Roses redux

Review by Neil O’Sullivan

‘The Stone Roses’ tracks the rise, fall and return of one of Britain’s most influential rock bands

The Stone Roses: War and Peace, by Simon Spence, Viking RRP£20, 352 pages

The Stone Roses’ decision to reform late last year shocked their fans. Guitarist John Squire, seemingly content with his second act as a visual artist, had only recently produced a work bearing the inscription: “I have no desire to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group the Stone Roses.” This echoed the view of Ian Brown, the band’s singer and Squire’s estranged songwriting partner. “I don’t see how we could create what we had. It would spoil everything by trying.”

Prior to their announcement, the Stone Roses’ last meaningful action had been to split up in 1996. Yet the fourpiece – completed by drummer Reni and bass player Mani – remains probably Britain’s most influential of the past 25 years. They released two albums, only one of which, the eponymous psychedelia-tinged 1989 debut that came to define the “Madchester” scene, is really responsible for their musical legacy. The 225,000 tickets for their reunion shows in Manchester next weekend sold out in hours. Few rock bands have done so little and come to mean so much.

Journalist Simon Spence explores this curious tale in depth and style, steering clear for the most part of the florid excesses that mar many rock histories. Through scores of interviews, he offers fresh insights into the grandiose vision of schoolmates Squire and Brown and reveals their pragmatic, sometimes ruthless approach. The pair’s decision to take credit for the songwriting was resented by the rest of the group.

He also details how the band worked hard to create an aura of greatness, even as an initially hostile music press wrote them off. The formula was far from original. Anarchic punk-inspired stunts – such as spray-painting large areas of Manchester with the band’s name – were coupled with studiedly arrogant proclamations of impending world domination (usually from the swaggering Brown). But it undoubtedly contributed to the mystique that set the band apart from more straightforwardly hedonistic contemporaries such as the Happy Mondays.

Once the band found their groove, most notably on the trance-making single “Fools Gold”, they began to justify even their own inflated publicity. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s they led a brief love-in between rock and dance culture and marked their brief period at the summit with a fraught and typically unorthodox rave-style gig on a man-made island in Widnes, Cheshire. Spence, who reported on the event for the Face magazine, evocatively reprises what would become the ecstasy generation’s version of Woodstock.

The band’s demise is the most puzzling part of the story. A period in court trying to extricate themselves from what Spence describes as “one of the worst recording contracts in history” was followed by a $20m deal with the US major label Geffen and four years working on (or for much of that time, not working on) their second album. The group bought houses, settled down and started families but grew apart from each other. Reconvening to make music, they discovered Led Zeppelin (with the exception of Brown, who believed they should pursue a funkier sound). Drugs were taken, rows took place, and lots and lots of guitar tracks were laid down, but in narrative terms this sense of extended ennui is a challenge even Spence’s inventiveness cannot wholly overcome.

News of the Roses’ reformation was a mixed blessing for the author, who started writing this book as a collaboration with drummer Reni in 2010 before others in the newly reunited band vetoed the idea of any such project being “authorised”.

Greater access to the group might have helped illuminate the gloom surrounding their break-up. Were they – and Squire in particular – paralysed by the fear of making a less than perfect record? Why, when they were on the brink of achieving what they set out to, did they seem to lose conviction? The next chapter is about to be written – will the Stone Roses legend survive their own second coming? In the meantime, this is a rich and rewarding record of the story so far.

Neil O’Sullivan is deputy editor of FT Life & Arts

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012.

The Word 14/06/12

Comedy Of Errors

The Stone Roses story is a northern picaresque, packed with clueless characters and driven by farcical levels of chutzpah

By John Harris

THE STONE ROSES: War And Peace Simon Spence Viking

THE STONE ROSES’ DAY-LONG fiasco at Spike Island was the “Woodstock of its Generation” in many more ways than the phrase was intended to capture. Not that my presences denoted much beyond good luck, but I was there, suffering the woeful support acts, and getting stuck under a bridge, a moment greeted with heartwarming shouts of “Hillsborough!” – but just about managing to convince myself that I was having the time of my life (a good indication why capitalism’s most reliable customer is the late-adolescent male.)

