Shaun Ryder: I’ve known all my life that something wasn’t quite right
Indie rock’s enfant terrible has become something of a campaigner of late. Shaun Ryder, frontman of Madchester trouble-makers Happy Mondays, has taken it upon himself to draw attention to the challenges faced by those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“I’ve known all my life that something wasn’t quite right,” he explains down the phone from his home in Salford, Greater Manchester. “It’s what led me into drinking as a kid, taking drugs as a kid, getting in trouble as a kid. I didn’t learn the alphabet until I was 28 and could only learn that when someone told me to sing it.”
The singer and multi-instrumentalist – now famed as much for his TV appearances on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! and Gogglebox as for his extensive back catalogue – was diagnosed last year after two of his daughters, aged 12 and 30, received similar diagnoses (ADHD tends to run in families).
“Learning is remembering,” the 58-year-old says in his growling Mancunian twang. “My brain gets about 10 things going on at once and the wires don’t connect. They all go, ‘It’s the drugs’, and it’s not. I have been like this all my life.”
It’s no secret that Ryder and his band of merry men indulged themselves during their late Eighties and early Nineties heyday, as rave music hit the UK in the Second Summer Of Love and they released timely anthems such as Kinky Afro and Step On. It could even be said that Ryder and Bez, his maraca-wielding bandmate, courted controversy and made it part of the Happy Mondays brand. But, looking back, Ryder sees his drug use, which culminated in an addiction to heroin, as a result of his condition and lack of support.
“When I was at school you never heard the word ‘ADHD’,” he recalls. “We didn’t even hear ‘dyslexic’ at school. There was really nothing on offer. It wasn’t on the planet as far as we were concerned. I was in set four, which was basically a class for crowd control. It was like the dummy set. Now I look back and think everybody in that class, all 40 of us, had conditions. But it was the naughty class.”
Ryder is calling for ADHD to be afforded the same serious treatment in the UK as in America. Struggling in school, by the age of 13 he was skipping class and dabbling in petty crime. “The problem stems from the ADHD,” he reflects. “The nutty behaviour. You have got all this energy going and you can’t focus on anything. It’s like games at school – like football. I couldn’t play because I couldn’t understand the rules. I couldn’t get offside. I just couldn’t take in the rules.
“You want to be a bit of a superhero at school so you start getting into crime and robbing a bit of money, and the girls love you. Attention-seeking stuff like that because that’s the only thing you could do really that I enjoyed – getting into trouble.”
The singer, who is now clean, admits he has not always been a present father but is now embracing domestic life with wife Joanne after tying the knot in 2010. He says the drugs made him feel “normal” but now he has other coping mechanisms to keep him focused. Ritalin, a common treatment for the condition, is off the cards because it is an amphetamine. “Moving about all the time because you don’t feel comfortable in your skin,” he remembers. “When you have a lifetime of that and you take some drugs and feel normal, that’s managing your condition. It’s just that you don’t know what you are managing. You just know there is something not right.”
I call Ryder to speak about his new solo album, his first in 18 years. In truth, Visits From Future Technology is actually an old album, recorded in 2010, shortly before he went on I’m A Celebrity. Ryder finished runner-up to Stacey Solomon but his boisterous presence in the Australian jungle placed him firmly back in the public consciousness. The album was shelved as his manager pushed him towards a career in TV, but has now emerged during some lockdown-induced spring cleaning.
After a lifetime struggling to maintain concentration, the pandemic offered Ryder a chance to knuckle down and make music. He worked on tracks with the likes of Robbie Williams, Noel Gallagher and revered Jamaican record producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. It wasn’t always this way. Ryder suffered writer’s block for years, only rediscovering his creativity during a recording session with Blur frontman Damon Albarn for his Gorillaz side project. The result, Dare, saw the floodgates reopen and led to an unlikely number one hit.
“I had writer’s block for years. And then it comes back as quick as it went. In 2004 when I went to do the Gorillaz thing, Damon invited me up to London to the studio and I had nothing. I was dry for years and that was why we ended up with ‘Going up, going up, going up – it’s there’.”
His recent projects – all meant to stay secret – were recently revealed by bandmate and best friend Bez, with whom he appears on Channel 4’s Gogglebox. What is the secret to maintaining a friendship through the highs and lows of fame? “We bicker with each other but we don’t have mad big arguments,” says Ryder after a pause. “We get pissed off with each other now and then, but not often. He won’t have it that he is ADHD, because I’m ADHD and he’s exactly the same as me, but he won’t have it. We both haven’t got a good sense of smell. So I can’t smell his feet and he can’t smell mine. So that’s the secret!”
Both were hit hard by coronavirus last year but Ryder says he is finally over the after-effects. “For a while, every couple of days a week I would go right under again,” he says. “But that seems to have phased out now. So I’m all right. But for a good few months after I had it, once or twice a week I would end up spending the day in bed. It would just floor you again. You are getting out and about feeling normal and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, bang.”
Ryder is, of course, excited to get back to touring. He has live dates with Happy Mondays, funk-rockers Black Grape and potentially some solo performances in the pipeline. Plus, he is tired of living off his streaming royalties. “I got a million plays on (recent solo single) Close The Dam on Spotify,” he exclaims, somewhat surprised. I made a few grand off that the other week. It’s absolutely garbage, the money on Spotify. But you get a million people listening to the tunes and then, hopefully, they will come and watch your shows.”
Pre-order Visits From Future Technology by Shaun Ryder at shaunryder.tmstor.es