There was a second coming with a long-awaited album, a first going with drummer Reni’s departure, a false start with the cancelled Glastonbury slot and a real feeling that it could be all over for The Stone Roses. Would they ever match Oasis, the band they inspired? Would new fans get it? Did the Roses still matter? When a huge tour sold out in hours it was obvious. John Robb, who has known the band from the start, talks to bassist Mani about the return of the group that invented it all …
For a band who have avoided the limelight for most of the decade The Stone Roses are still very big news. This month they tour Britain for the first time since early ’89, selling out hefty venues within hours and making a mockery of claims that they are a spent force.
The group that grabbed indie music from the underground and thrust it into the mainstream – only to be overtaken by bands heavily influenced by them – have finally come home to stake a claim for what is theirs. And bass player Mani just can‘t wait.
”We‘ve got a lot to prove, even though we know we‘re up there with the great bands. I‘m still a fan of all this stuff – I‘ve got the same blood rushing through my veins as when I was a 13-year-old at punk gigs in Manchester,” he claims emphatically.
Mani‘s enthusiasm won‘t surprise people and the band‘s fans are equally passionate. But what is it about the Roses that inspires devotion that can survive five years of frustration and under-achievement? How have they managed to retain their audience through several lifetimes in pop? What inspires a band that many now see as a legend?
Maybe their attempt to crawl back to the top of the pile has rekindled the excitement of the days of ’89. Maybe the baggy generation that suddenly made combative pop music go massive are trying to buy back a bit of their youth. Or maybe fans of the new indie millionaires are realising it‘s time to check out the original masters of guitar pop, the band that wrote the whole bloody script for the Britpop explosion.
Whichever way you spin it, this is the biggest tour at the back end of a remarkable year for UK music. It‘s the tour the Roses should have done years ago instead of always trying to pull off ambitious festival-style events.
Why? Well, for the past 12 months The Stone Roses have been under the cosh. The ‘Second Coming‘ album was released on December 4 1996 to lukewarm reviews, and early reports from live shows abroad at the start of the band‘s world tour were not encouraging.
”The media didn‘t really help,” spouts the ever ebullient Mani from his Monmouth retreat. ”When we announced these dates the Press hoped that we were going to fall flat on our faces, but we still sold them out. We‘re one of only two or three bands in this country who can do that on the world stage and the Press should be backing us. But we never jumped through fiery hoops for them. No one can force our hand.”
The assured success of this, the band‘s first ever full UK tour, is all the more remarkable considering the series of personal and professional mishaps the band have had to endure recently, such as the loss of drummer Reni and guitarist John Squire‘s confession that he was addicted to cocaine.
Although ‘Second Coming‘ isn‘t as fab as the band‘s debut release, there are still moments of greatness. ‘Ten Storey Love Song‘ is a melody as gorgeous as any they have written; ‘Love Spreads‘ is great, incendiary rock, coasting on a crazed slide guitar break; and ‘Driving South‘ is a pure hard rock and blues meltdown. They‘ll sound brilliant live. The problem with ‘Second Coming‘ is one of balance. If only John had pulled back a bit on the guitar and Ian had written more of the idiosyncratic but moving lyrics that peppered the first album, then it would have been a truly classic album.
”’Second Coming‘ was John‘s personal album,” reckons Mani. ”Ian didn‘t hold a grudge about John writing most of the stuff. John was on a roll and when John‘s on a roll there‘s no point in trying to compete. But for next year‘s album I‘ve already written a couple of tunes and Ian‘s got about four songs. Ian‘s always got plenty to write about – he‘s a pretty opinionated person as you know – and he‘s writing a lot about injustice.”
But despite the difficulties of the past five years The Stone Roses are a long way off being disheartened.
”The best of this band is yet to come,” says Mani. ”We are ready for this tour. We want to prove to everybody who the best band really is.”
So why the hell should we bother with The Stone Roses when we‘ve got Blur and Oasis? The reason is simple. When the band appeared on the Manchester scene in 1989 alongside Happy Mondays they grabbed British indie music from the doldrums and made it colourful and sexy at a time when most ‘credible‘ bands were dour and soulless. They reinvented the Beatle mop-top that is de rigeur in today‘s guitar pop. They put melody back on the agenda. For the first time in years you could play that guitar riff, swagger like a rock star and still be cool.
