The history of Britain’s popular culture is almost rich and diverse as the people who consume it. If the fifties and sixties gave us Rock ‘n’ Roll, the seventies was considered by many as pretty formulaic and if The Bay City Rollers didn’t happen to do it for you, then there wasn’t much selection. Yet suddenly around the mid eighties, a minor revolution was taking place in the Manchester area which in time would change Britain’s musical heritage forever. In 1982 former Granada Television presenter Tony Wilson launched Manchester’s music venue The Hacienda which offered a platform to upcoming artists to have their first taste of a live audience. Little did he know that this club would go on to have a pivotal role in the direction of British music for generations to come.
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The ecstasy scene had firmly kicked in and Acid House was the sound that everyone was listening to. Unemployed Shaun and Paul Ryder formed The Happy Mondays in 1980 with friend Gary Whelan on the drums, but it wasn’t long before Mark Berry (better known as Bez) joined the band as percussionist and dancer. Following along the same lines of New Order, The Happy Mondays were one of the first bands to fuse Acid House with Rock and Pop which in turn created a brand new sound. With the addition of synth sounds to the alternative rock vibe, Shaun Ryder had hit upon something that seemed to epitomise the mood of the time and in turn helped to influence a whole generation of music. With Hits including Step On, The Happy Mondays went on to dominate indie music for over a decade until the first of many breakups in 1992.
Unphased by the disbursement of the Happy Mondays, Shaun realised that he had a severe drug addiction and so spent several years attempting to win the battle of alcoholism and drug misuse. Thankfully, he won the battle and once clean set about creating a brand new band with a new sound. Black Grape brought together the talents of Shaun, Bez, Danny Sabre, Paul Leverege, Ged Lynch, Martin Slattery, Carl McCarthy and Paul Wagstaff in a supergroup relevant for nineties Britain. The popular culture landscape had changed and music fans demanded a more rawer approach to their music. Black Grape became satirical, controversial and slightly anarchic which once again put Shaun up for scrutiny. Yet all publicity is good publicity!
This coincided with Channel Four’s seminal entertainment series TFI Friday presented by the then bad boy of television: Chris Evans. Shaun’s notorious use of bad language doesn’t always make him the obvious choice for a pre-watershed live entertainment show. Yet after a number of appearances on the show, Shaun became one of the most popular guests and was invited back on a regular basis. On one particular occasion however, he unexpectedly uttered the word Fuck more than once on the six o’clock edition meaning that the show was taken off the air and Chris Evans was sacked from the programme. This resulted in Shaun receiving a twelve year ban from the channel which expired in 2010 meaning that he could appear on the anniversary special in 2015.
Now into his fourth decade in entertainment Shaun shows no sign of slowing down and his recent reunion with Black Grape epitomises this. This week we learnt of the creating of the Cool Britannia festival at Knebworth where The Happy Mondays will be headlining. The Happy Mondays are still on the road with other gigs and Shaun remains busier than ever. It was a great pleasure to speak with such a cultural icon and long may he reign over entertainment.