Roller coaster Ryder is on the way up, again

The Happy Mondays front man has crawled from the wreckage with a book and a new album. And it's going to be a belter, he tells Andrew McCorkell
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The Independent Culture

The familiar swagger is still there. Shaun Ryder plumps himself down, double Remy Martin in hand, one eye closed against a curl of cigarette smoke. True, there's a bit more padding around the middle but there's no disputing the attitude. Meet Mr Happy Mondays – hellraiser and frontman extraordinaire. But behind the invincible front, there's uncertainty. Is a brief glimmer on reality TV all that's left or does he still have what it takes?

Today he is pushing his autobiography, Twisting my Melon, which – given his record of addiction, bankruptcy, violence and near-death experiences – is suitably warty. What people don't know is that he has been quietly crafting an album and there will be solo gigs to support it.

There are tougher tests; but not many. First he will have to withstand the pulverising weight of expectation bearing down on the man who first defined then set about destroying Madchester. Then there's the question of whether he can stay safe amid the primary accompaniments to rock'n'roll. The last time round he barely survived; Factory records, his label, didn't.

"It was a nightmare," he says, recalling the death spiral of the Happy Mondays and the ill-fated Barbados trip to record an album which did for Factory. "But what better publicity can you have than rock'n'roll, car crashes and drugs for an album? The nightmare was that it was shit."

Despite the insanity, they were good times: the Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, acid house and queues around the block for the infamous Hacienda nightclub.

Ryder describes the city as "big enough to have a big music scene, but small enough that you feel part of it". The Mondays brought the first ecstasy pills into the UK, he claims, smuggled from Amsterdam in a toothpaste tube.

"It was great. Up until the 1980s, Manchester was still pretty smoky and Victorian. Then all of a sudden this evil woman [Maggie Thatcher] comes into power . Even though she was hated, and believe me I am not a Tory, what she was trying to do really needed to be done."

The city was transformed. "Manchester has always been a big university town. I know for a fact that when the Hacienda and the ecstasy scene took off by 1989, there was a huge rise in the student intake. It was a massive pull for years."

Into this came young Shaun. He had made a living stealing from pubs, off-licences and houses, and was once given a "good hiding" from his father for thieving £200 from his granddad. And, within a head-spinningly short time, he was a global star ... then the Mondays split. "We had a bunch of people giving it that," he says, miming mouthing movements. "You become the underdog. I had people telling me I'd never work again."

He enjoyed a second coming, with Black Grape in 1993. "We had a No 1 album, and we only made No 2s with the Mondays. So I felt great."

Inevitably after the high, came the crash. Just over a decade ago, he hit bottom, falling out with his managers. "I did that to my management team," he says, sticking up two fingers. The legal clash with William and Gloria Nicholl blew up because he refused to pay them £130,000. Receivers confiscated his income for 11 years.

It took him a long time to crawl out of the wreckage. The turning point came in 2005 when he got together with his wife Joanne, a childhood friend. She helped him clean up his act and sort out his finances. They now have two young girls together; he has three other children.

He professes little time now for pills or thrills. "No. Definitely no drugs. Certainly no drugs for my kids: I'm a standard parent on that. I was 18 when I got to be in rock'n'roll. Once you start getting near 50 and you start putting drugs in your body, you can't look so damn good," he says, grinning proudly with his expensive white teeth."Life's full of different phases. If I was still running around doing E, coke and taking smack at the age of 50, I'd be a bit fucking sad."

Much as the world loved Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches, he ranks the Monday's Bummed album among his best work after he heard it for the first time in years when it was remastered in 2006. "I think the tunes sound like they could've been done now."

Ryder feigns indignation, but chuckles when I suggest the Mondays were influenced by Joy Division, even borrowing their look: "No, what are you on about? They got their hair cuts from us. We got our music from them. They had side partings, winklepickers and macs on. We had side partings and Fila trainers. Spandau Ballet had side partings and leg warmers."

Through all the madness, the constant, has been music. He is a fan of everything from Ziggy Stardust via Tamla Motown to the Ramones. He is listening to Johnny Cash and Dean Martin at the moment.

So, the question remains: does he have what it takes? Is his new album any good? "It's fantastic," he says, grinning again. "I'm doing about 20 up-close-and-personal gigs, with all the new stuff. It's been great.

"The vibe is like putting on a jukebox of your favourite tunes. As always there are a few samples in there, not obvious, or ripping off anybody else. Like if you put Elvis with New Order. But each track is different."

He refuses to divulge the title, the release date or when the first gig is, but the swagger of certainty is back: it's going to be a belter. He is determined to prove that he's still got it, whatever it takes.

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