Reading Simon Spence’s forensic biography, the reasons for the day-long pangs of disappointment extend into the distance: the fact that only half the required security staff turned up, the panic spread by an aberrant river tide (“If the Mersey rose another yard they would have to evacuate the whole island”), the booking of a bellowing American herbert named Frankie Bones, mistakenly hired instead of the altogether more legendary Chicago DJ Frankie Knuckles.

Fair play to Spence, who will be better known to hard-bitten readers of the late 1980s NME as Simon Dudfield: even if his text is littered with hackneyed journalese, his 300 pages are full of such revelations, both major and deliciously minor. Moreover, this is not just The Stone Roses’ story, but that of two decades of pop-cultural history, in which lingering punk furies were eventually snuffed out by corporate business as usual. The most obvious sub-plot centres on a record industry moving through its last days of Calilgula-esque misrule. A case in point: the Roses were never going to succeed in the USA, nor did they really want to. But turn to page 181: a big lunch in LA with David Geffen, $4 million suggested as an upfront payment, and a cheque for $350,000 as a deposit. Easeh!

Other gorgeous facts abound. Before The Stones Roses were formed, Ian Brown and first bassist Pete Garner were huge fans of The Cockney Rejects and Angelic Upstarts. Under their spell, Brown – famed for objecting to flags going up at concerts – had a Union Jack tattooed on his arm, complete with the inscription “England”. Having been told by the jobbing soul veteran Geno Washington that he had the makings of a star (a story fleshed out here by Washington himself), Brown took singing lessons with a Mrs Rhodes, whose premises were near Manchester’s Victoria station. When bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield first saw the singer, he registered the future King Monkey’s resemblance to Galen from Planet Of The Apes: a good thing, apparently, “because he looked like my favourite telly programme”.

Eventually, the embryonic Roses met Gareth Evans, the owner of Manchester’s International club, first glimpsed on page 85, impressing his business acumen on the band by dropping his trousers and showing off a line of underpants he was selling. And what a spectacular embodiment of chutzpah and ineptitude he was. First he signed them to a heavy metal label in Wolverhampton, which he mistook for the Bristol-based indie label Revolver (the one he was dealing with was FM Revolver). When he hitched them to Jive/Zomba – the home of Sam Fox and Billy Ocean – the contract they signed was a draft, intended as the basis of negotiations. But Evans was being advised by a mortgage specialist from Sale, and the band thus found themselves chained to one of the most one-sided deals in history. In hindsight, his cluelessness did for them: you can read at least half their career as a doomed pirate voyage, captained by Brian “Garlic Bread” Potter from Phoenix Nights.

When the ship begins to flounder, the tales get all the more compelling. The stop-start sessions for Second Coming form an increasingly comic odyssey, as they chase the ghost of Led Zeppelin around some very unlikely places indeed – not least a former working men’s club in Tintwistle, Derbyshire, rented for £15 an hour, where the hired help included one Al “Bongo” Shaw, “who wasn’t a qualified engineer but knew where to get weed”. And there are new insights about the messiness that surrounded the split: particularly the belated news that John Squire didn’t quit in some ego driven fit of pique, but in reaction to the fact the others were working with a new guitarist. “John took it the wrong way,” explains second drummer Robbie Maddix. You would, wouldn’t you?

Those with tickets for this year’s reunion concerts (I don’t think I’m going – no good having your own youth sold back to you, and all that) will probably find the inevitably brief account of their reforming frustrating, though an updated edition will presumably be on the way. In any case, the breathless last section is mere detail: despite the fact that a decade and half of effort resulted in just two proper albums, this is a northern picaresque full of pathos and farce, and Spence’s version is as good as definitive.


THE TIMES – 02/06/2012


The Stones Roses:
War and Peace
by Simon Spence
Viking, 328pp
£20/£18 discounted price, call 0845 2712134

The wars of the Roses

As the Stone Roses embark on their reunion tour, a new biography charts the band’s turbulent career, from violent early gigs to global fame and bitter break up

Love, both in song titles and lyrics, is a word that features heavily in the vocabulary of the Stone Roses. And to play their music, the first album especially, is to bathe in an easy, euphoric soundscape that feels like falling in love.

Millions have fallen for its lure and will do so again this summer when the reformed band embark on an extensive tour of the world’s major rock festivals. Their shows at Heaton Park in their home city of Manchester sold out 220,000 tickets in just over an hour.

