It is hard to believe in retrospect, but The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut album – now often cited as “the greatest British debut of all time” – slipped out without too much fanfare.
Sure, the hipper kids and the music papers were gearing up for what became known as Madchester, but despite some well-received gigs, nobody expected The Stone Roses’ debut to be the epicentre of a nationwide phenomenon.
In the NME it got a warm reception but wasn’t even the lead review on the page. It’s highest chart placing was a whopping #19.
By December, its real importance had become evident, but it still didn’t top the end-of-year critics’ polls – NME ranked it second, behind De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising.
But over the next two years, The Stone Roses established themselves as harbingers of a new era.
Leaving behind a decade of celibate, bequiffed rock stars and musical introspection, the world to come was founded around cool, strident ambition and pharmaceuticals. In that sense, The Stone Roses’ debut was the first Britpop album.
The lyrics were the crucial factor: When Ian Brown sang “Kiss me where the sun don’t shine/The past was yours but the future’s mine” (from She Bangs The Drum), he was 1989 incarnate.
There was also the small matter of I Am The Resurrection – an unstoppable, brazenly narcissistic song that became the year’s anthem.
Both the group and producer John Leckie were well aware of what they’d created. “When we’d finished,” Brown recalled, “Leckie says, ‘This is really good. You’re going to make it’. And I remember thinking ‘I know’.”
The Stone Roses emerged from the remains of English Rose, a Manchester-based band formed by schoolmates John Squire (guitar) and Ian Brown (vocals).
In 1985, The Stone Roses officially formed, as Squire and Brown added drummer Reni (real name Alan Wren), guitarist Andy Couzens and bassist Pete Garner. The group began playing warehouses around Manchester, cultivating a dedicated following rather quickly.
Garner was replaced by Mani (born Gary Mounfield) and the group recorded their first single, So Young, which was released to little attention by Thin Line Records.
At the end of 1987, the Roses released their second single, Sally Cinnamon, which pointed the way toward the band’s hook-laden, ringing guitar-pop. By the end of 1988, the band secured a contract with Silvertone Records and released Elephant Stone, a single that set the band’s catchy neo-psychedelic guitar pop in stone.
Shortly after the release of Elephant Stone, the Stone Roses’ bandwagon took off in earnest. By early 1989 the group was playing sold-out gigs across Manchester and London. Countless other groups in the same vein became popular, including The Charlatans, Inspiral Carpets and Happy Mondays.
However, the band was never able to capitalise on the promise of their first album, waiting five years before they released their second record and slowly disintegrating in the year and a half after its release.
It has become fashionable to identify The Stone Roses’ May 1990 gig at Spike Islands as ‘Woodstock for the E Generation’ – the second when all the clubbing and flares and love vibes and faith in Manchester bands made some kind of sense and was revealed to the mainstream as the great thing it undoubtedly was.
In truth, that moment had come six months earlier when The Happy Mondays (cavorting through Hallelujah) and the Roses (tossing off Fools Gold like it wasn’t the best single of the year) both made their debuts on Top Of The Pops when such things still mattered.
After Spike Island, The Stone Roses became embroiled in a vicious legal battle with Silvertone Records. The group wanted to leave the label but Silvertone took out a court injunction against the group, preventing them from releasing any new material.
For the next two years, the band fought Silvertone Records while they allegedly prepared the follow-up to their debut album. In reality, The Stone Roses did next to nothing as the court case rolled on.
In the meantime, several major record labels began negotiating with the band in secret. In March of 1991, the lawsuit went to court. Two months later, The Stone Roses won their case against Silvertone and signed a multi-million deal with Geffen Records.
For the next three years, the Stone Roses worked sporadically on their second album, leaving behind scores of uncompleted tapes. During these years, the group kept a low-profile in the press but that wasn’t to preserve the mystique – they simply weren’t doing much of anything besides watching football.
Finally, in the spring of 1994, Geffen demanded that the group finish the album and the band complied, completing the record, titled Second Coming, in the autumn. Love Spreads, The Stone Roses’ comeback single was debuted on Radio One in early November.
The single received a lukewarm reaction and entered the charts at number two – not the anticipated number one. Second Coming received mixed reviews and only spent a few weeks in the Top Ten. The Stone Roses planned an international tour in early 1995 to support the album, but the plans kept unravelling at the last minute.
Before they could set out on tour, Reni left the band, leaving the group without a drummer. He was replaced by Robbie Maddix. They embarked on a short American tour, at the conclusion of which John Squire broke his collarbone in a bike accident.
Squire’s accident forced them to cancel a headlining spot at the 25th Glastonbury Festival, which would have been their first concert in the UK in five years.
As Squire recuperated, The Stone Roses continued to sink in popularity and respect, even as their peers – The Charlatans and former Happy Mondays vocalist Shaun Ryder – made unexpectedly triumphant comebacks. The Stone Roses added a keyboardist to the line-up prior to their UK tour at the end of 1995 – their first British tour since 1990.
In the spring of 1996, John Squire announced that he was leaving the band he had founded in order to form a new, more active band.
Ian Brown was sentenced to four months in prison in 1998 after threatening to chop the hands off a British Airways stewardess during a flight from Paris to Manchester. Brown ultimately only spent eight weeks in prison, beginning his sentence at Kirkham’s open prison before being transferred to the notorious Strangeways where he served the remainder of his sentence.
During an interview in 2005 Squire referred to his old friend Brown as “a tuneless knob”. Squire has since gone back to painting full time and says he has “hung up his plectrum”.
Alan ‘Reni‘ Wren
Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield