After Happy Mondays disbanded in 1992, most observers would have guessed that the group's leader, vocalist Shaun Ryder, would succumb to the myriad of drug addictions that hastened the breakup of the group. Instead of dying, Ryder recouped his strengths and came back with a new band, Black Grape, in the summer of 1995. Black Grape were embraced by both the British public and press, making Ryder one of the more unexpected comebacks in rock & roll history.
Ryder formed Black Grape in 1993, recruiting ex-Happy Monday Bez (dancing, percussion), rappers Kermit (born Paul Leveridge) and Jed from the Ruthless Rap Assassins, and ex-Paris Angels guitarist Wags. Black Grape began recording demos only weeks after the implosion of Happy Mondays. Over the course of recording and writing It's Great When You're Straight...Yeah, Ryder recruited a number of musicians, most notably producer and bassist Danny Saber, keyboardist/producer Stephen Lironi, and former Bluebells and Smiths guitarist Gary Gannon. Black Grape's debut album was recorded over a period of seven weeks in late 1994 and early 1995; after it was completed, the band signed with Radioactive Records. The group's first single, "Reverend Black Grape," entered the Top Ten upon its release. The group's debut album, It's Great When You're Straight...Yeah, was released in August of 1995. The album entered the U.K. charts at number one.
"In the Name of the Father" and "Kelly's Heroes" followed "Reverend Black Grape" into the Top 20 later in 1995. Toward the end of the year, Kermit suffered a severe case of septicemia, a form of blood poisoning caused by bad water he drank while in Mexico; although he came close to death -- bits of his heart and liver were flaking off -- he had recovered by the spring of 1996. Black Grape were prepared to head to America early in 1996 when the group was denied entry into the country due to its members' prior drug convictions. After a couple of months, the passports were cleared and the band was admitted into the U.S. Due to his illness, Kermit had to miss the tour, and his spot was filled by Psycho, who became a permanent member of the band after the completion of the tour. Before Black Grape launched their U.S. tour in spring of 1996, Bez left the band due to financial disagreements with the record company.
In May 1996, Black Grape returned with the single "Fat Neck," which entered the U.K. charts in the Top Ten; the song featured former Smiths member Johnny Marr on guitar. A month after the release of "Fat Neck," the group released its football anthem "England's Irie," which was recorded with Joe Strummer. Like "Fat Neck" before it, "England's Irie" became a Top Ten hit. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid followed in 1997.
Black Grape fell apart during the supporting tour for Stupid, Stupid, Stupid in 1998, with Ryder first firing Kermit, then letting the rest of the band go. Ryder returned to a re-formed Happy Mondays in 1999 and then spent the rest of the 2000s ping-ponging between solo projects and Mondays reunions. He, Kermit, and Danny Saber performed as Black Grape for a one-off concert in April 2010 but the group didn't really reunite until 2015, when they launched a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of It's Great When You're Straight...Yeah; the album also received a deluxe reissue that year. Slowly, Black Grape became an active concern, with the band releasing the single "We Are England" in 2016, and then returning in August of 2017 with the full-length Pop Voodoo, which was preceded by the single "Everything You Know Is Wrong." ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine