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MICK MIDDLES: RECOUNTING TALES OF THE STONE ROSES - INTERVIEW BY HELEN DONLON

Mick Middles is a freelance writer and journalist from the North West. He witnessed the birth of the punk explosion in Manchester in 1976 and of course later the Madchester scene, which he has writes so fluently about in his books. He has many music biographies published, some of which involve people from Mick's hometown of Manchester from Ian Curtis, to Shaun Ryder, Mark E Smith and Factory Records, in addition to having books released on Arcade Fire and Elbow, published by Omnibus Press. 

Talking to Helen Donlon today he answers questions and recounts some of the stories surrounding The Stone Roses.

“Having spent the last ten years in the filthiest business in the universe it’s a pleasure to announce the end of The Stone Roses."  - Ian Brown, 1996

After years of the press blowing hot and cold on them, unfathomable management palaver, the decline and funk of the rock star lifestyles and the cockamamie record deals with FM Revolver/Silvertone staining their professional ethos…who could blame him? I remember that Glastonbury so well, when John Squire's recently sustained injuries meant no headline gig.  Pulp were basically handed the spotlight; performing the main stage on the Saturday the night after Oasis, on a weekend in which the Britpop revolution was peaking.  Pulp's set is now the stuff of legend, but I remember at the time we were all so disappointed not to be getting the Roses. It cast a long shadow on the band’s future.

It's been 14 years since the first edition of Mick Middles’s Breaking Into Heaven: The Rise and Fall of the Stone Roses.  I will always remember the highly memorable launch event at St Ann's Square (which turned, semi-inexplicably, into a 3 day Manchester happening for me).  The bookshop was packed on a thoroughly rainy Manchester night, and Gareth Evans was one of many surprise faces in the audience. As Mick recounts in the new edition of the book (now suitably subtitled The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of the Stone Roses) Evans got up and announced to the crowd that the future of Manchester was film.  At the time this was greeted with polite silence.  Within a few years we had ‘Control’, ‘24 Hour Party People’ and the Joy Division documentary…..and Shane Meadows has now made a documentary on the band, due for release later this year.

Meanwhile the Stone Roses are back with their most famous line-up of Brown, Squire, Reni and Mani, and touring in Europe and the UK.

HELEN: Are you enjoying the Stone Roses reunion and all it's brought to the fore (books, gigs, exhibitions, nostalgia), and are you planning on getting to any of the gigs?

MICK: While I am not generally a fan of reunions, I can't see any negatives here. The difference is that The Stone Roses were always unfinished business and this is the perfect way of completing the story. So I am all for it. However, I have this in-built thing that rises up whenever there is something that absolutely everyone is doing. I just have to do something else. So couldn't go to Heaton Park. I would hate it. Will probably go to a small gig somewhere in Manchester on those dates. Always prefer small gigs anyway.

HELEN: How did it all start for you with the Roses, i.e. when did they enter your life, and how did they eventually become a band you wanted to write a book about (the first time round)?

MICK: The great thing about the Roses in the early days was that they were so un-Manchester. At the time, Mike Pickering was filling the Hacienda full of Chicago house and the like. It is wrong to suggest that the Roses were goth...but they were certainly off the map within the context of Manchester. This made them outsiders and it took a long, long time for them to break through. In the end this all seemed so ironic. While I loved it when Gareth and Lindsay [Reade, who played an important but usually overlooked part in the Roses’ rise] found a way through for the band, I preferred those early defiant gigs.

HELEN: The Inspiral Carpets were very psychedelic in their presentation and they were so influential to a lot of the clubbers for a while. Do you think John Squire’s painterly image making helped in how the Roses were perceived around the time Mani joined – given the Happy Mondays and that whole mixture of rock n roll meets dance culture was coming to the fore in Manchester, and the Inspirals’ psychedelia had crept into the scene as an acceptable club aesthetic..?

MICK: Yes, The Inspirals must be credited with re-creating a psychedelic vibe. Their early gigs, often supporting Happy Mondays, had the look of a latter-day Velvet Underground, complete with swirling lightshow. How this related to the bubbling dance culture seemed rather vague at the time. Even Clint Boon’s pudding bowl haircut conjured visions of Small Faces album sleeves. It was an unlikely connection but Manchester really did seem to grasp the psychedelic-Bohemian look which was a million miles away from the urban streetwise approach of The Hacienda which had been very much borrowed from New York (Paradise Garage) and Chicago.

In a way, it was a cultural bridge that allowed the Roses to cross. No longer rockist outcasts, they realised that they could surf that divide. Mani’s presence probably helped too…and John Squire’s artwork suddenly seemed locally relevant. As did a band who sounded like The Byrds.

