We’re sat talking about Dysfunktional Uncle, the first Happy Mondays release for 12 years, and the question kind of pops up about why it’s taken so long to get the album out. Shaun leans forward.
“Because of legal problems” he growls through newly shining teeth “Because my brother made it difficult for us…”
He knows that his brother Paul is giving his side of the Ryder sibling split on the next page…
“He walked out on our band. We stayed together and he thought he was going to be a solo artist. He actually turned around and said that I’m the luckiest person in show business because I’m talentless and can’t write. He made a mistake. We all make mistakes but then he wouldn’t let it go…He was like a terrier, he’d got his teeth into it and he wouldn’t let it go. He’s going to make everyone else suffer because of his mistake…”
Still not speaking to each other then ?
As Shaun pauses to draw breath, Gaz tries to restrain him, he knows what’s coming…”Oh no…don’t…” he pleads…
“No, I don’t go slagging my own family off” Shaun spits “It’s sad really because he’s such an unhappy bunny…so unhappy….At the end of the day our kid is a fighter and it’s all for the wrong reasons. He seems to be very angry…Put it this way, we have an album there and we think it’s a great album but if it was up to him it wouldn’t have come out. And he’s stopping me from working, Gaz from working, his cousins from working, his family from working. We still keep it all in the family firm…”
Even with only half of the firm on board the new Happy Mondays launch, the album has been worth waiting for. It’s a funny, funky, sleazy, weirdly sexual slice of Shaun’s brain, punctuated by groovy, moody beats, wailing police sirens and squealing car alarms. If the druggy, re-habby subject matter of the last few Mondays albums saw Shaun reeling about feeding monkeys and stinkin’ thinkin’ this one is straight back to the bad boy, raucous, rude boy roots…`I love the dysfunctional…I like to make you feel uncomfortable’ …`Happy Mondays in the air…We’re deeeeeviants…’
It might be over twenty years since the Salford band first burst bubblegum pop but the edge is still there …and taking listeners’ psyches back to exciting smoky basement clubs. Today we’re nowhere near a smoky basement. We’re sat at the last smoking table at the Midland hotel in Manc-land, and, in true 2007 Manc style, The Midland is full of poshkies in black ties and evening dresses about to go to the opera or somewhere. On the next table sits Jeffrey Archer with his guffawing cronies…It’s been a whole history of Happy Mondays zooming from the back streets of Salford to international superstardom but they still don’t sit comfortable in this world. Thank god.
Shaun Ryder, looking sassy and as lucid as ever, must have visited every top hotel on the planet and every drug planet in the universe but right now he’s taking refuge in Christopher Eccleston’s account of hometown LH in the first issue of Salford Star. And loving the actor’s quote about Salford people not having “chips on our shoulders”…
“We lived on the same road as Christopher Eccleston, his family lived right opposite us on Coniston Avenue where I was born but I don’t remember him at all” he says “All I remember was that every criminal moved to LH because the police didn’t even come up there. It’s true.”
Little Hulton, on Salford’s outpost border with Bolton, was used in the sixties and seventies as an overspill during the city’s last failed redevelopment. As a piece of social engineering all it did was force Shaun and co to engineer a way out of the place.
“It was just one big council estate” he explains “Some people used to go up to Bolton and Farnworth but we went straight back down the road to Salford. Bolton just wasn’t us – they had different accents, they seemed not to have the fashion sense…we looked upon them as backwards.“
Originally from Greengate, the Ryder family had got a house in LH but the Ryder kids were often staying with their gran in Swinton, and ended up going to Ambrose Barlow school in pig town, where the core of the band was formed.
“Everyone says we’re from Little Hulton but my dad’s from Lower Broughton, my mum’s from Ordsall and we lived in Swinton” says Gaz “Bez went to school in Swinton too.”
After leaving school “officially at 15 but really at 13” Shaun’s dad got him a job as a postman in LH, delivering mail to the area where Peter Hook’s mum lived on Cartleach.
“I knew Peter Hook was from somewhere round our way and I’d get these postcards from Spain and places like that which I’d read” Shaun recalls “…I’d go `Wow, Joy Division! And here’s a postcard for his mam and dad !’…And it went in my pocket. It never got to his mam’s house.”