No doubt the music will be sufficiently loud to drown out the white noise of their backstory which, as relayed by Spence in this sturdy biography, is habitually unpleasant. If rock ‘n’ roll is the preserve of the brattish, vainglorious and ruthless, the Stone Roses are definitive.

While the most infamous escapade saw them hurling paint at the premises and staff of their former record label, the hostility had antecedence. At an early concert they resolved to inspire a riot in homage to their heroes, the Jesus and Mary Chain. So, as the first chord was struck, a fan pressed close to the stage was kicked in the face by original member Andy Couzens.

At other times audience members are “fronted up”. Doors are kicked in at venues. Faulty speaker stacks hurled off stage. Journalists stonewalled. Record companies double-crossed. A television crew is mocked with cries of “amateurs”. Tours are cancelled on a whim. Reni, the drummer, urinates in a promoter’s office. They even react with enmity to offers of support. “If you you want to help, great – well done pal; now f*** off,” is one crabby riposte.

Spence, whose book was originally planned in collaboration with the band’s drummer, Reni, was granted good access and is cute on the machinations of the industry and internal band politics. Frustratingly, the four comprising the classic line-up are only roughly sketched as personalities outside a group context. Presumably their parents, relatives and partners evaded the author’s net.

Back in the mid-1980s I was part of the Manchester scene that soon formed the UK’s cultural heartbeat. I contributed the pop page to a local evening newspaper and played in my own group, the Monkey Run.

I first heard the Stone Roses on Piccadilly Radio. These early songs were leaden and uninspiring. A few weeks later they featured in Muze, a magazine covering the music of the North West. Leather trousers, bandanas, a definite goth undertone – we had nothing to fear from this lot.

Still, their name kept cropping up. They were evidently well connected, utilising and discarding various Manchester luminaries. They alighted on Gareth Evans as manager, who, according to singer Ian Brown, fancied himself as Al Capone and, “changed his mind four times on one sentence”.

If serendipity had united three of the finest musicians of a generation – Alan “Reni” Wren, Gary “Mani” Mounfield, John Squire – and its most charismatic frontman in Brown, Evans was similarly essential as collaborator and corroborator. He shared their messiah complex and told them (and everyone else) that they were great, better than great – often and loudly.

Evans multiplied the strong arm as he swung erratically from madcap to mishap to menace. The anecdotes are legendary: he sold novelty underpants; he carried cash in bin liners; he punched Reni for having the audacity to interupt a conversation. Along the way, he also cut one of the worst record deals in history.

As regular patrons of The International, a club co-owned by Evans, the Monkey Run were invited to support the Stone Roses in February, 1988. We were minutes into the soundcheck when our manager, a moonlighting English teacher, was summoned to the phone. “Don’t get our sound engineer tired,” was Evans’s warning. “And make sure you give him a drinking voucher [ie, cash].”

After we’d finished the set our drummer realised that he had left his jacket in the dressing room. He asked Evans if he could retrieve it. “No one goes back-stage while the Stone Roses are preparing to play,” he thundered. This seemed ludicrously arrogant, but reflected the mystique he was building around them. Later his mood changed and he presented us with a 24-pack of lager for being “good lads”.

I was back amid the throng when the house lights dimmed and the Roses took to the stage. Brown pouting, held the microphone at his waist: half-monkey, half-tiger, wholly alive. The others were cool and handsome, born to the stage. The sound was rich, the riffs dragging you in, the swagger beguiling. Clearly there had been a visitation of brilliance since their earlier recordings.

Each of us in the room was aware that we had shared a quasi-religious experience. This was music that stood aside from anything we had heard previously, not only in Manchester but anywhere. And it was new-born, free of the self-paraody or routine that quickly settles on groups.

The debut album released in April 1989 was similarly magnificent. Its impact was burnished by a scene now bearing a name – Madchester – and boasting bands such as Happy Mondays, James, Inspiral Carpets, the Charlatans and 808 State.

There were other sublime instalments – seminal perfromances at Spike Island and the Empress Ballroom, Blackpool; the rock/dance perfection of Fools Gold – but the story therafter followed the archetypal rock trajectory, traced assidously if dryly by Spence: squandered money; debilitating legals battles; drug habits; a disapointing follow-up album; fall-outs and split-ups.

Despite wishing plagues of boils (at best) upon each other down the years, they announced the reunion last October. Nostalgia levels will be turned up to 11 this summer as they trek across the world. Hopefully the adoration proffered from the masses will imbue the band with a love and trust of the world to match the music.

