Topic: The Staff Let Shaun Use Frank's Microphone
Never knew Shaun was seeing Rowetta. Were they that good? I've a couple of mates who think they were amazing.
Paul Ryder, bass/co-songwriter
Kinky Afro was our biggest hit in the US, but people still go crazy wherever we play it. It started off with us just jamming. We'd moved into this massive rehearsal space, and our kid [singer Shaun Ryder] turned up with a big fridge full of beer. We got stuck in. I'd been listening to Hot Chocolate's greatest hits, so played a bassline with a similar feel, and Gaz [Whelan] came up with a drumbeat. We had a title – Groovy Afro – but changed it after the Farm had a hit with Groovy Train. At that point, though, it was just one of several unfinished ideas that we took to Los Angeles to work on with producers Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne for our third album, Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches.
Out in LA, we lived in apartments, and all went a bit crazy. Paul Davis [keyboards] and Gaz had never lived away from home: after four days, the kitchen was infested with ants because they'd just been throwing rubbish in the corner. It was like a cartoon, with ants carrying away the chicken carcass.
Compared with that, the studio was a sanctuary of calm. We worked 10-hour shifts getting the music ready for Shaun to add the lyrics. On the third day, he arrived with a bag of opium. It turned out he'd already shared it with some of the band, who'd assumed it was cannabis. He suddenly said: "You've been smoking opium for two weeks!" Our early stuff was recorded on speed, but opium made us more laidback.
We were using in Capitol Studios, where the Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra had recorded. The staff let Shaun use Frank's microphone. I don't know if that inspired him. Tony Wilson used to compare him to WB Yeats, which is a lot to live up to, but he had started writing poetry when he was 13. He'd never show us his lyrics or explain them. He'd just come up with something on the back of a beer mat, start singing, and you'd think: "He's done it again."
I think Kinky Afro's opening line – "Son, I'm 30, I only went with your mother cos she's dirty" – is about me, because I had a kid young. Because I'm Shaun's younger brother, he was always observing me up close. When he sings, "I had to crucify some brother today", he points right at me. And the line "Dad, you're a shabby, you run around and groove like a baggy" has got to be about our dad. He was on tour with us all the time, let loose from Manchester, and enjoying himself all over the world. "I don't have a decent bone in me" could be Shaun singing about himself. For a while, he was called Evil Uncle X. He was up to a lot of bad things at that point. "I never help or give to the needy" is another line like that.
Looking back, we were dysfunctional, but at the time we didn't realise how big we were. People still say our appearance on the same Top of the Pops as the Stone Roses changed their lives. I wish I'd been at home watching that.
When I first saw the Mondays on TV, I thought they were amazing. Then I realised Bez had chatted me up the week before – the manager of the band I was singing in had an office right next to the one used by the Mondays. So I popped in and told their manager I wanted to sing with them. He came to see me performing at Legends in Manchester, where the Mondays had filmed their video for Wrote For Luck, so it felt like serendipity. I had a bottle of whisky in my handbag and was wearing a little fur coat and nothing else. Two weeks later, I was in the band.
It was weird going on stage with Shaun at first. He said: "You're gonna hear things about me, but I'm all right. I don't do acid any more." They'd just started working with Oakenfold and Osborne, and their sound was getting more commercial. When I first sang on Kinky Afro, at a gig in New York, there wasn't much to the song apart from Shaun repeating that "Yippee, ippee, ey, ey, ay, yey, yey" refrain inspired by Labelle's Lady Marmalade, but I loved it already.
After they'd recorded it in Los Angeles, I added my vocals at Eden Studios in London. By then, it had proper verses and choruses. It was the first song they'd written themselves that sounded like a massive pop song – Step On had been a cover. Mark Day's guitar was a big part of it. He'd just come up with these riffs. We'd tell him they were fantastic and he'd go: "What did I do?"
When we played Kinky Afro live, I wanted something to do with my hands. Bez had his maracas and I wasn't a dancer, so I got a whip and used it on the boys. Eventually, I had to stop because they'd say: "You don't realise how much it hurts!" I like to think Shaun wrote the song about me. "I wrote them all for you, Ro," he says. We were seeing each other for while: friendship overlapped into whatever. I've asked him about it but he says he can't remember.