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Tuesday 30 January 2024

An Alternate History Of The Stone Roses

Last weekend I heard the second song by the pairing up of John Squire and Liam Gallagher, a song called Mars To Liverpool. I heard the first, Just Another Rainbow, a couple of weeks previously. They both sound like I thought they would. 

While out riding my bike on Sunday morning, having just heard Mars To Liverpool before leaving the house, I started thinking about The Second Coming, the second Stone Roses album, the much delayed and highly anticipated follow up to the band's debut five years earlier. I've changed my position on The Second Coming several times and currently think of it as a handful of good songs surrounded by a lot of sub par filler. Tensions that developed during the recording of it broke the band apart, Reni leaving in 1995 and Squire in '96. They stopped talking, rarely in the same room at the same time, four men on four different drugs with no one to tell them how to fix it. I wrote a post here many years ago where I opined that, rather than going too far with The Second Coming, actually they didn't go far enough- they should have created a full on psychedelic rock experience, handed all the tapes over to Future Sound Of London or The Orb and told them to pull it into one seamless piece of music, forty minutes long, the promise of the first few minutes of Breaking Into Heaven (burbling ambient field recordings, fragments of guitar squiggles and studio experiments with Reni's percussion coming in before it breaks into the guitar heroics of the song) turned into the full album, the best bits of the album mixed together in a sonic Stone Roses stew. I still think that could work. But while riding my bike through the lanes of Cheshire I began imaging an alternative history of The Stone Roses, one where they didn't blow it but actually followed through from the high watermark of 1989/90...

... a few weeks after the Spike Island and Glasgow Green gigs in the summer of 1990 Ian, John, Mani and Reni meet and sack manager Gareth Evans. They confront record label Silvertone about the highly restrictive contract they signed a few years earlier. Silvertone boss Andrew Lauder meets his lawyers who advise him the contract is a restriction of trade and very harsh, that a judge will find for the band and he'd be better to cut his losses now. The band settle quickly and start looking for a new label. US giant Geffen have promised millions but wiser heads around the band prevail. 'Forget the money lads', you' ll make money anyway, go for the songs, make the records', friends tell them and for once this most strong-headed and willful of groups agrees. Creation are interested but the band meet Jeff Barrett from Heavenly and like his talk, the promise of complete control and the young Heavenly label's outlook. A few months later The Roses are in the studio and in early 1991 release a 12" single, Ten Storey Love Song, the chiming guitars harking back to the debut but with a more muscular bass and drums backing. The 12" rides high in the chart and a short UK tour in spring '91 sees the group rapturously received by their fans. 

By now the weight of recording a second album weighs heavily on them but the recent run of singles- Fool's Gold/ What The World Is Waiting For, One Love and Ten Storey Love Song- shows them a different way to work. 'We're gonna release some singles and EPs', Ian tells the NME, 'one after the other'. Autumn 1991 sees them record another EP, John's predilection for heavy Led Zeppelin style guitars and riffs all over the tapes and songs. Heavenly link them up with Andrew Weatherall and in 1992 an EP of Weatherall produced songs, the Led Zep riffing underplayed now, plus a remix hits the shelves, the chiming 60s psychedelia of the first album now expanded by Andrew's singular remix vision of the early 90s. 

Following the success of the EP the band are tight, spending time with each other and enjoying each other's company. Creative juices flow, Ian and John writing together daily. They meet Brendan Lynch, then recording with the about to be reborn Paul Weller and he produces several songs, three of which come out as a 12" in '93. They have side stepped the nascent Britpop stirrings of Blur, Oasis and Suede and now look to expand in other directions, the less tribal, more genre hopping world of the mid 90s pulling them in other musical directions. Ian eases up on the weed, John eases up on stronger stuff, clarity prevails. Hit and run recording sessions, working quickly with different producers is working. They stop overthinking and start enjoying it. A session with Goldie takes Reni's drums to completely new spaces. Heavenly's connections with The Chemical Brothers opens doors and minds and the band spend several weeks in the studio, Ed and Tom flitting between their own sessions and those with The Roses. A stockpile of songs is built up, a four track Chemical Roses EP seeing the light of day in summer 1995, a few weeks before The Chemical Brothers' Exit Planet Dust comes out. Blur and Oasis argue about the number one slot with two average songs, but The Roses are streets ahead, making mid 90s dance/ guitar crossover psychedelia, pushing boundaries as they once did with Fool's Gold. They still miss out on headlining Glastonbury, John breaking his collarbone, cutting short an otherwise successful tour of the US. An invitation to headline Reading the following year is turned down- the group have reverted to their stance of only playing shows on their own terms. 'We don't want to be part of somebody's else's gig', John says, the truculent interview technique of 1989 resurfacing. Instead they do a tour of seaside towns, fifteen dates in the summer of '96, starting in Bridlington, then heading down the east coast and round the south coast, several dates in Wales, and then Blackpool, Southport and Morecambe, ending in Barrow. 

