Shaun Ryder is the lyrical genius whose words were described by Factory Records boss Anthony Wilson as being "on a par with W.B. Yeats". Wilson's highly influential label issued the music of the band he fronted, Happy Mondays, alongside other Mancunian institutions like Joy Division, New Order, James, A Certain Ratio and The Durutti Column.
Alongside The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays were responsible for the nationwide attention given in the late eighties and early nineties to the 'Madchester' sound. Indeed, they were the leading lights responsible for bridging the gap between the city's underground band music scene and the rave revolution that was being born on the dancefloor of the Factory Records run Hacienda nightclub.
Caught up in an era of high hedonism that coincided with the band's explosion in popularity, it was perhaps inevitable that Ryder would enthusiastically receive some of the many substances that were flying around the city and this, over time, lead to a well documented drug problem that contributed to Happy Mondays demise in the early 1990s.
This was not before the band managed to produce three bona fide classic albums in Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out), Bummed (produced by Factory's legendary go-to producer Martin Hannett), then Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches.
When the Mondays split most assumed that it was the end of Ryder, including one of his biggest champions Tony Wilson. But after a relatively short time Ryder re-emerged with a new band, Black Grape, a partnership with Mancunian rapper Kermit of Ruthless Rap Assassins fame.
Their debut album It's Great When You're Straight...Yeah went to number one in the UK album charts and delivered three hit singles. Ryder was back on top. But despite the album's perhaps misleading title, Ryder's drug problems remained in the background and fellow member Kermit was in a similar situation. Again, this contributed to the dissolution of another successful Ryder project.
In the last decade and a half Shaun Ryder has finally kicked drugs, successfully reformed the Mondays, produced a critically acclaimed solo album and followed his Happy Mondays bandmate (and recent electoral candidate) Bez in becoming a star of reality TV.
2015 sees him at his busiest point yet, having just reformed his other band, Black Grape, for a nationwide tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of It’s Great When You're Straight……Yeah. He's also just released his first solo material since 2003's Amateur Night In The Big Top album and will later this year take to the road again, this time with Happy Mondays, on a tour marking the 25th anniversary of their brilliant Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyache album, which has just been reissued on vinyl.
Oh. I thought you'd moved to the sticks somewhere.
That was about 10 years ago. I'm back now.
Whereabouts in Salford are you?
Worsley, we've got Ryan Giggs just at the back of us.
Oh, right, well be careful of your missus then. Are you into football? Are you a Red or a Blue?
I'm a Red, yeah, cos I'm from Salford. I go to Old Trafford and I enjoy watching the games, but I'm not really into it like some people are, you know what I mean? Not at all.
More than that, I get a real buzz out of saying that, telling some people that I'm not into it, because it's so manly and macho to be into it. "Do you like football?" Nah, fuck off, I don't like it.
You've recently done a benefit show with Black Grape for the homeless and in support of Bez's Reality Party at the old Granada Studios (see a clip of that below). How was that?
It was great. Brilliant. Fantastic. I'm not just saying it because we've taken on all of these other dates and we've got to sell 'em, it really was something special.
The original Black Grape band was just me, Kermit and session musicians, with Danny Saber producing us. Me and Kermit had a real good chemistry back then and we've found out that it's still there.
I'd read that you'd not parted on the best of terms. I guess that you've been able to get back together it means neither of you are the kind of people who hold a grudge?
Well, it was 20 years ago and back then we where just young lads. Now we're old men and things just don't look the same anymore, all the bullshit that goes on with being young, innit? It's the same with The Mondays. None of the bullshit really matters anymore.
Speaking of The Mondays, you're touring the anniversary of their Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches album later this year.
Yeah, the original line up got back together about three years ago, we went out and did Bummed, now we're going out to do Pills and Thrills. Should be good.
I last spoke to your brother, Paul, around the time of the sad passing of Anthony Wilson. Do you think Manchester misses having a figure round like him to champion its music?
Yeah, of course. Tony was one of a kind, you know. I don't think we'll ever have somebody like him round again. He could so easily have gone off to London, done his TV shows from there and made a success of it, but luckily for us all, he actively chose to stay in Manchester and big up the north.
