Shaun Ryder talks to ZANIWritten by Matteo Sedazzari
successful but also have been highly influential,
such as artist L. S. Lowry, who lived and worked there for over 40 years, producing his iconic Matchstick men paintings that captured the working class life of the area in the mid-20th Century. Punk and New Wave Poet John Cooper Clark, sharp, razor tongue and witty who is very much a man in demand today, was born in Salford as were musicians Peter Hook and Bernard Summers who wanted to escape the humdrum life of factory work or signing on by forming Joy Division then, after the death of their lead singer Ian Curtis, they became New Order, two bands that are still regarded as pioneers today. Tough and gritty actor Albert Finney, Salford born and bred. Then there is the iconic inner sleeve photo of The Smiths outside Salford Lads Club from The Queen is Dead album. The list is quite impressive and it would be foolish, in fact a massive oversight, not to include The Happy Mondays and, of course, their charismatic and at times enigmatic Shaun Ryder.
Born 23rd August 1962 in Little Hulton, Worsley, a suburban village on the outskirts of Salford, he has certainly added much needed excitement and debate in the world of music. Ryder’s first band The Happy Mondays, formed in 1980, original members were brother Paul Ryder bass, Mark Day lead guitar, Paul Davis keyboardist, and Gary Whelan drummer. Five working class lads with no musical training, just mad about music, who decided to form a band out of boredom and to escape, the perfect reason to form a band. The chemistry of The Happy Mondays was complete when Bolton born Mark Berry befriended the band after dancing with them on stage and became the sixth member as percussionist and dancer going by his nickname Bez. Signing to Tony Wilson’s Factory Records in 1985, an independent Manchester based record label that had already given the world Joy Division then New Order, known for its boldness and vision with a maverick culture. Yet it wasn’t until five years later that The Happy Mondays become a huge and phenomenal act across the UK and beyond. Why? It’s simple, their moment had arrived.
1989 a year out after the Acid House explosion, the second summer of love and the ‘scene’ was growing. In addition, leading and inventive DJs of this movement such as Andrew Weatherall, Terry Farley and Paul Oakenfold were going further than simply playing other people’s records, they were moving into remixing and producing, whilst Ryder and his merry friends were making music and participating in the Acid House scene. As the saying goes, they were ‘the real deal’,England needed a tangible and visional band who could be the ‘spoke men’ of this crazy pleasure-seeking club scene. Producing Madchester Rave (EP) in November 1989, an EP coming from the exhilarating rave scene with a base at the famous and legendary club Hacienda (owned by Factory Records’ Tony Wilson and New Order). With live and studio bands coming from this great city in the North East of England, the Stone Roses, the Inspiral Carpets, 808 State, and A Guy Called Gerald. In fact Manchester had more happening than London, and the name Madchester suited the mood and feel of the time.
The EP had remixes for The Happy Monday’s tracks, Rave On and Wrote for Luck (W.L.F) by Weatherall and Farley with original tracks such as Hallelujah. An athematic dance influence with a punk and rock edge piece of vinyl that gave The Mondays that first top twenty hit in the mainstream charts, and the kids loved it, why not, it was exciting. A year later, a top ten album Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches produced by Oakenfold and summer hit single reaching number 5, Step On a cover of John Kongos’ He’s Gonna Step On You Again, a forgotten rock classic from 1971. I think most people, including me, would be lying if they said they heard the original before The Monday’s Step On. Coupled with a big tour across the UK and beyond, The Happy Mondays were huge and their front man, Shaun Ryder with his rawness, waggishness, honesty, hedonistic ways and natural cheeky charm, became a ‘pop’ star. The Happy Mondays became The Rolling Stones of the 90’s, they looked certain to conquer the world.
Like The Stones, or should I say the younger Stones (circa 60s & 70s), The Happy Mondays were serious drug users which led to their first demise in 1993 amongst other classic band arguments. Yet they have reformed three times since then, first one in 1999 and are still going strong since their last reformation in 2012 with the original members. During their first demise period 1993 to 1998, Shaun Ryder formed Black Grape with fellow Mancunian Hip Hop and Rap artist Kermit (Paul Leveridge) from The Ruthless Rap Assassins. Black Grape mixed Hip Hop, Rock, Punk, Funk with a real edge, similar to The Mondays, a collection of influences especially Black Music to produce a unique English sound, and their debut album It’s Great When You’re Straight went straight into Number One, a strong indication of Ryder’s talent and fan base. Their 2nd album Stupid Stupid Stupid released two years later, was not such a huge success even though it did chart at no 11. A year later Black Grape split up, but Ryder was far from over, in fact he had only just started...
Ryder has become a TV contestant; I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! 2011 , a TV presenter, Shaun Ryder on UFOs 2013, newspaper columnist, The Daily Sport 1999, author, Twisting My Melon 2011, as well as pursuing a solo career, performing with The Happy Mondays and now about to embark on a comeback tour with Black Grape, and the Great When You’re Straight tour. He is a busy man and no wonder Alan McGee, the man who gave the world Oasis, is looking after him with his company Creation Management, and ZANI was pleased when they accepted our request for an interview with Mr Ryder.
