The Stone Roses - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
After spending years honing their sound – informed in various measures by house, post-punk, blues rock, dub, hip hop, folk-rock and psychedelia – The Stone Roses exploded seemingly overnight by simultaneously appealing to rock and dance fans alike. By 1990, they were one of the biggest bands in Europe and enjoyed a healthy following around the world. Their debut album spawned several, classic singles which almost singlehandedly brought big guitar hooks and rock star personality back into pop music. Then, a prolonged lawsuit with their label, drug problems and a lack of cohesion derailed the band permanently. To this day, their debut frequently tops “best album of all time” lists and, with an output of only two studio albums, they nonetheless remain one of the most beloved bands in the world.
Ian Brown and John Squire lived a few doors down from one another as toddlers on Sylvan Avenue, in Manchester. It wasn’t, however, until they attended Altrincham Grammar School for Boys that they began to hang out. As young teenagers, they shared a love of music – Squire was into The Beach Boys, The Beatles and The Clash. Brown favored The Adverts, The Angelic Upstarts and the Sex Pistols. They decided to form a band in the fall of 1979. This early band was known as The Patrol. With Ian Brown (bass), Andy Couzens (vocals/guitar), John Squire (guitar) and Simon Wolstencroft (drums), they made a stab at Clash-influenced punk. At the Pluto recording studios they recorded “Jail of the Assassin,” “Too Many Tonnes” and “25 Rifles” and pressed 100 copies. One day, Ian and Pete Garner (The Patrol’s roadie) were invited by the Clash to attend their recording of “Bankrobber” in the same studio.
The Patrol, fleshing out their live performances with covers of “Johnny B. Goode” and “Stepping Stone,” performed a series of gigs in youth clubs and other music venues, joined by Corrosive Youth. Their final gig took place at the bandmates’ school, South Trafford College, in 1981. After graduation, the members went their separate ways. Si (already two-timing in Colourfield) went on to join Freak Party (with pre-Smiths Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke), then The Smiths, and ultimately, The Fall. John and Ian moved to Hulme where they met Steve Cressa, a local scooterboy. Brown sold his bass and bought a ’66 Lambretta J 125 and became a scooterboy himself, riding with the Chorlton Gladiators scooter gang and attending Northern Soul all-nighters. Squire, meanwhile, became a casual whose day job was as at Cosgrove Hall Television Company where he worked on Wind in the Willows and Danger Mouse. At night, he spent most of his free time practicing his guitar by himself.
In 1983, while Brown was preoccupied with travel, Squire formed the Orange Juice-inspired The Waterfront (sometimes known as “The Fireside Chaps” - after a thankfully short stint as “The Angry Young Teddy Bears”). They were fronted by a fellow Perry boy, Dave “Kaiser” Cartey and featured Couzens on guitar, Chris Goodwin on drums and Pete Garner and Gary “Mani” Mounfield trading bass duties. They recorded a demo which included the songs “When the Wind Blows” and “Normandy (On a Beach).” As with their recordings in The Patrol, The Waterfront did nothing with their new songs. At the 21st birthday of Ian Brown’s then-girlfriend, Northern Soul legend Geno Washington encouraged Ian to pursue a new direction, as a singer.
In 1984, Brown saw an ad for an anti-heroin benefit stating that the organizers were looking for bands. Brown and Squire again reassembled with Pete Garner and Andy Couzens. After placing an ad for a drummer, they recruited Alan “Reni” Wren. John came up with a new band name - The Stone Roses. At the time, the band’s influences were The New York Dolls, the first Pink Floyd album, The Nazz, Love, The Sex Pistols, MC5 and Jimi Hendrix. The result was a cavernous, shambolic, speed-fuelled take on post- punk… sort of a like a more clamorous version of The Chameleons. Squire barreled through dirty guitar parts while Brown shouted his heavily-accented, snotty vocals. The Roses played their debut in 1984, at The Moonlight Club in Hampstead alongside Skank and High Noon. Pete Townsend (who organized the event) was impressed mainly with Reni’s amazing drumming. As a result, he asked him to fill in for his performances of “Pictures of Lily” and “Sunbstitute” which ended the show.
The band were slow to capitalize on this exposure. It wasn’t until the middle of 1985 that they really started getting serious. Brown, after quitting his job as a dishwasher, went hitchhiking around Europe. In Berlin, he met a man whose friend was a promoter. Brown convinced him that the Roses were big. As a result, they were booked to play a handful of gigs in Sweden which they did - sometimes to crowds of as little as four. Back in England, they began playing non-traditional venues. The first performances, billed as “the Flower Show Part 1/Part2/Part3” took place in a disused railway arch on Fairfield Street with DJs as support. This was followed by warehouse gigs where crowds, not yet ready to call it a night, would assemble after a partying at The Haçienda. In 1985, Brown and Reni undertook a massive graffiti campaign, earning them a front page appearance on the Manchester Evening News and the attention of Thin Line records.
