Stuck In A Lift With… Shaun Ryder

The Reverend Black Grape on hating Harry Styles, defacing the Beatles and getting earwormed by Barbie Girl

On May 28, Black Grape are set to play a one-off show at the historic Picturedrome in Holmfirth – and Shaun Ryder has no idea whether or not he’s ever been there. “Have I played there before?” he asks, genuinely curious. “To be honest mate, even I had played it before I probably wouldn’t remember…”.

Celebrating 25 years of Black Grape’s seminal Madchester debut It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah, Ryder looks back over his career only when he absolutely has to. “We released Pop Voodoo in 2017 and we’re about to make another Black Grape album now, so that first record feels a long way off now,” he laughs, digging deep to remember the album that launched his own new direction after the first breakup of the Happy Mondays. “Thinking of all the s*** that’s gone on since the 90s it feels like a f***ing 100 years, never mind 25…”

Black Grape - Reverend Black Grape (Video)

As the conversation gets stuck somewhere between Factory Records and I’m A Celebrity…, we share five minutes in a broken elevator with Shaun Ryder to ask him our quick-fire questions. It went about as well as you’d expect.

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with? 

Honestly? Myself and a f***ing book. I’m a rubbish reader – as soon as I read a line in a book I just don’t retain it, but I’d like the chance, y’know? Or if I had Wi-Fi in the lift I’d take an iPad. I just read whatever really. Anything that’s on the internet. 

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with? 

F***ing Harry Styles.

What’s the first album you ever bought? 

I didn’t buy any of my first albums, I nicked ’em. I was lucky enough to grow up in Salford near one of the biggest hypermarkets around, and it was policed like a corner shop. They just had a couple of security guards on the doors and a few mirrors in the corners. It sold tents, sporting gear, cakes, everything. We used to go in and grab some of the cream cakes from the counter, then go down to the booze aisle and get bottles of cider and then sit in one of the tents getting p***ed. 

I used to have this parka that had these two big shoplifting pockets in it, and the first albums I took were Hunky DoryPin Ups and Every Picture Tells A Story. I stuck all three in my big parka pockets and walked out with them. 

Have you still got them? 

No, I left home when I was about 17 and started moving around, so all my stuff just vanished. Anything that didn’t stay at my mum’s is long gone now, and I took my album collection with me for sure. I had some great stuff too. I mean, my dad was buying me Beatles albums and the first Rolling Stones albums when I was like f***ing three-years-old, in the sixties. I had all the originals. Although I remember getting to about 15 or 16 and drawing big d***s on everybody on the Beatles For Sale cover. You opened it up and it had loads of old pictures and 1920s actors on the sleeve, and I drew big tits and c***s on them all. It would have been a good one to still have! 

Have you ever stolen anything from a hotel? 

Well yeah, but I mean the thing is, you can take what you want – you just get billed for it. I get attached to the night gowns. But I’ve taken ashtrays and ornaments and just been billed for them afterwards. Ridiculously overpriced. 700 quid on a f***ing ashtray?!

What the stupidest thing you’ve ever paid for? 

Probably some item of clothing, you know? Back in the day, when I was younger, I’d buy a shirt for 300 quid and I wouldn’t even wear the f***ing thing.  

Do you spend a lot of time working out what you’re going to wear on stage for big gigs? 

I did, but once you start getting well-known you get all that s*** for free. But the pictures of me from the 80s are f***ing outrageous. All the Ralph Lauren gear and all the Stone Island gear. The kids are still wearing that today though, I’ve never really gone out of style!

Who would soundtrack a film about your life (not counting 24 Hour Party People…)?

It would have to be Sunny Levine. He’s my production partner, and he’s part of the [Quincy] Jones’ royal family too. He’s got excellent taste in music, and he’s up there with me on movie soundtracks. So I would totally put a film about my life in the hands of Sunny. 

You like movies? Which film would you most like to rewatch for the first time? 

It would have to be something like Enter The Dragon or Dirty Harry, something going back to the 70s.

Do you remember the first time you saw them both? 

Oh god yeah. It was Enter The Dragon and Dirty Harry and The Exorcist, and I was 11 when I went to watch them all. We had a great cinema near us so even if I’d have been nine years old they’d let me in. So I got to watch all these fantastic movies like Soldier Blue and Clockwork Orange, before it got banned.

That’s pretty young to watch The Exorcist and Clockwork Orange… do you remember what you thought of them at the time? 

The Exorcist traumatised me. I mean, if you show that now to a 10-year-old kid now they wouldn’t really think anything of it because you’ve got movies full of people spinning around and projectile vomiting and things like that. There’s worse stuff in f***ing Harry Potter films. 


Everything’s instant now! The kids couldn’t handle a long story. But I remember thinking The Exorcist will never be on TV, but it’s probably got a f***ing PG certificate now. But when I saw it in 1973 I had to stay in our kid’s bedroom for about six months.

What else scares you? Are you frightened of any animals?

F***ing anything that’s the size of a one pence piece that can kill you. 

You mean bugs? 

Yeah, yeah. The ones that get into your brain and eat it away. Even if they don’t, you think they do.

Right. Where would you go if you could time travel?

I’m always thinking about this. Would I go backwards or forwards? Even though I really want to know what’s going on in the future, I think I’d still love to just f*** off back to Oliver Twist times. When it was incredibly easy to rob everything. All that happened to you was you got hung. There wasn’t any big complicated systems or laws – if you got caught they just f***ing hung you. Job done. 

What’s the last song you had stuck in your head? 

Okay, this is because I was watching that Top Of The Pops thing on thingy… and this one was all about that f***ing ‘Barbie Girl’ song [starts singing Aqua]. That song was bad enough back in the day, right?! But before that it was ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ [starts singing Tina Turner]. That one got stuck in my head for a f***ing long time.

What do you like to listen to when you’re exercising? 

When I’m walking, I just enjoy the silence. But when I’m on the exercise bike or I’m swimming, I put on Absolute Radio 60s. Or maybe Absolute Radio 70s. I don’t mind doing a bit of exercise to ‘Tiger Feet’. 

You never put on Absolute Radio 90s?

Nah, I think they play our stuff on there…

Black Grape are playing a one-off show at the Holmfirth Picturedrome on Saturday 28 May. Find tickets here. Happy Mondays play Isle Of Wight Festival and Kaleidoscope.