Shaun Ryder: Visits From Future Technology
By Steve O'Brien | November 3, 2021
Back in 2010 Shaun Ryder was just about to release his second solo album. Then I’m A Celebrity… Happened. Now 11 years on, we’re finally getting to hear Visits From Future Technology. The Happy Mondays frontman talks about his old/new LP, as well as surviving COVID and his battles with ADHD…
As celebrity resurrections go, few are as remarkable as that of Shaun William Ryder. In the early 90s, the Happy Mondays frontman was almost a poster boy for bad behaviour. Remember that tale of him wheeling a sofa out of a recording studio in Barbados to sell for crack? You could never imagine Neil Tennant doing that.
Fast-forward 30 years, however, and there he is, sat next to best mate Mark ‘Bez’ Berry alongside such icons of middle-class respectability as Gyles Brandreth, Maureen Lipman and Clare Balding on Channel Four’s Celebrity Gogglebox. Back in the day, when we saw him spitting out F-bombs while gussied up as Johnny Rotten on TFI Friday, we could never have imagined we’d one day be watching him on TV talking about Blue Planet II while chomping his way through a tube of Pringles.
It all started 11 years ago in the Australian jungle. He may have lost the top prize to Stacey Solomon on that 10th series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, but Ryder was in many ways the real winner, coming out a considerably bigger celeb than he’d been going in. It came five years after Bez triumphed on the third series of Celebrity Big Brother. Thirty years ago these drug-drenched rapscallions were the pop cultural equivalent of Bonnie and Clyde. Today, happily, they’re more like Morecambe and Wise.
“You go to one of our gigs now and our fanbase ranges from seven to 80 years old,” Ryder tells Classic Pop on the blower from his home in Manchester. “That’s the whole point why we do these television things now, it’s because you’ve got the young lads and the young girls sat there watching you, and the next thing you know, they’re on their iPad downloading all your albums.”
Shaun and Classic Pop are talking because the singer has a new record to promote. An LP that should have dropped back in 2010, before Ryder’s musical career was derailed by his sudden I’m A Celebrity… stardom.
“When I came out of the jungle,” he says, “my agent just said, ‘No, we won’t concentrate on the record, we’ll build up your profile and do more television.’”
So Visits From Future Technology, as it wasn’t named back then, was put on ice. Over the next few years Shaun found himself guesting on such family-friendly shows such as Room 101, Celebrity Mastermind (specialist subject: Manchester), Through The Keyhole and All Star Mr & Mrs.
And in between all these telly commitments, Ryder somehow found time to reform the original line-up of Happy Mondays in 2012 and buddy up once more with Paul ‘Kermit’ Leveridge for Black Grape’s first album in two decades, 2017’s Pop Voodoo.
During all that time Visits From Future Technology was sitting unloved on a hard drive. “I just forgot about it really,” Ryder admits. “And then when we was in lockdown, I had people getting in touch asking if I wanted to do a track with them, so I ended up doing stuff with Noel Gallagher, Robbie Williams, Tricky and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.”
That was when the famously scatter-brained Ryder remembered that he had an almost completed album virtually ready to go.
“So me and Sunny [Levine, producer] fucked about with it a bit and then Alan McGee just said, ‘Right, let’s get this out.’ So here it is.”
Visits From Future Technology is officially Shaun Ryder’s second solo album. He’s not too fond of 2003’s Amateur Night In The Big Top (“When I did that I was that fucked,” he says, with endearing candour), but then it seems nobody else was either (sample review: “It’s horrible, voyeuristic listening.” The Guardian). For that reason, he thinks of this one as his real debut album.
Apart from a touch of remastering and a couple of freshly recorded vocals, this is the album that should have come out 11 years ago. Asked if he was ever tempted to tinker, Shaun says he’s pretty much exactly the same person as he was back then, so what would the point be?
“Ten years ago to me is like five minutes,” he laughs. “2010, right, I went into the jungle, but if anybody asked me when that was, I’d go about four years ago. The 1990s were 30 years ago, but even they seem like 10 years back.
“I mean, even if I wrote that album now, there wouldn’t be any real difference in the way that I write and the subject matter that I write about.”
While Ryder says that 10 years seems like five minutes ago, that doesn’t mean that he actually remembers much about the writing of the album. When Classic Pop asks about the meaning of new song Clubbing Rabbits he says, “It’s a metaphor for something…” before pausing and adding, “and I can’t remember what it was a fuckin’ metaphor for!”
The Duke Of Manchester Tony Wilson once famously compared Ryder’s dazed street poetry to WB Yeats. Back then, Ryder had yet to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and it’s a condition that, in Shaun’s mind, has come to define him.
He mentions it often in our interview, explaining that it affects how he writes (“Because of my condition I can’t just have one thing in me head”) and also how it caused him to screw up at school (“That’s why I didn’t learn the fucking alphabet or my seven times table, cos I can’t remember shit!”).
His memory is so shot, that when we ask about third track Pop Stars’ Daughters he even gets muddled as to how many children he has.
“What it’s about is I have four daughters,” he says before stopping himself. “No I don’t, I have three! I’ve got six kids – three daughters, two lads, right? I’ve got a 30-year-old, a 13-year-old and a 12-year-old, so they’re pop star’s daughters.” He pauses again. “Hold on, I’ve got four daughters! See, this is fuckin’ ADHD this, isn’t it? I get fucked up with numbers.”