The first time I came into contact with The Stone Roses was at a rehearsal room in Chorlton, a suburb south of Manchester city centre, in the middle of 1985. The rooms were run by lapsed punk rocker Steve ‘Adge‘ Atherton, who has remained with the band in a loose ‘management‘ capacity ever since. The Roses were rehearsing next door to my own group, The Membranes, with a line up of Ian Brown (vocals), John Squire (guitar), Reni (drums), Andy Couzens (bass) and Pete Garner (guitar). At first we were all wary of them – especially Ian. He lived in the flat next door to our guitar player and looked like a bit of a troublemaker so we tried to avoid him. We knew them and they knew us and no one knew if either band was going to make it. The Roses were just another small-town group trying to get a few gigs under their belts.
The band came from south Manchester and had working class and lower middle class roots. Ian and John both went to the local Altrincham Grammar School and had fooled around with bedroom groups together before finding something of a footing in The Stone Roses. The band were originally derided as a goth group, but they were more influenced by the post-punk movement. The early material they were knocking up in Chorlton had a definite punk edge – but with a deft melodic touch that paid homage to ’60s harmony-led bands like The Byrds.
By the time The Roses played their first three Manchester gigs in ’85, Couzens and Garner had already left the band, the former being replaced by Mani, a wiry bloke who looked younger but was in fact older than the rest of them and who hailed from Middleton in North Manchester. The gigs were held at various self-promoted warehouse parties, but the word soon got out. Squire and Brown had talked themselves up and everyone in Manchester was convinced they were going to happen. Their self-belief and obvious potential were getting pulses racing and local band managers were fighting over who would look after them.
The gigs were packed and the band quickly developed a loyal local following. But despite the fact that over the next three years The Stone Roses became a big draw in Manchester, the music press in London still wouldn‘t have it. During a brief dalliance with a manager called Howard Jones the band recorded and released their first single ‘So Young‘, on Thin Line Records in March 1985. The partnership didn‘t last long and The Roses hooked up with Gareth Evans, manager of one of Manchester‘s better-known clubs, The International. In late ’88 I interviewed the band for a music paper called Sounds, their first ever major feature. We did it round at Reni‘s house, where they had decided to conduct it would be appropriate to conduct the interview lying half-naked together in bed. Apparently it was Gareth‘s idea, the first of many attention-grabbing scams by the manager with whom the band would eventually be involved in a bitter legal dispute. ”I still admire his cheek,” Mani now laughs. ”We knew that he was probably ripping us off, but we‘re not suits, we‘re not businessmen and we‘ve never been money-heads.”
They fumbled their way through the interview, uncomfortable with having their every word recorded and analysed and even more uncomfortable with being huddled in bed together. Gareth kept popping his head around the door, trying to gee things up, hoping for some kind of outrageous interview pay-off which never came. The band preferred the music to do the talking. For the few weeks after the interview Gareth kept wandering into my garden offering free trips to the Bahamas if the piece went in. Press coverage was still hard to come by.
Following the short-lived deal with Wolverhampton-based FM Revolver, The Roses eventually signed to Silvertone in early 1988 and released ‘Elephant Stone‘ to general apathy and indifference. However, this was the first single to feature John Squire‘s distinctive artwork (”If you could see the songs, that‘s what they‘d look like.”) and was also produced by New Order‘s Peter Hook. Eventually in March of the following year, the band released a breakthrough single of sorts with ‘Made of Stone‘. The Roses had also made a sartorial ‘breakthrough‘ by wearing flares, the ridiculous trousers that came to symbolise the entire ground swell of music (Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, Charlatans) that became known as ‘Baggy‘. Legend has it that the band‘s one-time Bez figure, the equally-curiously named Cressa, had initiated the craze after purloining a pair of the oversized pants from one Phil Saze – a jeans salesman and part-time Mondays manager.
‘Made of Stone‘ débuted at a lowly 90 in the charts, but the buzz was beginning. Not that this helped the band‘s financial affairs. Ian was still living in a threadbare flat in West Didsbury that had nothing but a load of musical gear scattered around the floor and posters of Easy Rider and If, two of Ian‘s favourite films, on the wall. I still saw him walking along Burton Road near his flat, carrying his keyboard, on his way to Chorlton to write songs with John. He didn‘t even have enough money for the bus fare. As far as The Roses were concerned though, it really was only a matter of time before they were acknowledged as the best band in the world.
When they released their début album in May 1989 things changed almost overnight across the country. At the end of the month they sold out Manchester‘s International 2. Fifteen hundred people crammed in, sensing that something big was about to happen. Ian Brown blew the audience‘s mind – walking onstage, ice cool, ringing a bell.
