Features: A fantastic issue packed full of Roses info, pictures and a revealing interview with Brown covering all aspects of the Roses history. Also many quotes and interviews from those around and influenced by the Roses. A must have for any Roses fan.
The Rise and Fall of The Stone Roses
In his first major interview since The Stone Roses split, IAN BROWN looks back on the career of a band who could have had it all but blew it. By Dave Simpson.
The Reading Festival, August 1996. The world is waiting for the most important British band of the last 10 years to come onstage, but really, The Stone Roses are no longer with us. There is a “Stone Roses” on stage, but it’s a Stone Roses stripped of two key members and almost all the romance, soul, magic and mystery associated with the name. What is happening on that stage is the end of an era. Ian Brown is singing in a bellow that would struggle to sell newspapers in a crowded city centre, people are shocked into leaving, some are even in tears. The Stone Roses are falling apart before our very eyes.
Six or seven years earlier, when Brown was crooning “The past was yours but the future’s mine” to a captivated generation, it seemed as though the Stone Roses heady trip would never end. During 1989 and 1990, they were the most influential and far-reaching thing to happen to British rock music since the Sex Pistols. Simply, their effortless blend of melodious chimes and hard-edged funk (imagine The Byrds jamming with Funkadelic) transformed British culture. They looked different (heralding the outsize “baggy” jeans and trainers chic, signs of their own stylish inelegance) and were refreshingly up front about drugs. They arrived on-stage to the rumblings of acid house (unprecedented then for a rock band) and pierced the nation’s heart with an eponymous debut album that quickly sold 500,000 copies and is now regularly placed in pole position in any “Best Albums of the Eighties” polls. Many consider The Stone Roses to be the greatest album of all time, debut or otherwise.
But while hordes of bands (The Charlatans, Blur, The Verve, Primal Scream, The Bluetones) owe a massive debt to the Roses, and Noel and Liam Gallagher formed Oasis after seeing them, perhaps their greatest legacy was that their music and attitude rescued British rock.
In the late Eighties, pop was in a state of post-“Live Aid” moral disrepair; it was musically and socially impotent. Possibly as a reaction against the bloated excesses of stadium rock bands such as Simple Minds, “credible” bands began to shrink from view. They were frightened of success. Along came The Stone Roses, who declared that they wanted to be on Top Of The Pops, would not rest until they had a Number One, and declaring that they wanted to be as massive as Michael Jackson. Once the pop world had heard such soon-to-be classics as “Fools Gold” and “Made Of Stone”, it decided that, yes, songs this good should be successful. Overnight, the Roses had restored ambition to rock, creating the conditions for the likes of Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and Ocean Colour Scene to blossom. In a typical gesture of defiance, they rejected a support slot with The Rolling Stones and equally famously refused to perform on The Wogan Show until they were also interviewed by the broadcaster (apparently, they wanted to pull his wig off).
The Stone Roses didn’t need anybody’s help, and they knew it. The press and TV tagged the Roses/Happy Mondays/Ecstasy phenomenon “Madchester” (actually the title of a Happy Mondays single, “Rave On: The Madchester EP”), but the Roses refused to co-operate. Their legendary cool indifference to selling yourself grew out of a gang mentality rooted in scooter days and years of struggling around Manchester; but also they just knew they were better. They had the best drummer in living memory, Alan “Reni” Wren, and a superb bassist, Gary “Mani” Mounfield (just listen to the notes flow on “Made Of Stone”).
Finally, there were John Squire and Ian Brown, the best songwriting duo (although you can argue about Morrissey and Marr) since Lennon and McCartney, and the most potent guitar/vocalist coupling since prime Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
Brown and Squire had grown up together and enjoyed a friendship that bordered on telepathy. Squire was quiet to the point of being a virtual mute, yet his evocative guitar-work spoke for him. When he did mutter something, the chances were that Brown would finish his sentences. Squire was practical and creative (his Pollock-esque splatters adorn the Roses’ sleeves). Brown, on the other hand, was razor-sharp, with a sense of justice; a street-lad and former punk rocker whose heroes were boxers and civil rights campaigners; a bloke who’d never known money but had traveled widely; who’d read both The Crossman Diaries and The Bible; someone who was not the world’s most gifted vocalist and yet whose nasal whine oozed romance and authority.
Brown’s songs were full of religious symbolism (“I Am The Resurrection”, indeed) and when he spoke there was always something worth hearing. His offhand remarks (most memorably, “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at”) became catchphrases and ideals for hordes of Roses believers.
So where did it go wrong? The seeds were undoubtedly sown during the five years public absence between 1990 and 1995, when the band were embroiled in various court cases as well as the protracted recording of Second Coming. When they finally returned, they did so with a much darker, more disturbed Led Zeppelin-esque rock sound, a clutch of new classics (most notably “Love Spreads”, “Driving South” and “Ten Storey Love Song”), but were soon without a founder member in Reni, who left on the eve of their live comeback in March 1995 amid unsubstantiated drug and money rumours.
The Stone Roses had lost their impetus and acquired a jinx. First John Squire fell ill, then broke his collar-bone immediately prior to the postponed headline of Glastonbury in June ’95; gigs were erratic (with much criticism of Ian Brown’s voice), and a succession of disappointments perhaps led to Squire’s exit (met with considerable acrimony) in April ’96; the disaster at Reading signalled the demise of the band.
