Wednesday 19 May 2021

BLACK GRAPE: It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah


(#532: 19 August 1995, 2 weeks)


Track listing: Reverend Black Grape/In The Name Of The Father/Tramazi Party/Kelly’s Heroes/Yeah Yeah Brother/A Big Day In The North/Shake Well Before Opening/Submarine/Shake Your Money/Little Bob


The Stone Roses don’t make it into this tale – or at least haven’t yet done so – but two of Happy Mondays, possibly the most important two, do, along with three members of the Ruthless Rap Assassins, the guitarist from Paris Angels and the assistance of a former member of Altered Images (Stephen Lironi co-produces with L.A. studio stalwart Danny Saber – who also contributes bass, along with one Anthony Guarderas - and Shaun Ryder). So you could call this Madchester’s Revenge.


Or you could just go with the 1995 flow and call it a bloody great party album. It is fair to say that nobody was expecting Shaun Ryder, or for that matter Bez “Bez” Bez (as he is credited on the album sleeve, with “Vibes,” though not in the Milt Jackson sense), to rise again like a baggy phoenix, but that is exactly what he (they) did, and it was a much more satisfying and gladdening welcome-back than those of certain overly-gnarled veterans.


“Reverend Black Grape” hooked me the first second I heard it, and became one of those singles I had to spin on several dozen consecutive occasions to impale myself on its vinegary brilliance. It just contained everything I was looking for in summer ’95 pop; my eyes blinked and my jaws gasped repeatedly at second after second of invention and newness.


The greatest thing about “Reverend,” and indeed Black Grape, is its proudly unapologetic nature. As everybody noted at the time, Ryder gargled like Grampa Simpson, but his was a gargle of newly-freed exultation. With Paul “Kermit” Leveridge goosing up the pulpit, and samples from H*tler (still a “WTF?” moment at the time, fifty years on) and a prematurely crusty-sounding Conservative MP*…


(*Sir Tom Arnold, representing the Greater Manchester constituency of Hazel Grove, who in 1994 was not yet fifty – yet shares my birthday – but who was not having a go at rave culture as such. In fact he was replying in Parliament to John Major with regard to the latter’s article on the European Union, published in The Economist in March 1993, in which the then-Prime Minister stated: “I hope my fellow heads of government will resist the temptation to recite the mantra of full economic and monetary union as if nothing had changed. If they do recite it, it will have all the quaintness of a rain dance and about the same potency.” This was in relation to the proposal for a common currency throughout Europe.


Sir Tom’s full question to Major was: “I invite my right hon. Friend to use the time between now and the start of the intergovernmental conference in 1996 to persuade our partners in the European Community to adopt a moderate rather than ambitious agenda. Does he agree that a stately minuet would be preferable to the rain dance that he described in his celebrated article in The Economist one year ago?” Sir Tom was, and is, firmly pro-Europe.)


…”Reverend” radiated with the return of dizzying, thrilling excitement to pop. It was as though Screamadelica had been resuscitated and upgraded. Ryder and Kermit compete amiably and loudly to outdo each other’s exhortations, and harmonica, tambourine and demonic slide guitar are violently shuffled into action, rendered from dreary cloisters of worship. It was more “Loaded” than Loaded.


“Reverend” is the album’s highlight, but it hardly dips in quality or thrills from there. “Kelly’s Heroes” is a fairly acerbic glare at burned-out “celebrities” dressed up as a school playground conversation. “Tramazi Parti” and “Submarine” shuffle with genuine swing, as opposed to cut-and-paste “authenticity.” “Yeah Yeah Brother” (Michael Corleone tells Fredo he knows it was him on the Haçienda dancefloor) and “Shake Well Before Opening” (one of the best uses of the “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” trope in pop, and of course Robbie Williams was taking notes). “A Big Day In The North,” in all its ominous glory, contains the second-best use of a Serge Gainsbourg sample in pop (the best, as every pupil knows, is MC Solaar’s “Nouveau Western”).


“Shake Your Money” is a wondrously damaged midtempo groove which Ryder systematically undermines and randomises. As well as anticipating (and surpassing) the mores of later Oasis (purposely non-sequitur but apt-sounding lyrics, unashamed musical borrowings from random sources), it is Black Grape’s scruffy scattergun of playfulness which puts them a league above Primal Scream and The Charlatans insofar as they are not weighed down by fatal “respect,” are capable of avoiding the Record Collection Rock cul-de-sac.


The enjoyably stuttering closer “Uncle Bob” joins the important dots with Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches, and Ryder’s final words may run backwards but there is nothing backward about Black Grape’s music – unless you interpret their art is going back to the future, or simply (or complexly) going back to what provoked you to give a damn about pop music in the first place. “In the name of YOUR Father and YOUR Holy Ghost!” Shaun Ryder might have metaphorically died many times for somebody’s sins – usually his own - but not ours. As for Kermit, Psycho and Ged – no, it really wasn’t a dream, other than the exciting dream of now and tomorrow which was so tangible in the 1995 air. How absolutely fucking glorious it was to be so alive and so receptive in that age.