In autumn 1996 they spend a few weeks in the studio with Portishead's Geoff Barrow and while not much is achieved two new songs are finished, one a dusty, cinematic trip hop groove, Reni and Mani looped by Barrow. The process of write, record and release 12"s and EPs works, the pressure of recording an album lifted and the band free to follow their noses. In 1997 Steve Hillage produces several sessions and though only a few songs are released everyone enjoys the sessions and the liquid, fluid but focussed psychedelia is well received. Several more songs sit in the vaults. 

In 1998, they falter but pick up with a tour of Europe and then record an EPs worth of songs with Mick Jones (The Clash/ BAD), Mick encouraging them to play facing each other, bashing out several songs of loose, ramshackle but melodic guitar pop. John declares that no more than two guitars are on any of the songs, hardly any overdubs and most of the songs sound like the work of a single guitar player. He switches from Les Paul to Telecaster and the thinner sound suits him and the new tunes. Mani helps Primal Scream out with some bass for their Vanishing Point album. In return Martin Duffy plays piano and keys with the Roses and another set of songs are recorded. 

As the millennium approaches the group see what they've achieved and eye the new century with a feeling of ten years of success behind them. They record some more songs, the influence of The Beta Band showing, Ian and John and Ian and Reni's occasional combustible disagreements quickly solved by Heavenly's laid back approach to managing the group. Mani and Reni find new inspiration in Neu! and Can and the band hit the studio again, Michael Rother (once a resident of Wilmslow so no stranger to north west England) at the controls. The Roses go kosmische, John playing in straight lines rather than blues, Reni in the motorik groove, his shoulders rolling as he plays.  

As New Year's Eve approaches plans are afoot and on NYE 1999 drinkers at Chorlton Irish Club are bemused when a truck pulls up in the afternoon and three men begin hauling gear in. The Stone Roses turn up and begin playing at 8pm, opening with I Wanna Be Adored and then flitting between the songs from the debut album and the dozen single and EP releases since summer 1990. They finish at 9.30pm by which time word has spread and fans are arriving. Packing up quickly they head to Sale and set the gear up again in the scout hut at Raglan Road, the venue where John and Ian first played together as The Patrol in 1980. Simon Wolstencroft is there, manning the door with Cressa. Fans arrive, first come first served, about one hundred packed into the scout hut, sweat already dripping from the walls and ceiling. At 10.30 the band appear and begin to play, shimmering dance rock, motorik grooves, light headed psychedelia, backwards songs, and chorus heavy guitar pop. They finish with a cover of White Riot, John's guitar squealing its last as the clock strikes midnight. 