I say perhaps, because in death, as in life, the Stone Roses remain shrouded in mystery. All that is certain is that John Squire has returned to commercial (if not critical) success with the Seahorses, Mani has since joined Primal Scream, and Ian Brown is on the verge of a much anticipated solo comeback.
London, The Metropolitan Hotel, December, 1997, Brown bounds out of the lift looking like a cross between a bona-fide rock god and a South American terrorist. His hair is only slightly shorter than at Reading ’96, his clothes those of a snowboarder, and his expression that of a small boy who has just received an unexpected Christmas present. His eyes are dark and alert, his cheeks sunken, but this seems more due to his simian bone structure than to drug-induced wastage (then again, he was once rumoured to have ballooned to 18 stone).
We exchange hugs and Brown seems more garrulous than he has in years. There is, however, a vague air of sleaze about the man…
“Oh the beard”, he chuckles. “Been growin’ it for a week. It’s for the video (for Brown’s wonderful new single, My Star). Half way through, I ‘ave to shave it off, like I’m reborn.”
A metaphor? Could be.
Ian cradles an orange juice and speaks in hushed tones as the entire hotel staff yell “Yo!” to him (amazing, since he’s only checked in that morning). We talk for hours, about life, music, football, parenthood, God, the 1995 collapse of his marriage, and his exciting solo career. In between, Ian Brown tells me the story of his life, his music, and the amazing, untold tales of that bewildering and enchanting beast they called the Stone Roses.
Chapter 1: From Genesis To Revelation
The Stone Roses formed in 1984 out of a childhood friendship between Ian Brown and John Squire. Together with Gary “Mani” Mounfield and Alan “Reni” Wren, they created an insular unit that would struggle for years but eventually would take on the world.
Ian, what’s your earliest memory?
“Aged four, laid in some grass, just chatting with a girl and being told I was ‘bad’ and being taken out of school.”
What were your family like?
“Poor, down to earth. My father was a joiner. He looks like me, yeah. I’ve got a younger brother and sister. I grew up in Warrington, which was grim but fun.”
Who was your first hero?
“When I was a kid, there was no-one bigger for me than Mohammed Ali. I can see that ’74 Foreman fight as clear as a bell, and I got all the books. My walls were covered in Ali and Bruce Lee pictures, and later it would have been the Pistols.”
Legend has it you met John Squire in a sandpit, aged four. True?
“There was a sandpit in the fields near our house. He remembers me being naked, but I don’t know if that’s right. We became friendly at 13 or 14, when we were put in the same class at secondary school. I started chatting to him, and I took “God Save The Queen”, the first Clash LP, and ‘One Chord Wonders’ by The Adverts round to his house. He was into The Beatles and The Beach Boys, but he only had compilations. I played him these punk records, and then a week later he’d bought the Clash and ‘God Save’. He went mad about the Clash after that, following them all over.”
What attracted you to Squire?
“We were total opposites. I was very outgoing, the kid that would stand on the table in front of the class doing impressions of the teachers. I was the class joker and he was the loner. He got out of sports so he could do art. I think he was the first kid in the school to play truant, and he did that by himself. But at 13, 14, we’d walk the streets together and sit in each other’s bedrooms playing records. He got his guitar aged 15. The first thing he learned to play was ‘Three Blind Mice’. Then he’d play his guitar for me when I went round. He’s a funny kid. I know he’s really, really quiet and doesn’t speak to no one, but when he was with me he’d never shut up. Everybody knows him as a man of few words, but in them days he was garrulous with me, definitely. I did spend a lot of my life and a lot of the Roses’ life talking for the kid. I knew him so well that I’d finish his sentences off. And then in the end… that didn’t happen.”
Was it John’s acquisition of a guitar that made you want to be in a group?
“No, I didn’t want to be in a group! I was more interested in going off on my motor scooter to Northern Soul all-nighters. In Manchester, you couldn’t avoid Northern Soul. Also, I did karate from 11 to 18. Aged 14, I was teaching it at weekends to grown men. I wanted my own karate school. But John’s getting good now on guitar. He’d formed a group called The Waterfront with Andy Couzens (later of The High) on rhythm guitar, Mani on bass, a kid called Kaiser singing, and Chris on drums. John kept pestering me to sing and, in the end, I went to rehearsals with me and this Kaiser kid singing. We called ourselves The Patrol. We had a song called ‘Come On’. ‘Come Aaaaann!’. We played a few youth clubs but I didn’t really get anything off it.”
“Anyway, later I’m at this party in Hulme… my mate’s roadie-ing at Salford University, and he brings Geno Washington down to this party. An’ he’s a superstar kind of guy, big personality, all over the room. He comes up to me and he says ‘You’re a star. You’re an actor. Be a singer.’ I remember him on the street smoking a big spliff and this copper comes round sayin’ ‘What are you doing?’. And he’s blowing his spliff in the copper’s face, this is ’83. And he’s goin’ ‘I’m Geno, man. GENO GENO!”, singing the Dexy’s song, really cool. And the copper didn’t do nothing, he just walked away. A few weeks later, I’m thinking about what this guy’s said. What does he mean I’m a star, an actor? Anyway, I thought we’d give it a go so we kicked Kaiser out and started the real thing, The Stone Roses, in March ’84.”
