Shaun of the living

Dave Woodhall talks to Happy Mondays and Black Grape singer Shaun Ryder.

There are some things in life you have to do when the opportunity presents itself, just to see how they turn out. Such as having the ear of that bona fide legend, Shaun William George Ryder, star of stage, screen and front pages galore.

How are things in Ryderworld?

“Ryderworld? That’s a good one. Oh God; this, that and the other. I don’t even know what I’m talking to you about because I’ve got three different things at once – the last of the Black Grape stuff, the Mondays stuff’s coming up and some other stuff so what is it you want to talk about?”

Let’s say the Mondays.

“Okay, great. Our kid flew in the other day, I don’t know whether Gaz’s in or not, they’re going in. It baffles me, they’ve been playing the same songs for thirty years and they’ve still got to go into rehearsals for a week. We’re in better shape then ever, I know it sounds mad but we really are. The band’s playing better, we’re sounding better, everyone’s compos mentis, and we’re all old men.”

Some people must be disappointed that you’re still alive and well.

“Probably, but certainly I’m not disappointed and the rest of the band aren’t. But great, it really is. And we all enjoy what we’re doing now, we appreciate it. When you’re young you take everything for granted.”

It all happens round you and you never stop to think that all the lads you grew up with are at work while you’re standing in Times Square or wherever, having the time of your life and it’s not normal. But Shaun Ryder has been a big story for a long time.

“Yeah, I was eighteen when we started the band and we were just kids playing at rock’n’roll. You wanted to be a footballer, an actor or in a band and being young men we gave it everything we’d got. We worked hard and we played hard.”

Is an understatement. But I would guess that like Paul Gascoigne, who’ll have someone buy him a drink just to say they’ve seen Gazza pissed, you must have had them getting you into a situation to get a reaction from you.

“Not really now, not for a long tine. I did that Jungle thing ten years ago and that’s how it is. I got old. Old and sensible.”

And you get old overnight, don’t you? You suddenly realise that the people you’re talking to and the attitudes you have are the same as your kids. We’ve skipped a generation.

“Some of my older kids are coming up to thirty now. It’s quite lucky because everything we do, with Black Grape or the Mondsays, our sort of the age range for people watching the band is from ten to seventy.”

“When I got to the age of having children again I was an adult; the first time it was kids having kids so live for the moment really doesn’t go. My youngest are ten and eleven, and having them at my age gives you a totally different outlook. I intend to live on this planet as long as I can, I’m a pescitarean, I watch everything I do now.”

And still interviewers want to ask about drugs and your state of health when you really want to talk about music.

“It comes in a few different camps. Some people want to talk about music and I understand that. When I was in my twenties and I was still appreciating the Rolling Stones for being sex, drugs and rock and roll, I still enjoy that and I’m sure they were well into their fifties then. It depends who I’m talking to or what I’m doing so I end up covering all bases, it’s all a part of it so I don’t get too pissed off.

“And to be honest I’m not too comfortable talking about music, I was always trying to swerve it on to something else than talk about music. I’ve just had a book out where they published the lyrics, I’ve just done weeks of press on that and to be honest I find it awful. I’d rather sit around and talk about movies or whatever than music.”

It’s just like talking about a day at work really?

“And who likes talking about their job? You work in a factory, try talking about that. It’s not that I dislike talking about it, just that like when I’m writing songs, there’s no big deal about it. I write songs and it’s like a comic strip cartoon. I don’t write anything political, I still write about the same old bollocks now that I did when I was eighteen. It’s just fun to me, I try to keep the lyrics, it’s not that serious. There’s enough serious shit things goes on and the way I write songs isn’t one of them.

“It does piss me off when the young ‘uns, all they can write about is how much money they have, or pretend they have, I mean, all that bollocks about all the gold chains I’m wearing and I’m shifting kilos, all that material bollocks, that really makes me laugh.

“When I got into making music, making money was the last thing on our minds. We all wanted to make some, you’ve got to make it to keep going but really we formed a band and that was about it.”

The Mondays are touring in December. Does that mean you’ll be pulling in the office party crowd?

“I don’t mind. Some of those corporate gigs pay good money and if you’re into the music I don’t care who’s watching.

“It’s the original band, the only person missing is the keyboard player, because he could never play keyboards. We got him back, the guy who played originally he set off programmes and when we got back he couldn’t even do that he’s been away for it such a long time. We’re talking about a guy in his fifties who last did it when he was 29 or something; he was in another world.”

Do the band jump at the chance to tour again, or do you have to drag them back?

“No, no no, no. There’s more enthusiasm now than ever. In 1986 we make an album, we tour it for two years, another album, tour, than make another album, tour, another album, split up, then make another album. You get on that treadmill and now because we did it year after year it can stop being enjoyable and you just do it but now it’s great. You just appreciate what we’re doing.

“We can go on stage and play and love the songs rather than go through the motions because you’ve been on the road for years. I can go on stage and it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done Step On or whatever, you appreciate it and enjoy playing them.

“We’re working as a unit again which we’d stopped doing, dealing with all sorts of shit. It’s great. I’m not just saying it, it really is. We were going through the motions doing Yes Please. We’re certainly not now.”

So are you a National Treasure now?

“Dunno about that. Philip Scofield said that didn’t he?”

The Happy Mondays play Birmingham’s O2 Institute on 14th December. Tickets

Pics – Paul Husband (cover/top), Elspeth Moore (bottom).