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The Stone Roses are taking one last shot at the title

— The iconic pop band have reunited, and for many, the coming gigs will be a musical ‘pilgrimage’

By Richard Purden

As with many great stories it is hard to separate the myth from the reality, but back in 1989 the emergence of The Stone Roses was nothing short of a movement.

At the time of writing, the band have just played a low-key warm up in preparation for their forthcoming world tour including three nights in the band’s home city of Manchester and a headline date at T in the Park. For many, the mercurial four-piece remain the most convincing British guitar band of the last 30 years; as much for their music as their attitude.

Since their acrimonious split in 1996, their legacy has continued to grow with the Observer Music Monthly and NME naming their self-titled debut as the greatest British album of all time. Reports suggest they are rehearsing up to eight hours a day with a number of new recordings already completed. It seems The Stone Roses are going for a last shot at the title.

Childhood memories

Some bands become part of you; others a passing fad you grow out of. The Stone Roses were different. I was 12-years-old the first time I heard the Roses in the sweltering summer of 1989. I’d been playing football in the back garden of a pal’s house when his mum invited us in for an Irn-Bru. The family kept a record player in a separate front room at their house on Edinburgh’s Myreside Road. “I’ve just bought a record you’ve got to hear,” said Dougie. Even his dad was raving about it, saying it was the best thing he had heard since The Searchers.

I can still remember looking at the cover, which seemed so important: a big splurge of dark green paint with bits of red, yellow and blue on a sort of skin coloured background. I’ve never forgotten the first time I heard ‘She Bangs The Drums.’ It remains as perfect a pop moment as you’re ever likely to hear. At just over three and a half minutes long, the song sounds as fresh as it did that day in 1989.

For a generation of music fans who were in their teens at the time, the Roses were our Beatles and Rolling Stones rolled into one; within a few months the world felt like a different place,  especially at St Thomas of Aquins high school in the Tollcross area of the city. By the time the band released their next single, Fools Gold, and appeared on Top of the Pops that November, their influence on the culture was clear; longer hair, casual Chipie jumpers and baggy flairs were everywhere. Fopp in Cockburn Street became our first port of call after school on a Friday, where we snapped up the posters or singles we’d missed at the independent shop next door. It was in Fopp we got to know Vicky, an English student with a classic 60s look who studied at Edinburgh University. She was going to see The Stone Roses play a gig. We couldn’t believe it. Even when our money was spent it was worth a trip into Fopp as Vicky might be there with tales of what happened when she went to see the Roses in Blackpool or the Ally Pally in London.

We’d bought into the Roses hook-line and sinker but we weren’t the only ones. The school’s top boys, proper hard cases, would give you the nod of approval; ‘you into the Roses boys; nice one.’ In school, we supported different football teams, came from different backgrounds and had previously had different tastes, but The Stone Roses seemed to unite us over everything that was great about being alive in 1989. Only the real puritans abstained, particularly one female metal-head. The Roses turned us onto history and art in a way that no other band had done before.

John Squire designed the band’s iconic Jackson Pollock inspired record sleeves. For the times he was an untypical guitar hero; an un-macho type, championing a melodious clean sound which was a perfect fit with bass player Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield’s Northern Soul flavoured groves.

Spiritual connection

Being Catholic boys, we were tuned into Ian Brown’s biblical references that bookended the classic album, from I Wanna Be Adored to the anthemic closer I Am The Resurrection. The spiritual element was one thing that was different about the Roses, especially with Brown. “I believe in God,” the atypical front-man told NME at the time. “There must be some substance in Christ because the ‘myth’ has lasted so long, like 2000 years.” At the end of 2007 Brown again candidly discussed his belief in God and the Holy Spirit with Q magazine. He also confirmed stories about withdrawing £30,000, which he then distributed to homeless shelters and the Salvation Army.

Brown seemed to embody something of all his heroes which transcended stifling regional identity. “My walls were covered in [Muhammad] Ali and Bruce Lee growing up,” he once told me. At the end of our interview he recommended a book, Bearing The Cross, on the subject of another of Brown’s heroes, Martin Luther King, as well as the American civil rights movement.

The Stone Roses have a strong connection with Scotland and especially Greenock; it was the town’s Roddy McKenna who initially spotted them. I first interviewed Brown before a solo gig in Glasgow. It was the first tour in which he played those seminal Roses songs. In the interview, the singer talked about his affinity with Scotland as it was in his family roots, and how he had travelled to most of the islands. At the time, Brown was also involved in an arts community project in Greenock where he performed a free gig. “I’m a patron of this studio and community project to help out the kids and get them off smack,” he said, in his usual frank manner. “I want to take them out of that environment for an afternoon and make it as joyful as possible.

“We’re not looking for kids who want to be stars but kids with a hunger that want to change things; all the best bands come from those backgrounds.”

Aside from the band’s socialist ethos, the Stone Roses music wasn’t off the cuff; the band, famous for their work ethic, had produced a cohesive and timeless set of songs which resonated nationwide. The glorious three part harmonies and melodies were tuned into something beyond the usual confines of pop music at the time; the Roses songs sounded like they had been around for 2000 years and for many of us it was an education, turning us onto a variety of subjects from the Spanish Civil War to the Paris riots of 1968. “I’ve got the Celtic in me,” Mani told me back in 2006. “We feel the folk and country more. We’re more in touch with the folk and it filters through similarly to black music—there’s is a certain soul.

