The Blind Arcade with Kermit Leveridge

The former Black Grape rapper talks to Mike Boorman about his amazing rise from Hacienda B-boy to number one artist, his fall into drug addiction and obscurity, and his brilliant comeback-collaboration with Greg Wilson.

Mike Boorman

Last updated: 9th Sep 2014

Image: Kermit Leveridge (c) Elspeth Moore

It is no exaggeration to say that Kermit Leveridge is a Manchester icon. He's probably most famous for being half of Black Grape with Shaun Ryder, but for years before that he made a name for himself in clubbing institutions Legend and the Hacienda as part of dance crews The Scorpions and Broken Glass.

And well before the number one album and superstardom with Black Grape, he helped create what Roots Manuva describes as "the roots of grime" as part of The Ruthless Rap Assassins.

Throughout most of this time, Greg Wilson was a fundamental part of the story. It was Wilson who first identified his talent when he was dancing as part of the The Broken Glass crew in Legend, where he was resident DJ.

He was so impressed that he became manager of Broken Glass, and then latterly producer and manager of The Ruthless Rap Assassins. Two decades on, having come through years of addiction and ill health, Kermit has made a roaring comeback to be reunited with Greg as part of a new project, Blind Arcade.

We spoke with him to find out about a truly inspiring journey to the brink and back again, life on the road with Shaun Ryder, heroin withdrawal, and a recent epiphany that made him stop telling lies. 

First things first, Kermit, we want to say that the track 'Give It Away' is brilliant. When Greg sent the mixtape with all the Blind Arcade material on it to the Skiddle office, that was the moment - it just lifted everything, and it kinda felt like a whole journey inside one song (hear the expertly blended album/mix above, made up entirely of Blind Arcade material).

The thing about that track is, it's about heroin - it was about my heroin addiction.

So what was the moment where you decided enough was enough?

There were a few of those moments. I couldn't say there was a moment of clarity. It was a combination of things I guess.

You were very ill weren't you?

Yeah... septicemia, got pneumonia, had heart trouble as well, but I still got back on it for a bit after as well you know.

So how long have you been clean for?

A good few years now. I had a little slip five or six years ago, but not with heroin... I came to Manchester and went mad for a bit on other stuff. But I've been off heroin for about ten years now.

You went to Wales and kept your head down didn't you?

Yeah, I got a house in Monmouth just near Rockfield Studios.

And what were you doing down there? Did you have a normal job?

No no… I was doing what I always do, just fucking writing all day! A lot of the stuff that I've put out now, like the poems, the music, has stemmed from around that time. Like 'Lies And Other Fools' (a poem narrated by his great friend Howard Marks, that was recently released on 7 inch single) - I did that then.

Being off drugs - did it change your creative process? It must be different when you're a living a quiet life.

Well actually, I've always written. Whether I was off my head or not off my head. I've always written since I was a kid. It's just a habit that I've got. Sometimes I think 'oh shit - what am I doing' when I'm writing these little journals that I've got, and you think 'what is the purpose of all this?' but then fate takes over and the material actually goes somewhere.

And I guess it must have been therapeutic to get you through bad times...

Yeah, that was one of the reasons I got through. I went through the whole rehab thing, doing this, doing that, counselling and stuff, but it didn't really work for me. It was something I had to do myself. I had to suffer. I had to withdraw. It was something I had to do to feel like I was getting rid of it.

So having gone through all this, how long did it take for you to really find your true self?

Only now really. Just recently. Recently I've started being real. I made a conscious decision to not tell lies. Well, you know, white lies are all right I guess but no big lies that could hurt people! Ever since then my life's been a lot easier.

So in the past did you used to be someone who was more worried about what people thought - you were trying to impress them with lies?

No, it was the opposite! I didn't give a fuck what people thought! And I really didn't.

So you just did everything for yourself really?

Yeah. And I do that now, but in a much more friendly way. I try to be there for my friends and I try to be real and honest and tell people straight.

What other things have your learned on the journey?

Being open. Just being non-bogus, man! Hahaha… that's the only way I can describe it!

So do you feel that you have less to prove now because you're happy in yourself? You're not in Black Grape, you're not in the spotlight, you're just doing your thing…

Yeah. The music I'm doing now… I'm not following any trends… I'm just being creative. I just dig the music that I dig, doesn't matter what it is. If I'm diggin' it I'm diggin' it.