The final ascendancy seemed to take just a few weeks. The band kept playing sporadic gigs throughout the summer, and when ‘She Bangs the Drum‘ came out in July it crashed into the Top 20 getting rave reviews from all the music papers. By the time The Roses played Blackpool‘s Empress Ballroom in August all of Manchester seemed to be there, filling the 6000 capacity venue to bursting point. Were the band phased? Not at all. Brown‘s ice-cool demeanour was by now in full effect – he had decided it was his right to be successful and famous. Even when the band were offered supports with major artists such as New Order and The Rolling Stones, Brown scoffed. ”They should be supporting us, man,” he said. At the ballroom Ian replaced the bell with a yo-yo and when he walked onstage the crowd went mad. The whole night was a celebration of pop at its most uplifting and exciting.
The rises of acid house and a new drug, Ecstasy, helped to blow the whole thing wide open. Suddenly there emerged a generation defined by a strange new dance beat, vocabulary and dress code. For a few months during that so-called ‘second summer of love‘ in 1989 everyone was raving, lost in repetitive beats.
The upwards rush and optimistic tune-laced anthems of The Roses guaranteed them a place at the head of the newest pop movement.
During that summer their début album was everywhere – bedsit windows the land over were cranked open for the warm months with The Roses blasting out. Songs like the haunting ‘Made of Stone‘ which detailed the casual violence of inner city Manchester life, the intriguingly arrogant ‘I Wanna Be Adored‘ and the cataclysmic ‘I Am The Resurrection‘ defined an era. Everyone loved the band, the world and his wife was wearing flares and record company types trawled the streets of Manchester looking to sign the next big thing. This was just reward for the band – they‘d set about their task with single-minded determination. The Roses were never really clubbers on the Manchester scene. I only ever saw them at one gig – Primal Scream at The Boardwalk in 1988. They used to stay at home writing songs the whole time.
In November 1989 ‘Fool‘s Gold‘ was released and the band sold out the 7000 capacity Alexandra Palace. The gig was plagued by bad sound but at the soundcheck I saw The Roses at their best, jamming through their set with crystal clarity. They also appeared on Top Of The Pops with Happy Mondays – an epoch-defining moment at a time when even one ‘alternative‘ band on the programme seemed a massive achievement. The single peaked at Number Eight.
The band had truly become stars and soon found that they couldn‘t walk down the street in Manchester without being hassled by fans. John was living with his then girlfriend in Chorlton, Ian was in a flat around the corner, Reni was still living in various places around town like he always had done while Mani had stayed in North Manchester. It was a nightmare and they were forced to move out to the suburbs pretty quickly, with Mani venturing furthest afield, setting up home in Monmouth, near the Rockfield recording studio that the band favoured using in the past. It was at this point that the whole thing started coming apart at the seams.
In 1990 the band threw paint over Revolver Records boss Paul Birch after he tried to cash in on the band‘s sudden success by rereleasing ‘Sally Cinnamon‘. They were promptly taken to court where they acted like the sullen aloof stars they now truly were. Sadly the judge refused to jail them but they were fined £10,000 for their troubles. Everyone was still so excited by The Roses that the band audaciously organised a gig at Spike Island near Widness in Lancashire. 28,000 fans turned up in May 1990, followed by another 8,000 in a Glasgow tent in June as ‘One Love‘ was released. It turned out to be The Roses‘ last major appearance in the UK. That night they were awesome, showcasing a new raw sound that was to be resurrected by Oasis, whose leader Noel Gallagher was still a flare-wearing hipster pretending to be an Inspiral Carpets roadie at the time.
Then it went quiet. The band fell out with Silvertone and ended up going to court for a lengthy battle to be free of their contractual obligations. This put them out of action for the best part of two years. Worst of all, The Roses were injuncted and legally unable to record until they finally walked free of their ‘restrictive‘ deal in 1992. The band signed to Geffen in a multi-million pound deal, but still there was no new music. The fans grew up and pop moved on. The Roses spent five years in the wilderness, with nothing but rumours of more court cases, huge studio bills and never-ending food fights mounting up. What the hell were they up to in all that time?
”It was strange for us to have the time out,” says Mani now. ”We‘d never had a break before, and we lost the momentum. We were just writing songs and each tune seemed to go in six or seven different directions. There are stacks of tapes knocking around that have weird versions of the songs on. And we did get worried because we realised that whatever we put out people would snipe at us.”
