Roses reviews

The Independent On Sunday 01/07/12


The Stone Roses: War and Peace

By Simon Spence

Viking Penguin £20


Yet to fulfil their youthful promise

This weekend in Manchester, the reunited Stone Roses may finally fulfil their youthful promise. Their 1989 debut album still dominates “best ever” lists, its melodies as sweet as the Beatles’ (and sometimes lifted wholesale – the climactic coda of “I Am the Resurrection” owes much to “The End”), its rhythms as loose as the Rolling Stones’. It sounded great by night or day. For many, especially critics, it accompanied their first taste of disco biscuits and other naughtiness. No wonder more than 200,000 tickets were sold in minutes for these shows.

It’s a pity, then, that Spence’s exhaustive, well-researched biography is so solemn, every anecdote a marker on the road to greatness, rather than a celebration of a uniquely idiosyncratic, often absurd band. Their atrocious swansong at 1996’s Reading Festival saw Brown swan onstage in the same togs he’d been wearing for three days in the bar. Even their own rave in a Widnes park was almost washed out by the rising Mersey.

Thankfully their notorious manager, Gareth Evans, defies solemnity. A local club owner whose premises included much needed rehearsal space, he signed the band to a hard rock label by mistake and took a sobering third of their earnings. The contract the band were offered by the major label Zomba was so onerous that it was later declared null and void. His lawyer wasn’t even an entertainment specialist, nor honest in fact.

Naivety is hardly a crime. Pocketing a one-off five-figure payment from the record company probably is. Evans later starred in a documentary on his charges’ rise and fall, gazing proudly at his golf course and declaring “I am the Stone Roses!” But without Evans’s manic guidance, the Roses wilted. They played no shows between 1990 and 1995, their peak. Their second album took five years to complete, each member allegedly under the thrall of a different narcotic. The results were unashamedly classic rock. It was good, but it wasn’t magic.

Instead, Spence is fascinated by the provincial lads who were ignored by the city’s Factory clique or dismissed as “goths”, lads into skinhead bands and scooters, with unlikely musical influences (brilliant guitarist John Squire wasn’t inspired by Hendrix or Page, but by Bob “Derwood” Andrews of glam-punks Generation X). And the story isn’t over yet.