Interview: Ian Brown - Roses are dead

Ian Brown, former frontman of the Stone Roses, is back. He's headlining the V98 festival, releasing a new album and he's nuttier than ever. Kira Jolliffe finds him in a good mood
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Indy Lifestyle Online
FOR SOMEONE who's constantly in the media for one verbal outrage or another, Ian Brown is amazingly honest and unguarded. Maybe it's the hippy naivety required to have been an intrinsic part of 1989's baggy Summer of Love as lead singer of the Stone Roses. Maybe having a big, open heart is part of being seminal. I have to keep reminding myself that among other things, he has a court case pending for being really abusive towards an air stewardess (and how much can an air stewardess offend?), because, although he doesn't look it, he's seriously up-beat. "Think positively," he commands, "I love people, me, I believe in people. I love people too much. My biggest fault is that I give people too much credit. Then they let you down. I'm 99.9 per cent perfect - that's how I look at myself and therefore everybody else too." Brown could be giving seminars on self- belief as a second career, and it's that quality that all the lead singers who've copied his style of clothes, performance and singing for the last decade really want to capture.

The 32-year-old Mancunian released his first solo album, Unfinished Monkey Business, in February to lukewarm reviews, but it's proved to be a "grower". With Brown playing most of the instruments, learning them at the same rate as he realised he needed them, the album has an "edge" that's hard for most music reviewers to digest, but this syndrome isn't new to Brown. "They did that with the first Roses LP," he recalls, "they gave it six out of ten and said we were psychedelic. They didn't know where to put us. The next thing we know, we're the greatest thing since whatever." The album has gone gold with three singles in the charts this year. "The Stone Roses were a landmark band," says David Davies, editor of Q, "but it's fair to say that Ian Brown has surprised people with his continuing success."

What pleases Brown the most, he says, "is that with the shows I've done recently, it's young kids of 17, 18, 19, that seem to be my main audience. I was expecting 30 year olds going 'Oh, remember the Roses?'" This is real vindication, along with offers to headline at Glastonbury, T in the Park and V98. "I was honoured that I was offered them, you know? In '96 I couldn't have wished for it," he says, "When I made the record I had no plans to put a band together and I signed with my company on that premise. Then I was lucky enough to assemble some musicians and we all clicked. Now that we're playing the festivals and they're going great, it's even better."

His dark side isn't far behind, however. He got caught up in a typically Brownian piece of bad publicity at Glastonbury: "I did an interview with Select," he recounts, "and when the journalist wrote it up she put 'Ian Brown's oft-remarked manly odour wasn't present today.' Now what did that mean? Do people go about saying 'Ian Brown's got BO'? I don't think they do because I know I don't. [Readers, it's true, he doesn't smell.] So I said to her 'What do you mean, oft-remarked?' and she says 'Oh I had this one letter.' So I says 'Well one letter from someone who met me saying Ian Brown stinks is not an oft-remarked thing is it?' So she said 'Oh, I'm sorry.' Well, sorry's okay, but she had the freedom and power to write anything she wanted. So I told her to 'F*** off the bus, you stink.' The girl went mad, you shouldn't speak to people like that, but the fact is she wanted a cheap laugh."

This, along with reports of threatening phone calls made to a critical music journalist (distinctly unhippyish behaviour, you might think) are making me nervous. But the man I'm talking to exudes nothing but love, positivity and peace. He claims "I haven't thrown a punch since the age of 14." His troubles, I imagine, spring from an over-developed sense of amour propre, or maybe just from being a Jekyl and Hyde-style psycho. Some highly publicised and confusing remarks he made recently in the Melody Maker linking the military force of the Ancient Greeks, Romans and the Nazis to homosexuality have led to more dropped jaws.

"It was misconstrued and misrepresented by people being cheap and wanting to make a name for themselves. It's a reminder that not everybody is seeking to make things more intelligent," Brown maintains. He is voluble on the subject of yob culture: "Oasis are okay but they're like The Sun: base. They got so big, and in their wake all these old punk rockers that run the industry like [Alan] McGee think 'We're the people now'. All these people love it because there's a tight little thing going on. I don't fit in to that thing." But when he admits, "I used to be one of those kids who couldn't keep my mouth shut," one can't help thinking he's still got a little work to do on that front.

