TWENTY years ago they were the lairy, shambling bad boys of the “Madchester” scene. Now, grizzled, battered and middle-aged, the band that provided the soundtrack to the second summer of love is reforming for a reunion tour.
The news that the Stone Roses (or “Stoned Roses” as they were dubbed by the tabloids) are back came as a surprise to fans. In the 15 years since their acrimonious split, the four members of the epoch-making band have repeatedly insisted that they would never reform. And none louder than Ian Brown, the swaggering frontman. Now 48, at last week’s press conference Brown said: “There’s no way we’re coming back to show ourselves up.”
It remains to be seen whether time has improved the singer’s vocal technique, which in his heyday was slated by the press as “off-key” and “excruciating”. The NME described the pretentiously titled I Am The Resurrection as “more like the eternal crucifixion”.
The opposite of a pretty-boy band, the Roses were more Planet Of The Apes than the Monkees, and Brown was “King Monkey”. Arrestingly strange, Brown’s lank hair, thousand-yard stare and concave cheeks made him the outsider hero for a generation. Twenty years on, he’s barely changed. His hair is greyer and his Adidas tracksuit top hangs from his near-50-year-old body, but in interviews Brown has proved he’s still got attitude by the bucketload, proclaiming: “Our plan is to take on the world.”
With a fashion style that combined football casual chic and baggy shambles, the Stone Roses were at the centre of the influential Madchester scene. The band formed in 1983 and spent the next six years on the dole, writing, recording and rehearsing, before scoring a breakthrough hit with their 1989 self-titled debut album. That same year, they topped NME’s readers’ poll in four categories: best new band, band of the year, album of the year and single of the year for Fools Gold.
There was a five-year wait for their disappointing second album, Second Coming, as they rowed with their record label. Then bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield walked out, followed by guitarist John Squire, leading to the band’s break-up in 1996 and a bitter and very public feud between Squire and Brown. The childhood friends, who used to go on double dates as teenagers, exchanged insults in the press.
The son of a joiner and a receptionist in a paper mill, Brown was born in Warrington on 20 February, 1963. Growing up he was obsessed with Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali and Manchester United. He attended Altrincham Grammar and was a bright pupil, but left with only two O-levels. He credits punk rock with giving him his education: “I went to see [The Clash] the night before geography and maths O-level. Amazing!”
It was at school that he met Squire, after he broke up a fight between Squire and another boy. Brown went round to see Squire that night and took the first Clash album. Squire “went and bought it the next day, and played it every day for about 18 months, before and after school. That got him obsessed with guitar.” With the addition of Mani and drummer Alan “Reni” Wren, the Stone Roses were born.
Brown, 26 years old when they scored their first hit, proved to be the band’s biggest asset. Warned by his mother that his mouth would get him into trouble, he was gobby and difficult, never more so than with journalists. On-air interviews degenerated into strops and walkouts.
Prone to spiritual and philosophical musings, the singer once said about his time in the Stone Roses: “It was as if it was a day trip and then we came home and the tangerine sun suddenly went blood red, splashed upon the horizon.”
After the band fell apart, most people wrote Brown off. But he defied expectations with a credible rebirth as a solo artist, releasing six albums, selling out tours and collaborating with everyone from Unkle to Sinead O’Connor and Noel Gallagher. He was invited to write songs for artists including Rihanna and Kanye West.
If musical differences caused the Stone Roses to split, marital differences may be responsible for bringing them together again. Brown recently broke up with his Mexican model wife Fabiola Quiroz, mother of his youngest son Emilio, leaving him with hefty alimony payments. Reflecting on Brown’s sudden change of heart, former Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder commented: “It’s amazing what a divorce will make you do.” Rumours that the marriage was in trouble started two years ago after police were called to Brown’s London home following a domestic dispute. In interviews before his marriage hit the rocks, Brown credited his wife with calming him down.
Brown always appeared to revel in his wild-man image. YouTube is awash with clips of him fighting with everyone from a security guard to his own fans. At the height of his fame he was regularly beaten up in cities across the globe. He claims the attacks were unprovoked, the result of jealousy.
In 1998, he was sentenced to four months in Strangeways Prison after threatening to cut an air hostess’s hands off on a British Airways flight from Paris to Manchester. In prison he did 500 sit-ups and 400 press-ups a day.
These days, Brown insists his public image is wide of the mark: “One person might perceive me as godlike and the next might think I’m a northern thug. I don’t think I’ve done myself any favours ... but I swear I’ve not had a proper fight since I was 14.” The father of three boys, including two grown-up sons from a previous relationship, Brown hasn’t touched alcohol for years, rails against class-A drugs and insists he’s a family man. He walks everywhere and reads voraciously. After the Stone Roses split, he said he was going to be a gardener selling flowers to the market, just as his grandfather had done.
With next year’s gigs, the Manchester band have much to prove. During their time together, they were blighted by a reputation for big concerts turning into near disasters, culminating in their final and most shambolic performance at Reading Festival in 1996.
Asked last week how long the reunion would last, Brown said: “We will ride it as long as we can.” He may yet have time to take up his trowel.