Manchester has always been known for its contribution to music, from the raw edge of the Buzzcocks and Joy Division, to the lyrical finesse of Morrissey and the Smiths, to the barely restrained lunacy that is the Happy Mondays. Mouthy frontman Shaun Ryder then found further success in the 90s with Black Grape, and The Big Issue caught up with Shaun as Black Grape prepare to play Get Loaded in the Dark in London.
“It’s on April 1st,” he says, drily. “I’m just waiting for someone to tell me it’s all a joke.”
You were living in the Peak District with Bez as your next door neighbour a few years back.
I’m back in Manchester now. They’ve spent loads of money on the city, it looks a lot better. Like we’re in the 20th century now – they’ve dragged us out of the 1880s. The skyline looks a lot better, and it’s full of people drinking coffee in sidewalk cafes now. I’m in Salford where they’ve done up all the docks and canals, just round the corner from the new BBC building. It’s nice.
I thought the last Mondays album, 2007s Unkle Dysfunctional, was a big improvement on Yes, Please.
Oh god, so did I. I wrote it in a week, though, we put it together really quickly.
So what’s brought you back to Black Grape now rather than the Mondays?
I’ve got a new contract with Universal over three years. In June I’ve got a retrospective album coming out, it’s got Happy Mondays stuff on it, Black Grape stuff, other tracks like the one I did with Russell Watson – we were the first to do that pop star to opera star thing 10 years ago. We thought we’d do some Black Grape shows to promote it. I’ve got a solo album coming out too, made with the same producer, Sunny Levine, that I used on Unkle Dysfunctional. He’s a brilliant producer and we get on really well.
When will that be appearing?
I’m supposed to already be in the States, in the studio, but it will probably be sometime around the end of the year.
You’ve had an uneasy relationship with America, haven’t you?
About 12 years ago my passport ran out and I renewed it and now they’re all chipped. So all the bullshit I’d told them when we first went there in the mid-80s, when you fill in the forms about criminal records and all that, they realised that was all bollocks and that we’d been lying to them right from the start. So I got a ten year ban from the States.
Do you find your colourful past comes back and gets in the way, or not really?
Right, I’m pushing 50 now. I started this when I was 18, and I grew up in the business and grew up with the press, you know. All the tales, a lot of it we were playing up to, the drugs and rock and roll thing. That helped us – there were a lot of bands that were better than us when we started and they just went missing, didn’t make it because they totally relied on the music. We played it that way and it did us well, but you also got to take the bad with good. You know, I’m only now – nearly fifty with six kids – being allowed to grow up.
You’re eldest are teenagers turning adults now, aren’t they?
God, I’ve got one 18-year-old daughter and she’s just started going off the rails. That documentary I did in 2004 for the BBC [Shaun Ryder, the agony and the ecstasy], she’s 12 during that. She’s such a sweet girl on that documentary, saying she wouldn’t do this or wouldn’t do that, and now she’s 18 and she’s out drinking and smoking and shagging and partying and behaving like a typical 18-year-old who thinks she’s invented it. It’s payback, I’m telling you. My son, on the other hand, he’s 16, he’s really clued up, really responsible, plays cricket for the county and gets good results at school. Everyone goes through phases, I suppose. Mine lasted about 40 years.
Your musical output is kind of intermittent. What keeps you coming back again after such long breaks?
Well, I’ve never really stopped what I was doing, I just took it out of the public eye because I’ve been in a court case for 12 years with my ex-management where 100 per cent of my income gets wiped up. Imagine that, 100 per cent wiped up, frozen and swallowed because everything gets taken by payments to this court case, even me dole.
Your brother Paul had a cameo in 24 Hour Party People, didn’t he? Were you approached for that?
I love the film. It’s a comedy about those times by Michael Winterbottom. I didn’t want to get involved with that, to be honest, I just thought it was a funny movie. Certain aspects are true and some are just played for comedy or are just how the director sees it or whatever. I wouldn’t tell the same story. I certainly never wore a fucking Joe Bloggs t-shirt, that’s for sure.
Do you actually remember any of those days?
From the late 80s to the late 90s is all a bit hazy. If someone jogs my memory, maybe, but to be honest most of it’s a blank.
Have you heard the world’s run out of ecstasy? What are the young’uns going to do?
Is that why everyone’s eating plant food? That plant food, meow, whatever it is, that’s suddenly the big threat at the moment – all those headlines about Man Rips Off Scrotum. I’m not really on the drugs any more, I’m not preaching or anything, you just get to an age when it doesn’t do it for you anymore, or you cant be bothered. But I did have a go on that plant food and I thought it was great, reminded me of the good gear. So the young’uns will be alright, I reckon.
[This article was originally published in The Big Issue, March 2010]