The Stone Roses: Ian Brown Interview

The Frontman
Ian Brown, 2009
Ian Brown spoke to Clash Magazine for our 'The Stone Roses' 20th Anniversary issue in April 2009 . Read the full interview with the former Stone Roses frontman below.

How did you meet Mani?

I met Mani when I was about sixteen-years-old. I was from Chorlton and Mani was up in Moston and we met through Pips nightclub in Manchester. There was a skinhead at the time who had a swastika tattooed on his head that was causing all the trouble in the bars and clubs so Moston came to our posse and asking if we’d go up to their little posse and deal with this guy. So I met Mani in a council house in Moston in 1980 when there was about twelve of us and about fifteen of them and we went to sort this skinhead out. That’s how we met. Policing ourselves in those days. Mani was the final piece in the jigsaw; we’d been going for a couple of years and I think Mani joined around October 1987. We’d done a few gigs in Manchester, done a few of our warehouse parties and played at International One. We’d played a few gigs around the country like in Exeter, London, and places like that. He just fitted great. He’d been our pal anyway for a good few years before he joined, about seven years, and he used to actually follow the band around anyway, so he knew all the songs.

You went from a local phenomenon to a national treasure almost overnight. How did that happen?

Well we’d kept being called Manchester’s best kept secret. And we were doing 2000 people at the time in International Two. We played the ICA, London, in about May ’89 and we got 500-600 in there. Then by November we had 8000 at Alexandra Palace. But it was the album that did that, you know, once the album was out it had its own legs and that’s what did it. It felt natural, everything that happened felt natural.

Out of all those big gigs - Blackpool Empress Ballroom, Ally Pally, Glasgow Green and Spike Island - which one resonated with you as your best performance?

Glasgow Green, 1990. It was so hot inside; I think all the crowd were on ecstasy. It was just going off with sweat coming down like rain inside the tent, dripping off the ceiling. We played great that night, and Glasgow is the best place in the UK to play. Best show we ever did I think. There was another great one we did in Belfast, at the Mayfield Leisure Centre. I always remember there was a little kid, about five or six, on someone’s shoulders, and we were loving that. He was a little toddler on someone’s shoulders, singing along.

Tommy Udo said that he heard you’d once said that the Roses wanted to record one album and disappear and be immortal. Is that true?

We probably did have that ambition at the time, yeah.

And then when you got into your Silvertone tussle and went quiet for a while, did that ever become a serious consideration?

Yeah, because at the time, if we’d have lost the court case in ’91 with Zomba, we wouldn’t have been able to release any more records, so we’d have just done gigs, and the plan was that we would have bootlegged the gigs and sold them at the next gig, so they’d only be available as live albums and we’d have to do new songs as live versions. If we’d have lost that case, that was our plan - just to do gigs and sell bootlegs on the door.

Do you wish that you’d have been a bit more active with that hiatus?

Yeah, I do now. I feel like we wasted the three years, definitely. At the time I didn’t think it mattered, but I think my response to that is why I’ve done six solo albums. You know, I’ve just got a work ethic now, I think because of that. I haven’t had a year off since I went solo and I think it’s because of that. Yeah, we wasted three years probably. We didn’t have a manager; we had no one to get us in line. It was just four chiefs and no Indians. And because we were recording we just got away with away with it. I mean, the first two weeks we booked the studio it was just like an expensive record player. We just sat smoking weed and listening to tunes at a grand a day, then we went sledging on antique silver trays for the week. Did a bit of mountain biking. Suddenly we’ve done five weeks in the studio.

Gareth Evans was a bit of a character to say the least.

Yeah, he was. And we had this thing that all the greatest bands had famous managers. The Pistols had [Malcolm] McLaren, the Stones had [Andrew] Loog Oldham, The Beatles had [Brian] Epstein, and we wanted the manager like that, that was going to, you know… that was a full-on character. Also he’d never managed anyone else before, and that was an advantage for us.

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In hindsight, how do you think he did?