Well it shows in what you've made recently.

You like it do you?

That Blind Arcade meets Super Weird Substance mix tape that Greg Wilson put out recently - it's the best music we've heard for years, seriously.

Oh thanks man! Glad you're diggin' it too!

You've definitely tapped into something. It's got a bit of hip hop in there, a nineties beat that's very Mad-chester, and it's also a bit Balearic…

I keep getting told that about Balearic! 

There's more mileage in that style of sound, because there's people who have grown up out of four-to-the-floor house music and don't have much schooling in some of the reference points we just mentioned… we totally get it. It's like you've managed to subvert genre completely.

I'm so glad. It's basically that thing of not forcing it, not trying to be like anything else. The whole approach to this was that we just started making music together with no idea what we were doing, and then when we looked up we had about five or six tracks!

And everyone we played them to was saying 'these are really good man', and then I got in touch with Greg Wilson who was really busy at the time but he put some stuff on hold and got us in the studio, and then bang-bang-bang-bang-bang… we finished loads of things off.

Are there plans for an official Blind Arcade release, because the material we're talking about was given away on soundcloud?

Yeah, that's the plan. We'll probably have an album out some time next year.

And will it have some of the same material?

There might be the odd bit on there, but there'll be a lot of new stuff as well - a hell of a lot of new stuff. We've got a lot of things that we couldn't put on that mixtape.

How did the Blind Arcade collective come about then?

Well I was going out with this girl… crazy girl she was… and she kept telling me 'you've gotta meet my mate Luke (aka EVM128) - you'd really get on', and you kinda think 'yeah yeah whatever' - people always say that sorta thing to me. But we met up and we really hit it off. And we were there for about an hour, and we'd done a tune!

But there are three of you aren't there?

Yeah, well we've got in-house musicians as well but there's BB. James the singer… she comes in and out… she does a lot of her own things as well.

To be honest we're all doing our own things. That's what makes it good I think - it helps keep it fresh - there isn't that pressure. But somehow it's got a pop edge to it, without meaning to, but that's just the way it's come about… it's just been easy.

I guess you're not in each other's pockets, there's not that intensity. Bit different to being on tour with Shaun Ryder in Black Grape then?!?

Oh fucking hell, that was just chaotic. We just shambled along! Black Grape were like a stumbling drunk trying to get across a dance floor, but looking cool doing it! Hahahahaa, oh man, when I think back...

But you still had a number one album (hear the first single from it below).

Yeah man, but it was a great fucking album! I'm proud of it man - I still stand by it. There isn't a flat or house that I go to that doesn't have that album.

And yet you and Shaun were away with the fairies, or something worse than that!

Ha ha, yeah well, we were away with the gangsters, the hookers, the drug dealers...

But you still made a load of money out of it and set yourself up. Or did you?

I pissed it up the wall, shot it up my arm, snorted it, smoked it, gave it away... just spunked it!

So on what terms are you with Shaun? I know it ended badly...

We talk, we talk. Not often, but we talk. We're okay. We're both completely different people now.

And that's probably just as well, because you'd be dead otherwise!

Yeah well, I was actually dead twice! I flatlined on two occasions - it was that bad man. (he puts on a Hollywood accent) I'm on a mission from God man - a mission from the lord!

Ha ha, but there is a serious point to it, which is that looking back on those kinds of things will make you more grateful for the now, and you'll probably work harder.

Yeah I do, I do. I put the effort in now. I wasted a lot of my talent back in the day but now I work harder. And also I've got a little girl now as well who's nearly six months old - that makes you see things differently doesn't it?

It has to, or you're not human! So final thing… you're going on tour as Blind Arcade along with Greg and others, tell me more…

We're doing Gorilla in Manchester on September 20th, then Glasgow, Bristol, Liverpool and London… they're all eight-hour events and there's gonna be loads of different things happening.

They'll be artists there, poetry. Blind Arcade are gonna play midnight-ish and then Greg will DJ afterwards. And there's other DJs on as well. I know we've got Terry Christian hosting the talks in Manchester. The plan is for there to be a really different show each time basically.

If you want to join Kermit and Greg for the opening night at Gorilla, go here for tickets. You can find other dates here.

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