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Shaun Ryder*2

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.”

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Mark E Smith *2

MARK E SMITH of the Fall is talking to me, eyeball to eyeball, giving me a few pointers about how I might like to approach our interview:

“Is he an idiot like Oasis? Or is he friendly like New Order? Or is he reclusive like Morrissey?” he whines in a fey, airhead manner, before snapping back into reality and fixing me with a surprisingly steely and clear-eyed gaze. “Say what you want. But watch your back.”

MES doesn’t have much time for the people others might regard as his contemporaries. If you see Manchester as one big happy musical family, Smith is the surly step-child in the corner, loudly singing off-key and out of time, spoiling it for everyone. Loving the fact that he is spoiling it for everyone.

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Bebel Gilberto

I’D LOVE to be able to pretend that bossa nova has been a big part of my life for years and years, but the fact is I didn’t really get it – or any of that easy, lounge stuff – until I heard Bebel Gilberto’s major label debut, Tanto Tempo, in 2000. After that, there was no stopping me.

She didn’t play up north until a few years later and I made it my business to sort out a face-to-face interview with her when she finally made it.

She was lovely, the gig was great, the interview was okay.

This is a reworked, slightly longer version of the piece that eventually ended up in the Big Issue in the North. It’s followed by the transcript of a phoner with her I did for City Life a year or so later.

* * *

“I WAS always a traveller,” says Bebel Gilberto, glancing out of a hotel window across the Manchester Ship canal, as she pulls on a lock of jet-black hair. “I started travelling when I was a baby with my parents, because my father was touring, and I have been travelling ever since.”

Over the last few days, Gilbert has been in Spain and Holland playing gigs before coming to the UK for a meeting with the producer of her new album in London and travelling up to Manchester for tonight’s gig.

She is in Manchester as part of a short solo UK tour before she supports Simply Red around Europe.

“Sleeping is a big problem, I have trouble, I guess because of being in so many different places,” she says in charmingly accented English. “But lately I don’t know .. I don’t even want to talk about it because I think my body can hear – and then I’m not going to be able to sleep again. But I’ve had like 11 hours of sleep. So I’m in a very good mood.”

bebelBorn in New York and raised in Mexico City, São Paulo and Rio de Janiero, much of the early childhood of the only daughter of Brazilian bossa nova legends João and Miúcha Gilberto was spent touring the world. Her “totally hippy” parents were not exactly what you would call conventional.

A couple of lives dates in Mexico City, en route back to Brazil, for example, turned into a two-year stopover.

“We had a beautiful house with a big peacock walking around in it,” she tells me with a big smile, “but we had no furniture at all. We did have a TV and we all watched Brazil in the 1970 World Cup and it was fantastic.”

Her parents weren’t the only entertainers in the family – her uncle, her mother’s brother, is the poet, playwright and singer Chico Buarque.

But while the songs on her astounding major label debut retain the Zen-like simplicity of her father’s best-loved work, while her honey-toned voice recalls that of her now famously reclusive mother, Bebel Gilberto is more than merely a chip off the old block. However, growing up in a showbiz family – even a globetrotting Brazilian bossa nova hippy family – brings its own problems.

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Amy Winehouse *2

TODAY, the Sun has published stills from a phone-flick of Amy doing crack at 5am one morning last week.

I’m not going to stick my oar in with any uninformed opinion about what she should do or not do – I’ll leave that to the likes of Carole fucking Malone – but I hope she can get through it. The girl’s got talent and she’s not so very bad when you get to meet her – but the Amy I met four years ago was a very different person to the one portrayed on the front page of the Sun today.

She just seems to be turning into a latterday Billie Holiday. For me, Winehouse has a voice which, in its own way, is every bit as arresting as Lady Day’s. All she’s lacking is the same calibre of tragically profound material – and she seems to be working on that as we speak. It’s a crying shame.

This is an interview with Amy from the end of 2004, whilst she was still working out the direction of her breakthrough Back To Black album – an album detailing her relationship with her future husband Blake Fielder-Civil …

* * *

YOU know you’re getting somewhere when, as one of Amy Winehouse’s backing band puts it, your audience starts singing your songs back to you like they wrote them themselves.

“When I get out on stage and the crowd go mad, I can never believe it,” says Winehouse, fresh off the tour bus, as she teeters around in alarmingly high heels backstage in Liverpool before the second date of her current tour. “I think a trapdoor will open and I’m going to fall through it, like someone’s set me up for some big gag or something. I don’t get it, it’s weird.”

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Stoned Love in Negril

SUDDENLY it’s five am, neither of us can see straight and Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love is booming out of the battered bass bins that teeter above us like so many rickety skyscrapers. The crowd goes bananas. Time for another drink.

Jamaica takes the birthdays of its heroes seriously and Bob Marley’s birthday is the cue for celebrations right across the island. The main event in Negril is an open air all-nighter fifty yards up the road from our hotel. The mighty Stone Love soundsystem rock a good-natured but progressively more boisterous crowd of fantastically well dressed locals in their Friday night finery and lamentably shoddy tourists in their day-glo holiday drabery.

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