The Stone Roses
John McCready, Mojo, May 2002
ON FRIDAY, JULY 10, 1987, the greatest rock'n'roll band of the decade are playing to no more than 30 people at Planet X, a dark and musty rock club in Liverpool city centre.
The singer is not happy with the reaction he and his friends are getting. Or the size of the crowd. The group play on as he slips from the stage, microphone still in hand, and wanders up to drab characters in a bored-looking crowd, singing square to their faces, about an inch away from their noses, in an effort to get some kind of reaction. The singer believes his band are what the world is waiting for. His friends, thrashing away like their lives depend on it at rough-hewn versions of songs that will very soon become the anthems of a generation, grin at him as they recall his catchphrase – "If there's just one person..." Getting just one person to react, to wake up, means his mission is accomplished.
Aside from the singer's cocksure display, this scene might have seemed forever unremarkable. But the band is The Stone Roses. And days earlier, no more than 30 miles away, they had played to almost 1,000 people in their hometown of Manchester, at a gig where the singer had swung from the rafters and girls had cried while boys sang along. Liverpool, like the rest of the world, had some serious catching up to do.
The Stone Roses were by 1987 Manchester's worst kept secret. Despite being held at arm's length by the cool Hacienda crowd and indie elite – who frowned on their rockist squall and following of ordinary kids who didn't normally go to gigs in town – The Stone Roses were huge in the city. Everyone there had an opinion on them. About whether their manager was a scheming operator in a golf sweater or a true Svengali with a McLarenesque plan for world domination. About whether these cocky kids with cool tunes who always looked like a gang were really any good. The Roses were getting recognised on the streets of Manchester in 1987; at gigs in other cities like Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds and Hull they would have had to murder someone to get noticed.
A classic chalk-and-cheese combination, singer Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire grew up on the same street, Sylvan Avenue, in the leafy suburbs of Timperley. Ian had a confidence that came from nowhere and John was introspective and darkly intelligent. They clicked, as different as they were, courtesy of a governing passion for music, which kept throwing them back together.
While the teenage Brown took to the streets and learned to walk it like he talked it, the young John Squire persuaded his dad to customise his record player so that he could play his Sex Pistols records at 16rpm and pick out the guitar parts. By 1980, hypnotised like so many others by the heroic lightning bolt of The Clash, the pair had formed The Patrol. It was obviously nothing too serious as John decamped to follow Strummer and co around the country and Ian, not yet singing, sold his bass for 100 quid and bought a scooter.
John got a scooter, too, but never stopped playing guitar. Giving up on bands for a while, Ian ran a Northern soul night in a room above a Salford pub. Eventually, between scooter runs and boring jobs, The Stone Roses coalesced in 1984 around Ian, John, bassist Peter Garner, guitarist Andy Couzens and Moon-like drumming explosion Alan Wren. The following year a debut single, 'So Young', appeared, produced in hissy and unsympathetic style by distracted Manchester recording legend Martin Hannett. A second single, 'Sally Cinnamon', released in May 1987 showed a group refining the classic late '60s pop sound that would soon make them famous.
Around this time, things began to snowball. Manager Gareth Evans gave them the run of his club, the 2,000-capacity International. Headliners were shifted around so the Roses always went on when attendance and anticipation was at its highest. Jealous local rivals told tales of free tickets foisted on students to create a buzz. But phenomenal songs like 'Waterfall', 'Mersey Paradise' and 'I Wanna Be Adored' were already in place, and the group were not backwards at coming forwards with quips like "We want to be the first band on the moon/Bigger than The Beatles", which in retrospect might have sounded pretty hollow had they not gone on to record one of the most stunning debut albums in rock.
Meanwhile, the emerging acid house scene, centred on the city's Hacienda club, was establishing Manchester as ground zero in a 28-inch flared revolution, with class A drugs as a potent side order. With the irrepressible Gary 'Mani' Mounfield replacing Garner, the band secured their reputation as local heroes by signing to Silvertone, a label set up for them by the Zomba publishing company.
The Stone Roses, the album they recorded in November 1988 at Battery Studios in London, has reportedly since sold over three million copies.
Fifteen years on from that amazing record, and five years since their ignominious split, we've asked The Stone Roses to look back on their time together. Their reflections are remarkable in that there is none of the bitterness which marked their comments during their very public break-up in 1997. In fact the interviews, which took weeks to arrange and which were conducted on separate occasions, are notable for a touching nostalgia. There's a strong sense that the four men are now estranged but confirmed friends, with mutual friends who keep them in touch. None of them, though, wished to dwell upon the later, acrimonious period of the group, taking in the making of Second Coming and Squire's departure.
