Clash’s new issue – in your local newsagent now – focuses on the legend of The Stone Roses, marking 20 years since the release of the Manchester band’s seminal self-titled debut.
As part of our retrospective, we got talking at length with vocalist Ian Brown. Topics covered: well, if we're honest, there's nothing we didn't cover. From band members' relationships and break downs, to the phenomenal Spike Island show via breakfast with Glastonbury head honcho Michael Eavis and family, it's all here.
So, without further ado, the uncut transcript of our chat with King Monkey himself…
(A word of warning: this is pretty long. You might want a brew halfway through.)
You weren’t always called The Stone Roses – were you called The Patrol, or was there another as well?
Yeah! That’s right. We played a few youth clubs and a few bars in Manchester; I was playing bass then and singing some backing vocals. The Patrol was a name that me and John came up with together.
There were songs we wrote that were never recorded, but there’s no lost album. I wish there were...
Dave Haslam referred to you in your early days as the Stone Roses as a bit gothy, and Theatre of Hate. Would you agree?
Erm... no. Our old bass player Pete, the one before Mani, had long dark hair and wore ruffled shirts. Maybe he thought he was a goth, but we weren’t as a band.
Andy Couzens was in the band?
That’s right. He was our rhythm guitarist. He was a mate of ours before we had the band; he was the singer of The Patrol.
How did his role fail?
John didn’t want to play with him. John was getting better and coming out with these lovely lines and Andy would come in with these big chuggy rhythm guitar parts and cover it up. So John came to me and said he didn’t think he could play with him anymore. The reason he left was that we played in Dublin in ‘86 and had to get the ferry home and it was like a 10-hour wait, but Andy flew home and that was the last time we played with him.
How did you meet Mani?
I met Mani when I was about 16 years old. We met through Pips nightclub in Manchester and there was a skinhead at the time who had a swastika tattooed on his ‘ead that was causing all the trouble in the bars and clubs, so Mani’s posse 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 12 of us and about 15 of them and we went to sort this skinhead out. That’s how we met. We were 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, 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. He was the final piece of the jigsaw and we had a groove then, a proper groove.
Where was your first gig with Mani completing the line-up?
Mani’s first gig? I think it was International One. 1987, about November. In Manchester, the club called International One that our manager owned.
What was the time like between that and you doing your big graffiti campaign?
The graffiti campaign was probably before Mani joined.
Oh was it?
I think so, yeah.
Whose idea was that?
That was me and Reni.
Just you two or did you have a squad?
Er, no, just Reni and me. I kept look out, he did a bit, then he’d keep look out and I’d do a bit. We did one on the side of the library in St. Peters’ Square. There was this copper on the corner and I was just watching him, seeing how much we could get in before he walked close.
So you must have covered quite a lot of ground that night then? Was it one night that you did?
Yeah, we covered the city centre in “Stone Roses”, yeah we did.
And you kind of went from a local phenomenon to a national treasure almost overnight. How was the pressure of that?
Well, we’d kept being called Manchester’s best kept secret. And we were doing 2,000 people at the time in International Two. It felt natural, everything that happened felt natural. We played the ICA, London in about May ’89, and we got 500-600 in there. Then by November we had 8,000 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.
I was speaking to Dave Haslam again, who said they all went down to the Ally Pally and they were expecting to kind of take over. But you’d, overnight, grown a London fan base. Was it as immediate as that?
Yeah it was, you know. Like I say, we’d done 600 people in May at the ICA and then it was 8,000 at Alexandra Palace and we could have booked two nights. That was purely the strength of the album, that.
Out of all those big gigs then - like Blackpool, Ally Pally, Glasgow Green and Spike Island - which one resonated with you as your best performance?
Glasgow Green in ’90, yeah. It was so hot inside; I think all the crowd were on ecstasy. It was just going off with sweat and it was just coming down like rain. It was 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. And 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 kid on someone’s shoulders, singing along. Well, bigger than a toddler, but he was only little.
But he knew the words?
Yeah he knew all the words, aged about five or six. We loved that.
I interviewed Tommy Udo the other day, the old NME dude, and he said that he heard that one of you in the band once said you wanted to record one album and disappear and be immortal. Is that true?
We probably did have that ambition at the time, yeah. We did, yeah.
And then when you got into your Silvertone tussle and you went quiet for a while. Did that ever get a real, 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.
And, when you were in your hiatus, what were all the different band members saying? Who was up for keeping quiet and who was up for touring?
I think we just wanted to get a record done and we wanted to get the court case done. We wanted to get signed with Gethin. We all thought the same at the time, up to a certain point.
I believe that you recorded almost an album in Cornwall - that got scrapped, is that right?
