For best part of three years bridging the late eighties and early nineties the Happy Mondays were the most dynamic force in rock music and street culture. That is, until the band's reign over British youth tastes was abruptly terminated by Shaun Ryder's untimely decision to go out and score some badly needed H. Shaun's trip in search of drugs was euphemistically described as `going for a Chinese meal' but whether it was a bag of prawn crackers or China White it cost the band a £7million deal with EMI Records.
The man from the record company had been patiently waiting with the rest of the band for the singer to show up for a demo rehearsal in order to clinch the deal. `Sorry guys' stated the exec `If Shaun can't turn up for a meeting over seven extra large, then …' You get the picture. Shaun's antics and adventures are well documented and have long since passed into rock excess legend. So much so that you might be forgiven for thinking that Shaun Ryder was the Happy Mondays with just a little help from Bez. But the band was co-founded, named and creatively underscored by Shaun's younger, now more sober, bassist brother, Paul.
Ask Paul about his early childhood and his relationship with Shaun and the most apparent element is the amount of love that there has always been, and still exists, for the brother from whom he has now been estranged for some seven years.
They are the product of two musically gifted parents who instilled in young Paul a default appreciation of Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Their father, Derek, had the ability to play virtually any instrument and was himself in a schoolboy skiffle band, and later a folk group. Paul absorbed further influence courtesy of his large extended Catholic family.
"We would go to my aunty Mary's in Little Hulton" he recalls "There were nine of them all older than me so I got exposed to my cousin Pete's 3000 plus – seriously - record collection. It had everything from 1940s Blue Grass, to Philadelphia Stax. At the same time Pete's sisters were listening to Tamla Motown in the next room."
Paul wanted to be in a band from the time he saw David Bowie doing Star Man on Top of the Pops with that big, blue acoustic guitar. But, getting up on stage was the last thing I would have expected from him as he's quite shy. Paul corrects me…
"No, no, I am embarrassingly shy…That's why I used to take copious amount of drugs before I went on stage…With Shaun being a Leo and older he was so much more the extrovert, and from what I know he always loved the attention."
Most of all, they both loved music but it was never spoken about until the infamous day when Shaun came back from the Bluebell in Monton where he'd met Mike Sweeney of the Salford Jets and told him that he was in a band.
"Shaun wasn't in a band but I remember him coming in from the pub saying `I've just met Sweeney, I've told him we've got a band and he's said we can support them'…And I was like `What! What! You can't play anything!'….`Well I'll be the singer' he says `And you've got a bass'"
"I'd had this bass since I was13" Paul adds "I got it for my birthday and it had been gathering dust ever since. Shaun says `Learn how to play it!' And I'm like `What by next week?' So that's where the inception of a band came from, Shaun talking bollocks to Mike Sweeney."
"We never got to support the Salford Jets" Paul laughs "And I think after that if we ever saw Mike Sweeney in the pub Shaun would end up swerving him. But later we did go and see them at the Duke of Welly on the top road in Swinton and it was good because here were musicians playing in our local pub and it encouraged us to think we could do it."
It was another year and half before they formed a proper band, with Shaun singing, Paul on bass, a drum machine, and their cousin Matt. Then the brother's dad introduced them to guitarist Mark Day
"We started to meet up in Mark's loft and we were really impressed because he knew chords" recalls Paul.
So did you never take any lessons?
"It's only in the past few years I've started to appreciate what chords are…"
What, all through the Mondays ?
"I only just learnt in the past few years what the different strings were…I'd call them the fat one, the thin one and the one down from the fat one. That's why it was great having Mark because he would say `Its on G7 major' and I'd say `What string is it on ?' Mark would point `The one in the middle, third fret down'…`What's a fret?' But I did have this ability to put a record on, listen to it and fumble around the strings. That must come off my dad's side, he was self taught and when I was listening to Joy Division stuff I quickly worked out that Hooky's bass lines were played on one finger."
In the following months Matt dropped out and after having had eight months of the drum machine they found a drummer through Shaun's girlfriend Denise, who later became his wife. They told 15 year old Gaz Whelan he had a week to learn three songs, so he took a week off school and was in. He was accompanied to the audition by Paul Davis, who brazenly declared that he was going to join, and elected himself keyboard player, even though he couldn't play anything.
