Roses reviews


Roses redux

Review by Neil O’Sullivan

‘The Stone Roses’ tracks the rise, fall and return of one of Britain’s most influential rock bands

The Stone Roses: War and Peace, by Simon Spence, Viking RRP£20, 352 pages

The Stone Roses’ decision to reform late last year shocked their fans. Guitarist John Squire, seemingly content with his second act as a visual artist, had only recently produced a work bearing the inscription: “I have no desire to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group the Stone Roses.” This echoed the view of Ian Brown, the band’s singer and Squire’s estranged songwriting partner. “I don’t see how we could create what we had. It would spoil everything by trying.”

Prior to their announcement, the Stone Roses’ last meaningful action had been to split up in 1996. Yet the fourpiece – completed by drummer Reni and bass player Mani – remains probably Britain’s most influential of the past 25 years. They released two albums, only one of which, the eponymous psychedelia-tinged 1989 debut that came to define the “Madchester” scene, is really responsible for their musical legacy. The 225,000 tickets for their reunion shows in Manchester next weekend sold out in hours. Few rock bands have done so little and come to mean so much.

Journalist Simon Spence explores this curious tale in depth and style, steering clear for the most part of the florid excesses that mar many rock histories. Through scores of interviews, he offers fresh insights into the grandiose vision of schoolmates Squire and Brown and reveals their pragmatic, sometimes ruthless approach. The pair’s decision to take credit for the songwriting was resented by the rest of the group.

He also details how the band worked hard to create an aura of greatness, even as an initially hostile music press wrote them off. The formula was far from original. Anarchic punk-inspired stunts – such as spray-painting large areas of Manchester with the band’s name – were coupled with studiedly arrogant proclamations of impending world domination (usually from the swaggering Brown). But it undoubtedly contributed to the mystique that set the band apart from more straightforwardly hedonistic contemporaries such as the Happy Mondays.

Once the band found their groove, most notably on the trance-making single “Fools Gold”, they began to justify even their own inflated publicity. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s they led a brief love-in between rock and dance culture and marked their brief period at the summit with a fraught and typically unorthodox rave-style gig on a man-made island in Widnes, Cheshire. Spence, who reported on the event for the Face magazine, evocatively reprises what would become the ecstasy generation’s version of Woodstock.

The band’s demise is the most puzzling part of the story. A period in court trying to extricate themselves from what Spence describes as “one of the worst recording contracts in history” was followed by a $20m deal with the US major label Geffen and four years working on (or for much of that time, not working on) their second album. The group bought houses, settled down and started families but grew apart from each other. Reconvening to make music, they discovered Led Zeppelin (with the exception of Brown, who believed they should pursue a funkier sound). Drugs were taken, rows took place, and lots and lots of guitar tracks were laid down, but in narrative terms this sense of extended ennui is a challenge even Spence’s inventiveness cannot wholly overcome.

News of the Roses’ reformation was a mixed blessing for the author, who started writing this book as a collaboration with drummer Reni in 2010 before others in the newly reunited band vetoed the idea of any such project being “authorised”.

Greater access to the group might have helped illuminate the gloom surrounding their break-up. Were they – and Squire in particular – paralysed by the fear of making a less than perfect record? Why, when they were on the brink of achieving what they set out to, did they seem to lose conviction? The next chapter is about to be written – will the Stone Roses legend survive their own second coming? In the meantime, this is a rich and rewarding record of the story so far.

Neil O’Sullivan is deputy editor of FT Life & Arts

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012.

The Word 14/06/12

Comedy Of Errors

The Stone Roses story is a northern picaresque, packed with clueless characters and driven by farcical levels of chutzpah

By John Harris

THE STONE ROSES: War And Peace Simon Spence Viking

THE STONE ROSES’ DAY-LONG fiasco at Spike Island was the “Woodstock of its Generation” in many more ways than the phrase was intended to capture. Not that my presences denoted much beyond good luck, but I was there, suffering the woeful support acts, and getting stuck under a bridge, a moment greeted with heartwarming shouts of “Hillsborough!” – but just about managing to convince myself that I was having the time of my life (a good indication why capitalism’s most reliable customer is the late-adolescent male.)

Reading Simon Spence’s forensic biography, the reasons for the day-long pangs of disappointment extend into the distance: the fact that only half the required security staff turned up, the panic spread by an aberrant river tide (“If the Mersey rose another yard they would have to evacuate the whole island”), the booking of a bellowing American herbert named Frankie Bones, mistakenly hired instead of the altogether more legendary Chicago DJ Frankie Knuckles.

Fair play to Spence, who will be better known to hard-bitten readers of the late 1980s NME as Simon Dudfield: even if his text is littered with hackneyed journalese, his 300 pages are full of such revelations, both major and deliciously minor. Moreover, this is not just The Stone Roses’ story, but that of two decades of pop-cultural history, in which lingering punk furies were eventually snuffed out by corporate business as usual. The most obvious sub-plot centres on a record industry moving through its last days of Calilgula-esque misrule. A case in point: the Roses were never going to succeed in the USA, nor did they really want to. But turn to page 181: a big lunch in LA with David Geffen, $4 million suggested as an upfront payment, and a cheque for $350,000 as a deposit. Easeh!

Other gorgeous facts abound. Before The Stones Roses were formed, Ian Brown and first bassist Pete Garner were huge fans of The Cockney Rejects and Angelic Upstarts. Under their spell, Brown – famed for objecting to flags going up at concerts – had a Union Jack tattooed on his arm, complete with the inscription “England”. Having been told by the jobbing soul veteran Geno Washington that he had the makings of a star (a story fleshed out here by Washington himself), Brown took singing lessons with a Mrs Rhodes, whose premises were near Manchester’s Victoria station. When bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield first saw the singer, he registered the future King Monkey’s resemblance to Galen from Planet Of The Apes: a good thing, apparently, “because he looked like my favourite telly programme”.

