Elliot Rashman (Happy Mondays management): “Remember you told me, ‘I want the Mondays to be the Sly & The Family Stone of Salford’?”
Shaun Ryder (Happy Mondays singer, with raised eyebrows): “Did I? I don’t remember that. Not a bad line though…”
Happy Mondays, the Sly & The Family Stone of Salford, recently released “Uncle Dysfunktional”, their first album featuring new material since the release of “Yes Please” in 1992, several solo projects, two reunions and a whole lot of living later.
As legendary for their lifestyle as their unique collision of rave beats, indie rock and street poetry, the biggest surprise is probably that the band members have even survived this long, but they have! Over the past 15 years Shaun has been writing and recording not only for his own bands Black Grape and Happy Mondays but also featured on the Gorillaz number One hit ‘Dare’. He has even found a new kind of high in the form of exercise, steering clear of the drugs that had monopolised his life for so many years….. it’s great when you’re straight, yeah! Despite this new found lifestyle, Shaun’s lyrics remain true to the title of modern day poet still displaying street savvy and cartoon lyrics delivered in the true deviant style his fans love him for.
Whilst Shaun focused on his health, Bez won over the hearts of the nation by winning Celebrity Big Brother in 2005 proving that Happy Mondays are still one of Britain’s most loved bands.
According to Gaz, there was no initial plan to record a new album, but after writing some songs “for fun” it just evolved. “It was having the time to do an album,” Shaun explains further. “Everyone’s been busy just living, doing whatever they fucking have to do in their lives. We got back together in 1999 and we’ve been doing, you know, like Showaddywaddy shows. We’d never have split up in the first place if it had just been the three members in the band now back then.”
Ryder admits that the shows played by various mutations of the original line-up – the “Showaddywaddy shows” he’s slightly dismissive of – happened “because a promoter asked us” rather than any artistic need, but no excuses are being made for the new album. Rockier than the Happy Mondays’ classic ‘Madchester’/baggy days, it’s still easily identifiable as their own unique sound.
When they formed in 1985, Happy Mondays built their sound around hip hop beats, funky bass lines, blues guitars, samples and Ryder’s inimitable lyrics, a compelling mixture of street slang, drug gibberish and menacing sexuality. All these ingredients are still present and correct, mixed into a fine new stew by the band and their producer, Sunny Levine (son of Simply Red/Sly And The Family Stone producer Stewart Levine and grandson of Quincy Jones), somewhere between Hallelujah, Wrote For Luck and Step On of old and the psychedelic disco of Shaun and Bez’s post-Mondays band, Black Grape. The new album was mixed by Bjork and U2 producer Howie B who said "It's a mental project. It's really exciting, quite incredible. It's Shaun back on it. Shaun's a diamond. He's singing well, he's rapping well, his lyrics are just right on it. His language, which was always unique, has got even better.”
“I’ve never really stopped doing what I do,” Ryder says, “so I don’t see much difference between Happy Mondays then, Black Grape and Happy Mondays now. We could just as easily called this Black Grape – it would have saved us loads of legal hassles - but because it was Gaz and Bez it just was the Mondays.”
Shaun’s lyrics have inspired Manic Street Preachers to namecheck him in song, Blur’s Damon Albarn to collaborate with him on the second Gorillaz album and invite him to tour with the cartoon band, and given voice to millions of fucked up estate kids just like him. Former Factory records boss, the late, great Tony Wilson and U2’s Bono have also heaped praise on his lyrics, Wilson comparing Ryder to WB Yeats, Bono claiming the Mondays singer as one of the greatest lyricists of all time. The self-effacing Ryder, however, would rather you didn’t read too much into what he’s saying. “No bullshit, no hidden messages, no deep meaning, no politics, just bollocks, good time rock’n’roll, that’s what my songs are about – it’s what we’ve always done, really.