Frontman of Happy Mondays and a born raconteur, Shaun Ryder spoke with Paul Jenkins about space travel, drugs, and rock’n’roll, while giving him a lesson in Welsh.
“Ha! They’ve known about that water for years. They know a lot more about what’s up there than they let on.”
Shaun William Ryder is talking about NASA’s recent announcement that water has been discovered on Mars. Having spotted UFOs in the skies above Salford in his youth, the Happy Mondays frontman is convinced that we are not alone in the universe.
In an industry as ephemeral and fickle as rock music, the continued existence of the Mondays seems extraordinary. Not that that’s how the now drug-free Ryder sees things. His band is currently rehearsing for a 25th anniversary tour of their number one album, Pills Thrills And Bellyaches. Did he ever envisage still being on the road performing sell out shows 30 years after their first single?
“Yeah, I did. That was sort of the plan. I wanted to be in it for life. We’re still here, we must have done something right.”
Signed to Factory Records in 1985, initially Happy Mondays’ murky mix of Manc slang and sleazy funk-rock seemed unlikely to bother the charts. The influence of acid house and ecstasy on Manchester’s night life soon impacted upon their sound and by the release of their second album, Bummed, in late 1988 they were darlings of the music press. Why, though, did Shaun’s band suddenly connect with the British public?
“When we started out in ‘82, ‘83 the record industry was like a bad 1976 episode of Top Of The Pops. It was completely controlled. No disrespect to Bros but I grew up with the Stones and the Pistols. The main thing we wanted to do was be rock’n’roll. We totally exploited every opportunity that came our way. We gave journalists good stories. We didn’t talk about what key this song was in, what amps we used. We talked to Piers Morgan, no one did that then. We talked about spliff and E because that’s what the kids wanted to read about.”
With the success of Pills…, further top 10 hits followed, but the chaotic lifestyle of the band was more than just the stuff of tabloid-baiting legend. Recording an album in Barbados bankrupted their label, and the Mondays fell apart in the process. Since reforming, the band could be seen in the unlikely surroundings of the Panamanian rainforest, writing a song with the Embera Drua tribe for what turned out to be a surprisingly moving piece of television.
“We hadn’t shared a room since 1986. And we went into the rainforest! Not everyone was keen to go but I was so glad we did. This tribe only came out of the forest 20 years ago. People would pay thousands to have that experience.”
With a solo album, Pop Star’s Daughters, due out in January and a new Black Grape album due out before the end of 2016, will there be any new material from the Mondays?
“Well, the album [Pills…] is quite short, so we’ve got to fill these shows out with some old stuff. We’ll probably do the rainforest song. But eventually, yeah, we’ll do another album.”
We end on a Welsh lesson. I decide to give Shaun a Welsh word that he can shout out when he comes to Cardiff, something that will sound great in that distinctive scuzzy drawl.
“Bendigedig? What does that mean?”
“Ha! I’m writing that down! I’m bloody having that!”
And with that, he’s off. Shaun Ryder, one time 24-hour party person, now Welsh-speaking national treasure. Bendigedig indeed.
Ooh La La (To Panama) download single available now on iTunes. All proceeds go to the Embera Drua tribe.
Happy Mondays, Great Hall, Cardiff University Students Union, Sun 29 Nov. Tickets: £28.50. Info: 029 2078 1458 / www.cardiffstudents.com
photos ELSPETH MOORE