It's all a long way from the Stone Roses...
The smoke clears and Ian Brown is still centre stage, doing a little shadow-boxing dance, shuffling back and forth on his feet, waiting for the boxing-ring referee’s whistle to blow. Still standing, in fact. Not only that, but he has a Top Five album and hit single under his belt, he’s got every right to expect
So many critics had written the former Stone Roses frontman off as a shadowy ghost from the past; a past-it, has-been yesterday’s man who belonged in the days when Manchester was the dance capital of the world, Ecstasy was the potent new designer drug on the block, and independently minded bands discovered and corralled dance music for their own ends. And yet here he is. How does he do it?
1989 certainly seems a century away in cultural terms, when you live in a 2001 of a billion dollar hip-hop revolution, manufactured pop groups, reality TV, brand new terrors, nu-metal and an underground rock scene who were barely in secondary school when the Stone Roses failed to crack America. But Ian Brownis both a survivor and a showbiz trouper. He’s become a brand name.
What he represents as a mystical guru who’s mellowed out since becoming a dad is the opposite of what was expected. Former revolutionaries are supposed to slowly become the new oppressors, yet Brown has stuck to his guns when it comes to acute social observations, a space-cadet worldview and a knack for impenetrable musings that confer an air of mystery on what would otherwise be nonsense.
Ian Brown is needed in 2001 because he’s the last of a dying breed. While his peers are now accountants, bank workers, or reaping the sad harvest of drug excess, he still shows how self-belief and arrogance can go a long way. He makes tonight’s audience feel like it could be them up there, even though they know deep down they can’t. As the stage reveals a drummer and a multi-tentacled percussionist as well as a restrained guitarist, a keyboard technician and a rhythm man who has taken dub lessons, its all systems go. Ian Brown is all about a vibe, and even if he’s the centre of attention, the crowd is always involved. The self-styled folk hero doesn’t sing at people, or even to people, but in an inexplicable way, with people.
Ah, singing. Eventually, you broach the topic with a man who once made crowds wince inwardly whilst hitting high notes. Tonight though, he’s in fine, competent voice, as he adopts a mid-range monotone that inhabits but seldom overrides the music. The distorted, almost techno-ey rhythm figure that warps ‘Gravy Train’ in a dancetastic light, still makes room for Ian Brown‘s elocution about the perils of cocaine, which segues into an off-hand version of Dillinger’s ‘Cocaine In My Brain’. And the version of ‘F.E.A.R’ has a beauty and topicality that also mixes orchestral melodies with what is anything but a foghorn voice.
And there’s the multi-cultural tilt that makes Ian Brown‘s rock’n’roll still cool. The sitar warblings, the junglist drums, reggae pulses, and more, point to a more inclusive music. Plus, those Jimmy Reed- style jazzy organs that bathe ‘Dolphins Were Monkeys’ in a similar way huge techno beats drench ‘Love Like A Fountain’ add to the diversity. It’s all a long way from the Stone Roses. Which is ultimately why Ian Brownhas been blessed with longevity.