Shaun Ryder: “I’d forgotten I had made this album”
After making it big in reality TV, Madchester’s Mad Hatter is back with his first solo album in 18 years – a “delusional ADHD Sgt. Pepper”. His words, not ours.
The lost boy of baggy is sitting in a posh restaurant just outside the Television Centre in Shepherd’s Bush. There are bright orange Veuve Clicquot-branded umbrellas, business meetings held over iPads, daytime schmoozers sipping from champagne flutes.
Nestled amongst them, here’s Shaun Ryder: sunglasses wrapped around head (bald), whiskey (neat), buttoned-up white polo top (neater), furiously vaping, decent watch on his wrist.
Ryder turns 59 next week. It’s 40 years since he started out as Happy Mondays’ frontman, and only a few years less since he became one of the leading faces – and gobs – of Manchester’s acid house/indie-dance scene, all baggied up, swearing on live television and heading a psychedelic revival led by free love, swaying moves and hyper-strong pills.
At their creative and commercial peak, the Mondays released albums Bummed (1988) and Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches (1990) to five-star acclaim as house, alt-dance and Balearic beats became the zeitgeisty sound of hedonistic ’90s yoof.
Then there were the drugs. Lots of them. Heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, sex, booze, getting so off your nut you forgotwhatyercametodo. Such epic overindulgence would eventually, quelle surprise, lead to the band’s break-up in 1992. 24-hour party people, proper.
These days, though, Ryder is a (mostly) reformed character, as comfortable on the box (I’m A Celebrity…, Celebrity Juice, Celebrity Mastermind, Celebrity Gogglebox, even some shows without the word “Celebrity” in the title) as he was fronting Palace’s Happy Mondays collab in September last year. Since finishing in second place in the jungle in 2010 (he lost to Stacey Solomon) he’s become an unlikely household name in reality TV, most recently bringing his brilliantly blunt wit to Gogglebox alongside long-time wingman and Mondays bandmate Bez.
“We’ve been in a fucking 40-odd year sexless marriage and now we get paid to do one of my favourite things,” Ryder says with a gravelly chuckle, “which is have a drink and shout at the telly! It’s great.”
Right now, though, that’s all changing. Taking his arse off the sofa, Our Shaun is releasing his first solo album since 2003’s exhilarating Amateur Night in the Big Top. Back then, Ryder was still on the gear and had been touring Australia. Off his rocker, he claims he didn’t even know he was recording a solo album.
“I was full of every drug you can possibly imagine, and I decided to stay in Australia and get off it,” he remembers (just). “For some mad reason, my cousin Pete thought it would be a great idea to get every conscious thought of my head, spew it all out, record it and put it into some music. I wasn’t even thinking: ‘This is Shaun Ryder’s first solo album.’”
Sounds like he wasn’t thinking at all. But by the time he got back to the UK, the press was going on about Ryder’s long-awaited debut as a one-man show. “I didn’t even realise the gravity of that. To me, it was an experiment. So I class this as my first solo album.”
“This” is Visits From Future Technology. It’s a potent, 11-track patchwork of grizzly humour, Salford lilts and killer grooves kicking off with the Stones-sounding Mambo Jambo, floating into funky Close the Dam, hopping over jangly, clap-happy Honey Put the Kettle On and ending on a wobbly comedown with Clubbing Rabbits.
He had a bit of help from his mates, too. Robbie Williams for one.
“Robbie had sent a track he wanted to do something on, so I did that,” says Ryder matter-of-factly. “Then one came in from Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Tricky… Who else? Can’t leave them out…” Ryder metaphorically scratches his big old bonce. “Oh! Noel [Gallagher].”
Still, all this took the best part of 10 years. Alan McGee, the music industry legend and co-founder of Creation records, encouraged Ryder to hurry up and release it. After re-doing a couple of vocals and with some judicious remastering by long-time collaborator and original producer Sunny Levine, it was ready.
“We didn’t mess about with it too much, and then it was done and McGee said: ‘Right, let’s get it out.’”
Well, if the man who discovered Oasis tells you to jump, you jump, right?
