There are some things that have become well established annual events in the music industry. There is the January hype season, the festival season (which brings the inevitable disappointment and moaning about Glastonbury) and then the end-of-year critical assessment. However the most persistent yearly event has to be the reunion rumours, which fill the music press in the quiet months before the festival hype.
Many of these rumours have turned out to be true, the past few years has seen a number of bands, such as Blur and The Verve, reform for lucrative reunion tours. However there are still a few bands who refuse to play along with the booming noughties nostalgia market and reform. Chief among them are The Stone Roses who have become a perennial fixture in reunion rumours. Just a couple of months ago one source even claimed that the band were about to embark on a twenty-one date tour of the UK starting in May (how anyone would be able to keep a major twenty-one date tour secret for so long was not explained) only to be debunked by the bands former guitarist John Squire the next day. This of course will only stop the rumours for about a year when the whole routine will be repeated as it has ever since the band split in 1996.
The reason that reunion rumours are so persistent is that the band is still able to generate a huge amount of interest and genuine affection from fans and critics alike. Only The Smiths are able to generate a similar level of interest and even then there is nothing like the rabid fervour that greets every rumour of a Roses reunion. The question has to be asked as to what still draws people to a band who only ever released two albums a hand full of singles and are as notorious for their mistakes and misdemeanours as they are their music.
The story begins in Manchester, the world’s first industrial city, a place that could reasonably lay claim to everything from the factory system to the computer as well as communism and the bouncing bomb. Musically speaking Manchester was the epicentre of a trailblazing indie scene that gave the world Joy Division/New Order, The Smiths and the wilful outsider ethic of Tony Wilson and Factory Records. By the mid eighties the effect of such a fertile scene meant that the city was rammed with young bands. Least among these were The Stone Roses, a punk band centred around school friends Ian Brown and John Squire. The band had been scorned, like The Smiths before them, by Wilson and Factory Records and widely disliked for their attempt to garner attention by the means of spray painting their name all across Manchester city centre. Soon after The Roses were picked up by legendary producer Martin Hannett in 1985, the band set about trying to make their first album However this attempt failed miserably, far from his glory days producing Joy Division, Hannett had developed a serious drugs problem meaning that his behaviour was erratic and the music produced in these sessions was often little better than a wall of sound. Salvaged from the sessions was the bands first single ‘So Young’, an atrocious cacophony with Ian Brown doing his best Johnny Rotten impression.
Despite this false start the band began to pick up a loyal fan base, eventually attracting the attention of local businessman and former hair dresser, Gareth Evans. Under Evans’ guidance the band signed to small time heavy metal label Revolver FM, releasing their first stand out single, ‘Sally Cinnamon’. The single was light years ahead of the band’s previous efforts, it had a dainty, almost Beatlesesque jangle and, for the first time, Ian Brown was singing with his own accent. Noel Gallagher would later say that after hearing ‘Sally Cinnamon’ he felt like the whole world had ‘suddenly gone into colour’. Capitalising on this success the band signed with Silvertone, although it was a move that would eventually bring them to ruin, it meant that the band would get a second attempt at recording an album.
Emerging in 1989 The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut quickly became established as a classic. Twenty years on this remains the lynch pin of the Roses’ continuing mystique. The album is a mesmerising collection of songs, encompassing everything from the gigantic sounding ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, the pop master-class of ‘She Bangs The Drum’ and the unadulterated hubris of ‘I Am The Resurrection’. Produced by John Leckie, who would later go on to produce Radiohead and The Verve, The Stone Roses was largely made at night with the band making use of cheap studio lock-ins. As a result the album has a laid back feel that served to amplify and polish the melodic qualities already present in ‘Sally Cinnamon’ and the follow up single ‘Elephant Stone’. Most of all though the appeal of the album is in the interplay between the four members, rarely has a band been made of four equally talented musicians. Just listen to the extended coda of ‘I Am The Resurrection’, or the stand alone single ‘Fools Gold’ where the band play effortlessly off of each other for extended jams.
It was this chemistry that marked The Stone Roses out from most other bands; they weren’t just four musicians, they were a gang having the time of their lives making amazing music. Their bassist Mani would later admit that being in the band was like being a ‘Brooke Bond chimp on LSD’. Most importantly they were a people’s band who were able to connect with the audience like no band had since The Clash. Most famously they organised their own mini festival on Spike Island in 1990, despite being dogged by sound problems (and the fact that Spike Island can actually be accurately described as a toxic wasteland) the gig has gone down in history as the Baggy Woodstock, where 27,000 people turned up to watch The Stone Roses.
Soon after things began to unravel with dramatic speed, blame for which can be placed squarely upon the shoulders of their manager Gareth Evans. Under his guidance the band had signed with Silvertone, with a contract that would later be described by a court as criminal.
This contract was so tight that the band made next to no money despite their success. After taking Silvertone to court the band discovered that substantial amounts of money from the record label had been embezzled by Evans without the band being any wiser (It’s believed that most of the money the band should have earned went into a golf course built by Evans). What followed was a series of complicated legal wrangles which saw the band inactive for the best part of three years. By the time they reconvened the magic was seemingly lost. The resulting album, Second Coming, has gone down in history as one of the worst albums ever made. Only a handful of songs on the album came anyway near to the brilliance of the first, whilst the majority of the album was comprised of overlong, Led Zep-sized arena rock, the product of Squire’s frequent dalliances with cocaine. The band, who were once so close, had drifted apart. Shortly after the album finally saw the light of day in 1994, Reni, the best drummer of his generation, left the band under a black cloud. Shortly after John Squire also left, leaving only Ian Brown and Mani to bring the band to a shuddering halt after an infamous headline spot at Reading, where a generation shuddered as Ian Brown sang out of tune and out of key.
This final sour note has done little to diminish the reputation of the Stone Roses. If anything it has only made people more eager to see them reunite and correct the final mistakes. The allure of The Stone Roses is that there is a sense of unfinished business. This is why pundits and journalists will continue to predict the bands return. Absence has absolved the band of its sins and misdemeanours, and allowed them to rightly be remembered as the group that released that epoch defining first album. In an age of uncertainty, the cocksure gang mentality of that album resonates now more than ever, and makes it easy to see why a reunion is what the world is waiting for.