As early as 1991 the band had started to fall out with their manager Gareth Evans, but it took until earlier this year before an out of court settlement was reached between the two parties. Mani still won‘t be drawn on the subject. While The Roses kept their heads down, the music press became obsessed with a group of weedy college bands labelled Shoegazers – so-called because they spent most of their gigs staring at the floor. It was a dreadful time, but finally groups like Pulp and Oasis, who were proud to be pop stars, took over and the Roses-inspired Britpop was born.
”I love Oasis,” says Mani. ”They‘re a breath of fresh air. Maybe I‘m totally biased because they‘re from Manchester, but they have a cool swagger and some great tunes.”
If the runaway success of Oasis meant that The Roses were under pressure to come back bigger than their younger upstarts, the band weren‘t showing it. ‘Love Spreads‘ was released on November 21 1994 and although it went straight in at Number Two the band had returned to a very different pop world. They were in the curious position of a whole new generation marking them down as copycats of the bands that had ripped them off in the first place. It must have been strange for Ian to go back onstage when Liam Gallagher had nicked his cocky swagger and couldn‘t-care-less vocal style.
”Ian‘s thing is that people should formulate their own way of doing it,” says Mani. ”It embarrasses him when people put him on a pedestal.”
‘Second Coming‘ received blanket coverage but much of it was snide and disparaging. For their part, The Roses still seemed to be trying to shoot themselves in the foot. They still wouldn‘t do much press and 10 days before the band went out on a world tour, which was due to start on April 19 this year, drummer Reni unexpectedly quit. The band said nothing, simply drafting in hot session drummer Robbie Maddix. There were whispers about drug problems and disputes over royalties but there has never been any evidence of this. The last time I bumped into Reni he was griping about the quality of the tunes and saying he felt stifled by the band‘s rockier stance. Rumour has it that Reni is now happy writing his own material and playing guitar!
”Reni is a great musician who can play anything,” enthused Ian Brown, who has also been dropping hints that his former comrade may guest in a support slot on the upcoming tour. Mani is also unusually magnanimous for a musician talking about a former colleague.
”It was a shock when Reni left because we thought he‘d be there for eternity. He wasn‘t just a great drummer; he was a great musician. He pissed all over me on bass. It‘s weird when we play and I don‘t see him there.”
So why did he leave?
”He didn‘t want to do it anymore. His engine wasn‘t running after the break. I wish him well. He‘s the best drummer in the world and some lucky group will get him in the end.”
Which doesn‘t mean that The Roses aren‘t well chuffed with Maddix. He‘s from Manchester‘s Moss Side area and his family is heavily involved in one of the area‘s top boxing gyms, which pleases Ian no end since his heroes are Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee.
Although the initial press reports from the new band‘s first live dates were less than enthusiastic, the stories reaching the streets of Manchester begged to differ. Paris was ‘amazing‘; Madrid was ‘awesome‘. And these were reactions from people who weren‘t big fans in the first place. But The Roses seemed to be stoking up for the real second coming – the Saturday night headline slot at Glastonbury in June. Being The Roses, they screwed up again.
While resting in San Francisco after completing a 10 date US tour, John fell off his mountain bike and broke his collar bone. They had to blow Glastonbury out, giving Pulp their opportunity to join the Britpop pantheon. The Roses had to print pictures of the injured bones in John‘s arm before the Press would stop carping about how the band had betrayed them once too often.
In spite of all this and even after six years of frustration, the fans still want their heroes to pull through. They must really want them to do well. The tour has sold out. The Stone Roses mean too much to their fans to let go now. They captured a moment, a pure pop thrill so brilliant it‘ll roll with those who adored them forever. And they‘ll win over the young fans who are coming for the first time out of curiosity or respect.
The Stone Roses were the band that kick-started a whole new chapter in British pop history. You know where Liam got his stage swagger from. But Tim Burgess‘ vocal style’ Bernard Butler‘s fret-plucking ideas? All from The Roses. Every Britpop Tom, Dick and Scally owes them something because they saved the indie scene from musical bankruptcy.
But that‘s no excuse for wallowing in nostalgia. The first proper UK dates this decade give you a chance to check out the blueprint for UK guitar pop in the mid-90s. But are they ready for it?
”Don‘t you worry,” says Mani. ”We‘re ready for it.”
Raw, p. 24 – 31, December 6 – 19 1995