War Of The Roses
Chucking paint over an office was only the beginning. John Harris hears of egg fights, helicopter flights and the building of an eight-foot snow penis during the making of The Stone Roses’ feverishly-awaited Second Coming.
On January 30, 1990, The Stone Roses began recording their second album. The group’s label, Silvertone, had contracted John Leckie as producer, booked the requisite studio time, and braced itself for the financial outlay.
Their expectations were sky-high: two months before, Fools Gold — that epic, fluid nine minutes that still sounds unbelievably accomplished — had proved that its authors were now trading in the stuff of wonderment. They already had their eyes fixed on Spike Island and the 30,000 people who would troop there to experience what one newspaper over-excitedly termed “The Woodstock of a new generation”. Really, what could possibly go wrong? John Leckie duly arrived at Rockfield Studios, near Monmouth, on Sunday, January 28.
“The intention,” he recalls, “was to go there for three weeks and commence the second album with the new songs they had.”
Unfortunately, the group was about to enact one of the more celebrated episodes of their career: avenging the unauthorised re-release of the 1987 single Sally Cinnamon by a Midlands-based label called FM-Revolver. Their chosen method only added to their reputation for swashbuckling panache. In keeping with John Squire’s fondness for Pollock-esque splatter-art, they covered the company’s Wolverhampton offices with blue and white paint.
“The paint business had to happen,” says Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield, “‘cos this cheeky bugger kept putting this shit record out. We warned him …. but that’s the way people deal with things in Manchester. If people keep taking the piss, you go and fucking batter ’em. Only we didn’t: we thought we’d make an artistic statement.”
“They were meant to turn up at Rockfield on the Sunday night,” says John Leckie. “On the Tuesday night, there was no word from anyone. I was sitting there at Rockfield with Paul Schroeder [engineer and eventual Roses producer} , all the gear had turned up … and no one was returning the calls. The record company was saying, ‘Well, we don’t know where they are.’ And on Tuesday night, 48 hours late, at about nine o’clock, the door opens and they all fall in, covered in blue and white paint. They just fell in the door, giggling — couldn’t give a fuck, just flopped on the chair, paint over the carpet. And they told me what they’d done.”
As usual, the band was chaperoned by Steve ‘Adge’ Atherton, their tour manager and fixer. “Steve Adge said, ‘The cops are coming — any minute now, they’re going to find out where we are,'” says Leckie. “I got them to run through One Love and Something’s Burning, and then we went to bed at four. And at about eight the next morning, the police came and took them away.”
“I was woken by the sound of tyres on gravel the next morning,” laughs Mani. “I pulled my curtains back and had a little peek, and the first thing I saw was John and lan getting put in a police car. The coppers kept knocking on my door but I didn’t answer it. The others were banged up from 11 in the morning — and I just went and handed myself in at half four in the evening. Had a nice day in the sun.
“We were two nights in the cells: they held us one night in Monmouth, and another night in Wolverhampton. They did our fingerprints. But the weird thing was, we told the coppers what papers to get the next morning: we said, ‘It’ll be in the NME.’ And you know what was free with the NME? The poster of us covered in paint. Just the sweetest irony, man. Unreal. We signed the poster for the coppers and wrote ‘Exhibit A’ on it.”
One Love and Something’s Burning were finished upon their release from police custody (eight months later, the group were fined £3000 each for criminal damage). On account of the group’s almost neurotic perfectionism, their progress to completion was slowed by endless retakes.
Moreover, mixing the songs took six weeks: time enough for Leckie to travel to Seattle, produce an album by The Posies, and return to find the group and Paul Schroeder still embroiled in the task. Eventually, time was called — and One Love and Something’s Burning were tentatively placed on Silvertone’s release schedules.
The Stone Roses wouldn’t clap eyes on another recording console for two years. Spike Island — the surreal, raggedly-organised day out that fell somewhere between a dystopic shambles and the mass epiphany that many had predicted — was inscribed into Roses legend the following May. One Love came a month later, reflecting a similar duality: it worked the expected wonders as far as the group’s disciples were concerned, but more distanced observers began to sight the first cracks in the band’s reputation for unimpeachable excellence.
