Keep What You Got By Giving It All Away
29th of October 1996.
A small gathering of seekers meet in my flat, plotting to free minds so asses will follow. The plan - to turn the Brighton Dome into a giant spaceship. ‘Transcendance’ would bring together Howard Marks as MC, Robert Anton Wilson, Nicolas Saunders and Terrence McKenna, discussing quantum consciousness, DMT and the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will. Everyone was buzzing from the news that Robert Anton Wilson had confirmed his participation but the good vibes didn’t last long. Elation quickly turned to rock bottom downer as news came through that The Stone Roses had finally split. Everyone knew it was coming but like the final kiss from an ex-lover, the inevitability didn’t lessen the crushing blow.
Cressa had told Ian Brown, “it’s not the Roses anymore”. The man who had introduced the group to flares, who had danced behind John Squire’s amps and worked his effects pedals, wasn’t wrong. The roses had indeed turned to stone. It was left to the singer to announce the end of the beginning:
“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. May God bless all who gave us their love and supported us throughout this time. Special thanks to the people of Manchester who sent us on our way. Peace be upon you”.
In defiance (or denial) I played every Roses record repeatedly until my flatmates asked me if I needed help.
Jungle, Reggae, Dub, Hip-Hop, Breaks and Detroit Techno had been my horizon for years, and now even more so, post-Roses. As I cut the mid-range and turned the bass up to eleven, Ian Brown picked out chords on an acoustic guitar given to him by Reni, who predicted, “one day you’ll thank me for that”. A bass guitar and drum machine were added to the bedroom sound-lab and soon Ian Brown was rediscovering the joys of making music.
15 months later he released his first solo album and the best single of the year, My Star. Unfinished Monkey Business knocked spots off any other British record, only Jurassic 5’s debut LP was as ambitious and unique. Back in ‘89 the Roses had embraced House and Hip Hop so it was no surprise that beats and bleeps were to the fore on this record. Ian Brown was making music every inch his own. The gate-fold sleeve was a touch as was the free poster which went straight up on the wall alongside the mantra ‘Phone In Well’.
'Can’t See Me’ came grooving out the speakers like the long-lost soul bother hybrid of ‘Fools Gold’ and ‘Something’s Burning’. Shimmering deep funk driven by a bass that weaved amongst the phased breaks, underpinning that voice; goading, calling, proclaiming. ‘Nah Nah’ was another great song. Hypnotic head nodding Jimi tinged psychedelic folk, catchy as hell and wiser than time. Its followed by the effortlessly perfect Deep Pile Dreams, which, despite the pastel psych-electronic haze which floats within the song, the vocals deliver a brutal assessment regarding Ian and John’s fractured relationship.
The album’s lo-fi feel suited the songs perfectly, enabling an immediacy and intimacy all so often lost by over-cooking the mix. Influences ranged from Mowax tinged breaks to Dub, House, Electronica, Folk, even the Beatles, but the album was pure Ian Brown. A brilliant brave and ballsy album that didn’t compromise by trying to sound like the Roses. The only comparison I can think of is John Lydon's new found sound when forming PIL after the Pistols demise.
At the start of 1998 things were looking very rosey indeed for King Monkey. By the end of that year things couldn’t have been worse.
Anti-monarchist, anti-militarist, anti-rock n roll self-indulgence and soul sucking vampires, King Monkey gave it both barrels in interviews whilst promoting the album throughout 98. By the onset of winter he had won over new fans too young to see the Roses the first-time round. Was he getting too gobby, pissing too many people off? By his own admission, this is a man who can’t stop talking. By the 2nd of November Ian Brown was swapping the stage for the brutal confines of Manchester’s Strangeways Prison, sent down on trumped up charges.
How can anyone be sent to prison for words? Can swear words make a plane crash?
Ian Brown was released in the wee small hours of Christmas Eve and soon after embarked upon, (by The Roses standards) a relentless cycle of writing, recording and performing. All the while refining his craft and cementing his reputation as one of the few icons to stick his head above the parapet and say it like it is. Only Bobby G from the Scream had the cahonies to say non-serviam as often as Ian Brown.
From Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man to Curtis Mayfields’s Back To The World, Ian Brown has soaked up Soul, Reggae, Dub, Hip Hop, Electro and the many strands and mutations since Acid House. Roots of the same tree in which King Monkey sits high in the branches.
Seven brilliant studio albums, one Greatest Hits, a remix album, 17 singles, umpteen shows in 45 different countries and so many great songs. Corpses In Their Mouths, Kiss Ya Lips, Illegal Attacks, Love Like A Fountain, F.E.A.R, Keep What You Got, Time Is My Everything. Songs that reveal the very essence of the Karate Kid. Songs no one else could write. Always Remember Me brings the tears every time. I bloody love the man. We needed him in 88, we need him now.
Illegal Attacks offers more knowledge and insight into the corporate management of war than anything available via the so called Free Press. Sinead O’Connor’s duet is absolutely mint. F.E.A.R is another lyrical heavyweight. All control systems are dependent upon the management of fear, institutionalised paranoia and divide and conquer mind games. The song is a manual to undo the coding.
I think we will see another solo album from King Monkey one day but first let’s get ready for the third Roses LP! The summer shows offer the possibility of an extended live version of the Sly influenced Beautiful Thing. If that tune is anything to go by it’s gonna be some album. Whilst the cultural landscape is so formulaic it’s more important than ever that there are bands like The Stones Roses, real-deals who can hot-wire the whole scene with excitement and uncertainty.
The Roses alchemy is best felt live. A collective joy that doesn’t stifle individuality, instead, it coaxes your very own personal swagger from the shadows.
One of the best live acts on the planet, its beyond spine tingling the anticipation that awaits the sparse bass notes that announce I Wanna Be Adored to a crowd ready to become the band. Made of Stone and This Is The One, just two songs from a set soul full of tunes that the group could stop playing and a note wouldn’t get missed by the choir. People invest in this band in a way most folks don’t understand or appreciate.
2017 is gonna be a good year for King Monkey, Mani, Reni and John and it’s gonna be a good year for the best fans in the world.
God bless Ian Brown.
Next Friday we are truly honoured to interview founding member of Cabaret Voltaire, Stephen Mallinder.- don't miss it!
Catch you then.