SHAUN RYDER has got himself a personal assistant. Rather than the Mancunian Miss Moneypenny we’d hoped for, Gaz, a childhood friend of Ryder’s who has worked with him for years off and on, turns up to escort us to the pub in Hadfield where we’re to meet up with the singer.
I’m half-expecting to walk into the pub and find a huge, disembodied Shaun Ryder head waiting for us, just like his memorable if nightmarish appearance in the Gorillaz Dare video – this is Royston Vasey after all – but, of course, Shaun is a good half-hour late so it’s us who are waiting for him. When he does turn up his head is, thankfully, fully attached.
The affable Gary has stepped into the breach since Ryder’s marriage to Felicia – mother of the singer’s youngest child and his unofficial PA – hit problems earlier this year. Ryder begins to explain Gary’s role in the two companies, improbably named Three Little Pigs and Yes Please, which now manage his intricate business affairs. But nothing can ever be that simple for the man still known to his friends as X.
After much umming and aahing and theatrical side-glances around the bar, Ryder decides: “It’s like, er, well, it’s, um .. Put it this way, just say it’s called Yes Please and I’m not going to go into it more than that.”
For someone who likes having an audience as much as Shaun Ryder seems to, the singer is a uniquely uncomfortable interviewee. He’s almost comically paranoid about being misquoted and misinterpreted but, endearingly, can’t open his mouth without saying exactly the wrong thing. In the past, lawyers have quoted his words back to him in court, leading to convoluted explanations about how for example, no, he didn’t make a single penny from the bootlegs of other Factory acts the Mondays used to put together before they actually signed to the label.
Doing press is something he could do without (“I’d rather sit back, keep my mouth shut and get on with things..”) but the reformed Happy Mondays have a gig at the MEN Arena to promote and needs must.
At one point Ryder talks movingly about 20 years of being looked at and observed and you can’t help but feel for him. The rock’n’roll lifestyle has undoubtedly had an effect on the artist formerly known as Baby Horse, but then so has sitting on his arse watching satellite TV in Hadfield for the best part of five years. It’s called being over 40.
Either way, Ryder seems as sharp as he ever was (sartorially this manifests itself in head-to-toe Adidas clobber) and, after a couple of false starts retreading old material at the Get Loaded festivals, the reformed Mondays – featuring only Ryder, Bez and drummer Gary Whelan from the original line-up – are now working on new music.
While he is on record as saying that he “couldn’t give a fuck” whether the Mondays went down in musical history or not, Ryder is clearly a lot more comfortable now that they are able to record new material – the first release being the decidedly Black Grape-ish Playground Superstar from the Goal! soundtrack.
“We was unable to sort out things, with the name and everything, and this and that, and copyright, and it was taking years, as well as other court cases. It all meant we couldn’t record. So every three or six years, we come out and do a show. It’s no good if you’re out every fucking week or out all the time, you’re just working your way down to chicken-in-a-basket.”
Why is it important not to end up on that circuit?
“Well, if I wanted a real job, I would’ve got one. Wouldn’t you?”
But for a lot of bands who reform, that’s good enough for them.
“Basically, right, that’s cool for them and I’m not knocking them for it but y’know, there’s other things in life that you can do, and still make music or whatever. You can produce music. Gaz, me, Bez, we fucking .. we do what we do, y’know.”
I know you probably don’t want to compare line-ups ..
“I tell you, right, this is the first time in seven years that I’ve seen Whelan when he comes back over here to do any of this stuff, it’s the first time in seven years that I’ve seen him be really happy and into what he’s doing. We haven’t got a few session players there. It’s taken a long time finding the right people to bring in, like Kav and Mikey and Dave, but we’ve now got them in the band.”
What’s it like working with a different set of musicians?
“Don’t forget that the other um ..” he counts down on thick, stubby fingers, “.. that’s one, two, three, oh yeah, we got Poz in too, that’s four, we’ve been together over a period of 18 month to two years and we’ve worked with them before then, whether that be DJing or playing in different bands, all that lot, all the Leicester bands, and Kasabian and all that lot, they all piss in the same pot.”
