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Black Grape

+ {Amateur Night In The Big Top} + {SWR}

For intents and purposes, BLACK GRAPE were the off-shoot group of the charismatic Shaun Ryder (born 23 August 1962), a pill-popping singer/spokesman who’d endorsed the use the weed when he fronted Factory Records sextet, HAPPY MONDAYS. This “Madchester” scene combo led the way for a stoned generation brought up on acid-house and raves; from the mid-80s to the early 90s (and a little beyond), Shaun, dancer Bez and Co gate-crashed the charts party with `Loose Fit’, `Wrote For Luck’, `Hallelujah’ and the JOHN KONGOS-sampled `Step On’.
After a washout of a tour in ’92, HAPPY MONDAYS drifted apart, a messy end for a band that were capable of true musical genius against all the odds. The loose limbed spirit of the group lived on in BLACK GRAPE, the band Shaun and Bez formed along with rapper Kermit (aka Paul Leveridge) and Ged Lynch from the Ruthless Rap Assassins and a host of extras including multi-instrumentalist/producer Danny Saber and guitarist Paul Wagstaff (from Paris Angels); early members Martin Wright and Martin Mittler (from INTASTELLA) subsequently served a writ, claiming they co-wrote with Shaun on early demos before they departed.
Shaun’s brilliant return from oblivion was complete by summer 1995 when the storming `Reverend Black Grape’ launched him back into the Top 10. The mouthiest, grooviest low-slung Manc rave-up to grace the charts since the `Mondays peak, the record pointed squarely in the direction where the party was really happening, bypassing completely the tedious Brit-pop posturing. As ever, Ryder and entourage were never far from controversy, both the song and video subsequently banned from TV as the Catholic church alleged the lyrics condoned Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal (which also angered the New York based ADL – Anti-Defamation League). Another classy single, `In The Name Of The Father’, followed it into the Top 10; funk rhythms and a sitar-tinged intro previewing the eclecticism of the accompanying No.1 album, IT’S GREAT WHEN YOU’RE STRAIGHT… YEAH! (1995) {*8}. Its title a reference to Ryder’s clean-living new ways (his inimitable cut ’n’ paste lyrics apparently fuelled solely by Guinness!?), the record was compared favourably against the Mondays’ best work, and the second coming-style fuss over Shaun’s critical rebirth seemed at least partly justified. Loping through a day-glo musical smarty pack of hip-hop, rock, indie-dance, soul and indeed, anything close to hand, Ryder proved his subversive genius was well intact, while Kermit’s hyperactive rapping assaults were a perfect foil for his stoned immaculate drawl. During this time, they were one of the successes at Scotland’s “T In The Park” 2-day festival, even though Kermit broke his leg and had to sit out most of the gig on a speaker; `Kelly’s Heroes’ became the group’s third Top 20 hit.
During an eventful 1996 of regular touring and high profile press coverage (on Channel 4’s TFI Friday, Shaun caused his usual rumpus by adding loads of live “f” words on their version of The SEX PISTOLS’ `Pretty Vacant’), Bez and Shaun finally parted ways, while Kermit embarked on a side project, Man Made, the following year. Meanwhile, BLACK GRAPE had added second rapper Psycho to the team, the man fitting well into both `Fat Neck’ and `England’s Irie’ smash hits, the latter featuring vocals by former CLASH icon, JOE STRUMMER; the pair of songs spawned from sophomore album, STUPID, STUPID, STUPID {*7}, which finally emerged at the end of ‘97 amid furious inter-band disputes, claims and counter claims. The feuding saw the band cancel their New Year’s Eve show at London’s Alexandra Palace, although there were further chart entries via `Get Higher’ and a minor one, `Marbles’.
SHAUN duly resurrected HAPPY MONDAYS, while, in the meantime, Bez was up to all sorts, including a TV spot on the Stewart Lee & Richard Herring Sunday brunch show (dedicated to strange scientific happenings, mad for it, man); he also began writing an autobiography, no really man!
HAPPY MONDAYS (i.e. Shaun, his brother Paul, Gary, Wags (from BLACK GRAPE), rapper Nuts, Rowetta Satchell and of course a reluctant Bez) were “smokin” once again when a new single, `The Boys Are Back In Town’ (described as only inspired by the THIN LIZZY number!) hit the Top 30. However, after all the hype, the promise and the fuss, only an accompanying “Greatest Hits” package was supplied as a stop-gap to feed their fans. Paul Ryder left on the 11th of August after the Eclipse ‘99 festival in Cornwall, by which time, Shaun had paid off the taxman (and child maintenance) from his royalties. But really what did the `Mondays give us during this spell, apart from another chance to see the bleary-eyed singer trying to read a cue card on a stage monitor – your answers please on the back of a postage stamp. In the month of July 2000, the most embarrassing sham on TV since the days of Oliver Reed and George Best when a sober-looking Shaun was a guest on the Jim Davidson Friday show, er… singing `Barcelona’ (yes, that one!) side by side with classical singer Russell Watson.
With ongoing legal wrangles stalling Ryder from recording under his old banners, the man took off to his cousin Pete Carroll’s house in Perth, Australia. There, Ryder talked about retiring and, but the help of Mondays’ sleeve designer Pete, he set about putting his memoirs to music. In the summer of 2003, his fun tales of drugs, fights, prison and er… drugs, were duly delivered as CLOWNS AND PET SOUNDS {*6} under the AMATEUR NIGHT IN THE BIG TOP billing. Opener `The Story’ and the single `Scooter Girl’ (the latter produced by CABARET VOLTAIRE man Stephen Mallinder), were both experimental and techno showcasing his dark wit and cheeky Mancunian humour to the fore; Lucky Oceans from country act Asleep At The Wheel was an unusual suspect on board this unit.
On the back of Shaun Ryder’s collaborative efforts on GORILLAZ’ classic dance hit, `Dare’ (complete with Shaun’s “disembodied head” video), there came another HAPPY MONDAYS set. After their “Uncle Dysfunktional” album of 2007, Shaun maintained a high-profile media CV; the singer would do himself proud as 2010 runner-up on reality TV show, I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Further solo outings (as SWR) on 12-inch `Close The Dam’ and (as Four Lions) on the footy song, `We Are England’, in 2015 and 2016 respectively, kept him rolling along.
Then just as one thought we’d heard the last of the maverick Mancunian, up rose a resurrected BLACK GRAPE, which this time featured the trio of Ryder, Kermit and producer/musician Youth (aka Martin Glover). August 2017’s POP VOODOO {*6} cracked the Top 20; fans happy to hear their main man’s cynical lyrics on the subject of golden-“nugget”-head Donald Trump on opening number, `Everything You Know Is Wrong (intro)’. If profound poet JOHN COOPER CLARKE could sing, he’d be white-rap man Shaun; the latter’s visceral vernacular evident on `String Theory’, `Whiskey, Wine And Ham’ and the slightly sleazy `Sugar Money’.
© MC Strong 1996-2006/BG-GRD // rev-up MCS June2012-Oct2018

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