By this time, the band had earned both a large following and the dislike of Factory’s Tony Wilson. In 1985, Howard Jones (the former general manager for Wilson’s Haçienda) became their manager. He formed Thin Line with Martin Hannett (then also at odds with Wilson) to record their debut single. The result was the storming first single, “So Young” (originally-titled “Misery Dictionary” but changed to avoid comparisons with The Smiths) (1985 Thin Line Records). It was backed with B-side “Tell Me.” As with all Stone Roses releases to come, it featured Squire’s artwork; here a piece fashioned from the fragments of a smashed transistor radio. The single, popular in Manchester, was ignored elsewhere. The band next recorded with Hannett (then in a heroin-fueled decline) at Stockport’s Strawberry Studios. The results were later released as Garage Flowers (1996 Silvertone). The album includes muddily-produced post-punk and, notably, embryonic versions of songs that would ultimately be reshaped into massive hits. Thin Line quickly went bankrupt shortly afterward.
In 1986, the band parted ways with Jones. They eventually hooked up with Gareth Evans. He ran The International I and II (two Mancunian clubs that rivaled The Haçienda) which became the band’s base. There, they began working on new material which they wanted to be worlds apart from “So Young.” Couzens felt squeezed out of the songwriting process and, after hostile altercation with Evans, left the band in July. After a stint in Flag Of Convenience, Couzens formed The High, who sounded fairly similar to The Roses and even shared Cressa.
Evans used his underworld connections to plaster the city with Stone Roses promotional material and soon their audiences were swelling. Their sound began to move toward hook-laden, Primal Scream-influenced psychedelia. After getting a deal with FM/Revolver, the fruits of their new direction were revealed in their second single, 1987’s delicate “Sally Cinamon.” In place of Brown’s former aggressive delivery was a breathy, relaxed, lazy delivery that reflected his vocal lessons and inpsired countless singers in the so-called baggy scene that sprang up in their wake.
In August 1987, the dyed-black, long-haired bassist Pete Garner left, supposedly because (in a mirror of the famous Sex Pistols story) he didn’t like the Beatles. His replacement, Gary “Mani” Mounfield, (who had played with The Waterfront) was recruited from The Mill (aka The Hungry Socks) - whose Clint Boon and Chris Goodwin went on the form the Inspiral Carpets. With Mani on bass, the Roses solidified as a four piece. Steve Cressa, the unofficial fifth member, stayed on to dance and help handle John Squire’s guitar pedals. This line-up debuted in late 1987 with the newly-formed Inspirals as support.
The band signed with Rough Trade to record their next single. Ian and John suggested Sly & Robbie as producers, Geoff Travis recommended John Leckie. They focused on recording and did so in several studios in London and Wales. Their single, not yet released, was bought from Rough Trade by the Zomba-distributed Silvertone label after their A & R man attended a Roses gig at the International. In October they inked an 8 album/five year contract with Silvertone. The band issued the “Elephant Stone” single in October 1988. It was the first song to feature Mani’s bass-playing and was produced by New Order’s Peter Hook. Unlike their previous releases, it featured jangly, 60s-ish melody over a driving, house-influenced rhythm section. The cover featured one of John Squire’s Jackson Pollock-inspired paintings and the B-Side, “Full Fathom Five” referred to a Pollock work. It was unfavorably reviewed in NME and Record Mirror. After a brief appearance near the bottom of the indie charts, it disappeared.
Like The Chameleons and James before them, the Stone Roses looked as if they might remain massively famous locally, and practically unheard everywhere else. In Manchester, they played to audiences which exceeded 1,000 whereas in Cardiff, they played to twelve people – in Hull, ten. Then things started to look up.
After playing the Haçienda, they finally earned praise in NME. The next single was Ian’s ode to hitching; the cocky, menacing (and frankly highly-reminscent of Primal Scream’s “Velocity Girl”), “Made of Stone” the following February. It earned NME’s “Single of the Week.” They next appeared on Tony Wilson’s “The Other Side of Midnight” performing “Waterfall.” In his introduction, the ever-prolix Wilson spoke of seriously disliking them for “five or six” years before hearing their new single and, upon realizing it was them, having a complete reversal of opinion.