What’s the chemistry like in this band?
“Whelan’s as happy as Larry,” says Ryder. “It’s a better chemistry than the Mondays because, y’see, the original Mondays was just some lads that had known each other since we was – I was going to say knee high to a grasshopper but most of us still are. And we spent from 1980-81, when Gaz the drummer was 15, I was 18, all that time until 1989, when we made .. what do you call the fucking thing? Pills & Thrills. We spent all that time together.”
Tony Wilson’s favourite lyricist hasn’t done a lot of writing during his five-year hiatus. He just makes lyrics up at the time, producing a mesmerising stream of consciousness populated by killer clowns, mounds and mounds of hash, and some cunt from Preston.
“I’m freestyle me, aren’t I? I’ll pick up on anything that I get in my head and then knock something down freestyle, the vocals, right, then we’ll keep the tape going, keep an open mic and do some live jamming, then out of the best of that, I’ll start structuring stuff. Same way as I’ve always worked.”
Isn’t it a little daunting after a bit of a break?
“No, it’s like if the water’s dark and icy cold and you’re stark bollock naked, right, and you’re going in the fucking water for a swim, it’s a bit different than going in when it’s nice and warm, with your fucking shorts on. But this is not difficult y’know, it’s a nice, warm, easy swim.”
So what’s changed, legally, so that you can release records now?
“The legal situation has changed, right,” says Ryder, clearly uncomfortable. “Look, there’s still things ongoing. It’s finished right, it’s more or less sorted – but not if you start hexing me. Every time you start doing something .. There’s been an album released, some prick’s done a live album of the Barcelona DVD, which y’know was a great fucking DVD and did well in the charts and all that lot, but there was a bit of a mix-up there, banging material out for one company, using it, then the CD going out unmixed, right.
“When you listen to the DVD, our sound man has got it bang off, but the people that are recording it, it sounds garbled, bollocks, y’know what I mean? You’ve got to go in the studio, and not add to what’s there, you’re just mixing it. Then the album comes out and people think it’s a new album. As if we’d call a fucking album Step On. Jesus Christ. But there it was in the contract. But, we’re not even going to talk about that.”
The first time I met you, it was like you were walking around with a big cloud above your head. The time after that, when the legal stuff had got a bit more bearable, it seemed, you were like a different person. You were a lot sunnier.
“I’m still sunny now, except, shit crops up, dunnit? Every time. You know the score, there’s always crap that pops up, things that piss you off.
“Like with the live album thing, I never bothered about bootleggers at concerts, doing their own shirts, things like that. In fact a lot of the bootlegged stuff was better than some of the official merchandising. Not better quality probably but better designs. We were never one of them bands that sent a big team of heavies out to twat all the bootleggers, nick their gear off them and then resell it. You could look at it as, we’ve had our money off merchandisers, so why do we need to have them lot out there splattered?
“We did our own bootlegs originally. There was no contracts or anything like that, in the early Eighties ..”
Well, not at Factory anyway.
”And before Factory as well. We did, when we was young and naive, do bootlegs of stuff, off our own label ..
He decides he’s said too much.
“But what I will say is that we never made anything from it, not one penny, we got nothing, so the taxman, and people who read these interviews, you don’t have to start looking into that money.”
A whole heap of pills and thrills and bellyaches down the line, Ryder is clearly a zillion times wiser to the ways of the music industry than when the Mondays ramshackle punk-funk first bubbled up from Little Hulton in the mid-80s.
“Well, when you first go into the music business .. they call it a business but it’s let’s go around, play, shag, take drugs and fucking enjoy going abroad, being rock’n’roll. It’s not business. You have to learn that it’s the music business and everything that you’re given, it’s not actually given to you, it’s loaned or whatever. That’s just one thing. It’s even down to getting your sound and how to use studios, you have to learn everything.”
If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
“I wouldn’t, because I wouldn’t listen. I get asked, what advice would you give to that 25-year-old rockhead, what’s he called? Him who’s shagging Kate Moss. Pete Doherty. I wouldn’t give him any advice – what the fucking hell is he going to listen to a 43-year-old for?