Mark Hodkinson

Kirkus (America) 15/01/2013

As definitive an account of the surprising rise and spectacular fall of seminal 1980s Brit rockers the Stone Roses as a fan could hope for.

Music journalist Spence (Just Can’t Get Enough: The Making of Depeche Mode, 2011, etc.) interviewed almost every important person in the history of the band, including all of its members, managers, producers and most of its roadie coterie save one (road manager Steve Adge, who’s writing his own Roses history). This sounds easier than it was, given several members’ penchant for mystery and silence since the band’s bitter breakup in 1996.

Fortuitously for Spence, by the time he had connected with the members of its best-known incarnation – singer Ian Brown, guitarist John Squire, drummer Alan “Reni” Wren and bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield – 15 years’ worth of ice, particularly between founders, chief song scribes and boyhood friends Brown and Squire, was beginning to thaw.

Even at their heyday, the Roses could be prickly and unpredictable regarding outside expectations. Following the release of their brilliant, eponymous 1989 debut LP, which The Observer has since called the best rock album ever, the band’s creativity seemed to dry up as they battled their record company and self-aggrandizing manager Gareth Evans over two of the worst contracts in rock ‘n’ roll history.

When they finally produced “The Second Coming” for Geffen three years later, internal fissures, which Evans seemed to create when he gave Brown and Squire sole credit (and the attendant financial rewards) for the band’s collective compositions, began to crack wide open. A long-promised tour of the United States, repeatedly canceled, came together only after a key member had quit and just months before the band self-imploded. This book is being released in time for a reunion tour of the U.S. in the summer of 2013.

A must-read for anyone who has wondered why the Stone Roses ever mattered.


BBC 6 Music 19/05/12



Jo Good (DJ, standing in for Nemone): Let’s crack on because we’ve got lots to do, we’ve got a music book of the month, novel of the month and then we’re going to talk a little about characters… let’s do music first. We’ve got the Stone Roses…

Alex Heminsley: This is gorgeous.

JG: What’s the book called, official title?

AH: Official title: The Stone Roses: War and Peace

JG: Who by?

AH: It’s by Simon Spence and it’s actually published, as are both these books, in about 10 days. I’m sorting of willing summer forward by doing these books slightly early…

JG: Succinctly, what’s it about?

AH: It’s the definitive biography of the band. The first proper one and it’s a great job

JG: Is it a good-looking thing? I imagine it is.

AH: It is. I’m always so pleased when publishers make books that people are going to love, look loveable as well. This is really, really gorgeous. It’s a hardback. It’s not the got the title on the cover, just a lovely black and white image and what in the trade is known as a belly band around it. You can just whip that off and appreciate it as lovely book. It’s stuffed with photos, loads that haven’t been seen before… all the productions values are gorgeous. It’s one not to Kindle, it’s one to treasure.

JG: What about Mr Spence. What’s his credibility?

AH: He’s okay. He’s up to the job. He collaborated with the Stones Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham on Stoned and 2 Stoned, and he’s a long-standing music journalist. He covered the Spike Island show for The Face. He’s pretty much the perfect man for this project.

JG: Is it something we haven’t seen yet? Is it all new?

AH: Yeah, it feels really fresh and definitive. It really does. I get so many of these books landing on my doormat and announcing themselves as definitive, and quite quickly they find themselves on the other side of my doormat. But this really is definitive. It is a kind of classic, chronologically written. It takes every member of the band and goes right up to this year and the reunion. It doesn’t feel like just a cuttings job or someone who was there back in the day but doesn’t have any context. It’s really beautifully done by someone who clearly was there for their journey as a band but who also has continued to work in the music industry and has got a sense of perspective on what their value as musicians is now and their value as cultural figures. The book does quite a good job of framing it in current pop culture, contextualising the relevance of them and the meaning of the reunion.

JG: Sounds like you like it then?

AH: I really liked it. And it’s always my sort of litmus test for these sort of music books whether they’re just one for fans who just want to know everything they possible can or whether it’s one for people who weren’t around in 1989, and who grew up listening to their parent’s Stone Roses’ records, and whether it will explain things to them – and it hits both notes, which very few music books do. If you were an original fan or just curious as to what the big deal about the reunion shows is, it will really work for both… a rare treat. Get it, get it, get it, just get it, get it, just get it…

The novel of the month was Gold by Chris Cleave.