Eventually, the embryonic Roses met Gareth Evans, the owner of Manchester’s International club, first glimpsed on page 85, impressing his business acumen on the band by dropping his trousers and showing off a line of underpants he was selling. And what a spectacular embodiment of chutzpah and ineptitude he was. First he signed them to a heavy metal label in Wolverhampton, which he mistook for the Bristol-based indie label Revolver (the one he was dealing with was FM Revolver). When he hitched them to Jive/Zomba – the home of Sam Fox and Billy Ocean – the contract they signed was a draft, intended as the basis of negotiations. But Evans was being advised by a mortgage specialist from Sale, and the band thus found themselves chained to one of the most one-sided deals in history. In hindsight, his cluelessness did for them: you can read at least half their career as a doomed pirate voyage, captained by Brian “Garlic Bread” Potter from Phoenix Nights.

When the ship begins to flounder, the tales get all the more compelling. The stop-start sessions for Second Coming form an increasingly comic odyssey, as they chase the ghost of Led Zeppelin around some very unlikely places indeed – not least a former working men’s club in Tintwistle, Derbyshire, rented for £15 an hour, where the hired help included one Al “Bongo” Shaw, “who wasn’t a qualified engineer but knew where to get weed”. And there are new insights about the messiness that surrounded the split: particularly the belated news that John Squire didn’t quit in some ego driven fit of pique, but in reaction to the fact the others were working with a new guitarist. “John took it the wrong way,” explains second drummer Robbie Maddix. You would, wouldn’t you?

Those with tickets for this year’s reunion concerts (I don’t think I’m going – no good having your own youth sold back to you, and all that) will probably find the inevitably brief account of their reforming frustrating, though an updated edition will presumably be on the way. In any case, the breathless last section is mere detail: despite the fact that a decade and half of effort resulted in just two proper albums, this is a northern picaresque full of pathos and farce, and Spence’s version is as good as definitive.


THE TIMES 02/06/2012


The Stones Roses:
War and Peace
by Simon Spence
Viking, 328pp
£20/£18 discounted price, call 0845 2712134

The wars of the Roses

As the Stone Roses embark on their reunion tour, a new biography charts the band’s turbulent career, from violent early gigs to global fame and bitter break up

Love, both in song titles and lyrics, is a word that features heavily in the vocabulary of the Stone Roses. And to play their music, the first album especially, is to bathe in an easy, euphoric soundscape that feels like falling in love.

Millions have fallen for its lure and will do so again this summer when the reformed band embark on an extensive tour of the world’s major rock festivals. Their shows at Heaton Park in their home city of Manchester sold out 220,000 tickets in just over an hour.

No doubt the music will be sufficiently loud to drown out the white noise of their backstory which, as relayed by Spence in this sturdy biography, is habitually unpleasant. If rock ‘n’ roll is the preserve of the brattish, vainglorious and ruthless, the Stone Roses are definitive.

While the most infamous escapade saw them hurling paint at the premises and staff of their former record label, the hostility had antecedence. At an early concert they resolved to inspire a riot in homage to their heroes, the Jesus and Mary Chain. So, as the first chord was struck, a fan pressed close to the stage was kicked in the face by original member Andy Couzens.

At other times audience members are “fronted up”. Doors are kicked in at venues. Faulty speaker stacks hurled off stage. Journalists stonewalled. Record companies double-crossed. A television crew is mocked with cries of “amateurs”. Tours are cancelled on a whim. Reni, the drummer, urinates in a promoter’s office. They even react with enmity to offers of support. “If you you want to help, great – well done pal; now f*** off,” is one crabby riposte.

Spence, whose book was originally planned in collaboration with the band’s drummer, Reni, was granted good access and is cute on the machinations of the industry and internal band politics. Frustratingly, the four comprising the classic line-up are only roughly sketched as personalities outside a group context. Presumably their parents, relatives and partners evaded the author’s net.

Back in the mid-1980s I was part of the Manchester scene that soon formed the UK’s cultural heartbeat. I contributed the pop page to a local evening newspaper and played in my own group, the Monkey Run.

I first heard the Stone Roses on Piccadilly Radio. These early songs were leaden and uninspiring. A few weeks later they featured in Muze, a magazine covering the music of the North West. Leather trousers, bandanas, a definite goth undertone – we had nothing to fear from this lot.

Still, their name kept cropping up. They were evidently well connected, utilising and discarding various Manchester luminaries. They alighted on Gareth Evans as manager, who, according to singer Ian Brown, fancied himself as Al Capone and, “changed his mind four times on one sentence”.

If serendipity had united three of the finest musicians of a generation – Alan “Reni” Wren, Gary “Mani” Mounfield, John Squire – and its most charismatic frontman in Brown, Evans was similarly essential as collaborator and corroborator. He shared their messiah complex and told them (and everyone else) that they were great, better than great – often and loudly.

Evans multiplied the strong arm as he swung erratically from madcap to mishap to menace. The anecdotes are legendary: he sold novelty underpants; he carried cash in bin liners; he punched Reni for having the audacity to interupt a conversation. Along the way, he also cut one of the worst record deals in history.

As regular patrons of The International, a club co-owned by Evans, the Monkey Run were invited to support the Stone Roses in February, 1988. We were minutes into the soundcheck when our manager, a moonlighting English teacher, was summoned to the phone. “Don’t get our sound engineer tired,” was Evans’s warning. “And make sure you give him a drinking voucher [ie, cash].”

After we’d finished the set our drummer realised that he had left his jacket in the dressing room. He asked Evans if he could retrieve it. “No one goes back-stage while the Stone Roses are preparing to play,” he thundered. This seemed ludicrously arrogant, but reflected the mystique he was building around them. Later his mood changed and he presented us with a 24-pack of lager for being “good lads”.