Squire is the first to agree to an interview, making the trip to talk Roses from his farm in Macclesfield. He arrives at a Manchester city centre coffee shop looking fit and healthy, and wearing a black-waxed Belstaff motorbike coat. Shorn of his beard and long hair, he looks very much like you might remember him from any of those familiar Roses poses. He tells me he is working with a new band (ex-Verve bassist Simon Jones is with him again). In conversation he is thoughtful, precise, dry and sometimes testy if he thinks you are not being precise in your questioning. John sometimes smiles when he remembers some of the times back then – in almost nostalgic reverie.
On the same street where I meet John, a week or so later I arrange to hook up with Mani at a posh tea shop, thinking it would be quiet enough to record an interview. I hang about outside, musing on which exotic brew we should order. Now Primal Scream's one-man vibe generator, he bounds down the street, brimming with infectious enthusiasm and whacking a rolled-up Mirror on his leg. He expresses a more genuine thirst and drags me to a scuzzy alehouse nearby. Kronenberg in hand, he wastes no time in letting me know he's more than happy to talk about a time in his life which can either have him laughing uncontrollably, or even welling up at the loss and the fall-out.
Ian Brown, MOJO was categorically told, had absolutely no interest in looking back on the Roses. And no time either, with a third successful LP out there and being halfway through a sell-out tour. However, I sent him a two-page fax, detailing a specific interest in the innocence, the youthful arrogance and the white-hot creativity of the pre-first LP era when everything was, well, coming up roses. I added a list of not entirely serious reasons why he 'owed' me an interview – including the fact that he used to live two streets away from me and had a teenage romance with my current next-door neighbour. Ian texts me to arrange a time to talk a day later. He tells me the fax made him laugh, as I knew it would. He burns through my questions at speed. You can almost visualise him bobbing and weaving at the other end of the telephone.
Reni, meanwhile, virtually invisible since the Roses' split, provides his responses via fax. He ends up agreeing to do just that after I mention to his manager John Nuttall that I've found some rare footage of The Jeff Beck Group. Reni is apparently a big fan. Nuttall tells me that Reni's current musical project The Rub, in which he sings and plays guitar, is a year or so old now and continues to thrive.
What follows, then, is the inside story of the band which invented the '90s and, for a glorious 12 months across 1989 and 1990, really did threaten to be as big and important as The Beatles.
Do you ever get nostalgic about The Stone Roses?
John Squire: I can honestly say I've thought about the band every single day since I quit. At least something, some memory every day.
Mani: I saw John a few months back. I didn't recognise him at first. We ended up back at mine. The spliffs were out and we were drinking and just laughing about the old days. The room was full of other people, but nothing else mattered – it was me and him. I don't see enough of him, or Ian or Reni either.
John: I bumped into Mani late last year. It was great. I stayed at his house. We confessed that we both still piss ourselves from time to time, thinking back to everything that happened. I know he really misses it.
Reni: It makes me smile now. But it hurts when I smile, so I give a little smirk for the memories.
How close were you as friends?
Ian Brown: We were dead tight – as friends, players, everything. The sense of belief in ourselves that we had could never be shaken.
Mani: As a group we were inseparable. We used to have a thing we called The Egg. Us four were inside it, with everyone else pecking away at the shell trying to get in at us. We'd have our own language. It was like a cross between Unwinese and Esperanto.
Ian, you and John were very different, yet you were great friends.
Ian: John is quiet and he's got a dark side. But I've got no dark side. When me and him were together he'd talk the hind legs off a donkey. I've never heard him talk to anyone else the way he used to talk to me. Me and Reni wanted him to be a guitar hero. He wasn't the usual sort of rock guitarist at that time. He was a real quiet, mellow kid and we wanted him to be the hero for that reason – talk with your fingers kind of thing.
John: At the time it felt great. It all came together – the people I was hanging about with, the clothes we were wearing, the records we were buying, the drugs we were doing. It all seemed to converge in the songs we were writing at the time. I remember doing rehearsals when we were coming down on the back side of a trip the next day. Or coming down off speed and just strolling in for work and doing a few hours' playing. Perfect. I was all wrapped up in it. We'd just wander around together. Go to clubs, be into clothes.
Mani: Not wishing to upset anyone's mum and dad, but I remember being present for John's first acid trip. This was about '83, at his old flat on Zetland Road. Me and Cressa [Steve Cressa, later Roses on-stage dancer] had these trips and we all did them listening to 'Loose' by The Stooges. It made us feel really freaky. Then we walked into town tripping our tits off. We bought these big Chocolate Feast ice-lollies and we were walking around in a right state with chocolate all over our faces, seeing rabbits and all kinds of shit. We were very naughty boys. We used to wind people up. We were deadly unserious but making this very serious music.
