Shaun Ryder has long been one of the more colourful characters to emerge from the 80s 'Madchester' scene. This is his frank, and often humourous account of his life, career, and experiences. He burst onto the music scene as singer, writer, and front man with Happy Mondays, and later with Black Grape. His well-documented partying lifestyle is recounted here, along with many other turbulent incidents from the past two decades. He pulls no punches, and talks candidly about his early days of growing up in Manchester, and how this prepared him for the music business, and life on the road.
In contrast to the hard living, drug-fuelled, party animal he is often portrayed as, in this book Ryder comes across as intelligent, sensitive, and more mature than many of us might expect. This book is a credit to him, and it gives us all a great insight into the mind of one of the more creative musicians of this era.
PLEASE NOTE - Dooyoo have incorrectly listed this under Fiction. It's not. It should be under autobiography.
When Shaun Ryder appeared in (and very nearly won) the 2010 TV series of 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here', the nation split into two camps. The over 55s and under 35s (excluding a few very well informed slightly younger souls) mostly didn't have the slightest idea who he was and those whose age lay between knew exactly who Ryder was but were flabbergasted he'd survived the years of drugs and hard living with his mental faculties sufficiently in tact to be capable of doing much more than sitting in a corner talking to himself. As front man of the Happy Mondays, Salford-born Ryder was at the forefront of the late 80's and early 90's 'Madchester' movement, a major earner for the late Tony Wilson's 'Factory' record label and by his own admission one of the people responsible for introducing the rave drug 'Ecstasy' into the UK via the now defunct but at the time notorious club, the Hacienda. The 'Happy Mondays' epitomised the sound of their era with classics like 'Kinky Afro' and 'Step On' which are still instantly recognisable classics two decades later.
~A King's ransom up his nose~
By rights Shaun Ryder should have fried every brain cell he ever had and be left as a dribbling wreck - and yet somehow despite swallowing or inhaling a King's Ransom worth of drugs over a prolonged period, he's today an extraordinarily charming and self-effacing chap - the type you'd be happy to have a pint and a chat with down your local. He's entirely unapologetic about his drug addled past and happy to say that his first experience of Crack was absolutely fabulous and to wax lyrical about how much he and the band loved ecstasy. If you're looking for a book to put you off drugs or one in which the author beats himself up for the excesses of his past, then this isn't the one. As a cautionary tale it's a complete flop because he got away with nearly everything.
~Would Shaun KNOW When to Shut up?~
A typical celebrity life story is characterised as much by what's not said as what is. Most of us have at one time or another bought such books expecting a no holds barred account of a controversial life only to find the 'naughty' bits so sanitised as to be frustrating. By contrast Ryder really does seem to have 'told it like it is', confessing to numerous sins, crimes and misdemeanours, naming names, telling tales that others might have preferred left untold and pulling no punches. I can imagine that many of those he names for the crimes of youth (and seriously, I'm not exaggerating to call them crimes) probably knocked him off their Christmas card lists when they read this. With the possible exception of Bez, Ryder's closest buddy and drug mate, I would imagine his band mates - particularly his brother 'Our Paul' - can't have felt comfortable reading Shaun's account of how they treated him. Ryder claims he never wanted to be the focus of attention, that he recruited Bez to the band to distract attention from him, but like so many bands the jealousies and rivalries destroyed them almost as much as the widespread drug taking. There have been recent reports of the Monday's reforming - I have to wonder how long that can possibly last because once you've read about their past, it's hard to imagine much of a future together.
Ryder's stories of his drug taking are astonishing not only for the fact that he can remember anything about them but for the number of times he nearly got killed in pursuit of scoring crack or heroin. Equally astonishing is that he never got locked up despite being arrested several times and taking ridiculous risks. He dabbled with rehab but his heart was never in it until he got together with his current wife. Along the way he had failed marriages and relationships, for most of which he seems to entirely blame himself and he's never cruel or ungentlemanly about the women concerned.
~The Kings of E~
Ryder is remarkably open about the role he and the Mondays played in Manchester's drug and rave scene and their part in the history of the Hacienda. Ryder debunks some of the myths that have grown up around him and the band such as telling us that the famous pigeon poisoning scene that's included in the film '24 Hour Party People' didn't happen quite as shown and saying he didn't really steal the master tapes of the final album and hold them hostage. He does admit to going to the wrong venue when he forgot to take the name of the theatre and to hiding in the baggage hold of a bus at Glastonbury smoking heroin for three days. Other admissions are to the theft of chunks of other people's tunes or lyrics and we get to find out the origin of the phrase 'Twisting my melon' which I have to admit has been bugging me for the past two decades. Historically he was seldom willing to talk about his lyrics but the books reveals that a lot of the songs are named after people he knew, few of the lyrics are relevant to the people they're named for (friends used to ask him to name songs after them so he did) and many of the lyrics make no sense at all. I suspect fans worked that out quite a long time ago. A colleague of mine who read the book a few weeks after I did characterised it as "Woke up, took drugs, wrote a song that didn't make sense". He's not too far off the mark.