I was back amid the throng when the house lights dimmed and the Roses took to the stage. Brown pouting, held the microphone at his waist: half-monkey, half-tiger, wholly alive. The others were cool and handsome, born to the stage. The sound was rich, the riffs dragging you in, the swagger beguiling. Clearly there had been a visitation of brilliance since their earlier recordings.

Each of us in the room was aware that we had shared a quasi-religious experience. This was music that stood aside from anything we had heard previously, not only in Manchester but anywhere. And it was new-born, free of the self-paraody or routine that quickly settles on groups.

The debut album released in April 1989 was similarly magnificent. Its impact was burnished by a scene now bearing a name – Madchester – and boasting bands such as Happy Mondays, James, Inspiral Carpets, the Charlatans and 808 State.

There were other sublime instalments – seminal perfromances at Spike Island and the Empress Ballroom, Blackpool; the rock/dance perfection of Fools Gold – but the story therafter followed the archetypal rock trajectory, traced assidously if dryly by Spence: squandered money; debilitating legals battles; drug habits; a disapointing follow-up album; fall-outs and split-ups.

Despite wishing plagues of boils (at best) upon each other down the years, they announced the reunion last October. Nostalgia levels will be turned up to 11 this summer as they trek across the world. Hopefully the adoration proffered from the masses will imbue the band with a love and trust of the world to match the music.

Mark Hodkinson

Kirkus (America) 15/01/2013

 As definitive an account of the surprising rise and spectacular fall of seminal 1980s Brit rockers the Stone Roses as a fan could hope for.

Music journalist Spence (Just Can’t Get Enough: The Making of Depeche Mode, 2011, etc.) interviewed almost every important person in the history of the band, including all of its members, managers, producers and most of its roadie coterie save one (road manager Steve Adge, who’s writing his own Roses history). This sounds easier than it was, given several members’ penchant for mystery and silence since the band’s bitter breakup in 1996.

Fortuitously for Spence, by the time he had connected with the members of its best-known incarnation – singer Ian Brown, guitarist John Squire, drummer Alan “Reni” Wren and bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield – 15 years’ worth of ice, particularly between founders, chief song scribes and boyhood friends Brown and Squire, was beginning to thaw.

Even at their heyday, the Roses could be prickly and unpredictable regarding outside expectations. Following the release of their brilliant, eponymous 1989 debut LP, which The Observer has since called the best rock album ever, the band’s creativity seemed to dry up as they battled their record company and self-aggrandizing manager Gareth Evans over two of the worst contracts in rock ‘n’ roll history.

When they finally produced “The Second Coming” for Geffen three years later, internal fissures, which Evans seemed to create when he gave Brown and Squire sole credit (and the attendant financial rewards) for the band’s collective compositions, began to crack wide open. A long-promised tour of the United States, repeatedly canceled, came together only after a key member had quit and just months before the band self-imploded. This book is being released in time for a reunion tour of the U.S. in the summer of 2013.

A must-read for anyone who has wondered why the Stone Roses ever mattered.

BBC 6 Music 19/05/12



Jo Good (DJ, standing in for Nemone): Let’s crack on because we’ve got lots to do, we’ve got a music book of the month, novel of the month and then we’re going to talk a little about characters… let’s do music first. We’ve got the Stone Roses…

Alex Heminsley: This is gorgeous.

JG: What’s the book called, official title?

AH: Official title: The Stone Roses: War and Peace

JG: Who by?

AH: It’s by Simon Spence and it’s actually published, as are both these books, in about 10 days. I’m sorting of willing summer forward by doing these books slightly early…

JG: Succinctly, what’s it about?

AH: It’s the definitive biography of the band. The first proper one and it’s a great job

JG: Is it a good-looking thing? I imagine it is.

AH: It is. I’m always so pleased when publishers make books that people are going to love, look loveable as well. This is really, really gorgeous. It’s a hardback. It’s not the got the title on the cover, just a lovely black and white image and what in the trade is known as a belly band around it. You can just whip that off and appreciate it as lovely book. It’s stuffed with photos, loads that haven’t been seen before… all the productions values are gorgeous. It’s one not to Kindle, it’s one to treasure.

JG: What about Mr Spence. What’s his credibility?

AH: He’s okay. He’s up to the job. He collaborated with the Stones Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham on Stoned and 2 Stoned, and he’s a long-standing music journalist. He covered the Spike Island show for The Face. He’s pretty much the perfect man for this project.

JG: Is it something we haven’t seen yet? Is it all new?

AH: Yeah, it feels really fresh and definitive. It really does. I get so many of these books landing on my doormat and announcing themselves as definitive, and quite quickly they find themselves on the other side of my doormat. But this really is definitive. It is a kind of classic, chronologically written. It takes every member of the band and goes right up to this year and the reunion. It doesn’t feel like just a cuttings job or someone who was there back in the day but doesn’t have any context. It’s really beautifully done by someone who clearly was there for their journey as a band but who also has continued to work in the music industry and has got a sense of perspective on what their value as musicians is now and their value as cultural figures. The book does quite a good job of framing it in current pop culture, contextualising the relevance of them and the meaning of the reunion.

JG: Sounds like you like it then?

AH: I really liked it. And it’s always my sort of litmus test for these sort of music books whether they’re just one for fans who just want to know everything they possible can or whether it’s one for people who weren’t around in 1989, and who grew up listening to their parent’s Stone Roses’ records, and whether it will explain things to them – and it hits both notes, which very few music books do. If you were an original fan or just curious as to what the big deal about the reunion shows is, it will really work for both… a rare treat. Get it, get it, get it, just get it, get it, just get it…

The novel of the month was Gold by Chris Cleave.


