of course, The Happy Mondays, who does Shaun name as the best Manchester band ever? He doesn’t hesitate with his answer: “Best Manc band ever, definitely The Hollies. Fantastic band, just amazing people, brilliant”.
Madchester? Is he happy with that label for his band? “Well, do you know what; it was great at the time. We were all young kids, and then dropping a load of this new designer drug called Ecstasy, the word Madchester it just fit, you know (sic). It weren’t ‘The Swinging Sixties’, it was Madchester”.
Favourite Mondays track: “It’s either Kinky (Kinky Afro) or Loose Fit”. Both killer songs, for sure.
“I saw the Happy Mondays on TV, and they reminded me of the Beatles in their ‘Strawberry Fields’ phase”. Paul McCartney, 1990.
Shaun’s biggest achievement, apart from actually still being alive after the previous excess all areas life style? “Staying in this game the 100 and odd years that I’ve been in it”. He has simple ambitions left. “To keep doing this and making another great album”.
Often called “legend and “iconic”, how do those labels sit with Shaun Ryder? “Do you know what, it’s better than junkie”.
Last question: sum up Shaun Ryder in one sentence: “Shaun’s alright. I’m an alright bloke really”. Do you know what; I think he probably is, and I am going to take him up on an invite to go say hello at a gig on the tour, so I’ll let you know then. We might even get to watch Newsnight together and yell at the TV set when Mrs May and Brexit gets mentioned…
By Simon Redley
* Photo credits: Both photos of Shaun: Elspeth Moore, Band shot: Paul Husband, Rowetta shot: Angie Wynne.