“I thought we’d rushed into that song,” John Squire said. “We didn’t like the chorus, we were hacking it over that same drum beat … it wasn’t what we should have been delivering. And I was getting sick of the whole ‘Madchester’ thing. I felt like we were flogging something for somebody, but I didn’t know what it was or who they were. A lifestyle, I suppose. An attitude.”
One Love reached Number 4 in the charts — whereupon The Stone Roses tumbled into the first chapter of a four-year retreat. Precious little creative activity came to pass for the rest of 1990, but early the following year, they found themselves billeted to Bluestone, an isolated rehearsal studio in Pembrokeshire. The idea came from their notoriously quixotic manager, Gareth Evans. Obeying the rock manual, he told his charges to get their heads together in the country, while he set about his most audacious move to date — extricating them from their contract with Silvertone.
Bluestone — owned and maintained by one Noreen Vaughan — was not the group’s ideal bolthole.
“My dad had died two months earlier, and my head had gone,” says Mani. “[Sarcastically] It was nice of Gareth to stick us there, trying to get us to write songs. We always got stuck in these establishment houses in the countryside. There was a photograph hanging on the wall, of this woman, Noreen, shaking hands with Princess Anne. Me and lan nudged each other and said, ‘We’re here again’. And we systematically set about an orgy of destruction.”
Among the Roses’ chosen pastimes were firing pool balls around their quarters, which led to the writing-off of a large, double-glazed window. They also shot flaming balls of paper at each other using the studio’s spaceheater, tobogganed down a nearby hillside using Noreen’s tea trays, and staged re-enactments of the Vietnam war.
“We had nothing better to spend our PDs on than these big tins of ant repellent,” saysMani. “We’d build a fire and throw one on and then shoot it with an air rifle. You got these massive Apocalypse Now-type explosions [laughs].” Only once did their more artistic instincts surface: when John Squire used Noreen’s £400 set of Harrods kitchen knives to create an eight-foot “snow penis”.
When they eventually left Bluestone, John Squire assured his hosts that all damages would be paid for, and signed the guestbook. lan Brown followed suit, with “The laziest man in showbusiness”. Alan ‘Reni’ Wren wrote “What time is it?” and Mani, ever the wag, managed “Nothing off for good behaviour, Viva La Proletariat. PS – The sheep are tight.”
John Leckie, meanwhile, was suffering. “We were booking studios and they were being cancelled at the last minute,” he says. “It just dragged on. I was getting calls — from lan, usually — saying, ‘Oh yeah, we’re ready, we’ve got some great songs, let’s book a studio tor a month.’ We’d be due to go in on a Monday, and lan would phone me the Thursday before at midnight and say, ‘We can’t do it.’ That happened three or four times. It was crazy. Silvertone would just phone me up all the time, asking, ‘Have you spoken to the band?’and I’d be like, ‘Well, have you spoken to them?'”
The backcloth to all this was Evans’ ongoing quest to wrestle out the Silvertone deal and sign with one of the corporate players who were swarming around him. After months of whispers — not to mention an injunction, preventing the group from recording any new material — the case came to court on March 4, 1991. By then, they had allied themselves with Geffen, who promised to meet all the group’s legal costs if the tussle with Silvertone ended in their favour.
“We weren’t confident of winning,” John Squire said, “but we were determined to do or die. If we’d never been released from that contract we wouldn’t have worked for them again, so we were discussing plans to only release boodegs, or to just tour.”
The case lasted two months. In among the legal minutiae lurked all manner of nuggets: the fact that Evans’ real name was lan Bromley, the 10-year management deal that brought him 33.3 per cent of all their earnings and the fact that the Silvertone contract could easily be construed as being rather one-sided. The label wasn’t obliged to release Stone Roses records anywhere else in the world, and die group was only entitled to half-rate royalties on any greatest hits package.