What did each person add to the equation – Reni, for example?
John: He was funny. Everyone was funny. Well, I can't speak for myself, but they all were. They all tickled me.
Mani: If you think of four Brooke Bond chimps on very strong drugs, then that would be very close to how we were.
John: We'd laugh at each other's mistakes. And Reni created characters for us to laugh at. He'd do the archetypal smoking hard-case dad...he'd roll his sleeves up and...(grins).
Ian: Me and John would plan all the time. [The band] was all we talked about. We lived together so we had nothing but time on our hands to get things right. When we were writings songs, we'd spend two or three days sometimes just to get one word. Because a word needs to roll right. We were so deeply into it. They were great days.
When did you first start thinking seriously about music?
John: 'God Save The Queen' really made me want to start learning to play the guitar. I was already into The Clash when I heard that. My dad took the transformer off my train set. It had a knob on it that controlled the acceleration. He rigged it up so that controlled the speed of the record deck. I used to just tune the guitar down and pick things out...
Ian: When I was 17 I used to put a Northern soul club on with my mate in Salford at the Black Lion in Blackfriars Street. We used to hire a room for £l5 and all our mates would come down. We used to build scooters to go the All Nighters – just to get girls, really.
Mani: I met John at the Northern soul room at Pips. I met Ian Brown in the fight against Fascism – through my little gang of scooter boys in North Manchester. We were having trouble with this gang of local skinheads. The word went out to Ian's South Manchester crew, who came over. We joined forces and hospitalised them. I remember vividly meeting Ian and thinking, That kid looks like Galen off Planet Of The Apes. He always had that striking simian thing. And I liked him from day one because he looked like my favourite telly programme. Even now his number is in my book under 'King Monkey'.
The band seemed to take a long time to get together.
Ian: There's this story of me girl's 21st party in Hulme, and Geno Washington ending up there after he'd played some cabaret club in Salford that night. He did say to me, "You're a star, you should be a singer." I swear I'd never thought about it before then. But that got me into thinking about singing seriously. At the same time John had really got into playing guitar. He asked me, "Do you fancy singing?" At first I thought, This is a sort of poncey thing to be. But John kept getting better and better and this guy Geno was still in my head. I thought, Perhaps he really has seen something in me – something I can't see. So in 1985, we tried it out and it started to make sense.
John: I can remember bands me and Mani were in before the Roses. But it seemed different straight away. We played early on in Sweden. There was some sense that this really could happen. Before then I wasn't sure if we could make it. Something happened to me in Sweden. I can clearly remember the day. I was walking back to the flat we were staying at – under a concrete underpass with loads of graffiti. It was a bright sunny day and it was next to the water. I just felt that this was too good not to do full time. It just felt so right, there was no way I could pass up the opportunity of seeing where it could go. I still had a job then, working at Cosgrove-Hall [animation company in Manchester]. I'd taken a holiday from work to go to Sweden but I decided that this was it. I couldn't go back.
One of your earliest gigs was at The Moonlight in London, at an anti-heroin benefit that Pete Townshend had organised.
John: He invited Reni to play with him at the end. We were told he'd said he really wanted to use Reni on his next LP. We were like (whispers), "Shit, Reni's gonna leave. Townshend's nicking Reni."
Reni: I didn't think about leaving. Maybe leaving the pub we were in at the time. I was in the only rock band on the planet. Townshend only had The Who. No contest.
John: It was surreal that the guy who played drums with us was so good that someone like Pete Townshend liked him. I remember him coming up after we'd played and putting his arm round me and saying, "You looked good up there." Even though I looked a twat with Brylcreemed hair and a silk shirt on.
Ian: We weren't star-struck at all. All we were thinking was, Cheeky twat, he's going to try and pinch our drummer. And Reni was like, "I'm not working with this old motherfucker, at the end of the day he's a bit past it."
What do you remember about the really early performances? Tell me about the gig at Preston Clouds that turned into a riot.
John: Is that the one that got reviewed in Sounds that said we sounded like "fingernails being scratched down a blackboard"? There was a big fight, but when I think back to that now I can only see Andy Couzens when his lead broke during the gig. He was thrashing away with nothing coming out of his amp and moaning at the roadie. The roadie turned up with a lead for him which was about a foot long – just a patch cord. He spent the rest of the gig crouched by his amp looking shit. That entertained us all the way back to Manchester in the van. The trouble was more to do with [road manager] Steve Adge's crew from Hyde who liked to fight.
