The band was formed in 1993 by former Happy Mondays members Shaun Ryder and Bez. It was Ryder’s first musical project after the disintegration of Happy Mondays due both to his multiple drug addictions and to disagreements about revenues with other bandmembers. The formation of the new band was intended to draw a line between his past life and his new one. Ryder and Bez recruited rappers Kermit and Psycho, drummer Jed Lynch, and guitarist Wags (formerly of the Manchester-based group the Paris Angels). Recording of new material started that year, although the group was not under contract.
In 1995 Black Grape was signed by Radioactive Records (an imprint of major label BMG) and released its debut album It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah. It immediately charted at number one in the UK Albums Chart, and spawned three Top Twenty singles.
The third single, “Kelly’s Heroes” - a song lampooning society’s obsession with celebrities and idols that had much to do with Ryder’s own previous hero worship of people he now saw as wastrels - had its opening lyric changed before recording from “Don’t talk to me about heroes - Most of these guys snort cocaine,” to “Don’t talk to me about heroes - most of these men sing like suggs .” (Ryder initially intended it to be ‘Smurfs’, but feared he could be breaching copyright). Another song on the album, “Temazi Party”, mocked the then-current craze for abusing Temazepam sleeping pills (a.k.a. ‘jellies’), but was deliberately misspelt on the album sleeve as ‘Tramazi’ instead of ‘Temazi’ in order to forestall any legal injunction against the album’s release.
It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah received critical acclaim in the UK, but the group made little impact in the US. However, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich listed it as his favourite album of 1996. The album cover featured a picture of then-recently-imprisoned terrorist Carlos The Jackal.
The subsequent album Stupid Stupid Stupid was less favoured. The group split in 1998 after Ryder fired the rest of the band while touring, starting with Kermit (who was suffering from septicemia) and ending with Bez (who was unsatisfied with his financial situation).
On 2 February 2010, NME reported that Ryder will be reforming Black Grape with Saber and Kermit for a concert as part of the ‘Get Loaded In The Dark’ gig series on 1 April at The Coronet in London.