Cut: July 1989
Are jumbo-cords going to be big this summer? Trouser pioneers and indie stalwarts THE STONE ROSES think so. David Belcher feels the width.
TALK OF THE DEVIL
IN THE past month singing Stone Rose lan Brown has found himself twice being expected to answer the same strange, deceptively casual question from separate music magazines.
“It’s come right at the end of the interview, quite clever the way they’ve done it. They just seem about to turn the tape recorder off, and they’re fiddling about, and then they say, ‘ oh yeah …. one more thing: Are you the son of the Devil?'”
“The first time I laughed …. What else can you do? The second time I said I’m not going to answer that question. Once is fair enough, but twice …. I smell a definite set-up.”
I don’t think you should have told me that, lan. Not that CUT goes in for that type of draft metropolit an music-press, public-schoolboy japery …. but you do realise what the big payoff query will have to be now?
lan Brown laughs again. He laughs easily. A funny and sardonic guy, well tuned-in to life’s ridiculousness. We part chummily, with him off to seek not one, but two holy grails.
He’s going to pick up some jumbo cord which can be fashioned into a serious pair of large scale flares like the denim ones he’s presently pioneering.
“The shop I got these in had just three pairs the first time, so I bought the lot: I went in last week and they had 200 pairs … I need the jumbo cord to stay ahead …. flares are going to be high street by the summer … fashion! Fashion is some bloke rubbing a sixpence between his fingers and trying to get your last 10 bob off you.”
He’s also going to search out the precise whereabouts of “this shop I’ve heard about that sells 21 ” flares for 99p. They’ve had them for years and they think nobody wants them anymore.”
Relations between the press and Mancunian candidates the Stone Roses are not always so mirthsome and cordial. Flared journalistic nostrils and white knuckles have occasionally been more the mode. I had to sweat a bit, too, I can tell you, as we sat in a cafe on Manchester’s Victoria station, the light at the end of the tunnel grew dim. We did get somewhere in the end, but the Ecstasy Train arrived dangerously late at Platform 4.
Why was this? Partly, the Stone Roses are wary of journalists who think too much, analyzing pop’s meaning until they weasel it to nothing. “Not that we haven’t met a journalist we haven’t liked, we just can’t help meeting nice people,” they insist, disingenuous to a fault.
There’s also the fact that in past interviews they’ve met, “Journalists in the South who expect Northerners to be dumb. When they find out you’re not, they say you’re sarcastic and obnoxious.”
“They are and they aren’t, but no more than anybody else is, and that’s not all that they are.”
Plus the Stones-that-roll-the-most believe themselves to be the best band in the world and don’t shrink from telling everyone about it. And they don’t take too kindly to earnestly-silly questions from awestruck non-Mancunian observers who seek to explain or understand the (cough, splutter) ‘musical phenomenon’ that is presently Manchester.
They also have a sharp, deadpan and dryly mocking sense of humour. Very Manchester. Naturally, they deny that this trait is very Manchester. Which is a very Manchester thing to do. Nevertheless, in reply to long and involved questions of a deep and socio-philosophical nature, they’ll merely answer “yeah” or “no” or “dunno”, and then settle back quietly to watch their inquisitor’s discomfort.
They do a lot of wry sitting back. They do a lot of silences. Or they’ll say: ” We’re just a simple beat group, simple downtrodden folk,” with an innocence that could cut your head off.
“The water” guitar boss John Squire might say if you foolishly ask him what makes Manchester different? What makes it Britain ‘s premier musical centre? Silence.
“Two arms and two legs and a head,” bassist Mannie might say if you ask if there’s anything common to Manchester bands. Silence. The Stone Roses as upholders of indie standards?
“Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue uphold indie standards. We’ve a lot to live up to.” Very Manchester. More silence.
And in the silences you hear a panicky voice asking more of these bloody stupid questions. And in the silences you realise with increasing horror that the voice is yours.
I didn’t mean to ask these questions, honest. But somebody has to say something. They just kept looking at me with lazy half smiles. It got better when I asked them whether this was some sort of career, and whether they’d still be doing the Stone Roses in 10 years’ time?
“Sitting on a beach in Belize.” says lan. “With a big fat belly.”
“Eighteen stone,” says Mannie.
“Lying in a hammock drinking mango juice,” says John.”Wanking”.
“Total decadence,” they all agree, laughing.
They’re only half serious. Or are they only half-joking?
Somehow the interview limps to a merciful close.
“Blood out of a Stone?” says lan. “Blunt, non-communicative answers, eh?’ asks John with laconic pride. “Let’s talk now we’ve finished the interview.”
“My favourite colour’s blue by the way,” adds Mannie helpfully.
We do talk. They knew John Leckie was the man to produce their sugar-spun, acid-dipped debut LP when they heard his answer to their question about his Buddhism.
“When we asked him about Buddhism and what it had been like living on a commune and giving all his possessions away, he just said: ‘Never sell all your possessions or live on a commune.'”
They really wanted Sly and Robbie. “Someone who isn’t rock. white rock.” but couldn’t get them.
For years lan didn’t know LPs existed, “… really, from 7 till I was about 14 I just thought it was singles, I didn’t know there were any records any bigger. My auntie had given me all these old singles … I kept them in a little plastic bin with no sleeves on them. The Beatles, Hendrix, good Elvis, The Kinks, Tom Jones, old Motown … played them over and over. I still listen to them. They’re absolutely knackered. I don’t listen to much else now apart from acid house.”
At gigs they sometimes get 17 year-olds who want them to sign their Smiths t-shirts. “They come up and say: ‘will you write ‘The Smiths are dead’ on my t-shirt?'”
“But you don’t look anything like Morrissey, I say.”
“I know. We must be confusing them, says lan.”
lan feels there have only been three good white guitair bands – “Stones, Beatles, Pistols”, and that heroes (Bolan, George Best, Incredible Hulk, Barry McGuigan) always let you down.
John says that Brian and Michael’s Matchstalk Men, And Matchstick Cats And Dogs sums up Manchester for him, “Clogs and cloth caps….it brings a tear to my eye.”
We reach a parting of the ways.
lan, I am the son of the devil!
“Are you?” he says, not letting me down by rescuing the punchline.
Hellish funny and devilishy Mancunian, these Stone Roses.