Less sex and no drugs, but there’s still rock’n’roll: Shaun Ryder ready for Shrewsbury show
Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder reveals the audience never knows what to expect at his one-man shows, but he has plenty of anecdotes from his remarkable career.
There’s a conceit when many artists go on the road for An Evening With. It’s this. Most of the shows, dressed up as being informal, spontaneous chats, are, in fact, scripted.
Celebs tell the same stories night after night – in some cases changing barely a word from one show to the next.
So while fans imagine they’re seeing something new and authentic, they are, in fact, simply seeing the same show as the night before, as though it were a play. The central character – a figure whom fans admire – is often acting out a version of themselves, presenting a pastiche.
And then there’s Shaun Ryder.
When Ryder goes on tour for his Evening With shows, nobody really knows what to expect – least of all Ryder.
The lead singer of the Happy Mondays, leading figure in the Madchester cultural scene in the late 1980s and the founder of Black Grape hasn’t a clue what will come up.
Yes, he can anticipate questions about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, about being the runner-up of the tenth series of ITV’s I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!, about his two bands and about the film 24 Hour Party People, which featured the story of Ryder’s youth. But, truthfully, anything could happen.
The only certainty about Ryder’s show is that: a) he doesn’t have a script and doesn’t have a clue how things will pan out, and, b) instead of hitting the bar after the show, he’ll be back in his hotel bedroom (alone) by 11pm, fixed to the TV news. These days, there’s no sex, no drugs but there’s still a little rock’n’roll.
“Do you know what,” he says, in his distinctive Mancunian drawl. “Whatever a journalist asks me, we talk about that. I don’t have any idea where we’re going.
“I get a different journalist every night and I get to sit there for an hour or so talking about myself. The show is about whatever the guy asks me, then he throws it open to the audience.
“I have fun. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. I know a lot of people who do this and they have a set list of questions where the interviewer has to go. I don’t do scripts. It has to be a different interview and a different show each night.”
Given the amount of ground Ryder has covered during his remarkable career, he never runs out of things to say.
Born in 1962, he left school at the age of 13 to work on building sites and by 1978 he’d seen his first UFO. To this day, he remains a fervent believer in extra terrestrial life.
“Oh, there’s a few. Obviously you’re not lookin’ properly, mate.
"There’s a lot of evidence out there. I can’t understand when people claim otherwise, especially having experienced it myself.
"I saw something in the ’70s and recognised it years later from stuff I’d seen on YouTube, so I know it’s not fake because it’s exactly the same thing that I experienced.
“All these lights were going over me in the sky, really slowly. They tried to pass it off as the lights of Salford Rugby Club. Eh, I don’t think so.”
He enjoyed a remarkable youth before becoming the singer for Happy Mondays.
Despite huge commercial success and even greater cultural influence, Ryder’s struggle with drugs led to the break-up of Happy Mondays in 1992. The film 24 Hour Party People featured the (semi-fictional) story of Ryder’s youth and the life of Happy Mondays while signed with Factory Records in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In 1995 Ryder launched his new project, Black Grape. Its first release, It’s Great When You’re Straight... Yeah, topped the British album chart for a week.
However, the follow-up album, Stupid Stupid Stupid, did not achieve the same critical or commercial success, and the group split in 1998.
He was signed up by the Daily Sport as a columnist before publishing his autobiography, Twisting My Melon. And he’s rarely been off our TV screens in recent years, with appearances on The History Channel, Would I Lie To You?, Celebrity Juice, Celebrity Mastermind and more.
The former heroin addict has six children and conquered his heroin addiction by taking up cycling.
He spent many years in debt to HMRC while he also found himself a reported £120,000 down after being sued by a management company; his fees from the Daily Star, his autobiography and his appearance on I’m A Celebrity helped to cover that.
“I’d change the 12 years I spent in receivership. That was me being a d***.
"I lost the court case when I wanted to sack my management and had to pay them £120,000. I said, ‘I am not paying you, because I should have won’.”
In recent years, his stunning contribution to contemporary music has been recognised. Indeed, as long ago as 2000, Ryder secured the NME’s Godlike Services To Music Award – though, typically, he was arrested after the party.
Inevitably, fans want to hear about his work with Happy Mondays and Black Grape. “The Mondays were pretty good, considering. It’s been a long time for us in that band.
"I started 18 and I’m pushing 60 now. It’s better than ever when we play live, we all enjoy it.
“We had a great few years and then we got on the treadmill of album, tour, album, tour, and it went a bit nutty.
"Being young we partied a lot and did a lot of things that we wanted to do, being young kids in a rock’n’roll band. But you get passed that and now it’s better than ever.
"It’s great because I’ve got Black Grape as well.”
‘It got a bit nutty’ covers a multitude of sins. He had a gun shoved in his eyeball in New York by a crack dealer in the 1980s. He also watched somebody next to him get shot in the head in a gun battle – that was in Jamaica in the early 1990s.