Um, I can’t deny that the guy… he loved us 24/7 and he was a grafter. He wasn’t frightened of anyone. That was a big thing. He didn’t care that someone was at the top of a company or whoever they were; he didn’t believe anyone was out of reach. That appealed to us. Plus, he owned a nightclub, and we could rehearse for free and drink what we wanted. It was his attitude; he wanted to do what we did. He used to back the Workers’ Revolutionary Party newspaper with the guy who used to be Tom McArdle in Brookside, a guy called Malcolm Tierney. Him and Malcolm had put the money up to print the newspapers for the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, and he knew Colin Redgrave, and that impressed us, cos me and John were ex-members of the Social Workers Party at the time - we used to go to the meetings an’ all, around the miners’ strike. And that impressed us that he was into revolution.

Do you still speak to Gareth?

Er, no. I’ve not seen Gareth in about ten years.

Michael Eavis was speculating to Clash how different things would have been for the Roses had you headlined Glastonbury as planned in ’95.

Yeah, I agree with him. That ’95 slot in Glastonbury was our chance to show that we were back after that, as you say, hiatus. And as fate had it, it wasn’t to be. John broke his collarbone and Pulp got the break from there. So I agree with him, yeah, things could have been made different if we’d have done that show.

He suggested that some members of the band weren’t really up for it. Is that true?

No, the only reason we didn’t do that show is because John broke his collarbone. We didn’t want to bring another guitarist in at the time. I later learned that we could have got Slash. Slash was up for doing it, which might have been good, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

Did you realise that bringing out ‘The Second Coming’ was going to be as challenging as it actually was, with Britpop and how the music landscape had changed?

No, at the time I thought it was great, and we were great and we were going to smash it. When I look back now I think we lost… I’ve got this thing. A lot of bands have got rock but they’ve got no roll. And I think what separated us from other bands in ’89 is that roll. We had a groove. Other bands didn’t have that groove. I think a lot of other bands jumped on that and, as well as taking the gang mentality that we had, they tried to have a groove. But, when I look on ‘Second Coming’ now, there’s only a couple of tunes in the groove and it’s mostly just rock; just boring, I understand now. We should have taken it all back to basics again, whereas we turned into dinosaurs. The freshness wasn’t there, you know? It was dark. The first album’s great because it was all light. I wish we’d stayed in the light.

If you could go back and do anything differently would that be the main thing you’d change?

If I went back and did anything differently, I wouldn’t have sung Squire’s songs for him. I wouldn’t have sung the songs that John had written. He took my fun off me there. My fun was doing the lyrics and the melody. He’d come to the recording sessions and he was writing songs on his own. He didn’t want to work with no one; he didn’t want to work with me. He had to do it on his own and I figured at that time it’s just something… he’s just got a bee in his bonnet and he needs to get it out. And we’ve got a contract for another three albums, so just let him get on with it and, you know, I’ll back him up.

Did you discuss that openly with him or was it just a case of letting him get on with it?

He knew that I wasn’t happy that we weren’t writing songs together like we used to. And I think I’ve read interviews since where he says he now realises the strength of our partnership. But he didn’t realise it at that time.

When was the last time you spoke to John?

I haven’t spoken to him since the phone call when he left the band in ’96.

Do you speak to Reni much?

I haven’t spoken to Reni since 2001.

What are your feelings about a possible reunion?

You know, I’ve been solo, this is my eleventh year. It’s been eleven years now since I put ‘My Star’ out, the first single. That went straight in at five, first album went in at two and I’ve just not looked back since. I think I’ve played in thirty-four different countries since then, I’m about to start my sixth full studio album, I’ve just got back from Japan where last Thursday I played with an orchestra in the National Opera House. I just feel like this was my fate, you know what I mean? I used to feel the Roses was the thing, but the things I’ve done solo, I’ve got bigger and bigger every year than I was the year before. I’ve just been going up so I feel now like that was my fate. I also prefer my own solo music to Roses music.

So no chance of a one-off gig, like Led Zep did?

I’d need to be down to my last chicken dinner, seriously. Every single act that’s reformed has done it for the money; I don’t think there’s anyone who’s done it for expression, artistic expression, or this burning desire to create more music or… I think it’s about money. I could always ring Mani and say, ‘Let’s get the band back together’, but if I said, ‘Let’s do it and give the money to kids’ charities’, would he still want to do it? I don’t think they would.

How do you feel about the bands that followed in the wake of the Roses?

I don’t think no one’s touched us. I don’t want to be George Best, cos you know George Best used to slag everybody off, but I don’t think anyone’s touched the Roses; the heights that we reached musically.

Words By Matthew Bennett

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