Red News (Manchester) 18/07/2012

Stone Roses: War and Peace by Simon Spence 

Coming Up Roses

Forget the Jubilee, the Euros and the Olympics – the real story of this dismal summer has undoubtedly been the return of The Stone Roses. Just prior to the Heaton Park homecoming gigs arrived what looked like being the first potential Roses cash-in, a new book claiming to offer the ‘definitive story’ of the band based on 70 new interviews and promising 40 unseen photographs.

The Stone Roses – War and Peace by Simon Spence (Viking, £20) is anything but a rush-released piece of opportunism, I’m pleased to report. Spence’s previous book was Stoned and 2Stoned – the acclaimed memoirs of reclusive, former Stone’s impresario Andrew Loog Oldham and he boasts an impressive CV which includes work for the NME, i-D, Dazed & Confused and The Face – he penned the Spike Island feature on the band in the Kate Moss fronted, 3rd Summer of Love issue back in 1990.

The book was originally conceived in 2008 and took two years to research and write. It falls just short of the promised ‘definitive’ take due to the four band members bailing as the project reached its conclusion – but it’s as close as anyone is likely to get currently. Accounts from both key and peripheral characters from all stages of their career are included – quite marvellously, the author even seeking out Toxin Toy, the support band from their 1985 Swedish tour (the Roses’ ‘Beatles in Hamburg’ period) for their recollections and memories.

I’ve read pretty much everything it’s possible to read on this band since first seeing them days after my 16th birthday in the summer of ’89, and whilst there’s no earth shattering revelations on offer for time-served devotees – there’s plenty of juicy morsels served up for anyone seeking fresh detail and new perspective. Recommended.



PopMatters (America) 13/05/2013

Frustration and Lack of Respect: ‘The Stone Roses: War and Peace’

By Kevin Korber

There’s arguably no more frustrating group in the history of pop music than the Stone Roses. Here is a band that, for a brief period in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, seemed to be untouchable. They were brash, confident, and innovative, as they were among the first rock bands to embrace rave culture and incorporate it into both their musical style and their fashion sense.

It’s a shame, then, that they lost the plot so quickly, taking so long to record a follow-up to their exalted debut album that they inevitably crashed, burned, and fizzled out in just about the same amount of time it took for them to get started. Worst of all, the band’s rise and fall means nothing to the average American music fan, as the Stone Roses never found a foothold in America at their peak or afterwards. Even now, when bands as thoroughly unimpressive as Mazzy Star can get a nice payday and a sizable crowd at festivals on the wave of nostalgia, the Stone Roses failed to get any love from anyone at this year’s Coachella performance, be it from the crowd or from the dozens of music journalists who thought that Nick Cave’s agro-noise side project was more important than one of the most popular and enduring rock bands in the world.

It’s this frustration and seeming lack of respect that builds the foundation for The Stone Roses: War And Peace, Simon Spence’s 300-page account of the Stone Roses’ tumultuous first life and glimpse at their second.

As a narrative, Spence keeps things fairly conventional, tracking the lives of the young Stone Roses and their fellow Manchester cohorts as they discover punk rock and follow the path from music enthusiasts to actual musicians. However, Spence makes the decision not to start with, say, the beginnings of Ian Brown and John Squire, but with a moment that occurred well into the band’s career: their massively-attended performance at Spike Island, Widnes in 1990, declared by many in the UK as a show comparable to Woodstock.

However, Spence lays out the events of Spike Island in such a way that it’s shocking that the show even managed to happen. Sound equipment failed, the bookers brought in the wrong opening act, and the drug-addled crowd almost ran over the stage at the alarming sight of a helicopter landing on the island. The band’s performance almost appears as an afterthought until you realize that it’s the only thing that went right on a day where seemingly everything else went wrong. It’s a moment that perfectly encapsulates the career of the Stone Roses: brilliant, lasting, beautiful music surrounded by bad luck and managerial incompetence.

Despite the ego clashes that led to the Stone Roses’ breakup in 1996, Spence avoids casting any of the band’s members in a negative light. Singer Ian Brown comes across as slightly arrogant in clips of interviews done at the band’s peak, and guitarist John Squire appears to be ornery and anti-social, but these traits are never played up by Spence to create more conflict than what’s already evident in the band’s history.

If there’s a villain that Spence hones in on, it’s manager Gareth Evans. Throughout the book, Spence lays the blame for many of the Stone Roses’ failures at Evans’ feet. It’s Evans, for example, who refuses to allow the band to tour America unless they can play at Shea Stadium (even though he had made little headway towards breaking the band into America.) It’s Evans who gets the Stone Roses into years of costly legal proceedings after promising the band’s album to multiple labels, only to abandon those deals once better options came along. All in all, Evans appears to be a giddy fan who found himself going in way over his head, and the band suffered as a result.

Aside from clearly painting Evans as an antagonist, Spence keeps things fairly neutral and avoids overt critical bias whenever possible. While covering the lengthy, fraught sessions that produced the Stone Roses’ Second Coming, a lesser writer would have taken the opportunity to heap even more negative criticism on an album that has received too much of it, but Spence focuses more on the album as an outlet for John Squire’s songwriting dominance and how it affected the band dynamic at the time. A more knowledgeable fan would probably prefer reading an account of the Second Coming sessions that was a little more sensational, but for newcomers and fans less versed in the band’s backstory, this sort of balanced account is welcome.

Above all, Stone Roses: War And Peace is an honest, journalistic look at the history of the Stone Roses, and while it doesn’t entirely dish the dirt, it has enough original material from all the major players in Stone Roses lore to work as something more than a re-telling of old stories. Hopefully, it’s enough to turn some curious American readers into the fanbase that a band of this caliber deserves.

