Music interview – Shaun Ryder on Black Grape: ‘The shenanigans was gone years ago, it’s all just wonderful now’

Black Grape. Picture: Paul Husband
Black Grape. Picture: Paul Husband
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Shaun Ryder seems to be leading a double life at the moment, with two bands on the go at the same time – and by the sound of it he couldn’t be happier that the Happy Mondays, the outfit he formed in Salford in the 1980s, and Black Grape, its successor from the 90s, now have parallel musical careers.

“Oh yeah, absolutely, loving it,” the 56-year-old singer says with enthusiasm. “I mean I love the Mondays, don’t get me wrong and it’s better than ever, but because we’re doing new stuff with Black Grape, it’s a little bit more fun.”

That ‘new stuff’ is the album Pop Voodoo, that Ryder and his longtime rapper friend Kermit – real name Paul Leveridge – released last year to critical praise and a placing in the top 20 of the UK charts.

Although the Mondays have been touring consistently since reforming at the start of 2012, a hoped-for new record has yet to materialise. Ryder admits it’s more straightforward working with Kermit.

“Black Grape’s really easy, it really is just me and Kermit. We’ve got a great band, they’re all session guys, a bunch of absolutely fantastic lads, but it’s just me and Kermit when it comes to the writing.

“The Mondays is six people and we’ve all got something to say so it’s a little bit harder to organise and get things done.”

Black Grape. Picture: Paul Husband

Black Grape. Picture: Paul Husband

He is, however, confident that the Mondays will make an album at some point. “We will do another Mondays’ album. One day it will happen. Alan McGee [former Creation records boss who’s now the band’s manager] is working on trying to make it happen next year.

“Really the space where we did that Black Grape album is where we should have done the Mondays’ album but because we couldn’t get everyone together I ended up nipping off and doing the Black Grape album. It took me five weeks to write it and record it.”

Ryder likes working at pace. “We did the Mondays’ albums quite quick,” he says. “I’m not into spending months and months and months. No one does that any more anyway, those days have gone, spending a year in the studio. It was certainly hard for us lot anyway, I don’t think we were ever there. I think the longest we ever spent making an album back in the day was three months.”

Given that Black Grape had split up acrimoniously in 1998, he admits he and Kermit had some making up to do before reforming the group. “We were both off our heads on drugs [at the time of the break-up] and that really didn’t help,” Ryder says. “The first time I tried doing something with Black Grape was around 2014 and Kermit was not quite better [from health problems]. He’s got a pig’s valve in his heart.

At 56 years old I think the men in white coats would be taking me away if I was still living how I was when I was 21 or I would be dead.

Shaun Ryder

“This time around I actually got an email from the States saying ‘it’s 20 years since you did the first Black Grape album, are you marking that anniversary?’ and I had no plans. It was my missus who said ‘You know what, give Kermit a ring again, see how he is’, so I got in touch with him and he was great, he’s had his heart problem resolved and at the same time Paul Oakenfold got in touch saying ‘Will you do a football song for the European Championships?’

“After we’d done that European Champions song, which we did in my little studio, we sort of carried on.”

Ryder believed there was some unfinished business with a band who’d split after just two albums. “We really should have gone on,” he says, adding jokingly: “It’s coming from me, it was never my fault and I totally blame Kermit and all his cronies for Black Grape splitting up.

“We still had a lot of stuff which we should have done. It all started to go t**s up on that second album. But all the shenanigans was gone years ago. It’s all just wonderful now, it really is. It’s great to work with him. When the going was good we wrote fantastically together and we got on so well, and it’s back like that.”

Ryder compares their working methods to the comedians Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. “We sit down like Alas Smith and Jones, head-to-head, or watching the news and then we get on with the same old s***. Me and him just bounce off each other.”

Having foresaken drink and drugs, Ryder feels more content in middle-aged sobriety. “At 56 years old I think the men in white coats would be taking me away if I was still living how I was when I was 21 or I would be dead,” he says. “Some fella on the street said to me the other day ‘Shaun, I miss the old days’. I didn’t actually answer him, I just laughed and thought ‘Today is just as good. We’re probably playing more shows now, especially the Mondays, and better shows, and it just carries on’.”

He also seems glad to have stepped off the record company-enforced treadmill that he once felt the Happy Mondays and Black Grape were once on. “We’re not the young kids on the block now. Back in the day it was tour-album-tour-album. If you think about it I made an album every couple of years with the Mondays from ’86 and then two with Black Grape which just followed on. When you think about writing it’s no wonder I was off my head, and then each one of them with a tour. That’s what you’ve got to do when you’re young and you’re building a career. We’ve done all that and now we can just take the shows as they come and do what we want.

“With the Mondays we’re playing more shows than ever and better. I keep saying the sex and drugs have gone and it’s just rock’n’roll.”

Black Grape play at Warehouse 23, Wakefield on November 2. www.blackgrapeofficial.com