Bizarrely, the reach of the deal was referred to as “the earth and the solar system”. In May; the Roses won the case, and Geffen signed the requisite cheques. Rumours suggested the deal was worth £20 million, and in the short term, there were sufficient funds to facilitate a brief period living the high life.
“We all went to the south of France and hired a helicopter and stayed in £5OO-a-night hotels for a few weeks,” says Mani. “We went, ‘Right, let’s fuck off and spend some money’. We flew into Nice first, chartered the helicopter from Nice to Cannes, then on to St Tropex, and booked into the Hotel Byblos [famously upmarket retreat], stayed there a couple of days, went to Monte Carlo and got kicked out of the casino.
“Were we instant millionaires? No, that’s absolute bullshit. I think we took a hundred grand each. But we were in the studio for a year and a bit, which gobbled up a lot of that. I think we got £2 million for the second album, but we could never hope to recoup it.”
lan Brown used some of his money for more charitable purposes. One morning, he filled a carrier bag with twenty’ pound notes and walked around central Manchester, handing the money out to the homeless. For Gareth Evans, the triumph over Silvertone was a pyrrhic victory.
“The Silvertone deal was a joke,” said John Squire, “but it also highlighted how badly we’d been managed ‘cos we were allowed to sign it. At that point, Gareth’s lawyer was a mortgage specialist from Sale.” To win, Evans was forced to open his own affairs to scrutiny, not only by the court but by his group. Not surprisingly, the Roses dispensed with his services in early 1992.
Finally, in March, John Leckie found himself in close proximity to The Stone Roses and a recording desk. The group had wanted to step outside the usual studio circuit and in keeping with their wishes, he hired The Rolling Stones’ mobile studio (in which Mani quickly scratched an unprintable graffito concerning Bill Wyman) and moved it into the Old Brewery, a 12-bedroom house near Buckley, north Wales. Horseplay quickly entered the frame.
“It was an egg frenzy,” smirks Mani. “We’d wait for John Leckie to lock the mobile studio up and walk across this courtyard, then we used to just egg him to fuck. I remember the ” food was shit, as well. Anything you didn’t eat the night before came back at you the next day with a layer of mash and melted cheese on it. We were fucking emaciated. Whose idea was it to go? Not mine. I fuckin’ hate Wales.”
The group arrived with a small handful of songs, all written by John Squire: Breaking Into Heaven, Love Spreads, Driving South, Ten Storey Love Song. Their increasing familiarity with programming eventually yielded Begging You, a juddering, technofied piece that was piloted by lan Brown.
“You could never get the four of them to play together though,” says Leckie. “It was all overdubs, which wasn’t the case for the first album. John would play by himself with a click or a drum machine — and we’d add drums and bass. Then it was endless overdubs: John would go back to his room, Reni might go home to his kid, Mani would get stoned and
go to the pub, lan would hang about. Did that seem strange? Well, all bands make every excuse possible not to get together in a circle and play. It wasn’t awkward, put it that way.”
“We weren’t exactly functioning very well at that point,” says Mani. “Personally speaking, I was nowhere in it. My head was totally done in; a million miles awav from where it should’ve been. Once the momentum had stopped it was super-difficult to get it going.”
The first stint at the Old Brewery lasted six weeks; on reflection, Leckie was happy with the progress they’d made. “And then,” he says, “the same thing would happen: lan would phone me up and say, ‘We’ve booked the studio for two weeks’, and then phone up on the Friday and say, ‘We can’t do it’. We eventually went back to the Old Brewery for a month, and not much happened. Everybody was having other attempts at things. It was a bit half-hearted at that stage. lan was getting fit, skipping non-stop. A lot of dope got smoked.
“After those four weeks it was OK, but they knew they were beginning to drift, stagnate. I said, ‘Why don’t you do what most bands do and play a gig? Rehearse up a set and go and play a 30-minute show somewhere’. Mani was up for it, Reni was up for it, I think you could have talked John into it, but lan didn’t want to do it. They could easily have done it. Even if we’d done it in the studio and got some mates in, at least it would have been something to work towards.”