What was the original Roses line-up?
“Me, John, Pete Garner, Andy Couzens, and we found Reni from an ad. There’s a story that we were called English Rose, but that’s untrue. Mani didn’t join until November ’87 but we were mates then also. Finding Reni was crucial. John was a punk guitarist when we met Reni, but Reni could play anything. He’d been brought up in pubs, so he’d practiced and practiced on his kit and played with proper pub entertainers. He had a musical talent that none of us had. We all had to graft and work, but he was born with it. Pete Townsend saw our first gig (Rock Garden, 1984) and said he was the best drummer he’d seen since Keith Moon.”
Did you rehearse for stardom in front of a mirror?
“Well, when you do karate, you train in front of mirrors – so I’d always looked in mirrors. Few Ali moves. I never stood there with a tennis racquet.”
The early Roses were very ragged. They didn’t seem to reflect your musical vocabulary – Northern Soul, say?
“No, but we also liked The New York Dolls, still do. John, Andy and Pete were very into Johnny Thunders, Reni was into Van Halen. He’d never heard reggae when we met him. He’d been brought up in East Manchester, which was more heavy metal. He was into Thin Lizzy and AC/DC. He was a proper rocker, used to go to Donington. We used to rip the piss out of him. But we were very enthusiastic. We just wanted to make a noise.”
What was Manchester like at this time?
“There was no-one about. There was The Smiths, New Order. I liked a few singles, but there wasn’t anyone giving you a charge. We loved Slaughter and the Dogs. In 1985, we worked with Martin Hannett (releasing an ignored single, “So Young”, on Thin Line) because he’d done ‘Cranked Up Really High’, not cos of Joy Division and all that Manchester heritage. But Hannett was in a bad way. We caught him snorting coke off the ‘There’s no-one quite like Grandma’ gold disc! He was a junkie; lovely man, but nothing else mattered.”
“Manchester was very important to us, though, because we’d play to 2,000 and then we’d go to Liverpool and only play to 30. We played our own gigs under a railway tunnel. That’s what a band should do, innit? Play an illegal party in the middle of the night. The police would be outside and the promoter would give them crates of beer. They didn’t want to close it cos there was too many people. Different days really.”
“We were isolated in Manchester but that made us more determined, because in them days they’d say to make it you had to move to London, go to all the parties, get your face about. The Smiths had moved to London, which disappointed us. We believed we could do it from Manchester, we stuck by that and we did.”
When did you meet Gareth Evans, the manager?
“In 1986. We’d seen an advert in the local paper, so we went and saw him, I think we’d been in the room two minutes, and he says ‘This is what I do’. And he drops his trousers and he’s got these underpants with an apple on the side. ‘Pommies’ they were called, and he was dealing in ’em.”
“We thought he was crazy, but funny. We got on well with him. We thought he was Al Capone, and he thought he was Al Capone too. But we wanted that kind of guy, y’know, a Frank Dileo. So we clicked straight away. Plus, he owned the International clubs, so we could rehearse there for free and watch the bands for free, which we did. We saw everybody who played the Internationals from ’86 to ’89.”
Was the band’s sound evolving?
“Yeah. At first we had lyrics and choruses, but they weren’t proper songs. Then about ’86 or ’87, me and John started working closer together. We’d write a song on an acoustic guitar and then take it into the rehearsal room, whereas before we’d just all throw out what we had. I was listening to Prince Far I, loads of black music. There was this tune called ‘War on the Bullshit’ by Osiris, which I used to play all the time, along with The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Hendrix and Love’s Forever Changes. John used to buy Mary Chain and Primal Scream records, but we didn’t. Andy Couzens went and now we were starting to shape songs. When Mani joined in ’87, that made us more musical, because the old bass player, Pete, wasn’t musical enough.”
“John and Reni had improved. I’d improved. But Mani was the final piece of the jigsaw and everyone around us knew it.”
Did you steal the tune for Made of Stone from Primal Scream’s ‘Velocity Girl’?
“No, I’d never heard it. John probably had, but he won’t have ripped it off because… I mean, this is what used to get me about Oasis at the start. Me and him (Squire) used to write loads of songs, but they’d be Beatles songs. We’d go, ‘Oh shit, it’s I Feel Fine’ or ‘Shit, it’s Daytripper’ and we’d sack it. Whereas these lads would just go with it. A long way!”
When did the Roses’ classic songs start to appear?
“About ’88. We started recording in May/June, and we’d signed the deal (with Silvertone) in April, and then we’d written Bye Bye Badman, Shoot You Down, Elizabeth My Dear. We wrote most of that first album in the few weeks after inking the deal, cos we’d blagged the record company. We told Silvertone that we had about 30 or 40 songs, but we only had about eight. We’d scrapped loads of songs. We’d had I Wanna Be Adored since ’85 but it used to be at breakneck speed, and we slowed it down. The turning point was getting Waterfall in the set, a song about a girl who sees all the bullshit, drops a trip and goes to Dover. She’s tripping, she’s about to get on this boat and she feels free. Waterfall was the first time we went ‘Wow, this is it’.”