The job didn’t last long…
“At 16 years old we had to move from round there because Salford City Council wouldn’t give anyone flats or houses…they spent all their budget on cocaine, I’m sure, or bribing gangsters” Shaun laughs “We moved well away because we just didn’t get any help – no help off the Council, no help from anybody, that’s why we moved… to Fallowfield, to Rusholme, to get on the housing list and get somewhere to live.”
Even so, their home city’s reputation followed the band around the globe. After some bad experiences coming back from Amsterdam in his teens, Shaun had `Swinton, Manchester’ on his passport as place of birth by the time the Mondays toured the States for the first time in ’86.
“If Salford was on my passport I’d be wiped up; if Little Hulton was on my passport I’d be wiped up…It was only years later when it got challenged and they said `Your true place of birth is Little Hulton’…I remember getting wiped up in Dover when I was 16 and the police saying `You’re not from Little Hulton, you haven’t got a police record’”…
While Happy Mondays were always seen as the purest Manchester,or Madchester, band, everything about them and that whole `scene’ was imported and fired by the burning attitude of Salfordians - from Tony Wilson, to Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Mark E Smith, to artists Matt and Pat Carroll of Central Station, who gave graphic front to the whole Madchester thing. Without this lot, and the birth of the Hac, New Order, The Fall and freaky dancing, Manchester would still be a crumbling grey backwater. Rather than the shiny, greedy, glass megabucks monster that’s trying to eat the city across the Irwell. Somehow, Salford’s street glam got lost in the process. But neither Shaun nor Gaz are having it that the Mancs nicked everything…
“You can’t say that, it was cosmopolitan” says Shaun. What they will acknowledge is the affect of putting Salford kids slap bang in the middle of the world wide music industry…
“They really didn’t have a clue where people like us were coming from” says Shaun “When we went over to America in 1986 for the original In The City it was all `You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that’ but we couldn’t really give a flying fart – to us it was just getting on a plane and going over there – if a gig was cancelled so what ? And the word went round that we were `difficult’
“But the most thing we were excited about in 1986” he adds “was that we’d heard of this drug called crack cocaine and we were more into going to America and smoking crack cocaine than playing a gig – that’s how naïve and stupid we were.”
They contrast this with those other so-called bad boys of pop, the over-privileged yanks, the Beastie Boys…
“I don’t think there’s one accountant out of our fathers” sneers Shaun “My old bloke was a postman, yours was an electrician…”
“Yeah” sneers Gaz “They all met in school in Switzerland. We all met at school in Swinton…”
And that was, and still is, the global appeal of the Mondays – that they were just kids from Salford who got up and had a go without thinking too hard about it. It made everything fresh, punk-style simple and fun, from the sounds to the lyrics to the anti-fashion…Shaun explains:
“When we got our first front cover in Melody Maker in 1986 I thought `Wait a minute, I’ve got to get up in the morning, I’ve got to go out, go and get some weed, score this, do that…be a nob’ead on the street…and there’s my kipper all over a music paper...I’m not having that’…so I put my hood up. On our first cover shot you couldn’t even see me ‘cos I’ve got my hood up…”
“A hoody” laughs Gaz “In 1986!”
A fashion was born. It was the same with the Mondays’ lyrics. Shaun isn’t having the `poet’ tag, even though his plea on the last Mondays’ album, Yes Please!, was the most lyrical rock reasoning ever to accusations of addiction…`I had to make the grass more greener, I had to make the sky more blue…’ Forget the drugs, he could have been talking for everyone in 90s Salford, and beyond.
Shaun puts on a posh voice…”I’m not prepared to discuss my lyrics” he mocks. And then discusses them.
“It’s like everything I ever wrote was comic strip lyrics. I’ve never written `I love you, you love me love, love love me do boo hoo hoo’ type stuff…Even when we calmed down a little bit making Stinkin Thinkin’, we kept it nasty with the lyrics.
“I grew up surrounded by shit going on” he explains “and if you want to write about what’s going on around you or what means things to you, then I’m not going to write `suchabody did this’ so basically you’re writing in double meanings – henny penny cocky locky goosey goose…they’re a bunch of stoned motherf**kers who are always round your gaff selling you things – you can’t come out with his name or that name so you write in code which then gets to be really hilarious.”