His earliest memory was drugs-related. “When I was six, I remember the police coming into our school and warning us about heroin. I can remember thinking, ‘I’ll never be involved in that stuff’.” Funny, the way things turn out.
“You don’t stop your drug habit unless you want to.
"I was 40, that’s a long time ago. I just decided I’d had enough. It was time to grow up.
"I’d been living a mad life since I was younger. It was time to knock it on the head because I wanted to.
"When you have the determination and you want to, you do it. Rehab didn’t work for me so I got on my bike and cycled through the withdrawal symptoms for months.
"I really did. For three or four months, I was on it. By the end of that, I was in great shape physically but mentally I was a bit drained.”
These days, he’s no longer the skinny rock’n’roll star he used to be. “My muscles have caved in. I go to bed at night, and next day I’ve got this pot belly where all my muscles have collapsed; so I look fat, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I am a pescatarian and I eat healthily, but it’s all thyroid-related.”
He’s made concessions to wellbeing, however. “I have discovered vegan ice-cream - that’s replaced the whisky.”
It amuses him that people still imagine he’s living the life of a hedonist. “There are people who think I am just at it, going to nightclubs all the time. I’m always getting stopped. ‘Do you want a line? Do you want an E?’ I mean c’mon, fella. I’m 60 years old. But knock yourself out, by all means.
“Really, I’m not lying when I say I’m watching the news in the hotel room by 11pm. I leave it to the young ‘uns. The music is better than ever. We really appreciate what we’re doing. The sex and drugs has gone and we’re just left with the rock’n’roll.
“It’s a different time. If I was 18 and acting 60 that would be wrong and if I was 60 acting 18 that’d be wrong. I enjoyed it back then, doing the rock’n’roll stuff. I was physically fitter then, but I’m mentally fitter now.”
He doesn’t remember much about the 1990s. “Well, the entire 1990s are a blur. I can remember the 1960s better and I was only eight years old when that decade ended, so that says it all.
"When I was doing my book, people had to tell me things to trigger a certain memory. I’d be like, ‘oh, that sounds vaguely familiar’ – then it keeps coming back, bit by bit.
“When I was young and innocent, I smoked weed and it opened my ears.
"I never learned anything at school. It wasn’t until I took LSD as an 18-year-old kid that I wanted to learn something. It gave me a push.
"That’s just my personal experience. It’s what comes later that matters, though. It can all turn into mush if you’re not careful.”
Ryder doesn’t mind that the press focused on his band’s numerous addictions. Far from it. He revelled in the media’s perception. “A lot people ask me if I feel the press focused too much on the drugs and gave us a hard time. I always say no! We worked the press. You’ve got to use what you’ve got.
“Whenever journalists would come up to interview us, we’d skin up a joint or put a line out on the pool table.
"The next thing you know, it had gone from a little piece to a centre-spread about how these lads are rock’n’roll.
"We just thought, ‘you know what? Let’s use this.’ And we did. That’s how we became bigger.”
His biggest hero is his missus, Joanne. She used to be a hairdresser and a butcher. “I have to be very careful, because she’ll wait until I’m asleep and chop me up into little bits.”
The family that they have created – rather than any aspect of his musical career – is his greatest achievement.
“Family and home is the best. The first time round, I’ve said it before, I was a kid having kids and I was making a career and I was never at home and I was working and making a career but I was living like a young single fella.
"So this time round, we just had my daughter’s 12th birthday and the other one’s 11. I’m in the right place to be a dad. I was 12 until I was 40. Now it’s changed.
"I’ve grown up and I love being a dad. It’s better than anything, the kids keep me grounded.”
Ryder’s appearance has changed in recent times. “I got alopecia and all me hair fell out. I had hair and a beard and then, almost overnight, the whole lot went, eyelashes, eyebrows, even downstairs.”
He describes himself as looking like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family. “The doctors said me alopecia must be stress related, but I’m at the least stressful time of me life.”
Beyond his talking tour, there are plans for more Happy Mondays shows and a new Black Grape Album. “In 2017, we released the Voodoo album for Black Grape. Going top 20 after 20-odd years was really good. So this year we’re gonna be doing another Black Grape album and touring it.
“I’m proud of what happened with Madchester. I remember Tony Wilson from Factory Records comparing my lyrics to the poetry of Yeats. Tony was a very arty bloke and when he said that I’d never heard of WB Yeats. I still haven’t read any. But it was great that he said something nice like. It’s better than comparing me to a junkie or whatever.”
Fans will get the chance to play quizmaster when Ryder plays a venue near them soon. “We’ve just started promoting the show now and I think I’ve got another 50 to do. The audience questions are the best because they keep you on your toes. We have such a varied audience.
“We’ve got all the lot that were at university back in the day, then we’ve got all the Sun-reading party-heads then we’ve got the people who’ve picked up on me because of the TV stuff.”
Shaun Ryder’s in town. Expect the unexpected.
- Shaun Ryder plays Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn on March 28.