Chapter 2: The Gospel According to Ian, John, Mani and Reni
In May, 1989, The Stone Roses released their classic debut album, immediately revolutionising the scene. The sound of music changed virtually overnight, with an upsurge of groove-orientated guitar bands influenced by the Roses and a host of older hands (notably Primal Scream, with Loaded) following their lead. Young people wore loose-fitting clobber and Kangol hats a la Reni. When the Roses and Happy Mondays appeared together on Top of the Pops in November, 1989, it was a generation-defining moment, a high watermark for pop.
Ian, you recorded ‘The Stone Roses’ with John Leckie, who, despite a healthy pedigree (XTC, Magazine, Simple Minds) wasn’t the name producer (Cast, Radiohead, Kula Shaker) he is now. Why him?
“Cos we nearly signed to Rough Trade, and Geoff Travis recommended John Leckie. We heard the Dukes of Stratosphere (XTC offshoot) LP he did. It was like the sounds of the Sixties, and we thought he must be really clever to get those sounds.”
What do you remember about the LP sessions?
“Pure fun. Proper good times. We were in London, recording at night. We’d all get a taxi back at seven in the morning and we all shared a house on Kensal Rise. We were skint, they’d give £10 a day for food, which was a load for us. We started in Battery, then we went to Conk Studios, then finished it off in Rockfield in Wales. You’re four years on the dole, suddenly you’re in a country studio with someone cooking for you and a bag of weed in your pocket. Yeah, great.”
Did you know how good the album was?
“When we’d finished recording, Leckie comes up to us and says ‘Listen, this is really good. You’re going to make it’. And I remember thinking ‘I know’. It could’ve been even better. Mani and Reni didn’t get their thing down as heavy as it was in rehearsals. I think Leckie had listened to Waterfall and thought it sounded like Simon and Garfunkel, so he’s turned the bass and drums down. He’s gone for that Byrds, Sixties thing. But Mani was the best white bass player that I’d heard, and I wish that was more audible on the record.”
Were you quite druggy at this point?
“When we were young, we took speed, and then about ’86 we started smoking weed. I haven’t touched speed since. In ’88, we started taking E’s, trips we’d done about ’84 or ’85. By the time the trips came in in ’88, we’d done ours years earlier. Before, I was aggressive onstage, I used to walk round the crowd singing, in people’s faces, high kicking, or kiss someone’s girl, wind someone up. But later I’d become more mellow. I think it was the music. I never took any drugs before I went on stage. I never smoked any weed, and I’ve only ever done one show on E. I don’t drink, I’ve never touched beer since I was 18. It was totally natural.”
Was the relationship between ecstasy and the Stone Roses overplayed?
“Definitely. With us, then, a lot of the drug stuff came from Gareth Evans. We never even smoked in front of him, but he was just trying to be a rock manager, trying to make us notorious. But I remember that first review in the NME: ‘They make Levenshulme sound like a district of San Francisco’ and ‘They’re psychedelic, but they’re sixties’. It was just an average review. But the following week I was in Spectrum in London, and this journalist comes up who reviewed the album. He said ‘What are you doing in here?’. And the week after that we were their favourites. Once they found out about ecstasy, that’s when they started writing about us. I watched them all go on E’s. Last time I saw Alan McGee he says ‘I remember you cracking up laughing at me, you and Mani stood in the corner. At the time, I thought you were judges. But now I remember it was because I was stood in the middle of the dancefloor with my fists in the air to Phil Collins’s In The Air Tonight!’.
The press were very slow to champion the Roses. Almost uniquely in the modern era, the press discovered the band after the fans.
“Definitely. They wrote about us ’cause they had to.”
The tour of April-May, ’89 has to go down as one of the greatest pop tours of all time.
“A big thing was happening in England at that time with ecstasy, and we arrived at exactly that time. I felt great, righteous. I felt we were pure, that we weren’t conning anyone. We were real and beautiful.”
On record, you appeared euphoric, sensitive, focused, and yet in interviews you came over as surly. It has been suggested that in interviews you adopted a stance given to you by Gareth Evans, who has said ‘I gave the Stone Roses their mystique’. Correct?
“It’s bullshit, that. I never wanted to be no whore or desperate. The easiest thing to do is get your nipples out. I never wanted to do that. When we said we were the greatest, I believed it. We never consciously put an act on – we just never felt the need to sell ourselves because we knew we didn’t have to. But, yeah, I didn’t suffer fools gladly. One or two journalists who came along were quite bitter, cynical. They didn’t come with anything positive, so they got nothing from us.”
As the band became bigger, you forsook tours in favour of huge, one-off events like the “days out” of Blackpool and Alexandra Palace. Why?
“We wanted to make things special for our fans, give them a whole day of experience. Blackpool was fantastic, but Ally Pally wasn’t what it should have been. We used a friend who was a sound engineer, but he’d never done anything anywhere near that massive. The sound was poor. After the show, me and John left in a car and didn’t say for two hours. But we were smokin’ at the time. We’d written Fools Gold.”
“At the end of ’89, we had our pictures taken at the top of a mountain. We were on top of the world and it felt like it.”
How important to the band was Fools Gold?
“The thing is, we had a drummer with soul, so we always had a beat. That’s what made the Roses.”
In early 1990, you appeared to be expressing self-doubt in interviews, casting aspersions on the fickle nature of pop music. How come?
