Black Grape descend on iconic Camden venue to continue the 21st anniversary celebration of ‘It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah’.
The Electric Ballroom swung to memorable beats as Shaun Ryder, Paul ‘Kermit’ Leveridge and the 2015 reboot of Black Grape re-ignited the flame that shone all-too briefly in the mid-nineties.
One thing’s for sure; Black Grape fans might like their music, but they obviously like the pub in at least equal measure. Twenty minutes before the band were due to start, an agoraphobic would still have felt a bit twitchy amid the open space on the floor of the ballroom. It was probably assumed that they would start a bit late. Of course, they duly obliged.
Fortunately, numbers had swelled significantly by the time Black Grape did arrive on stage. Ryder and Kermit bounced into view armed with big smiles (well they cost enough) looking ready for a good time. They kicked off with ‘In The Name Of The Father’, a stalwart of all good radio stations everywhere and the crowd got into party mood straight away. In this new version of Black Grape, the two frontmen are backed by some fine session musicians and the band were undeniably tight.
With only two albums of material from which to draw, nobody was kept hanging around waiting for the next banger to come along. ‘Tramazi Parti’ and ‘Reverend Black Grape’ followed in short order. One thing that soon became apparent was that Ryder spent much of his time with his eyes fixed on the monitors by his feet. I concluded that either he’d suddenly come over all shy and couldn’t maintain proper eye contact with an audience anymore; or, that he was probably reading lyrics from the floor. Actually, I only concluded one of those things and it wasn’t the first one.
The second album, ‘Stupid Stupid Stupid’ was significantly less successful than ‘It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah’ and most of the tunes permanently etched between the ears are from the first record. Not surprisingly, the crowd were at their most animated during the songs that fell out of it.
There was a lot of bouncing around and the occasional circle formed, but only on a very slow spin cycle. Much like the band, everybody seems to have grown up a bit. The audience wanted to have fun, but nobody looked interested in going completely nuts any more.
If anybody had been in the dark about Ryder and Kermit’s well documented colourful past, they were reminded about it between practically every song: “We wrote this one when we were hiding in a wardrobe in LA for six months smoking crack” was how they introduced ‘Yeah Yeah Brother’ – and practically every song that followed.
To be fair, given what he used to put on his cornflakes in the nineties, it’s fairly remarkable that Shaun Ryder is upright at all: “Shaun Ryder is dead, this is a hologram” joked Kermit at one point.
Self-evidently, one issue with having such a limited back catalogue is that you don’t have very much to play. After only around forty minutes, the Ryder and Kermit double act announced their final song ‘Shake Well Before Opening’. The spoken intro was much like all their others, only this time they couldn’t remember whether Ryder was on crack or heroin when he wrote it.
Whilst I did feel a little short-changed by the main set, the encore was a tour de force: ‘Kelly’s Heroes’, ‘Rubber Band’ and ‘Little Bob’, the latter getting an extended instrumental ending that was truly excellent. By the close, Black Grape had delivered eighty minutes of nineties nostalgia and aside from two idiots who inexplicably decided to beat each other up during the final song (note to self, do not ever fallout with Electric Ballroom security), the rest of us filed out of the venue content.
With a years’ successful touring behind them, new Black Grape material in the pipeline and the past excesses well behind them, the future is looking rosy indeed for the heart of this band.