Originally published in the Irish Sun on June 14th, 2013.
It’s said that soul is the music of struggle and of overcoming deep hardship – and nothing could be more true when it comes to Charles Bradley, whose journey to the top has been longer and more challenging than most.
It’s not so much the 64-year-old’s age that is surprising, but the fact he only released his first album a mere two years ago. 2011’s No Time For Dreaming marked him out as ferociously talented, gritty soul singer, but it’s with his new record Victim of Love that Bradley looks set to kick onto the big time.
Speaking to Something for the Weekend ahead of his performance at next weekend’s Body & Soul festival, Bradley mused: “I called this second album the Victim of Love because I believe through all my trials and tribulation, that I am the victim of love because I love everybody.
“I get no joy from hurting no one. If I can’t give you nothing good for yourself, I ain’t going to tell you nothing at all.”
Bradley’s biography is not one for the faint-hearted. A poverty-stricken childhood – he didn’t meet his mother until he was eight – gave way to a drifter’s life as an adult.
The one thing that kept him on course was a tightly-held belief that good things come to good people.
“I never gave up because I know I always had a dream,” he says.
“They always say be true to your dreams. Don’t give up –even though it’s very shady, you never know who can come and find you. I believe that Tom Brenneck is the one who found me.”
Tom Brenneck is Bradley’s producer, band leader and writing partner who, along with Daptone Records founder Gabe Roth, Bradley credits with bringing his lifelong dream to pass.
Roth discovered Bradley as he toured the New York club circuit as Black Velvet, a fitting title for a James Brown impersonator.
“James Brown and I came from the same era and the spirit that he got and his hardships as a young man, I’ve been there too. That’s why I can relate to him.
“I’ve always in life picked the hardest thing to do because I wanted to master the hardest thing to do, and that’s why I chose James Brown to do.
“When I saw him in the Apollo, the things that he did, I said this is what I want to learn from.
“You learn from the greatest teacher that you know, and for me James Brown was the greatest thing out there doing his music. I learned to master his music, now I let it rest and I go and do Charles Bradley.”
Bradley’s wider influences are slightly more surprising. He confesses to a deep love for the music of Barbra Streisand (“nobody sings ‘Memories’ like she can”) and credits the Eagles with, quite literally, saving his life:
“Take it to the Limit’ by the Eagles – man, when they sung that song, that actually saved my life. I was going through a deep depression at the time – I was looking for a way to get out of this body of mine because I couldn’t take the pain in those days.
“It’s not the creed or colour you are, it’s what you carry in your heart and soul. I say, don’t judge a book by its colour, judge it by the content of its heart.”
Charles Bradley plays the Body & Soul festival in Co Westmeath on Saturday June 22nd.
Therapy? – Disquiet
“The whole point of it was supposed to be the protagonist from [Troublegum] looking back,” Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns told Something for the Weekend upon the release of Disquiet, 20 years out from its iconic predecessor.
“That’s the kind of strand of Therapy that we could make every album like. It’s in our bloodstream. I don’t know what it is, because we grew up listening to Big Black, NWA, punk bands from Ireland and US hardcore bands.”
The Belfast-bred trio’s fourteenth record is, on the face of it, derivative by design, but it’s clear despite the opening bars of Still Hurts – which channels Troublegum’s first track Knives – that Disquiet is an update rather than a rehash, and it’s as vital a record as they’ve made in a decade or more.
Explicitly and implicitly, Diquiet challenges the notion that rage and self-loathing are preserves of the young, and tracks like Good News is No News and Idiot Cousin rank among the very best that one of Ireland’s most inventive and under-appreciated rock bands has produced.
Le Galaxie – Le Club
Overnight success rarely happens overnight – to put a spin on the annoying cliché – and it’s certainly true in the case of Le Galaxie, who were all set to release their second album independently when they discovered their progressed had been carefully followed by Warner Bros.
The Dublin electro-pop quartet spent more than half a decade developing into the complete package so coveted by major labels, cultivating a substantial following through a thrilling live show and honing their sound to the point where the album replicates the same euphoria.
“Our live shows are all about getting the crowd into it and dancing around. We really wanted to catch that joyousness on the album, and that’s why the album has that very positive, summery vibe,” guitarist Anthony Hyland told SFTW during the summer.
In contrast to their introverted, sci-fi-inspired debut Laserdisc Nights II, Le Club bristles with club-friendly chorus and a relentless energy encapsulated by the title track and Put the Chain On, and the group’s New Year’s Eve outdoor show in Dublin’s Stephen’s Green promises to bring a fitting end to the band’s momentous year.
The Drays – Look Away Down Collins Avenue
Anybody lucky enough to have lurked around the independent music scene in Ireland during the late Eighties will have fond memories of the Stars of Heaven, one of a plethora of Irish bands of the era who hold the curious distinction of never having achieved the lasting success the esteem in which they’re held suggests.
The Stars had the ear and the backing of the great John Peel, who was captivated by frontman Stephen Ryan’s keen pop sensibilities and distillation of that laid-back, Burrito Brothers-style California rock vibe.
With his latest project, the Drays, Ryan draws on similar influences, heightened by the sharing of vocal duties with Eileen Gogan, and tracks like You Say the Same Thing Twice neatly complement the more abrasive Crazy Horse-inspired rock sound of The Fourteenth Floor and The Seven Years War.
New Order – Music Complete
Before the release of Music Complete late in 2015, most music fans could have been forgiven for thinking New Order had ceased to exist. It had been 10 years since the band’s last proper album, and longer still since they’d been any good, and Peter Hook’s acrimonious departure in 2007 had appeared to spell the end of the direct lineage of Joy Division as a creative force.
Without their ever-present fulcrum Hook in situ, expectations for Music Complete were muted across the board but, in spite of the less-than-whelming contributions of Iggy Pop and Brandon Flowers, it’s the best thing the band have done since the Eighties, with Hook’s replacement Tom Chapman a particularly positive influence.
Between the Buried and Me – Coma Eliptic
Prog rock has never been to everyone’s tastes – and 50 years down the line it may never be – but what’s good enough for the dear departed Lemmy should be good enough for all of us, and in Between the Buried and Me prog possesses one of the great heavy metal bands of our time.
The Tommy Rogers-fronted band are a much-changed beast from the aggressive and pathologically difficult band that produced the masterpiece Alaska, but their move into more accessible and saccharine textures has breathed new life into the formula, and Coma Eliptic is the pinnacle of their latter-day work, an album that proves dense and challenging music can be catchy and euphoric at the same time.
Lakker – Tundra
If Lakker is an unfamiliar name to many, even within Dublin’s small electronic music scene, it’s one that is increasingly making waves in the wider world of techno. Dara Smith and Ian McDonnell have been plugging away for over a decade, first as part of the Prodigy-aping Undermine and later as a duo, but it’s with the aptly-titled Tundra that they’ve found their sound, a stark and somewhat standoffish whose dense layers only begin to reveal themselves with repeated listening.
Lamar Kendrick – To Pimp a Butterfly
Rarely a year passes when a black artist doesn’t capture the imagination of predominantly white mainstream audiences with a style steeped in the old school hip hop, with just enough bite and self-confidence to thrill said audiences without alienating, whether it’s the brash egotism of Kanye West or the juvenile vulgarity of Odd Future. What is unusual is for an artist to handle conservative old-style rap with the respect it deserves while adding something unique and lasting to the canon, and to those ends the now-veteran Compton rapper has achieved something remarkable.
Colm Mac Con Iomaire – And Now the Weather
Dubliner Colm Mac Con Iomaire is best-known for his association with Kila and the Frames but the Gaelgóir violinist has many more strings to his bow. As the ironically dismissive album title suggests, And Now the Weather is something completely different for Mac Con Iomaire, in that he intentionally shied away from making a fiddle album, written primarily on an old family piano inherited in recent years. In contrast to his first record, it’s a collaborative affair featuring many of the musicians he’s worked with over the years, but the cinematic, almost post-rocky feel to the album is a success owed purely to the artist himself.
Leo Drezden – Multi-Moment
With the demise of Adebisi Shank and the Redneck Manifesto’s continued hibernation, there was a danger the east coast of Ireland might cease to be the epicentre of post-rock, an unimagineable thankfully unimagined by the return of Enemies and the emergence of Leo Drezden. Featuring Rian Trench – half of cinematic electronica act Solar Bears and brother of Enemies’ Oisin – Leo Drezden fuse mathy instrumental rock with Trench’s sci-fi soundtrack-influenced synth production, and excellent musicianship abounds on their impressive debut.
Jape – This Chemical Sea
Ireland’s foremost adopted Swede Richie Egan produced the first great Irish album of 2015 with January’s This Chemical Sea, taking the concept of pollution – of the environment, of the body, of the soul – as inspiration for an album that’s as much a commentary on consumerism in the modern world as it is a cautionary tale on the dangers of drink and drugs, all contained within the electronic-backed folky sound that has made the Dubliner one of Ireland’s most recognisable modern musicians.
“I’m like some sort of lovesick fool on this record,” says Oliver Cole, only half-mockingly, as he pores over the details of an album that almost didn’t see the light of day.
It’s been a scarcely believable five years since the former Turn frontman released his first solo offering, the intriguingly-titled We Albitri, with outside eyes expecting the Kell band’s cult notoriety to transfer through to its architect’s new undertaking.
It never quite turned out that way, however, as We Albitri became bogged down in music business politics and, by the time it did see the light of day, much of the optimism and enthusiasm had been sucked from the endeavour for Cole.
The experience left the softly-spoken songwriter chastened, and he freely admits the whole experience led to his confidence taking a real beating, to the point where, having completed Year of the Bird, he couldn’t quite bring himself to put the wheels in motion to release the record.
“When I finished Year of the Bird I didn’t send it to any music business people,” he tells Something for the Weekend.
“I don’t know what I was expecting. People would ask ‘when’s the record out?’ and I’d say, ‘oh, the end of the year.’ I’d been saying that for the last two years, but at the same time I didn’t send it to a single person.
“Pete [Murphy, Cole’s promoter] says I sent him a copy but it was a blank CD. I don’t know what I was expecting.
“I think I was making music a long time and, if I’m really honest, I think I was a bit disappointing with how my last record was received. It made me retire into myself a little bit. I certainly wasn’t confident about putting this record out.”
The gradual decline of Turn – the all-too-familiar story of a prodigious and retrospectively iconic Irish band whose time passed amid record industry messing – had left him disillusioned to start with, and subsequent events only deepened his disappointment.
“There were a lot of complications I had at the time with managers and labels – music business stuff mostly that took me ages to get that first ball up in the air after Turn.
“It took me ages to fall in love with music again, and it took me ages to get the ball up in the air, and as soon as I had it up in the air, fucking everybody around me was dropping the ball.
“I got very disheartened and beaten down by the whole process. And it’s different when you’re by yourself.
“When you’re in a band, you take the knocks better. When you’re three or four people people, they’ll stay standing when someone punches you, but it’s just you when someone punches you, you just go dead! Then it takes everything you’ve got to get up again.”
The character Cole depicts couldn’t be more in contrast to the contented figure who sits singing melody lines to songs, both his own and others, and liberally sprinkles the conversation with the word ‘beautiful’ while describing an album inspired by meeting his partner and welcoming his first child to the world.
While Year of the Bird has the sound of an introspective record – one that shares the same sonic space with the likes of Villagers – deeper investigation reveals an album steeped in both positivity and invention, as Cole shies away from the conventional guitar and drums set-up to experiment with harmony and structure.
“I think it is [an uplifting album]. Lyrically, there is a lot of trying to figure stuff out, but it’s moving in a very positive direction.
“What’s funny about that is that the last record, five years ago, the one that sounds on the face of it very positive is lyrically very dark. It’s funny that, because this one sounds a little darker but lyrically it’s quite beautiful and poetic.
“I’ve always been interested in that. If you take ‘Help!’ by the Beatles, and you wrote it out on a piece of paper, it’s desperately sad, but put it to [sings the melody] and it’s not sad at all!
“If you have really lovely music, and you put a lovely melody on top of it and really lovely lyrics, you’re in danger of making somebody throw up. You have to be careful not to over-ice the cake.”
