“I really enjoyed meself,” says Shaun Ryder of Mantra Of The Cosmos’s rabble-rousing debut show at The Box in London in June. “I mean, a bunch of 60-year-olds forming a new band’s gotta be punk, annit?” To be fair, drummer Zak Starkey – the band’s instigator – and guitarist Andy Bell are still very much in their fifties, but the point stands: they all seem to be revelling in this little sabbatical from their more famous bands, blasting off together into the great unknown.
“It’s really good fun being with those guys,” confirms Bell. “Whether we’re making music or just sitting around chatting, they’re very entertaining people. The added element of chaos for me is Bez. At one point [during the gig] he dragged me to the front of the stage and suddenly I found myself pulling some guitar hero moves! He brought me out of my shell a little bit.”
It was Starkey who originally floated the idea of a “21st century Hawkwind”, writing the band’s debut single “Gorilla Guerilla” with his wife Sshh. He reveals that, for the position of frontman, Ryder was on a shortlist of one. “I knew that the only singer and poet [who’s] psychedelic and different enough would be Shaun. If he hadn’t’ve said ‘Yeah’, I don’t think I would have taken it any further. Everyone’s calling it a supergroup, but that was never the aim. The aim was to just be different and fantastic.”
Bell describes his role in the band as “creating an atmosphere”, citing Public Image Limited and dub reggae as sonic touchstones. “He’s a psychedelic soundscape genius,” enthuses Starkey. “I really didn’t want anyone who does riffs. There’s a lot of songs with one fucking chord in. There aren’t any rules and anything can go anywhere.”
Ryder, too, has free rein to improvise: “We just press record and I get to throw a shitload of ideas down,” he grins. Lyrical themes are “whatever floats me boat at the time.” One song is based entirely on an article from a 1973 edition of NME he found in Starkey’s studio. Others are more topical, threatening to “put the boot in to Putin” – “It started off worse than that, but we thought ‘Let’s give this band a chance before we all get poisoned’” – or rhyming “laughing gas” with “working class”, prompted by a discovery of nitrous oxide canisters in his teenage son’s bedroom. How does a man with Ryder’s reputation for debauchery approach the ‘drugs chat’? “Me two youngest are 14 and 15 so they’re going through that stage of experimenting. I’m not gonna condone it, but I certainly understand. We just have to educate them, really. We don’t smoke in the house, we don’t have alcohol in the house, we don’t have fuckin’ laughing gas in the house! But the best thing is to just leave it to their mother…”
Mantra Of The Cosmos played The Box as a four-piece, but at Glastonbury they expanded to include Brix Smith on bass. “Another 60-year-old!” cackles Ryder. “It’s not ‘life begins at 40’ any more, it’s life ‘begins at 60’. I’m a lot busier now than I ever used to be.” As well as Mantra Of The Cosmos, he’s playing shows with Happy Mondays throughout the summer and has just recorded a new Black Grape album for release in the autumn. “I’ve finally worked out that life is a lot easier without being off your tits.”
Mantra Of The Cosmos’s latest single, “X (Wot You Sayin?)”, is out now on BMG. Watch the video below: