Happy go lucky

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Happy go lucky

Shaun Ryder has been called many things in his life: hellraiser, poet, junkie and reality star among them.

By Adam Zacharias

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Published: Tue 23 Apr 2013, 8:16 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 5:38 AM

But as we phone him on a windy Wednesday afternoon in England, the 50-year-old Happy Mondays frontman is preparing for a spot of DIY while sharing his knowledge of tween TV.

“Hiya mate, how are you?” answers Shaun energetically before embarking on a lengthy and loud bout of stretching. Pottering around his home in Salford, the Manchester borough where he was born and grew up, the singer tells us, “I’m laying wood in my son’s bedroom at the moment. Now he’s gone back to uni, I can get in there and get rid of the carpet.”

So he’s a bit of a handyman then?

“No, not at all. I’m just labouring for the wife.”

Now a contented family man, Shaun has six children aged from four to 22. He lives with his wife Joanne and their two young daughters.

“I’m in a house full of women at the moment, so football doesn’t go down too well,” he replies when we ask about his team Manchester United’s league-conquering season. “I get offered a lot of free tickets to go to Old Trafford, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan anyway.”

Instead, he states that his home’s TV viewing schedule revolves around long-running soap opera Coronation Street for the parents, and the Disney Channel for the young ones.

“I’m full-up at the moment with Hannah Montana,” he happily concedes.


Today’s Shaun Ryder is far removed from his haywire persona of old. He grew up a troublemaker (telling one interviewer, “We fought, we stole, we cheated and we didn’t go to school”), whilst also developing an early taste for drugs and alcohol.

After leaving school at 15, Shaun’s career prospects looked bleak. Through sheer boredom, he would seek out chaos and admits even to poisoning pigeons to pass the time. Eventually though, the wayward youth founded Happy Mondays in a line-up that included his younger brother Paul and best mate Mark ‘Bez’ Berry.

Practising on instruments Shaun would later claim were stolen from schools, the band developed a unique sound that combined rock, funk, dance and soul – which at once somehow managed to be laddish yet mellow.

Shaun also recognised the need for the group to forge an identity beyond their musical output.

“We weren’t the world’s best musicians, we weren’t the world’s best band,” says the singer. “But we certainly wanted to make it.

“There were a lot of great bands, but if you just relied on the music you’d disappear. So we played (the system) for every bit we could.”

After earning a cult following with their 1988 second album Bummed, the band released their seminal record two year later with Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches. Co-produced by the now legendary DJ Paul Oakenfold, the LP featured UK top five singles Step On and Kinky Afro.

But after helping bankrupt their label Factory Records with fourth album Yes Please! – which was sloppily recorded in Barbados amid drug binges and infighting – the group split in 1993.

Shaun and Bez went on to found Black Grape in the mid-90s, releasing two albums including the UK chart-topping It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah! (which found an unlikely fan in Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who called it his favourite record of 1995).

Since 1999, Happy Mondays have reunited, toured and recorded sporadically – although never with the full original line-up, before finally burying the numerous hatchets last year and heading out on the road once more.

“It’s really good, you know?” Shaun says about the reconciliation. “They’re really different people. We’re all 50-year-old blokes now, not young kids with drama everywhere. So it’s totally different.

“And it really is a lot easier. There’s no drama, no women, no drugs, just rock and roll. We get to enjoy the shows this time around rather than being on that treadmill of albums and tours.”

So would the reformed wildchild say that maturity has crept up on him?

“Well, hitting 40 was a real kick in the face, I really didn’t celebrate it,” he says. “By the time I was 42, I’d grown into it, and now at 50 I’m really happy just being myself. I always thought I’d be making music into my 60s, and I’m probably going to be doing that.”


2013 looks set to be a hectic year for Shaun. Beyond extensive touring with Happy Mondays and a possible new album, he has a solo record coming out at the end of the year, a scheduled TV film of his life plus a 10-part series on The History Channel, in which he travels the globe visiting UFO hotspots.

He also refuses to rule out a possible return to UK reality show I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! (which he went on in 2010 and finished runner-up). “I didn’t wanna go in there in the first place, but I ended up really ended up enjoying it,” he tells us.

Regarding the extraterrestrial documentary series, and having recently returned from filming in South America, he adds, “I’ve seen some pretty interesting stuff. I’ve only got one or two scientists to say they believe in aliens on TV. The majority of them won’t say it on camera because it’s suicide career-wise. But off-camera, they’ll say it.”

Shaun’s own fascination with alien life began with a paranormal experience at the age of 15.

“I saw something flying about that defied the laws of physics. It was going ‘zoom zoom zoom zigga zagga’ across the sky and flying off at 10,000 miles an hour,” he says.

“We’re certainly not alone in the universe. That’s just ridiculous. That’s like when we thought the world was flat.”

As for the biopic on British channel ITV, adapted from his best-selling autobiography Twisting My Melon, screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst (Shameless) has been recruited to help tell the story of Shaun’s life – something that the man himself doesn’t always remember.

“The ‘90s is a bit blurred,” admits Shaun, who audiences may also know from the 2005 Gorillaz hit Dare. “I had to have a bit of help with that decade when I wrote the book, but I can remember the ‘60s to the ‘80s pretty well.”


First and foremost though, Shaun insists that he’s committed to enjoying and appreciating parenthood this time around.

“I didn’t really get to see my eldest kids growing up because I was out working and trying to make it in the game,” he says. “They’d come out on tour for a week or two but I never really saw them, but now I actually get to be with my two girls a lot of the time.”

Shaun also says that he doesn’t follow much new music – preferring old crooners like Dean Martin for himself while also taking in plenty of top 40 acts like Rihanna thanks to his daughters.

As for his own discography, the genial Mancunian rarely listens back to old material unless necessary.

“Maybe five years ago, Bummed got reissued and I had to listen to it,” says Shaun. “I never listened to it from the day we left the studio, but I thought it was really good.

“And we had to listen to Pills ‘n’ Thrills for this tour because we’re playing a lot of it. I listened to it with my arms tied around my back, then I quite enjoyed some of it.”

And does it ever sound as though someone else is delivering his lines from all those years ago?

Shaun hesitates.

“Hmm…on Bummed, yeah. Listening to some of the stuff I was saying there, now I wouldn’t dream about coming up with some of the lines I wrote.”

We ask for an example. He gives one. We can’t print it. (He adds, “What the f*** was I on when I wrote that?”)

To close, we ask Shaun about the often fragile nature of civility among rock stars, especially within one of England’s most notoriously raucous outfits.

“Sometimes when you’re off your face when you’re younger, you can’t help it, but I’ve always tried to be civil and a good bloke,” he answers. “I have lost it a few times, but manners cost nothing.”


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