“But you’ve got to remember, Kate is getting knocked for doing charlie at the age she is, right, and she’s easy to pick on because of who she gets sponsored by or whatever, but .. I’ve forgotten what I was saying now.”
Whatever happens with the reformed Mondays, Shaun Ryder is unlikely to make the same mistakes he made in the Mondays and Black Grape.
“We recorded Bummed in 1987 and it came out in 88 and we went straight into touring and then making the new record, we made Pills & Thrills, we went and toured, and toured, and toured that, but then it was time for another one. At the time, y’know, New Order had taken a holiday for five years, Factory needed a record out. No disrespect to Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. But like I said at the time, we were going backwards rather than forwards, musically and production-wise.
“And that was supposed to be the ecstasy album but really Bummed was when we was eating hundreds of ecstasy pills.
“Factory needed the dough, cos they’d spent this and bought the bar, and Tony was saying stuff at the time, that he’d got wrong, people were listening to the wrong people. But anyway, it wasn’t cos we were all off our heads, it was because by the time Pills & Thrills came out, we’d had eight years living on top of each other. We should have stopped, had a break, they could’ve gone off and done what whatever they wanted to do, or done nothing and just had a break, but we didn’t.
”We started off young, as mates, and then at the end there was just pure hatred, which would’ve gone away after a break of a year or so, y’know. But then, if we hadn’t done that, and split then, I would never have done Black Grape, which I don’t regret one bit. That’s how it goes. That’s just fate.”
The new Happy Mondays – as heard on Goal!’s Playground Superstar – sounds a bit rockier than before. Is that the stuff you’re into now?
“Well, it’s not the music I’m into now, I’ve always been into it,” he replies, suddenly indignant. “Even our dance music was rock’n’roll. Sly and the Family Stone is rock’n’roll. The Stones, Last Time or Not Fade Away, things like that. I’ve always been into that sort of thing, it’s just y’know, I remember Bowie putting that track, ‘The joint was rocking, round and round, round and round’ on a B-side of a single in like ’73, which the Stones had done as a track in the very early days. We would’ve developed, musically, into all them kind of equations.
“We got a phone call off our mate Gary, from Adidas, and he was telling us that the film people hadn’t got the song that they wanted to represent the movie. They’ve got the soundtrack but they hadn’t got the one that they wanted. The Bryan Adams or the Whitney Houston track. So we said, we can sort you something out, yeah, so we had that, except it wasn’t called Playground Superstar.
“If I say to you, ‘he blew the needle’, what are you going to think with me saying it? Drugs. The track, it’s got rock’n’roll in it as much as Tart Tart has got rock’n’roll in it. But Playground Superstar was a line in the track, and the playground superstar was a young, y’know 16-year-old pirate radio DJ.”
What and he’s blowing the fluff off the needle?
“No, he blown the needle on the desk, like he’s blown the speakers with the boom, cos he’s pumped it up. So, we rearranged it, edited it a bit, added some new verses and we’ve got this package where you can imagine some American going, ‘right, so we’ve got like the Mexican kid right? And he’s trying to get to LA, he’s crossing the border and he’s like four-years-old and he drops his soccer ball, his soccer ball rolls down there. Then he’s in LA and it’s all about gangs and guns and drugs but he’s got his soccer, soccer, soccer, soccer’.
“It’s a big budget movie and they’ve spent a lot of money on it and that’s why the soccer scenes in it look so good and real,” enthuses Ryder, a man who knows his movies. “With the kid growing up in LA, y’know, it’s proper textured. A lot of British films it looks like they got the reel out for Confessions of a Driving Instructor, wiped it and filmed over it. That’s only because of a lack of money, and when they do the soccer scenes, they haven’t got enough dough to do it right.
“Soccer now, in the States, after like 30-odd years, you’ve got the Premiership which goes all over Middle America, they wouldn’t be making a film about it if soccer itself hadn’t got more popular. It’s a fast game. We give them that and they named it Playground Superstar. We were looking to get a – how can I say? A twang with a boom, y’know, it’s sort of a mixture of what we did on Squirrell & G-Man through to fucking some of the tracks we did on the Black Grape stuff.”