Can you recall a gig in Liverpool to about 20 people when Ian left the stage to wander through the crowd with a long mike lead, singing into people's faces, trying to get a reaction?
John: Ian had a catchphrase. There was something he always used to say. "If there's just one person out there it's worth giving it your all." That really was the band's ethos.
Ian: I'd jump off the stage in the early days. I was always walking round the crowd singing. When we started getting known we didn't enjoy the shows as much because I had to stay on the stage, but in the early days I sang to the girls to get the lads wound up. I'd put my arm round their girlfriends. 1985, '86, '87, everywhere we went I used to get on that. And it worked – people remembered us.
So what was the worst gig at that time?
John: In the first line-up we were still cutting our teeth and we weren't really sure if it was going anywhere. The best one was a gig in Sweden on that little tour that had been set up for us by Ki The Eye – someone Ian had met while he was hitch-hiking around Europe. We lived in his flat in Stockholm for a couple of months and did five gigs. One night we were doing our set, which was about 40 minutes long. We'd done about 20 minutes and there was nobody there as usual. Then all these women in cleaning over-alls came in and just lined up watching us at the back for five minutes. Then they started folding up the tables and chairs and sweeping the floor while we were powering towards the end of the set.
You didn't seem to care about being unfashionable. Everyone was trying to be cool and you were saying how much you loved [Wythenshawe bootboys] Slaughter And The Dogs.
John: That's because we did.
People remark on some of the looks the band adopted before you made it – the leather trousers and walking canes.
Ian: Pete Garner used to look like a goth – he used to wear ruffled shirts and he had long black hair. We knew all those kids because we used to go to all the clubs. Pete never called himself a goth. John used to wear a bandana. But we were never goths.
John: I always thought about clothes. I was into The Clash when I was a kid. It was the trousers that did it for me. I got my mum to knock me a pair up. They were ordinary trousers she put zips in. I think they were grey cotton. Probably flares that she took in.
Didn't you used to make the shirts for the band?
John: I was quite adept at it. I've borrowed my mum's sewing machine recently. I had some pants to turn up.
Was that important to you then?
John: What, sewing?
No, how you looked. Did you think a lot about that?
John: Yes, we did. It was part of the Beach Boys thing. There was a shot of them with their pinstripe shirts on – and I thought they looked great. They looked like a proper band.
Mani: I was King Of Baggy – I came in with some decent clothes.
Ian: The Roses were always about clothes. We'd buy each other things and say, "Look I got this for you – try this on" or, "You're not wearing that."
Mani: Later on we did smarten some people up. Make other bands think a bit more.
John: When the flares thing started again, you'd spot people in interesting clothes. We'd have people whose names you didn't know who looked, say, a bit like Arthur Lee on the cover of a Love album. And then they'd get a name: That Geezer With The 24-Inch Tan Cords. He'd be a figure of folklore for the next six months. Something to aspire to.
What were the Roses' main influences at this time?
Mani: We had the mellow side that came through in the music but we were also mad for The Stooges and the MC5, The Electric Prunes and the Nuggets series. As a kid I loved the Glitter Band and the Sweet. Johnny Squire turned me onto Hendrix. But it was punk and The Clash that really did it for me in the early days. Reni taught me about Funkadelic and Sly Stone and Miles Davis. Even back then John was a Beatles head, but me and Reni were more for Funkadelic. Northern soul – like Tommy Hunt and Little Anthony And The Imperials – was doubly important to all of us. You don't have to try to hear it all in the music
Ian: We all loved Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. Me and Mani were into reggae but John and Reni didn't really like that. Reni was from a more heavy rock background when we first met him. He was from East Manchester which is almost traditionally a heavy rock area. We used to laugh at that. Eventually John got into Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. We all liked The Who. We all loved music so much, right back to Northern Soul all-nighters and punk rock.
Mani: People talked about acid house like it was the first time anyone had thought about dancing, but punk rock was dance music to me.
John: I was surprised at the sort of music other bands that were big while we were knocking on the door were claiming to be influenced by. I'd never heard of most of them. They seemed far too obscure. And I wondered why they couldn't just admit that the Stones and The Beatles and Hendrix had done it all and had a lot to offer.
Mani: Some groups are so unintelligent in that way. They don't know how to merge all the things they love – to synthesise. We did and we found it easy.
John: I had a Beach Boys fixation. I was really into that Beach Boys greatest hits compilation with the man on a surfboard on the front [20 Golden Greats]. And The Clash really hit me. Me and a friend from school followed them around for a while. Pennie Smith – who was on tour with them at the time taking photos – kept seeing our faces. I'm still friends with Pennie now. She invited us in one night. It might have been at Manchester. We got friendly with the caterers and we had our tea one night the same time as the band. We didn't speak to them. I got to know some kids from Stretford who were following them around as well. And others from Sheffield. We'd train and coach it. It was the London Calling tour.
