I recently befriended Alan McGee on Facebook – you know were not friends – I met him a couple times – sold him some fanzines at a House of Love gig - took him to the Gardening Club after an Adorable gig – all taxis and handshakes – and now he’s on facebook - it’s a social medium – you can distribute information and to be honest – McGee’s always been an entertaining fucker at the best of times. Anyway he took to posting ( and he likes to post) about Shaun Ryder some weeks back and it just chimed with what I’ve said about him and reminded me what a character he is - Shaun - not McGee - i'll write about that later.
Ryder is a genius. I don’t think there’s anyone in the last thirty years who can touch him. You can tell me who you think matters – I’m prepared to listen – but right now I’m writing this about Shaun and those twisted insights into living and surviving that he gave us.
I never saw the Happy Mondays - never saw The Roses either. I was baggy just not into the whole gig spectacular. I’d fixated on tunes on 12 inches being played by DJs in warehouses. I never took my top off but I was wide eyed to it all. And throughout this The Mondays would be in the background – twisting my melons man – talking so hip. I first heard about them via the music press – pressed up on a Record Mirror 7 inch vinyl or talk of John Cale mixing it up with these youth from estates in Little Hulton - that was probably 1987 – I wasn’t quite ready for the screech and funk of it then. My Manchester passion was still miserable and maudlin - you’ve got to blame Morrissey for that – or even The Pistols – because without that legendary Free Trade Hall gig – blah blah blah.
Listening back to those early tunes on possible the best titled album of all time’ Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)’ it’s got the funk and reference to the nu-soul scene of the early eighties but played by lads with knocked off gear and tracksuits forming indie bands to get inside clubs and deal more drugs. Yet within the cacophony you can already hear Ryder just teasing out the stories of what it’s like to be working class, dispossessed, having fun and the constant grind of daily life. There’s a work ethic to this album. You don’t just turn this out on a night – do you get me? The Happy Mondays wanted to be big – wanted to be famous – there’s not much point otherwise. Don’t misunderstand me – this isn’t social realism – it’s picareseque hyper realism – bending boundaries and minds.
But just that opening line from 24 Hour Party People,
How old are you?
Are you old enough?
Should you be in here watching that?
Already there are images conjured – connections made – there’s deviance and pleasure – it’s late night – or it’s early morning – either way – should we be here listening to this – are we old enough? Home truths writ large in Manchester tones – that’s The Mondays. And I do like (the Happy) Mondays – shall I tell you why?
Shaun Ryder is underrated. He doesn’t always give ‘good interview’ – he coarse and wired, grumpy and tired – bongoed and bouncy. He’s all eyeballs and grins (oh wait a minute that was Bez) There’s a great deal out there on the internet about this Shaun and that Shaun. And references to lyrics and poetry and W.B Yeats and Whitman. And I ought to be careful here – because whenever you attribute knowledge and intellect to anything you also get people thinking you’re being sarcastic or being playfully postmodern with your wit – trying to catch someone out. There’s an article on the website sabotage times about Ryder and poetry and all the comments merge into a diatribe about people not understanding the author was taking the piss. Which I don’t think he was – and if he was – why? You shouldn’t be ashamed to make comparisons and discuss – and if you don’t want to do that – you’ve still got the tunes.
I don’t buy that dumbing down of the working class intellect. You know Ryder wasn’t a nine to fiver – he wrote lyrics for a band – he crafted words and depicted life – he wasn’t playing you as mugs he was authenticating the voice of an addled and e- generation – the product of education systems in the seventies and eighties that would rather hit you than fill you full of awe. You had to find that yourself – and that meant traipsing through the mire of part time love and infatuation, heady times and edgy vibes. Shaun pulled this stuff from his head – not because he wasn’t (stinkin’) thinkin’ but precisely because he got the script.
‘Oh son I’m thirty – I only went with your mother coz she’s dirty - And I don't have a decent bone in me - What you get is just what you see yeah.’
