Shaun Ryder, singer songwriter with the Happy Mondays and Blake Grape chats with Kevin Cooper about his time on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here, a new Happy Mondays album, his own currently untitled solo album and his forthcoming tour with Blake Grape to celebrate twenty one years of their album It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah
Shaun Ryder is an English musician, singer and songwriter, best known for being the lead singer of the Happy Mondays and Black Grape. He was also the runner-up on the tenth series of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!
As the singer for the Happy Mondays, Ryder was known for his witty lyrics but his struggle with drugs led to the break-up of the Happy Mondays in 1992. The film 24 Hour Party People featured the (semi-fictional) story of Shaun Ryder’s youth and the life of the Happy Mondays whilst signed with Factory Records in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Despite rumours of how his substance abuse had finally caught up with him, Ryder returned to the spotlight in 1995 with his new project, Black Grape, and had an immediate short-term success with their first release, It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah, which topped the British album chart for a week. However, the follow-up album, Stupid Stupid Stupid, did not achieve the same critical or commercial success, and the group split in 1998.
In 2010, Ryder briefly reformed Black Grape with producer Danny Saber and Kermit for a concert as part of the ‘Get Loaded In The Dark’ gig series at The Coronet in London. Success followed when in 2015, Black Grape signed to Creation Management run by Alan McGee and Simon Fletcher and announced a reunion tour to coincide with twenty-one years of the It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah album.
Whilst recuperating after a hernia operation, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.
Hi Shaun how are you?
Hi Kevin I’m okay thanks, how are you today?
I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
That’s alright, it’s my pleasure.
And how is life treating you because I understand that you have recently been in hospital. Is everything okay?
Things are great actually, they are really good. I am just recuperating after a recent hernia operation. So today I am doing a few phoners and in-between that I am watching this creepy film called The Boy (laughter). It’s about an old couple who send for a nanny to look after their kid which happens to be a porcelain doll (laughter). This old couple treat the doll like a child. But that’s enough of what I’m getting up to today (laughter). Bloody puppet movies (laughter).
So how have you been managing with the hernia, has it been a struggle?
God yes, and to be honest I have been waiting quite a while to get it seen too. I first went into the hospital four months ago now and they decided to give me an epidural instead of putting me out to sleep. They stuck the needle into my spine and missed which was just like being beaten in the bollocks. So they had another go and guess what, they bloody missed again. They then had a third go and yes, they missed again so I just said “wow I’m going”. So I went home and had to wait another couple of months to get back into the hospital. This time was a little better because they put me under the anaesthetic. Whilst they were fixing the hernia I had a lump removed from down there as well. So yes, at this moment in time all is good (laughter).
And are you feeling okay now?
Oh yes I feel great. It is really good now because I am able to sleep on my side once again.
The good old National Health Service (laughter).
(Laughter) yes absolutely. When they finally got it right they were brilliant. Salford Royal is just around the corner from me so I have to say that I have actually been treated alright.
My dad once said that we should knock them all down and build pubs instead (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) I think they did that in Salford at one point.
Before we talk about the forthcoming tour, you were here in Nottingham at The Southbank back in July for a Q & A session with Jonny Owen. How did that go?
That’s right I was. It was great; I had a really good night. It was a great night. It was really good, it was funny and Jonny is great as well so it was a really good night.
So you had a good night did you Shaun (laughter),
(Laughter) are you taking the piss (laughter).
Between you and me Jonny is a bit like dog poo at the minute, he is everywhere (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) he’s a good lad is Jonny.
Last year you toured the UK on the Black Grape reunion tour. Were you pleased with just how well it was received?
Oh god yes. For me it was just like putting on an old pair of comfy slippers. It was so exciting and I am still excited about it now. Me and Kermit have still got it; we have still got that chemistry.
And I hear that you and Kermit are about to write a new Black Grape album?
That’s right. Things are so good that we are just about to start writing a new Black Grape album. At the end of September me and Kermit are going over to Spain for a couple of weeks writing and we are hoping to have it all finished by the end of the year. We are hoping that in-between the tour and everything else we will manage to get it finished.
What can you tell me about it?
