Scandalous tales of Happy Mondays from 4-day benders with sex shows & dwarves to poisoning 3,000 pigeons over stolen KFC10/08/2020
THEY were legends of the 'Madchester' scene and when it comes to the old adage of sex, drugs and rock n’roll, few bands have proved as devoted to the cause as the Happy Mondays.
At the height of their success, Shaun Ryder and co made headlines with their drug-fuelled capers, from being beaten up by bouncers for stealing New Order’s booze to a four day Ibiza bender involving sex shows and dwarves.
This week, it was revealed the band’s former tour manager, Anthony Murray, has been arrested in Turkey over a £80m drug plot.
The 52-year-old is suspected of being involved in a ring which attempted to smuggle 228kg from Colombia, hidden in fertiliser bags.
Frontman Ryder – who lost all his teeth to drugs – now lives a more sober lifestyle, centred on family and gigging.
Here we look back at a time when the Happy Mondays’ drug-fuelled antics were as legendary as their music.
Poisoning pigeons and stealing guitars
Even before Ryder found fame, he had a colourful past. Growing up in Salford, he claims to have poisoned 3,000 pigeons with bread dipped in rat killer.
“Why did I do it? Because I was a f***ing horrible young kid who didn’t like pigeons coming in and trying to pinch my Kentucky Fried Chicken,” he told the Ham and High.
“I was a bit of a nasty c*** so I poisoned ‘em with rat poison. I certainly wouldn’t do it again… and I certainly wouldn’t write songs with lines like ‘I might be the honky, but I’m hung like a donkey.’ There’s all sorts I wouldn’t do.”
The singer, now 57, claims he had his first snog at four, in his primary school toilets, went on pub crawls at 12, took amphetamines at 15 and grew weed in his parents’ flat.
He also hinted that he was a teen burglar in an interview with Vice, saying: “Robbing was my biggest buzz as a kid. Before drugs, the buzz of getting into someone's house; you can't imagine it – it's f***ing huge.”
He was also sacked from a job as a postman after biting a dog on his round, while high on LSD.
Ryder formed the Happy Mondays in 1980, with brother Paul and pals Mark Day and Gary Whelan, and says early gigs were played on instruments “stolen from schools.”
Already, the band were heavily into drugs and drink – with one of their earliest breaks, a support gig at Glasgow’s Barrowlands, ruined when bouncers discovered they had broken into New Order’s dressing room in search of alcohol.
Ecstasy, maracas and turning up at the wrong gig
Famed for shaking a maraca and dancing wildly during the band's gigs, Bez – real name Mark Berry – only joined the band because he and Ryder were high on drugs during a TV appearance filmed at the legendary Hacienda club.
“I’d scored a lot of black microdots,” he told NME. “So me and Shaun were tripping our heads off. Shaun turned round and said, ‘I can’t go on, Bez! You’re gonna have to come on with me.’
"So I ended up on stage tripping my nut off, shaking this maraca.”
After one marathon session in Newcastle, Ryder woke up late for a gig and found the bandmates and crew had already left their hotel.
He jumped in a taxi and burst into the building as the first chords struck up, only to find he was at the wrong gig – and the band on stage were Simply Red.
By the time their second album, Bummed, was recorded in 1988, the band were on constant benders with ecstasy as their drug of choice.
Ryder later told the Mirror: “Bummed was the ecstasy album. When we were recording Bummed, we had all the ecstasy in Manchester.”
Ibiza bender with sex shows and dwarves
The Nineties brought bestselling album Pills n' Thrills and Bellyaches – and drug-fuelled parties that went on for days.
In a recent interview singer Rowetta, who joined the band in 1990, said: “The lifestyle we had back then was non-stop. We really were 24-hour party people. It was every day of the year. It was too wild.
"It was too mad. Everything was too extreme. We used to stay out for days. When you’re young and you’re having fun that’s OK.”
She revealed the band held a four-day party at their hotel in Ibiza, after performing hits Step On and 24 Hour Party People at Manumission club, with notorious drug smuggler Howard Marks as one of the guests.
“There were dwarves doing all sorts and there were sex shows everywhere. It was just weird and wacky and wonderful,” Rowetta added.
We really were 24-hour party people. It was every day of the year. It was too wild.
On another occasion, the band borrowed Eddy Grant’s studio in Barbados to record their fourth album, Yes Please.
Hearing that their crack cocaine use was spiralling out of control, Factory Records boss Tony Wilson flew to the Caribbean island and later claimed that, as his plane was coming into land, he saw Ryder and Bez wheeling one of Grant’s sofas down the road to trade for drugs.
Millions lost over 'stoned' signature
Ryder’s addiction also dealt him a huge financial blow when his former management company sued him for £150,000, in 1997.
The singer said he was stoned when he signed the contract so refused to pay up but the court disagreed and he was told to settle the debt.
Having blown his fortune on drugs, he couldn’t pay but refused to declare himself bankrupt because he would lose all future royalties on his songs.
He explained: "If you go bankrupt when you write your own songs, you never get them back. Everything goes.”
The decision ended up costing him more than £4.5million as the money he earned went to the receivers.
"We’d do a world tour with the Mondays and I’d gross a couple of hundred grand. Several times we got paid £80,000 for having songs in Hollywood movies,” he says. “None of that I got to keep."
It took him 13 years to clear the debt and his £120,000 cheque for appearing in the 2010 series of I'm A Celeb was the first cash he was able to keep.
Kicking drugs… and being banned from Bargain Hunt
Despite losing all his teeth through drug addiction, Ryder didn’t clean up his act until the death of George Michael on Christmas Day 2016.
Now a keen cyclist and family man, Shaun – who has six kids including a 12-year-old and 11-year-old with second wife Joanne – feels lucky to be alive.
He told The Sun: “I did a lot of drugs, but I know the dance. So I never got into injecting. I didn’t f*** around with needles.
“I was really lucky I could afford to go out and buy heroin in ounces and not have to stick it in the needle to get the biggest effect. I could smoke it.
“But f*** me, it could easily have gone another way.”
Even so, the aging Mondays’ members – who last toured in 2019 – still know how to cause a scandal.
In 2018, Bez and Rowetta were disqualified from Bargain Hunt after the percussionist’s girlfriend bid on one of their lots, inflating the price.
His latest TV appearance, alongside Ryder on Celebrity Gogglebox, led to 183 complaints to Ofcom over their constant drug references.
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