“Maybe I was worried because it was all getting too much. We were getting things like ‘These are four Jesus Christs’, and I wanted to keep it real. That was the hardest thing for me: ‘Don’t worship me’. But it’s impossible; if you refuse someone an autograph they get upset. Everyone misinterpreted ‘I Wanna Be Adored’. It never meant I wanted to be adored. It was a song about sin. I never personally gave a fuck about being adored. The star was the audience. I wanted, and I still want, to finish the days where people are looking up at Bono or whoever. It’s a reaction against that pampering, limousine, coked-up thing. We wanted to kick over those icons.”
Were the Roses very close at this point?
“Oh, yeah. We lived in each other’s pockets. We were so tight at the time we had our own language. No one could get near us. Gareth was the closest, and he couldn’t get in. We were close on every level. Everybody wanted the same thing.”
The ‘One Love’ single was a mistake, wasn’t it?
“I agree. The chorus wasn’t strong enough. We tried for an anthem. We wanted to cover all bases and ended up covering none.”
The Spike Island “mega-gig” the month before had also been a bit of fiasco…
“We had a wanker [Evans] running it. We trusted him. We’re not the kind of people that put on a show where people have their sandwiches taken off them at the gate. That reflects on you, cos the kids think ‘Oh, they’re doing that’. The way people were treated on that day was despicable. The sound wasn’t good enough cos he didn’t spend enough money on the PA…”
“Another thing, we never helicoptered into Spike Island. There was a chopper, but it wasn’t us. We got a bus!”
Were you very naïve, business wise?
“It wasn’t that, we just weren’t going for the dough. I used to say ‘If we all end up in a mansion with a pool each, we’ve achieved nothing. So what? So another four kids got rich. It doesn’t mean nothing. We’ve got to change the music business, we’ve gotta change the world.”
I remember revelations at that time: for example, you weren’t being paid royalties on CDs.
“Yeah, and 90% of what we did was on CD! Criminal, isn’t it? I mean, originally we’d recorded ‘Elephant Stone’ for Rough Trade but then Silvertone/Zomba came in with a longer, eight-LP deal. So that’s why we went with Zomba. Everybody praises that first LP, but we never had one royalty cheque from it.”
You couldn’t trust the record company, but you couldn’t trust the manager because he’d got you that deal. It must have felt like you were being shot by both sides.
“Yeah, that’s why we sacked Gareth Evans in 1991 and he sued. We were doing more time in courtrooms than in studios. But we had to win the case against Zomba otherwise we’d have ended up on the dole, cos our pride would never had let us record for Silvertone again. There was even talk of doing our own bootlegs. But the court stuff did bog us down, and as a unit we became separate. I was down in the courtroom every day, but they were all in Manchester. We got our dough [by signing to Geffen] in 1991, but John moved to the Lake District. So, yeah, that’s when it started… changing.”
Chapter 3: Into The Wilderness
BOUND up in litigation, the Stone Roses made sporadic forays into the recording studio between court cases, but all was not well. For reasons that have never been fully explained, the Stone Roses did not release another record for five years.
Were things falling apart within the band?
“Yeah. We did Fools Gold and One Love to a drum loop, and Reni played over the top. So now John’s got no confidence in Reni. All we ever hear is that Reni’s the greatest drummer anyone’s ever seen, but we’ve got a guitarist who doesn’t want to play with him. He wants to play to loops. Eventually, Reni’s turning up at the studio going, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?'”
That must have destroyed Reni?
“Bitterness crept in, but in a way Reni got enjoyment because he thought that John would have to come round. He never did. When Reni left the band, John never phoned him up. He hasn’t laid eyes on him in two years. He’s said in interviews ‘Oh yeah, I’ve seen him’, which Reni’s blazing about. So yeah, that was the start of the decline.”
In 1993, John Leckie said that you “spent two years looking for a new sound and came back to where you started”. A typical day’s “recording” would consist of the engineer setting up a drum loop and then nothing would happen. True?
“Yeah. We weren’t a band. It was the John Squire Experience. I let it happen because I thought we had three or four LPs to follow. But there were ego problems. I knew it got his goat when the press said ‘Ian Brown’s boys’ – and you’d go to the shows and everybody’s got Reni hats on. Y’ know, a girl’d send me a Jackson Pollock book and he’d go ‘That should be for me’. I thought, ‘Ok. He needs attention, I’ll let him get it out of his system’. We’ve got plenty of time ahead of us.”
By this time, John was writing heavily Led Zeppelin-influenced material, and yet both you and Mani were quoted recently as saying you “never liked Led Zeppelin”. How did they become the primary influence?
“We’re in the studio, and for me those three [Squire, Mounfield and Wren] are the best players to come out of England. But they’re sat around watching Led Zeppelin videos and going, ‘Wow, look at that’. And I’m watching them watching Led Zeppelin and thinking ‘You’re all over these guys. They’ve not got that funk, they’ve not got what we’ve got. I thought, ‘Don’t they realise where we are in history, who loves us? We were better and bigger than Led Zeppelin. We weren’t trying to be them old blues guys.”
Was it a case of loss of self-confidence, caused by being cocooned in the studio, each day getting further away from the Roses “phenomenon” and your adoring public?
“Yeah. It’s simple for me. John Squire did not know who he was. He did not know who the Roses were. Looking back, he never realised the love people had for us.”
