BLACK GRAPE could only have been made in Manchester. The swagger, fun and cryptic humour seem hewn from a city historian AJP Taylor once described as offering an archetypally different way of English urban life to London. Both Shaun Ryder and Paul Leveridge, known as Kermit, came from edgy-but-cool parts of the city. In Shaun’s case Salford, (though I know better than to designate that side of the Irwell as Manchester in certain company) with Kermit originating Moss Side. For those unfamiliar, ‘the Moss’ lay in the shadow of Manchester City’s old stadium at Maine Road, and was one of the first multi-ethnic areas in Manchester.
I recall as a youth once going there with a mate to score drugs. This guy had been around, but his customary levity vanished when he warned: “the Moss can get fookin heavy.” We were given the run-around, and eventually the address of this party. So I had gathered that. However, it wasn’t heavy on this particular night as we had terrific fun in the company of a weird and wonderful assortment of friendly strangers. They weren’t hanging back when it came to caning it. It was the type of scene that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to either Shaun or Kermit. (Fuck me, they were probably even there…)
So we have two restlessly creative men, both from the wrong side of the tracks, neither inclined to go to art school or enrol on an MFA programme, yet loaded with street smarts and musical talent, and wanting the world. Good old punk had told every scally they could have it, and a generation of us went for it in our own ways, with varying degrees of success. Shaun’s astonishing rise and fall with the Happy Mondays is the stuff of legend.
Drugs, and smack in particular, are almost custom-designed to ambush such personalities on route, to provide that distracting maze so many of us struggle to navigate our way out of at certain times in our lives. But drugs also brought Shaun and Kermit together. As the friendship developed, so too did a stunning collaboration. It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah, the ironically entitled album, which gave a nod to their hook up as drugs buddies around the grizzled fag end of Happy Mondays and Kermit’s band The Ruthless Rap Assassins. It was a storming phoenix rising from the ashes of the other projects that seemed to have run their course.
So I’m delighted to report that Black Grape are back on the road, and with new album Pop Voodoo that really does rock the fuck out of the discotheque. It’s a rewind to over twenty years ago and the glory days. Shaun’s word play has never been deployed to such devastating effect, and he scores a bullseye whether he hits the obvious targets.
Pop Voodoo was released on 4th August 2017 on UMC.
‘Pop Voodoo’ video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
‘I Wanna Be Like You’ video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
‘Nine Lives’ video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?