Shaun Ryder takes Black Grape to Leeds on the 2nd August. Nigel Carr catches up with the legendary frontman for a chat about the gig and life in general!
Nigel Carr: You’re playing Leeds with Dodgy and Cast for the first time since Black Grape reformed?
Shuan Ryder: “It’s a good gig. I mean it always has been since day one. In fact, we had fans in Leeds and Scotland before we did in Manchester. Glasgow and London. We didn’t really take off In Manchester until like 1988, We started in 1981, we’d go to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Leeds. These were all the places we played you know? In Manchester, we wasn’t really known ‘til Bummed really. We had fans in all those places before, a lot more people came and watched us there than they did in Manchester. On more of a national level really like I said there were more people come to watch us in London and everywhere else”.
NC: It was 1995 when the first Black Grape came out, Britpop’s raging, there’s all this jangly guitar stuff, you’ve got Oasis and the other Britpop bands and you come along with an album packed full of soul, funk, dance, rap and hip hop and it’s cool as. How did that happen in that environment when everyone was picking up guitars and sounding like the Beatles?
SR: “We’d already picked up the guitars in the Happy Mondays in 1981 and basically, in 1981 white guys didn’t rap. It was guitar bands. If we’d have been a bit later on, then and we’d have learnt to play our instruments. If we’d learnt to fuck around with computers and everything else, samplers, then we’d have probably been totally different, you know? That’s what we tried to do with the Mondays, was mix together all the different types of music, punk, rock and hip hop so if it had been a little bit later when we came along we’d have been a little bit different”.
NC: Is that because you were more into the dance element? I mean in your childhood what were you into? What was the first record you bought? Was it glam?
SR: “No, I got my first album which I went and got myself in 1973 when I was 11. I got Bowie Pin Ups, Hunky Dory, Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart. I didn’t buy ‘em I robbed ‘em! Supermarket, in Salford. That was set up pretty much like a little shop, and it was a huge. It was the first big supermarket, and it was just set up like a corner shop with a few mirrors, and you could just walk in there take anything. (No cameras) so I went and just picked albums”.
“See, our family was really all into music, and my cousin. There was nine kids in the family, all varying ages, by one, to three years, and there was always different types of music. There was Motown there, there was Captain Beefheart, there was Bowie Northern Soul, Funkadelic, all sorts going on, with the kids and I got into them all, and the people that was in the Mondays, also had a similar sort of taste in music, which was right across the board. I mean, we didn’t want to sound like a sixties band or sound like Echo and the Bunnymen, or whatever. Those were bands that we loved you know? We wanted to take from them, and try and make it ourselves, and what I’m really trying to say that by the time the Mondays music had finished, in ’92 or ’94, It was then, what really should have been The Mondays last album, or may have not have been the last album, Yes Please really should have been the first Black Grape album”.
NC: So Black Grape comes along in 1995 and you’re predating Beck’s Odelay and Fun Lovin’ Criminals, which kind of ploughed a similar furrow?
SR: “We was doing tours with Fun Lovin’ Criminals in the early ‘90s you know? we went all over the place with Huey and them”.
NC: Would you say they were a bit of an influence on you then Shaun?
SR: “I was well into their sort of music you know? They were a great band, a great bunch of people, the music they was into we was into”.
NC: I just wondered if that sound, and I include Odelay because that album has that scratching and samples in there as well, whether that vibe had infused itself in the Black Grape sound?
SR: “All white dudes (who were into) that genre of music (were influenced) by The Beastie Boys really. In 1981 when we started there really wasn’t white guys doing that sort of music. By the time I’d sort of got to Black Grape, I knew how to make that sort of music. If we could have picked up guitars and normal drums and made a bit of a different sound, we would have done that, but we couldn’t.
NC: When the first Black Grape album came out, It’s Great When You’re Straight, were you?
SR: “No, was I fuck!”.
NC: I have a picture of you sitting at home sipping green tea now, I read about your healthy lifestyle.
SR: “When Black Grape came out, I was just out of my twenties, I’m nearly 60 now, so It’s a different time of life isn’t it? I mean I was probably 30 or something when Black Grape started so was still relatively young, so you just grow out of that eventually.
NC: What’s it like now because clearly, you’re heading towards a vegan lifestyle aren’t you?
SR: “Well I’m pescatarian (and) my misses is vegan. Well, It’s great now. I’ve enjoyed all the phases of my life. I mean, from 18 and in my twenties, I got to do every kid’s dream. If it wasn’t football or being an actor It’s being in a band and you got to do your art in my 30’s and 40’s. By the time you’re 40’s you start growing up and knock everything on the head. And now I’ve started again with children so, I mean, I’ve got grown-up adult children and I’ve got a 10 year old and an 11 year old so basically I spend most of my time now, when I’m not working, being and doing for them. I’m being a dad at a grandad’s age!”.
NC: You’re doing this Manchester food & drink festival with John Robb in October aren’t you?
SR: “Yeh I am, John asked me to do it as a favour”.
NC: Are you going to be playing?
SR: “No, I’m just talking”.
NC: Did you read Noel Gallagher’s comment on veganism? He said that one of the tour crew would have been better of eating the fucking menu!
SR: “Is that right?”.
