It’s a full 20 years since Mrs W&G last tried to see Black Grape. On that occasion, undisclosed – although easy to surmise – backstage issues meant they were no shows, leaving the audience to amuse themselves by also taking too many drugs and ODing where they stood. Thankfully, things are a little more sedate this evening; indeed, the reconstituted band are so prompt, a good third of the crowd are still queuing for drinks when the first few bars strike up and the party gets started.
A wee reminder: Black Grape were Shaun Ryder’s (and Bez’s, although he’s not part of the current set up) second bite at the cherry of success. Given the messy demise of Happy Mondays, that was never a given, and the excess that over-shadowed the recordings of Yes Please! was never that far away from the follow up project. Yet the debut album It’s Great When You’re Straight, Yeah was a Number 1 and actually beat both The Great Escape and What’s The Story… into the shops, meaning Black Grape benefitted from being part of the wider Britpop zeitgeist even if, musically, there was little crossover.
Their loose, funk-driven chassis can now sound dangerously close to Stereo MCs territory, but is saved by the interaction between Ryder’s trademark strain and Paul ‘Kermit’ Leveridge’s soulful toasting, a combination that they pick up as if the past two decades never existed. Live, some of those slightly dated edges are buffed away with sturdier funk rock – guitars are seriously wah-wah-ed, vintage organ sounds are thoroughly flayed – and the backing band are allowed to stretch their legs and show off a little.
Shaun may complain about his failing eyesight and sleep apnea – and he keeps his parka on all night – but really, it’s clear he’s enjoying being back on stage. Every other song was, he says, written in “the back of a crack cupboard in LA” and he and Kermit continually josh back and forth – partners in crime, both probably amazed they made it this far in one piece. Mostly.
The hits – ‘Kelly’s Heroes’, ‘In The Name Of The Father’, ‘Reverend Black Grape’ with its iconic harmonica honk – are greeted like old friends, and the whole thing is done and dusted in 70 minutes or so. At 54, Shaun Ryder has finally learned how to keep things neat, tidy and businesslike. The smiles seem to suggest it’s a habit that suits.