Thrills but no pills: Shaun Ryder still mad for it as Happy Mondays return to Norwich
PUBLISHED: 09:35 16 November 2017
Its 30 years since Shaun Ryder and his pals in the Happy Mondays released their debut album and began the formative sounds of the Madchester era. As the band return for a UEA gig, they’ve ditched the partying and sound better than ever.
If you listen to the stories, he’s pulled a gun on a journalist, sold ecstasy to army squaddies, and narrowly avoided being shot by a Puerto Rican gang after visiting a crack den in Harlem.
These tales, and there are plenty more, have given Happy Mondays star Shaun Ryder a cartoon-like reputation. But between tackling the school run, taking his children to drama club, maths club and guitar lessons, the 55-year-old father-of-six isn’t quite the headline-grabbing character from those stories, even if he still looks every inch the rockstar with his Hugo Boss leather jacket and Ray Bans.
Because the Ryder who once stripped Eddy Grant’s studio bare to fuel his blossoming crack habit has, to borrow a phrase he is fond of, “f***** off”, to be replaced by a figure more likely to be seen on breakfast television.
He is not the type of rock star who is locked behind the gates of a country estate; he is the kind who keeps his jangling set of keys attached to a Tesco clubcard.
His Mancunian drawl is full of self-interruptions and stammers in an attempt to recall details from the heavier days.
They are in the past, he insists. “Everyone is compos mentis now, all the b******* that came with being young has gone out of the window.”
When he says everyone, Ryder is of course, referring to his band of merry men, Happy Mondays. It is 30 years since the band who came to define the ‘Madchester’ scene released their debut album, Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out).
Having previously successfully toured albums Bummed and Pills’N’Thrills And Bellyaches, the band return to the UEA in Norwich next week on their anniversary Twenty Four Hour Party People Greatest Hits Tour, which will see them playing tracks from their debut, including 24 Hour Party People (see video above).
“I am really looking forward to it,” he says. “We’re performing better than ever and I love getting together with the band, blasting out all our great tunes we’ve made together over the decades.
“It seems like 10 minutes since we made the album so it’s gone really, really quick. I am older, good grief, I love it though. I wouldn’t go back. I’ve enjoyed all my times, teens, twenties, thirties, forties, and now I’m enjoying my fifties.”
As well as reviving the Happy Mondays, Ryder’s also released a new Black Grape album, Pop Voodoo, this summer as he continues to entertain with his witty wordplay.
“It was all making people laugh with words, taking the mickey out of everybody and everything and being clever,” says the singer who still finding inspiration from everything — “off the telly, off the street, what people say, and off the news”.
“I ended up writing and being a singer because, out of our bunch of pals, I was the best singer and I was the best writer,” he says, recalling a brief occasion when he allowed guitarist Mark Day have a go at writing. Day greeted him with the line, “Don’t make passes with girls in glasses”.
“So I ended up being the songwriter,” laughs Ryder. “I write cartoon, short mad stories and a line might be relevant to me, but they’re stories.”
The method, he reveals, really may be in the madness of these ideas. When hit with a line or two, he will scribble it down on the nearest paper and stick it in a teapot.
“Then when it comes to writing time I get all the lines of paper and I take ‘em to wherever I’ve got to work. I pull ‘em all out and make stories. It’s like the Black Grape album, the record label are ‘what’s this about?’ It’s stories.”
Ryder remains a great storyteller and after the Mondays tour he will be back in Norwich next March for a special Evening With… event that will see him in conversation with BBC Radio Suffolk’s Stephen Foster.
His passion for protecting his musical stories saw Ryder — who wrote “you’re twistin’ my melon man” — lost all his income in order to protect the royalties from those very lyrics. After a fractious break-up with the Black Grape management, he refused to hand over £150,000 awarded to them.
Ryder avoided bankruptcy as it would strip him of song rights and instead ended up in receivership. He claims the debt turned into about four or five million and admits it messed with his creative output. “It makes it impossible to want to work,” he recalls, “I got writer’s block as anyone would and it was hard enough surviving.”
The receivership ended in 2010, the year he finished second on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here and believes marked his transformation as a musician into an entertainment personality. He went on to have his own TV programme, Shaun Ryder on UFOs, on The History Channel.
“Listen,” he drawls. “Going back to 2004, I was approached to do Big Brother. And it was like, ‘Woah, we don’t do that, we’re in a band’. And Bez did it, and he won it. That’s when I realised the game was changing and you’ve got to do stuff like that now. Then I did I’m A Celebrity and it was great, I loved it.”
But ultimately, he could do as much reality television as he likes, it would still need to be backed up with good music, agrees Ryder.
“Back in the day we had more important things like drug addicts to feed, so the writing came second. But this time it’s the priority. It’s better than ever, and we play better than ever, it really just is the music. I’m older and I’m not a mad, shagging party animal. We’ve done all the partying, and all the sex, and drugs, so it’s just the rock ‘n’ roll.
“It’s a lot easier.”
• Happy Mondays play the UEA LCR, Norwich, on November 23, 7.30pm, £29.50, 01603 508050, ueaticketbookings.co.uk
• An Evening with Shaun Ryder will also be at Epic Studios in Norwich on March 7, 7pm, £27.50, 01603 727727, epic-tv.com