I haven’t got the space or time to do this post justice – and to be honest you’d be better off just reading Shaun’s lyrics and listening to the tunes.
I once sat in a bar with Shaun Ryder – the only time I’ve met him – this must have been 1992 – The Mondays were on self-destruct and Black Grape had yet to be realised. Ryder was early afternoon barflying – Guinness stockpiled and alone. I was with a great mate at that time – Phil Fisk – I’ve mentioned him before he’s a photographer – he takes pictures of people – they appear in newspapers and that – he didn’t have a camera on that day – he wasn’t a photographer quite then.
We didn’t want miss an opportunity to say hello. So we did.
Ryder was welcoming, funny, open and honest. We talked about the post office, music and this and that. He looked older than his years – the monkey was still on his back – but he was good company – you know the living dead don’t get a holiday. I had to leave – meet lost lovers and all that – but I left him and Phil – he didn’t shuffle off – he was into conversation.
And you see that through his lyrics – all part conversations with figures we can’t see. It’s there in Wrote for Luck – the opening line ‘I wrote for luck – they sent me you.’ And there’s nothing wrong in recognising the simplicity in the work as being on par with this poet or that one.
Its words after all – why are our masses so scared of thinking that others might think that we think?
You know the working class have a brain to – they use it a lot – they free think in hard times. And Ryder’s had plenty of hard times. It’s good to see him back – all new teeth and eating well – he was always going to come out the other side. He’s escaped his roots by taking a route through life differently to some of those other chancers on estates all over our ‘green and pleasant land’ – this wasn’t just a northern thing – let’s not forget Liam from Flowered Up – yet his mind still stands firmly there on the concrete stones of Salford streets.
So I’m celebrating the lyrics – I’m raising them up to high art. I always was a pretentious arse at the best of times – some things don’t change. Shaun is a product of his times –speaking truth in simple rhymes – but they stick – they take root. I know that Shaun William Ryder has laid down beside ya – filled you full of junk. Junk of the highest quality. He’s articulating the inarticulacy of the then and now. He’s putting words to the stuttering thoughts, clenched fists and fried brains of the Thatcherite revolution – you could say he was creating ‘banter’ before it became a catchall for loose talk and ignorant opinion. He tapped into the terrace chanter and pavement talk - all unifying but keeping out the mainstream. (There’s an interview in The Guardian where the journalist translates ‘you’re twisting my melons man’ for the readers – it was a joke – but you could sense he thought he had to) and this is continued through the sublime work of Black Grape’s first long player.
‘I don’t read – I just guess – there’s more than one sign – but it’s getting less’
Ryder appropriated, regurgitated and ran with thoughts, he took from others and re-presented yet made the work his own. I remember the utter wonder of Lazyitis – when he drafted in Karl Denver – he's taken a phrase – one you hear in every home – my mother would often accuse one of us as having contracted the lethargic bug – but here’s Ryder melding Ticket to Ride, Sly and Essex into a repetitive delight. It’s that appropriation coupled with his flair and wit that make it his song - his set of lyrics.
‘And I hope I don’t come top of the class, Got no brown tongue lickin ass, can't do what he's asked
Won't do what he's asked’
Won't do what he's asked’
This is by far one of the longest posts - and I don’t feel like I’ve even half started. You on the other hand have probably had enough. I just need to mention the line that sticks with me most – from the epic Stinkin Thinkin - I need to write a post on the underrated ‘Yes Please’ album – the crack and coke fuelled mighty Factory fuck up - that produced one the most fraught and fragile long players of the 90s. It wasn’t all big guitars and mod haircuts. It was much, much, more.
But when Ryder sings and Rowetta repeats ‘A steady job in a small town, guaranteed to bring you right down, guaranteed to take you nowhere, guaranteed to make me lose my hair’
It chimes and reminds me.
Why I got out.
You know Tony Wilson compared Ryder to Yeats – I’m havin’ it. Even if some of you won’t.