Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder on sex, drugs and UFOs
- Credit: Archant
The once notorious Happy Mondays frontman has put his E-popping, pigeon popping days behind him - to go off trekking in search of aliens
It sounds like an outtake from that famous Alan Partridge scene, where the fictional presenter pitches increasingly far-fetched TV shows to a BBC producer.
“Arm wrestling with Chas and Dave… youth hostelling with Chris Eubank…. Shaun Ryder on UFOs.”
By way of a frankly inspired move by the History Channel, the latter is not a Partrigism, but rather a tantalising reality. If you missed the first episode on Sunday night, which saw Ryder travel from Chile to the Andes to research mysterious flying objects, make no mistake – this is a thorough investigation.
“I’ll tell you why,” enthuses the Happy Mondays and former Black Grape frontman. “When I was younger, going to work one morning as a 15-year-old post office messenger boy, I was walking along with another lad from a local grammar school. Suddenly, we both looked up and saw these things flying across the sky in a Z shape.
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“They were whizzing around at thousands of miles an hour, stopping, starting, taking off again, up and down in the same spot, then finally flying away. That really got my imagination going because [puts on nerdy voice] it defies the laws of physics.”
Ryder is a devout believer and, over the four-part series, he hopes to convince us too. “We’re not alone in the universe,” he says, “anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.” But he is aware of the many doubts the establishment has over such ideas.
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“If we took this to a court of law, people there would be like [adopts posh London voice], ‘Oh well, er, I say, put the evidence on the table please sir.’ I say, ‘Look, the evidence is all out there already.’ They haven’t even looked at it and they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
I’m a Celebrity
Strong words, but what else would you expect from the famously extroverted rock star? This is not his first major stint on television – in 2010 he finished as runner-up on I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! He admits he found “life in the jungle to be a lot easier than real life”.
Before that, his on-screen appearances were more tumultuous. After repeatedly swearing live on Channel 4 on various occasions, he became the first person to be banned by name in the channel’s compliance manual. “The things that we do when we’re young,” he chuckles. “It’s great innit?”
Indeed, if there’s any time for Ryder and the rest of Happy Mondays to reminisce, it’s now. On November 22, they’re coming to The Forum to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their landmark second album, Bummed.
The 1988 record was not only a critical and commercial breakthrough for the band, it was an irresistibly rhythmic herald for the start of the Madchester music scene. It sent the Mondays down a path of thrills, pills and multiple break-ups.
“I really, really wish 30 years ago someone had told us it could be so easy,” says Ryder. “You go out there, play your show and go home. We could have cut out all the bullshit, all the madness, all the drama.
“It’s much more enjoyable now, there’s no sex, no drugs – there’s still the rock ‘n’ roll. I never thought I’d be one of those [puts on a telling Liverpudlian drawl] ‘Hey it’s fab to go out there and just play the music’ kind of guys, but it really is great.”
It’s a surprising thing to hear, considering the 51-year-old’s notoriously erratic reputation. So he’s not one for Madchester nostalgia?
“Well hey, I mean back then it really was Madchester and it was a great time. Probably ‘cos we were all walking round on E – it was lovely.
“But being naïve, 25 years ago I really didn’t think the band could ever not be together. I mean we were all pals, we’d read all the biographies and knew all the typical pitfalls of being in a band. But of course we ended up falling for every f**king one of them.”
The Ryder speaking today is certainly a changed man. He knows it too, and says there’s no way that, 20 years ago, he would have come home and put on Dean Martin – or for that matter, sat in his car driving along to Frank Sinatra.
Perhaps for that reason, he finds it slightly frustrating to watch films like Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People simply draw upon the “NME caricature” of his younger years. On the other hand, he does look back at some of its more factual scenes, like when he and bandmate Bez poisoned an entire flock of Manchester pigeons, with a guilty eye.
“Why did I do it? Because I was a f**king horrible young kid who didn’t like pigeons coming in and trying to pinch my Kentucky Fried Chicken. I was a bit of a nasty c**t so I poisoned em with rat poison. I certainly wouldn’t do it again… and I certainly wouldn’t write songs with lines like ‘I might be the honky, but I’m hung like a donkey.’ There’s all sorts I wouldn’t do.”
Despite a few regrets, Ryder is loving life on the road with the Mondays again. Unlike many frontmen, who are usually the force behind a band’s split, he has been the glue of the group through its many incarnations and only ever refers to them as a gang of “pals”.
Outside of the band, he’s always been happy to collaborate musically, and notes that he worked with people like opera singer Russell Martin before it was even fashionable.
One of his most notable vocal contributions in recent times was on the Gorillaz hit single, Dare. I ask him if, as Chris Evans once suggested, that the song was called ‘it’s there’ before Ryder’s thick northern accent changed the pronunciation.
“Hmm… no, no, he knew it said ‘dare’,” he replies, before saying the two words out loud. “Wait, ‘there’…well he’s right actually, ‘it’s there’, ‘it’s there’, ‘it’s there’. That’s what it comes from, yeah.
“And when it goes ‘it’s coming up, coming up, coming up’ – that came about because they put the cans [headphones] on me and needed to turn my vocals up. I was just saying ‘it’s coming up’ as in ‘I can hear my voice’, but they went and stuck it in the song.”
Looking back across his career, Ryder has embarked upon enough projects to fill an encyclopaedia. Some of his more unexpected ventures include appearing in Shameless – “I can’t act, I really can’t” – and in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as an out-of-luck rock star.
In real life, he has no time for such games, apart from, fittingly, Space Invaders on his iPad. It’s no surprise with his upcoming schedule, which next year will see the release of a solo album and a further Mondays tour – this time for the 25th anniversary of their third and similarly classic record, Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches.
In addition to that, the musician is hoping for a second series of Shaun Ryder on UFOs and, even more enticingly, he’s now starting work on a TV serialisation of his autobiography, Twisting My Melon, after selling the rights to ITV.
“We’ve got a meeting in a couple of weeks,” he adds, “where we start to look at the actors who could play me.”
Whoever that man may be, he’ll certainly have to come with a formidable repertoire.
n The Happy Mondays play The Forum in Kentish Town on Friday November 22. For tickets, visit www.mamacolive.com/theforum.