They started the year as Manchester’s best-kept secret, hometown heroes playing down a murky past. But The Stone Roses end ’89 as the only independent band to truly matter, creators of one of the decade’s finest debut LP’s, and a new single that looks set to rocket than to even dizzier heights. Danny Kelly travelled to Paris with the Roses’ rabble-ish followers to soak up the kind of scenes not witnessed since the glory years of The Smiths.
“Worrabout dis friggin’ lot then?” Steve grins at me, piggy eyes glued greedily to the wodge of cash in his sweaty hand. “A few more nights like this an’ I’ll be able to soddin’ retire…”
Steve is a Liverpool ticket tout, a familiar face outside the north of England’s football grounds. For the last hour I’ve watched him at the centre of a fevered scrum of proffered cash. He has made a cool thousand quid, no problem. Yet this isn’t Anfield or Old Trafford, and Steve’s customers aren’t here for footie. No, this is Paris and he’s a grand to the good because of a rock gig. Around him, outside La Cigale, the venue in the city’s Pigalle red light district, pandemonium reigns.
Several hundred people mill madly about, many desperately seeking entry by legal means or otherwise, to the theatre. Their numbers are continually swelled by reinforcements pouring off huge coaches that keep arriving. They are young, hairy, dressed for an Acid House party hosted by Fagin. And they are British…
Britain can’t afford to build her end of the Channel Tunnel but her unwashed have the brass to go skitting around the continent in search of high times. Across the road, a line of locals stare in wonder at this latest manifestation of Mrs Thatcher’s economic miracle. And the cause of all the fuss? Tonight is the last stop on The Stone Roses’ European tour, and this horde just had to be there.
“I’ve hitched all the way down from Blackburn,” beams Liz, engulfed in a gargantuan pair of denims, “‘cos I can’t live without them. Seriously…’
“I came over on one of those coaches,’ says a slightly less chuffed Martin from Salford, “but the bastard tour organiser hasn’t got any tickets for the gig. Bloody chancer. Still, I’ll think of something…”
“What could we do? We just had to come.” Kerry and Karen have blown their holiday money to get them here from Warrington: ‘This’ll be the last chance to see them before it’s all huge halls and Wembley Arena, the last chance to get a proper look at the most special band in the world…’
These breathless testimonies, the lines of coaches parked outside the Pigalle’s endless porn palaces, and the electric chaos outside the gig (not to mention Steve’s tidy little earner!) tell the tale. There has to be something quite extraordinary about a band that inspires this degree of (cross-Channel!) devotion. The last time I felt this focused ferocity of fanaticism was for another Manchester band, the still unsullied Smiths of five years ago.
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And for me The Stones Roses, in a year of brilliant music, have soundtracked 1989. Their debut album arrived this spring like a bolt of God-kissed lightning. Arrogant (it opened with ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ and ended with ‘I Am The Resurrection’), yet joyous, its unabashed mesh of not-quite-new ingredients – classically-shaped songs upholstered with both spunk and tenderness – sent my head spinning. At times – the irresistible surge of ‘Made Of Stone’ or the celebratory yearning of ‘She Bangs The Drums’ – it made me feel 14 again. It was a Technicolour daydream, a season ticket to the fairground, a renewable narcotic…
I cannot have been alone in these feelings because, in the months since then, The Stone Roses’ star has been in unstoppably ascendant. This Eurotour has been a huge success; the handful of Japanese dates that followed it were incredible (the current edition of Japan’s biggest rock mag lavishes 14 (!) pages on the band); and this week they play the 7,000- seat Alexandra Palace in London knowing that they could have sold the tickets thrice over.
And if all that isn’t enough, then get this: in my none-too-humble opinion, ‘She Bangs The Drums’ and ‘Made Of Stone’ are the two best singles of the year; until now, that is, until the imminent unleaning of ‘What The World Is Waiting For’/’Fools Gold’, a double headed monster that will simultaneously shock the band’s faithful and cement their new status.
‘What The World…’ is typical brilliant Roses with just a hint of Keef in John Squire’s guitar (The Rolling Stone Roses!). ‘Fools Gold’ is, though, simply stunning, a rhythmic, hypnotic, widescreen wah-wah-washed, mind-widening chunk of funk. It’ll scare the reproduction organs off yer guitar purists, but ‘Fools Gold’ is well nigh genius (Sly And The Family) Stone Roses; their finest 10 minutes to date reiterating what we already know-and confirms what we blithely guessed – that they’re going to be MASSIVE…
In ensuring this ascension to pop’s commanding heights, The Stone Roses are already luxuriantly tooled with their own multiple, interlocking talents and the emotional locomotion of their fans. But they’ve a further, secret, weapon as well: their manager introducing, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Garth Evans.
Rock mangers, by and large, should be ignored, left alone to get on with their onerous tasks (fiddling the VAT and chatting up the record company’s teenage receptionist), but Mr Evans is different. Streetwise and funny, like some awful Mancunian mutant cross of Arthur Daley and Tony Wilson, his character (operative word) adds a great extra dollop to the sum of The Stone Roses’ stuff.