Football films don’t have a good record, do they? I’m thinking Escape to Victory and When Saturday Comes.
“When Saturday Comes, things like that, y’know Sean Bean, I’m not knocking him, but the geezer’s well in his 40s, playing someone who’s supposed to be 30 and then, typical right, he’s working down the pit, and then he’s on’t Sunday football team, then bang, he’s playing in the Premiership. It’s just daft. This is a movie, you can go and take your chick. right, but also the sporting scenes, the soccer, is all cool and real.
“I don’t like American football but you watch something like US basketball and the way the film it is really well done. It’s quality. It’s like you see Pacino in that one where some chick’s running the football club, right? When you see them playing the game, it’s rough and ready, and real and quality. Goal! has got that quality about it, which you can only really have putting dough behind it, y’know.
Talking about money and football, as a Red how do you feel about the Glaser takeover?
“Ask Gaz. I don’t talk football. Personally, it’s like Tim Lovejoy right, he’s great Tim and everything, and I love Soccer AM and they’re always on about me going on there. Now everyone else in the band has done it loads of times, but I won’t do it because I can sit there, and I can talk about Nobby Stiles’s teeth, or Denis Law’s haircut, or Bestie’s beard, and I can explain the off-side rule, but I can’t sit and talk about when we was in the Cup in 1978, and this and that goal.”
Any sympathy for FC United in their fight against Glaser?
“I don’t get into talking about that, about a multi-millionaire and what he stands for, taking over the club, I’m not too happy, but that’s as far as I’ll go. FC United can go and sit on a roof next to Strangeways to protest if they want. I’ll send them a Mars bar.”
How do the Mondays fit into the music scene today with Babyshambles, the Sugababes, Rachel Stevens and all that?
“I don’t know. I’m not bothered. I don’t even think about it. What our sound is, is us, and we do what we do. And that’s it.”
Ryder tells me that the band have recently filmed an appearance for CD:UK. Saturday morning kids shows are a new experience for him.
“In the past, with Black Grape we certainly didn’t do it, we didn’t do it with the Mondays because of what we used to say about ecstasy, marijuana and other hallucinogenic drugs,” he says. “And we didn’t want to be going on telly at nine o’clock in the morning on Springy Saturday Whoppers or whatever it was at the time. We didn’t want to be seen taking money off little kids, robbing kids out of their dough, and we’d be hypocrites with what we stood for, so we kept it away from little kids.”
I never realised you had such a strong social conscience Shaun.
“Once you hit TOTP you hit the national papers. You’re not the property of the NME anymore, and you say the same kind of thing, well, first thing they do is get two year-old copies of the NME and say, oh you did this and you said that, and all that lot. The bands that we took over from, when our scene started going, those bands would’ve been dropped by the record labels if they’d gone on about any of that, pot-smoking or anything, whereas we, right from the start of it all, never made any bones about it.
“We didn’t go around saying wahey, look what we do, as you know, but we didn’t hide anything. Then there was us and the Roses coming into your living room, with mum and dad and the kids .. I forgot what I was saying now. Yeah, it was fucking great, it was time for rock’n’roll again. It put bums on seat. But, yeah, we’re doing CD:UK a children’s programme now. Probably one, it doesn’t seem like Swap Shoppy, it feels like TOTP, so we did it.”
How do you feel about Bez getting a bit of the limelight with his recent victory in Big Brother?
He looks at me with withering contempt.
“You’re off your head, you. A bit of the limelight? One, Bez just thought he could go in and go out – cos he didn’t watch them, and I only glanced at them, even the celebrity ones – but I said to him, B, you’re gonna win this. They don’t want John Noakes and Alan Titchmarsh sat there in cardigans, right, you want you, a fucking crazy-talking blow-up motherfucking doll, y’know, and a couple of other weird nutcases. Or people with twitches. Or Tourette’s Syndrome or whatever.