Did you build your own gang around the Roses?
Reni: We were a gang – bank jobs and exploitation. But we only ever gave to the poor.
John: Through Steve [Adge] we got to know lots of other people he knocked about with in town. They started coming to the gigs. Then four or five of them ended up working with us. The others would come and watch the gigs. Steve Cressa ended up dancing on-stage.
Compared to other groups you were loud, idealistic and ambitious. At the International in May 1989 you came on-stage ringing a bell – literally ringing the changes.
Ian: We wanted to finish groups like U2 at that time. They were pompous and so big. Yet they had nothing to say. They were so removed from people that we thought, We're better than that – we'll finish these. We did think that.
Where did that confidence, that attitude come from?
Reni: North by north-west.
Ian: I always had attitude. I don't know where that came from. My dad's a real quiet guy. He's never had any more ambition than to have a family. That was part of my personality – it wasn't something I was putting on just to get attention. I did feel those things you do when you're young: indestructible, unstoppable. We knew we sounded original and all the best bands have to. For a start, we knew Reni was the best drummer we'd ever seen.
John: Reni was amazing. He had a natural aptitude. The rest of us worked at it.
Reni: My influences were Bonham and John Paul Jones, Sly Stone and then Mani, Ian and John.
Mani: He'd been playing at his mum and dad's pub, backing Elvis impersonators and all sorts since he was a kid.
What were your impressions of the others when you joined?
Reni: I don't do impressions. Charming people with all the correct qualities of anal retention and camaraderie. And a dash of genius.
Ian: When Mani joined it almost changed overnight. It became a totally different groove. We did a demo of 'Elephant Stone' with Mani when he first joined in '87 and that was it. Straight away, everything just fell into place.
Mani: Don't ask me how, but I always knew that I was gonna be there. My heroes were James Jamerson, Paul Simonon and Peter Hook – I was trying to get a mix of all three. But I always felt I was playing catch up when it came to John and Reni after I joined.
Reni: Mani was crucial. He upgraded our potential. He was my perfect rhythm partner and great company. I got tighter on the drums then and the bass lines got funkier.
Ian: By about mid-'87 we started getting really good musically. By the end of that year we really couldn't see a day when we weren't going to have a big influence.
Reni: After Mani joined there was no way it wasn't going to happen.
John: Something had to give. I still believe it's the case – that if you force yourself down people's throats for long enough you'll at least get a shot, a chance to shine. I knew we were making great music that people cared about.
Mani: My first gig with The Stone Roses was at Birmingham Hummingbird, where we played to about 13 people. The next night we played to 1,000 at the International 1 in Manchester. Then I think we went to Cardiff or Hull and played to about five people. But in Manchester, even at the warehouse parties before we broke through, everyone knew it. It was the worst kept secret in rock'n'roll.
John: Someone had to take a risk or something. The album was there. We'd already demo'd most of it – bar a couple of tunes – before we got signed. In a way the first record probably took longer to write than the second one. It was just a process of learning how to play – of learning how to be a band then.
Mani: Music then had gone through the most dire patch. OK, we had New Order and The Smiths. But we also had to endure Kajagoogoo and all that shite. Something had to give.
Ian: We knew the power that we had and what we could do with it.
Did that power scare you?
Ian: I always used to think about it – If we do get big, what will become of us? We're either gonna get fucked up or we're gonna die – that's what happens to everybody. I always had this thing about getting through to the other side unscathed. I used to say prayers that we'd get through and I'd still be me. I used to do that a lot when it became really clear we were going to blow up.
There seemed to be an incredible arrogance about that classic line-up – a real sense that you knew nothing could stop you.
John: It didn't happen overnight. It took five years. Five years of rehearsals and shitty cassettes and slightly better demo tapes. We were looking at the Pistols and The Beatles and The Byrds and thinking we could have a go at them. We would just try and compete on that level. I couldn't really see any point in aiming low.
It seemed that you weren't part of the fey indie scene that Manchester had at the time?
Ian: There were a lot of kids at the warehouse parties that happened in '86 and those people liked us. But every tribe in Manchester came to see us, whether they were Perry boys or punks or goths or students.
John: I did go the The Hacienda before it became a dance club so I don't know if that qualifies me as a student. I went to see Orange Juice and The Jesus And Mary Chain there. But I don't think we concentrated on Manchester too much. We weren't really part of any scene there.
