Black Grape @ The Mill, 29 March 2019

It would seem my first impressions of my first visit to The Mill had not been a fluke, because once again, tonight, door staff, bar staff, and security were particularly friendly and helpful. It’s a cracking medium sized venue that we have here and whilst I’m led to believe it’s a sell-out, it is comfortably full.

It is a happy vibe in here with a good mixture of youth and craggy faced late 80s near-casualties. Probably the craggiest of the survivors is Shaun Ryder himself.  Taking to the stage in almost head to foot black including cap and glasses he has noticeably more timber on his frame than the last time I saw him, but then don’t most of us at this age. My companion at this point describes him as looking “like someone’s Dad has just walked on stage”. There endeth the likeness to someone’s Dad.

Bang, ‘In the Name of The Father” kicks us off and the dual Duracell bunnies that are Kermit and Shaun are off bouncing lyrics back and forth harder than a power ball wanged around in the school corridor. That in essence is what we have for all their drug referencing manc lad swagger… a pair of school kids playing up, bouncing words off each other and generally messing around in class.  It appeals to the mainly male audience who’ve done the grown-up thing but still want to be kids. The lyrics maybe X-rated but the sense of teenage banter that the main pair throw around is infectious PG-rated and the audience lap it up.

There is a dutiful mixture of crowd-pleasing oldies, from the previously mentioned opener, to ‘Tramazi Party’, ‘Reverend Black Grape’, through to the disco funk groove tracks from “the new album”, ‘Pop Voodoo’. “Well, we released it in 2017 but we’re still selling it as the new one”, tells Ryder, as they lay into the of the title, renamed for us as ‘Pot Noodle’. It’s tracks like this that ensure that they have eclipsed any lazy drug band references. They can lay down an infectious groove that gets every pair of trainer adorned feet moving.

As a band they play as greater than the sum of the parts, but special mention has to go the bassist. He makes the instrument seems a doddle to play as his right-hand pumps out bouncing, funk lines of tumbling yet solid notes while making it look effortless. Disco lines in ‘Pot Noodle’s, sorry, ‘Pop Voodoo’s ‘Nine Lives’ have an understated solidness and the laidback gospel soul blues of ‘Set the Grass on Fire’ show a different side to the Parliament/Funkadelic bounce of the first album. Overall though, it is a band that know that they are not the stars of the show.  That privilege it for Kermit and Shaun.

Kermit is like a man twenty years less than his age. Is he really fifty? He dances, twists and turns and generally moves from start to finish of the set. A full-on grin from ear to ear and way over there, adorns his face constantly. Whilst slower paced ‘Shake Well Before Opening’ allows a breather, it also allows them to keep some in reserve for ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ and full paced set closer ‘Little Bob’ which booms and bangs along at a fair whack.

As Kermit and Shaun leave the stage at what could be the close of ‘Little Bob’ you might expect the band to quickly wind it down, for what is a band without its two protagonists. However, we are treated to the band letting loose without the distractions of the magnet personas of the main men. They play the jazz rock wig-out of the recorded track with vigour and verve, showing what a truly great band of musicians can do to back up two great singers. This performance had it all apart from the overblown frills that too many other bands rely on to get them through. The grooves, the street-smart lyrics and two great preachers are all that you need for a great show.

A rip-roaring night and no mistake.

Review: Mark Veitch

Photograph: Black Grape at Shiiine On Festival – Stephanie Colledge.

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