ZANI – Are you looking forward to the comeback gigs? What can people expect from the gigs and will you be recording new material with Kermit ?
Shaun Ryder - There’s a real big possibility of new material if we are still getting on really well and still in love after doing these 21 shows. What can the people expect from the gigs, pretty much all of Great When You’re Straight Album and a few of the better tracks off the second album, it’s better doing it now than back then. Back then Black Grape was really just me and Kermit with a band of session musicians. We’ve got a great band together now of great musicians and it feels like we haven’t been away. We always had a great chemistry on stage, been penning a few lyrics together it’s all good.
ZANI - Black Grape, like The Mondays, are influenced by a number of music genres rap, house, rock, soul, and pop, is that important to you to have a collective taste in music?
Shaun Ryder – God yes, if your mind is closed to music then that’s shit, yea. Kids today are more receptive to music. When I was a kid you either liked Bowie or Northern Soul, if you liked the Glitter Band you couldn’t like The Sex Pistols, can’t say the Glitter band, I mean Mud (laughs), today all genres are accepted, being narrowed minded to music makes life shit.
ZANI - Lot of people talk about seeing or hearing The Beatles or The Sex Pistols for the first time. What about when you heard Hip Hop for the first time?
Shaun Ryder – Came across it in the early 80’s with all those Street Sounds electro albums, White Lines and stuff like that, it just hit me like punk did in the 70s, that simple.
ZANI – In between the current Black Grape comeback tour, you are doing some Monday dates and your solo stuff , is it hard to shift from one band to another or something you love to do ?
Shaun Ryder – It’s easier now than ever. You think things are easier when you are off your tits or stoned, but when you’ve got a straight head you can see things better, it took me until I hit my late 40s to understand that. Now, having an injection of testosterone up my arse every three months makes me feel like I am 21 again, but without being 21 (laughing) fucking hate to go and have to do all that again. Not enough hours in the day mate.
ZANI - Explain the psychological and vibe of your relationship with Kermit?
Shaun Ryder – Kermit and me were drug mates, we knocked around together on that Manchester smack scene. When we started doing the music together we had people going “fucking hell them two together”. Kermit came in on the last Happy Monday’s album, singing a few bits in the studio and when the band split he stayed on and everyone thought oh God those two fucking losers (laughing). I was getting knocks on the door with people telling me how much I had fucked up, but I kept my head down and my mouth shut. When the album went straight into number 1, it was like fuck you. Me and Kermit had something really good, but it ended quickly. That was a long time ago, just all part of the madness we were already involved in, but now there’s no sex or drugs just rock ‘n’ roll, that’s great and there’s no bullshit that comes with it. When we did a gig for the homeless it was like Kermit and me had never been away.
ZANI – Talking about the homeless, people can get a guest list place if they donate to their local food banks, that’s from your support act Alias Kid, that’s a cool touch, but shame we’ve got food banks at all in 2015.
Shaun Ryder – Fucking great.
ZANI - Infamous moment for Black Grape, you impersonating Johnny Rotten performing The Sex Pistol’s song Pretty Vacant and the swearing live on Chris Evans’ TGIF in the mid-90s. I saw that and loved it, you must like that moment which mirrored the legendary Pistols interview with Bill Grundy from 1976?
Shaun Ryder – (Laughing a lot) that got me banned from doing live television, until I did Get Me Out of Here I’m A Celebrity in 2011 that’s a long time. I never did any of that on purpose, I was a young nutty kid full of class A drugs. I’ve just done a TV show called When Television Goes All Wrong, and I had to comment and talk through the clips and The Pistol’s one, well it’s just how it was then (slight chuckle).
ZANI - The name Black Grape how did that come about, I know it’s a drink, but why that name?
Shaun Ryder – We chose that because we really had to come up with a name pronto, the album was finished and still didn’t have a name, under real to pressure to get one. I think Kermit came in with a Black Grape drink, looked at it and said that’s it, that’s my memory of it, someone might say different, but that’s pretty much how it was.
ZANI – There seems to be something spontaneous about Black Grape, as with the It's Great When You're Straight title which came about from your manager. You were in the studio one day and you had no weed or booze and you said to him it’s great when you’re straight , is that right ?
Shaun Ryder – No, that’s not quite true. I will tell you what happened. When I finished with The Mondays and it’s gone tits up, Kermit and I started writing the songs that would appear on the album. I got put on Prozac, first time on Prozac, but I really did leave the class A drugs alone for a few months, basically I was running around saying It’s Great When You Are Straight
ZANI – Nice anecdote. Correct me if I am wrong, but weren’t there whispers that there was some kind of legal trouble a while back about you performing those songs.
Shaun Ryder – No, my legal trouble was I was in receivership for 12 years with the managers of Black Grape. When you are in receivership believe me you are fucked. The receivers are making millions by taking large chunks of your income, trust me, it’s hard to get out of it. I went into receivership in 1998, and came out of it in 2010. If you want to talk about real fucking criminals and robbing bastards it’s fucking receivers. Another thing is you can’t go bankrupt because you will lose all your songs, otherwise I would have chosen to go bankrupt, but when I finally came out of receivership that was when I did “Celebrity”
ZANI – Nice one, sounds a terrible experience and your TV career has certainly taken off. Are you doing another series of Shaun Ryder on UFOs? I loved that, loved your natural style.
