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Happy Mondays

Still Game

It may be 15 years since the last album by Happy Mondays, but as Neil Cooper finds out, Shaun Ryder refuses to act middle-aged

‘Hola!’ Shaun Ryder is just back from Spain, and has clearly been learning the language. In between shows leading up to next week’s T on the Fringe gig, though, the surprisingly sharp and decidedly affable Happy Mondays frontman is at home, ‘catching up on me telly. I’m really liking Heroes just now.’

Such an image of domesticity is a far cry from Happy Mondays’ Madchester heyday, when, by melding indie guitars to dancefloor shuffle, they more or less invented Baggy, democratising the dancefloor as they went. The Mondays’ shambolic gang mentality was a long way from the too-cool-for-school attitude that then prevailed in a music scene geared towards posh-boy students. Ryder and co proved anyone could do it. As original Mondays Ryder, Bez and Gaz Whelan return with Uncle Dysfunktional, the band’s first album of new material in 15 years, just how mellow are Happy Mondays now?

‘I’m not some fuckin’ gym freak or owt like that,’ a cleaned-up Ryder insists. ‘It’s just about getting middle-aged and becoming a boring old fart. The young lads in the band, though, they’re all in their 20s, and they’re like we were, only not as fucked up.’

The crash and burn tale of Happy Mondays’ first incarnation is a drug-fuelled legend featuring stolen mastertapes, guns and Ryder’s spiralling crack addiction. It finally all fell apart in 1992 during extended recording sessions for the band’s Yes Please! album, and Factory Records, the maverick Manchester label who were mad enough to give the Mondays a budget, went with it.

We’re talking a couple of weeks before former Factory Records boss Tony Wilson’s death following complications caused by cancer of the kidney. Wilson, of course, saw Ryder as a poet, and compared him to WB Yeats. Ryder snickers wickedly when reminded of this.

‘I love Tony,’ he says. ‘He’s great. He’s really, really funny. But some of the stuff he comes out with . . .’

It was former Mondays manager Nathan McGough (now looking after Towers of London) and current manager Elliot Rashman (formerly doing the same for Simply Red) who raised funds to provide Wilson with Sutent, the £3500-a-month life-saving drug Wilson was refused access to on the NHS.

Wilson would have been proud of Uncle Dysfunktional, a decidedly un-middle-aged wig-out featuring Ryder’s trademark pop culture inspired none-sequiters. It’s here Ryder’s absorption of Heroes and other TV shows makes sense.

‘All the songs I write are like these black cartoons,’ says Ryder. ‘They’re wacky, and not meant to be taken too seriously. Saying anti-war on the dancefloor is about as political as I get.’

Happy Mondays first reformed in 1999 for what Ryder describes as ‘the Showaddywaddy years. It was cabaret.’ These greatest hits shows for ageing ravers were, by the band’s own admission, to pay a tax bill ‘the size of Canada’.

The band’s current incarnation is a far more serious affair. Whether it compares to the Mondays of old remains to be seen. Ryder for one, though, has no regrets.

‘I loved all of it,’ he says. ‘Even the fuck-ups are all just a big learning experience. We was in the music business, and that was fuckin’ outrageous to us, and it still is. I never really liked being on TV or in magazines, all that bullshit of people thinking you’re great cos you’re in a band. There’s so many pricks in the music business, and we was pretty thick. We just did our own thing and got away with it.’

T on the Fringe, Corn Exchange, 0870 169 0100, 24 Aug, 7pm, £25.

The List issue 584, August 23 2007

ends

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