The Stone Roses.
There’s going to be no in between for this band, we just want to do it, do it big and once it’s done it’s done.
Ian Brown 1987
May 2nd 1989 was the start of the phenomenon which would a few months later behailed across the music press as Madchester. It was the date of the release of the eponymously entitled debut album from Manchester’s Stone Roses hailed by record buyers in recent polls as the greatest album ever . The Stone Roses at the time were a four piece band consisting of childhood friends Ian Brown on vocals and John Squire guitar , the song-writing nucleus of the band ; and bass player Gary (Mani) Mountfield and drummer Alan (Reni) Wren. They were a band who played a hard edged sixties style psychedelic rock with a pop sensibility, with Byrds style guitar licks shimmering and crashing over a northern soul style 4-4 pounding beat and a punk style attitude.. This was a band who were unknown outside of Manchester andhad turned up for a gig in London only six months earlier, to be asked by the promoter to play variety of Beatles, Stones and Kinks covers over three sets adding ,”and throw a couple of your own in near the end of the third set”. The promoter wasfirmly informed by the band’s tour manager, Steve Adge , that The Stone Roses would in fact be playing one 24 minute set only, and it would be all their ownmaterial. Within eighteen months the same band would play in front of 30000 people at Spike Island, turn down a support slot on a Rolling Stones tour and their debut album would have spent over a year in the charts.
The Stone Roses had been in the consciousness of Manchester’s gig goers since 1985 and had recorded their first demo tape at the City’s Spirit Studios in August 1984. Many Mancunians who had never heard the band’s music certainly knew the name Stone Roses as it was daubed in paint on walls across Manchester City centre, an act of vandalism that was the bands frustration at being blanked by the city’s media honchos despite the release of their debut single So Young/Tell Me on their own Thin Line label in October1985. At last they gained column inches, but because of what they’d done they were boycotted from the pages of the local press for the next two years .
Frustrated at the lack of gigs coming their way because of the media black out the band set up the first series of warehouse parties ever in Manchester . Billed as The Stone Roses at The Flower Show, these illegal raves with The Stone Roses headliningwere publicised as all night video shoots to get around the licensing laws and gig goers had to find details of where the party was by looking in the Gardening section of The Manchester Evening News on the night. As each punter handed over their £3.50 on the door they were given a ticket informing them they were an extra in a video shoot and a fee of one penny was sellotaped to each ticket. Steve Adge was The Stone Roses tour manager for the whole twelve years the group were together and he explained what he felt was different about the Stone Roses.
“After the warehouse gigs of 1985, we hardly played a dozen gigs in the next two years and those we did play were put together by John , Ian and myself hustling. All the in-crowd in Manchester didn’t want to know us. Tony Wilson thought we were too rock and roll and old fashioned, and once he’d scorned you the rest of the local media did the same, it was that constant rejection for years that gave the band that fuck you attitude that the kids really related to. A lot of the younger kids felt a bit alienated by that whole cooler than thou Factory records thing and used to refer to a lot of it as ‘Student Music’. The Stone Roses had loud guitars and a lead singer young lads wanted to be, even Liam Gallagher of Oasis wished he was Ian, that’s why he joined a band . The fact it took them five years to break through nationally made themcooler in the eyes of the local kids than just about any group that’s ever come out of Manchester”
Ian Brown’s memory of that time, shows they had a naïve do-it-yourself philosophy.
“ I remember putting these posters up around town on billboards for the Warehouse gigs, and I got collared by this local gangster type, who was the poster king. He told me that he was the only person allowed to do that. He just said if he caught us again he’d do us in. After that we ended up using him to do our security.”
The Warehouse party scene started by The Stone Roses in 1985 attracted a gaggle of local enthusiasts including a young Steve Coogan and Gary Mountfield (Mani) who would join the band a couple of years later as their new bass player .
“I loved The Roses from the start. As far as I’m concerned we had the worst record company in the world, the worst manager in the world, and the most rip off deal ever and were ignored and scorned for years by the southern media yet we still managed to make it .As for the twentieth anniversary box set on top of the tenth anniversary box set, well thanks for the extra cash , but I think we’ve rung that cloth out enough times. Obviously the staying power of that record means that we’re all constantly asked if we’re getting back together, and rumours fly around . The recent one about us reforming has probably come from some hush puppied gremlin at therecord company thinking he’s Max Clifford. It’s the question we’ll all be asked until the day we die.
I first saw the Stone Roses play as part of a package of four bands from Manchester at Dingwalls in Camden Town back in 1985. The Stone Roses came on after a fewaverage bands and just blew me away. I rang up Tony Michaelides, then presenting the Manchester music show on Piccadilly Radio to ask when they were releasing something. I was sent a twelve inch copy of So Young/Tell Me, produced by the late Martin Hannet , yet it lacked the fire and passion of the live band I’d seen. The surprise to most Stone Roses fans is that it took them so long to get anywhere. No reviews in the national music press, no interviews outside of local fanzines, no champions in the media, not even a single play from John Peel who loved bands from Manchester. There were casualties along the way , a couple of drummers were ditched, original bass player Pete Garner left, as did one time main stay and rhythm guitarist Andy Cousins . They released Sally Cinnamon on heavy rock label FMRevolver in 1987 to a luke warm reception, yet still their young audience in Manchester grew.
Stone Roses fans were loyal, and were aware that in The Stone Roses they had aband that was purely Mancunian. It was like being a member of a secret club. InOctober 1988 when their debut single for Silvertone, Elephant Stone, produced by New Order’s Peter Hook was released it made it official , The Stone Roses were the biggest band Manchester had seen since The Smiths. Here at last was a record that nobody could ignore, it had a certain pomp and swagger about it , just like the assorted scallies who’d trek down to see the Stone Roses in residence every Friday night at The International II . The Stone Roses front man Ian Brown remembers that period well.