The Independent On Sunday 01/07/12


The Stone Roses: War and Peace

By Simon Spence

Viking Penguin £20


Yet to fulfil their youthful promise

This weekend in Manchester, the reunited Stone Roses may finally fulfil their youthful promise. Their 1989 debut album still dominates “best ever” lists, its melodies as sweet as the Beatles’ (and sometimes lifted wholesale – the climactic coda of “I Am the Resurrection” owes much to “The End”), its rhythms as loose as the Rolling Stones’. It sounded great by night or day. For many, especially critics, it accompanied their first taste of disco biscuits and other naughtiness. No wonder more than 200,000 tickets were sold in minutes for these shows.

It’s a pity, then, that Spence’s exhaustive, well-researched biography is so solemn, every anecdote a marker on the road to greatness, rather than a celebration of a uniquely idiosyncratic, often absurd band. Their atrocious swansong at 1996’s Reading Festival saw Brown swan onstage in the same togs he’d been wearing for three days in the bar. Even their own rave in a Widnes park was almost washed out by the rising Mersey.

Thankfully their notorious manager, Gareth Evans, defies solemnity. A local club owner whose premises included much needed rehearsal space, he signed the band to a hard rock label by mistake and took a sobering third of their earnings. The contract the band were offered by the major label Zomba was so onerous that it was later declared null and void. His lawyer wasn’t even an entertainment specialist, nor honest in fact.

Naivety is hardly a crime. Pocketing a one-off five-figure payment from the record company probably is. Evans later starred in a documentary on his charges’ rise and fall, gazing proudly at his golf course and declaring “I am the Stone Roses!” But without Evans’s manic guidance, the Roses wilted. They played no shows between 1990 and 1995, their peak. Their second album took five years to complete, each member allegedly under the thrall of a different narcotic. The results were unashamedly classic rock. It was good, but it wasn’t magic.

Instead, Spence is fascinated by the provincial lads who were ignored by the city’s Factory clique or dismissed as “goths”, lads into skinhead bands and scooters, with unlikely musical influences (brilliant guitarist John Squire wasn’t inspired by Hendrix or Page, but by Bob “Derwood” Andrews of glam-punks Generation X). And the story isn’t over yet.


What Hi-Fi Review

Chris Gilson Thu, May 24 2012, 3:34PM

Like something from Awakenings, the Stone Roses bandwagon has once again rumbled into life.

This time, however, with good cause: the potential reunion of the ‘classic’ 1989 line up, burying of hatchets all round and even a third (fourth if you’re pedantic) album in the pipeline. Time to dust off the Reni hat then.

To date there have been two readable ’Roses biographies. Punk veteran John Robb’s 2001 The Stone Roses and the Resurrection of British Pop was a good tome at the time, and head and shoulders above anything else that had gone before – which, to be fair – wasn’t much.

Mick Middles’ engaging Breaking Into Heaven appeared in 2006 and, well, that was it. Finally, however, with the completion of Simon Spence’s War and Peace there now exists what can be described as the definitive book on the band.

It can’t have been an easy book to write. The Stone Roses camp is notoriously insular and, like all the best biographies, the bulk of the principle characters are missing. In his footnotes, however, Spence mentions that Reni took a strong interest throughout and that band participation was only scotched because of the forthcoming reunion.

Understand, too, that this isn’t a reunion cash-in. War and Peace has been a long time in gestation and while there is a footnote on forthcoming events, it’s clearly tacked on to the main work.

For the first time, the band’s early years are covered in detail thanks to active participation by pre-Mani bassist Pete Garner and second guitarist Andy Couzens together with other pivotal characters.

The rise of the ’Roses becomes a spell-binding read; from the Hannett sessions, through the blue-eyed pop of Sally Cinnamon and Elephant Stone to the glorious Stone Roses album. One of the most compelling interviewees from this period (and beyond) is legendary producer John Leckie, whose insights into the recording process are simply fascinating.

And yet, there’s that sense of unravelling; like reading about the Titanic, you know there’s going to be no happy ending. So onwards we go, wincing at the catastrophic Zomba recording contract, how the band never received (or knew of the existence of) its £40,000 Christmas bonus, instead getting £500 each from then manager Gareth Evans.

Good money followed bad and the wilderness years, Geffen years and slow decomposition of the band shuffled turgidly on, until the bitter and childish, long-running Squire/Brown war of words was all that remained.

Mercifully there’s no vilification of characters in the pages. Squire’s descent into cocaine overload is treated sensitively, while personality clashes and squabbles are handled with diplomacy rather then finger-pointing. The one exception is Evans, who starts as a potential saviour and ends up looking less than savoury.

Peculiar facts abound in this work – such as the booking of the band on Football Focus in 1994 to play five-a-side against Manchester United (it was squashed by Squire who thought he would look daft) and a lovingly in-depth account of the 1990s paint-splattering incident against Paul Birch, managing director of FM Revolver records. There’s also a lovingly in-depth account of the court case that followed.

Then there’s details about the one-off gigs, the silent interview technique, how Factory supremo Tony Wilson hated them… it’s all there, and in a lavish package that features mainly unseen pictures – including two striking ones for the front and back covers.

There are a couple of minor errors – it would be a miracle if there weren’t – but as a rule they don’t detract from the narrative.

For the casual listener, or die-hard fanatic, this is a genuine masterpiece. Difficult to put down, easy to follow and well written, it should be on any self-respecting Stone Roses fan’s bookshelf.

We Heart Music (America) 02/05/2013

Over the past few weeks, I’ve become an expert on all-things-Stone Roses, thanks to a book called Stone Roses: War and Peace by Simon Spence. The book was marketed to the United States, shortly after it was announced that the Stone Roses were to headline Coachella and the festivals’ fans were very confused by this “unknown” band.

When I started reading War and Peace, I quickly realized how very little I knew about the Stone Roses. Most of my recollections of the band were through the NME, Melody Maker, and Select Magazines, which does not really paint a picture of how it was back then.