Red News (Manchester) 18/07/2012

Stone Roses: War and Peace by Simon Spence 

Coming Up Roses

Forget the Jubilee, the Euros and the Olympics – the real story of this dismal summer has undoubtedly been the return of The Stone Roses. Just prior to the Heaton Park homecoming gigs arrived what looked like being the first potential Roses cash-in, a new book claiming to offer the ‘definitive story’ of the band based on 70 new interviews and promising 40 unseen photographs.

The Stone Roses – War and Peace by Simon Spence (Viking, £20) is anything but a rush-released piece of opportunism, I’m pleased to report. Spence’s previous book was Stoned and 2Stoned – the acclaimed memoirs of reclusive, former Stone’s impresario Andrew Loog Oldham and he boasts an impressive CV which includes work for the NME, i-D, Dazed & Confused and The Face – he penned the Spike Island feature on the band in the Kate Moss fronted, 3rd Summer of Love issue back in 1990.

The book was originally conceived in 2008 and took two years to research and write. It falls just short of the promised ‘definitive’ take due to the four band members bailing as the project reached its conclusion – but it’s as close as anyone is likely to get currently. Accounts from both key and peripheral characters from all stages of their career are included – quite marvellously, the author even seeking out Toxin Toy, the support band from their 1985 Swedish tour (the Roses’ ‘Beatles in Hamburg’ period) for their recollections and memories.

I’ve read pretty much everything it’s possible to read on this band since first seeing them days after my 16th birthday in the summer of ’89, and whilst there’s no earth shattering revelations on offer for time-served devotees – there’s plenty of juicy morsels served up for anyone seeking fresh detail and new perspective. Recommended.


PopMatters (America) 13/05/2013

Frustration and Lack of Respect: ‘The Stone Roses: War and Peace’

By Kevin Korber

There’s arguably no more frustrating group in the history of pop music than the Stone Roses. Here is a band that, for a brief period in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, seemed to be untouchable. They were brash, confident, and innovative, as they were among the first rock bands to embrace rave culture and incorporate it into both their musical style and their fashion sense.

It’s a shame, then, that they lost the plot so quickly, taking so long to record a follow-up to their exalted debut album that they inevitably crashed, burned, and fizzled out in just about the same amount of time it took for them to get started. Worst of all, the band’s rise and fall means nothing to the average American music fan, as the Stone Roses never found a foothold in America at their peak or afterwards. Even now, when bands as thoroughly unimpressive as Mazzy Star can get a nice payday and a sizable crowd at festivals on the wave of nostalgia, the Stone Roses failed to get any love from anyone at this year’s Coachella performance, be it from the crowd or from the dozens of music journalists who thought that Nick Cave’s agro-noise side project was more important than one of the most popular and enduring rock bands in the world.

It’s this frustration and seeming lack of respect that builds the foundation for The Stone Roses: War And Peace, Simon Spence’s 300-page account of the Stone Roses’ tumultuous first life and glimpse at their second.

As a narrative, Spence keeps things fairly conventional, tracking the lives of the young Stone Roses and their fellow Manchester cohorts as they discover punk rock and follow the path from music enthusiasts to actual musicians. However, Spence makes the decision not to start with, say, the beginnings of Ian Brown and John Squire, but with a moment that occurred well into the band’s career: their massively-attended performance at Spike Island, Widnes in 1990, declared by many in the UK as a show comparable to Woodstock.

However, Spence lays out the events of Spike Island in such a way that it’s shocking that the show even managed to happen. Sound equipment failed, the bookers brought in the wrong opening act, and the drug-addled crowd almost ran over the stage at the alarming sight of a helicopter landing on the island. The band’s performance almost appears as an afterthought until you realize that it’s the only thing that went right on a day where seemingly everything else went wrong. It’s a moment that perfectly encapsulates the career of the Stone Roses: brilliant, lasting, beautiful music surrounded by bad luck and managerial incompetence.

Despite the ego clashes that led to the Stone Roses’ breakup in 1996, Spence avoids casting any of the band’s members in a negative light. Singer Ian Brown comes across as slightly arrogant in clips of interviews done at the band’s peak, and guitarist John Squire appears to be ornery and anti-social, but these traits are never played up by Spence to create more conflict than what’s already evident in the band’s history.