The band’s self-titled, debut, full-length, The Stone Roses (1989 Silvertone), was released in May to a wait-and-see response from the critics. It went on to spawn the hit singles, “She Bangs the Drums,” “I Wanna Be Adored,” and “I Am the Resurrection” and ultimately ended up at #1 on many critics’ “best albums of the year” lists. However, it was a song that was originally a B-side that would take The Stone Roses to worldwide acclaim. Utilizing an infectious funk beat (inspired by Bobby Byrd’s “Hot Pants), a wash of wah-wah guitars, a bassline pinched from British-born rapper Young MC’s “Know How” and clocking in at 9 minutes and 53 seconds, the non-album “Fools Gold” was a huge club hit throughout much of the world when it was released in November. The song was a phenomenon that not only established the Roses as the biggest band in England but also launched a slew of imitations. After playing to 10,000 at Alexandra Palace, they played on the BBC. After blowing the fuses, Ian cockily shouted in a thick Mancunian brogue, “Eh, que pasa? You’re wasting our time lads. BBC are a bunch of amateurs. Amateurs! Amateurs!” as the apologetic presenter tried to smooth things over.
Eager to capitalize on the Roses’ newfound success, their former label, FM Revolver, re-released the single “Sally Cinnamon” with a new video in early 1990 – without first consulting or involving the band. Outraged, the band members ransacked the FM Revolver office and splashed blue and white paint on the walls, the label head and his girlfriend before vandalizing his car. The band were arrested and ordered to pay a fine of £3,600 each.
In May of 1990, the Roses played a concert on Spike Island (with DJs Frankie Knuckles, Gary Clail, Dave Haslam and Dave Booth) that drew around 30,000 people. Despite sound problems and poor organization, the event was widely seen as a huge success that inspired future Britpop kings Oasis and Blur. The Roses issued their next single, “One Love,” in July. It also shot up the British charts and became another giant hit.
Unfortunately, it would be the last piece of new music the band would issue for the next five years. In late 1990, the Roses attempted to leave the Silvertone label, instigating a bitter lawsuit and a court injunction that prevented them from releasing any music until the court case was closed. The battle between the band and Silvertone would rage on for the next two years. In the end the two sides reached a settlement that allowed the band out of their contract.
In 1992, Silvertone released Turns into Stone, a compilation of exceptional B-sides and non-album singles that holds together remarkably well as an album. Most of the songs mined a gentler, 60s-ish vein than the debut’s tracks before building toward a finale with the epic “Fool’s Gold,” “One Love” and “Something’s Burning.”
They signed to Geffen Records in 1991 and began working on a follow-up full-length in rural Wales in 1992. Years on and they had nothing to show for it. Rumors began to circulate that Squire had developed a cocaine addiction which was impeding the recording sessions. The band grew more and more unfocussed, scrapping session after session as they tried to capture the perfect album. This debilitating perfectionism would prove to be their undoing. In 1994, Geffen demanded an album and The Stone Roses put the final touches on their sophomore effort, five and a half years in the making.
In their time out of the spotlight, the scene-obsessed British rock world had changed considerably. The baggy scene they spawned had disappeared years earlier. The New Wave of New Wave, Shoegazer, Camden Lurch and glam revival had all come and gone during their absence. In 1994, the Britpop scene was ruling the airwaves and the fickle press and public were focused on Blur, Oasis, Pulp and a new crop of bands. Oasis in particular seemed to have stolen the Stone Roses’ thunder, posture, clothes and haircuts if not their progressive spirit. However superficial and calculated the similarity, Oasis were superstars and The Stone Roses were looked at as relics from the beyond the mists of time.
Second Coming (1994 Geffen) arrived in December and, although the album spawned the hit single, “Love Spreads,” the band’s popularity had been eclipsed by their offspring. In part due to the sheer weight of expectation, the album was viewed in almost all quarters as a crushing disappointment. It simply wasn’t want anyone wanted or expected. Without the burden of hype, it actually stands up as a decent album. Pastoral tinges (reflecting the rural surroundings it was recorded in) mix with coke-fuelled hard rock elements that are highly reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. The multi-tracked guitar noodling that defines the record reflected John Squire’s dominance. In fact, Squire is the sole writing credit on all but two songs whereas before he’d split the album content with Brown. Understandably, the rest of the band felt marginalized.
The Stone Roses planned an international tour to support the album but before they could get off the ground, Reni quit the group. The band drafted former Rebel MC drummer Robbie Maddix as a replacement and embarked on a small North American tour. At its conclusion, Squire suffered a mountain biking accident that broke his collar bone and the band was forced to relinquish their headlining slot at that year’s Glastonbury Festival to Pulp. Undaunted, the group set dates for a late 1995 UK tour. Squire abruptly quit the band just before it was to commence. Brown and Mani attempted to carry on for another six months before officially dissolving the group. Subsequently, Brown embarked on a successful solo career, Mani joined Primal Scream, and Squire formed the short-lived The Seahorses before recording two solo albums. In 2005, rumors began to circulate over a Stone Roses reunion but nothing ever came of it. In 2007, Squire formally announced his retirement from music, seemingly putting the rumors to rest although rabid fans still circulate petitions on social-networking sites desperately hoping to encourage them to reform.