I think it's only a matter of time before we've got a statue of him somewhere in Manchester, which I think he would find pretty funny.
Do you think Manchester's music scene is not getting the same kind of exposure as it once did because we've not got someone like him around?
Well, I think Manchester's music can get around just as much, what with the internet and the way music's passed around now. That's opened things up to a whole new audience, it's so easy to get your music out to the world.
Besides, there are a lot of people in Manchester who think they are the new Tony Wilson or think they're as important as him. It's full of 'em. I don't know, really.
I saw the election results for Manchester and Salford. He put up a good campaign, Bez, but he didn't seem to get so many votes that would threaten the result.
Well, you know, it was an election where nobody could afford to waste a vote. I mean, I voted. I'd never voted before in my life. Nobody was messing about. Was I surprised with the result? Sheesh. Yeah, I suppose.
I voted Labour, but if they'd have got in, I would've been fucked with tax. I was voting against the cuts and all of that, but I do know a lot of people who do vote Tory. Especially living round here.
In a recent poll in the local rag, 70% of Mancunians who voted said they'd rather join an independent Scotland than stay part of the UK without them. What do you think of that idea?
Well, I'm sure our manager Alan McGee would love that. I don't really have an opinion. I wouldn't mind being Scottish.
You've got quite a lot on this year with the Black Grape and Happy Mondays tours, plus you've just released some new solo stuff (below). Must be your busiest year for a while.
Yeah, it's great, I'm really enjoying it. My solo album's gonna come out next year. What we're doing with the singles is we've released a limited edition 12" vinyl and I think you can get it on iTunes as well, but it's coming out a bit under the radar for now and we'll wait until next year to push it, when the album's coming out.
I've checked out your solo stuff. Lyrically, of course, you can tell immediately that it's you, but musically it sounds very different from both Happy Mondays and Black Grape. Can you tell me a bit more about your inspiration for the music behind it?
Well, Black Grape is Black Grape and The Mondays are The Mondays. With the solo stuff, I just do what i'm into, innit. I've done the album with Sunny Levine, who The Mondays worked with on our last album, Uncle Dysfunktional.
His dad, Stewart Levine, has worked with everyone from BB King, Womack & Womack, Simply Red and his grandad is Quincy Jones, so Sunny was brought up as part of a family of production royalty.
To me, a lot of new production sounds the same, really loud, too bright. What we're trying to do on the solo album is make something different from that. You might get some people saying that it sounds under-produced, but really that's not a mistake we've made.
If you listen to the first Rolling Stones album next to an album by Dr Dre or something, the production's totally different, so what we've tried to do is make an album that sounds very different to what's the current production sound. The music too is obviously trying to do something a bit different.
Can we expect to see any new material from either of your other projects, Black Grape or Happy Mondays?
Black Grape definitely, because it's just me and Kermit. What started off as an agreement to do a couple of shows this year has turned into a 21 date tour, so if we get through this and it's still going good, we'll definitely get in the studio to do some new material.
With The Mondays, you know what, yeah, I'm up for doing another Mondays album, of course. I don't know when, there's a lot more people whose time you have to organise to go about doing that. The last one was in 2007, but I think sooner or later we'll come together to do another.
Your Mancunian peers The Stones Roses have been back on the road these past few years. Maybe there's something about this era of Manchester music that won't let it die easily?
Yeah, it's great to see them back together, although I suppose if Ian hadn't of got divorced it wouldn't ever have happened.
Maybe it'll take a divorce to make that other Mancunian institution Oasis come back together. What do you reckon's the likelihood of that happening?
Yeah, well, maybe. That's all bullshit that's currently doing the rounds in the press at present though, that Alan McGee is masterminding the band's return with the original line up, but without Noel. Absolute nonsense. No truth in it. Never going to happen.
But maybe one day, with Noel on board, they'll do something again. I can't see Liam and Noel never working together again.
Certainly more likely than The Smiths ever performing together again.
Oh yeah, that'll never happen. Never. I mean, I know how much they all got offered last year to reform - play live, do the festival circuit and what have you - but Morrissey said no. And it was millions they'd be offered. Lots of millions.