At that time the band were called Avant Garde which they dropped in favour of Penguin Dice, until Paul dreamed up Happy Mondays. It had nothing to do with New Order's Blue Monday track, and everything to do with the arrival of Paul's Giro. After signing on, on Friday, the Giro was supposed to arrive Saturday morning, and never did, but it dropped through the letter box on Monday, hence Happy Mondays. Paul had the presence of mind to register himself as the sole owner of the name. That means that all use of the name is subject to Paul's approval, a source of income for Paul and irritation to Shaun.
The lads had by this time all left their jobs at the post office and signed up to the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, courtesy of their first manager Phil Saxe who put a thousand pounds into each of the boys' accounts before withdrawing the cash the following day. Paul explains that as long as you could show that you had a one large in the bank you could sign off the dole for a year and get on with running a business.
We both reflect that the Mondays were a product of Maggie Thatcher's benign benefits regime, and the irony that under Blair bands like the Mondays would not have had the financial safety net to help them get on with the business of rock and roll. The years of being poor and living close to the edge had instilled in the group a communal spirit in which no one had the lead and everybody rallied round when one or the other was out of funds. From the outset the Happy Mondays' ethos was a cross between The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and the musketeers - all for one, one for all.
For years all the royalties were split equally until the arrival of Phil Saxe's replacement as manager, Nathan McGough. Nathan duly informed Shaun that as the lyricist he was entitled to 50% of the royalties, so putting an end to the communistic profit share.
Being able to concentrate on music one hundred per cent of the time meant the band became tight and valediction came early with the release of the Mondays' first single in 1983. It followed a gig at the then struggling Hacienda, which facilitated the band's first meeting with music guru Tony Wilson. Paul describes Tony in glowing terms, citing him as their mentor.
"When all is said about Tony, he's a Salford lad and he gave us lads from Salford a chance" says Paul, quickly adding that Wilson's berating him to support his brother via a newspaper letters page was out of order.
"Nobody tells me about how to behave towards my brother" he explains "Everybody else will tell him he's great, everything's fine, because they don't really care like I care. I love him he's my brother and if I see something's wrong then I'll say it because I love him."
Is he referring to the addiction?
"Amongst other things, yeah".
Does he think that's what's been at the route of Shaun's problem, the fact that he surrounded himself with too many yes men?
"Completely" he says "Looking back on those days we were surrounded by all these liggers, who I thought of as the dark forces. There was a lot of money went missing, a lot of it happened after we split. One minute you're on Top of the Pops and playing the Madison Square Gardens NYC, the next thing you've got no wages and everything is in liquidation."
Were the Mondays' fortunes not too tied up with Factory Records?
"By this time we were contracted to do a fourth album with Factory, after Pills Thrills and Bellyaches" he recalls "And it just went mental with hits, appearances bigger venues. New Order were on a five year break and the Mondays were the only earners for Factory. But they moved into new offices, they were signing other bands like Northside and the Wendys. And it was obviously going tits up. But the great thing about Tony was that he phoned up Nathan and said `This is how you get out of the contract…You do this, this and this, so we don't take you down with us'. Then that left us free to go with who we wanted."
So who did you go with?
"Well that's were it went tits up for us…"
Do you mean the… Chinese takeaway?
"Yeah. band members started to lose confidence despite our Yes Please album being in the top ten. Then to compound matters there was the backlash against us in the NME, because of a journalist overheard a throwaway comment by Bez that he didn't like gays. There was no real truth to that, Bez had loads of gay friends but this all served to fuel the paranoia among certain band members. I said `Calm down, let's regroup, write some new songs' and hats off to Nathan he got the head of EMI down. All we had to do was play these four songs for him. It was a no brainer...
"So we're all there, minus Shaun, going `Yeah, our kid will be here in a minute'… half an hour later…`Don't worry he's always late, don't worry he's coming'…Three hours later Shaun pops his head in the door…everybody going `Where the f**k have you been, you dick, he's offering seven million quid here, all you got to do is play four songs'…By this time he'd got himself a raging heroin habit, he was in withdrawal and when you're in withdrawal from heroin you can't do anything and it's just bad timing that on that day every dealer in Manchester had their phone switched off. That's why he was late! Turns up 'cos he knew we'd be going mental, made his excuses to the guy…`Sorry I had a really bad night last night…I'm just gonna get something to eat…'
So after that it all seemed to implode?
