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Interview with Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays (Includes interview)

With their unique fusion of rock and electronic dance music, the Mondays were one of the biggest names on the now legendary ‘Madchester‘ scene, an explosion of Mancunian talent that saw the city become the music capital of the world from around 1989 to 1995.

Unfortunately, well-documented problems with drugs and the erratic behaviour of certain members rather curtailed their career following the outstanding success of their third album, 1990’s Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, which contained the Top Five hits “Step On” and “Kinky Afro.”

In 2012, after a few not-quite-full reunions, the definitive lineup of the group, including lead vocalist Shaun Ryder, freaky dancer Bez, bass player Paul Ryder (Shaun’s brother), vocalist Rowetta Satchell and guitarist Mark Day, got back together.

I chatted with Mr. Ryder, now a respectable 52-year-old family man, a couple of days before his band’s headlining slot at PennFest in Buckinghamshire (they’re also scheduled to do a few dates in Japan and Hong Kong later this month) and was pleased to discover that this charismatic character, whose 2011 autobiography Twisting My Melon is set to be made into a film, has lost none of his infectious charm.

“No, not at all,” he replies in his affable northern tones, when asked whether it was difficult getting everyone to reconvene (certain members have been reluctant in the past). “It’s great, it really is. I’m not just saying it because I’m out plugging it, it really is good. The sex and drugs have gone, so it’s just the rock ‘n’ roll and we’re really enjoying it.”

I wondered whether the cultural icon, who recently had his Channel 4 ban – for swearing while live on the air in the 1990s – overturned, has ever regretted the amount of drugs he and mates consumed back in the day?

“It’s what I was… Young lad, started a band at 18. I wanted to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band and I wanted to do rock ‘n’ roll things, which included a lot of drug taking and partying – and that’s just what I did until I decided to stop. No, I don’t have many regrets. It’s what made me and it’s turned me into what I am, so it’s all part of it.”

At the end of the year, the Mondays are to embark on a 20-date UK tour, kicking off in Southampton on November 5, where they will perform Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches – number 31 on Q Magazine‘s list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever – in its entirety to celebrate 25 years since its release.

“We can’t play the album exactly as it is; we have to change it slightly ’cause of technical difficulties when we’re on stage,” explains Shaun, who has also reformed his ’90s outfit Black Grape with friend and former collaborator Kermit, “but yeah we’ll play the entire album…”

Why has the often imitated, but rarely bettered record, which sold over 350,000 copies in the UK alone, stood the test of time?

“When we was making it, we knew we had something there. You can only hope that in 20, 30 years time people would still be enjoying it… I really don’t know – it’s a good album. We tried to do something slightly original and we did something right, I suppose.”

Discussing the new album, that I had assumed the band were working on, the keen ufologist states, “Well we haven’t started the Mondays album yet – we will do one… The thing about the Mondays is getting everyone to agree on the right time and getting it together, but it will happen.

“With Black Grape, because it’s just me and Kermit and then we get our session guys out, it’s a lot easier, so there will be a Black Grape new album before the Mondays.

“We had such chemistry, me and Kermit, for writing and on stage – and it’s still there. That’s better than ever as well. We’ve already started kicking around a few ideas and we’re in touch with a couple of producers…”

If fronting two much-loved bands wasn’t enough, Ryder, favourably compared to Anglo-Irish poet W.B. Yeats by Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records and subject of the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People, is also preparing to release his second solo effort (his first, Amateur Night in the Big Top, came out in 2003).

“I’ve got a solo album coming out next year – it’s all ready to go,” he reveals. “We’ve just released two tracks, sort of under the radar. You can download ‘Close the Dam’ and ‘Electric Scales’ on iTunes and then next year the album will be put out…”

We moved on to the aforementioned 24 Hour Party People, a very entertaining film directed by Michael Winterbottom, that featured actor Danny Cunningham as the young Shaun Ryder. Are all the events portrayed in this multilayered biopic true?

Ryder laughs heartily. “The thing about that is, right, it’s a good movie – it’s a funny movie… The guy who’s Shaun Ryder in that is a caricature that is out of the press – I never met Michael Winterbottom. Seen it, but like I say it’s a cartoon caricature of the whole thing.”

The film depicts the infamous trip to Barbados, where the group relocated temporarily to record their at-the-time-poorly-received fourth album Yes Please! Desperate for drugs and with no money left, Shaun and Bez resorted to selling furniture from the studio (owned by Eddy Grant) in order to finance their habit that was at that point spiralling out of control.

“No, I can remember Barbados really well,” insists the popular television personality, in answer to the question of whether the whole misadventure was a bit of a blur. “It was a drug nightmare – it was a crack nightmare… Actually, in reality, it was a lot worse (than what the film suggested). It was more dirty, horrible…”

In his many years in the limelight, Shaun Ryder, greatly admired and respected by his peers, has been there and done it all – and is still alive to tell the tale. Does he feel that this might surprise some people?

“Probably, but I get asked about the press and this and that and I mean we played the press… The music business had got really dull again in the early ’80s when we came along. It was like 1976 Top of the Pops on loop, and we wanted to be rock ‘n’ roll again.

“We wanted to bring all those Rolling Stones, Doors adventures back, so we started talking to people like Piers Morgan in the red tops and gave him what he wanted – and we used that.

“That put the band out there and made us notorious. It was a plan…”

For more information on the Happy Mondays, visit their official website.

For more on Black Grape, visit theirs.

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