Shaun Ryder

Exclusive interview with Shaun Ryder

by Karen Shaw

Easy Ryder

An Evening with Shaun Ryder in my twenties would have been a wild night. An Evening with Shaun Ryder in my thirties would have made my blood run cold, but how will An Evening with Shaun Ryder in my forties be? Well, I’ll find out when Shaun visits Burnley Mechanics on Saturday 9th May with his tour, yes, you’ve guessed it, An Evening with Shaun Ryder.

“At the moment I resemble Uncle Fester from the f*****g Adams’ Family”

Rough. That’s how he sounds. Rough. With a voice slightly reminiscent of a chain-smoking cheese grater. Despite his gruffly tone, he’s certainly feeling chipper!

“I’m breezin’ mate, how are you?” He asks.

Shaun is certainly happy today, and it’s not even Monday!

For those of you who have been living in a bubble, Shaun and his Happy pals were working-class lads from Salford who dominated a period in the 1980s/90s with their dodgy haircuts, baggy jeans, drugfuelled antics oh yeah, and their music. Who could forget Shaun’s gritty tone when banging out the lyrics – “You’re twistin’ my melon man, you know you talk so hip man, you’re twistin’ my melon man”? For those of you who aren’t sure what the phrase means, roughly translated it’s – “you’re confusing me with your jargon, young man!”

Happy Mondays. Credit: Paul Husband

With a string of award-winning music with the Happy Mondays and Black Grape, Shaun has also had individual success as a solo artist recording songs with Talking Heads and Russell Watson. If that wasn’t enough, he has also written two books, The Sunday Times bestseller Twisting My Melon and What Planet Am I On? His lyrics were once compared to the poetry of WB Yeats by Manchester impresario, Tony Wilson… not bad going for a lad who spent most of his school life smoking and picking up crisp packets.

An Evening with Shaun Ryder is currently touring the UK and promises to be a night to remember, and now our Shaun is clean, there’s a fair chance he’ll remember it too!

The evening features an in-depth interview with the man himself, about his years in Happy Mondays and Black Grape, the Manchester music scene, and of course the notorious hell-raising antics that make Shaun such a captivating and treasured figure in British culture.

“In the eighties our fan base was Guardian readers and professionals, at the same time we were also attracting Daily Star readers and drug dealers. Nowadays, my fan base ranges from age seven to 80, there’s Mondays and Black Grape fans and some who know me from reality TV shows”.

The show enables the audience to ask Shaun questions, and one thing they can be assured of is they will get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

“I don’t have a set list of questions. There’s a different interviewer every night and there aren’t any questions that you can’t ask. I like to keep it real. It keeps me on my toes and stops it being boring.

“Some nights the audience just want to talk about drugs and other nights you get them asking, ‘What’s it like to write skiffle tunes in the key of D on a bass guitar?’

“With a mouth like a sewer, he spits out expletives as if he’s dealing cards at a casino”

Credit: Elspeth Moore

“The most common question I get asked is, ‘Do you ever get pissed off because you’re known more for drug taking than song writing?’”

Does he?

“No, not at all. You use any means you can to get in the game. I was 18 when I started the band, we (Happy Mondays) grew up in the press. I’m not putting myself in the same league as Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger or Keith Richards but just like us, they were once Rock’n’Roll kids getting up to what we did, and then we move on, that’s just part of life.

“If I was the same now as I was when I was 18, the men in the white coats would be coming to collect me. People always ask me, ‘was it better in the good old days?’

“When I look back, it was fantastic, and where I am at this time in my life is also fantastic. I’ve enjoyed being in a band and doing all the mad things that kids want to do…

“I never thought I was in danger land. I partied and took lots of drugs but was never an intravenous user. But I was lucky to have lived in a rock ’n’ roll bubble.”

Shaun’s rock n roll bubble was to burst in 1992 after his crack cocaine addiction was the catalyst responsible for breaking up the band. The Mondays were no longer Happy.

Mid-sentence he stops, goes quiet and then bellows, “I’ve gone.” His voice trails away.

“Do you mean emotionally or mentally Shaun?”

“Neither,” he replies. “What it is right, is that whoever designed this phone, designed it with the cut-off button right where my ear is, and I have big ears, so I have to be careful not to move my head, otherwise I’ll cut you off!”

Carrying on, he continues chatting about his youth. “I wouldn’t want to return to my youth and all the bullsh*t that came with it. I enjoyed it when I was young, but I’m really enjoying this stage in my life. I feel like I’m mentality there.

“I got to 40 and realised I’d been living this way since I was 15. I didn’t want to end up like one of those sad, old blokes. I mean, I’ve still got mates who are still out on the scene, still trying to pull birds, and still taking cocaine. I don’t go out. I don’t go to clubs. I work in the clubs with my Q and A tour, but that’s work. I don’t even go out in Manchester anymore.”

Halfway through my next question, he interrupts me, “Where are you from?” he chuckles. “I’m half- Barnsleyan (Barnsley),” I answer.

“Aaah, my ex-girlfriend was from Barnsley, she was mental, just like you…”

I’m going to have to watch this one.

Despite no longer being a meat eater, he goes on to chat about his favourite thing from Barnsley, the Barnsley Chop. “Doesn’t that have two chops on it, with a fillet underneath?” he asks.

I should know. But in all honesty, I don’t. This man knows his meat.

“I used to have fillet steak for breakfast I haven’t had meat for four years. Stopping eating meat, wasn’t down to animal rights, it was down to having high cholesterol. Shaun’s diet nowadays is strictly fish and vegetables. “The food I eat now is far more interesting, I love to mess around with different dishes, I have a really great diet.”