In that sense he has a kindred spirit in Glen Hansard. The Oscar-winning songwriter joins Cole on one of the album’s standout tracks, the Paul Westerberg-evoking alt-country ballad ‘Magnolia,’ which Cole admits Hansard had to strong-arm him into including on the record.
“I was touring with Glen and he happened to really like that song, ‘Magnolia,’ and he would get me up at the end of his gig… he’s a very gracious host, is Glen.
“He’d get me up at the end of every gig and go, ‘Oliver played support earlier and I didn’t see him because I never like to watch the support because I get nervous – is it OK if I bring him out now to do a few songs?’ And they go, yeah.
“Then I’d come out, and he’d just leave the stage in the middle of his gig, and I’d do two or three songs, then he’d come back on and we’d do this song ‘Magnolia’ together, and he’d sing harmony and play electric guitar.
“We did it every night on that tour, about 20 or 30 gigs, so basically by the end of that tour it had developed into something quite beautiful.
“When I came home, I didn’t really want to put it on the record – and I struggled a little bit because I didn’t think it suited the sound of the record in some ways – but Glen was really persistent.”
Originally published in the Irish Sun on July 31st, 2015.
“Music has given me more salvation, and more hope, and more joy in my life than everything else in the world put together.” – An interview with the Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor
Portland rock veterans Dandy Warhols are enjoying somewhat of a purple patch in the past 18 months, and are back in Ireland for the second successive summer to headline Indiependence in Mitchelstown, having starred at Bundoran’s Sea Sessions last year.
This summer’s extended jaunt, frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor tells Something for the Weekend, is largely on the back of ‘Chauncey P vs All the Girls in London,’ a single the band unexpectedly dropped in February, ostensibly to let people know they were still alive.
“We shred, we’re amazing at guitars – that’s our thing – vocal harmonies. [It was just to] re-lay it down and put it out there that we rip. It was also just to get the phone to ring, you know?
“[It was] for labels to call up and be interested and to have producers and big mixers, and it did – it got the phone ringing.
“We have a lot of people we’d like to work with that, if we didn’t have anything out, wouldn’t call us back, or maybe not bother listening to an mp3 of something we were working on. You just have to do stuff.
“We got a lot of festivals going, ‘woah, this band is amazing.’ We’re getting a lot of calls still to play festivals and have a great super party summer on the heels of just releasing one song. One song now, and the 20 years of rock that came before it.”
Taylor-Taylor speaks slowly and thoughtfully in a distinctive deep voice, occasionally losing his train of thought as his speed of mind outpaces his lazy west coast American drawl.
He reveals the band are well on their way to recording album number nine, the follow-up to 2012’s This Machine, though anybody expecting anything soon is likely to be disappointed as the band – particularly the singer – are sticklers for detail in the studio.
“We’re cranking the bigger parts of the machine up again. I think next year will be a big year for us. We have nine or ten songs more or less complete at this point.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, but we should have a record out next year, it looks like.
“We own probably one of the coolest studios in the world, or ever, and we like to be there. We party there, we work and we record, and we do stuff all the time, and you get these songs.
“We build them to where they are nearly as perfect as we can make them. That’s sort of how our lives go. A lot of revolving around the studio.”
He describes the band’s mode of operation as more akin to a group of painters planning an elaborate artwork rather than a typical rock band – in the studio at least.
“Zia [McCabe, keboardist] and Pete [Holstrom, guitarist] showed up last week – I was in there every day that week on my own, then they showed up with a hard drive.
“Pete had come down and grabbed a bunch of tracks, gone back to his house, because he has a studio in his basement – a small, tight, really efficient [studio].
“Pete had taken it back to his house where he could work faster, and he had done a tonne of work on it in his basement, so me and Pete spent the day working the stuff into the big mainframe mix.”
“It’s more of a thinktank. I feel like we’re more a group of painters than a rock band when we’re in the studio.
“We are the most anal motherfuckers on the planet. Somebody said to us, aeons ago, ‘the genius is in the details,’ and we just took it way too seriously.”
Taylor-Taylor has never been one to shy away from expressing a controversial opinion (“I’m liable to say anything,” he says proudly), and he insists the Dandy Warhols were just about the only rock band doing anything remotely interesting in the mid-late nineties.