Mani: By 1988, the question in town was, "Why haven't they made it?"
Ian: Factory was the Manchester mafia. The Smiths had broken through – but even they needed the say so of Tony Wilson and the rest. You had to play the Hacienda club as a sort of homecoming gig. Also, people would tell us then, "You won't make it because you've got to go to London, you've got to go to the parties and get your face known." But we really believed we could do it our way. In a way we were wrong, because it wasn't really until The Other Side Of Midnight [local Granada music show hosted by Tony Wilson and the performance pictured the back of the first LP sleeve] in January '89 that we were accepted and things started to happen.
You recorded the album quickly, in three days or something...
Mani: All the time we were rehearsing. When I first joined the band I'd stay at John's when he lived with his old girl, Helen, in Chorlton. We'd sit up through the night playing endlessly. We really put the hours in. We were all on the dole and instead of sitting in front of Gambit or something on the telly, we'd rather be in a room with each other. We worked hard – all day in that Spirit Studios lock-up in Chorlton. I'd catch three buses from North Manchester with my bass to get there. Sometimes I'd go back to John's and we'd work through the night. Or John and Ian would work through the night.
Ian: We did rehearse a lot for the first album. That's all we did five days a week. It was a passion.
Reni: We rearranged the songs over and over until we sounded like nobody else.
Mani: What else would we have done? I don't think John would have wanted to go back to Cosgrove-Hall. Me and Ian were committed dole-ies anyway – we didn't want to work and be taking orders from some cunt and getting paid nothing. Fuck that. But we didn't consider music to be work – it was all we thought about.
How important were drugs to the band?
Mani: We'd be round at each other's houses – smoking the bong all the time. There was a lot of that going on. We all used to love a trip. Reni had the occasional one but it would send him a bit bonkers. He didn't need drugs – he was already surreal.
Ian: We lived and breathed nothing but music. We'd start rehearsing at 10 in the morning and we'd finish about seven at night, five or six days a week. We'd go straight round to each other's houses from rehearsals and be talking about music until three in the morning. That happened every single day.
Mani: John was just working, working, working around the clock to the detriment of everything. He didn't want a life, all he wanted was a Portastudio, a sampler and his guitar. Every great band has somebody like that. Me, I felt like a lazy bastard. A lot of it would go down to him.
John: Demos would go out and they would get knocked back. And one time they didn't. We almost signed to Rough Trade purely because we thought Geoff Travis was all right. At one point there were deals from Rough Trade and Zomba on the table. We'd been down to London and met Geoff Travis. I really liked him. I think we all got on with him.
Mani: He took us out for some dinner. We were munching on the pasta saying, "Yeah, we'll sign for him, he's all right, he's bought us some food!" But we were proper skint then – we were all on the dole.
John: I remember us all having a big discussion over at Reni's – about whether we should sign with Rough Trade or Zomba. The manager was saying, "All that's over with, The John Peel Show and indie music." I wanted to sign to Rough Trade and everyone else wanted to sign to Zomba. Rough Trade seemed like a better label than the one Sam Fox was on to me. There wasn't much to talk about as far as I was concerned.
What would you have done differently about any of it?
John: We should have been less cavalier about the first record contract. Or the second one, actually. We all passed around this telephone directory of a thing and said, "We ain't got a clue," and giggled and signed it.
Mani: We thought, "Let's just get things moving. We'll be massive in a few months and this won't mean a thing. We'll get out of it."
How instrumental was [manager Gareth Evans] in all of this?
John: We got free rehearsal time at his club.
Did the hype he is said to have created move things on?
Ian: There's no doubt he was hard-working. But there are some amazing things he's tried to take credit for that are just bullshit. Like walking off The Late Show [BBC TV programme on which the group performed]. He claims it was a scam but it wasn't. The power just broke down and we reacted to that. We did want a manager who was a star – we wanted our manager to be as as well known as us. To us all the great groups had famous managers, so we needed a guy like that. But he had nothing to do with songs or any of the ideas for presentation.
Did the band make money from the first album?
Mani: That LP has sold something like three and a half million and I've never seen a fucking penny. But in the first place it was never about money. Still, money fucked us up in the end. The best bands – Big Star, Love, the MC5 – never concern themselves with those things. But they never get paid either.
John Leckie wasn't your first choice to produce the album, was he?
Ian: The first producer we really wanted was DJ Pierre who did acid records as Phuture. Roddy McKenna at Zomba tracked him down to some tower block in Chicago. I was on the phone to this kid for about an hour, telling him why we loved his records. He seemed to us to be the boy to do it. But he had three months' work on so he couldn't do it.
How important were the Jackson Pollock homages you created for the records?