Just don’t try and work out the code for Jellybean, the first track on Uncle Dysfunktional, which sees Shaun transform into a rampant woman…`Now that I’m naked I’m a lady…and now that I’m a lady I’m so freeeeee’…
Generally, though, the Mondays allow anyone to slip into their experience. They’re inclusive and unprecious about their work. Shaun’s proud that as influences he can site Showaddywaddy, Led Zep and Beethoven in the same breath as break beat collections Elecro 1 and 2, as well as the more obvious Joy Division, The Doors and the Sex Pistols.
“The Mondays were just getting in the charts as Take That were coming up and we would never have slagged them off because they were working class kids having a go in the music business doing what they were good at” says Shaun “Most kids in boy bands aren’t privileged swotty little rich kids – I’ve got more in common with Take That than I have with some dead street cred band that are all middle class tw*ts.“
The subject of class constantly punctuates Shaun’s chat. Maybe the Midland hotel has got his back up or maybe all this talk of LH has brought back the roots. From nowhere he launches into how the Salford attitude met the Wild West.
“How come no-one’s made the movie ?” he asks “You’ve got these great Sioux chiefs and braves doing a travelling roadshow, and while they’re here it comes up on top one day that the American government want them back to answer charges of war crimes after they beat General Custer. They camp on the Irwell and then disappear into Salford and were never seen again.
“The people say `They are great warriors not war criminals’. The reason why all these braves were never sent back to America was that the people of Salford said `F*ck off!’. They had loads of kids here and a lot of them are buried at Pendleton Church…but even now no-one’s saying nothing.”
…”That’s why people from Salford know there’s something special about them” says Gaz “Must be all that Indian blood…”
Which brings us back to why Salford has produced so many creative people. Why is the place so different from Manc-land ? It’s like two different planets.
“Salford’s like Manchester’s East End” Gaz offers “I live in South Manchester and people there call Salfordians `scousers’ – must be the docks. I was out talking to someone I’d known for 12 years and she asked where I grew up. When I said Salford she went `That explains everything’…and then about three others agreed with her.”
“…But we don’t have chips on our shoulders” Shaun laughs.
While the Ryder family have moved from LH to Worsley now, none of the remaining Mondays still live in Salford. Shaun and Bez live somewhere out in the wilds of Derbyshire, and Gaz lives in Levenshulme after spending four years in Perth setting up an Australian record label with the older brother of Matt and Pat Carroll. Gaz returned to Britain when the band started touring again and to address the mountain of legal mess.
“We had 17 cases to sort out” he explains “There’s been loads of stuff right across the board…We didn’t have management and with the advent of the internet, people were registering our name, booking gigs in America, and basically just making money out of us. All apart from two legal cases are sorted now.”
It’s allowed the Mondays to be re-born.
“We had a guy in London who was looking after us for a bit and he had a club and a studio” says Gaz “We used to go in there putting a few tracks down and some great vocals, and before we knew it we had eight or nine songs. We re-recorded them with Sony Levine, whose granddad is Quincy Jones who did Thriller, and Howie B who’s worked with Bjork and U2.
“When I first heard the finished album I was saying that it sounded like country hiphop but having listened to it again it’s nothing like that – it’s still got that punk gene, it’s still got that rawness. It’s never going to be a nice sound.”
It’s a sound that fired a whole generation, and the last Big Credible Pop Cult Thing. As Shaun says, it still sounds cool because, like the Velvet Underground or Funkadelic, it was so off its head originally.
“A lot of the bands that are coming up today are still feeding off that” says Shaun “They’re still a part of that.”
So did the Mondays ever think they’d last this long ?
“Actually, yeah” says Shaun “But it’s not as simple as that. When we were kids and we started off, of course you read things like `This band lasted ten years and then split up’, and, as kids we said we would always stick together…But then obviously other people in the band came and had these ideas…”
“You don’t get married thinking you’re going to get divorced in two years do you ?” adds Gaz.
It’s easy to forget that this is a band split in half, with original Mondays’ members Mark Day, Paul Davis and Paul Ryder all missing. What’s left is the drummer, the dancer and the singer. So why are the Mondays still doing it ?
“Because I love going into the studio and creating music” says Shaun “Gaz will tell you this – I never wanted to do a gig, I wanted to keep it all for us in the studio, but if you create music you’ve then got to go out and promote it…As long as we can make albums – that’s what it’s all about.”
And, with Uncle Dysfunktional in tow, the Mondays are still “keeping it