“In the early days, it was awful and it was hard for us. We were the punk rock band. We were the only band on a major label that was big finger to grunge, to rap rock, to mean people. It was fashionable to be mean and stupid back then.
“We were the only band who were going, fuck you, we’re just going to have fun, and we’re not going to be mean. We’re going meet other bands and hang out with them, not hate other bands and badmouth them. I can feel my mind darkening even just going there.”
At the same time, Taylor-Taylor describes himself as a natural contrarian, and it’s sometimes difficult to separate his opinions from some of his more outrageous statements. What is clear is that the band make a point of avoiding and subverting cliché.
“Back when the Strokes were big, and everyone sounded like the Strokes, anything that sounded like the Strokes at all we had to remove, or it turned us off. It made us feel like ‘god, now we sound like we’re trying to be the fucking Strokes like everybody else.’
“A couple of years ago, after the big [Foster the People hit, ‘Pumped Up Kicks], that song was huge and everyone sounded like that. Everybody had one hit all over Europe and America that sounded like Foster the People.
“That record was amazing and I love it, but I had to stop singing in that soft, breathy voice because I was just tired of it, and I was afraid people were just going to think we were jumping on a bandwagon, even though I’d been doing it for 15 years at that point.”
The past year has seen him developed a particular affection for Cork’s the Vincent(s), who will support the Dandies on their Dublin date, having stumbled across them walking around a festival “outside Cork” – which turns out to be Donegal, which is at least technically true.
“I heard this band that was beautiful – super heavy riffs, something really beautiful going on. I thought, this is a great take on that whole Sabbath, Black Angels, that whole angle. This is a great and different and very fresh take on that whole LSD, big riffs, psychedelic thing.
“I ended up mixing a track for them and they got some good mileage out of it, then I mixed another one last month with my engineer Eggleston.”
Ultimately, in spite of the odd exaggerated or ill-advised statement, the depth and breadth of the Dandy Warhols catalogue, and the level of detail and love contained in it, demonstrate the axiom that actions speak louder than words, in Taylor-Taylor’s case at least.
“I do love to make outrageous statements like ‘I fucking hate music!’ I do like to say goofball shit like that.
“Obviously, in the deepest part of myself I think I love music more than anything. It has given me more salvation, and more hope, and more joy in my life than everything else in the world put together.”
The Dandy Warhols play Indiependence in Cork on August 2nd and Dublin’s Academy the following night.
“You can accidentally spend your whole life working on your own songs, and it gets really insular after a while.” – Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz on his new approach to writing songs
The passage of time, and the way that we deal with it, is a constant theme throughout the music of Counting Crows.
It’s the subject of arguably the group’s greatest contribution to pop music – ‘A Long December’ – and one they return to on ‘Possibility Days,’ a sort of companion piece to the former, which closes their latest album, Somewhere Under Neverland, their first in six years.
Hits like ‘Mr Jones,’ ‘Round Here’ and ‘A Long December’ have become such indelible artifacts of the Nineties that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the band had gone the same way.
One notable contribution to the Shrek soundtrack, ‘Accidentally in Love,’ which earned an Oscar nomination in 2004, the band have kept a fairly low profile over the past decade as frontman Adam Duritz struggled with addiction and insomnia.
The reason for the gap of six years between records, however, is somewhat more simple. The band set off to do their own projects, which for Duritz amounted to beginning work on a play and, while he was doing that, he felt writing music for the band would be overcomplicated.
“It’s not that I stopped writing or anything,” Duritz tells Something for the Weekend. “I was just writing for the play.
“It was so different writing for other characters for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to deal with the confusion of having to write for two things at once and choose which songs would go where. So I just wrote for the play and then recorded cover songs with the band.”
2012’s Underwater Sunshine, was something the band had planned to do as far back as 2003, when sessions for a covers album evolved into the original album Hard Candy. Duritz’s self-imposed songwriting amnesty presented itself at the right time to finally follow through.
Duritz comes across a little withdrawn and cautious in his speech but he becomes suddenly more animated when the subject turns to songwriting, particularly when he speaks about how taking a step back from his own music has allowed him to write in a completely new way.
