I was seventeen when I heard The Stone Roses for the first time. They were electric, enigmatic and encompassed everything I wanted to be. Growing up in a Catholic all-girls school in Essex had its limitations. I struggled to find an identity, relate to my peers, and shrug off Essex stereotypes. I felt like an outsider, always struggling to fit in and find ‘my own people’. My peers were clones of one another, consumed with the lives of TOWIE personalities and trivial issues. In the depths of my frustration, I relied on music as my saviour and escape from reality. Hence, it was here, in the limits of Ian Brown’s no-nonsense attitude, the ironic lyricism of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ and John Squire’s incredibly relatable timidity, I found myself. At seventeen, it was blindingly apparent I had more in common with four middle aged men, bellowing tunes written for a different generation, than people my own age who lived next door. Whether it’s teenage angst or the need to be different, music has the power to captivate and connect individuals of any age, any generation and of any background. From my mundane and repetitive suburban life, Manchester was a utopia. It had culture, interesting people and a remarkable musical trajectory. The Stone Roses encompassed all of that. As an impressionable teenager, their swagger, cocksure attitude and arrogance was refreshing. In turn, with their help, I discovered my very own ‘Mersey Paradise’.
Arguably, The Stone Roses were one of the most illustrious band of the 1980s. Originating from Manchester, their reputation preceded them. During the eighties, the popularity of British music declined significantly as American bands attracted wider audiences. In Manchester, starting with The Smiths, British music underwent a revival and with it, the face British pop changed as we knew it. For years, The Stone Roses were popular in Manchester, but struggled to gain wider recognition from outside the North East. In 1989, all that was to change, with the release of their debut album. Which I must say, sounds as fresh and as tantalising today, as I assume it did thirty-one years ago. Iconic songs like, ‘I Wanna be Adored’, ‘I Am the Resurrection’ and ‘Waterfall’ became Mancunian anthems overnight. After the album’s release, the tide began to turn, as they attracted fans across the UK. Up and down the country, they generated a cult following, especially amongst young people. In turn, The Stone Roses transformed youth culture. Rather than The Smiths, quiffs and bowl cuts, youngsters were trending baggy cuts and bucket hats. Fans embodied everything the Stone Roses represented, including their swagger, clothes and general attitude towards life.
For all their egoism and arrogance, The Stone Roses were unequivocally and authentically themselves. They’ve put themselves through numerous court cases and bad career moves, to prove it. They weren’t afraid to take risks and dared to cover unknown territory, by combining pop with politics. As a band, The Stone Roses were staunchly anti-monarchist, anti-Thatcher and free thinking. All of which was reflected in their lyricism. Their iconic song ‘Bye Bye Badman’ was inspired by a documentary Ian Brown and John Squire watched about the 1968 student riots in Paris. John Squire designed and adorned their debut album cover with red, white, and blue stripes and three lemons. Why lemons, you ask? Whilst backpacking through Europe, Brown met a French activist who was part of the student protests in Paris. He informed Brown that the only way to combat the effects of tear gas was to suck on a lemon, and just like that, their iconographic citrus symbol was born. But it didn’t stop there. In 1989, in an interview with Melody Maker, Ian Brown said of Prince Charles, ‘I’d like to see him dead. I’d like to shoot him.” The Stone Roses weren’t afraid to challenge the status quo or spark controversy. Their music encouraged others to look beyond our external reality, by challenging the pillars of our society. Even in 2012, during their reunion concert in Manchester, Brown spoke out against the aristocratic status quo. He likened celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee, to celebrating ‘60 years of tyranny’.
For me to talk about The Stone Roses in any meaningful way, I have to pay homage to their unique manner. If you really want to understand the band, their personalities and philosophy on life, watch their interviews. The most notable being, Ian Brown’s and John Squire’s interview for Music Box in 1989 (on YouTube). It feels more like a painful counselling session that an interview. There are far too many strange questions, one-word answers and painfully awkward pauses, especially for a twenty-minute interview! It’s supposed to be a promotional interview for their new album, but I swear, if you didn’t recognise their faces, you wouldn’t be able to tell what they were selling. Ian Brown articulates himself in such a way which is so far removed from how musicians talk today. He’s brutally honest, blunt and even standoffish in his approach. He doesn’t overcompensate or apologise. However, in the same breath, Brown embodies a sense of humility, which is admirable in comparison to the musical icons of today’s generation. He’s in touch with reality. At one point the interviewer asks, if it was a struggle when the band was first putting out music and they weren’t getting recognised. In turn, Brown responds ‘it’s not a struggle, a struggle is when you live in Glasgow and you’ve got no job. When there’s miles of stone concrete, that’s a struggle. It’s not a struggle being in a group and putting out your own records.’ At one point, he even admits that sometimes the band is rubbish. He also doesn’t consider himself talented, compared to the other three members in the group. Can you imagine if an artist today, admitted the same thing in an interview?
I like many others, attribute The Stone Roses as a life changing phenomenon. As musicians they faced harsh media expectations and scrutiny, neither of which, they succumbed to. They were just themselves, in their entirety. At seventeen, as a confused and alienated teenager, I found a sense of belonging within their personalities and their music. They’re the reason I play drums, own far too many bucket hats to admit and adore Neo-psychedelia. In today’s world, pop music lacks depth, complexity and meaning. It obliviously apparent, like my dad frequently reminds me, that there are no musical icons of today’s generation. In 1989, with the release of their debut album, The Stone Roses emerged in the wake of a similar musical stalemate. More than thirty years later, I hope today’s generation can find similar musical revolutionaries to transform and revitalise British pop, once again. After all, ‘the past was yours, but the future’s mine’.