A bitterly cold night in Cardiff, and in midweek and all: it was going to be a tough night to make merry at the Tramshed. Inside, the tone was fairly lukewarm. Black Grape were due to start a little later than usual, and perhaps everyone was thinking of the clock and work tomorrow morning – or even wondering if it was worth it.
I’d seen Shaun play with the Happy Mondays at Cardiff Castle last year, and – honestly – wasn’t sure what to feel. I didn’t really have the emotional reaction I’d expected from seeing these legends of the 90s UK rave and indie culture, even in the glorious sunshine and with more than a couple of beers running through me. At the time, I’d put that down to the untimely passing of Shaun’s brother and Happy Mondays bassist Paul Ryder mere days before. I still enjoyed seeing them, certainly, but it felt more like crossing off another name on a bucket list of classics than the soul-lifting Madchester experience so religiously recorded in folklore through music and film.
The first Black Grape record is a mess, but in the perfect, completely lovable way that made it far more enjoyable than many other records of the time. Shaun was bottling up his specific brand of psychedelic, anarchic, drug-fuelled energy and selling it to peers and stuffy daywalkers alike. But the Shaun of today is approaching bus pass age, and battling against his chemical dependencies; more pointedly, those peers and daywalkers of his in the audience are running the same way.
This time, I think I’ve seen the light. The Black Grape gang seem to genuinely enjoy what they’re doing, and it’s given me a newfound respect for what that is: Shaun and pals having a party on the stage. That’s what Bez was – your mate who’d had a bit too much, amusing everyone by just doing his own thing in the corner. The music is always a mush of different styles, because everyone is at the party playing all the records that they like from a mush of different styles, because everyone at the party just loves music.
Shaun presides over this all with confidence and warmth. He’s moving a lot slower now, but still has an incredible gravity that makes you understand why this thing has always revolved around him. Better than that, he enjoys himself – you can see it. There’s a spirit there that outlasts any kind of tiredness or hurt.
Black Grape moved through their backlog, and savoured the new energy they had created in the room, warming up the revellers from their frosty noses to their cold-bitten toes. It’s all still there in its broader strokes. It’s alive, and still has some of its real teeth.
Black Grape, Tramshed, Cardiff, Thurs 30 Nov
words JASON MACHLAB photos HELS MILLINGTON