HELEN: What’s your take on ‘the enigmatic Gareth Evans’ (as you call him in the book), who to some people seemed a very unlikely choice for them. 

MICK: Originally a hairdresser – Gareth and Colin Crimpers, Tiviot Dale, Stockport, who used to do great Ziggy style cut’n’blows in the early seventies – Gareth Evans is an old school style Manchester club owner/entrepreneur. Although armed with very little knowledge of the music business or, indeed, of ‘music’, he had been savvy enough to install the great Roger Eagle as booker for The International Club, in Manchester’s Longsite, in 1985. Arguably the best club in Manchester’s recent musical history, it brought eclectic music and guitar bands back into a city that had been dance orientated since the opening of The Hacienda in 1982.

While Gareth’s musical knowledge might seem suspect – he always referred to his friend, Philip Hall’s band as the ‘Maniac’ Street Preachers’, he worked extremely hard and never, ever allowed a money-making opportunity to pass by.  While The International was up and running, he certainly noticed the healthy takings provided by North Manchester band, The Chameleons, who seemed to represent the antitheses of Hacienda cool. Ironically, so too The Stone Roses, who had been bubbling around Manchester to little effect for some time. It seems odd, given our memories of the Madchester era, to note that The Roses never seemed comfortable within The Hacienda…not in the early days anyway.

There is little doubt that desperation caused them to fall under Evan’s curious managerial eye. There were a few practicalities involved. Free rehearsal space inside The International plus a chance to build a regular audience there. Nevertheless, It was an enormous shock when he took the helm. There followed a truly Spinal Tap period when Evans would engage in what was often utterly bizarre attempts to hype the Roses to the local media. How many times did he fake phone calls, apparently to high ranking music biz executives in London and L.A. One recalls him ferrying the band around in his Jeep, loudly informing anyone within earshot, that he had the best band in the world in his vehicle. Oddly enough, he did. And that was the strangest thing about Gareth. As unhinged as his infernal rhetoric always seemed, it often contains more than a grain of truth. Another odd thing. While he would seem to be the perfect example of that curious beast, the obnoxious local band manager, many people in Manchester seemed very fond of him. I certainly was. There was a kind of innocence to his rhetoric and his approach was both childlike and charming. I never found Gareth to be ‘draining’. Indeed, I always enjoyed his company even though it could be hugely embarrassing.

HELEN: Can we put in a word for Lindsay Reade who was so much more involved with the Roses' rise than I had realised at the time, and presumably much more than most fans are aware of.  She brought in Geoff Travis and Rough Trade, for one...

MICK: Yes, it does need stating that The Stone Roses at their hinge moment were managed by two people. It was Lindsay Reade, working out of Gareth’s office opposite The International, who managed to fully capture the attention of the people who really mattered in the London based music industry. Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis has stated, over and over, how his biggest regret is NOT managing to sign the band after Reade had set the wheels in motion. It would have been a different story, had that deal not fallen through and, had Gareth not continued flapping in the wake of Reade’s departure, they might now be producing their 10th album in Malibu.

The reunion is most welcome, but a lot of music has been lost. Still the ghost of Gareth Evans remains. One occasionally hears of him attempting to open a marina in Anglesey, or suchlike. For myself, I cannot drive passed the High Legh Golf Club and garden centre – which he used as latter-day office – without sensing his presence. After all is said and done, it is a welcome memory.

HELEN: You tell some amazing stories about liberties that were taken in the press, for example Nick Kent's FACE piece in which he makes up that story about Tony Wilson having 'absolutely no problem' with Ian Curtis dying.  The famous 'death sells!' quote which makes great copy but is pretty outrageous given it was made up - a fact later acknowledged by the editor of The Face - and led to the Roses publicly defaming Kent on stage at Spike Island.  It seems to me that the Roses public story was and continues to be a mixture of myth and mendacity with the group not knowing a lot of the time what the truth is?

MICK: In the early days, if not later, The Stone Roses certainly had an attitude about them. Not a bad thing, necessarily. One could call it ‘quiet confidence’ although many thought they were simply arrogant. The problem was that it took such a long time for them to actually sell any records. There was a bit of resentment in Manchester, mainly from other bands that couldn’t see why these people were acting like superstars. When Gareth came along it helped. They just seemed to shut up and let him do the talking, for better or worse. That said, they were never a good interview. Strange, for such intelligent lads. A mixture of myth and mendacity…good way of putting it. Quite right too, to stress that the group were often not even involved in the myth-making. As time passes, the myths blur even further.

Interview by Helen Donlon

Breaking Into Heaven: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of The Stone Roses by Mick Middles is available to pre order on Amazon (released 16 July 2012) www.amazon.co.uk/Breaking-Heaven-Resurrection-Stone-Roses/dp/1780385455