Shaun Ryder, singer songwriter with Black Grape and Happy Mondays, chats with Kevin Cooper about working with producer Youth, supporting Richard Ashcroft, Black Grape’s latest album Pop Voodoo and his forthcoming appearance at Nottingham’s Splendour Festival.

Shaun Ryder is an English musician, singer and songwriter, best known for being the lead singer of the Happy Mondays and Black Grape.

Known for his witty lyrics it was his struggle with drugs which 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.

Ryder returned to the spotlight in 1995 with his new project, Black Grape, and had immediate success with their first release, It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah, which topped the British album chart. However, their 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 Paul Leveridge (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 toured to celebrate twenty-one years of It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah album.

Whilst busy rehearsing for Black Grape’s forthcoming festival appearances, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.

Hi Shaun how are you today?

Feeling great Kevin, how are you?

I’m very well thank you for asking.

You and I didn’t speak that long ago did we?

That’s right we actually spoke last September while you were getting over your hernia operation. How are things with you now; is all well?

Yes all is good now, I’m fighting fit once again (laughter).

Well before we move on let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s okay; all is cool.

And just how is life treating you?

Life is great, in fact all is brilliant at this moment in time although I have to be honest with you and say that I keep getting confused (laughter).

What is it that is confusing you?

(Laughter) well not only am I currently promoting Black Grape’s festival tour here in the UK this summer together with the new album Pop Voodoo which hopefully will be released on Tuesday 4th August. I am also promoting the Happy Mondays’ tour of the UK during November and December. So as you can see there is a lot there for me to try to remember (laughter). This will be the first Happy Mondays tour in what seems like forever, so I have to at least try to promote the correct dates don’t I (laughter). So if I haven’t got my list in front of me I don’t know if it’s Black Grape or Happy Mondays that I should be talking about. This one is for Black Grape isn’t it?

Yes it is but although we are going to chat about Black Grape, in reality we should be speaking about the Happy Mondays shouldn’t we?

(Hysterical laughter) yes that right. As you know we are releasing a new Black Grape album in August and then on the back of that we were going to be hitting the major festivals next year. We did intend to play a couple this year but not to the extent that we are now playing.

So this year you will just be testing the water prior to a full schedule next year?

Yes that’s right. I think that we are going to be playing at most four festivals with Black Grape at the moment. But like I said there really shouldn’t have been any at all which is a shame because I really do enjoy playing the Black Grape stuff. I find it all so easy.

Black Grape will be playing Splendour here in Nottingham and later in the year you are playing Rock City with Happy Mondays. We are going to have to get an eviction notice to get you out of the city (laughter). Are you looking forward to coming back?

(Laughter) Yes I am. I always have a great time whenever I come up to Nottingham and I am sure that this time will be no different. It will be good to see just how the crowd react to the new Black Grape songs. It will be good to be back out on the road with Kermit (Paul Leveridge). It’s been a while now so I can’t wait.

So just to get things straight, is it now your intention to start writing a new Happy Mondays album early in 2018?

Well I have to be honest and say that things are starting to get moved around a bit. In reality the new Black Grape album should have been the Happy Monday album and I have to tell you that getting the Happy Mondays together is really not that easy because everyone is all over the place doing their stuff, whereas Black Grape is just me and Kermit. We just ask each other “do you fancy doing this” and nine times out of ten we will say “yes”. So we made the Black Grape album when we really should have made the next Happy Mondays album. So I will be promoting that Black Grape album all next year, 2018. So we are now looking at 2019 or even 2020 for a new Happy Mondays album.

Do you ever get confused when you are on stage?

(Laughter) it’s funny that you should ask me that because later this summer I am playing the Chris Evans Car Fest. At some time during the afternoon I will be playing a Black Grape set and then a couple of hours later I am playing a Happy Mondays set so there will be a bit of both that day. I’m being greedy as I hope that they will be paying me overtime (laughter). So if it will go wrong anywhere that will be the one, but as yet I have never got confused on stage but I suppose that there is a first time for everything (laughter).

Are you always writing?

Yes I am, I am writing all of the time. I will write ideas on beer mats and pieces of paper which I then put into a tea pot which I have here at home and then when it is time to get together with the band or Kermit I will come up with all of the bits of what I have got (laughter).

So which do you prefer, small intimate gigs or the large outdoor festivals?

To be honest I enjoy them all. For me the bigger gigs are easier I suppose because they tend to be very show bizzy, while the smaller shows are very personal. I just enjoy them whoever we are playing to.