Reni: The music was 99 per cent of it. But we gave great image!
John: They were very important for me because I would have been embarrassed for these things to have gone out in any other way. I knew exactly how it should look. I did the first one and it was just assumed from then that I should do all the others. I remember Reni suggesting that he should do one – a cartoon of me that he wanted to draw. But it never happened. He could really draw and paint. The walls in his kitchen were always covered in pictures.
Reni: John did a great job and he deserves the attention to brought him. A sweet boy much misunderstood.
John: I copied [Jackson Pollock], because I assumed it would be impossible to get permission to use one of his originals on a record cover. I just copied him and quite enjoyed doing it. And then Reni really wanted it doing to his kit. Then we did the guitars as well.
With the lemons on sleeve of the LP and the song 'Bye Bye Badman', you seemed to have the Situationists and the riots which took place in Paris in 1968 in mind.
John: The first thing I knew about all of that was through Ian. Someone had told him about that stuff while he was hitch-hiking with his girlfriend in Europe.
Ian: I met this old guy while I was travelling – before the band had really started. He had carried this lemon about in his pocket for years. He'd been on the front line in Paris. If you suck a lemon, some of the CS gas effects are eliminated so you could still do something.
John: We admired those people – not just for their politics – but for their clothes and haircuts. There was a political history programme running on the TV at the time. I forget the title now but 'Won't Get Fooled Again' was the theme tune. There was a great clip of a guy in a cord three-button jacket behind the barricades with a top fringe, throwing a rock at the police.
Ian: We loved the fact that everything counted then – the way they dressed too. They had semi-flared hipsters and bowl haircuts. They looked knockout on the Left Bank there, didn't they? I'd also read Guy Debord and a book called The Anarchists. I had some photocopies of Jamie Reid's Suburban Press magazine, too. These were the things we were thinking about at the time. I loved the slogans like, "Use the medium, don't let it use you" and, "No two situations are the same". That's the one we always used in the Roses – it really meant something to us. Ideas are powerful things.
Mani: We were always tremendously politically and socially aware – you can hear that in the lyrics, which are never just about love or whatever. There's always an undercurrent.
Were you political outside the band?
John: I used to collect for the miners' strike until I realised I wasn't changing anything.
Mani: We all used to sell Socialist Worker back in the day. John Squire's nickname at that time was Red John. We saw some of the spirit of Paris '68 reflected in the acid house movement. People were coming together and governments don't want that. The Criminal Justice Bill was a reflection of just how threatened the Establishment was by what was going. It's easy to forget that.
Mani, you were chief party animal. How did you survive acid house?
Mani: I would end up with [Shaun] Ryder and the crew back at my house after the Hacienda. John was never a club fiend. Me and Ian both loved house music so much. John was more a guitar man. We'd be up all night. I'd be fucked. The Squire would be giving me the frown next day at rehearsal and I'd be like, I've been out researching music! I'm not just getting off me tits and dancing, I'm thinking of things to pinch here, man! That's where things like 'Fools Gold' originated. The bass line is inspired by Young M.C.'s 'Know How' – which was a tune we were really vibing off at the time.
With 'Fools Gold' did you feel part of the acid house thing?
Ian: We didn't play acid house music but we did enjoy that music. We were in London in '88 and we'd go to Shoom and Land Of Oz. Not so much John and Reni – they didn't really go out then. Me and Mani used to go to the clubs.
Mani: John started getting into technology at the time. He used breakbeats to build things around.
John: It started with a James Brown thing. I picked it up from Eastern Bloc Records in Manchester. We were there signing copies of 'She Bangs The Drums' when it came out [July 1989]. The manager of the shop said we could take a couple of records each. There was an LP I took with a Black Power fist salute on the cover. I just liked the sleeve. It was one of those Breaks And Beats things. I wasn't familiar with the song it came from – 'Funky Drummer' – then. I took it home and wrote a song over it. When we played it, it was the repetition that made it work, that made it what it was. Reni hated it when we chopped it up and got him to play along to it. He felt like he was being sidelined.
Mani: Everyone thought we were into Can because of that track. Bobby Gillespie said to me a while back, "All you lot must have been mad for Can", and he played me Ege Bamyasi [the track 'I'm So Green']. It really does sound like a spastic 'Fools Gold'. But we'd never heard it then.
Ian: 'Fools Gold' was a peak, one of the greatest things we did, along with 'Begging You'. It doesn't sound like anybody else. It's just a killer groove.
When did it start to go wrong?
Mani: We should have got something else out straight after the first LP. But it was all taken completely out of our hands with this shit deal.