I will vaguely re-tell The Stone Roses’ story with a very broad stroke a little later, but first I wanted to point out what this book does right. I’ve read a lot of band biographies, mostly from the band or singer’s perspective, so sometime you don’t feel like you’re getting the whole story. This book is written as if a reporter was telling the story through various interviews and quotes.

The other thing I liked is that it has preface of a “who’s who” list in the Stone Roses’ world. I’ve read biographies when in the middle of Chapter 7, I’m like “who is this person?” I never got confused readingWar and Peace, every couple of paragraphs, whenever a “character” is introduced again, they mention why that person is important to The Stone Roses.

As for the story of the Roses, I’ll just quickly touch on it for you. They started with two friends, John Squire and Ian Brown, from Altrincham Grammar School for Boys in 1979. The two, with drummer Si Wolstencroft would then form The Patrol. They eventually met up with Gary “Mani” Mounfield and Alan “Reni” Wren and changed the Patrol name to The Rose Roses.

The Stone Roses signed a bad contract with Gareth Evans and Matthew Cummins (who took in 33.3% of the Roses’ gross profits) and eventually became the figurehead of Madchester. But during Madchester’s white-hot domination of the music world (we’re talking Charlatans, Primal Scream, Happy Mondays, James) the Roses were tied up in courts when their label Jive/Zomba sued the band for breaking their contract. Why did you think it took so long between their debut album in 1989 and eventually Second Coming in 1994?

That’s only part of the story, it seems that during the recording process of Second Coming that the band was falling apart. At this point, Geffen Records had signed the band (who resolved the court cases and ending their relationship with Evans and Jive/Zomba). What came out of the court proceedings was that Evans was a very greedy man.

Trying to promote the second album also proved to be difficult, since the band is now manager-less. Reni kept disappearing from rehearsals or promo video shoots, etc. When he’s there, Squire was gone. Eventually Brown and Reni got in a dispute and Reni left the band. The band recruited another drummer Robbie Maddix, and, after cancelling two previous U.S. tours, the band, minus-Reni, would finally play eight U.S. dates in 1995. Shortly after, as history would have it, the band broke up after Squire left the band in October 1996.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. The book does briefly touch on all four band’s whereabouts post-break up. The four were not connected until 2011 when Brown and Squire would meet face to face for the first time for the funeral of Mani’s mother. That set a motion that would eventually lead to the Stone Roses’ reformation.

It’s a good read; there are a lot previously unknown details about the band. Most of this information is exclusive to this book, including some rather embarrassing young photographs of Ian Brown in the Patrol from 1987.

If you were to ask me “Why the Stone Roses broke up?” It’s a little complicated, but the short answer is quoted by A&R man Roddy McKenn, “It was all about money.”

I think Spence would like us to draw a different conclusion, that all four Stone Roses band members, John Squire, Ian Brown, Mani, and Reni, are very unique individuals with different ideas and personal growths issues… and that is what made them one of a kind as the Stone Roses.

If you ever wanted to know about the Stone Roses, then The Stone Roses: War and Peace (St Martin’s Griffin) has the definitive story that you must read. Although it’s not listed on the cover, I think the book is an “official” book as it can get. Once again, the four band members probably couldn’t agree over endorsing the book or not.


The Bulletin (Belgium) 16/08/2012

“The Stone Roses: War and Peace” by Simon Spence

Four stars

Pierre-Michel Doutreligne

Like all pop acts hailed as “cult”, the Stone Roses have had a fair bit of drivel written about them. The fact that a large chunk of the band’s ‘active’ years was spent dithering behind closed doors (be it in solicitors’ offices or in recording studios) didn’t help. Nor, for that matter, did the Roses’ notoriously hostile stance towards the press. As the newly reformed Manchester legends prepare to play in Belgium, a timely biography reminds us what made the Stone Roses arguably the most influential British band of the late eighties/early nineties.

The five-year gap between their 1989 era-defining eponymous debut and its successor, The Second Coming, contributed to the band’s downfall. Even moderately knowledgeable Roses fans know how the band recorded and rerecorded their second album in various studios, using a total of three producers and frittering away a reported £250,000 in the process. By the end of the recording sessions, the band bore little resemblance to the close-knit unit they once were. But then again, copious amounts of money + pressure to deliver + access to Manchester’s top drug dealers = guaranteed disaster.

If the Stone Roses are associated with flares and psychedelia, it is lesser known that singer Ian Brown and guitarist Jon Squire’s early influences come from the opposite end of the rock spectrum, namely punk (Generation X, Empire) and Oi! (Angelic Upstarts). Or that Brown wasn’t the singer but the bassist in the first, embryonic incarnation of the Roses, under the name The Patrol.

Like fellow Mancunians Morrissey and Mark E Smith, Brown is a stubborn contrarian, taking immense pleasure in catching people off-guard. Yet, for all his cocksureness, one cannot help but share the pain he feels at the demise of the Roses (i.e. Squire’s departure) in 1996. Perhaps the most interesting character in Spence’s book, however, is the improbable Gareth Evans, the gold bullion dealer who became the band’s manager, having no music background whatsoever. Dishonest, hapless and downright incompetent he may have been at times (especially when getting the Roses a contract with a heavy metal label bearing a similar name to the one intended), but it’s only after he was sacked that the band started losing focus and drifting apart.

While not as scholarly or authoritative as, say, Peter Guralnick’s two-part Elvis biography, War & Peace nonetheless shows more insight than most previous Roses books. Simon Spence (whom nineties fetishists may remember as the frontman of indie pranksters Fabulous) made a point of basing his book on hard fact and first-hand interviews rather than rehashed soundbites or, worse, speculation. If you’re after a Stone Roses biography, this is the one.

