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26 November 2010

Biography

In a career now entering its thirtieth year, Shaun William Ryder has lurched from the swaggering outsider braggadocio of the early sound of the Happy Mondays to the future-Pop of Gorillaz, always taking the scenic route. Ryder now finds his unique and prolific output collected and celebrated on the forthcoming "XXX - 30 Years Of Bellyaching" album, released through Rhino on 13 December.

It's fair to say that he has beaten the odds, time and again, from the very first steps taken as he put the Mondays together. "We didn't really have anything else to do. Mass unemployment, fuckin' nothing to do. Sounds corny, but that's the truth. None of us wanted real jobs." Formed in 1980, the band comprised Ryder, brother Paul on bass, guitarist Mark Day, Paul Davis on keys, drummer Gaz Whelan and Bez. Stepping into the limelight was never really the plan for Shaun, but life's funny like that. "Our kid Paul already had a bass and originally I was the drummer, but I was garbage. No way I wanted to be frontman or songwriter; but everyone had a go and I was the best."

The band was far from an overnight success but, in the face of limited alternatives, they stuck with it until fate threw them a bone. Winning a 'battle of the bands' competition at the celebrated [for various reasons] Hacienda club brought them to the attention of the impresario Tony Wilson, and then into the fold at his Factory label. "Being a big head I always expected success. Course at the time there were loads of better bands around ? better singers, songwriters and musicians ? but we had personality. Too much!" Signing with Wilson gave the band an outlet and a national stage. The whistle had been blown for the start of the big adventure; the Happy Mondays were heading for promotion.

The story unfolded slowly. The snappily titled debut "Squirrel & G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)" started the word of mouth, whilst with "Bummed" in 1989 the good times started to roll. "Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches" was the album that cemented their reputation. Bursting with cuts that seeped into the nation's bloodstream ? "Hallelujah", "Loose Fit", Kinky Afro", "God's Cop", "Step On" - it reached number 4 in 1990 and its sound defined the scene. New, different, somehow low down and dirty, yet inspiring, the Mondays' groove rolled where others rocked. The sky was the limit ? but, slowly, the sun was setting?

By the early 90s, things had begun to unravel for the Happy Mondays, internecine warfare had broken out and the trappings of the good life had started to cause problems. "I never took success for granted, Bez and I were grafters. We didn't want to let it go. The other guys didn't understand that we needed to work at it, and that's why you don't hear about them any more. We'd read about what happened to other bands - well, we never actually read books - but we knew the pitfalls. Me and Bez weren't gonna fall for that, but the others fuckin' did. Me and Bez were the frontmen and the others were jealous, but we didn't know. How could we? I just spat out words and he freaky danced! Looking back we were treated better, but we never saw the doors being opened for us swinging back in their faces... We were mates. Tony told us to avoid what happened to the likes of The Smiths by losing the ego and splitting the royalties equally. Expensive mistake that ? and it didn't work."

"Yes Please!" was the final album for the first incarnation of the band and was a success, but the knives were out and the writing was on the wall. The Happy Mondays bowed to the inevitable and fell apart in 1992. Not ones to sit back and sulk, Ryder and Bez picked up the phone, made some connections and before long bounced back with the loping rumble of Black Grape. In '95, "It's Great When You're Straight" topped the UK album charts. Within the new outfit, however, the old problems were fermenting. "Whenever I see young bands I think, 'Don't let that shit happen to you, don't let it go to your head'. It's egos, young lads not knowing about sticking together. Biting the hand that feeds. Kermit and Carl didn't get it, people were telling them 'You don't need Shaun, he needs you.'" The second Black Grape album "Stupid Stupid Stupid" was less of a success than the debut, though it still made number 10, but the dream had soured and the band folded in 1998.

The following year saw the Mondays ride again. "It wasn't a difficult decision to make; there was money to be made off gigs. It felt like putting on an old pair of comfy socks." Problems had been papered over but, once the cheques had been banked, the cracks appeared. "Anyone can make mistakes, especially when you're propelled from Salford onto Top Of The Pops. Would have been nice to see some new mistakes though? Me and Bez are genuine; we want everyone to do well. Maybe I'm stupid for being so loyal to the Salford connection."

After the all too predictable second demise of the Mondays, the Salford connection came to the fore once more in a collaboration that nobody would have predicted. "'Pop Star to Opera Star'? We invented that ten years ago. We were down on that before anyone else!" Ryder and Russell Watson's remarkable version of 'Barcelona' appeared on the tenor's debut album and went a long way to establishing the latter as a household name. "Russell's a Salford lad and his manager was a friend of mine. We all got together. It felt right; it was good business to do."

Though the Happy Mondays reformed again in 2004 and continue as a live force to this day, another collaboration brought Ryder back into the charts with a bang in 2005. "I've known Damon for 17 or 18 years, ever since those Gallagher brothers were bullying him! Now those two are proper Manchester legends, brilliant performers, but I always fell into the Damon camp. The Gorillaz track is just brilliant. Damon asked me if I wanted to write something on it. I put on the headphones and he turned on the track and it just built and built ? 'It's going up! It's going up! It's there!' Simple really. Au naturelle?"

2007 saw the Mondays issue the "Uncle Dysfunctional album and perform a slew of high profile dates. It's the current collection, plus a new album project, that is really on Ryder's mind though. "The release of "XXX" makes me feel great. It makes me think back about my career. OK, a lot of it I can't remember ? that's the good thing about alcohol, not to mention the drugs - so it's good to have the tracks collected at least! I've had a good run, not much to complain about. There's a new solo studio album coming next year and I'm buzzin' off that too. It's more me, it's different, I'm 48, I've got some stories to tell." Too right!

During a career that has veered from the ridiculous to the sublime, the one constant has been the music. "XXX - 30 Years Of Bellyaching" showcases the sheer quality of the output in thirty years that has seen Ryder taken to the heart of the Brits. "I don't find that easy to take I can tell you. I'm like a musical version of LS Lowry, I don't take compliments easily. I've stuck to being myself in the good times, the bad times, the off-me-'ead times, the not-off-me-'ead times!" This collection celebrates all of those times ? and presages a bright future for this truly unique creative soul.

For more information or to request an interview please contact Chris Hewlett on 0845 601 2833 or chris@chrishewlett.com

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