“And Bez went in and he won it. And that’s great. I wouldn’t do those shows, I’ve been asked lots of times to do all the shows, and I’ve just been asked again, and I won’t do them. When I was young I did say that I would do anything for money, right, but when I look back at it, I didn’t, because we never the children’s TV shows, and I’ve never done any of these reality shows. Bez got offered it and he did it, solely for the money. And that’s fine.
“It’s like with John Lydon on I’m A Celebrity. People still think John Lydon is a thick, spitty, nutty punk, but he was eccentric, clever, and everything, and he stole the show. People still think of me as being in my twenties, and Bez and all that lot, doing this and taking this and doing that. You can’t do that every night of the week like we did then. They still think that you’re as you were as a youngster.
“It’s amazing,” he continues, warming to his theme. “You’ve got to be 26-years-old, at least, now, to have got the Hacienda, right. If you’re under 26 now, you couldn’t have got in the Hacienda, but the number of people, who are like 20, come up to you saying, I remember seeing you in the Hacienda. And you’re like, what? Cos we didn’t let fucking 10-year-olds in, kid. And certainly, anyone running around in a nappy wouldn’t have been allowed in.
“So, those years seem to have skipped by very, very quickly. For a lot of young fans, it’s like you’re still there, like you’re still that person. We’ve come along through 25 years of this business, and 20 years of being looked at and observed and everything. It’s weird, man.
People had a cartoon image of Bez but they got to see there was another side to him in the Big Brother house. In there, he almost seemed normal.
“Bez, y’see, already had his Bez fans already. In that environment, let’s just say it’s like a dead nice prison, right. If you seen the people that were on that show, from Lisa I’Anson to that actor kid, now after two weeks, they’ve all got this animal instinct. Sylvester Stallone’s mum, when she said her thing, this young actor guy was going round saying, let’s kill her, I’ll fucking spike her food, I’ll piss in her bed. That’s an 80-year-old woman.
“Bez was the only person who said, eh, she’s an 80-year-old woman, no matter what, you don’t fucking do anything to her. Fucking hell, I’d hate to see any of them do it for real.
So how does one of the original 24 hour party people feel about the UK’s long-awaited adoption of 24 hour licensing?
“It should have come in in the Eighties. We’re not nine-to-fivers anymore. When we used to get told to wake up at six o’clock and told to go to bed at 12 o’clock, because that’s what time the telly ended, when we had three channels, and then we had to go to bed and set the alarm clock for seven for work. But you could always find a pub, in special places, near the fish market or near where the fruit and veg guys, and the boozer opens up at five o’ clock in the morning, cos that’s their dinnertime.
“People are still saying that we’re not responsible enough, that we’ll just get pissed all the time and stab each other up.” he shrugs. “But people have said that about everything from fucking penicillin to the wheel, probably. Critics said that you might go too fast on a wheel, fall off and break your neck, so let’s not build a wheel barrow.
As well as five nights of Shaun Ryder and a bunch of cartoon characters – insert your own joke here – at the Gorillaz shows at the Opera House (he says working with the Gorillaz is “like working for the CIA”), Mondays fans also have the gig at the MEN Arena to look forward to.
How come you’re not doing any new material at Manchester?
“We are doing new material at Manchester.”
I know that you’re a little bit ambivalent about Manchester these days ..
“Well, first of all tell me what ambivalent means.”
It means you can use your left hand and your right hand equally well, Shaun. No, I mean you’ve got a bit of a love/hate relationship with Manchester at the minute ..
“No, not at the minute, since day one, since I realised where I was.”
So how do you feel about doing a Manchester show that is, in some ways, a bit of a homecoming?
“It’s six years since we finished the last lot of touring,” he sighs. “It was supposed to go on for three months and it went on for three years. The only thing that I have about Manchester is that with the size of the families in the band, the guestlist for the band’s families, friends and all that, is just ridiculous. Bez alone can conjure up hundreds of friends, because he’s a friendly guy.
“It can,” he says, with an air of weary resignation, “get a bit daft, that’s all.”
Let’s hope so.
See also: 2003 Shaun Ryder interview
[This is a longer version of an interview that appeared in City Life magazine in November 2005]