How’s your year been, Shaun?
I hate to say this because people have had such a hard time, you know what I mean? Fucking locked up on the 21st floor of tower blocks of flats and not everyone is lucky enough to have gardens and whatnot. But I’ve had a pretty decent time. I haven’t spent this much time at home in 20-odd years. It was great. A well-deserved holiday, weren’t it?
What kept you busy?
I did a few fucking voiceovers, a few adverts and I did a hell of a lot of talking to people about albums and all the things. And then, of course, this album.
So you actually recorded the bulk of the album 10 years ago. I heard you found it in the back of your sofa while spring cleaning.
No, no, that was [journalist] John Robb’s humour. It got totally forgotten about and it was McGee that really said [I should] go and have a mess with it. I don’t really do any cleaning.
So the last time you’d listened to it properly was 10 years ago?
Yeah, something like that. The older you get, time goes really quick. When you were at school, those five years at school were like 20 years. Now, those five years go just like that. I get asked: “Oh, you’re writing about different things now?” Well, no, I still write about the same old shit.
But from a different perspective?
Well, no. To me, it does feel like yesterday. When we finished the album, we had comments like ‘it’s under-produced’ and it’s this and needs that. Me and Sunny [Levine] didn’t want an album to sound like other people’s albums. Sunny knows what he’s doing, he was tea-boy on the Thriller album, if you know what I mean. His granddad is Quincy Jones, and his dad is Stuart Levine – so Sunny knows how he’s producing and what he’s doing. But a lot of people didn’t get that sound and what was done on that album in 2010. We got a lot of negativity. To me, it was five minutes since we finished that, even though it was 10 or 11 years ago.
You call the album your Sgt. Pepper…
It’s my delusional ADHD Sgt. Pepper. It’s nothing like Sgt. fucking Pepper, apart from the fact that on Sgt. Pepper, there are also very different types of songs.
How do you feel about being called a national treasure these days?
It’s better than “that twat” or “that junkie knobhead”, ain’t it? I mean, it’s great. It’s nice, better than being called a dickhead, so I can live with it.
What do you reckon makes you a national treasure?
I’ve been around now in the media going on 40 fucking years. The band started in ’81 so I’ve been around for a long time.
What are you watching on the tele these days??
I watch a lot of stuff. My favourite thing is that one on Netflix about the cops who invented these serial killer things… What’s it called?
Yeah! It’s brilliant. It’s set in America in the late ’60s, early ’70s and is basically about two FBI agents and how they came up with profiling for serial killers. They went around interviewing Manson and all that. [One of them] basically got this squad together to go find out what makes serial killers, and then used all that stuff that the serial killers [to help] the cops – and it’s true. It’s real!
Wrote For Luck, Kinky Afro, Step On – your classic Nineties bangers: do you still listen to them?
I don’t listen to anything I put out. As soon as I walk out of the studio working on something, I don’t listen to it again. We took the Bummed album out on tour four or five years ago and I hadn’t listened to the album since we finished it in ’88. And I had to listen to it to relearn it, to get a feel of what was going on. I come out of a studio after doing something and I think: “I can do better than that.” I’m one of those guys that, if I wasn’t told to quit it and get out the studio, I would still be fucking about with the tracks 10 years later. I’m hard on myself.
As a proud Manc, what do you make of Andy Burnham?
I’m right behind Andy. Me and McGee have spent the last two years trying to convince Andy to go and run as [Labour] leader. We’re always texting him saying: ‘Go for it, go for it!’ I think he was well fed up with us. He’s the only person who’s got a chance of taking Labour [to power]. Not only is he really honest and he doesn’t talk like a politician, and he doesn’t babble bullshit, but you ask him a question and get the answer. Ninety per cent of the time, he’ll tell you how it is. He’s the only chance Labour’s got. I don’t give a fuck about anybody else.
He’s got the presence of a screwdriver.
*Shaun’s fancy sea bass arrives*
Right, I’ll leave you to it, Shaun. Enjoy your lunch.
See ya later, mate.