(Laughter) it will be the same as the albums that we have done before; me and Kermit will do what we do. Whenever we are writing the lyrics we just seem to bounce off each other. It feels great because I am not writing on my own. That is one of the main things that I enjoy with Kermit, we both throw loads of ideas down and just get to it. That’s what makes us laugh and gets us interested. We just record it, work it and keep it.
Can you believe that it is twenty-one years since the release of It’s Great When You’re Straight..Yeah?
Yes and no. In some ways it doesn’t seem that long ago but then so much has happened in those twenty-one years. The older you get the quicker it goes. When you were young, one year seemed to be like ten years, whereas now ten years go by like one year. It’s mad.
Are you looking forward to taking the album out on tour?
Oh god yes, absolutely. We are also looking forward to taking the new album out on tour once that it is finished. Everything is all good and I can’t wait.
At what stage are you at with your new solo album?
It is all finished and all ready to go out. We have put two tracks out on vinyl to test the water and see how it went and now Alan (McGee) is just waiting for the right deal and the right time for the album to come out. I will just leave that up to McGee, he’s good at that isn’t he (laughter).
What can you tell me about the album?
I made the album with Sunny Levine and for the people who don’t know about Sunny’s background, his grandfather is Quincy Jones. Sunny’s dad Stuart has worked with the likes of Simply Red, Randy Crawford, B.B. King, Joe Cocker, Womack and Womack, Boz Scaggs, Jamie Cullum; he has literally done loads and loads of classic stuff. From the age of around five years old Sunny grew up in the recording studio. We used Sunny on the Happy Mondays album Uncle Dysfunktional and I have stayed in touch with him from that day to this. We have been really good mates since then. I recorded half of the album here in Manchester and the other half on Venice Beach in Los Angeles (laughter).
Are you happy with it?
Yes I am I am really pleased with it. I just can’t wait to get it out.
Does the album have a title?
Do you know what, titles used to come to me like that and that was my thing, titles, like Squirrel And G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out). Do you see what I mean (laughter). But now my album hasn’t got one. The more that I try to think about it the worse that it gets, so for now I am just trying to forget about it and hope that something will come to me before the album is released.
So when are you hoping to get the album out?
Well the truth of the matter is that I would have the album out now but obviously I have got the new Black Grape album to write, so once again it is all down to Alan. So the honest answer is god knows when it is going to come out. It will do because as I say it is all ready to go and I really can’t wait to get it out but again, that’s Alan, he’s the man who is doing the deals.
You have mentioned that you are going to be writing a new Happy Mondays album. With all that you have going on, when are you going to find the time to start that?
I intend to start that at the beginning of 2018. Alan wants it out there by the end of 2018. He wants it written, recorded and out there by the end of 2018.
It would appear that Alan is looking after you and not putting you under too much pressure is he?
To be honest we don’t do that anymore. There really isn’t any need for it. It’s different when you are starting out in the business and you have got to get an album out every couple of years and you have got to be constantly touring. For me, now that I am in my fifties I don’t have to do that anymore. I just take it easy.
That’s all well and good but there is always that danger of it being like your school homework, it never gets done.
(Laughter) I know exactly what you mean but the solo album is done, me and Kermit are in Spain at the end of this month and we have already started that, and so the only one really that need to start is the new Mondays album which we will get done because what McGee wants McGee usually gets (laughter).
Is he really that fearful?
Right, I will tell you, he puts out this image of being the frightening Jock but don’t tell anyone, he is really a caring and beautiful bloke (laughter).
When I was told just how many things you have on the go at the minute I did wonder how you manage to find the time to do the shopping (laughter).
(Laughter) well you just don’t have to worry about that, the missus takes care of all that (laughter).
You are bringing the It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah tour to Rock City here in Nottingham on 8th December. Whoever you are with, you always have a cracking gig here at Rock City.
(Laughter) that’s good, I’m glad that we do (laughter). If you say that we do then I am happy with that.
I have played the album this morning and I think that it still sounds as fresh today as it did twenty-one years ago. Why do you think that is?
I would agree with you there, yes it does, it still sounds pretty damn good. Why it still sounds as fresh I don’t know really. If it’s good it’s good, whether you listen to a Beatles or a Motown album, if it is good it’s good.
Do you have a favourite track on the album?
At the moment I am really enjoying singing A Big Day In The North. Having said that I really do enjoy all of the tracks on there; it’s a great album. Whenever we play any of them live we are still at the stage where we really do enjoy playing them. We are still at the stage where it is really great playing the album.