Viking, 325 pages, €32.05 (hardback)


Rocker (America) 05/05/2013

“Oh, bloody hell,” fans of The Stone Roses will shout after reading this book, for several reasons: First, how could the band fritter away being the second coming of the Beatles, having the ego, talent and drive to pull it off? How could they make such horrible decisions on the business side? How could they let interpersonal issues spoil their good thing – after all, even Pink Floyd was able to punch out a big stack of classic studio albums despite the members’ open contempt for each other.  In many ways, it’s the archetypical rock fable: Big talent, big potential brought down by big egos in the band, the band’s management and band’s labels. And while drugs in excess don’t seem to be a big part of The Stone Roses’ story, although they do play more than a bit part.

For those who aren’t up to speed, Manchester, England’s The Stone Roses released its self-titled debut record in 1989, hailed by many critics as the best guitar-pop album since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. While the Mancunians were the slam-dunk most popular – and critically acclaimed – leaders of the ecstasy-driven “Madchester” music scene, they were outsiders among the Tony Wilson-led Haçienda club and his Factory Records label, which defined Madchester for groups like the Joy Division/New Order/Electronic/Revenge cabal and Happy Mondays.

The songs on the 1989 debut are the stuff of which rock legends are made. Spence documents how the band – fueled by frontman Ian Brown’s perhaps-justified absolute self-assurance that they were at least as big as the Beatles and musical mensch John Squire’s guitar-playing and compositional musical abilities to back that up – the were destined for fame. The debut record, riding the line between hippie 1960s throwback guitar pop and modern “Funky Drummer” club dance, certainly was all that.

They somehow built this mystique that they were transcendent, not needing to bow to the local establishment, and they didn’t. It was over almost as it began – unable to get a second album out for half a decade because of slow work processes and legal beefs with their label, by the time the Roses followed up their debut in 1994 no one cared. Until last year, when the Roses announced a reunion, were booked to headline Coachella after a decade and a half of dormancy – running on the fumes of their legendary perfect guitar-pop debut. (The Coachella reviews, by the way, have been mixed).

Most of all, War and Peace will leave readers – at least American readers – wondering, does author Simon Spence like the band or not? One of the top British rock scribes of our generation, this guy has the chops. Sort of a droll, less-edgy Martin Amis of music journalism, known for chasing down long-lost rock icons such as the Rolling Stones’ hermit manager Andrew Loog Oldham (dug up in the bowels of Australia, no less) and getting them to spill their guts.

One description of this book picks the perfect adjective: Forensic. As if that’s a good thing. Part of what have influenced Spence’s arms-length bio of Britain’s greatest band of the last 30 years (sorry, Oasis) might have been the band, which turned on him midway in the making of the book, painstakingly created from some 400 interviews of people in and close to the band – and some previously published quotes to round out the proceedings once the band became hostile witnesses. That the Roses turned on him likely wasn’t Spence’s fault; the group – especially aloof frontman Ian Brown – has a long history of that.

Whether you think The Stone Roses were a flash in the pan, a beautiful rock snapshot in time caught once and never to be recaptured, or the second coming of the Beatles and await their return to the Mount of Olives to take us to perfect pop heaven, this book will fill in a lot of details and context previously unclear to all but the most diehard fans. Just a few:

* Veteran Pink Floyd and punk producer John Leckie, while he didn’t write or perform the songs, probably had as much to do with debut record The Stone Roses’  beauty and perfection as the Roses themselves.

* Drummer Reni – who came from the hard rock/metal scene, of all places — was a monstrous rhythmic talent that, while fans might not have appreciated as much as Squire and Brown, was appreciated by the band so much they had a catchphrase, “No Reni, no Roses.”

* Aloof singer Ian Brown might have appeared an a-hole megalomaniac to the media and to folks representing the band, but personally he had a very compassionate side, pulling over by the side of the road and helping homeless people, and signing autographs for little kids who wandered in to band rehearsals, and letting them try out the group’s instruments.

There are many more nuggets in this incredibly researched band bio that anyone with an interest in The Stone Roses will appreciate. Just don’t look for any critical context; Spence gives none, leaving us cold and unfulfilled on that front and dreaming of what could have been, much like the Roses themselves did, musically.

 by Don Fluckinger

The Observer 24/06/12

The Stone Roses: War and Peace by Simon Spence – review

A thorough biography of the Stone Roses illuminates the bickering and court battles that led to their downfall

Who would be in a band? In rock, most narrative arcs end badly. Break-up, breakdown, death and dishonour are the results artists can usually hope for. If musicians are lucky, the ignominy will be cushioned by a luxuriant mattress of acclaim. If they are very lucky indeed, there will also be the warm duvet of cash. Most bands get neither. Mancunian dreamers the Stone Roses very nearly foundered on bad deals before being rescued by the Geffen label, making a flawed second album and bitterly unravelling, feeding one of British pop music‘s most fertile legends

Before their current reunion tacked a new chapter on to a cautionary tale, the Stone Roses came to a miserable stop in 1996 at the Reading festival. Half the classic line-up weren’t even there – no Alan “Reni” Wren on drums, no John Squire on guitar. I was one of the thousands of fans who walked away in disgust at the thudding and caterwauling that constituted the band’s appearance. It was a dreadful coda to a dream in which the Stone Roses – cleverer, better-looking and more musically sophisticated than the Happy Mondays – helmed a revival in British music where the haziness of the 60s lent a beatific air to the ecstasy-driven revolutions spilling out of dance music and into the wider culture.

Some cried that night, some jeered; most of us made our way to see Underworld in the dance tent. Anything would have been better than listening to the rump Roses sound, while pyres of plastic beer cups filled the air with substances less noxious. It is little surprise that the band’s current long-awaited European tour has already been marred by squabbles. Singer Ian Brown called Reni a “cunt” on stage in Amsterdam. The question now is no longer whether will they record any decent new material, but will they last until their Manchester dates at the end of June.