He says: “You can accidentally spend your whole life working on your own songs, and it gets really insular after a while. You don’t even notice it happening, but you start to have a very rigid idea of what makes a song good. I’m not sure it’s a particularly positive thing.
“I had been wanting to write differently for a while and struggling with it because, in my life, I have usually written songs in one sitting. I judged them to be good if I finished them; if I didn’t finish them I figured it was because they weren’t good.
“Over the years, I was really starting a lot of things and not finishing them, and I couldn’t figure out why. I would get really inspired by an idea, and then all of a sudden I’d think it wasn’t that good.
“I think what was happening was that I was starting to write from a different perspective and I didn’t really recognise that as a good, different thing – I just saw it as a shitty version of what I’d been doing before.”
“I really thought for years the only way to write really, really meaningful songs for me was to write about myself, because that was the only thing I knew about. When I wrote for the play I realised I wrote some of the best songs of my life, and they weren’t really me, but they were about how I felt.
“If you thought of blue as what’s good, and different gradations of blue as different versions of quality to you in your life, and one day you make something that’s green, you might see it as a really good green, but you might just see it as a shitty blue, a blue that wasn’t right.”
What finally convinced him to have faith in a more character-based style of songwriting was when he played for his bandmates the sketches of ideas he’d previously have thrown away, and they “flipped out,” as Duritz puts it.
Somewhere Under Wonderland’s opening track, an eight-and-a-half minute ballad that follows the lives of two curious friends on the fringes of the society – a song Duritz feels, in many ways, sums up the positive change in his songwriting.
“’Palisades Park’ is not a story about me, but it is very much a story about how I feel, and it is very much related to a lot of experiences I had in my life. It’s also very much a story about two people who are not me at all.
“That was really liberating because I could write about people whose lives I sympathised with, I felt like I understood, I had all this pent-up feeling about, but it’s not the life that I’d led. I think it may be the best song I’ve ever written.”
The song – as, indeed, are many on Somewhere Under Wonderland – is interspersed with symbols and references to cultural landmarks of classic America.
‘Palisades Park,’ for instance, is interspersed with allusions to the iconic boxing match between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries – the first heavyweight title fight between two black men.
“Jack Johnson is a figure in American history that always really intrigued me. This amazing person, this very intelligent, gregarious black man at a time when most black people in American didn’t dare say a peep.
“Jack Johnson lived with a white woman, out of wedlock, and went around beating the crap out of everybody.
“He paid for it a lot in later life – they got him. He was an interesting figure. He’s almost like a mythological figure, like Paul Bunyon chopping down trees. He’s almost like this bigger than life person.”
Inevitably, the song encapsulates its author’s pre-occupation with the passage of time, through his speculation on what Jeffries must have been thinking as he lay, stunned, on a Reno, Nevada canvas.
“That moment in that song when the guy is thinking about memories and remembering where he is. Wherever you are in your life, you can sit there and you can’t figure out how did you get to where you are from where you were, but the thing is that you don’t get to go back.
“You don’t get to go back and figure things out or change anything, and that’s really what it is at that moment in the song. Jeffries is lying on his back, staring at the sky, because he’s just been knocked on his ass.
“He was so certain that was not going to happen, but there’s no way to go back and figure out why – it just happened.”
Counting Crows play the Royal Kilmainham Hospital in Dublin on Wednesday, June 24th.
“I didn’t vote for Bez’s Reality Party – this was the first time I ever voted in my life so I thought I better not waste my vote!” – Shaun Ryder on the up
Between drugs, reality TV and the lasting cult success of the Happy Mondays, it’s easy to forget that Shaun Ryder’s biggest success as a musician came about in the middle of all that with Black Grape.
The hip hop-heavy electronic act came about when the Happy Mondays unravelled in the mid-nineties and straight away achieved something the Mondays never did – a number one album – with their debut album, It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah.
In the midst of all that came Britpop, New Labour and Euro ’96 and, all of a sudden, it was popular to celebrate Britishness and Englishness through music, and Black Grape rode the wave with a hit single, ‘England’s Irie,’ right on the cusp of the football tournament.
As is traditional with Ryder’s music projects, Black Grape burned brightly and quickly before burning out and, within three years, they too split in the wake of in-fighting and ever-escalating drug problems, which years later would see co-founder Kermit on his death bed.
The last couple of years have seen the two main protagonists – Ryder and Kermit, real name Paul Leveridge – re-connect, but it was the 20th anniversary of their first album and a kernel planted by Ryder’s publisher that saw them re-unite for a tour, which takes in three Irish dates, ending at Sea Session in Donegal next weekend.
“The girl who does my publishing reminded me that it was the 20th anniversary of It’s Great When You’re Straight,” Ryder tells Something for the Weekend.
“Really, Black Grape is just me and Kermit – the rest of the guys were just session musicians.
“Me and Kermit did all the writing and all the producing with Danny Saber, who played most of the instruments on the album, and when we took it on tour we just got session guys in.
“Kermit has been getting better and better each time I’ve seen him, and he’s in a really good place, better than I’ve ever seen him for years.
“17 years ago he had to have a priest out for the last rites in the hospital because he was dying. He’s 50 and he looks about 29.”
“I met him a couple of years ago at a Snoop Dogg concert, and I saw him a couple of times after and he got better and better and better.
“It’s great to see him so happy – he’s in a great place. When we did it 20 years ago we were still on that treadmill, that hamster’s wheel of albums, tours, press, having just come out of the Mondays.
“I’m older and wiser now, and it’s better than ever. It’s enjoyable now. I didn’t realise what a great album It’s Great was, and there’s some good stuff on the second album.”
While the Mondays were successful in their own right – Step On remains one of the era’s iconic tracks, and Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches a classic album – but Black Grape had the added advantage of good timing, surfing the crest of the Britpop wave without ever considering themselves part of it.
“We knew we had something really good. At that time, the Britpop thing was just happening.
“I remember somebody playing me the Oasis album that hadn’t come out yet, and it was about to drop, and the whole Britpop thing took off. We weren’t really part of that, but it was a great year for music.
On ‘England’s Irie’ – still one of the best songs in the fairly limited cannon of pop songs about the beautiful game – came about rather more fortuitously, as Ryder proudly declares he has no interest in football.
Rather, it was Keith Allen, father of Lily and later chart-topper with another celebration of football and English cuisine, Vindaloo, who drove the project and the band were happy to bask in the success.
“We were working with Keith Allen at the time, and Keith came in and said we’re going to do this song for the Euros. If you listen to the song he’s singing a lot of it and he’s taking the piss out of the Mancunian accent.
“I know fuck all about football. I was born at the back of Old Trafford and I’m a red by birth, but I don’t do football. I get a lot of pleasure out of saying ‘I’m not a football head.’
“I still think the Manchester United team has Georgie Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Eric Cantona in it. It means nothing to me.”
Recent years have seen a resurgence in interest in the Mondays, including stints on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and Celebrity Big Brother, and the original Happy Mondays recently did a stint in the jungle in central America for the BBC.
“We went to this tribe of percussionists in Panama and made music with them. When the show goes out, you can download the track and the money from that will go to the tribe and allow them to carry on the life they’ve had for thousands of years.”
Ryder also fronted his own History Channel show where he hunted UFOs in South America – he recounts a story to me of his own encounter as a child – and plans to release a solo album early next year, which he recorded with Sunny Levine, grandson of the legendary Quincy Jones.
Bez, meanwhile, though only ever a nominal member of Black Grape, isn’t part of the reunion as he continues to focus on his burgeoning political career, which saw him land 700 votes in the recent general election in Salford.
“Bez thinks he’s going to be Prime Minister some day, he really does. And I’ll be there for him.
I mean, I didn’t vote for Bez’s Reality Party – I’ll be 53 in August and the election we just had was the first time I ever voted in my life, so I thought if I’m going to do something as important as this I better not waste my vote!”
Black Grape play Dublin’s Academy on June 19th and the Sea Sessions festival in Bundoran on June 21st.
“We came down the chute different” – Black Stone Cherry’s John Fred Young on his love of Ireland, songwriting and growing up in a rock n’ roll family
Black Stone Cherry may not be a household name in Ireland – or even their native America – but the Kentucky quartet have deservedly earned a reputation as a fearsome live act.