If there’s a villain that Spence hones in on, it’s manager Gareth Evans. Throughout the book, Spence lays the blame for many of the Stone Roses’ failures at Evans’ feet. It’s Evans, for example, who refuses to allow the band to tour America unless they can play at Shea Stadium (even though he had made little headway towards breaking the band into America.) It’s Evans who gets the Stone Roses into years of costly legal proceedings after promising the band’s album to multiple labels, only to abandon those deals once better options came along. All in all, Evans appears to be a giddy fan who found himself going in way over his head, and the band suffered as a result.

Aside from clearly painting Evans as an antagonist, Spence keeps things fairly neutral and avoids overt critical bias whenever possible. While covering the lengthy, fraught sessions that produced the Stone Roses’ Second Coming, a lesser writer would have taken the opportunity to heap even more negative criticism on an album that has received too much of it, but Spence focuses more on the album as an outlet for John Squire’s songwriting dominance and how it affected the band dynamic at the time. A more knowledgeable fan would probably prefer reading an account of the Second Coming sessions that was a little more sensational, but for newcomers and fans less versed in the band’s backstory, this sort of balanced account is welcome.

Above all, Stone Roses: War And Peace is an honest, journalistic look at the history of the Stone Roses, and while it doesn’t entirely dish the dirt, it has enough original material from all the major players in Stone Roses lore to work as something more than a re-telling of old stories. Hopefully, it’s enough to turn some curious American readers into the fanbase that a band of this caliber deserves.

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.

What Hi-Fi Review

Chris Gilson Thu, May 24 2012, 3:34PM

Like something from Awakenings, the Stone Roses bandwagon has once again rumbled into life.

This time, however, with good cause: the potential reunion of the ‘classic’ 1989 line up, burying of hatchets all round and even a third (fourth if you’re pedantic) album in the pipeline. Time to dust off the Reni hat then.

To date there have been two readable ’Roses biographies. Punk veteran John Robb’s 2001 The Stone Roses and the Resurrection of British Pop was a good tome at the time, and head and shoulders above anything else that had gone before – which, to be fair – wasn’t much.

Mick Middles’ engaging Breaking Into Heaven appeared in 2006 and, well, that was it. Finally, however, with the completion of Simon Spence’s War and Peace there now exists what can be described as the definitive book on the band.

It can’t have been an easy book to write. The Stone Roses camp is notoriously insular and, like all the best biographies, the bulk of the principle characters are missing. In his footnotes, however, Spence mentions that Reni took a strong interest throughout and that band participation was only scotched because of the forthcoming reunion.

Understand, too, that this isn’t a reunion cash-in. War and Peace has been a long time in gestation and while there is a footnote on forthcoming events, it’s clearly tacked on to the main work.

For the first time, the band’s early years are covered in detail thanks to active participation by pre-Mani bassist Pete Garner and second guitarist Andy Couzens together with other pivotal characters.

The rise of the ’Roses becomes a spell-binding read; from the Hannett sessions, through the blue-eyed pop of Sally Cinnamon and Elephant Stone to the glorious Stone Roses album. One of the most compelling interviewees from this period (and beyond) is legendary producer John Leckie, whose insights into the recording process are simply fascinating.

And yet, there’s that sense of unravelling; like reading about the Titanic, you know there’s going to be no happy ending. So onwards we go, wincing at the catastrophic Zomba recording contract, how the band never received (or knew of the existence of) its £40,000 Christmas bonus, instead getting £500 each from then manager Gareth Evans.

Good money followed bad and the wilderness years, Geffen years and slow decomposition of the band shuffled turgidly on, until the bitter and childish, long-running Squire/Brown war of words was all that remained.

Mercifully there’s no vilification of characters in the pages. Squire’s descent into cocaine overload is treated sensitively, while personality clashes and squabbles are handled with diplomacy rather then finger-pointing. The one exception is Evans, who starts as a potential saviour and ends up looking less than savoury.

Peculiar facts abound in this work – such as the booking of the band on Football Focus in 1994 to play five-a-side against Manchester United (it was squashed by Squire who thought he would look daft) and a lovingly in-depth account of the 1990s paint-splattering incident against Paul Birch, managing director of FM Revolver records. There’s also a lovingly in-depth account of the court case that followed.

