Shaun Ryder: 'We've done all the partying and all the sex and drugs, so now it's just the rock 'n' roll'
Almost 40 years ago, Shaun Ryder and his pals grouped together to launch one of the most formative sounds of the Madchester era. Now, pushing into his mid-fifties, the Happy Mondays frontman discusses their approach to the press and his lyrical secrets.
It's difficult to know what to expect when arriving to interview Shaun Ryder. If you listen to the stories, he's pulled a gun on a journalist, sold ecstasy to army squaddies, and narrowly avoided being shot by a Puerto Rican gang after visiting a crack den in Harlem. These tales, and there are plenty more, have given him a cartoon-like reputation.
But it isn't this headline-grabbing character who turns up to a 4-star golf resort in Salford, and this isn't the same man from those stories.
Because the Ryder who once stripped Eddy Grant's studio bare to fuel his blossoming crack habit has, to borrow a phrase he is fond of, "f***** off", to be replaced by a figure more likely to be seen on breakfast television, or in predicted Strictly Come Dancing contestant line-ups (he's not up for it, by the way).
He strolls into the grand hotel's lobby, less than three miles from where he was born, clutching a jangling set of keys attached to a Tesco Clubcard.
The Mancunian drawl is full of self-interruptions and stammers and, more than once, he wipes his hand, palm down, across his face, in an attempt to recall details from the heavier days.
They are in the past, he says. "Everyone is compos mentis now, all the b******* that came with being young has gone out of the window."
When he says everyone, Ryder is of course, referring to his band of merry men, Happy Mondays.
It is 30 years ago this month that the Madchester band released their debut album, Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out), which they'll tour around the UK later this year.
Ryder's also just finished a Black Grape record with Paul "Kermit" Leveridge as he continues to entertain with his witty wordplay.
"It was all making people laugh with words, taking the p*** out of everybody and everything and being clever.
"I ended up writing and being a singer because, out of our bunch of pals, I was the best singer and I was the best writer," he says, recalling a brief occasion when he allowed guitarist Mark Day have a go at writing. Day greeted him with the line, "Don't make passes with girls in glasses".
"I was like f****** hell, Mark'," laughs Ryder. "So I ended up being the songwriter. I write cartoon, short mad stories and a line might be relevant to me, but they're stories."
The method, he reveals, really may be in the madness of these ideas.
When he's hit with a line or two, he will scribble it down on the nearest paper and stick it in a teapot.
"Then when it comes to writing time I get all the lines of paper and I take them to wherever I've got to work. I pull them all out and make stories.
"It's like the Black Grape album, the record label are 'what's this about?' It's stories."
And they used stories on the press too, cackles Ryder. Recognising their working class appeal to the tabloids, they took advantage of it, full throttle.
"Back then, bands didn't go anywhere near Piers Morgan (then editor of The Sun's Bizarre show business column).
"Band's didn't wanna be in Bizarre and we thought, 'f*** that', and were straight in there with Piers.
"We understood the power of headlines and rather than getting a little piece in NME or Melody Maker, we'd get it in the tabloids.
"The journalist would come down and so we'd skin up or put a line out on the pool table.
"Instead of talking about amps or do you use a DX7, it became about the partying. We used to tell them all sorts of s*** and the headlines in the press got bigger and we used it."
Ryder remains a great storyteller, notably so when explaining Paul Davis' (keyboard) omission from the band in their most recent reincarnation with the original line-up.
It turns out that Davis could never play the instrument he was tasked with performing.
All was okay until a few years ago, Ryder says, when they brought him back.
"It was hard work, because what little he did know he'd forgotten and you'd be on stage and he'd walk off for a p***."
But for 12 years this storyteller, the Ryder who wrote "you're twistin' my melon man", lost all his income in order to protect the royalties from those very lyrics. After a fractious break-up with the Black Grape management, he refused to hand over £150,000 awarded to them.
Ryder avoided bankruptcy as it would strip him of song rights and instead ended up in receivership. He claims the debt turned into about four or five million and admits it messed with his creative output.
"It makes it impossible to want to work, I got writer's block as anyone would and it was hard enough surviving, f****** hard work."
The receivership ended in 2010, the year he finished second on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here and believes marked his transformation as a musician into an entertainment personality.
"Listen," he drawls, leaning forward. "Going back to 2004, I was approached to do Big Brother. And it was like, 'Woah, we don't do that, we're in a band'. And Bez did it, and he won it. That's when I realised the game was changing and you've got to do stuff like that now.
"Then I did I'm A Celebrity and it was f****** great, I loved it."
But ultimately, he could do as much reality television as he likes, it would still need to be backed up with good music, agrees Ryder, who promises that is what fans should expect, both from the Mondays and Black Grape.
"Back in the day, we had more important things like drug addicts to feed, so the writing came second. But this time it's the priority.
"It's better than ever, and we play better than ever, it really just is the music. I'm older and I'm not a f****** mad party animal. We've done all the partying, and all the sex, and drugs, so it's just the rock 'n' roll.
"It's a lot easier."
- Happy Mondays' Twenty Four Hour Party People - Greatest Hits Tour kicks off in Bristol this November, before heading nationwide until the end of December. Tickets are available from alttickets.com, ticketweb.co.uk and seetickets.com