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Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

Wrath of the Grape:
Happy Mondays' Shaun Ryder returns with vigor

I had an interview with former Happy Mondays/current Black Grape vocalist Shaun Ryder last week. Picture talking with Keith Richards or Shane MacGowen with a mouthful of gravel. "Give me five minutes to put my dick away," croaked Ryder to his minder over a conference line. "You know how it is with us English rock stars, shagging groupies." His minder laughs. Uh, can he call you back in five minutes? I suppose so. The interview, which was originally scheduled for 9:30am, was put on hold three times and didn't start until 3:45pm. During our talk, Ryder, who had just gotten off stage at the Brighton Centre in England, drifted in and out of coherency and verb tenses--his distractedness perhaps understandable because of the dizzying international success the band has attained since the release of It's Great When You're Straight ... Yeah on Radioactive. (Black Grape performs at Cactus in San Jose on Monday).

Before I got out my first question, I found myself in the midst of a Ryder rant. "What can't I understand about American brothers and sisters--they always want to put a name on something. They want to put everything in categories. They want an explanation for everything. They want to know the theme for the songs. Fuck the theme! Fuck the explanation! Make your own concept! As long as people accept us, we're a modern day rock & roll band."

Americans love survival stories, and Ryder's travails in Happy Mondays were well documented. When British rave culture peaked in the late 1980s, the Mondays were at its sonic center. Eventually, the group fell victim to drugs, internal strife and Yes, Please, a truly horrible album recorded in Barbados. "I was cracked out of my head, saying, 'If you don't send 30,000 pounds, I've got the master tapes.' It was really going down." The Mondays' excessive ways were blamed for the collapse of Factory Records, (which put out Joy Division and New Order), charges that Ryder denied. "We made good money for those people all the way through 1985 to 1991. In one, two, three ... six years, there was no other band on Factory Records that was making [the] dough we were making."

Black Grape had to come to America to get a record deal, possibly due to Ryder's reputation. The band now has three hit singles in Europe. Even Bez, the nimble Happy Mondays gadfly and symbol of rave culture, is along for the ride. "Bez is Bez," said Ryder. "One of the things that Bez is not is a dancer. Bez is a Bez is a Bez is Bez. Bez gets paid for being Bez, and he's happy for listening to music. Bez is very much like me. He knows music. The whole reason he's with Black Grape, he's in the studio, he's my business partner, he does interviews. ... These pricks, treating him like he's a bitch. 'Dancing around stage.' It's the same man. The same man."

Hey Shaun, you wouldn't be on anything right now, would you? "I smoke skunk," Ryder slurred. "And Prozac. I've been taking Prozac for three years. It works for me. I've stayed away from the smack. I'm a lot stronger. I'm very happy at this point of my life."

Canned Heat

A benefit concert to support the "I Can Olympics" takes place Tuesday (April 16) at the Cactus.Disorderly Conduct, Jalopy Taco Stand, L.S.P. and Dreadboy will give their skills for the cause. ... Tonight, check out the best pub blues band around with the Board of Directors at San Jose State University's Spartan Pub. ... Last week, I promised you some details on the next Metro Community Fund benefit concert. It's Rumble in the Ballroom, with Skankin' Pickle, San Jose Taiko, Jupiter Sun and a special guest to be announced soon. "Rumble" happens May 17, at the San Jose State University Ballroom. Tickets on sale soon.

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From the April 11-17, 1996 issue of Metro

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