Was John changing as a person?
“Definitely. He became more insular. There was only me could get in his front door. Simple. Reni’s knocking on his door and John’s hiding behind a chair. Then once he’s cut me off – around 1992 – that’s it. We used to go off on writing trips to Scotland, but suddenly he’s going on his own. He cut himself off. I carried on writing my own things but he refused to work on anyone else’s stuff. I went along with it ‘cos I thought it was temporary. Mani? John wrote all his basslines. Mani was happy – at this time – to do what he was told. Mani’s going into the studio and putting down some unbelievable things down and Squire’s going “No. You’re doing this here.”
So the myth that you were lazy is untrue?
“I’ve never spent all day in bed.”
What about the theories that wealth had made you lose your sense of urgency?
“We never had a load of money. We only got £100,000 each, and I gave it away within three days, to my family. The rest of the Geffen advance went on recording equipment , wages and tax.”
There was a story that one day you walked around Manchester with £100,000 in a holdall, giving out wads to the homeless. Is this true?
“It was a carrier bag.”
In March, 1995, John Squire told The Face he’d had a cocaine problem during the making of Second Coming. When I spoke to him in November ’95, he said “The reason [the album] it took so long was because there were too many drugs in the studio.” Correct?
“He was on cocaine all the time so he’s speaking for himself. A man’s got cocaine up his nose, he’s not saying anything to anybody. You’re giving nothing if you’re on coke, all you’re doing is taking. Of course, there were too many drugs in the studio. He’s got coke up his nose, that’s the end for me. If you’re on coke, you’re busted – there’s something the matter with you.”
Squire also said “The band were on different drugs at the same time. It can be destructive if everybody’s on a different plane.” True?
“Yeah. I smoked weed. You’d have to ask Reni what he was on, and Mani was on everything.”
Why do you think John succumbed to cocaine?
“Dunno. Easy to get – you’re in a band, you get the best gear. You start off using it to bolster your confidence. You’re insecure. But then you can’t go out without using it. You’re using it in the studio, you’re using it at home. Pick the phone up, the next thing four grammes are arriving. So you shut yourself in your room, you never come out. I’d go away for a week, come back and no one’s talking. He’s not talking to him, he thinks he’s a dick, and he thinks he’s a dick, and I’m trying to be the daddy of them all. I’m walking in each room and getting big hugs, but he won’t work with him. Charlie is the devil, simple as that.”
Chapter 4: From Second Coming To Crucifixion
THE Roses re-emerged on November 21, 1994 with the number two smash, “Love Spreads”, their biggest ever hit, immediately followed by the musically darker Second Coming album. However, Reni sensationally quit the band on the eve of the March 1995 comeback tour, the catalyst for a sequence of events which included live triumphs at Feile and Wembley, the departure of Squire and the final ignominy at Reading ’96.
Had you anticipated Reni leaving?
“Yeah. Because of the situation, he wanted to leave to spite John, but he didn’t want to do it to me. I’d considered leaving myself, in 1993. It was no surprise to me when Reni left.”
Because no reason for Reni’s departure was given at the time, rumour spread that it was either down to arguments about money, or that the drummer had a heroin problem. Was that untrue?
“[hesitating] No one had a beef about money… if we’d have delivered 50 songs, we’d have shared £20 million.”
When you began touring in Oslo (March 29th 1995) with new drummer Robbie Maddix, you put up a united front. Was that a façade?
“We were feeling closer, Robbie came in and he was fired up, full of beans. He learned about our past and became a full-on member. He fitted perfectly.”
At this time, it seemed as though the knives were out for you in the music press; perhaps rooted in your decision to give the comeback interview to The Big Issue…
“The press were upset. We got letters. But we wanted to use our position to make dough for the homeless.”
Another decision that backfired was giving reviewers copies of Second Coming on the day of release.
“Maybe we were naïve, but we just wanted kids to have the same chance as a journalist. We weren’t worried what the press would think. I seriously thought it was a great album, I didn’t expect a bad review. One journalist wrote that it was crap; six months later, he told me it was his LP of the year.”
What are your memories of the 1995 world tour?
“We were erratic. We were poor in Copenhagen, but by the time we got to Japan we were smokin’. I think the Australian shows were some of the best we ever did, and some of the late ’95 gigs in England. I think the all-nighter at Brixton [December, ’95] was the best we ever did here. We were gutted about not headlining Glastonbury [due to John Squire sustaining a broken collarbone in a cycling accident]. But we could see the future. We’d acquired a keyboard player [Nigel Ippinson] who was musical. We were getting tight again. People were there for us and we were feeling better again.”
Were you talking again?
“No. There were two coaches on that tour. One was a coke coach and one wasn’t. There were 16 on one and five on the other. John travelled with the coke coach. He’d say ‘I travel with the crew’. Bullshit! He travelled with the coke, cos he couldn’t take coke in front of us cos we wouldn’t have it. All the way through that tour we wanted to smash coke. But he’s a grown man, you stop preaching to people about coke.”
Was there a low-point in your relationship with Squire?
“The kid had cut himself off. When Philip Hall [fondly remembered Roses publicist who had just agreed to manage the band] died, John wouldn’t come to the funeral. I said ‘At least show his mother and father that he meant something.’ But no, he wouldn’t come to the funeral. The first rock of civilisation is when they bury the dead. I knew there was something the matter with the kid then. Nobody enjoys funerals, but I thought differently about him that day. I thought ‘Little fucker.”