The Stone Roses, along with the Happy Mondays, were the sound of the late Eighties, E-fuelled scene in Manchester, arguably the most important movement in recent pop history. After taking five years to make an anti- climactic second album, they broke up when, in 1996, John Squire, their rather crucial guitarist (as the remaining Roses would discover by being critically panned at Reading Festival), left without warning to form The Seahorses. "I could either stay down or do something," says Ian. He spent that winter in his bedroom with an 8-track studio - that classic creative hotbed. Evidently, as far as Brown is concerned, Squire betrayed their childhood friendship. He blames cocaine and since then, the worthy anti- drugs stance Brown has adopted seems also to serve as sweet revenge against the stubbornly silent Squire.

"By taking coke you're not contributing anything," says Brown, his knowledgeableness on the subject indicating prolonged exposure to the drug. "You're wallowing and moshing in your own fortune. I'm fed up with talking about it. It's obvious - you've got one brain and one mind and you shouldn't go smashing it up on coke. Nowadays it's easier to get coke than weed - I've seen it become an epidemic. To me it's a simple thing. Drugs are seen in music history as rock 'n' roll and cool. I don't think getting out of your face is cool. I don't think it's romantic, it's sad." He is partial to marijuana, though: "It's a healer and a creative force, it's natural," he says.

"It's great the way that, without expending too much energy, which isn't Ian's way, he's engineered this thoroughly credible resurrection," says Tony Wilson, ex-manager of Joy Division/New Order, the Happy Mondays and the founder of Manchester's Factory Records. With Squire taking his extraordinary musicianship elsewhere, Brown has retained the louche soul and originality of the Roses. "I wasn't in the music business when I made the album," he says, "I had no label, no lawyer, no manager, no-one knew what I was doing. They say it's experimental, but I had a pretty clear idea of what kind of sounds I liked. I'm creative and the only thing that's stopping me is the musical ability to get my ideas across," he says. "All it is is rhythms and tones and lyrics put together in a nice way." For the real Roses fan, the original bassist Mani (now in Primal Scream but possibly leaving) and drummer Reni recreate the sound on the truly baggy "Can't See Me". "The reason I loved the Roses was because we had a great beat, a great drummer, and that's what set us apart," he says, "I don't think any of the bands in the UK since then have had a proper beat." Brown, spends more time in New York than Manchester these days, listening to hip-hop and hanging with his Mexican, ex-model, long-term girlfriend (not the mother of his two children). "I still believe," he continues, "there's no more powerful thing than a drum beat and people all dancing."

Revolution through rhythm. "Right now it's really easy to buy your outfit and the correct CDs and magazines. It's like everybody is 'alternative'," he claims, "but the more uniformity that goes on, the more corporate rubbish that's forced on us, the better everything is, because more people wake up to it. It's great, I love it. Positive people are finding each other worldwide. If you've found yourself then you're going to be capable of finding somebody else. The only battle is with yourself - you've always got to be searching and reaching." Brown is certainly a major influence on today's British youth culture. Whether or not he is also a nutter is a question that still lurks. He seems so incredibly happy, so utterly laid-back and self assured that he's hynotised me into being uncynical. Maybe people that "deep" have to have some weird ego problem, or maybe he is near perfect, just a little mad.

Either way, he can't lose. "The things that I've seen and had given to me... the Roses were loved world-wide. I can't expect to get that again. That's enough for me," he says touchingly. "I cannot contemplate the amount of love throughout my life that people have given me. I feel like I've done something. I have nothing to prove. I'm happy in my ex-council house."

IN HIS OWN WORDS

On politics:

"Thatcher should have gone up in the Brighton bomb"

On the five-year gap before that tricky second album: "We were in cosmic intellectual retirement"

On the band:

"Having spent the last 10 years in the filthiest business in the universe, it's a pleasure to announce the end of the Stone Roses"

On genius:

"The Stone Roses, at their height, were capable of reaching places that Oasis can only dream about"

On discomfort:

"Hell is being stuck in a lift with Elton John and the Queen Mother"

On being misunderstood:

"People confuse my confidence with arrogance. All we were ever saying was, 'We're beautiful, and so are you'"

On posterity:

"I'm the only singer that will never be copied on Stars In Their Eyes. There's no one to do me, because they're all in bands making a living from my act"

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