Ian: After the first LP I had to stay on the stage and get used to it. The crowds were too big. That was a major thing for me at that time – like, "Shit, we can't really achieve what we want to achieve." Which was no separation between band and crowd. I was sad to lose that. We had to figure out a new way of working.
Mani: It's hard to take it all in, even now. It was a fucking snowball going down the steepest hill and we were never conscious of how big we were starting to get. Sometimes it still hits me. I sit back and think, "Fucking hell, it really happened."
John: I would sometimes fall asleep watching the telly and wake up in the middle of the night and doubt everything. That any of it had ever happened.
Mani: Then it felt like having the handbrake banged on just when we were starting to move. Things got worse. My father died, then [publicist] Philip Hall died, then my mum had a stroke. It totally fucked me up. It really was a struggle and a fight to get the ball rolling again. You'd get down and not want to do it but the gang thing would kick in. The others would sense that and big you up, drag you back. Eventually we were all living within a few blocks of each other in Chorlton and that kept us going. I was always good at putting a front on with the lads. But I was a fucking mess behind it all. My mind just wasn't on any of it. That's really why nothing happened. I think now that I held them back. But we all went through some hard growing up at that time. It all came at once – children and everyday life – waiting there to get us. But if we'd have kept going and got another LP out then, we would have been the biggest band ever.
John: Good music is always about something more than just hard work. Plenty of people work hard but never get anywhere. But when the magic does happen – and it did happen a lot then – you get the feeling that you don't really have anything to do with it, that it came from somewhere else.
Mani: A lot of people got the wrong end of the stick with Second Coming. They wanted nice pop songs. We were more like, "Hey, let's show them what we can really do." There's so much information there. Five years of inactivity just spewing on to the tapes. We were pre-pubescent on the first LP but we came back with hairs round our knackers, man. We'd learned how to play some.
Ian: We should have had an LP ready when we signed to Geffen. That would have taken a lot of pressure off, too. We wouldn't have had to spend four years coming up with another record. I think if we'd have dug in there and done it, y'know...who knows that might have happened? But then I look at it in real terms and think, Well, it just wasn't meant to be.
Mani: Ultimately, we did it to ourselves – we lost our mojo. We opened the door, left it open and went to bed. Oasis got out of bed and said, "Right them cunts are asleep, let's get on with it." And fair play to 'em, man. They snuck in – it's the tortoise and the hare.
Ian: There are kids of 17 who would have been five years old when we came through. They come up to tell me how much they love the Roses and they always want to know what those days were really like.
Mani: There have been times where I've sat down and thought about it and I've fucking cried. For me The Stone Roses are still unfinished business. I'd love to get together for one summer and go and finish it off. Do it right. And I think the world still needs it. But at the end of the day, no music is worth losing a valued friendship for. And ultimately I value the friendship more than the music. I regret some of the things that have been said. It's been blurted and its not been meant. We really do love each other passionately. Life would be boring if there weren't problems and obstacles. I never ever hated any of those guys.
John: I look back and I see that me and Ian had a great working relationship. We were always planning for the band and we had a definite sense of direction. And me and Reni had a great musical rapport...and Mani was the secret ingredient. It seems like yesterday to me in a lot of respects. I suppose it all spreads itself out and becomes equidistant. I don't look back on it in a kind of chronological order. It all seems to have happened at the same time, somehow.
Do you miss it?
John: I wasn't all sweetness and light...But yes, I suppose I do. It felt great. But it's an age thing. I don't think it would be possible to maintain it now. You get older – you get responsibilities.
When was the last time you listened to a Stone Roses record?
Reni: Last century. 'Something's Burning'. But it sounded good. Great guitar textures – deep and luscious and bluesy. Everyone sounds good.
Ian: I can't say I miss it. I had it, I loved it and what I do now is a different thing. I'm still working with great lads, they're great players.
Mani: Sometimes we'd be off-key or a bit shaky, but it was never truly about those things with us. If people want perfection they can sit at home and listen to a CD. The Roses were always on the edge then. We could fall and fail or we could fucking fly – and we frequently did.
Do people come up to you in the street and express that passion?
Reni: Da people be cool, touch wood. But I am able to make myself invisible with the help of science fiction.
John: If they do, I don't mind. There was a nice one at a United match the other week. They played 'I Am The Resurrection' just before the team came out. I was standing behind my brother who was getting a drink at the bar. I'm wincing to myself thinking, "This all sounds out of tune to me now." This guy clocked me and did a double take. I still had the full beard and long hair then. It was funny because he didn't say anything. He had a pie in his mouth. So he just nodded to me quietly and grinned...
Citation (Harvard format)
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