Was that a turning point?
“Definitely. I thought he was the most selfish, cowardly…”
Do you think if Philip Hall had lived and managed the band things would have been different?
“Who knows? In this business, he was one diamond man. He’d have been good for us, no doubt. I don’t think we’d have got into the messes we got in. We didn’t have a manager and we were open for anyone to have a poke.”
Did you feel overshadowed by Oasis’s success? To an extent, they’d taken your blueprint.
“It didn’t get me down. They’re from Manchester and good luck to them. They’re not my thing. But I’m glad that someone saw us and formed a band… at least they became the biggest. But I’ve never had to put coke up my nose to go onstage or in a studio and I can be proud of that.”
You ended 1995 in triumph at Wembley, but on April 1st 1996 John Squire quit. Were you surprised?
“Definitely. I thought we’d be recording in April and doing the festivals in the summer. It was a complete surprise. John never once said he was upset. He never said a word. We’d done over 180 shows around the world and he never once phoned anyone else’s hotel room.”
Was he aware of his increasing isolation?
“Of course, but coke doubles isolation. In fact, he won’t have been thinking anything clearly. But when he phoned me up at home that night he said ‘Ian, I can’t do it. I’m a phoney.’ I said ‘Can’t do what?’. He said ‘Play the guitar anymore.’ I phoned him back in a couple of days and said ‘I waited for you all them years’. I went to see him and he wouldn’t open his door. He didn’t have the courtesy or the bottle. Next morning, he flies to London and has a press conference. Suddenly, he’s ‘just found’ a band and a management team and a solo deal. Yeah, sure you did. It was a surprise. I’d been phoning him through February cos we’d written six songs. He never phoned me back. I thought he was busy. Was he fuck! He was sorting out the rest of his life. He’s quite happy for some fat Hollywood guy to give him a schedule for the rest of the year, but I wasn’t. Cos that’s not what the Roses were about. Is that all he wants to be, a pop star?”
By the time of the last Roses shows, your singing was getting pilloried in the press while John was being proclaimed as the last guitar hero.
“Yeah, ‘The Unforgettable Squire’. And he read that and believed it. ‘I’m doing it all on my own.’ That’s one of the last things I said to him, ‘Do it yourself’. That’s what he’s done – surrounded himself with three buskers, a little Elvis, and he’s pay rolling them to kiss his arse. Although I notice he’s already managed to squeeze out one drummer.”
Were the criticisms of your voice justified?
“Yeah, sure. I’m not the world’s best singer, but when you’re onstage stood in front of four Fender Twins and you’ve only got a little monitor, you try singing. When I was onstage, I wasn’t allowed to have my voice coming through the side because he didn’t want to hear a voice. He’s got his four guitar amps turned up to 11, I’ve got a speaker that big. And I’m struggling to stay in tune because I can’t even hear anything. I’ve got films of them shows. He’s not playing with no band, he’s on his own. But I still think the shows were great.”
Has there been any communication between you and John since he left the Roses?
“No. I saw him on Good Friday last year. He was in his Range Rover and I saw him. To me, he looked like someone was on the floor with a gun at his head.”
Why did you carry on the Roses after he left?
“I wanted to finish the mystique and be real. I thought with Aziz and Robbie fired up we could bury our history. Yeah, we managed that at Reading…”
Why was Reading such a travesty?
“I didn’t go to bed the night before, like a dick. We’d done five shows in Europe, and we’d been getting better each one. I saw Cressa [original 1989 Stone Roses dancer and “vibes man”] the night before and I went on the piss with him. Smoking weed all night, I was so excited. Normally I don’t drink. No powder, no. I haven’t touched powder since 1990. But I must have fucked me voice. At the time, I didn’t realise it was all going wrong. From the stage, I couldn’t see anyone crying or leaving. But later, when I heard the tape, I knew I sounded terrible. It was a cabaret version.”
The band fell apart three weeks later. The final statement you issued seemed very bitter.
“Why was it bitter? I said ‘Having spent the last 10 years in the filthiest business in the world, it’s a pleasure to announce the end of the Stone Roses.’ It was a pleasure and it is the filthiest business in the world. There were other problems. I got paid £9,000 in ’95. We made £1.2 million on the road and it disappeared – partly cos Evans was suing us and we were paying lawyers, and partly cos people in the camp got light-fingered. At the end, I was glad to get out.”
Chapter 5: I Am The Resurrection
In March, 1998, Ian Brown releases his debut solo album, Unfinished Monkey Business, an eclectic and funky record which will reaffirm his status as one of the unmistakable voices in British pop. This month, there is a slice of tuneful psychedelia, “My Star”. No mistaking it, Brown is back.
What made you decide to return?
“I’d seriously considered gardening. Fuck it, everything I’d believed in was finished. John had left me. Me best mates were robbing money off me. I had summonses up to here. I didn’t want to know any of it. Fuck it, I’ll do gardening for old people. But then I’m going out and kids are coming up ‘When are you doing something?’. In the end, I thought I probably should. So I spent last winter holed up with a bass, an acoustic guitar and a drum machine, learning audio techniques to add to the things I’d picked up over the years. The first song I came up with was Lions on the acoustic. I thought ‘I can do this’.”