They release their second album the next day. In typically Roses style they mess it up- it's New Year's Day in the year 2000, no record shops are open. When fans finally get the album (unburdened by a heavy and ludicrous name like The Second Coming, it is titled Angry Young Teddy Bears) they find it is a triple disc record. Inside the gatefold is a piece of paper announcing the end of the group. They have nothing more to do. The album contains some of the songs released over the previous ten years and many unreleased from the various sessions, songs recorded with and produced by The Chemical Brothers, Brendan Lynch, Geoff Barrow, Mick Jones, one from a session with Lee Scratch Perry that no one can remember much about, two with Jagz Kooner, several with Steve Hillage and one ten minute epic with Michael Rother. The third disc contains a previously unreleased Weatherall remix from 1991, a Sabres Of Paradise remix from 1996, and a dubby, horn- led Justin Robertson remix. On the final side of the album is a twenty three minute track, the fruits of two different sessions joined together by John Leckie, the first ten minutes the result of a collaboration with Bjork and Graham Massey, John's guitar and Mani's bass and Reni's drums locked in a vaguely 808 style groove, while Ian and Bjork sing a duet. In the second half of the song, Jah Wobble's bass appears and Mani and Wobble trade rubbery basslines, the drums and FX pedals spiraling around, while Ian whispers sweet nothings about space exploration, conquistadors and new centuries. Sinead O'Connor is on backing vocals. The fade out is a long languid groove that could happily go on forever.

A few weeks after the split there are rumours of a series of dates in Scandinavia but nothing happens. All four men are seen together socially, friends still and happy to leave the music industry behind, having achieved what they set out to- play gigs, make records, look good, give journalists a tough time in interviews, do it on their own terms. After all of that, from the halcyon days of 1989 when they broke through, and their constant desire to keep reinventing their sound through to 1999, there's nothing left to do, nowhere left to go-  they've done it all. 

Breaking Into Heaven


Jake Sniper said...

Wow, where can I access this other dimension. Wonderfully written as always Adam. Maybe you should write a collection of alternate band histories.

Martin said...

Brilliant. If only, eh?

thewalker said...

That was a lot of fun to read Adam, a heck of a lot of fun.

David said...

Absolutely love it, Adam. What a brilliant alternative history. You had me swooning at the raglan scout hut possibilities with afters back at mine!

I love the Second Coming but probably agree that they're are one too many filters on there. How Do You Sleep is a personal favourite though.

Anonymous said...

Can you do an alternative history in a similar vain around the cheeky girls?….asking for a friend….

Rol said...

What a great piece of writing, Adam. Though it was hard to top the final sentence of the opening paragraph. "They both sound like I thought they would." Indeed.

bluebetty44 said...

Thoroughly enjoyed that read, great piece of writing ......

Anonymous said...

That Steve Hillage gets everywhere. Everyone needs an alternative history, one where all our hopes themselves have lives and everything ends, all's well.

Swiss Adam said...

Thanks all, it just sort of downloaded into my head while cycling and I typed it up when I got home. It was good fun to imagine an alternative Roses world.

In some weird way, I can hear some of the music I've invented.

David- all back to yours if it ever happens. Agree, HDYS is a good one. Breaking Into Heaven and Ten Storey, Love Spreads probably and I've got a soft spot for Tightrope. Tears is overblown, Good Times isn't much of one, Daybreak is ok but the sort of thing they could do all day in their sleep. Straight To The Man is skippable. Weirdly I quite like Driving South. Begging You offers a way out but they didn't pursue it- shame really, maybe the song that should be the jumping off point for this post.

Anon- re: the Cheeky Girls, probably not but you never know. Would it have to include that Lib Dem MP?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful alternate history.

Khayem said...

A superb tale there, Adam. I’ve never been blown away by The Stone Roses in this world; would have loved them in the parallel universe!

Oh, and the Cheeky Girls didn’t exist in that dimension. They met the Lib Dem MP before then, formed Opik III and did a rave cover of Bill Withers’ Lovely Day.

jesseblack said...

I have spent too many hours dreaming of alternate Roses histories. Thanks for sharing yours! I've been revisiting the purple patch the last few weeks for the first time in a while.

I hope you don't mind if I share one of my favorite bits of internet writing that's not by you. It was a post on a Roses discussion board, by someone using the delightful alias FarageGlower, which I saved and re-read occasionally. It's the most insightful and touching thing I've ever seen written about my favorite band.

Writing in the midst of their reunion gigs about their well-earned reputation as a dreadful live band, and his collection of bootleg tapes, he posted:

"There is something strangely compelling about those bootlegs. The notion that somewhere out there existed a ‘perfect’ version, where everything came together, drove me into acquiring loads of them. I had all the live vinyl, and once the internet came along I bought stacks of cassettes and cds - everything from Shrewsbury to Tokyo, always in search of that one good recording, with the band on form and Brown in tune.