“We’d play to nearly two thousand people at The International II in Manchester every Friday, and then play to thirty five people in Liverpool the following night or sixty people in Leeds. It was totally mystifying. Our home crowd kept us going, made us believe in what we were doing”.
After five long years the The Stone Roses debut album burst onto the scene and exceeded every expectation .It was released the same week as the new Simple Minds album and Disintegration by The Cure, The Stone Roses album outsold both those albums put together by three to one in Manchester. Amazingly for an unknown band the album went straight into the album charts at number 32. On the day of it’s releaseI sat in the reception at Piccadilly radio to greet Kim Deal and Black Francis of the Pixies who were recording a session for my nightly radio show .The first words Francis said to me was “ Who are this group The Stone Roses”. The Pixies had been doing the rounds of record stores to see how their album ‘Doolittle’ was selling, and it seemed that every punter in every shop they went in was buying the Stone Roses album. My partner of twenty years Susan McDermott was the regional plugger for Factory Records, The Pixies and The Stone Roses. Our courting days were played out to a back drop of This Is The One, I Wanna Be Adored and I am The Resurrection.She had loved the album from the start, but found it very difficult to plug.
“I knew from the first listen it was a fantastic album, when you’ve got something as good as that to plug it made me pull out all the stops .Every radio station would complain that there was no press , that they had never heard of the band , and it didn’t help that none of the lads would do any interviews at all about the album with radio.Although it initially made my job harder, the fact they let the music speak for them was absolutely the right thing to do as it was so different to other groups who’d be falling over themselves to do interviews.
With my nightly radio show on Key103 and given the freedom to play whatever I wanted, I felt I was in the eye of a hurricane of a youth movement like no other in Britain. I went into work whistling like a nine year old kid in the endless six week summer break on his way to the park to play with his mates, only I’d be going in to play records that reflected the sheer excitement of a momentously organic music scene fuelled by an orgy of drug taking that hadn’t been seen since the hippies in 1968. The town centre seemed to be full of youngsters larking around in flared jeans and hooded tops. The whole City seemed to be smiling , and the band at the centre of it all were The Stone Roses, the rest like the Happy Mondays , The Inspiral Carpets, 808 State followed in their wake , pretenders to their throne.
The Stone Roses album was the first great debut album I’d heard since The Smiths debut in 1984. It sounded so fresh and passionate. I felt so happy that they’d come up with something that just couldn’t be ignored. Songs like I Wanna Be Adored immediately connected , She Bangs The Drums , Waterfall about the Americanisation of Britain , even Elizabeth My Dear , a swipe at The Queen , This Is The One , which is now the song Manchester United come out onto the pitch to at Old Trafford, and finally the epic I Am The Resurrection. I used to play three or four tracks a night on my radio show, my philosophy was, you can’t get enough Stone Roses .A friend of mine had his state of the art Radio/Cassette stereo system that he was still paying off stolen from his car outside his parents in Moss Side, the cassette of The Stone Roses album was in the stereo, and the thieves even took the empty case , leaving the rest of his music collection in the car. He was more narked by the loss of his Stone Roses cassette than by the fact they’d nicked a £450 stereo system.
“ It was a promo”, he whined.
For Ian Brown, despite the twentieth anniversary box set and lucrative offers on the table, the idea of The Stone Roses ever reforming doesn’t figure. He’s also bemused at the status of best album ever that’s been bestowed on that first Stone Roses albumbut very happy with the way his new solo album is coming on.
“We wanted it to be great and it was, but as to the best album ever. Well I always think there’s probably five Bob Marley albums and a few Marvin Gaye ones just off the top of my head that I’d give that title to. I’m still proud of it and I think it’s brilliant that it’s so special to the people who bought it and supported us. We knew something would happen though when we were recording it. Strangely enough I’m recording my new album in the same complex as that first Roses album, twenty years on. It’s like going back to primary school, thinking about everything that’s happened since. That album changed everything for us .My new album is called My Way, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve done. It should be finished in a couple of weeks, and out on August 17th. I know everyone wants to know if the Stone Roses will ever get together again. All I can say is highly unlikely, maybe if I’m begging on the streets one day.”
John Mahon was typical of many eighteen year olds back in 1989 in Manchester. An apprentice joiner by trade, he followed the Stone Roses around the UK and Europe on their huge tour, sleeping on railway stations and in local parks. He sums up what the Roses meant to youngsters in Manchester at that time.
“ Musically they were exciting , the antidote to all our frustrations, they’d been going at it for years and everyone outside Manchester ignored them. I used to get fed up with the music press never mentioning them and people not playing them on national radio. Some of the gigs were a nightmare, like The Alexander Palace in London where there were only two bar staff for six thousand people. But we had a laugh , it was an event that just happened to have the Stone Roses appearing. I still love the album, it reminds me of that freedom of being young and also being right about something I’d made my own mind up about liking since I was fifteen. They were the greatest rock and roll band ever to us and yet they weren’t distant, we’d always chatted to them over the years, there wasn’t that weird barrier you get between an audience and a band. There was nothing cooler back then, whether you were in Paris, London or at Spike Island than coming from Manchester. People were in awe of you, we were all stars because of The Stone Roses”.
And now after years of speculation , The Stone Roses are back , 3 dates at Heaton Park , the fastest selling concerts in the UK ever. All those years of tawdry management , lop-sided record deals , court cases , fallings out , pointless belligerence , all laid to rest. They said in the London media that Madchester was just a phase, but that explosion of Manchester bands back in 1989 is still booming now 23 years later and The Stone Roses have once again lit the fuse – let’s all enjoy the fireworks.