Late 1996, and Ian Brown is on the ropes. The Roses have imploded. Their Manc descendents Oasis are on peak form, stealing the Britrock crown from their former idols. In a double blow, Brown has split from the mother of his two young songs. Penniless and battered, he returns home to live with his parents. With a Second Coming royalty cheque for nine grand, he puts a deposit down on an ex-council house in Warrington. Brown’s first impulse is to become a gardener and
sell flowers at market, like his grandfather. A simple, honourable life. He digs over his garden. But friends keep nagging him not to give up on music. Slowly, he teaches himself songwriting from a Bob Marley anthology and an old blues songbook. He equips a mini-studio in his back room with second-hand instruments and soundproofing from B&Q. Together with Robbie Maddix and Nigel Ipinson, drummer and keyboard player in the final Roses line-up, he makes tentative plans for a group called The Brown. But, ultimately, a raw and ragged solo album takes shape.
Was Unfinished Monkey Business meant to sound that rough?
“Yeah, I didn’t want to do a polished 24-track production. I wanted it to sound like you were sat on the end of my bed listening to me working through these songs. There was a chance that the Dust Brothers would mix it, but it meant I had to wait eight weeks and I didn’t want to wait. I’m curious how it would have sounded. I don’t regret it, but I think they would have made it sound 10 times better.”
You were “gutted” when John played with Oasis at Knebworth. Is that why, when Unfinished Monkey Business came out, you branded Oasis “piss-poor” cokeheads who were “wasting all of our time”?
“I said that purely just to get them at it, to get busy. I loved the fact that Oasis got massive because I felt, when the Roses hit a brick wall, if Oasis hadn’t happened it would have all been for nothing. I didn’t think they sounded like the Roses, but I always had respect for Oasis… they always said they loved the Roses, and Liam always said specifically that they loved me.”
Your confrontation with a BA stewardess in 1998 was a pretty dark chapter. You’ve always disputed the official version. Did you really threaten to chop her hands off?
“Yeah. In a joke way. She’s come into First Class, and she’s obviously used to seeing guys in suits and ties. Suddenly she sees four black kids, an Indian kid with his turban on, Aziz, and a white kid asleep next to me. And instead of saying, ‘Do you want duty free?’ she waved her hand dismissively as if to say, ‘You won’t want this.’ I’m like, ‘Don’t wave your hand at me like that.’ So she says sorry, and I say, ‘An apology’s OK, but if you do it again I’ll chop your hands off.’ And she just tutted and carried on pushing her trolley.”
Hand on heart, you never threatened anyone?
“Not at all, hand on heart. Like my lawyer said, what was he going to chop her hands off with, one of the plastic knives? It obviously wasn’t a serious thing and they knew it. I didn’t even cuss her.”
All the same, you ended up serving two months in Strangeways. Did you learn anything from prison?
“That this system is still abusing the poor like 100 years ago. It’s a Victorian jail and it still felt Victorian. These kids are straight out of kids’ homes at 16, then detention centres. Before they know it they’re in a fucking man’s jail at 21. And I saw more drugs in there than at the Hacienda. Every day I got offered heroin and crack. Kids call it a jail bag; it takes the walls down.”
And John Squire sent you a box of Maltesers in jail…
“Yeah, we used to send each other Maltesers every Christmas as kids. He sent me a box, and a note saying he hoped I was out for Christmas, and he still loved me. He didn’t put a phone number or address on it, though, heh heh!”
Didn’t Kevin Rowland write to you, too?
“He did. I wrote him a letter back, but I don’t know if he got it. It would be nice to say thank you, what a top man. He said, ‘I’ve been in this position myself, I’ve been in the charts and I’ve been in jail, I know what you’re going through.’ That was amazing.”
Did you really convert to Islam in jail?
“My sister bought me the Koran in 1990. I always thought the stories in it were magical. So I’d already had a love affair with it, but when I got in jail the first day, I saw what everyone else was eating. I didn’t know what the fuck was in the pies, but the lads said if you were Muslim you get chickpeas, lentils, rice, chicken curry on a Friday. So I said my religion was Muslim.”
Not a genuine religious conversion, then?
“I don’t go to a Mosque, no, but I still love the stories in the Koran. It just seems magical to me. I’ve always said prayers. I’ve always said there’s some truth to something that’s 2000 years old.”
Is it true you are now planning some prison gigs, Johnny Cash style?
“Yeah… I might have a chance of getting in Preston jail. I’m trying to get three or four prisons, do a little prison tour, heh heh! Instead of doing little clubs as a warm-up for a big festival. That would be really cool.”