Music interview: Shaun Ryder on reforming Black Grape

Shaun Ryder has teamed up with former Black Grape bandmate Paul '˜Kermit' Leveridge for a tour. Duncan Seaman reports.

Black Grape
Black Grape

Shaun Ryder is evidently in the mood for reunions. Having successfully reformed one of his former bands – Happy Mondays – to play several sold-out tours over the past four years, he is now resurrecting another.

Black Grape was the group Ryder founded with Manchester rappers Paul ‘Kermit’ Leveridge and Carl ‘Psycho’ McCarthy, along his old friend Mark ‘Bez’ Berry, after the Mondays disintegrated in a drug-filled haze in 1993.

They proved an immediate hit, writing one the most important albums of the 1990s – the ironically titled album It’s Great When You’re Straight...Yeah, which went to Number One in the UK in 1995 – before crashing and burning themselves out after the release of its less well-received successor Stupid Stupid Stupid in 1998. Ryder reveals a reunion with Leveridge had been on the cards for a while. “We did a Black Grape show in London two or three years ago and nothing came of it because the management I had at the time just didn’t do anything with it, and Kermit wasn’t with us then,” he says.

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    Shaun Ryder and Paul 'Kermit' Leveridge from Black Grape. Picture: Karin Albinsson

    “Anyway me and Joanne, my missus, were sat here one night and we started talking about how it was 20 years since the Black Grape album, then we put a bit on social media saying ‘what do you think?’ and we came back with all this positive stuff so I got in touch with Kermit again and he seemed to me that he was ready for it this time – two years before I didn’t think that he was – and we just took it from there.”

    On their autumn/winter tour the duo will be marking the 21st anniversary of It’s Great When You’re Straight...Yeah. Ryder, now 54, recalls that when they were recording the album at Rockfield Studio in Monmouth the Stone Roses were also there, working their second album, The Second Coming, yet it seems the two titans of the ‘Madchester’ scene didn’t spend much time together.

    “I think I bumped into Mani [the Roses’ bass player Gary Mounfield] every now and then in the pub and that was about it,” Ryder says.

    The record itself was influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction. “All our management was American and we ended up with a copy of Pulp Fiction before it was released over here,” Ryder remembers. “We watched it and it blew us all away. In one way or another it probably did have a bit to do with the first Black Grape album.”

    Shaun Ryder and Paul 'Kermit' Leveridge from Black Grape. Picture: Karin Albinsson

    Musically Black Grape was a marriage of what Ryder had done in Happy Mondays with the rapidly emerging sound of hip-hop. “It was just basically what we were into,” Ryder explains. “You go back to the early 80s and hip-hop or rap was playing an influence then, but white guys didn’t do hip-hop. When we brought out the first Black Grape album Eminem didn’t exist.”

    The group’s enthusiasm for hip-hop wasn’t always shared by their US record label. “Because the Americans wanted a hit we had to de-hip-hop a lot of tunes,” Ryder says. The album was finished in a rural studio near Skegness. “A lot of it was to do with money,” Ryder says, of the incongruous setting. “We ended up in the middle of nowhere, that’s where we mixed it. I was living in a caravan. The recording studio was really funny, where they put me and Kermit was in a field in the bottom of the garden.”

    A photograph on the album’s inner sleeve bears witness to their short stay in Lincolnshire. “One of the photographs that we did with everyone who was playing on the album was on top of the amusement arcade in Skegness,” Ryder recalls. “It’s a photograph of me, Danny Saber [the guitarist, engineer and producer] and all the session guys and WAGs and everybody who was involved, all on the roof.”

    In recent months Ryder and Leveridge have been working on new material. Following the release of a song to accompany England’s trip to Euro 2016, they have just completed a new album. “We did it in Spain with the producer Youth, who’s just a genius, he’s just the daddy of all classic pop tunes,” the singer says. “We did it in two weeks, working 24 hours a day.”

    Now the pair have both cleaned up, it’s far easier to knuckle down, Ryder says. “We don’t have any drug habits to support, we’ve not got this big clawing thing on our backs, and we’re not kids and it’s great. We don’t have all that bull**** that goes with being young men. I wish I had known 20-odd years how easy it could be.

    “And it was just brilliant. Me and old Kermit we’re still got it, we bounce off each other. We’re into writing cartoon sung/feature film/comic book type songs with influences from the news channel to In The Night Garden. We worked so well on the England song we just carried on and ended up writing this new album.”

    Shaun Ryder credits Oasis guru Alan McGee with helping to turn around his musical fortunes since taking over as manager of Happy Mondays and Black Grape.

    “He’s got this reputation as mad but he’s actually a really lovely person and usually what Alan wants he gets,” Ryder says.

    “He wanted a Black Grape album, he got it; he wants a Happy Mondays album so we’ll be doing that in 2019.”

    Black Grape’s album will be out in May 2017. They play at Warehouse 23 in Wakefield on December 9.