No, no, that’s not right. We did do ‘Fool’s Gold’ in Cornwall and ‘What The World Is Waiting For’. No, the only song that we recorded that never got used was ‘Where Angels Play’.
Peter Hook was suggesting there might have been a kind of lost album.
I’ve heard Peter say that before. I don’t know where he gets that from, but it’s a “no”. I wish there was. I wish there was a lost ‘Fool’s Gold’ album. I wish we’d done an album like ‘Fool’s Good’ at the time. There were songs we wrote that were never recorded, but there’s no lost album. I wish there were.
A lost ‘Fool’s Gold’ album would make lots of people very happy eh? Do you kind of wish that you’d have been a bit more active with your time off? Or was it a pretty natural how it all turned out?
Yeah I do now, I feel like we wasted the three years definitely, yeah. 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 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.
At that point were you feeling, when you come through in the album, and you had a big squad of people around you…
…We didn’t actually. We didn’t have a big squad actually. We just had Steve our tour manager. And every now and then we’d see the A&R guy from Gethin. Once a month. But they didn’t hear any music until ‘94.
No, I meant when your first album came out…
Sorry, we did yeah. We made all our mates roadies, yeah we did.
And then, because obviously like Cressa, half in the band, half out of the band, whatever...
That’s right, yeah. Just dancing and vibes, yeah.
He was getting referred to the other day as your style advisor. Would you agree with that? Or did he just have the baggiest trousers?
No a guy called Johnny Paulin was our style adviser and Cressa took his style off Johnny. Semi-flares, baseball caps, that mid-‘80s look.
What’s Johnny doing now?
He’s a panel beater at a garage, yeah. I still speak to him every week.
What’s Cressa up to now?
Cressa still doesn’t have a job. Did great, 44 years old, still signing on. Same as he did…
Johnny Paulin then. As far as all the flares and the paisley shirts and all that went - would you say he was single-handedly responsible for that?
He was the first lad that we knew to wear semi-flares in ‘86, and then Cressa got into semis and me and John got into it. Then Cressa got into full flares and he gave me a pair of his old ones, jumbo cords, er, then I was the only one to wear flares and they all wore parallels. And at the time we loved it, because no one else had flares at all anywhere.
And then, how much of that was a strategy… Because obviously you didn’t want to be following any other bands, you didn’t want anybody supporting you, you didn’t want to support other bands…
We didn’t even want to play the regular rock ‘n’ roll circuit, and that’s why we did the warehouse parties in ‘86 because we didn’t want to play the regular venues. That was still the policy we had in ‘89, because Alexandra Palace hadn’t been used… I think Pink Floyd were the last band to play there. Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, which is now on the circuit, at the time we were the first band to play that since the Stones in the late ‘60s. So Spike Island is another one of them - a big, industrial estate. We still had that policy in ‘89 that we had in ‘86, which was to keep off the rock ‘n’ roll circuit; make ourselves separate and away from other bands.
So was there a point when you all sat down and put the fashion side of things on the table, and just went: right, everybody, let’s get into the flares…
Well we all started wearing the flares, but it was a big shock to us when we played Blackpool in August ‘89 and we pulled up for the sound check and all the kids outside had flares and mummy shirts, and what had become known as Reni hats. We didn’t know or expect that kids would dress like us. We just were trying to dress so we looked different from everyone else. It was at that time when people started dressing like us.
And did Reni get pissed off with that Reni hat thing?
No he loved it. Definitely half the crowd had the hat on.
Because again, Peter Hook was saying again the other day that Reni came storming over at Spike Island and was like, to Gareth: “Gareth, get all these fucking Reni hat salesmen off the site.” And it turned out it was Gareth…
That’s right. He did have a beef with that because Gareth was trying to make money off it. Yeah, he had a load of Reni hats up on the merch stall that we didn’t know about. But him and Gareth were always fisticuffin’. First day we met John Leckie, they were having a stand up fight - a fistfight. John was stood there like, fuckin’, open-mouthed, like: “Who are these guys?” That wasn’t unusual for them.
I hear Gareth was a bit of a character, to say the least.
Yeah he was. And we had this kind of thing that all the greatest bands had famous managers. Pistols had McLaren, Stones had Lou Golding, Beatles had Epstein and we wanted the manager like that, that was going to, you know… that was a full-on character. And we wanted someone like that, yeah. Also he’d never managed anyone else before, and that was an advantage for us.
If I went back, and did anything differently, I wouldn’t have sung Squire’s songs for him...
And in massive 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. He didn’t have any fear of anybody and 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 Turney. Him and Malcolm Turney had put the money up to print the newspapers for the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, and he knew Colin Redgrave, and that impressed us, ‘cause 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.
And then, I take it you don’t speak to him anymore?