“With the Roses we wanted to bring like minded people together,” he added, in relation to the band’s politicised ethos and opinionated nature. “That’s what brings down mountains. Ian and John used to sell the socialist worker newspaper. We lived through Thatcher and it fed into the music without a doubt.”

The most important aspect of The Stone Roses was that classic line-up. There was a synergy and chemistry in their look and sound which only really kicked into gear when the four members of the band where functioning together. When second-generation Irish bass player Mani joined in November 1987, it was game on. “He was the most important member,” the band’s guitarist and co-writer John Squire told me in 2009. “I felt very confident from that moment on. The sound was much better, we had more fun and we looked better. The whole thing gelled. He was the last piece of the puzzle.

“I think we had a really good understanding and similar record collections, like the Postcard stuff. We knew the way each other thought; he was a perfect foil for me. He’s a great lad; you would struggle to find anyone more entertaining.”

Stone Roses country

Scottish promoter Andrew McDermid had booked The Stone Roses to play in Greenock in 1989. After the gig was cancelled, McDermid ran a bus to the Edinburgh Venue that June. “I was 19 at the time,” he told me, speaking in 2005. “Everyone on the bus that night went on to do something with music. A lot of bands had singles out, but the Roses had an album and at that point everyone on the bus knew the words to every song.

“John Squire once referred to Greenock as staunch Stone Roses country. We booked his post Roses band The Seahorses in 1996. It had to be kept a secret up until the day they arrived. Mani played his first ever DJ spot here. I’ve seen him walk into a bar and remembering everyone’s name; he’s that kind of guy, a very social character.  Ian’s a bit more mystical; he’s almost like a biblical type of figure.

“Reni formed a band called The Rub after the Roses and the drummer Mik Grant was also from Greenock. My theory about why The Stone Roses mean so much here is a lot about the vocal harmonies; those flashes of folk music connect with the west of Scotland. The north of England has had the same problems with social depravation and high unemployment. There’s also the weather. Quite often in those situations you pick up a guitar and write a song.”

After the Roses split, Mani joined Glasgow’s Primal Scream, in many ways the Roses contemporaries along with East Kilbride’s The Jesus and Mary Chain. Both Scottish acts were another strong influence on the band. “I took a lot of ideas from the Mary Chain,” guitarist John Squire admitted. “I remember noticing that Primal Scream were getting off the ground while we were still rehearsing and were regulars in the NME. I went to see the Mary Chain a few times and I had some Primal Scream records.”

Break-up

Within a year of the Stone Roses seminal gigs at the Edinburgh Venue and Glasgow’s Rooftops they returned for what would be widely regarded as their best gig to date on Glasgow Green, in June 1990. It was the last gig the classic line-up would play until May of this year, when they performed a low-key warm up date in Warrington.

The Stone Roses struggled with the business side of the music industry; their hunger to create and get the music heard was paramount, and unfortunately that was fodder to soulless business minds who tied the band up in rip-off contracts, destroying momentum in the ranks. It took five years for their follow up The Second Coming to arrive, but by the time it was released tensions had taken their toll. Drummer Reni was the first to quit and was absent for the band’s now famous date at the Glasgow Barrowlands in December 1995. Although a memorable show, it just wasn’t the same without their talismanic drummer. Behind his trademark fishing hat, he would simply mesmerise by singing harmony while working his three-piece kit. The four members were vital. John Squire left amid further tensions in April 1996 and after some savage live reviews the band were forced to call it a day.

Reunion

Since then, a Stone Roses reunion seemed to be the stuff of dreams. In the press it was obvious that Brown had struggled to forgive Squire’s exit from the band. In emotional circumstances, the pair reunited when paying their respects at the funeral of Mani’s mother in April 2011. For fans, it was a relief to hear that resentment and bitterness between two old friends had passed, especially for a band as life-affirming and unworldly as the Roses.

For me, it was a timely birthday present when the band did indeed announce their return after much speculation on October 18, 2011. Immediately I had texts and calls from people I hadn’t spoken to in years, inspired by the reunion. The Roses were doing what they had always done; bringing people together. All 220,000 tickets for the three Manchester shows sold out in record breaking time, but thankfully an offer came from a friend. “Got two ticks,” he said. “You up for heading down?” I didn’t need to be asked twice.

For me, the forthcoming Heaton Park gigs in Manchester will be something of a pilgrimage; a life affirming journey where the Roses will again unite fans from all backgrounds to share in the joy, as they did on Glasgow Green and Spike Island in 1990. For many, The Stone Roses were the last great British guitar band, but few were able to see the classic line up live. Thankfully, their resurrection has begun.

—The Stone Roses will headline T in the Park on July 7

Pic by Richard Purden: Stone Roses lead singer Ian Brown

Comments - One Response

  1. markybhoy says:

    what a fantastic article Richard wish do you know if the hard copy might be available somewhere?

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