Wars of the Roses
They’ve come a long way from Madchester – DEAN VAN NGUYENcharts The Stone Roses’ rocky journey to the Phoenix Park
NOTHING FIREBOMBS a great rock’n’roll band like achievement. In the pop music industry there’s something poisonous about success. Between the strain of celebrity, pressure of expectations and damaging effect of drug experimentation, friendships evaporate and egos almost always triumph. In the best cases, alliances hold firm for long enough for their potential to be fully mined, transformed for example into the 200-odd compositions that bear the names “Lennon-McCartney”. Then there are those who crumble almost instantly, like The Stone Roses, who on the back of their debut album proclaimed themselves to be the most important band in the world, before pushing the big, red self-destruct button.
For the Roses, the road to the Phoenix Park – venue for the Irish gig of the band’s reunion tour – has been lengthy, arduous and dramatic. They’ve had to overcome 16 years of bitter squabbles, media pot-shots and lengthy bouts with no communication. And that’s just post-break-up; tame when compared to the fierce arguments the band got into when still together.
They never quite made it to the heights of “world’s most important band”, but their 1989 self-titled debut was a stunning album. Drawing from 1960s guitar pop and mixing it with baggy, 1980s Manchester drumbeats, it made them one of city’s most beloved bands forever more. Long-time friends John Squire, the reserved guitar maestro, and Ian Brown, the charismatic if sometimes unhinged frontman, proved a formidable songwriting team. Energetic drummer Reni and well-travelled bass player Mani completed the band’s classic line-up, and songs such as I Wanna Be Adored, Waterfalls and I Am The Resurrection defined a city and, later, a nation, as the Roses’ provided the most significant launch pad for the Britpop movement that would come half a decade later.
But even at their best, the band seemed dead set on self-destruction. Poor management lead to them signing one of the worst record deals of all time with the Jive/Zomba subsidiary label Silvertone (one that stipulated that the band didn’t get paid on the first 30,000 records sold). The subsequent legal wranglings contributed to five barren years as the Roses plotted their second album. Further legal troubles came when one of the band’s previous labels, FM Revolver, re-released the single Sally Cinnamon, with a new unauthorised video. Angered, the Squire-led foursome visited the label’s offices, vandalising the premises and attacking boss Paul Birch with tins of paint.
But internal tensions between Roses members proved the most destructive. Recording sessions for their new album, titled Second Coming, were arduous. Squire, now heavily on cocaine, fiddled with his guitar endlessly, alienating the rest of the band as he recorded section after section of complex guitar lines. Brown disliked the new hard-rock sound his partner was pioneering, and spent most recording sessions in a marijuana-fuelled haze. It became all too much for Reni, who left the band after a heated argument with Brown.
The record did eventually come out, to mixed reviews, and John Squire left the band on April 1st, 1996, releasing a statement describing his departure as “the inevitable conclusion to the gradual social and musical separation we have undergone in the past few years”. Brown, Mani and stock recruitments limped on for another six months, but after disastrous performances at the Benicassim and the Reading Festivals, the band that had promised so much was finished.
The Roses’ post-break-up output was, at best, mixed. Squire put out a single, unremarkable album with new band The Seahorses in 1997 before pursing an art career. Mani had a credible career as bass player in the Bobby Gillespie-led psych-rock band Primal Scream, while Brown tested his audience mightily with a solo career that included a small radio hit entirely made up of lyrics that formed the acronym FEAR and an anti-Iraq-war duet with Sinéad O’Connor. Most tragically, Reni, so often heralded as the finest drummer of his era, disappeared completely.
The feud between childhood friends Brown and Squire has long been seen as a potential stumbling block to any reunion. In 2009, Squire attempted to end the dispute by writing a song for Brown, but, still sore that his former friend had quit the Roses, the singer refused to record it. In an interview with Word magazine, Brown said: “He actually sent me a tune 18 months ago – pretty good, sounded nice, I liked it – but my sons turned round and said, ‘dad you can’t work on that – he sold you out didn’t he? He left you for dead’.”
The fact that their small discography has withstood everything that has come since is a testament to what the Roses mean to their fans. Reunion rumours followed each member everywhere and in March 2011, at Mani’s mother’s funeral, Squire and Brown finally met for the first time in 15 years. It was a meeting that warmed their icy relationship and formed the basis for the long-awaited reunion tour. Still, it wouldn’t be the Roses without the occasional bust up, and YouTube clips of squabbles at their recent gig in Amsterdam reveal that the foursome haven’t quite mellowed as they’ve become middle-aged.
The Stone Roses play the Phoenix Park on July 5th
The Roses Rap Sheet
TOGETHER and apart, The Stone Roses have had their fair share of legal troubles.
** The Roses’ contract with record label Silvertone is wildly regarded as one of the worst ever signed by a major band and, after the success of their first album, the group entered a legal battle to terminate the deal. Silvertone owners Zomba Records took out an injunction against the band to prevent them from recording with any other label, but in May 1991 the court sided with the group, who were immediately released from their contract.
** All four Roses were charged with criminal damage amounting to £10,000 when they vandalised the offices of former record company FM Revolver and attacked its boss, Paul Birch, with tins of blue and white paint. Neither Birch’s girlfriend nor his Mercedes escaped the onslaught.
** Brown did hard time in 1998 when, on a flight from Paris to the UK, he threatened to chop an airline stewardess’s hands off. Manchester magistrates didn’t buy Brown’s claims that he was “just joking”, and he served two months in Strangeways Prison before being paroled.
** In 2011, Brown was caught doing 93mph through roadworks on a motorway where the limit was 40mph. It was the third time he had been caught breaking the speed limit in four years and he received a lengthy driving ban.