Ewloe was where an 18-month spell of inertia befell The Stone Roses, nudging their second album into the middle distance.
“We were looking at being away for as long as it took to make the second album,” John Squire said. “And that was the big mistake: sticking to the idea that it had to be done before we did anything else. We should have written a bit, recorded a bit, toured a bit — and I think the record would’ve come out a lot sooner. We were guilty of saying, ‘Let’s sort everything out and then carry on’. We lost momentum.”
In early 1993, yet another location was added to The Stone Roses’ recording sheets: Square One, a studio in Bury that was being steadily stripped down on account of its owners’ debts. For that reason, the group was able to hire it for a year at a knockdown rate, paying no mind to the fact that among the first items to be prized out was the air conditioning system. Attempting to rid themselves of distractions, they also moved in to a shared house in Marple, near Stockport, borrowed from a local millionaire.
“He was called Derek Bull,” says Mani. “It had electronic gates, a snooker room, indoor pool, a sauna and Jacuzzi. It was a loafer’s paradise. But yet again, he was another fuckin’ royalist twat. He had a big library of books like Blenheim Palace and Diana: Her Dresses. We used to spit in every fuckin’ page. We proceeded to come on like the Banana Splits again: all in the pool, causing mayhem, breaking stuff. Basically doing nothing.”
The group rehearsed at Square One, on and off, for six months, and John Leckie joined them in July. “That period was a disaster,” he says. “Apart from the lack of air conditioning, by the time we got to the studio, it would be 10 or 11 o’clock at night. They were recording as a band by now, but it didn’t come to anything. There were always problems: power cuts, electrical things, people disappearing.
“Eventually I said, ‘For fuck’s sake, let’s get up at 11 o’clock in the morning, or lunchtime. Let’s try and get here by four’. They’d say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll do that tomorrow, definitely—we’ll have an early night, get up at 12, have a good lunch.’ They had a chef at the house in Marple. And then it’d be three, four, five o’clock, and lan would come and say [blearily], ‘What’s happening?’ You can’t change people. That’s what Reni always used to say: ‘You’re never going to change us, no matter what you do.’
“So I said, ‘Fuck this, we’ll move everything to the house’. And still nothing really happened. There was six weeks of that. “I kept saying, ‘Something’s got to change’. John was going to write some songs and do a demo, and then send it to me. And about a month later, lan phoned me up and said, ‘We’ve booked Rockfield for six weeks to do these new songs.’I never got the demos. Steve Adge kept saying, ‘Well I sent them to you.’ They were bluffing. They were booked into Rockfield on the Monday, and I said, ‘I’m not going to go until you’re there. There’s no point in me sitting around for days’. They arrived on the Wednesday — which was £2,000 spent already.”
“John Leckie said his heart wasn’t big enough for the job, so he packed it in,” said lan Brown. “He used to worry a lot. He told us we weren’t ready to record but we knew we were. He first heard our music when we were on the dole. He loved us and couldn’t do enough for us. He’s changed. He reckons he’s getting on in life and time is money to him now That’s not the way to work.”
That, of course, was very easy for lan Brown to say. Leckie departed three and half years after the One Love sessions, advising the group to approach John Paul Jones — not on account of John Squire’s new fondness for Led Zep, but because of the string arrangements he had contributed to REM’s Automatic For The People.
“They were talking about strings and horns — ‘When are we going to book that orchestra and go into Abbey Road? Next week?’ Then lan would phone up and say, ‘I think we should do the strings next time.’ I was like, Hang on… [laughs].”
For a few months, Leckie’s role was taken by Paul Schroeder. In turn, he eloped in February 1994, leaving the group to appoint yet another producer: Simon Dawson; Rockfield’s 33-year-old in-house engineer. His brief was as straightforward as could be imagined: “The idea for the album was for it to be quite live,” he says. “Played as a band. It was all about groove rather than the perfect studio take.”
