Ian Brown – What Rock’n’Roll Has Taught Me

It’s 20 years since The Stone Roses’ legendary gig at Spike Island. Here, Ian Brown shares the lessons he’s learned since then

You might not know your destiny until you fulfil it
Everything I’ve ever achieved, I’ve done on my terms. Now I feel like my destiny wasn’t to get the Stone Roses to be massive, it was to go solo and find my own way. I’ve been solo longer than I was in the Roses now and I’ve played in 40 different countries. Honestly, going solo is the second best thing that’s ever happened to me after my kids.

Covering Jacko is not to be taken lightly
You’re never going to improve on a Michael Jackson song if you cover it. He had people like Quincy Jones producing who is one of the greatest producers of all time. So when I covered ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Thriller’ I tried to create a snapshot of the song and make it my own instead of doing the full-on version like he did. There’s no point copying the original. Did I ever get any feedback from Jacko about my versions? No.

Children are a good sounding board
A couple of years ago, John Squire’s manager sent me a track that he’d been working on and they were wondering if I wanted to use it. It was really cool – you could tell it was John playing. But my son advised me not to use it. He was like, ‘He left you for dead dad, do you really want to give him any glory?’ My son was 15 when he told me that. I do ask my kids for advice. I’ve got three kids and they’re not shy about ripping their dad apart if they can.

Try as you might, you can’t escape your past
I’ve had 6 albums, a greatest hits, 7 UK tours, something like 6 BRIT nominations, I’ve played more V festivals than any one else, I’ve played all over the world but I sometimes wonder what I have to do to stop getting asked about getting the Stone Roses back together. It does get irritating that I’ve done all this work but when I do a ten minute interview, half of it is always about the ‘Roses.

Don’t write yourself off prematurely
It is a fact that everyone’s got a limited run in music – but who’s to say how long that run lasts? I used to think that there would be no way I’d still be in music when I was 40. I used to think anyone who was 40 was an old man and they probably shouldn’t be doing it anymore. But now I’m in my 40s, I still love it, I still love creating and I’ve got no urge to stop. I still feel young.

If journalists don’t dig you, try softening them up with some Es
“I remember being in Heaven (London night club) on a Monday night in 1989. That was the Acid house night and this guy walked up to me and said ‘I’m the bloke that reviewed your album in NME this week – Jack Barron.’ We started hanging out a bit after that. He must have thought ‘these guys could probably get us some good E’s’ (laughs). Maybe if we had met him before he wrote the review, we would have got more than 6 out of 10!

The Stone Roses’ finest moment was being sampled by Run-DMCWhen Run-DMC sampled ‘Fools Gold’ (for their 1990 single ‘What’s It All About’), that was a big deal. They were the kings of hip-hop and when they heard a 12” of ‘Fools Gold,’ they jumped right on it but they still didn’t know who we were. I actually met Reverend Run at a party a few years ago and I was going to go up to him and say, ‘Look you don’t know me but I was in this band called The Stone Roses and you sampled us.’

Before I even got over there, he pointed at me, made his hands into the shape of a guitar and just did the riff- ‘bom-bom-bom, bom, ba-na-na-na-na-nom, ba-na-na-na-nom.’ I was buzzin’. He had the full priest’s outfit on an’ all. What a genius.”

Did You Know?
-Ian Brown flatly refused to play Stone Roses songs during the first part of his solo career but began including them after hearing John Squire’s famously bad renditions of the Madchester legends’ classics.

-Ian made an unaccredited cameo in the 2004 film Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban.

-When Ian did a 8 weeks stretch at Strangeways prison for threatening behaviour towards an airline stewardess, he pretended to be a Muslim in an attempt to get better food.

Words: Hardeep Phull

Read an interview with Ian Brown – all about Spike Island – in the new issue of NME, on sale 26 May