A comeback comparable to Marlon Brando re-emerging with 'The Godfather', Shaun Ryder’s mid-nineties re-appearance with Black Grape was something that took pretty much everyone by surprise. The band’s short career, comprising of two LPs means that the tour to celebrate the 21st Anniversary of glorious debut platter ‘It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah’ has the feeling of Shaun and sparring partner Kermit reminding everyone just how good the ‘Grape were before things soured.

Busted down from the capacious upstairs live room, to the more intimate Academy 2, the low stage and close quarters audience give the evening the feeling of a club gig. The sitar riff that powers ‘In the Name of the Father’ is greeted with cheers of instant recognition at the top of the set, as Kermit, who somehow looks almost the same as he did on his ‘Top Of the Pops’ debut with the band leads the audience through the choruses.

The simpatico between Shaun and Kermit is palpable, the rapport making the audience feel as though they are watching two friends messing around in the practice room, albeit backed by a thunderously well-drilled live band. With onstage patter that references Shaun’s dental work, their notorious drug misdemeanours and Kermit’s medical condition - "I've got a pig’s valve in my heart," the rapper cheerfully announces, referring to the massive op he had as a result of years of chemical abuse - the pair are on sparkling form, practically finishing each other's sentences.

‘Tramazi Parti’ second is bellowed en masse, the entire venue moving in unison while an elongated version of the single that announced their arrival 'Reverend Black Grape' stretches into an extended coda with added ‘Sympathy For the Devil’ style ‘whoo whoos’.

An excellent reading of ‘A Big Day In the North’ ("You can’t get any more scouse than Liverpool," Kermit jokes beforehand) combines limpid funk and bonkers French lyricism while the vitriolic ‘Yeah Yeah Brother’ leads into a raucous rendition of ‘Tell Me Something’ from second LP ‘Stupid Stupid Stupid’ that easily outstrips the studio version. Similarly ‘Rubber Band’, played during the encore hinging on its boisterous "Nonsense, Nonsense Nonsense" chorus and with a bassline as elastic as its title, is a standout, the crack team of sessioners backing Shaun and Kermit wringing the absolute maximum out of the material.

An exuberant restatement of principles and stoking anticipation for the band’s imminent third LP next year, the sole gripe is that the gig isn’t longer. Two ‘It's Great...’ cuts including ‘Shake Your Money’ and Stonesy rocker ‘Submarine’ aren’t played, along with standalone single ‘Fat Neck’.

Concluding with first album closer ‘Little Bob’, Shaun and Kermit depart the stage while the band speed into a piledriving coda, leaving to a whistle of feedback and A Guy Called Gerald’s house classic ‘Voodoo Ray’ playing over the PA.

"It’s so amazing when Shaun Ryder’s actually clean," an impressed punter remarks to his mate walking from the venue towards Lime St. Station. "I mean, you saw just how good he is." Yep, They’re Great When They’re Straight indeed.


Photographs by Keith Ainsworth
www.arkimages.co.uk




















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