John Power (Cast) interview
The ever garrulous rapscallion on his ‘posh, middle-class’ wife and offspring, pig’s tickers, taxing issues, close encounters, the wisdom of aging, his enduring appeal and new pastures. We talk to the legend Shaun Ryder ahead of his performance at this weekend’s Shiiine On Weekender with Black Grape
So, you’re playing the Shiiine On Weekender at Minehead again. What do you recall of last year (with the Happy Mondays)?
It was a good show and this year we’re doing it with Black Grape. Our audience goes from about 15 to 60, because of the sort of stuff me and Bez do on the telly; that brings in a young crowd. You could put me and Bez on Jackanory and make it credible!
What’s your take on these ‘weekenders’, once upon a time you’d have been all over the notion?
Yeah, they’re great. When I first laid it on to the Mondays they were like ‘Whaaat, we’re not playing Butlins’, ‘I was like ‘it’s all changed … not like it used to be’. Once if you were playing Butlins it meant your career was finished.
Did you go as a kid?
No, me missus took our kids, (who are) real middle class girls, she took them (Pontins) and they had to queue up for towels and soap, they come back looking like they’d been in a horror movie! She went with her mates thinking ‘I’ve got to see this world’, they usually do posh things … 5 star hotels …
We never did that, our family went to Cornwall, took us about 15 hours … the arguments in the car with a map …
What are the differences between the Mondays and Black Grape?
With BG it’s just me and Kermit that call the shots, I’ve got a partner to write songs with which is real fun. The Mondays … everybody’s got a say in something, believe it of nor it’s better than it’s ever been, I keep saying ‘the sex and drugs has gone it’s just rock ‘n’ roll’
Black Grape’s just a breeze, it’s still relatively new, it’s real fun, me and him have still got what we’ve always had going, bounce off each other, it’s just 100% a good time.
We’re just about to start the new album, we’re off to Spain at the end of the month to Youth’s studio and hope to get it finished really quickly.
One with the Mondays too?
Yeah, looking at 2018 that one, McGee wants it then … that’s what Alan wants and he usually gets what he wants!
How do you differentiate the songs for whichever hat you’re wearing?
Don’t know, really. It’s easy to do believe me! As soon as me and Kermit get on stage, we turn into our 20’s again. Considering he nearly died, read last rites, he had an operation a couple of days ago, he has a pig’s valve in his heart and every so often they have to take it out and replace it with some more pig. I’ve just had my hernia op and he has that, but, he looks about 29, he’s in great shape. Black don’t crack!
We’ve got a mish-mash of ideas, the way we sort of write, we’ll just get on the mic and start idling ideas, the writing it down comes later. We get most of our ideas off the news or Kermit gets them from his comics, they just arrive. It really is fun writing with him. I’ll throw him some lines and vice versa.
If you could start again would you change anything, do anything differently?
I’d certainly avoid 12 years in receivership, the bad thing about in my game is you go bankrupt you lose all your songs, so it took me 12 years to get out of that, I should have just paid them back in the day, cost me 12 years of madness. Apart from that, no! I wouldn’t change that much.
Was that you being stubborn and proud?
Basically they wanted 120 grand off me and I didn’t think they deserved it so I didn’t pay it. Really I should’ve, I should have won the court case in the first place which I didn’t, but, you know what it’s like when you get affected by mind-altering drugs you do mad things, the next thing you know you’re in receivership, you can’t get out of it then, 120 grand turned into 2.3 million … more.
You were then stuck, in creative limbo?
Yeah, I could go out and work, but I couldn’t keep anything, so 100% income gets took off you, then when you eventually do get out of it then you get lawyers saying ‘You’ve had 100% of your income took off you now you’ve got to pay the tax’ and it’s like ‘How the fuck do you work that out?’ Wait a minute, the receivers took all my income so I can’t even keep anything … they take it all and then 12 years later I’m liable to pay tax on that its madness and then you’ve got to spend shitloads of dough on loads of lawyers … it’s a mad situation.
Intoxicants: help or hindrance?
It depends on who it is, but, what I did through me ages, drugs can be quite fun. But also not be fun. I mean now, with my (younger) kids if they started smoking weed I’d be like ‘Fuck’. But, I wouldn’t be calling it a hindrance.
There’s always been a psychedelic influence element to your work.
My ‘mind’ didn’t really work until I took acid … acid did more for me than 5 years at secondary school. I went into secondary school and I came out not knowing my alphabet, I hadn’t learned anything I hadn’t at junior school. Left school at 15, I didn’t learn anything, but, I took acid and I learnt a lot and I wanted to learn. I’m not saying that’s for everybody, but, it certainly helped me, same as smoking cannabis.
If you had to live without wine, women or song, which one?
Wine. Pretty much do now anyway, could quite easily live without that … I definitely wouldn’t like to do without the women or the music.
What’s it like working with heroes? (John Cale/Tina Weymouth/Chris Frantz). Do talk to me …
When we were working with Cale he’d just come through his drug time so he was this really straight dude eating lots of tangerines watching the news. And now I’m that straight dude who eats tangerines and watches the news! He must have looked at us, none of us owned a guitar couldn’t read music, we were only just learning about recording … he must have thought we were just knobheads really, just stoned. Whereas they were stoned WITH talent he must have thought we were stoned WITHOUT any talent!
Tina and Chris, great people, it just didn’t work … I always say that last Mondays album should have been the first Black Grape album. I’d got in a way of working with Oakenfold, which was just ‘Here’s some beats now go and write some lyrics to it’. Chris and Tina went back to the old way of working with it, I’ve got to sit through days and days of someone tuning a bass and twanging on a guitar and kicking on a drum …
Which can lead to boredom?
Yeah, like with Youth he can just pull all sorts of stuff out, works really fast, the way I like.
Called Jesus both a c*nt and a black man. Which one do you still hold to be true?
He certainly wasn’t white was he? And, no, I don’t think he was a cunt.
Do you still believe there’s something ‘out there’?
Absolutely. It’s ridiculous to think that we’re on our own. All the sort of old physicist brigade who still think Darwin ruled are being made to look foolish now, from this new lot that are coming around, what’s becoming normal about intelligent design, it’s just raving mad to think we come out of some pea soup. It’s becoming the ‘norm’ now, so … The mystery just goes on.
So it’s more than little green men in flying saucers?
Oh God, yeah.
Definitely seen whatever they’re travelling in, I’ve seen stuff flying round in the 1970s, doing stuff that we still can’t do now supposedly. Also seen something that was 20 x 10 feet, pink and blue lights flashing round it in me garden that then covered itself in cloud, they just covered themselves in cloud. And that’s with no drink and drugs!
Look at how NASA leak stuff out that you’ve sort of known for years. There’s certainly water on Mars … where there’s water …
You have a new found serenity, how come?
Just feeling at ease with yourself as you get older, all the shit you used to do when you’re younger which would do your nut in so you’d take drugs, booze to deal with stuff, apart from your body breaking down it’s mentally fantastic.
Tony Wilson famously said of Joy Division that if it wasn’t for the group they’d be clueless at anything else. Same with you?
Oh, definitely, most of us can’t wipe our own arses or iron a pair of jeans never mind doing a job!
Which helped create that gang/siege mentality?
What was Donovan like as father-in-law?
Ya know, he was a decent bloke … his daughter’s bit fucking mental, but he’s decent.
Mama Cass! Had to say someone, she just popped up.
You are regularly cited as an inspiration, how does that feel, must be nice to be recognised?
I can lie on my back like a dog and let you tickle me belly, it’s that working class thing ‘go on, leave it out’. We just got the Ivor Novello and my first thought was ‘Well, it’s about time!’
Do you think it’s impossible to leave a legacy in ways that used to, The Beatles are back with another film … is it hard to shake the past and for a band to really make a mark?
As far as I’m concerned it’s probably just as hard as it’s always been to get anywhere or make your mark. It’s never been that easy has it. One thing about now is you can do whatever you want and make it yours.
Do you think things (in the pop-cultural-music-sphere) have got a bit tame, stagey and safe?
It’s not that, if you look at major record labels they just won’t go near anything that’s edgy, cos they’re frightened of it, always have been. At least now with your urban stuff, grime and youtubes, those scenes are huge, there’s still ‘edginess’ about, we don’t have Top of the Pops to go and look at anymore, it doesn’t get through in that Top 20 way.
Still to this day record labels are frightened of something that is too real.
To me it’s going backwards. I would like world to be united in one, one day. Last election was the first time I’ve ever voted, started to look at things a different way. Got kids, never used to arse me. Different now.