Er no, I’ve not seen Gareth in about ten years.
Bit of a fall out was there?
I was speaking to Michael Eavis this week, bit of an honour.
Yeah, nice guy is Mike.
Yeah, he loves you. He was reflecting on how different things could have been if you’d have fulfilled the headline slot…
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 also thought that some members of the band, he didn’t know quite who, weren’t really up for it. Is that true, or…
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. We were a band and we didn’t want to perform with another guitar player.
What do you remember of the Pilton Party?
Yeah, that was great, because we got a chance to sort of thank Michael Eavis for giving us that advice in the first place by playing that village fete. And that was our first show in the UK for five years at that time. I think we played really well; it was a great night, yeah.
Of course, there were more than 2,000 people…
No, it was only small. I can’t remember how many, but it was in a tent. It wasn’t that many. But, it was a great night. Got breakfast with the Eavis family around their kitchen table, which was nice.
You got breakfast?
Yeah. Emily was only a little girl then.
She’s rocking it now though, ain’t she?
Yeah she runs it now don’t she.
Did you ever feel that bringing out ‘Second Coming’ was going to be as challenging as it actually was, with Britpop and how the music landscape had changed a wee bit?
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. So… I understand now. The freshness wasn’t there, you know. It was dark. The first album’s great because it was all light. And we changed the second album because we’d made the light, to make one that sounded dark. But, I wish we’d had stayed in the light.
Because at the time, with all your indie peers like The Wedding Present and all that, it was just dirge. Wasn’t it?
That’s right, it was just dirge – groove was soulless, yeah.
If you could go back and do anything differently would that be the main thing, or is there anything else you would add?
If I went back, and did anything differently, I wouldn’t have sung Squire’s songs for him.
You wouldn’t have what?
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. Then it’d come to this bad time. He’d come to the recording sessions - he’d come in 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, like, let him knock on?
Um, yeah 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.
Again, Michael Eavis the other day was saying that he had a deep, gut feeling that you weren’t done as a band.
Yeah. That must be something he’s eaten.
Yeah, obviously you’re bored to tears with the reunion chat…
You know, I’ve been solo, and this is my eleventh year. It’s been 11 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 34 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, and the things I’ve done solo, and I’ve got bigger and bigger every year. I’ve just been going up, so I feel like that was my fate. I also prefer my own solo music to Roses’ music.
So aside from any random, fantastical, Led Zeppelin one offs do you…
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.
So, could you see yourself sending John a packet of Maltesers in the future?
I haven’t spoken to him since the phone call when he left the band in ‘96.
Have you not?
No. I’ve not spoke to him in 13 years coming up now.
So, how gutted were you when Reni left?
Not half as gutted as when he was there. But we still had our moments. We still had some great shows. I mean, Brixton in ‘95 was our best show after Glasgow Green that we ever played. I think we’re more consistent with Robbie Maddox on the drums. We’re sort of good to great every night, whereas with Reni we were great one night, good the next and crap the next.
Really? Because he’s got a reputation of being one of the best drummers of that era.
He’s probably the best drummer I’ve ever seen, still.
So, why was he so inconsistent?
It wasn’t just him. It was all of us.
Just the dynamic?
Yeah. Sometimes it worked and it was amazing. Sometimes it didn’t.
Right. So do you speak to Reni much?
I haven’t spoken to Reni since 2001.
How do you feel about the bands they inherited, your Manchester crowd?
I don’t think no one’s touched us. I don’t want to be George Best, ‘cause 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.
And, as far as albums are concerned, would you agree with the NME and the Observer Music Monthly that your first album is the best album of all time?
No, I don’t think it’s the best album of all time. I think, out of the UK, it’s one of the best UK albums. I don’t think it touches any Beatles album, I don’t think it touches the Sex Pistols album, first Clash album.
Yeah. Well I suppose it’s subjective…
It’s a great album. It still sounds fresh. When I hear tracks now it still sounds fresh and I think if it had come out this week it’d have the same impact as it did then.
What are your favourite three songs?
Um, ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘Made of Stone’ and ‘I Wanna Be Adored’.
Do you still think you’ve got to prove anything as an artist? Or do you think you’ve…
Nah, I’ve got nothing to prove. Done it all. I’ve been back everywhere that the Roses went, and more. No, got nothing to prove to nobody.
What’s your strongest memory from your day at Spike Island?
Er, when we came on stage and all the crowd jumped and a big dust cloud went up. You couldn’t see anybody for a few minutes ‘til it settled again. It was amazing, just loads of dust.
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Pick up the new issue (36) of Clash magazine, out now, for lots more on The Stone Roses as we mark the twentieth anniversary of their (quite evidently influential) debut album.