Arts

Shaun Ryder: I intend to keep playing music til I'm older than The Rolling Stones

More than three decades on from the release of the Happy Mondays' debut album, the pioneering rave outfit's frontman Shaun Ryder continues to confound expectations. Alex Green talks to the everyman poet about his love for reality television and how he intends to tour into old age

Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays, who return to Ireland later this year, with Belfast and Dublin dates

SHAUN Ryder, the Happy Mondays' party-starting singer, is a changed man. Gone are the drug-fuelled concerts inside Manchester's hallowed Hacienda club, the endless parties and debauched recording sessions in Barbados.

These days you are more likely to find the 56-year-ole lyricist at home asleep in front of the 10 O'Clock news – following a sold-out gig at your local arena, of course.

As one of the pioneering voices of the so-called Second Summer of Love, Ryder surfed an acid house-drenched wave of popularity through the late 80s and 90s. That ended when the Salford band split following the commercial flop of their fourth album, 1992's Yes Please! – the recording of which bankrupted Factory Records, their home for some eight years.

Now a father-of-six, Ryder continues to tour, with both the reformed Mondays and rap-rock side project Black Grape. Things, however, are different now. There are no drugs and certainly no after-parties.

"When the gig is finished I literally go back to the hotel room. If I can get home I will. I'll put the news on and go to sleep," he says in his famously gravelly voice. "And I don't do the tour bus any more. Nope. Never," he adds, chuckling at the thought.

"Back in the day – 20 odd years ago – it was great. It was fun. It was sex, drugs and rock and roll for a very long time. Then you get on that treadmill – album tour, album tour, album tour, album tour. You do that for a long time, and you do get f***ing whacked."

Ryder, who fought an addiction to heroin in the 90s, adds: "But you can't live like that any more. You can't go on like that – otherwise the tour would never finish.

"It was brilliant back in the day but we appreciate it more. There's no sex and drugs. It's just rock and roll. We've still got the rock and roll."

Ryder was once described by his label boss Tony Wilson, famously played by Steve Coogan in the semi-fictional biopic 24 Hour Party People, as the musical equivalent of WB Yeats. Now the Salford-raised singer lives a quieter life. A pescatarian, he enjoys cycling and swimming.

"I wish I had got into vegetables years ago," he says with great enthusiasm. "All I used to eat was fillet steak. No vegetables, just steak and mushroom for breakfast and evening meal. Now what my missus does with vegetables and fish... it's incredible.

"I might be eating a s***load of plastic because of what's happening with the fish – but I feel healthy."

Of late he has suffered a spate of health problems, which he suggests might be the result of his "lost years" – Ryder remembers little of the Mondays' heyday. More recently he appeared on a clutch of daytime television programmes to discuss an unexplained bout of alopecia which developed following recent hip surgery.

"I've got a few health problems going on at the moment," he divulges. "Thyroids, hair falling out, I've just had a hip operation. But you get through that. The 50s are a dangerous age for me. God knows how many of my friends have died in their 50s."

"It's the alopecia but they don't know what caused it," he adds. "I'm not stressed. I'm at the least stressful time in my life. My fingernails fell out, my eyebrows, my eyelashes, my body hair, my head hair."

Ryder is awaiting further tests but greets each scare with a trademark optimism.

He is a man with an opinion on everything: the pop music flavour of the month, the millennial generation, even the soaps he watches to wind down after shows.

"I watch them all really," he says. "I don't go round EastEnders as much as I used to do. The kids are into it now, you know what I mean? Coronation Street especially. But I'm getting a bit annoyed at it at the moment. It's trying to be like really funny but it's not working for me."

Ryder's honesty and propensity for grand statements earned him a second career on television. In 2010 he survived a stint in the jungle on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! He finished second behind Stacey Solomon, who was fresh from a career-making turn on the X Factor.

"If you were an artist, you really didn't touch that sort of stuff," he recalls. "And then the game changes. Bez goes and does Celebrity Big Brother and wins that. Things change."

Bez, real name Mark Berry, has been one of the few constants in Ryder's life. The Mondays' long-time dancer, famed for his on-stage gyrations, has been Ryder's partner in crime and confidante since shortly after the group's inception.

"We're in a sexless marriage," Ryder says with a guttural laugh. "He will say it ain't sexless. He will tell people that it's a sexy marriage. But it's a sexless marriage. It always has been."

Lately they made their joint reality debut, appearing on Celebrity Gogglebox, musing about the quality of weekend television and the state of current affairs. The latter is something Ryder claims to have only recently taken an interest in.

"The first time I voted I was 53 years old," he explains. "I've always shied away from that because I don't really know what I am talking about. I've got a schizophrenic view.

"I'm working class – I'm Labour – but then I don't want Jeremy Corbyn to come and tax all my dough off me. I stay out of it all. I always have done. I've not got political."

But recent events, and his daughters, have forced him to reconsider his policy of keeping a distance.

"I voted at 53 because I looked at my young girls and I thought: 'You know what. Its getting a bit f***ing mad out there now so I'll go and vote.'

"Why did people vote for Brexit? Most of it was just people pi***d off because Polish people had taken the parking place in front of Tesco. 'Let's vote to get them out of the country'. They didn't really have a clue what they were voting for."

Ultimately, Ryder believes his cards have fallen favourably.

"I intend to keep on playing music until I'm older than the Rolling Stones," he proclaims. "We enjoy it more than ever now because we're not on the hamster wheel – as long as I've got my health."

:: The Happy Mondays play The Limelight, Belfast, on December 04 and Vicar Street, Dublin, on December 05. Tickets from usual outlets.

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