The band

Shaun Ryder: Former singer in the Happy Mondays, who formed Black Grape after a two and a half year rest from the music industry to pursue his crack addiction in the Bahamas. There’s really too much to say about this Mancunian drugs hoover, which mostly belongs in his own node. Well known for his moments of deep and meaningful poetry, when asked why he named the band Black Grape, Ryder replied: ’Well, Kermit’s black, and grapes are my favourite fruit.’ Obvious really.

Bez: Another former member of the Happy Mondays. Bez’s official role in Black Grape, as in the Mondays, was to be ‘in charge of vibes’. Hmmm… Still, he always looked like he was enjoying himself, and could be relied upon to play the maracas if no one else could be bothered. It’s been suggested that the main reason for Bez’s affiliation with the band was because he was offered a share of the drugs, although this is, of course, unsubstantiated.

Kermit: Former member of the Ruthless Rap Assassins. He shares the vocals with Shaun Ryder, providing a ragga-inspired element to the sound. Between the Happy Mondays period and the formation of Black Grape, Kermit was (allegedly, I should point out) Shaun Ryder’s dealer. Ryder then had the inspired idea to invite his dealer to join the new band. Narco-musical multi-tasking at its best.

GED: Drummer, former member of the Ruthless Rap Assassins

Wags: Guitarist, former member of Paris Angels

Danny Saber: Although not a member of the band, Saber produced both of Black Grape’s albums, and it was his production skills that made them stand out. Although he might be biased, Saber suggested in an interview with Sound on Sound magazine that when Ryder and the rest of the band turned up in his studio, all they had was scraps of paper covered in lyrics and a car full of drugs. To take that raw material and turn it into the polished final product of It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah! is a real achievement. Probably the honorary ‘sensible’ member of the band…

The music

Black Grape basically continued where the Madchester scene had left off. More dance beats, but keeping them relaxed, baggy and bouncy. A funky kind of sound that reminds you of drunken giggling in the sun... (although maybe thats just me). One of the unusual things about the Black Grape sound (at least at the time they released their first album) was the eclectic mix of elements that were used. There were horn sections, synthesisers, ragga-vocals, funk guitars, hard rock moments, incoherent mumbling… Everything you could possibly want. Add Saber’s production values to this, and you’re on to a winner. It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah! is a good album, but if you listen to it on a decent pair of headphones, it becomes a great album.

The lyrics

Shaun Ryders lyrics have always been legendary. They are purile, childish, obsessed by sex and drugs, and liberally seasoned with irreverent cultural references. Of course, this gets them into trouble occasionally, but then trouble was what Black Grape were all about. Below are some example’s of this lyrical depravity and humour.

The lyrics to single Kelly's Heroes had to be changed for the album. The original line ‘Don’t talk to me about heroes, most of these men smoke cocaine’ had to be changed to ‘Don’t talk to me about heroes, most of these men sink like subs’. Why? Because the song also contains the lines ‘Jesus was a black man, No Jesus was bat-man’. Recording execs were worried that this might be taken to imply that Jesus smoked cocaine. Black Grape always sang the ‘cocaine’ version of the lyrics live, including on MTV, where they were edited out.

Get Higher, the first single from Stupid, Stupid Stupid, doesn’t contain any of Ryder’s singing. Instead, Nancy and Ronald Reagan (in fact, sampled impersonators…) discuss drugs, and come out with classic lines such as ‘drug abuse is not crime’ and ‘Nancy and I are hooked on heroin’.

Tramazi Parti: An entire song dedicated to the ridiculous things Ryder would get up to whilst on Temazepam.

Dadi Was a Badi: ‘Our daddy was a good guy, he wore a good guy’s hat, and any chick with massive tits our dad just had to shag’.

England’s Irie, the fantastic soccer anthem (bare in mind I usually hate sports of any kind, and sports songs are even worse), has a quick dig at Britain with the lines ‘We live in a land of crass democracy, we’re gonna win the national lottery, Ee-I-Oh-Ee-Oh I don’t think so’.

And finally, one of the B-sides of the Fat Neck single is a huge bass-driven remix of Yeah Yeah Brother, which contains numerous references to pineapple skunk. If anyone has ever tried pineapple skunk, and could tell me what it’s like, and where one can acquire it, I would appreciate a /msg!

Discography

It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah! (Radioactive records, July 1995)

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid (Radioactive records, November 1997)

Singles

Both Fat Neck and England’s Irie are not on the two Black Grape albums. Fat Neck, as far as I know, is only available as a single (with an excellent cover of the Sex Pistols Pretty Vacant as a B-side). England’s Irie was released on the compilation album The Beautiful Game, the album of England’s Euro 96 football campaign.

Now

After Stupid, Stupid, Stupid Black Grape started to blend into the background again. The album was o.k., mediocre, but certainly not inspiring. No one could find enough wrong with it to say it was bad, or enough right with it to say it was good. This, clearly, is the worst possible thing that can be said about an album.

Now, Black Grape have more or less disbanded and disappeared. Although there has been no 'official' end, Shaun Ryder and Bez reformed the Happy Mondays in 1999 (rumour has it that Ryder had tax bills to pay...), for a not-so-successful tour.

After that, Bez announced his retirement, since he wanted to spend more time with his family and less time with his chemicals. Or, as he put it, ‘It’s time to stop fucking about’. He now writes a monthly column for juvenile men’s magazine Front. It's a great loss for party people everywhere.

Ryder himself is suspisciously quiet at the moment. The most likely reason for this is that he is hatching another scheme for world domination. The second most likely explanation is that he has returned to the Bahamas to continue his love affair with crack. We will have to wait and see...

Thanks Teiresias for some extra info...

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