Listening to him wax lyrical, like Jamie Oliver about his love of food and the magic of vegetables, he only falls quiet when I ask him what the last meal he cooked was. “Erm, (splutters… a lot) well the wife (Joanne) does all the cooking, I do bits when I’m trying to impress her!”

“I’m dyslexic and have ADHD but nobody knew what that was when I was at school. I was always the class clown and a walking contradiction. Going to school in the 60s and 70s there was no such thing as learning difficulties, you were seen as naughty and sent outside to pick crisp packets up all day, which to any kid like me meant that I could smoke, go out for dinner or take my girlfriend behind the bike shed. If you did go to a special education unit then you’d be labelled for life as a retard.”

Luckily for Shaun his mum worked as the equivalent of a teaching assistant in both his infant and junior schools, preventing him from being entered into what Shaun refers to as a ‘retard school’.

“I left secondary school unable to read the alphabet,” says Shaun. “But, y’see, there’s different ways of learning. I was 26 years old when I learnt the alphabet. My girlfriend at the time taught it to me through singing, and I learnt it in five minutes. “It also helps me to learn when I have a stress ball in my hand, it’s called fiddling. When I have nothing in my hand, I can’t take anything in. I can’t retain any information.”

After listening to Shaun I can’t help but draw a direct comparison between Shaun and my son Frank, who, once again, has another detention for fiddling with an infinity puzzle cube (whatever one of those is!) in his History lesson, leading to it being confiscated, but, like Shaun, Frank claims it helps him to focus and concentrate.

“That’s ridiculous, they can’t take it off him. It’s called connective learning. He should be given what the f*uck he wants, be it a beach ball, rugby ball or a little cube. His teacher wants sacking!”

The line goes dead.

I call him back, “is that ear of yours up to no good again?”

With a mouth like a sewer, he spits out expletives as if he’s dealing cards at a casino. Many would call him obnoxious; some would consider him coarse, but there’s one word that I never thought I could use to describe Shaun and that’s, well, charming. He’s a wind-up merchant, and he loves banter, but there’s more than meets the eye (and imagination) to Shaun…he’s brighter than he makes out, and apart from his current tour in April he’ll begin filming the aptly named, Twisting My Melon Man a filmbased on Shaun’s 2011 autobiography, with Skins’ actor Jack O’Connell set to play Shaun, Jason Isaacs to play Ryder’s father, while Maxine Peake looks set to play his mother.

“It’s a film about a lad with special needs who didn’t make it through school, doesn’t know his alphabet, gets into a band and falls in love,” says Shaun. “It’s directed by Matt Greenhalgh who also wrote Control based on the Joy Division’s Ian Curtis and the John Lennon movie, Nowhere Boy. “It’s basically a special needs love story, but with a different slant.”

I’d heard on the rumour mill that Shaun’s mum Linda wasn’t too chuffed when she heard about the biopic, fearing she would be portrayed as a ‘downtrodden mad woman’…

“My mam’s a real snob,” scoffs Shaun. “She doesn’t think she is, but she is. My mam worries too much about what other people think. I grew up smoking weed, and it wasn’t an issue, but if other people started hearing about it, that’s when it would become a problem. My parents were married young and had me by the time they were 19. But if my mum told me to shut up, I would shut up, otherwise my dad would lay in with his fist and boots. That’s just how it was.”

A father of six, Shaun lives with his two youngest Pearl 11, and Lulu, nine, who he has to his third wife Joanne.

“I don’t hit my kids. Although, sometimes I think that the lot of them need a good hiding. With my adult children, I’ve been through them smoking weed, taking cocaine, going off to uni and what comes with that. But the day my two youngest come to me and say, ‘dad, we’re smoking weed’, I’ll be gutted. I hope that day never comes.”

Shaun sound almost ecclesiastical, some may say righteous, but that’s almost understandable considering at age 57, he’s flipped his life a whole 180 degrees, no longer is he a party animal. He’s swapped crack for carrots and enjoys cycling instead of sniffing. But, despite living a clean and healthy lifestyle he is dogged by ill health.

“At the moment I resemble Uncle Fester from the f*****g Adams’ Family,” he laughs. “Apart from being a junkie I didn’t really have any health issues. When I hit 50, everything went ‘tits up’. I was in my late forties when my thyroid issues began. I have an underactive thyroid, which means you put on weight and it makes you slow. My nana had an overactive thyroid so she would be up at four in the morning pruning her roses and going to the shops 25 times a day.

“I don’t make my own testosterone and because your thyroid is connected to everything it’s to my…err….” Shaun’s voice trails off and after a trail of swearing and muttering he yells, “Cystitis.

“I keep telling everyone I’ve got cystitis, but that’s not it. “Psoriasis,” I interject. “Nope, it’s not that. It’s….it begins with a c…”

“Cirrhosis?” I ask.

“It’s that thing where you get pains in your legs…”


“Yeah, that’s what I’ve got. I keep getting mixed up and telling people I have syphilis!”

I can’t help but let out a chuckle, however, according to Shaun the ‘cute chuckle’ I emitted resembled more a gruffly growl…

“Whoa, f****** hell was that you? He laughs (at me). “You sound like that singer with a deep voice…. bloody hell, what’s his name? Err. That’s it, Lee Marvin, ‘im outta ‘Paint Your Wagon’!”

He’s really twisting my melon now…

The line goes dead.