~Sometimes it doesn't matter if the songs don't make sense~
Talking of songs and their words, I'm still unsure if this book was ghost written or not. It reads with such a fantastically authentic 'voice' that as you read you can 'hear' Ryder speaking in his dry Salfordian accent. His brother is always 'Our Paul', his text is peppered with swear words, just as his speech is, and there's plenty of slang that won't make sense to every reader. It's hard to believe it wasn't written - or at least dictated - by Ryder which makes it all the more remarkable that he left school at fifteen without knowing his alphabet but was proclaimed by Tony Wilson (who let's face it talked an awful lot of rubbish) as 'the greatest poet since Yeats'.
Reading 'Twisting My Melon' inspired me to go to my bookshelves and start reading bandmate Bez's book 'Freaky Dancing: Me and the Mondays'. Unfortunately I only lasted a few pages before deciding that life's too short to read a book by someone who can't spell, punctuate or finish a sentence without swearing and losing the thread of what he wanted to say. The contrast between Bez's unreadable book and Ryder's clear, entertaining and very frank account of life with the Happy Mondays is astonishing. If you read only one book on the topic of this fascinating band, my recommendation is to go for 'Twisting my Melon'.
I've been waiting for Shaun William Ryder to release an autobiography for years - there have been biographies written about him but there's nothing like hearing a story from the horse's mouth. For those who don't know, Shaun Ryder was the lead singer of the Happy Mondays and Black Grape. Still not sure? - he was in that Gorillaz song called D.A.R.E. Still don't know? - he was on I'm a Celebrity Get me Out of Here with Stacey Solomon. "Ah, him!" I hear you cry. Well, here's the book review about an important man for Manchester music who the late great Tony Wilson described as a street poet better than Keats.
The cover has a close up photo of Shaun's face which in my opinion isn't very flattering. I've made sure this book is placed spine out on my bookcase as the picture my scare my girls. The edging of the cover is yellow and black stripes - a doff of the cap to the Hacienda night club's décor, a place where Shaun was integral to the Manchester music scene.
As with most autobiographies, it's written in a chronological order. Shaun grew up in Salford, of which he's quite proud. He was what we'd call a scally, and started his wayward activities whilst still in school - robbing or sneaking as he calls it. He never really engaged with school and left at the first available opportunity to work for the Post Office as a messenger, then progressing up to having his own "walk" or round.
He had many scams on the go as a postman, but somehow managed to escape prison. Shaun's drug consumption increases as the book goes on and he's quite open about it all. Eventually, he ends up starting the Happy Mondays with his brother and a few other local lads - but initially there was no Bez (Who's Bez - he was the Happy Monday's "vibe maker" and was a band member who's freaky dancing has often been copied but never bettered).
There's plenty of mad anecdotes of the things he got up to in the Happy Mondays, and he also explains where the famous lyric "You're twisting my melon man" comes from. The Monday's split is documented, as is his brief spell in the limelight with Black Grape. Post Black Grape, he was in a wilderness of heroin and half hearted Happy Mondays comeback tours, all the while being financially ruined by a court order to do with his old management team that he split from.
Shaun's appearance in "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here" is covered towards the end of his story and it seems that his life is finally almost on an even keel now. The reason he's never done a book before is that any money he would have made from it would have gone straight to his ex management team - he was well and truly shafted there.
As alluded to above, drugs and Shaun Ryder are like cheese and crackers in that they go together, so you might find some of the druggie aspects of the book a little uncomfortable as he took some pretty serious drugs in large quantities. If you can also overlook his misdemeanours as a thief, you might find the book very rock and roll - it made me think of a Keith Richards quote about living the rock and roll lifestyle so we don't have too.
Although there are some illegal activities in which Shaun participated, rather than judge him negatively I decided to be thankful for his honesty - he could have whitewashed the facts to paint himself in a better light, but what he's done instead is just told it as it is, warts and all. The result is a sometimes painful, quite gritty, always humorous and never dull story about his life as a rock and roll figure. The honesty he exudes about his shortcomings is appealing, and I'd guess that it was the reason he did so well on I'm a celebrity - people don't like fakes and Shaun seems to be very genuine.
Overall, I'd recommend this to Happy Mondays fans but not fans of "Jungle Shaun" as the might be surprised about his former life - the drugs, the crime etc. If you do read it though and aren't a Happy Mondays fan or know about him prior to his jungle appearance, don't judge him and you might be surprised about the life he's led.
Four out of five stars, thanks for reading.