Shaun Ryder answers the phone just as you’d hope he would. Irrepressibly gregarious and effortlessly hilarious, age may have brought wisdom but there’s no sign of it sapping his energy or effervescence.
And this is tremendous news for anyone going to see the Happy Mondays at Bedford Park. The swaggering kings of Madchester come to town on July 31, when they will play the whole of their 1990 album Pills’nThrills and Bellyaches. The record’s loose grooves, lyrical wit and relaxed but joyous party vibe defined the sound of the times like little else.
But while we’ve all probably grown up a little in the intervening 25 years, Shaun’s enthusiasm is evidently even greater than ever.
“Do we enjoy it more than we used to? Absolutely!,” he says. “It’s a pleasure doing it bow – we all just love it. We all get on. We’re all older, wiser, fatter. All the bulls* when you’re young is gone.”
Few bands have bestrode sounds, scenes and eras quite so gleefully as the Happy Mondays. Their first album, Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out), was produced by John Cale, formerly of seminal 1960s US punks the Velvet Underground; their second, Bummed, was produced by Martin Hannett, renowned for his work with Joy Division; and Pills was co-produced by trance DJ Paul Oakenfold. They were big players in both the acid house scene and the birth of Britpop, influencing the Stone Roses, the Charlatans and Oasis.
Through it all, Shaun Ryder played the role of the profane, permanently intoxicated but lovable ligger, with a rare gift for vivid lyricism that led to his being compared with WB Yeats by manager Tony Wilson – a towering figure in Manchester’s pop cultural history.
“I didn’t even know who WB Yeats was,” recalls Shaun today. “Tony said some great things about us – he thought we were great. And we were sort of like, ‘Tony thinks we’re great, so we must sort of be alright’. It didn’t go to my head - I just used to think he was talking b******s half the time.”
And that chemically-fuelled lifestyle is deep in the past.
“I was an 18-year-old kid when I started in a band, and you do what 18-year-0ld kids do in rock’n’roll bands,” says Shaun.
“You have to enjoy it - which I did. Then you go to bed, have eight hours’ kip, and you’re now 53.
“And you can’t be acting like an 18-year-old when you’re 53 – we’d all be locked up.”
And while Shaun has weathered well, so has Pills..., which still sounds fresh and vital.
“Did we know how good it was at the time? Yes and no,” says Shaun. “We listened to it and we all knew we had a good album there. It stands up, like great stuff does. We must have been doing something right.
The Mondays split in 1993, but reformed with different line-ups in 1999 and 2004. They’re now on their fourth incarnation – but have now returned to their classic line-up. They have just returned from the Amazonian jungle, where they lived with a tribe of indigenous natives who all happened to be percussionists. It’s the sort of scenario Shaun might well have made up, but it actually happened, and the results will be shown on TV in the autumn.
There’s a yawn. “You’ll have to excuse me – I’ve just done sports day this morning with the kids,” he says. It’s an intriguing image. But fatherhood seems to suit him in a way that may surprise many.
“I’ve been lucky enough to start again as an older, wiser dad,” he says. “The first time around with kids, I was out making a career, and I’ve got to hold my hands up, I didn’t do a good job of being a dad.”
And living with a six-year-old and seven-year-old has exposed Shaun to music that might otherwise have been a mystery to him – and led to some interesting revelations.
“All my music consists of at the moment is Taylor Swift, Jessie J and Miley Cyrus. “I actually think she’s f***ing brilliant!”
Happy Mondays play ParkLive on July 31 with Stereo MC’s and Ash. Tickets cost £32.50. Visit http://www.lphconcerts.co.uk/parklive/