Needless to say it never materialised, though Glasgow comes close. But the overwhelming majority are poor, and some are just flat out dreadful. (Though admittedly the vaguaries of recording a live gig on a late 80’s potato, was hardly going to engender a hi-fi experience.)

(Pretension alert)

Despite this though, I never fell out of love with the idiotype or the conceptual entity that was The Stone Roses, I just came to understand that these four lads in their 14’ fishing boat hooked a Leviathan which they could never hope to land. In Barthesian terms the art achieved a life of its own, bigger and more potent than their ability to influence it, in Renisian terms “it achieved the maturiosity of an unknown nature”. Either way, they were dragged along in its wake and inevitably disintegrated. The success of their debut hinged on a subtlety and a nuance which they simply did not posses in a live context, at least not vocally or dynamically, and which they could never recapture in the studio.

That is why I view Squire as an artist beyond a guitarist (at least in those early years). To imagineer something that bold and beautiful, something that resonated with the past but which sounded so fresh, all while looking so good, exposes a creative mind of no inconsiderable depth. He literally thought up a concept they did not have the ability to manifest. To play that set, that album live, was always beyond them.

That moment, that spark, the seeing or feeling of the thing mentally, comes before the process of turning it into an image or song or poem or sculpture or play or whatever. It has to exist as just an idea first, even if just as a strange brew of emotions and instincts. In this way The Stone Roses are to me, catastrophically desirable, the greatest band ever imagined. There IS a perfect version of their set, but exists as a dream, forever just out reach like a rose tinted Kodachrome of childhood.

Somewhere in my mind there is a perfect place, dappled in an August sunlight, between urbanity and sylvan glade, foregrounded by vibrant people, backdropped by an ethereal haze where the horizon blends into a pastel hued sky.

The sound of this place is The Stone Roses at the height of their pomp, playing a cheekily, knowingly flawless set.

So, even if an official statement of the band's demise is made, it won’t matter, they have always existed as much in the imagination as myth and legend as they have in reality, and you can’t kill a dream."

The Beard said...

Brilliant! They really balls'ed it up didn't they?

I saw a clip of the Reading 1996, erm, performance on The Platform Formerly Known As Twitter a few days ago. I was unfortunately there (and stayed until the bitter end, missing Underworld in the process) and it was much, much worse than I remember. And I remember it being beyond words bad. In a perverse way, I wish they'd left it at that and never came back. It's a more fitting ending than fizzling out after playing some mega gigs.

On the back of Ian Brown's two tracks with U.N.K.L.E. I've often wondered what a James Lavelle produced Roses album would sound like. Probably exactly how a 21st century Roses album should sound. And by that I mean the opposite of All For One.

That's really the only praise I can give Just Another Rainbow; it isn't All For One. Like you say, it sounds exactly as you expect it to sound. I don't especially dislike it, I just don't particularly like it. Unlike All For One. I dislike All For One. The words, the sentiment... terrible. Making Reni drum like Tony McCarroll? Unforgivable.

Anonymous said...

The Second Coming is a good album; but it would’ve made a jaw-dropping EP.
I probably upset a lot of Teenage Fanclub acolytes when I dismantled Bandwagonesque over at my place and reimagined it as a five track Extended Play. (I still stand by it.)


Swiss Adam said...

I agree in a way The Beard, the re- union (much as I loved being at Parr Hall and largely enjoyed Heaton Park and the Etihad) kind of spoilt the story/ legend/ disaster.

UNKLE hadn't occurred to me when writing the post and its obvious really isn't it. A James Lavelle Roses album would definitely be worth hearing.

And yes, to everything you say about All For One.

Swiss Adam said...

JM- yes, it would have made an amazing EP.

Breaking Into Heaven/ Ten Storey Love Song/ Tightrope (or Your Star Will Shine)/ Love Spreads/ How Do You Sleep.

Sunovagun said...

Can you do a La's one where Lee somehow gets his shit together and records a second album?

Swiss Adam said...

That's one worth thinking about Sunovagun