Even before taking on the band, Gareth was a legend in Manchester. He owns The International, the city’s only serious rival to The Hacienda. Some say he unashamedly ‘revels’ in the special power that gives him. Others prefer the word ‘abuses’… This is the man who one evening told NME’s very own King Of Queue-Hopping, Kevin ‘I Think You’ll Find I’m On The VIP List’ Cummins, that “if you want to walk into a club anytime you please, then you buy one of the fuckers, just like I had to…”
This is the man who one night refused entry to the club to one ticketless lady with the immortal line, “Sorry love, but yer not on; we’re got Duran Duran playing tonight…” (The lady in question was Yasmin Le Bon!) This is the man who pulled an identical stunt when The Stray Cats were on, leaving transglobal megastar Britt Ekland on the drizzly Manc pavement…
And this is the man who, the very first time we meet, shows me the contents of the metal briefcase that’s beside him on his hotel bed. In it are the proceeds of the band’s Euro-jaunt – in readies! Great rolls of every imaginable continental currency strain the rivets of the valise! Gareth and The Stone Roses have, it seems, joined the EMS…
Some days later, the image of all that dosh returns to me. I tell Gareth that he should treat himself to something nice when he gets home. I dunno, Factory Records or Manchester United, something like that. On the contrary, he replied, deadpan, that beautiful pile of folding that I’d seen is now much diminished: “I’ve had hefty outgoings,” he explains with impressive gravity, “these boys get through a lot of drugs…”
But tonight in Paris ‘these boys’, whatever their fuel, are splendid. The previous night, at the Milky Way Club in Amsterdam, an uninvolved, gawping audience wet-blanketed the proceedings, but here the British invasion has created a real home from home (complete with Manc bastard football chants and the obligatory CS gas attack!) into which the band effortlessly launch their noise. Drummer Reni is magnificent. In Amsterdam I’d watched him soundcheck for an hour on his own, slapping 17 shades of shining shite out of his kit for the sheer unbridled joy of playing.
And tonight he propels the gas-interrupted set to the triumphal, tumultuous wig-out final of ‘…Resurrection’, after which the Pigalle pavements are again turned into a bizarre circus, filled with stunned Parisians, chemically altered Brits, and one well chuffed Scouse ticket scalper.
Back home, on my way to talk to Ian Brown and John Squire, I find myself taking comfort from the band’s recent virtuoso display of Interview Ruining on Rapido. The effort, I console myself, was the very outer limits of surly dismissiveness: things can only go better. My watery optimism is proved justified. Neither John nor Ian will ever make the cover of Extrovert Weekly but our meeting passes without any of the unconcealed uninterest that characterises much of their contact with the media. Nice chaps.
We talk about one of the crucial elements of The Stone Roses, the chemistry between Ian and John. They play and plot the plan together, and they write the songs together. But the working relationship is just the tip of their friendship’s iceberg. They’ve known each other since they were in (presumably flared) shorts:
“We lived in the same street in Chorlton. I met Ian when we were four or five,” recalls John with a smirk, “in a sandpit! I was a bit dubious about him, though, because the lad he was playing with was bollock-naked!”
Having quit school at the first opportunity, Ian quickly discovered that he didn’t have a natural affinity for work either. “The first thing I did was scrub pots! Been left school two days and I’m in this big oven in a hotel with the chef kicking me. That’s when I realised that I didn’t want a job. I stood it about three weeks.
“Since then I’ve done bits and pieces; worked in an office, worked on a building site, worked washing caravans. On the dole mostly…”
Though less traumatic than Ian’s, John’s employed days (which included his now legendary spell with Cosgrove Hall, makers of Dangermouse (“I wasn’t an illustrator, I was in The Mud Pie Department, modelling, good fun…”) failed to satisfy him too.
The Stone Roses grew out of their shared dissatisfaction, love of music and excess spare time. Apart from Ian’s “were we fuck a goth band!”, they’re not over-keen to talk about the band’s early days. Which suits me fine: there’s only one thing I want to know: Gareth Evans? How? Why?
“We hooked up with him because he’s such a character, good to have about,” confirms Ian, before John recounts the full, horrific details of the historic coupling: “The first time we met,” the guitarist and sleeve artist grimaces, “he took his bloody underpants off…!”
“He was trying to impress us, telling us he was a marketing man. He was saying he could sell anything to anyone, anywhere, anytime. The things he was currently selling were the range of underpants called Pommes, little white briefs with an apple logo on them…’
“He had a whole box of these things in the corner. He could’ve shown us them, would’ve been a lot less bother… But no, he insisted on taking off his trousers and trying to sell us the underpants he was wearing…
“In England it’s weird…People have us down as some sort of Manc scallies who spend all our time dropping acid and fucking around…’
After naked club owners, the conversation has, thankfully drifted onto the (for me, a confirmed clothes-pig) difficult subject of Style. I’m sure they’re on the very cutting edge of liberated post-acid couture, but with those gigantic trousers and ‘room-for-one-more’ bell-tent shirts, jumpers and coats, The Stone Roses always remind me of failed extras from Scott Of The Antarctic.
