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We catch up with Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder

By Chris Jones

Published 19/06/2015

Grape expectations: Shaun Ryder's happy to be on stage again
Grape expectations: Shaun Ryder's happy to be on stage again
The Happy Mondays

With just 15 minutes allotted to speak to Shaun Ryder, it's hard to know what to expect. What kind of mood will he be in? Will we get a word in edgeways? Will he even be lucid? Well, the Shaun Ryder of 2015 is a slightly different animal to the one whose band's extravagant, drug-addled lifestyle bankrupted Factory Records in the early 90s, or the one who turned up late and drunk to his own gig, only to find out that Simply Red were on stage because he'd gone to the wrong venue.

But although his hard-partying days are now apparently behind him, he still bears the scars - asked to comment on the Happy Mondays' last Belfast gig at Falls Park in 2013, Ryder admits he can't recall a thing about it. "I really can't remember," he says in that unmistakeable Mancunian drawl. "I can't remember half the times I was in Ireland. And it's not that I'm drunk or anything, it's just that it all goes into one big blur really, touring and gigs.

"I've got a s*** memory, I really have," he adds. "It's getting worse - it's connected with my thyroid. If I don't take my thyroxine I'll go into a coma and die."

And that's not all he has to take, as he found out during a medical exam he underwent five years ago in order to get a US visa. "They told me I had pneumonia and I'd better go and get me thyroid sorted out and my testosterone," he says. "So I went and got it all sorted out and now I get a shot of testosterone in my butt every three months which makes me feel like I'm 21 again - job done."

So Shaun Ryder might no longer indulge in enough narcotics to fell an elephant, but he's found a new, medically justifiable buzz instead. "It's great!" he enthuses. Alan McGee (Former Creation Records boss) has the same thing, so we sit about talking about our testosterone buzz.

"You've got loads of energy, until it starts wearing off at the end of the three months and you're just sat there nodding off. You feel like you're carrying about eight bags of coal around with you. And then it's time to get the old shot again."

That three-monthly boost is probably a good idea because these days, Shaun Ryder is an incredibly busy man. The Happy Mondays reunion continues with another tour booked for later this year, he's working on a new solo album and, most pertinently for his Belfast fans, he has reformed his mid-90s band Black Grape in honour of the 20th anniversary of their number one album It's Great When You're Straight … Yeah!. And yet Ryder says he has no trouble keeping all the plates spinning. "I might have lots to do but it doesn't seem like my head's exploding," he says. "It's either my testosterone injections or I'm just really happy."

Part of that might also be attributed to his settled home life. He married wife Joanne in 2010 and they have two young girls. Ryder, who has four other children from two previous relationships, says he feel like he has been given a second chance at fatherhood, and this time he is relishing the opportunity. "I had kids years ago and because I was trying to carve out a career I was never home," he says. "I didn't see my kids grow up or have anything to do with it. So to get to do it again as an adult and an older parent, it's brilliant.

I've got two girls, six and seven, as a 50-odd year old father it's great. I get to do all the things I should have done years ago now and I get to do them right."

Asked if his home life is tiring, Ryder jokes that "it's easier out on tour than dealing with a six and seven-year-old!", but touring is something that he is going to be doing plenty of over the next year or two.

As well as those Mondays gigs, the Black Grape reunion is rapidly gathering pace. The band - Ryder plus rapper Kermit and session musicians - emerged a mere three years after the Happy Mondays' disastrous last album and split, so it was a surprise to many that their success was instant.

"Everyone from Factory Records was knocking on my door telling me how much I'd messed up but I'd already gone to New York and was sorting out what became Black Grape," says Ryder. "So I just kept my mouth shut and it was great, because the best thing you could come out with was a number one album."

The good times had returned but they didn't last long.

As Ryder says, "by the time we got to the second album it had all gone wrong" and after they split up he didn't speak to Kermit for about 15 years, until they bumped into each other at a Snoop Dogg gig.

"About two years ago I did a one-off Black Grape show in London but Kermit wasn't on board," he says.

"I'd spoken to him and he still wasn't at the place where I wanted him to be at so I got someone else in. And then when (the publishers) reminded me it was 20 years, I got in touch with Kermit again and in that two years he's really got himself together.

"He'd had a kid and really seemed to have grown up. And I thought, 'You know what? Because I've got loads of energy and I'm feeling 21 again because I've just had my testosterone shot, I'm gonna go and do this'. He was in a good place. I didn't want all the bull that went with it before and Kermit had got out of that so it was great."

And Ryder says that, in common with the even-more-notoriously-dysfunctional Happy Mondays, Black Grape at 50-something are in fine fettle. "We've got a great band now - all session guys, all local but great," he says.

"It's like the Mondays, it's a joy doing it now. We're older and there's no crap that comes with being young. It's just great. I'm not saying that just to sell it, it's a buzz."

As with everything that Shaun Ryder does, however, the nagging thought remains - how long is this going to last? His career is littered with short periods of success followed by arguments, recriminations and fights that last years.

Now that he has both the Mondays and Black Grape on the go at the same time, surely the risk is great that the old pattern will re-emerge. Ryder doesn't think so. "No, not now," he says. "I'm in a totally different place. I'm a million miles from that kid I was 20 years ago. I'm totally away from that old party scene.

"I'm a totally different person and now I do what I want to do when I want to do it, and I enjoy doing it."

  • Black Grape play the Limelight in Belfast tomorrow night

Belfast Telegraph

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