Happy Mondays are the epitome of the rock and roll lifestyle and, most surprisingly, have lived to tell the tale. As leaders of the early-90s Madchester scene, the group released a series of seminal albums, drawing mainstream attention to the burgeoning UK rave scene and the drugs and lifestyle that came with it. Nearly 30 years on, and with many adventures and mis-adventures under the bridge, the entire original line-up of the Mondays is Australia bound to play their classic 1991 album Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches in full. MICHAEL HOLLICK caught up with the indomitable band’s front-man, Shaun Ryder.
I believe you have a bit of a connection with Perth?
Yeah, yeah I do. I’ve got family there, our Pete lives in Perth. And I went out there in the late 90s to clear my head. I even recorded an album too (Ryder’s only solo record to date, Amateur Night in the Big Top). But to be honest, what I most recall of Australia is getting banned for outstaying my welcome. I finished touring, it must have been the 2000s (Happy Mondays were on the Big Day Out in 2001), and I stayed six months or so longer than I should have. So I got banned for a bit. You know, I didn’t realise? Six months just went in a click [snaps fingers].
What did you make of Australia’s sunny weather?
It’s fine, we all love it out there. Though I’ve been over there when when we couldn’t go to New Zealand because the weather was so bad so I’ve definitely bought the Mancunian weather with me sometimes when I’ve come to Australia.
Oh, you’re not supposed to pack the weather. We do tell Brits that…
Yeah, that’d be right. We won’t this time then eh.
Did you ever think you would be still going strong after all these years? Still playing music and touring?
Yeah, I mean, you know, that’s what I do, I play music. So while I don’t do as many tours as I used to, and I’m not on the whole ‘album tour album tour album tour’ grind I used to be, it’s what I always imagine myself doing.
You love playing live then?
Yeah, it’s great. We’ve just done the first half of the Black Grape (Ryder’s other band) tour over here (UK) and then we come to Australia at the beginning of the year, and when that finishes up, I return back and finish off the second half of the Black Grape tour. So, I’m always at it. It seems a lot easier now, a lot less complicated. No sex and drugs, just rock and roll.
Really? No sex or drugs?
Yeah, yeah, for sure. The missus hates it [laughs].
Do you think the band are better now than they were back in the day?
Oh yeah, we are a a lot better now. I’m not just saying it because we have a tour now, we’re all compos mentis. Back in the day, from 1986 to 1998 I did nothing but make albums and go on tour. No wonder we were all fooked up on drugs. You spend all your time doing this, and you don’t get to see your kids grow up or anything and I was a young man. When you’re on the hamster wheel, like we were years ago, you really don’t appreciate anything. But now, it’s all a lot older and wiser, but we make better music.
It’s a different kettle of fish all together. We actually get paid to do gigs and shows. We used to do shows to promote albums, but you don’t really sell albums anymore, you get paid for doing gigs, which is really great, we all get on, we all appreciate what we are doing. If you don’t die, you sort of get it all back and enjoy it.
Is there anything you are surprised that you made it through?
Well, to be honest, a lot of it I don’t remember. When the 1960s ended, I was eight years old, and I can remember up to that, but till someone shows me photos or videos, like of the 90s or the early noughties, I haven’t got a clue.
I suppose without mobile phones, there weren’t as many pictures of that period?
With the Mondays, and Grape, there are a lot of photos because we always had crews following us or with us. Like when we (Happy Mondays) first went to America, we had a lot of photographers and video stuff with us. Nowadays, you look on the internet, fookin’ hell, there’s just thousands of photos, but I haven’t a clue. Apart from the fact it looks like me, you know, I just don’t remember.
Do you mind that you don’t remember the past?
I think it’s better off that I don’t remember a lot of shit, I really do. Otherwise I’d probably be sat there going, oh I fookin’ regret that, oh that’s terrible, but I don’t remember it, so it’s all hunky dory.
So you’re a bit like a goldfish?
[laughs] Yeah. I am definitely Dory out of Finding Nemo.
We just had Bez out here on his own tour recently. I just wondered, do you call him Bez?
Yeah, nah, he’s Bez. Always will be. Some of the band still call me X, but mostly I’m Shaun nowadays. But Bez is still Bez, our Paul is Paul, the nicknames have got a bit old.
Who has had more scares to their life, you or Bez?
Oh, that’s a toss up, that one. You could throw Bez out of a helicopter at 10,000 feet and he’d land on a mattress somewhere and get up. He’s had more hospital visits than I have. He’s had more broken bones than me, but it’s a hard one to say who’s been in the most life-threatening situations. Bez is still out on it, you know, he went out for a night in 1985 and he’s still out on it where as we all sort of went home years ago.
I can imagine that being told as a story, like something out of Black Mirror, or even The Twilight Zone.
Oh yeah, for sure. He lives in the Twilight Zone for sure. He lives on a sort of hippie commune in Wales and it’s quite Twilight Zone-y.
And are you still in Manchester?
Yeah, I have lived in Salford for 10 years now. And it’s really changed. We just had the docks years ago and it was shithole. But now there’s Media Centre (a hub for media and technology companies), that’s where the BBC and ITV are and a lot of people with dosh have moved in. Like (Ryan) Giggs and the (Phil and Gary) Nevilles (former Manchester United Premier League players) live just across the way. They own the local club, Salford City FC. The city has gone through hard times, there was a lot of no go areas but now it’s really great.
Looking forwards, are there plans for a new Mondays record? Your last LP, 2006’s Uncle Dysfunktional was well received here and was I thought was a very solid record.
Oh, I’m really glad you liked it. When I wrote those songs, I still had writer’s block, and I was really struggling, but I really love what Sonny (Levine) did, the production is grand. There were a lot of new tracks.
As for a new record, Alan McGree (Creation Records owner) wants another Mondays album and last year when I did that (Black) Grape album that was supposed to be a Mondays record but we weren’t able to get the band all together. Our Paul is LA, Gaz is in Canada but with Black Grape it’s just me and Kermit, so at the drop of a hat, we can just get together. But for the Mondays, we need to get all six of us together.
And finally, is there a particular track that you still love performing?
I really appreciate all of them now, even Step On, (which Ryder grew to hate back in the early 1990s). Its’s a buzz just playing everything. We took (Happpy Monday’s 1988 LP) Bummed out on tour about three years ago, and I hadn’t heard that since the day I had walked out of the studio in 1988. I had to revisit it and listen to it for the tour. And you know what? I listened to it and I had to say “this is alright, well done kid, you wrote some not bad tracks back there” because you know it wasn’t that bad. But yeah, end of day you know, I love playing all the tracks, playing live is still such a buzz.