When you are given a shorter time slot for your set, is it a problem knowing what songs to leave out?

No not really because at the moment we can stick in Reverend Black Grape, In The Name Of The Father and then just throw in all of the new songs. There are three tunes which are getting passed around the radio stations at the moment, Pop Voodoo, Nine Lives and I Wanna Be Like You, so we just stick them in together with another couple off the new album.

You recently supported Richard Ashcroft, how was that?

That’s was brilliant. Richard really is on top of his game, he really is brilliant. We only had thirty minutes so on those gigs we opened with Reverend Black Grape and then played four of the new songs which all seemed to go down really well which is great, so giving us forty minutes gives us some room to play another couple of new tracks.

I have to say that I have been listening to the album for a couple of days now and it does sound as though you and Kermit have hit the spot once again. Would you agree with that?

Oh yes most definitely. I would have to say that Pop Voodoo is much better than the first album, it really is. We are just better than ever really. I used to say back when I was in my twenties and thirties that by the time that you get to forty in this game, then the writing is over. However, I have recently found out that it’s not true (laughter). I went dry for years; I had writers block for years but fortunately it eventually went. As quick as is came it went. It took a few years but then boom you are back at it.

Would you agree that your substance abuse hindered your song writing?

Yes I would, very much so. When I was off my face and taking lots of stuff which presumably made things easier, it actually stopped me from writing on many occasions. I have to say that being clean and not off your face means that I can get more things done now. I do as much now, if not more, than I did back then and still find myself with time on my hands. More to the point it means that I can now get out with the kids and have some quality time with the family which really is great.

I hear that you wrote the album abroad?

Yes we did, we actually wrote, recorded and produced the album in just four weeks. We wrote the first half of it in Spain in ten days and then we went back to London and finished it off.

How was it working with the producer Youth?

He is absolutely brilliant, he really is. He first asked us how we would like the album to sound so I said a bit of hip-hop, The Bee Gees, The Beastie Boys and funky all mixed into one so that’s what we went for and I think that we got it.

I have to say that Youth seems to be the go to man at the moment.

He’s great he really is. If you take a look at his back catalogue and see who he has worked with, the likes of Killing Joke, The Verve, The Orb, The Fireman, Paul McCartney and David Gilmour to name but a few, he is just brilliant.

In 2013, you hosted the television show Shaun Ryder On UFOs on The History Channel UK and you admitted to having a lifelong interest in UFOs and that you have personally encountered space aliens, stating “It’s not that I want to believe, it’s impossible not to”. Are UFO’s still of interest to you?

(Laughter) let’s just say that whilst I am not chasing them I am always looking up into the sky. I know that when someone tells you that they have seen a UFO and then they have seen another one, and another one then I will think to myself ‘this guy is making it up’ (laughter). However, once you have seen one it can almost feel that they are following you around.

On the subject of UFO’s I have to ask you, just how is Bez?

(Laughter) I will have to remember that you called him a UFO and tell him the next time that I see him. Bez is Bez you know, if you dropped him out of an airplane Bez would land on his feet on a big, comfy mattress (laughter). Apart from when we get the Happy Mondays together I always seem to bump into Bez when we are recording shows such as The Ten Most Disgraceful Things That Happened In The 80’s or The Biggest Celebrity Disasters Of The 90’s (laughter). We keep finding ourselves together on these sorts of shows.

Will he be with you at Rock City later in the year?

Absolutely, yes. He’s great you know, he really is. He is brilliant.

You are currently, amongst other things, promoting, touring and writing. Just how does it all pan out for you, how do you sit down and plan ahead?

I am fortunate because I find myself in the position where I just have to say yes or no. Alan (McGee) sorts out all of the music side of things whilst my missus looks after all of the TV stuff. They will get together and make it work. I just sit down and say yes or no, it’s easy (laughter).

And Alan is not pushing you too hard is he?

No, no, no, no he really is a gent is Alan. He is a big furry teddy bear.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh god, I can’t think. I don’t know, I really don’t know. The last time that I cried recently was because my thyroid gland was playing up again and that really does get on my tits and I get very frustrated with it. That did bring tears to my ears but a piece of music, I really don’t know. Music does make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end; songs such as My Way by Sid Vicious still send tingles down my spine. Music does touch me in that way but at the moment I just can’t think.

On that note Shaun let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been a pleasure and I will see you at Splendour.

Thanks Kevin, you take care and I will see you in Nottingham. Bye for now.