Then there’s details about the one-off gigs, the silent interview technique, how Factory supremo Tony Wilson hated them… it’s all there, and in a lavish package that features mainly unseen pictures – including two striking ones for the front and back covers.

There are a couple of minor errors – it would be a miracle if there weren’t – but as a rule they don’t detract from the narrative.

For the casual listener, or die-hard fanatic, this is a genuine masterpiece. Difficult to put down, easy to follow and well written, it should be on any self-respecting Stone Roses fan’s bookshelf.

Original Article:

We Heart Music (America) 02/05/2013

Over the past few weeks, I’ve become an expert on all-things-Stone Roses, thanks to a book called Stone Roses: War and Peace by Simon Spence. The book was marketed to the United States, shortly after it was announced that the Stone Roses were to headline Coachella and the festivals’ fans were very confused by this “unknown” band.

When I started reading War and Peace, I quickly realized how very little I knew about the Stone Roses. Most of my recollections of the band were through the NME, Melody Maker, and Select Magazines, which does not really paint a picture of how it was back then.

I will vaguely re-tell The Stone Roses’ story with a very broad stroke a little later, but first I wanted to point out what this book does right. I’ve read a lot of band biographies, mostly from the band or singer’s perspective, so sometime you don’t feel like you’re getting the whole story. This book is written as if a reporter was telling the story through various interviews and quotes.

The other thing I liked is that it has preface of a “who’s who” list in the Stone Roses’ world. I’ve read biographies when in the middle of Chapter 7, I’m like “who is this person?” I never got confused readingWar and Peace, every couple of paragraphs, whenever a “character” is introduced again, they mention why that person is important to The Stone Roses.

As for the story of the Roses, I’ll just quickly touch on it for you. They started with two friends, John Squire and Ian Brown, from Altrincham Grammar School for Boys in 1979. The two, with drummer Si Wolstencroft would then form The Patrol. They eventually met up with Gary “Mani” Mounfield and Alan “Reni” Wren and changed the Patrol name to The Rose Roses.

The Stone Roses signed a bad contract with Gareth Evans and Matthew Cummins (who took in 33.3% of the Roses’ gross profits) and eventually became the figurehead of Madchester. But during Madchester’s white-hot domination of the music world (we’re talking Charlatans, Primal Scream, Happy Mondays, James) the Roses were tied up in courts when their label Jive/Zomba sued the band for breaking their contract. Why did you think it took so long between their debut album in 1989 and eventually Second Coming in 1994?

That’s only part of the story, it seems that during the recording process of Second Coming that the band was falling apart. At this point, Geffen Records had signed the band (who resolved the court cases and ending their relationship with Evans and Jive/Zomba). What came out of the court proceedings was that Evans was a very greedy man.

Trying to promote the second album also proved to be difficult, since the band is now manager-less. Reni kept disappearing from rehearsals or promo video shoots, etc. When he’s there, Squire was gone. Eventually Brown and Reni got in a dispute and Reni left the band. The band recruited another drummer Robbie Maddix, and, after cancelling two previous U.S. tours, the band, minus-Reni, would finally play eight U.S. dates in 1995. Shortly after, as history would have it, the band broke up after Squire left the band in October 1996.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. The book does briefly touch on all four band’s whereabouts post-break up. The four were not connected until 2011 when Brown and Squire would meet face to face for the first time for the funeral of Mani’s mother. That set a motion that would eventually lead to the Stone Roses’ reformation.

It’s a good read; there are a lot previously unknown details about the band. Most of this information is exclusive to this book, including some rather embarrassing young photographs of Ian Brown in the Patrol from 1987.

If you were to ask me “Why the Stone Roses broke up?” It’s a little complicated, but the short answer is quoted by A&R man Roddy McKenn, “It was all about money.”

I think Spence would like us to draw a different conclusion, that all four Stone Roses band members, John Squire, Ian Brown, Mani, and Reni, are very unique individuals with different ideas and personal growths issues… and that is what made them one of a kind as the Stone Roses.

If you ever wanted to know about the Stone Roses, then The Stone Roses: War and Peace (St Martin’s Griffin) has the definitive story that you must read. Although it’s not listed on the cover, I think the book is an “official” book as it can get. Once again, the four band members probably couldn’t agree over endorsing the book or not.