It’s been four years since the self-described Southern rock band last played in Dublin – to a packed out Whelan’s – and they return four years wiser with a new album, last year’s Magic Mountain, in tow.
Following a brief tilt at crossing over to the mainstream, Magic Mountain sees the band simplify their approach and return to the formula that took them from an old shack on drummer John Fred Young’s farm to festival stages the world over.
Young speaks to Something for the Weekend on the eve of their three-date stop in Ireland, before spending the summer touring the UK and mainland Europe.
“Working with Joe was unreal,” says Young, referring to producer Joe Baressi (Melvins, Kyuss), with whom they recorded their fourth studio record.
“Joe Baressi is one of the sweetest guys and one of the most intelligent people when it comes to, sonically, getting sounds in the studio.
“We went out to Pasadena, California in 2013, in the Fall, and it was just magical. Joe has this Hot Rod shop, that used to be an auto shop for working on motors, and he just gutted it and put in a studio in this old brick building.
“Joe wanted us to just have a record that we could be proud of. As for his producer’s hat, Joe didn’t step in and tell us where to put stuff or how to do this and that – it’s more like he became part of the band, like a fifth member.
“We cut to tape for the first time in our career, which I thought was just awesome.”
The band’s previous record – 2010’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – saw the group take on a more commercial bent.
At the behest of their label, they drafted in commercial rock producer Howard Benson and worked with songwriters-for-hire in an attempt to fit the mould of rock radio. It wasn’t a comfortable fit.
Young says: “Howard is a great producer as well with a totally different bag of tricks to Joe – a pop guy.
“It was incredible making that record because we learned stuff that we never thought we would have taken away from our experience with a producer like that.
“It’s always the way when you’re a band working with a record label that you get somebody who wants to mould you into something that’s ‘hot’ at the moment.
“In America, the way people hear about rock bands is through rock radio, and we’re just not an active rock radio band – we’re a live, classic rock, lifestyle band. We’ve got to write songs that won’t get us on the radio but will appeal to our fans and will also work in our live show.”
“We worked with 30 or 40 different writers in 2010, and it was a great experience getting to meet all those people, a lot of Nashville guys. It made us better songwriters, for sure, and we’re so proud that that happened.”
The band have been back on the road since the start of May, having taken a six-month break from touring as John Fred became a father for the first time.
Young’s father, Richard, and his uncle Fred (also a drummer) are members of the Grammy Award-winning southern rock band the Kentucky Headhunters, and they helped the teenagers cut their teeth on the live circuit.
Young says: “We actually started on Chris’s birthday, June the 4th, 2001. We started rehearsing in my dad and uncle’s old shack that my great-grandmother gave to them. Every day after school we’d just pound it. Our band’s been together almost 15 years, which is longer than some people’s marriages!
“If I wasn’t in this band, I’d be a fan of this band. I know that sounds a little vain, but I don’t mean it like that, but we’re a band that are doing something that not a lot of bands are.
“We’re bringing classic rock influences we grew up on, rehearsing in our house on the farm, surrounded by ’60s and ’70s posters on the wall to keep the heat in, because there wasn’t any insulation in the ’30s and ’40s when this old shack was built.
“We were 15 and 16, looking at Cream and Mountain and Led Zeppelin and the Who, and old blues artists like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.
“We got an ancient pedigree at a young age, and that’s what separated us from a lot of bands that just grew up on what other kids our age were listening to, like Korn and Limp Bizkit and Nine Inch Nails.
“We’re so lucky to have had parents who turned us on to those artists, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we came down the chute different.”
Like so many in the American South, Young comes from Irish lineage and his excitement at returning to Ireland for a couple of shows is clearly audible, even down a phone line.
“I remember the first time we came to Ireland in 2008, maybe, when we were playing some smaller clubs, and I always fight to come to Ireland.
“It’s not even that we have to fight sometimes, but when booking agents and tours are going together, they want to hit all of the UK and sometimes Ireland, because you have to take the ferry out there, kind of gets left off.
“I’ve got a love for Ireland – my family are descendents like many other people here. We’re really psyched we’ve got three shows in Ireland, so it’s going to be incredible.”
Black Stone Cherry play the Pav in Cork on June 15 and the Academy in Dublin on June 16.