From the lyrics to Lions, it seems you considered quitting England?
“Nah, I got the idea from the England-Germany game. I thought it was pathetic, grown men crying. Years ago there was a religious programme on BBC2, and they had a dread answering questions about his faith. And, as the credits went up, this dread’s beating his staff going ‘There are no liiions in Inglannd’. Why do they have lions in Trafalgar Square and on the England shirt? There’s never been any lions here.”
What’s the origin of the title, Unfinished Monkey Business?
“When the Roses had disappeared, recording Second Coming, the press were desperate for any stories of what we were up to. The drummer from Dodgy told this Guardian journalist that I was making everyone call me ‘King Monkey’. I thought it was really funny.
Were you wary of getting involved in the music business again?
“I wanted to avoid it. In the end I paid for the record myself, finished it and said to the company [Polydor] , ‘Here it is’. I sold it to them rather than let them pay for the recording and have them telling me what to do. I said ‘Look, I’ve got no band, I’m not planning any live shows. This is it.’ A week later it’s, ‘Where’s your band? When are the shows?’ So [laughs] there will be shows. Probably March.
Who plays on the album?
“I couldn’t have done it all myself. I’m not a virtuoso. But I play bass, acoustic guitar, keyboards, drums, harmonica, and a trumpet! Then there’s Reni, Mani, Simon Moore, a brilliant drummer, Aziz, Nigel [Ipinson, keyboardist with the ’95-’96 Roses]. I live near Warrington and I’ve got carpets all over my walls and an eight-track in my bedroom. I’ve got the buzz now, I writing all the time.”
Aziz (guitarist at Reading and formerly with Rebel MC) has come into his own now he’s not playing someone else’s parts. His slightly Asian-flavoured playing on Unfinished Monkey Business is quite innovative.
“Aziz plays on six tracks, he’s co-written four. He’s perfect for me because he doesn’t drink and he doesn’t take drugs. And he’ll chat.”
Mani and Reni appear on Can’t See Me, an amazing groove that sees you finally picking up the gauntlet that the Roses threw down with Fools Gold. How did that come about?
“It’s a DAT that I had from ’95 of Mani and Reni. I play bass over the top of it. I phoned them up and said ‘Can I use it?’ – and they were cool. There’s every possibility that we’ll play together. I was jamming with Reni last week. He’s now singing, playing guitar. In ’95, me and him were in New York and we saw this kid playing drums on Times Square. Reni was looking at this kid and he knew the kid was better than him. It gutted him. He didn’t pick up his sticks for a year. But now he’s playing drums better than ever. He’s got big hair and a beard and I call him John The Baptist. Can’t See Me is my favourite, yeah. Very fresh. We never followed up Fools Gold because John never rated it! He felt embarrassed to play the funk.”
The stuff he’s done since with the Seahorses is far more traditional. Was he always the most traditional member of the band?
“Yeah. He can’t stand reggae, doesn’t like Bob Marley.”
You’ve got a song, Ice Cold Cube, which was played at Reading in a different, inferior form. What’s it about?
“Ice Cold Cube was Reni’s nickname for John.”
Some of your new lyrics are the most vitriolic you’ve ever sung. “You’re a social chameleon, change to suit the people around you” from Corpses; who’s that about?
“I didn’t write that one… that’s about girls who hang round people in bands for cocaine.”
The single, My Star, mentions “NASA corrupters”. Is this a continuation of the much-overlooked Roses political side?
“I see it more as social comment than politics. I’ve always been principled. I was brought up that way. The song’s just pointing out that we have these wonderful space programmes, but they’re mainly used for military purposes. It’s vitriolic, but positive as well.”
You’ve previously cited Martin Luther King and Rosalie Parkes as people you admired. Who impresses you these days?
“Anyone who can overcome their own enviroment and the lies that we’re fed. Rappers from Jamaica who can uplift people.”
Are you impressed by Tony Blair?
“No, he’s ineffectual. Like, now there’s a chance to get rid of fox hunting. For the first time in history we’ve got ’em and he’s stalling. There’s other things I disagree with – curfews on 14-year-old kids, forcing kids to work for their dole. Blair’s got a massive landslide, the Tories smashed themselves and it was beautiful, but there’s nothing to replace it. All the people who suffered through the Eighties… Blair wants to be everything to everybody, and he’ll end up being none of them. He’s still kissing the arse of business, and they’re still attacking single mothers on welfare. I voted Labour, but if we’d had Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour in my constituency I’d have voted for him.”
How do you feel in yourself these days?
“I feel good. Focused.”
You’ve always been guarded. How come you’re so open today?
“I don’t have to cover anyone’s back now.”
Last question. Was Mohammed Ali right to go for the last tilt at the heavyweight title?
“With Leon Spinks? No, he was badly advised. He carried on too long. He didn’t know when to stop. Do I know when to stop? Definitely. I’ve got at least one more album inside me.”
And with that, Ian Brown – singer, groover, rebel and The People’s Prince – walks through the streets of London with his new Mexican girlfriend. As his eyes glisten in the moonlight, he turns to reveal the Mexican translation of the name, Ian Brown.
“It means”, he whispers, somewhat conspiratorially, “born winner”. It couldn’t be anything else.