Black Grape: It's Great When You're Straight... Yeah

Ex-Happy Mondays stars Shaun Ryder and Bez returned to the top of the UK charts with this rockin', rollin' and rappin' LP. Steve Sutherland applauds its return on 180g

Pinch yourself. You're not dreaming, although it might get a bit Alice In Wonderland a little later on. We are dining al fresco on a terrace overlooking vineyards near Nice in the South of France. At the head of the table is our host, Michael Hutchence, who we have popped over from London to interview.

There are other guests, too, all more notable than us. At the other end of the table Bono is regaling the group with tales of recent recording adventures with Frank Sinatra and Pavarotti. To his right is his wife, Ali, and next to her is U2 bassist Adam Clayton. Opposite, Kate Moss is dishing the dirt on a ton of celebrities and swearing, as they say, like a trouper. Then there's her boyfriend, a shy, quiet guy who says very little and idly strums on an acoustic guitar. A double take reveals he is, in fact, Johnny Depp. Oh, and here comes Paula Yates, who just an hour or two ago was presenting The Tube on Channel 4 TV and is now falling out of a cab and rushing over to plonk herself on Bono's lap.

Bez and Shaun Ryder pictured in 1990

Back In Black
We've all eaten and the port has been passed, so we dig out promo CDs of some forthcoming releases, which we brought with us to get the dancing going. We have Blur's The Great Escape, we have Oasis' What's The Story (Morning Glory)? and we have Black Grape's It's Great When You're Straight… Yeah. We might as well have binned the first two because, as it transpires, the rest of the night is spent looning out to the Grape on a loop.

It's one of the great unheralded ironies of rock history that, while one of Madchester's prime luminaries made a name for themselves on the back of a song called 'I Am The Resurrection', it was actually their partners in crime that carried it off. The Stone Roses never approached the giddy heights of their 1989 debut LP and, despite all the hype, 1994's The Second Coming came and went with barely a squeak.

Shaun Ryder and co, on the other hand, worked the miracle. We'd waved goodbye to the bloated, burned-out Happy Mondays, never expecting to see or hear their like again, but astonishingly here was Ryder and his butler Bez – plus a feisty retinue of new reprobates – displaying their derring-do under the guise of Black Grape. And no matter whether you were rock royalty, a Hollywood heartthrob or just a common-or-Covent-Garden Britpopper, the Grape sounded mad, bonkers, and magnificent.


Label of original LP

Street Smarts
Released in August 1995 on Radioactive after multiple record company rejections, the sarcastically titled It's Great When You're Straight… Yeah came in a bright pop art cover depicting Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (aka Carlos The Jackal), a notorious terrorist and one of the world's most wanted fugitives until his capture in 1994. Apart from Ryder and Bez, the band featured producers Danny Saber and Stephen Lironi; rappers Paul 'Kermit' Leveridge, previously of Ruthless Rap Assassins, and Carl 'Psycho' McCarthy; drummer Ged Lynch; and guitarist Wags, formerly of The Paris Angels.

Recorded via a series of loose sessions across various studios including Rockfield in Wales [HFN Jan '21], Chapel in Lincolnshire and Boundary Row in London, the plan was roughly to create something suggestive of Cypress Hill's stoner rap but with a Rolling Stones-y rock edge. And by a freak combination of luck, good taste, bad habits, street smarts, and downright genius, the plan worked.

Fresh Fruit
Lead single 'Reverend Black Grape' set out the Grape's stall, a sonic swagger that claimed Pope Pius XII collaborated with the Nazis, nicked a bit of 'O Come, All Ye Faithful', sampled Adolf Hitler and the House Of Commons while drawing inspiration from Samuel L Jackson's Bible-quoting character Jules in Quentin Tarantino's 1994 movie Pulp Fiction.


Original poster for the album's lead single, 'Reverend Black Grape'

It was deliriously daft and brilliant all at the same time and wasn't even the best track on the album. That was a straight punch-up between 'Tramazi Parti' (a hymn to temazepam, the band's favoured drug at the time, altered to avoid legal hassle), 'In The Name Of The Father' (another monster mess-about echoing a Catholic upbringing), 'A Big Day In The North' (its cool grooves nicked from Serge Gainsbourg's 'Initials B. B'.), and 'Shake Your Money' (a musical documentary about drug-dealing youth with a whole heap of inspired swearing). Actually, there wasn't a dud on the album.

Black Grape were in their absolute pomp in the summer of '95, and I booked them to do a signing session for fans in a tent at Scotland's T In The Park festival. A crowd gathered in anticipation of meeting their heroes, but as the minutes ticked by the band were nowhere to be seen. Word reached me that Ryder was either in his hotel room but unable to be roused, or had never made it to his room in the first place.


Priced £29.99, the 180g reissue of Black Grape's It's Great When… is available online at

Missing In Action
This, I was to discover down the ensuing years, wasn't exactly out of the ordinary. Indeed, when the NME wanted to present him with a Godlike Genius Award at a swanky London ceremony it took a whole week to track him down. He was discovered by a mate sleeping rough on a park bench in Manchester, having been kicked out of his house by his girlfriend.

Right now, a taxi has rolled up and Bez and Kermit have disembarked. This looks promising until Kermit – a frail fellow at the best of times – trips over a guy rope, breaks a bone in his ankle and has to be plonked straight back into the cab and whisked off to outpatients. He hobbles back later, just about able to perform on the main stage.

Which leaves us with Bez, who strolls nonchalantly into the signing tent as if he's unconcerned or maybe even unaware that anything untoward has occurred. He sets up a boom-box, climbs on a table, clicks play and puts on a mesmeric solo show of Bez dancing, soundtracked, of course, by the album we're here bigging up. The crowd bays in appreciation, Bez grins like a Cheshire Cat and I stand amazed at one man's ability to totally own the situation and turn tragedy into celebration.


Ryder and Bez are on tour in the UK in 2024 with The Happy Mondays

Two years later, Black Grape follow up It's Great When You're Straight… Yeah with Stupid Stupid Stupid – one of the very worst albums ever made. Go figure!

Re-Release Verdict
Recorded at various studios in the UK, the original UK LP of Black Grape's It's Great When You're Straight... Yeah was released on the 7th of August 1995 on Radioactive Records [RAR 11224] – an imprint of major label BMG. This reissue on 180g black vinyl by the Netherlands-based company Music On Vinyl [MOVLP3625] comes in a 3mm-thick card sleeve – featuring the multicoloured portrait of Carlos the Jackal – and retains the ten-track running order across a single LP. HFN