Finally, the group began to make headway. “Things started to get done,” says Mani. “We did turn a corner. But it must have been the biggest corner in the universe, ‘cos it took ages to turn it.” Some of the Leckie material was retained and augmented: Ten Storey Love Song, the effects-laden prologue to Breaking Into Heaven, How Do You Sleep and Begging You. And new songs crept on to the tapes.
“Daybreak was recorded totally live,” says Mani. “Me and John went in and did Straight To The Man [the one solo Brown composition] in about two takes for lan. And I remember recording Good Times: we went out and watched this meteor shower, and then went in and recorded it. We threw it down live; you can hear it speeding up as we get more excited.
It was one of those.”
There is a wealth of unreleased material from the Rockfield sessions, much of it recorded by a group who were gleefully — and finally — taking advantage of the abundance of studio time.
“We’d go off on a tangent,” says Simon Dawson, “down another route, and go, ‘OK. That’s cool. Now let’s get back to where we were’ [laughs]. Some of that stuff ended up as B-sides. And Reni, especially, would go right out there — kind of in a club direction, which wasn’t really right for that album. That stuff all got put on to DAT, and when we finished the album lan took all those tapes away in this pillowcase.”
For all the inspirational moments, however, there were creeping hints of dysfunction. “There’s been a lot reported in the press about John and his cocaine habit,” says Dawson ..
“And you know, I never saw him take cocaine, ever. And I was with them for 14 months. He was taking cocaine — he’s said so himself— but I never saw anyone taking it.
“There was a problem with lan and the amount of smoke he was doing. That was difficult to cope with. It was difficult to under stand what he was saying. And when he was very stoned, it was very difficult to understand what he was saying. And sometimes … there was stuff happening that was a bit odd. Like when he shaved his head, and Reni did the same thing to try and hold it all together.”
Brown later admitted as much: “I smoked too much. It just turned my head to mush. If you smoke all day and night you just get hyper-critical and you never get to the end of anything.”
Some of the strangeness affected the record: for Tears, the ornate rewrite of Stairway To Heaven that propels the album into the home straight, the group were forced to use a Brown guide vocal.
“I think lan said to John, ‘You’d have to wake me up, put a gun against my head and walk me down to the vocal booth for me to sing that,'” says Mani. “He didn’t like the song, and we didn’t have a gun.” The album’s title, Second Coming, came from Squire; Simon Dawson says the title was in place by the time the Rockfield sessions took place. But for all the band’s maverick poses, they were starting to feel the heat from Geffen.
“Towards the end,” says Mani, “it was [affects Goodfellas voice], ‘Hey Tony, we want to see a fuckin’ return on our investment’. They’d send the guys over.”
In October, the group moved into Metropolis Studios, Chiswick, with sometime Clash associate Bill Price recruited to mix the tapes. The result was a 12-track album with some of the most convoluted production credits in living memory. As for the music …
Second Coming’s musical merits are only part of its allure: there’s also a wealth of nuances and veiled allusions that hint at its impossibly vexed creation — the swampy, drama-ridden opening to Breaking Into Heaven, the frequently tortured lyrics, the way that it can snap out of its more introspective moments into songs that sound like stampeding calls to arms. Nowhere is this crystallised more perfectly than in How Do You Sleep, the song that was rumoured to be about Gareth Evans, but frequently seems to shine its light on the group and their disappearance.
“So raise your glasses, here’s a toast to wasted lives,” sings lan Brown; there follows a beautiful guitar solo, seemingly made tor the moment at which the camera tracks out and the credits start to roll. Not many groups make music like this. You need a myth to pull it off.
Back in Novemer 1994, however, very little of all that had fallen into place.
“The hype was so great that we were never going to be able to fulfil it,” says Mani. “Everyone wanted Electric Ladyland and Sgt Pepper rolled into one.”
You’re the ones who called the record Second Coming.
Should have been called Premature Ejaculation, shouldn’t it?”