"We had two gigs to do in Japan, and I found out years later that Mark Day and Gaz Whelan are conspiring to leave the Mondays and hire our one of our roadies to be their singer because they were so annoyed with Shaun. By this time I've also got myself a heroin habit. I'd tried it years earlier and I thought it was awful.
But when I realised my marriage was over I went straight round to our kids and said `Get me some gear'. I needed to blot out the pain."
How come Shaun seemed able to function and you didn't?
"Because more people wanted to know Shaun, the fact he was the front man, more people were prepared to take a risk with him" comes the reply.
After the dust had settled on the first Mondays split, the two brothers collaborated first on Black Grape and then on Happy Mondays' reunions, but these were brief interludes punctuated by fallouts that saw Paul throw a chest of drawers out of Shaun's bedroom window, following Shaun's goading at an early Black Grape rehearsal. They came together again for the Mondays' reunion in 1999 but Shaun was even more abusive to Paul. On stage Paul was not in a position to respond, having no mic, and his brother also exerted pressure to continue with drug use, berating his attempts to stop.
"I had to walk away from the Mondays a second time" explains Paul "Otherwise I would have ended up killing myself…or killing him."
Paul has had a rougher heroin trip than his brother, but unlike his sibling he is now clean, thanks to the discovery of a wonder herb called ibogaine. He tried to get Shaun interested but thinks he seems happy to continue as he is.
"Shaun thinks he alright cos he's got new teeth…`Look I've got new teeth, I'm fine!'" Paul mocks "`But what about the valium…the booze?'…`But look at me new teeth'…"
So what was Paul's lowest point during his addiction?
"I'd split up with Donavan's daughter, Astrella, after five years and I was just living from one fix to the next" he recalls "Shortly after that I was sectioned and went into Meadow Brook psychiatric ward at Hope Hospital. I was just sat there unable to respond to anything. I thought `This is it, this is what my life is gonna be now'...
"Thanks to the efforts of the staff I managed to temporarily recover, but the following ten years were a carousel of heroin and methadone degradation followed by cure followed by addiction again…"
So how did he find ibogaine and what's so different about it?
"Ibogaine finds you" he explains "My wife was in New York visiting her old flat in Greenwich Village and she saw this herb and some write up in a shop window and noted it down. For ibogaine to work, you've got to want to quit. It completely re-programmes the brain, puts it back to the way it was before you started using. It also detoxes the body without the horrible pain that comes with cold turkey."
He explains that the herb comes from the root of a tree found in West Africa, and, though legal in Europe, it is not widely available. Meanwhile, in the States the Food and Drugs Agency have made ibogaine illegal following intense lobbying from the pharmaceutical industry. Paul reckons they they're worried about the affect that such a cure will have on the industry's ability to make billions from addiction.
"Imagine what the fall in methadone and valium sales across the world would do to their profits" says Paul. But for him it has been a saviour and for this reason he and his TV producer wife Angela are hoping to make a documentary so its benefits can be shared with millions of other addicts.
Paul claims that ibogaine, with the love of his family including his four children, has turned his life around. So much so that following encouragement from Ian Brown, Paul will be leading his new band Big Arm on stage supporting Brown's tour in September. It coincides with the release of a single, Flashbacks, off the album Radiator.
His only regret is that reconciliation with Shaun seems further away than ever. Could I help, I ask, by perhaps banging your heads together?
"It's been tried" says Paul "The last time was when we were both at a mate's wedding and Liam Gallagher came over and persuaded me into going over and making it up…`Brothers shouldn't fall out' Liam said `Me and Noel argue all the time but we don't end up not speaking, we get over it and make up'".
After thirty minutes of trying to convince Liam that Shaun wouldn't have it, Paul relented and went over to his brother, whose first words to him were a Manningesque `What's up nigger?'. Paul persisted but to no avail. On learning of Shaun's reaction, Liam said `The difference between me and Noel, and you and Shaun is that with us there's no heroin involved'.
That's the way it stands and though Paul is now firmly looking to a bright and creative future with his life back on track, his overriding hope is that one day Shaun will see the light and kick out the stuff that has come between them.
See www.bigarm.co.uk and www.myspace.com/bigarmband