Happy days as Ryder reforms the old gang
Barry Egan recalls a night on the town with Shaun Ryder, the former wild man of the Madchester scene
EVERYBODY has a Shaun Ryder story. This is mine. It was 1988, and I ended up on a bizarre, unsurprisingly wild night on the town in London with the far from healthy-living Happy Mondays front man.
At that stage in his life and career, if I may call it that, Shaun had a well-earned reputation for drug indulgence and general Byronic behaviour times 10; he was a heroin addict by the age of 18; he then moved on to crack.
He was the Keith Richards of his era; perpetually out of his brains on something: E, coke, worse. In short, he was a mad man. But, as I found it, a lovely man with it. I met him at a music business party one evening with some mutual friends. The lurching libertine whose band and music would soon become the spearhead, along with The Stone Roses, of the Madchester scene that ushered in Britpop and rave was a bit of character.
He had already put half of Colombia up his nose and was talking at a rate of about 200 miles an hour. Shaun Ryder could fit a two-hour conversation into 15 minutes in the way that doubtless Seamus Heaney could fit a 15-minute conversation into two hours. Anyway, I told him I loved the Happy Mondays' debut album Squirrel And G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out) and we bonded over that.
A very famous person in the British music industry made some rude comments about the colour of my hair. When I said at least I wasn't balding, the very famous person attempted to have me thrown out and then when that didn't work, attempted to punch me. Shaun intervened, in a manner of speaking, and told the very famous person in the British industry that he'd end up floating in the Thames face down if he didn't leave me alone. In the end, Shaun, I and a female whom Shaun had met at the Bacchanalian beano left for more fun elsewhere.
We drove around London in a Mini for what seemed like hours until we finally arrived at a house. There wasn't a party on. It was merely where Shaun and his lady friend disappeared upstairs to put whatever was left of Colombia up their noses. Shaun, in a gentlemanly way, ushered me into the front room and gave me a blanket with instructions to sleep on the couch and he would see me in the morning. It was already 8am.
The next I saw of the singer, was at noon when he was having amphetamine sulphate for "breakfast". You couldn't meet a nicer bloke having a brekkie of cheap speed because he'd run out of cocaine. I never saw him again.
But I followed his often brilliant and often very weird
career. He once walked onstage at the wrong venue -- a Simply Red show. He also spent 48 hours prior to Happy Mondays' Glastonbury headline slot in 1990 smoking heroin in the tour bus's luggage hold. Years later, Ryder would be the subject of films, Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People and documentaries BBC 3's The Agony and the Ecstasy.
Born August 23, 1962, in Salford, Greater Manchester, the eldest son of a postman and a nursery nurse, Shaun is something of a flawed -- make that very flawed -- genius. The late Tony Wilson, who knew a thing about flawed geniuses, having worked with Joy Division, New Order et al, signed the Happy Mondays to Factory records, and once notoriously compared Shaun Ryder to William Butler Yeats. You decide.
In Kinky Afro, Shaun sings: "Son, I'm 30, I only went with yer mother cos she's dirty".
Or there's this from Step On: "You're twistin' my melon man, you know you talk so hip man, you're twistin' my melon man".
And from Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Wit: "Everyone I know is on some kind of pill/Most of my friends are mentally ill."
He was clearly a man with an imagination, and a life that would seem imaginary to many. "I still get five offers a day off the biggest nutcases around," he told the Observer in 2007, "asking me who I want murdered."
It was around that year that Shaun came off methadone but in a typical Shaun Ryder twist, he didn't just come off methadone, he came off it, he said famously, because he was "kidnapped by aliens".
Shaun put the abduction to the Amazonian rainforest after a Happy Mondays gig in Denmark in context: when he was a teenager in Manchester he saw a UFO. "And once they see you, they do keep a check on you."
You could argue that Shaun's life has been one big long ride in a UFO ever since. He doesn't seem a man after redemption, even by aliens. But he has put together the original line-up of Happy Mondays -- Bez, Gary Whelan, Mark Day, Paul Davies, Paul Ryder, X Factor's Rowetta. This will be their first tour in almost two decades.
The band split, acrimoniously, after 11 years and four albums in 1992. "You could say it's big news," says Shaun with a laugh. He starred in I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here in 2010 and wrote an autobiography last year.
"After the Stone Roses thing," he says, referring to the other maharajahs of Madchester reforming, "my manager and me started getting offers. Ours is a little bit different to the Roses, we did it in 1999, 2000 and 2004, 2006. You get these offers in but this is the original full line-up. That is something different we haven't done.We are all older, no problems with each other. A lot of us hadn't seen each other or been in the same room for 19 years."
It has been big news though. The Happy Mondays' show in Dublin sold out so quickly that the band added another another one due to the phenomenal demand. It should be two nights of, ahem, great crack.
Happy Mondays play the Olympia Theatre on May 14 and 15.
The Stone Roses play the Phoenix Park on July 5. This is already sold out.