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Kings of the stone age
Eamon Sweeney talks to ex-Stone Roses Ian Brown, Mani and John Squire about their musical past, present and future.
Eamon Sweeney, 14 Jan 2003
"Kiss me where the sun don’t shine/The past was yours but the future’s mine." – ‘She Bangs The Drums’
Music from the mid to late ’80s wasn’t particularly the most inspiring. As Mani bluntly puts it in the sleevenotes of The Very Best of The Stone Roses: "Music then had gone through the driest patch. OK, we had New Order and The Smiths. But we also had to endure Kajagoogoo and all that shite. Something had to give."
Something did give, and it opened the floodgates for a new youth culture and lit the fuse of a Madchester rocket fuelled by a fusion of music, street fashion and clubbing. The songs of The Roses and The Mondays were suffused with the sweat and euphoria of a born again clubland long before it became a tiresome cliché to say: "Well, there was always a dance element to our music."
Talking to any former members of The Stone Roses is a revelation. They don’t come across as aloof, surly Mancunians or rock Messiahs. Mani is all hyper good bonhomie and bug-eyed enthusiasm. John Squire is slow, cautious and considered but cheerful, and you can almost picture Ian Brown bobbing away at the other end of the phone line, as he waxes lyrical about music and life.
Before they became The Stone Roses, Ian and John played together as The Patrol. John re-christened the band after some wooden intervention that got re-set in stone. "I was walking the dog and I found an old piece of wood that looked like a rose," he reminisces. "It was a stick with a rose like lump at one end. The phrase ‘wooden rose’ went through my mind but I quickly revised that. For a nanosecond, it was close to becoming The Wood Roses."
The Stone Roses played their first ever Irish show in Dublin’s famed McGonagles venue. "There was about a dozen people in to see us," Squire remembers. "Most of them wanted to beat the shit out of us. Steve (Adge) came into our dressing room after the gig and said that we’d have to fight our way out. This was prior to any recording and before Mani joined."
Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield did join and re-juvenated the band in the process. "I know I’m down on record as saying he was maybe the most important member," Squire affirms. "It really gelled when Mani joined. It’s got to be something more than just the sum of the parts. He was the missing piece of the puzzle and there was a tangible sense of that happening when he joined."
The new line up of The Roses called back this way, but luckily received a much more hospitable reception. "I remember Coleraine being excellent," John recalls. "We seemed to get the run of the place. It was a university and we spent the day before the show in the swimming pool getting the canoes out and using the high diving board. We went to the Giant’s Causeway as well, which inspired the cover for the first album – trying to capture that effect when the sea seems to be green. The sea round there was boiling with waves smashing against the rocks and full of bubbles. I remember it as a pale green with white foam splattered across the top. That was the effect I was trying to capture for the cover."
That first album with its Giant’s Causeway inspired artwork still stands up as one of the finest debut albums ever. It sounded timeless and familiar even on first listening and over a decade later its defiant beauty still stands supreme.
Much is made of the revolutionary subtext of The Stone Roses. Their meteoric rise coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid. Like all so-called pop cultural revolutions – punk, acid house etc. – it eventually ran out of steam and some of its more fanciful notions now seem almost farcical. But there was something-tangible happening. "It definitely felt like we were part of one big community," offers Ian Brown. "We weren’t rock dinosaurs and didn’t feel a separation between band and crowd."
The Roses were every bit as socialist and passionate for power to the people as their moniker hinted. Squire was nicknamed Red John and used to collect money for the miners’ strike. They all sold copies of Socialist Worker on the street. While the political content of their music wasn’t blatant, it hung heavy around their work and opinions. ‘Elizabeth My Dear’ on the first album lifted the melody from ‘Scarborough Fair’ and coupled it with lyrics about assassinating the Queen. If you listen very closely, you’ll hear a sniper shot in the outro.
In addition to the tunes and the attitude, The Roses also had a classic look that was most famously captured on a NME cover. All four of then are drenched in paint and pouting at the camera, possibly aware that they are posing for perhaps the most iconic musical image of their day. "That was a really good day," John fondly remembers. "It was so funny. We were freezing cold and the red paint burned because there was something in it that really attacked your skin. We all had stains and red marks. Steve Adge was running us around at the time and he was our driver for the day. So, we’re in the back of this transit van covered in paint after the session. He drops all off home individually and I went upstairs with pieces of newspaper stuck to each foot. I ran the bath, stripped off and got in with a scuba diving mask and snorkle and soaked there for about an hour."
Another Irish visit produced what Mani fondly recalls as one of his favourite ever gigs, Féile ’95. John too has happy memories of the day.
"That was special," John agrees. "We did do some good shows with that band. There seems to be some mistaken idea that after Reni left the band was shite."
"For me, it was one of my top two Stone Roses moments," Mani affirms. "We recorded the entire show and no doubt it will come out as a live gig. What made it for us was the crowd singing every note from every song."
But a little over a year later it was all over. After just two albums, John left and Ian and Mani were the only original members remaining. Shortly after a disastrous Reading Festival appearance, they called it a day.
After breaking into heaven and stealing some of the best tunes and providing the classic model of the ultimate Mancunian band, The Stone Roses splintered off into solo careers, The Seahorses, Primal Scream and obscurity.
"I think you have to try and do all three things – past, present and future," John Squire opines. "They all have bearing on each other. I’ve always been sentimental, romantic and nostalgic, even as a child. I agree you have to look forward, but there is no harm in reminiscing over a few jars. There is no point denying the past didn’t exist – or revising it."
At times, when you listen to those tunes, it sometimes feels like they never went away.
Unfinished monkey business
Five reasons why the stone roses weren’t like any other band
1. Paint Attack
All The Roses were arrested after splattering the offices of their former record label Silvertone with blue and white paint. Even the MD’s Mercedes got the Jackson Pollack treatment.
2. Fool’s Gold
The band appears of Top of the Pops in 1989 to perform ‘Fool’s Gold’ on the same episode that featured the Happy Mondays doing ‘Hallejujah’. Never a man for understatement, Tony Wilson claimed it was the moment "the ’90s really began."
3. Monkey Wisdom
At a London show, the audience chanted "Man-chest-er!" Ian Brown responded with the classic one liner; "Its not where you’re from, its where you’re at."
4. Feile ’95
If Spike Island was the let down the band claim it was, then allow us to revise Roses’ history with John and Mani’s approval! ‘I Am the Resurrection’ and ‘Made of Stone’ got this writer all dewy-eyed. One of the last shows with John Squire in the fold.
5. The first album
One of the most amazing records ever. Enough said.