Still hip to be Squire

After the nasty demise of the Stone Roses, guitarist John Squire didn't go solo; he formed the Seahorses and embraced the Gallaghers. By Barbara Ellen
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The Independent Culture
"I won't play Stone Roses again," says John Squire, ex-Roses guitarist, now with new band The Seahorses. "In some respects, I feel that the singer of any given song is the owner. Tom Jones never wrote 'It's Not Unusual', but it's his song."

Guitar heroes usually disappoint, but tall, dark, enigmatic John Squire is Hammer Of The Gods meets Wuthering Heights, with a few bars of "Strangers in the Night" thrown in. Does he have to work at it?

"I don't think you can create mystique," he demurs as we sit talking in a west London hotel bar. "It's generated for you by the media. It's the only real forum for the generation of mystique."

It came as no surprise to detect a ruthless streak in Squire's make-up. This is the man who walked out on The Stone Roses after a decade of glory, decadence and sloth. In response, they branded him a Judas. "We were too nice to him," they said, conjuring up the image of a spoilt, pampered dauphin drunk on his own legend.

Squire refutes the "too nice" claim - "I don't remember any baskets of flowers or Belgian chocolates." Nor does he have much patience with the argument that the Stone Roses turned underachievement into an art form. "We could have been bigger by working harder," he says. "We didn't choose to be also-rans."

It would make a good Trivial Pursuit question - how did the Stone Roses go from The Band Most Likely To to being the Oasis That Got Away? At the turn of the decade, the Roses were the hottest British musical phemonemon since punk. The Stone Roses' seemingly inexorable rise was initially scuppered by the year-long court battle with their record company, Silvertone, over their unfair contract. After that victory, the Roses signed to Geffen, and promptly proceeded to screw up royally. Squire himself nominates the legendary five-year gap between the Roses' eponymously-titled debut album and its successor, Second Coming, as the Roses' bete noir.

"The delay broke the back of The Stone Roses. I don't think anyone survived," he says. When Squire quit, he was widely expected to go solo. Instead, he formed The Seahorses, along with York-based "newcomers" Chris Helme (singer and co-songwriter discovered busking outside Woolworths), bassist Stuart Fletcher and drummer Andy Watt.

Within months, The Seahorses had recorded their Tony Visconti-produced album Do It Yourself (released 26 May) and embarked on their first leg of their tour, starting at Wolverhampton Wilfrun Hall. Noel Gallagher, was has long credited the Roses with being a major influence, was present. "I'm very impressed," he said. "A year from now, we're going to be talking about one of the biggest bands in the country without a shadow of a doubt."

Not everyone has been so generous. Whereas Squire's last project, the Roses' Second Coming, was initially slated for being grandiose and self- indulgent, The Seahorses' stubbornly unpretentious, deceptively loose DIY has been dismissed, ironically, as Oasis-lite. Moreover, time is once again an issue - Squire got The Seahorses together quickly; some might say too quickly. Had it occurred to him that he might be in a classic rebound situation?

"I've never done the rebound thing," says Squire. "It wasn't a case of taking the first people who came along. But I realised that keeping the gap down to as short a time was paramount" - he smiles wryly - "given my history."

The Stone Roses were Ian Brown on vocals, Squire on guitar, Gary "Mani" Mountworth on bass, and Alan "Reni" Wren on drums. It would make great copy to conjure up some feud between Squire and Oasis - the embittered, floppy-fringed curmudgeon sticking pins in two dolls with big eyebrows - but a mutual admiration party seems to be in full swing.

"I think when Oasis started out, they set us out as a target," says Squire. "They wanted to get as big as The Stone Roses, which, when they started out, seemed unattainable."

When the Roses finally returned, they found that a previously adoring world had metamorphosed into an angry hausfrau, wielding a giant frying pan and crying "What time do you call this, then?" Crisis followed crisis: Wren left, Squire broke his collarbone, forcing the Roses to cancel Glastonbury, and the press launched a bizarre witch-hunt against Ian Brown for his vocal shortcomings.

Perhaps the critical mauling that Brown received accounts for why he interpreted Squire's resignation as a personal betrayal, and why the other two original Roses are rumoured to be rallying around Brown, helping with his mooted solo venture. Furthermore, while Squire seems to retain a soft spot for Mani (now with Scottish outfit Primal Scream) and particularly Wren, he is noticeably circumspect on the subject of Ian Brown.

"I would like our friendship to survive," he says, looking down at the table. "But I wouldn't be particularly devastated if it didn't ... if that's the way he wants to play it."

Bearing all this in mind, it is to their credit that the other Seahorses don't seem unduly cowed by their guitarist's past. They are all younger thatn Squire, but grooming hiccups aside - Helme's David Essex haircut, Fletcher and Watt's jack of clubs beards - they seem focused, spirited and resilient, all qualities which must have come in useful during the recent baptism of fire. When I ask when they think The Seahorses will become their band, as opposed to John Squire's new band, they become positively indignant: "It's already our band."

What does Squire think of that? 'I never wanted to be boss," he says, smiling sweetly. "I just wanted everyone else to do what I wanted to do." n