Shaun Ryder – Absolutely. We are going to do another one, the only thing is we are going to have to mix it with the supernatural and stuff like that, without it being strictly about Aliens. Also, I just went into the jungle and lived with a tribe of indigenous people. I got to make music with them which has been filmed; they are a tribe of drummers and percussionists. You will be able to download the tune we made with them.
ZANI – That sounds interesting. Staying on the subject of TV, is there a film or TV drama Twisting My Melon being made or in development?
Shaun Ryder – Yea, we sold the book rights to ITV, they had it for 12 months. We now have the screen play written by Danny Brocklehurst, which we took to a film company who want to make Alan McGee’s book into a movie, we are in talks with them at the moment, so that’s where we are with it.
ZANI – Good luck with that. Talking about films of your life, as you know nothing is new here. You were portrayed in 24 Hour Party People by Danny Cunningham, the film about Tony Wilson and Factory Records, what do you really think of the film, true to life?
Shaun Ryder – Michael Winterbottom who made the film, can’t take off or put his pyjamas on properly. I never met Winterbottom or any of the other people involved. That was a caricature of Shaun Ryder from the NME. Was it a good film? Was it a funny film? Yes. Was it accurate, did those things happen? Some did and some didn’t, it’s just a funny film, but I am not like the man in the film, no.
ZANI - People state, and I agree, you are a good wordsmith, you were called the Edward Lear of ecstasy culture once by the Guardian in 1995. Do you feel comfortable with that and who or what influences you in terms of writing – been a fan of John Cooper Clarke, fellow Salford lad?
Shaun Ryder – What can you say about John Cooper Clarke, genius. It’s nice when people say that, but I take it with a pinch of salt, being compared to Lear is good, but I’ve never read any Lear.
ZANI – Fair enough. I think I am safe in saying that this interview is going well as you seem to have had an up and down relationship with the press. I believe you even pulled out an unloaded gun on a journalist from the Manchester Evening News once?
Shaun Ryder- (laughing a lot) That was a joke. When we, as in The Mondays, got into the music business it had got really stale again. That was around the early to mid-80s, it was really shit. I grew up with The Stones, The Doors, The Pistols and fucking rock ‘n’ roll, and the adventures of those bands, in the early 80s you could lose your career for having a spliff. One of our points was to become rock ‘n’ roll again, not just the music but living it and that meant exaggerating stuff or not exaggerating stuff, but certainly bringing them into it and using it.
ZANI - Good philosophy. Like it a lot, proudest moment for Black Grape, proudest moment for Happy Mondays?
Shaun Ryder – Black Grape getting to number one, Happy Mondays, oh…. (long pause) staying together (laughs),
ZANI - Your career has taken you all over the world, where do you like to go now and why?
Shaun Ryder- Hong Kong. Why? I’ve never been there but it’s on the agenda with Black Grape, so my wish will come true.
ZANI – Pleased to hear it, and well done. Final question, which DC or Marvel Superhero or Supervillain would you choose to be and why ?
Shaun Ryder – Oh God, fuck me, suppose Iron Man ‘cos he takes his suit off….
And just like Tony Stark AKA Iron Man, Ryder leads a normal life after fighting the good fight. Shaun Ryder is jovial, sharp, uplifting, direct, authentic, mad on music and of course highly intelligent. Street wise, a self-educated man who has learned and gained by his errors, and is now enjoying and relishing all the opportunities that come his way. A wonderful tale of a wonderful man, who has certainly lighted the world of pop and counter culture a very bright colour indeed. He may not know this, or doesn’t want to know it; he is an inspiration to us all, he’s the man……
Black Grape Comeback Tour Dates
• Weds 3 June – GLASGOW - Garage
• Thurs 4 June – EDINBURGH – Liquid Rooms
• Fri 5 June – MIDDLESBOROUGH – The Venue
• Sat 6 June – DONCASTER – Diamond Live Lounge
• Mon 8 June – DERBY – The Venue
• Weds 10 June – BILSTON – Robin 2
• Thurs 11 June – CAMBRIDGE – The Junction
• Sun 14 June – BRISTOL – Bierkeller
• Mon 15 June - SOUTHAMPTON – The Brook
• Fri 19 June – DUBLIN - Academy
• Sat 20 June – BELFAST - Limelight
• Sun 21 June – DONEGAL – Sea Sessions
• Fri 26 June – LONDON – The Forum
• Sat 27 June – BRIGHTON – Concorde
• Weds 1 July – LEAMINGTON SPA – Assembly Rooms
• Fri 3 July – MANCHESTER - Academy
• Sat 4 July – SHETLANDS - Mareel
• Sun 5 July – ABERDEEN – Beach Ballroom
• Fri 10 July – NEWCASTLE - Riverside