His memory, he says, has always been shaky. Back in the days when the Happy Mondays did Top Of The Pops, they’d usually have to re-record whatever song they were performing before going on the show, with Ryder being asked to “abridge verses and things, chop them up, make them smaller and change them around.”
“I couldn’t get to grips with that,” he grumbles. “So I’d even go on Top Of The Pops with pieces of paper. When we were doing gigs I’d go on and I’d sing the second verse first and the fuckin’ first verse second – it would be all over the place. It wasn’t until we started using autocues that I could do it proper.”
So if he were asked to perform Step On this very moment, would he be able to sing it without having the lyrics in front of him? “No!” he exclaims. “And that’s cos of my condition.”
His rickety memory has been exacerbated by the fact that he’s still suffering the effects of COVID. He’s the first to admit that he didn’t exactly hunker down during that first lockdown, but it was only when he returned to the family home after a work trip that he was walloped by the virus. His daughters contracted it first, and then passed it onto their mum and dad.
“I’m now approaching 60 and their mum is 50 so we got the brunt of it,” he says. “And it was fuckin’ shit. The good thing was, the only thing it’d let me eat was fruit so I just survived on pears and fuckin’ all sorts of fruit. It’s like a rat had crawled up me arse and died. And I had weird hallucinations, the fuckin’ maddest dreams. I was still breathing alright but it cancelled me out for – fuckin’ ‘ell – about three weeks!”
Shaun’s had both his jabs now, but, a year on, he’s still feeling the after-effects. “Every month or so I feel shit, like I’ve got it again,” he says. “And I just keep fallin’ asleep.”
How does he feel then, as a COVID survivor, reading fellow Manc Ian Brown’s conspiracy theory-addled outbursts on social media? Ryder sighs a deep sigh.
“I’ve said it before, but that’s just Ian! It’s like when Morrissey comes out with his fuckin’ thing about the Muslims or whatever, it’s just fuckin’ Morrissey, and Ian… I mean Ian’s just Ian. It’s just typical of the kind of thing he would say. I mean, the guy didn’t even look at porn until he was 20 cos he was so right on!”
The Happy Mondays rose up with The Stone Roses in mid-80s Manchester and, though they carved out very different musical identities, both came to represent Cottonopolis at the time when it seemed like it was the cultural centre of the universe. And indeed it was the euphoric reaction to Roses’ reunion in 2011 that inspired the Mondays to regroup.
The original line-up had split in 1993, with the noughties version of the band featuring just Ryder, Bez and drummer Gaz Whelan. 2012, however, saw those three re-team with singer Rowetta, bassist Paul Ryder, guitarist Mark Day as well as keyboardist Paul Davis.
Yet while the reformed Mondays have toured prodigiously in the past decade, they’ve yet to make any new music. Bez said earlier this year that, “I don’t think we’ll ever do any new music because we’ve got that thing like Oasis with a brotherly relationship going on [between Shaun and his sibling bandmate Paul].”
“The thing about the Mondays is we’re now this iconic band,” Ryder says. “And we’re playing better than ever. You never say no about doing another album, but until the record is done how I want it done, there won’t be one.”
Ryder was planning on putting the Mondays on hold in 2021 to focus on Black Grape, only they have festival commitments from 2020 that they’re committed to honouring this year.
“Happy Mondays will be going to bed for four to five years in 2022, so I can go around doing Black Grape,” he reveals. “The album [Pop Voodoo] was a good success in 2017. We’re going to do another Black Grape album because it’s just the two of us. It’s dead easy to do, me and Kermit doing the writing and getting it done.”
What’s the dynamic like now with the Mondays? Do they get on better than they did first time round?
“We were daft young kids then,” he says. “I mean, we’re better than we was in the 90s and early 2000s. We go up and we do a really good job and no one’s fuckin’ out of their mind. I mean, me and our kid still hate each other but you know, we go and do a job.”
Though the original line-up reformed in 2012, they’ve since lost keyboardist Paul Davis. It doesn’t seem like they’re missing him, though.
“Davis came in on that first tour and… well, he can’t play keyboards!” Ryder laughs. “He never could! He could poke his fingers about a little bit, but to be honest, he didn’t play on that tour and he didn’t know! In the end, it was all done electronically.”
For the moment at least, the Happy Mondays, sans Paul Davis, are still with us. The band return to active gig duty this November, playing at Leeds’ First Direct Arena, before heading on to Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester and London. Then there’s the prospect of a Black Grape tour, and indeed many more projects in the works that Ryder says he’s “not allowed to talk about”.
Shaun will be 60 next year and, despite a myriad of health woes, from Long COVID to the alopecia totalis that robbed him of his body hair a few years ago, he’s more productive now than he ever was in his youth. One of the benefits, clearly, of kicking the chemicals in the mid-00s.
“Do I miss the drugs and the partying?” he says. “I’m 58 now, so no! When I was 18 it was fuckin’ great but things are way better now.”
Visits From Future Technology is out now via SWRX Recordings
Check out Shaun Ryder on Twitter here
Steve O'BrienSteve O’Brien is a writer who specialises in music, film and TV. He has written for magazines and websites such as SFX, The Guardian, Radio Times, Esquire, The New Statesman, Digital Spy, Empire, Yours Retro, The New Statesman and MusicRadar. He’s written books about Doctor Who and Buffy The Vampire Slayer and has even featured on a BBC4 documentary about Bergerac. Apart from his work on Classic Pop, he also edits CP’s sister magazine, Vintage Rock Presents.