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Wednesday 21 March 2018

The ecstasy and the agony

You could be forgiven for thinking that the whole Madchester scene of the Hacienda, Factory Records and the Happy Mondays has been overly mythologised and romanticised.

Hasn't the late Tony Wilson's book 24 Hour Party People and the film of the same name offered the definitive account of those heady days in Manchester in the 1980s and 1990s?

And wasn't the euphoric haze of the Second Summer of Love in 1988 supposed to be all about living in -- and for -- the moment? So why the nostalgia overload? Well, if you fancy hearing the story told one more time with feeling, then Shaun Ryder's just-published autobiography Twisting My Melon is an incredibly entertaining trip down memory lane.

The happy-go-lucky Happy Mondays and Black Grape frontman helped change the whole cultural landscape in the UK and beyond -- what clothes people wore, what music they listened to, what drugs they took.

The phrase 24 Hour Party People came, of course, from the Mondays' debut album and it referred to Ryder's own band, their crew and ever-mushrooming band of hangers-on and ne'er-do-wells that surrounded the group.

As he tells it in his memoir, it was Ryder himself and his mates who smuggled the first ecstasy pills into the UK from Amsterdam. That, in tandem with the new sounds emanating from the dancefloors of Ibiza, would help tilt the music world on its axis.

Quite how Ryder continually escaped both the clutches of the long arm of the law and the short fuse of the gangs is a mystery greater than the Third Secret of Fatima. Of course, his dedication to head-frying hedonism had its costs, both human and financial, and the sense of unremitting chaos meant that he was continually falling out with friends, lovers, bandmates and managers.

That the Happy Mondays managed to make the albums they made and do the world tours they did given the lifestyle they led is actually quite astonishing.

Like The Smiths before them and Oasis after them, the Happy Mondays' core members grew up in impoverished Irish immigrant households in working class suburbs of Manchester.

Ryder is clearly very proud of his Salford roots, even though he was forced to grow up fast to survive. Unable to read the alphabet when he left school, Ryder resorted to not entirely legal methods to keep the wolf from the door.

Indeed, you get the impression that the band he formed with his best friend Bez was initially just a sideshow to the serious business of acquiring the humongous medicine cabinet of narcotics that he burned through.

Inevitably this idea of the lovable, drug-addled rogue became a caricature that Ryder could not escape -- even to this day. But there was no doubting his star quality. Now we're living in the age of bland, squeaky clean 'career rock stars', with their trophy Hollywood wives and do-goody charity projects. They never say a word out of line and make sure that all the rough edges have been smoothed over.

Shaun Ryder, by comparison, had that whiff of danger -- there was an edge to the man and his music that wasn't faked. He had personality. He had the spirit of rock'n'roll -- even though he couldn't really sing or play an instrument.

He had an ear for tying various musical strands together -- the Mondays inter-bred funk, punk, hip-hop, indie and house music into a spicy, tasty stew that lifted promiscuously from the past even as it helped create the future. And some of his lyrics were hilarious. Even after the Mondays split up in acrimony, he returned triumphantly to the top of the charts with Black Grape in the mid-1990s, proving he was no one-trick pony.

Eventually, 30 years of caning it took its toll and Ryder finally kicked the drug habits of a lifetime, finding domestic bliss with his current wife Joanne and their children. These days, he's more widely known as a reality TV star, having braved the Australian jungle in I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! -- and finishing as runner-up to X Factor's Stacey Solomon.

In the book, there's a caption under a photo of him and one of his fellow contestants in the jungle.

It reads: "Me eating kangaroo cock or something. Whatever I had to eat, it was a piece of piss compared to having to spend time with Gillian McKeith."

Now he has a new solo album primed for next year and is playing Dublin's Village on December 10 with his backing band. These days he tours and records as Shaun William Ryder, though he still plays old Mondays and Black Grape classics.

Just don't expect him to eat any more kangaroo cock.

Twisting My Melon is published by Transworld; Shaun Ryder plays The Village on December 10


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