Paul Ryder, bass guitarist with the Happy Mondays – obituary
Paul Ryder, who has died suddenly aged 58, was a musician whose bass guitar-playing was the funky heartbeat of the Happy Mondays, the band he founded alongside his older brother Shaun; with their potent fusion of rock and dance music – and their gargantuan appetite for drugs – they were in the vanguard of the “Madchester” era of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Paul Anthony Ryder was born on April 24 1964 in Little Hulton, a suburb of Salford, 20 months after Shaun. Their mother Linda was a nursery nurse, their father Derek a postman. As teenagers, both lads were in regular trouble but, inspired by punk, they knew they wanted to be in a band.
Paul bought himself a bass guitar and was soon proficient on it. “The grooves I played came from Northern soul and disco,” he recalled. “I can’t read music, so I just copied the basslines, but I could never get them spot-on so they turned into my own basslines.”
With Paul and Shaun joined by Mark Day on guitar, Gary Whelan on drums and Paul Davis on keyboards – plus Mark “Bez” Berry on maracas and dance moves – the band went through various name changes until settling on Happy Mondays (Monday being the day their dole cheques came through).
Things started to happen when Paul put a cassette through the letterbox of Peter Hook, the New Order bassist. Though they came last in a “Battle of the Bands” at the band’s night club, the Hacienda, the head of Factory records, Tony Wilson, signed them up.
Their debut album, Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out), produced by John Cale, was released in 1987 and reached No 4 on the indie album chart. Their reputation was further enhanced with Bummed in 1988 and Pills ’n’ Thrills and Bellyaches (1990), as well as the Top Ten singles Step On and Kinky Afro.
But while the prevailing “rave” ecstasy culture fuelled their music, drugs also threatened to destroy the band – both Shaun and Paul became heroin addicts – and matters came to a sordid head when Factory dispatched them to Barbados to record their fourth album, Yes Please!, with Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads on production duties.
The idea was that away from heroin the Ryders would be able to function, but the sessions were a disaster: Paul suffered severe withdrawal symptoms, while Shaun discovered a crack dealer on the island and spent 20 hours a day smoking the drug, eventually selling his clothes and studio equipment to buy more.
“In the end we were lucky nobody died,” said Frantz – and the resulting album, released in September 1992, cost £250,000 and effectively bankrupted Factory.
The following year the band split up. Paul Ryder struggled with his drug addiction, but he did write music for television and formed a group of his own, Big Arm. The Mondays reformed in 1999, but after another row, Paul left again – “I would have ended up killing myself or killing [Shaun],” he later said – until another, longer-lasting, reunion in 2012. They were due to play at a festival in Sunderland when he died.
Photo: provided by The Telegraph