As your correspondent was waiting outside the venue, he saw a middle-aged man having a conversation with the door-staff.
The conversation went on for a while, with the man eventually entering the building from a different entrance around the back. This was at 8.50pm; the main act was due on stage at 9pm. Half an hour later, when the band finally made their appearance in front of an intimate crowd, the same man took pole position onstage.
The man in question was Kermit, co-lead vocalist of Shaun Ryder’s Black Grape (to give them their full name) – in the age of careerist professional rock stars, Ryder’s outfit clearly still fly the flag for living life in a different lane.
For all his unique talents, Ryder has never had the most textured of vocal styles, and age has done little to change this approach. He barks into the microphone, his left-field lyrics sadly incomprehensible. Dressed in black and wearing a cap, he looks more like he should have earlier been refusing his bandmate entry to the venue. Hands constantly in pockets, only shifting stance to puff on a vape, he’s one of the most incongruous living legends in music today. As ever with him, it’s about attitude above all else.
Had the door-staff seen any of the gig, they would surely have held their heads in shame as Kermit does virtually all of the heavy lifting, i.e. singing. His joyous cries fill the room for opener In The Name Of The Father, and he sustains his revelry throughout the entire show. No Bez, Kermit is ostensibly the frontman, drowning Ryder out for most of the set, specifically during the venomous delivery of Nine Lives. Midway through, he opens a bottle of red wine and swigs from it readily, a man happy with his lot in life.
All that said, this is very much a double-act. At times it borders on cabaret, with cheesy introductions (‘I’ve lived a good life Shaun’…’Not surprised Kermit, you’ve got Nine Lives’), Ryder not even trying to disguise his lack of preparation; he rarely looks up as he’s too focussed on the setlist and lyrics printed on the floor. But the contrast works well.
With such dominance and emphasis on the front two, the rest of the band are side-lined, yet there’s excellent musicianship on display; the wah-wah funk of Shame and the dexterous Revolver-esque solo on Set The Grass On Fire are poles apart but delivered with equal gusto.
All three components (Ryder, Kermit and band) come together for Reverend Black Grape, here with added Sympathy For The Devil ‘wooh woohs’ over a pace-quickening outro. Being their best song, it’s unsurprisingly the highlight of the night, its odd placing mid-set meaning everything that follows pales in comparison. Which is a shame, as several of the slices from last year’s fine album Pop Voodoo deserve better.
Shaun Ryder freely admits that he’s juggling tours with both Black Grape and Happy Mondays for financial purposes but, judged purely on tonight’s (November 29th) showing, long may this particular motley crew be at odds with the establishment.