So, I venture onto the thinnest of ice, what’s the story with the peculiar clobber? “What’s peculiar about it?” asked Ian trying to sound amazed. Oh, y’know, the flares… “Aha! But I’m only one in the group who wears flares – all the rest wear parallels.”
To me all this is incomprehensible, so much flare-splitting. But these boys are serious. Deadly serious. “We’re obsessed with clothes,” Ian whispers, as though in a church, “always have been. It’s all very important; like, for instance – and make sure you get this right – with flares coming back people have got to realise that you can’t wear anything wider than 21-inch bottoms. Anything more looks ridiculous.”
Right, 21 inches. I make a mental note for my next visit to M&S before once again revealing the appalling depth of my sartorial ignorance by asking exactly why The Stone Roses tramp the back of their trouser bottoms into the dirt.
“Because,” begins John patiently, “trousers look better if they’re long. You’ve got to have lots of crumples on the way down to your shoe…” “They have to crumple,” Ian insists, “you just can’t have half mast trousers…” Fashion. So much to learn so little time…
“None of our obvious contemporaries do anything for me… Bands from the past?… No, Not really…” Nobody is going to drown in the praise poured over them by The Stone Roses. Under pressure, John will admit to a grudging respect for John Lydon, loads of time for Jimi Hendrix, and a soft spot for the Young MC’s singles of this year. Ian lusts after the voices of Martin Gaye and Winston Rodney and gives the thumbs up to NWA. That’s about it.
“Dennis Hopper,” John eventually offers. “Martin Luther King,” responds Ian “is the only guy I’ve got pure respect for.” Ian did, however, recently meet someone for whom he has respect, pure or otherwise, when the band played in Milan – the fearsome former middleweight champion of the world. The Master Of Disaster, The Brockton Brawler, Marvellous Marvin Hagler:
“Yeah, that’s right. I was sat in this club and just saw him. No one’d go near him ‘cos he looked pretty intimidating… I just stepped over this rope fence thing and walked up – ‘Marvin Hagler?’,’Yeah’,’I’m Ian Brown’ – and shook his hand. It was top… I realised that I was an inch taller than him! And I told him that he’s been robbed in the Sugar Ray Leonard fight…”
“I suppose,” Ian considers, “boxers are my heroes.” Not a very trendy point of view, that. “I know, and I know it’s a laddish thing to say, but it’s true. It’s the fact that they’re putting themselves on the edge. They’re amazing. In boxing, you’ve got to be 100 percent completely wised up all the way through.”
Yeah, the musicians, by comparison, have it piss easy. But that doesn’t stop people from worshipping them. The Stone Roses cult, the devotion of their hardcore fans, is amazing. But such dedication does eventually bring its own problems; people’s expectations change, they start to think they own the band, you start to attract nutters.
Ian Brown’s attitude to the possible pitfalls is healthily level-headed: “If you force yourself onto the public, you’ve got expect these things.” What’s been the wildest bit of fan business this year?
“In Brussels,” John enthuses, “this girl gave us a copy of one of my paintings done in stained glass and lead. God knows how long it took her to do…”
“Yeah, but the most extreme thing that happened,” Ian interjects, “had to be that guy who was telling me how he’d been knocked down by a car in London in the spring and had gone into a coma. He said they’d played our album to him and he’s come round. He was thanking me for saving his life and all that. There were tears in his eyes when he walked away.”
That’s an astonishing, touching story. “But then his mate comes up and says, ‘Has he been telling you’ about his coma and that? Well, it’s all bullshit, he makes these things up…” Gulp. See what I mean about nutters? Change of subject. Does Ian, as focal point of the band, get much trouble from girls?
“Yeah, but it’s not ‘trouble’ is it? You get all those things when you’re in a group. You get free drugs and you get free girls… They’re available if you want them.” So you’re keen, then, on the prospect of becoming a fully-fledged sex symbol?
“I’m not particularly ‘keen’, but I’m aware that it could, probably will, happen. I’m aware that there’s people around that’ll use my face to fill their wallets, who can suck me in then, when they wanna, shit me out again.”
“Kiss me where the sun don’t shine/The past is yours, the future’s mine…”
Ian Brown needn’t worry about being shat out just yet. The Stone Roses have already made one of the great debut LPs of the decade and their moment of popular acclaim is here, and now. The above line, from the life-affirming ‘She Bangs The Drums’, is both a bold statement of fact and a cocky challenge to every other contemporary band, the vast majority of whom Brown holds in ill-hidden contempt:
“People tend to settle for the fiver,” he says, almost sadly, “instead of going for the pot of gold…” But The Stone Roses aren’t like that. They wanna be adored. No problem.