NC: For the Leeds gig are you going to be playing any new material?
“These shows that we’ve just been doing with Black Grape are all about promoting the 2017 album Pop Voodoo, that’s what It’s about. Of course we stick in Reverend Black Grape, A Big Day in The North and In The Name of The Father and stuff like that, and then we stick the new ones in as well, so It’s really about promoting that including those tunes as well”.
NC: Have you been working on any new stuff?
“Well, that’s still new to us because we haven’t really took that anywhere yet, I mean that’s what I’m sort of doing now. I’ve got a tour at the end of the year with The Mondays, summer shows. We’ve just done a Black Grape tour, and these are the end gigs from that. Next year I wanna be focusing on Black Grape again really, in Europe and America, focusing on doing that album”.
NC: You’ve got a string of dates with the Mondays and you’re playing in Sheffield with Nile Rodgers, is he a bit of a hero of yours?
SR: “Yea, Niles is great yeah, god absolutely yeah”.
NC: He keeps popping up on the Mondays’ tour and the Black Grape tour? I guess that mid-‘70s guitar sound of his is quite influential, isn’t it?
SR: “To me yeah. It wasn’t influential to Mark Day. Mark at the time really, when we was doing all that stuff, Mark only listened to fucking Def Leppard and Led Zeppelin! So he was an influence to us and Chic and everything but not to Mark. I mean Mark is a really good, creative guitarist, you know, we introduced him to a lot of stuff”.
NC: How’s your and Kermit’s health now?
SR: Well (it was) 20 years ago, yeah, but that’s what he has to live with now, he has a pig’s valve in his heart he just can’t live outrageously, so he has to take it really careful you know? Watch what he eats what he drinks so he has to live a really clean life”.
NC: Is that you now? are you still cycling?
SR: “Well, just three weeks ago I had a hip replacement operation, so I haven’t been able to anything for the last 12 months. And now I’ve had the hip op, I’m back doing a show last week”.
NC: That’s pushing it isn’t it?
SR: “Well, Yeh but I’m fine, I couldn’t go out on my bike because they wouldn’t let me do that. On the indoor cycle, I’ve been on that, and I’ve been doing as much walking to strengthen it up and me limp is on its way out”.
NC: You must have had keyhole surgery then?
SR: “I’m not sure, I have a bent spine, so they couldn’t do the epidural on me, so they had to put me out, but the scar I’ve got is only little really so it must have been something like that yeah”.
NC: Tony Wilson compared you to WB Yeats, how did you take that at the time?
SR: “Well d’you know what? any compliment like that’s great. I mean I had no idea who Yeats was, and still haven’t read any Yeats, and you know, I take those sort of things. It’s better than ‘junky cunt!’”.
NC: There’s a lot of good lyricists around and poets, like Patrick T Davies and Tony Walsh, have you got any favourites?
SR: Not really, Tony Walsh is the one who did the one after the bomb? Yeah, he’s good, I’ve met him, I like his stuff. I mean, the only poet really that I have listened to in any detail in John Cooper Clarke.
NC: You appeared in the Pagans SOH video, how did that come about?
SR: “That was Paul Husband, who’s brilliant. I think Paul is a brilliant photographer, so when he asked me, I couldn’t say no, and then I met all the guys in the band, and they’re great. I like their music”.
NC: What do you reckon of the rise in the new Manchester bands at the moment such as Dirty Laces and The Blinders?
SR: I don’t know ‘em . All I’d know about new music is what my kids tell me. They’re at the age where they’re gonna go ‘dad can we go and see Dirty Laces?’. Can we go and see this at some indie club, taking them there, then that’s yet to come. At the moment it’s really shit that I don’t know any new bands. I’m still going around saying Twisted Wheel are the fucking best thing in Manchester!
NC: Just a few trivia questions if you don’t mind. What was the first single you bought?
SR: “The first single I bought was Hard Rain by Bryan Ferry”.
NC: What was the first gig you went to?
SR: “I went to see some heavy rock band in the mid-‘70s, Boston, but then, later on, The Ramones, Buzzcocks and stuff like that”.
NC: If you could see any band or artist is history living or dead who would it be?
SR: “The Rolling Stones, I went to the gig with the band, you know?, In The States years ago, so that was a one-off, I’d obviously have seen the Beatles”.
NC: I read a bit about you seeing a UFO in 1978, have you any other secret hobby?
SR: “No, the only thing with me is the UFO thing, reading all that stuff”.
NC: Thanks for your time Shaun that’s really kind of you!
SR: “Ave a good ‘un”.
Black Grape play at Leeds’ Millenium Square on the 2nd August with Dodgy and Cast. This is a special outdoor event that celebrates all things indie and alt-rock with some of the best names in the scene. It will be the first time Black Grape have played in Leeds since they reformed, will mark a welcome return for Cast who performed a much talked about show at O2 Academy back in December in 2018 and find Dodgy celebrating 25 years of their seminal album Homegrown.
Interview by Nigel Carr. More writing by Nigel on Louder Than War can be found in his Author’s archive. You can find Nigel on Twitter and Facebook and his own Website. All photographs are © by Paul Husband whose website is here: Paul Husband Photography, Twitter and Facebook