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Shaun Ryder: “I still have to go to Mass every week”

Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder on raising kids, raising hell – and the mistake that cost him millions

At 16 I was already working. I left school at 15 and worked as a post boy. We did our short shifts then went to have a few pints and watch Bernard Manning and a few strippers at the daytime nightclubs that were still running then. It was great fun and decent money for a 16-year-old. Then I became a man at 18 and it became shit. I had to work proper hours, from half five in the morning till finishing time. It was really hard. I only lasted a couple more years before I got sacked.

By the time I was 19 I had left home and got married. I was paying the mortgage in my own gaff. Would I do that again if I could go back? Absolutely fucking not! It was stupid. I was a child having children. I totally fucked up there. I was building a career, I was never there and I probably said things which I’m not going to go into but put it this way, I don’t tell my kids it’s cool to smoke weed any more. I was too young to have kids but everyone did it then. That’s how it was for working class people – if you weren’t married with kids by 20 there was something wrong.

I didn’t learn my alphabet until I was 25. If I was at school now I’d have a label. In fact everyone in the band would have a label – learning difficulties, behavioural problems. I stopped going in to school when I was 14. But I was good with words – I was the class clown, I made up daft poems and songs. When we were putting the band together everyone had a go at trying to write lyrics and I was the best. So I got the job as the writer.

If you look at the Happy Mondays’ history, we did party but we really did work hard as well. I’d always grafted – I sold horseshit on the street when I was seven years old. We always looked at the band as a job. We were Margaret Thatcher’s first enterprise allowance. All the press that we got about all the drugs we took – we worked it. We weren’t just a bunch of dickheads, we knew how to manipulate the press, we knew what we wanted to do with rock ‘n’ roll. It was only when we started selling records – around the Pills ‘n’ Thrills album – we started to think, right, we’ve built it. Now we can play a bit.

I’d love to tell the teenage Shaun he’ll be on Top of the Pops one day. Doing Top of the Pops was a very big deal for me. I’d watched it every week since the ’60s. It meant much more to me than being on the cover of the NME or being in the news, anything you can think of. I remember saying to myself just before it – things will never be the same again after this. And they weren’t.

If I met the young Shaun now, I’d think he was alright. He had good manners. I wouldn’t give him any advice. I think you have to let kids go their own way. Though I do tell my girls – drugs are shit, don’t take them. Even though that’s not true. They’re only six and seven. We try to keep them as sweet and innocent as they can be. One day they’ll find out everything about me of course. But that doesn’t bother me. It’s part of who I am.

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I was good with words – I was the class clown, I made up daft poems and songs

I was lucky, I got to have a second go at being a dad. I was brought up Catholic and I send my kids to Catholic school. At least this way they’ll have good manners. I still have to go to Mass every week. One of my girls is about to make her first Holy Communion so we have to go along for instructions every fucking week, me and the wife. I had one Catholic wedding but I can never have another – I’m divorced. It would be good if they changed that. We’ll never have female priests though, ’cause that’s just a money thing. It would cost too much when you can get some merry widow to come and clean for nothing.

When we came along music had got boring again. It was like 1976 Top of the Pops, like punk had never happened. The industry was shit again too. It had got to the point that if someone offered you a joint, the record company sacked them. We wanted to bring back the spirit of the Pistols, Keith Richards. Which is exactly what we did. We told Piers Morgan we smoked weed, we didn’t hide it. I smoked a lot of smack; it had been around our way for a long time, before weed even. But I never got into using needles and I wasn’t a boozer. So my liver and kidneys are fantastic and I don’t have a big red nose.

If you’re still doing loads of drugs after you’re 40, you’ve got to be pretty sad

Once I got to 40 I thought, wait a minute, I am now a man, a fully fledged grown up. Women grow up earlier but men can get away with being kids until they’re 40. If you’re still doing loads of drugs after you’re 40, you’ve got to be pretty sad. I made a conscious decision to sack it all and it took me about three years but I got there. I still see lots of people my age sniffing charlie but I don’t even smoke weed any more. I’ve just had my 53rd birthday and I feel brilliant.

I’d tell my younger self to pay my old managers the £150,000 they got awarded when we fell out and went to court in 1996. At the time I thought, why should I pay them that, they didn’t do their jobs properly. But then we went into receivership and it cost me millions. And it was hard to get out of. Receivers are the biggest crooks in the world, they really are. They don’t pay tax on any money they take, and they’ll take 100 per cent of your income. I’d tell my 1996 self, just pay the 150 fucking grand and move on.

If I could go back and relive any time, it would be when I was about five and I’d be at my nana’s. It was just a joy being at nana’s. My mum would drop us off and we’d stay for ages, it felt like a year. She’d put on Nat King Cole and she’d make stews, and steak and onions. She thought I could do no wrong, and I was a little twat. My life was just so fantastic when I was a kid because of my nana. When she died it was around 1988, I was out on one, building up my career, and it never really sunk in. I’d like to go back and give her a big hug.

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