Originally published in Uncut’s June 2006 issue (Take 109).
It’s the rock reunion fans crave more than any other: Brown, Squire, Mani and Reni together onstage again. But could it happen? We catch up with Manchester’s own Fab Four to pop the question, starting with Ian Brown, the Rose who went from washed-up icon to Godlike Genius for a new generation. Interviews by Stephen Dalton, additional reporting by Hamish MacBain.
March 2006, and King Monkey is swinging from the ceiling of his record label offices, grinning as he tapes over the smoke alarm for an illicit nicotine break. At the end of 12 months that have seen an acclaimed hits album, his biggest shows so far, and a cocksure comeback as Britrock’s prodigal prince, Ian Brown is on a high. For the first time in a decade, he seems like a man with nothing to prove.
In person, Brown is gangly, angular and super-lean. There may be flecks of grey stubble around those 43-year-old Bruce Lee cheekbones, but the Scally Superstar aura remains intact. Think young George Best meets anorexic Che Guevara. He also laughs more than you might expect for a self-confessed “belligerent northern bastard”.
And he talks. Boy, does he talk. About old friends and bitter enemies. About smack and crack. About prison and politics. About religion, racism and Roses reunion rumours. About all the highs and lows of two decades inside the filthiest business in the universe.
Ten years ago, The Stone Roses broke up in a slow-motion car crash of acrimony, ego and drugs. Following their disastrous Reading finale in August 1996, Brown was widely written off as a no-hoper. But four solo albums, one remix collection and a best-of later, he is back on world-beating form.
Suddenly, teenage bands like the Arctic Monkeys are namechecking him. Young fans who never knew the Roses are surfing his cosmic stoner frequencies. The NME has even conceded that Brown’s solo work now eclipses that of his former band, giving the singer its Godlike Genius award in February.
So how does it feel to be Ian Brown in 2006?
IAN BROWN: “Amazing. I used to think, how many LPs do I have to put out for them to say I’m a music-maker in my own right? But I feel I’m getting there now. Having all these new bands who were two- or three-years-old when the Roses came out telling me I’m their hero amazes me. It makes me feel like I must have done something right. I believe in that phrase anyway: your good works will follow you through.”
Do you feel like a Godlike Genius?
“It’s like when they chant my name at gigs, it goes in one ear and out the other. But if someone offers it, I’m not going to turn it down. I know ‘genius’ comes from the Arab word ‘djinn’, which means spirit.”
So you’ve noticed the tide turning in your favour?
“Definitely. I started managing myself in October 2004, and since then it’s gone up and up. I think the goodwill of all the years is just catching up. Maybe when I went to Strangeways, they thought I was a thug, and it’s taken a few years to prove I’m not. And I’ve got to shake off the love for the Roses. They’re never going to let it go about us reforming.”
Which takes us back, inevitably, to 1970s Manchester…