INTERVIEW: Busy life bringing out the best in Happy Mondays frontman

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THE Happy Mondays 30th anniversary tour that rolls into Carlisle in November will be one of their biggest this century. Charismatic frontman Shaun Ryder tells KARL STEEL why he's enjoying the busiest years of his career

"SO Shaun, you were in Carlisle recently..."

"Was I?"

Sometimes you know it's going to be a good interview from the off.

Far from being awkward and obtrusive, the captivating frontman has so much going on right now that his November gig at the Old Fire Station with Black Grape is a distant memory now.

Ryder is currently doing press for the Happy Mondays 30th anniversary tour, which doesn't even kick off for another six months, and calls at the Sands Centre on November 30.

Added to his latest run of Black Grape dates, and plotting the release of an album with them too, these days he rarely sleeps through the sheer amount of work to get through.

"It really hasn't stopped since the Mondays re-formed in '99, because there's always been things happening," he says.

"This year is mostly Black Grape stuff, and we've got an album done and almost ready to go, so we'll be playing a load of shows over the summer.

"After that it's the Mondays tour and then Black Grape, then the Mondays album - it's pretty much a year on, a year off with both bands.

"It's a lot easier organising things with Black Grape, whereas in the Mondays you've got everyone doing their own thing and working on their own stuff. We were going to do the album before now, because it was 2006 since we've done one, but now it'll have to wait."

As we saw with the Stone Roses show in the city last year, it's fair to say that the Happy Mondays are possibly at the height of their popularity too.

It's a big year for them: this will be their most high-profile tour for many years, marking three decades since they single-handedly created the "Madchester" scene with their debut album, 24 Hour Party People.

The seven-piece is more or less the "classic" line-up, and once the tour is done, they will begin work on the follow-up to 2007's Uncle Dysfunktional - so only their second album in more than quarter of a century.

Shaun continues: "We'll get round to playing 24 Hour Party People in full at some point, because we've always got to find a way to keep this going until we get a new album together, so on the tour we'll be doing quite a few off that, a few off Bummed, a few off Pills 'n' Thrills, and the other one...

"It's the greatest hits, and the songs people want to hear. I've got my own favourites - but that's the thing, so does everyone in the band.

"It's surprisingly easy to get a set-list together though - I just let the others pick the songs and then I'll go, 'no, we're not doing that one' - everyone gets a say on what we play.

"There's not really anything written for the record yet, but that's not how we work. The way I write is that I'll write an idea down - a lyric or a verse or whatever - and throw the bit of paper in a teapot.

"I don't know at the time if it's for Black Grape or the Mondays, but when it comes to writing an album, I'll dip my hand in and see what I pull out."

It's hard to imagine the 80s and 90s Shaun Ryder even owning a teapot, but nowadays he's living a lifestyle befitting a working family man in his mid-50s.

The whole band have calmed down, which Shaun reckons can only be a good thing for their on-stage performance. There were times when the gigs were more of an inconvenience than anything.

"With the Mondays, we're all in a better place now. The partying and the adventures used to be just as important as going out on stage, and sometimes we weren't at our best.

"The good thing is that I do get some time at home. I've got an eight and a seven-year-old, and whether it was that I was so off my face or what, but I never got to spend much time with my family when I was just a kid having kids. Now I get the time to just be dad.

"My missus and the kids go on holiday and I usually stay for a couple of days and then have to leave. My holiday will be after the tour finishes in January.

"Touring isn't anything like it was 25 years ago. One of the reasons we all get on is that we all have our own tour bus - seriously though, we all make our own way, I've got my road manager, and I can go to bed and watch the news each night.

"The sex and drugs are gone, so it's just rock and roll."

The Happy Mondays 30th anniversary tour comes to the Sands Centre, in Carlisle, on Thursday November 30. Tickets are available from the venue's box office.

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