The trend nowadays is for bands to go out and play an album in its entirety rather than playing their greatest hits. Does that help keep it more interesting for the band?
It will certainly be interesting for us because we haven’t done it before (laughter). I did it with the Happy Mondays when we toured Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches and I must say that I had a great time. Depending on just how much fun it is, who knows, we may even go out and play Squirrel And G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out), we will just have to see how this tour goes. The tracks on that album, I haven’t heard since 1986. A few have been slipping through my head as we are speaking and I’m thinking “you know what, that’s not too bad” (laughter).
In 1990 the Happy Mondays had a massive hit with your cover of the 1971 John Kongos hit He’s Gonna Step On You Again. Did you ever receive any feedback from the John Kongos camp?
No, not directly but we heard from various record company people that he approved it.
Why did you choose that song?
Well to be honest with you, that is a funny story (laughter). Elektra Records were celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary and they wanted all new Elektra artists to record a track from their back catalogue, so they gave us a tape with hundreds of tracks on to pick from. He’s Gonna Step On You Again by John Kongos was about the fourth track on the tape and all the band members wanted to spend as little time as possible on this project as we were writing for a new Monday’s album, so we stopped at that track and didn’t listen to any further tracks (laughter).
People think that you must have made millions from that track but that is not the case is it?
(Laughter) bloody millions; a couple of quid more like (laughter). The Mondays did enter into negotiations with John Kongos but he wouldn’t do a deal relating to the publishing. Even when you take into consideration the added “twistin’ melons” and “call the cops” he simply wasn’t interested. So in all honesty, I got nothing from the song other than the odd payment from the Phonographic Performance people. The Mondays don’t get a penny for Step On.
How and where did you meet Rowetta ?
From what I remember (laughter) Nathan McGough who was our manager introduced us, but I didn’t actually get to meet her until after she had recorded her vocals.
What is your opinion of the current state of the music business; is it in a good place?
My girls are getting older now and they want to go out to see live bands. I find myself listening to Taylor Swift, Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus because that is what the girls are playing. But if I want to kick back and listen to something then it is either Dean Martin or a Northern Soul album. So really I have lost touch with what is happening within the business and the new bands that are coming along. But I think that it is only a matter of time before we are going out watching new bands, perhaps when they are thirteen and fourteen years old.
I first saw the Happy Mondays playing live when you supported Oasis at Wembley Stadium on 21st July 2000. You were absolutely brilliant.
Did you really, that’s a while ago now. Were we good because I can’t remember (laughter).
Yes, you were very good (laughter). In 2010 you came second behind Stacey Soloman in the tenth series of ITV’s I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! Everyone thought that you should have won the show, how did that feel?
As far as I am concerned the game was rigged. I really do mean that. I was in a band and Stacey had a career. Basically it was all mapped out for her to become a TV host which she then decided that she didn’t want to do. She decided that she wanted to do music and I am sure that if she was ever going to do music then Simon Cowell would have made sure that she did it. From day one I pretty much knew that Stacey was going to win that.
Did you enjoy the experience?
I didn’t want to go and I was kicking and screaming not to do it. It was the recorded company, my girls and the missus that wanted me to do that. And being honest with you I am glad that I did it. It was great and it came at the right time in my life for me to do that and it has led to a lot of good things for me.
Would you do it again?
Yes I would. I find it funny when people say that it really hard. To me that’s total bollocks; life is much harder than that. You are starved of a bit of food, you go on a few walks and you have to eat a few bugs so it’s a piece of piss really (laughter).
If I had to push you for just one event, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Oh god, I would have to say that it was me getting out of receivership after twelve years. In our game you can’t go bankrupt, because if you do you lose all of your writing and all of your songs. It took me twelve years, so getting out of that must be the highlight (laughter).
I can’t speak to you without asking you just how your sidekick Bez is going on?
He’s fine. If you dropped him out of an airplane he would land on a comfy mattress (laughter). He’s Bez.
And just before I go, just what did happen to the boy in the movie?
(Hysterical laughter) well the boy actually turned out to be a tall man who lived in the walls of the house (laughter). Honestly it was crap (laughter).
On that note Shaun let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been great.
It’s been my pleasure Kevin. You take care and I hope to see you in Nottingham.