As one of British rock’s great lessons in how not to run your affairs, the Roses are no strangers to extensive retrospectives in the rock monthlies. Journalist John Robb’s is the most notable biography. Former Roses tour manager Steve “Adge” Atherton is rumoured to be writing his own book; his testimony is absent here, as are direct interviews with Brown, Squire and bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield.

The Stone Roses: War and Peace sets out to hymn the Roses and tut at their industry tribulations once again, this time with great access to Reni, the band’s funky drummer, a reclusive figure who remains pivotal to their sound. Legions of old bandmates are called upon to chart the band’s beginnings, in fascinating opposition to Factory Records and Tony Wilson’s monopoly on the Mancunian scene. And while there is not much sense of the band’s inner artistic motivations, War and Peace is rich with context and who didn’t pay what to whom.

Author Simon Spence used to be called Simon Dudfield, and, as Madchester took hold, he was writing for NME and the Face. He was at the band’s era-defining Spike Island gig, he saw them at London’s Alexandra Palace, and he recounts the expansion and contraction of each of the band’s flare measurements with great acuity. At one point in 1989, Ian Brown goes down from 24-inch flares “for that slight swish” to a more manageable 21 inches (p139).

In the absence of three of its stars, the secondary research does the heavy lifting. War and Peace really comes into its own as an almost wonkish account of the ludicrous business practices that derailed the Roses. Bogged down in legal battles, they never recovered the momentum of their classic first album and its slinky standalone follow-up single, Fools Gold. Their second album, The Second Coming, never regained what time and court battles had sapped from the foursome.

To his credit, Spence has kept the company of lawyers and former record company bosses to explain in forensic detail exactly how dreadful the deals struck by the band’s management were. The view from the American industry is particularly illuminating. The Roses famously never broke America, partly by design, partly by default. Gareth Evans, their larger-than-life manager, demanded their first gig be at Shea Stadium. Tours were booked, then cancelled.

To one romantic view, the Roses were creative lions led by incompetent, venal donkeys. Spence, for his part, also acknowledges the part the musicians’ personalities played in their plight. They didn’t read the small print; factionalisation got in the way of an equal split. Their sense of the grand gesture frequently defied good sense. According to one former lawyer, John Kennedy, one US label wanted to sign the band on Concorde. The band were keen to board the flight, then, halfway across the Atlantic, refused to sign. (The deal never happened.)

Just as his portentous title clunks slightly, Spence’s transparent fandom can let his good material down. “The set list was now shorn of all their aggressive early material and packed with definitive masterpieces” is the kind of writing you hope not to read in a grown-up music book.

As the feted ghostwriter of Andrew Loog Oldham’s memoirs, 2Stoned, one of Spence’s claims comes as a serious shock. “[Michael] Jackson had DiLeo, the Stones had Andrew Loog Oldham, the Pistols had Malcolm McLaren – and the Stone Roses would have Gareth Evans. Incredibly, given the competition, history would judge Evans as the most astonishing band manager of the lot.” Incredibly, indeed, given that wheeler-dealer Evans was instrumental in signing the Roses to Jive/Zomba via de facto indie label Silvertone on contracts that were so skewed against the band even jaded music business lawyers were shocked. Evans himself was on an extortionate 33.3% deal – a figure substantially less amusing when the band hit trouble than it had been when they laughingly signed up.

Even though Spence never interviews him directly, he displays a strange fondness for the former club owner and bullion dealer, prone to peeling notes off a wad that was padded with newspaper. Perhaps Evans’s biography is next. War and Peace, meanwhile, might have been better served by a different title: “Fool’s Gold”.

Kitty Empire


New York Times 31/05/2013

I Wanna Be Adored

‘The Stone Roses: War and Peace,’ by Simon Spence

Dennis Morris

From left: Alan “Reni” Wren, John Squire, Gary “Mani” Mounfield, Ian Brown in 1989.

Published: May 31, 2013


War and Peace

By Simon Spence

Illustrated. 328 pp. St. Martin’s Griffin. Paper, $19.99.

Some bands are famous for capturing the spirit of an era. Others are famous, or almost famous, for capturing the spirit of a fleeting moment — a bright, pivotal summer or even a single incandescent show — and then utterly squandering the whole opportunity.

The Stone Roses belong among the botches, and that’s one of the reasons I, like more than a few of my generational comrades, happen to love them. They slunk out of the northern English grime of Manchester in the late 1980s, created a debut album (“The Stone Roses”) and a dance single (“Fools Gold”) that blazed and simmered with cocksure majesty, and then proceeded to ruin everything. Along the way there were monosyllabically churlish interviews, a record deal so cruel that signing it would end up looking like an act of self-sabotage, and a series of wasted years in which the band members bickered and dithered in the studio instead of getting around to making a second album.

By the time that second album came out, in the middle of the 1990s, the momentum was gone. But, hey, they’d still had their moment, right? For a few months in 1989 and 1990, before another band from another northern city, Nirvana, roared toward global dominance, the Stone Roses held the future of rock ’n’ roll in their hands like a scepter. The age of vinyl albums was coming to a close, and even the sound of the Stone Roses, which somehow managed to bring together the malicious snarl of punk, the gossamer shimmer of psychedelia, the strident individualism of the mod movement and the druggie, collective thump of rave culture, conveyed a sense of: “This is the beginning. This is the end. All rock ’n’ roll roads lead here.”

But the story of the Stone Roses presents an obvious challenge to any biographer who shoulders the burden of trying to fashion an entire book out of it. Anyone who loves the Stone Roses loves their brief moment of beauty and promise, and that reader wants to know, in essence, what that felt like. What did it feel like to be a music fan in Manchester, a city (like Seattle) of creative ferment that had already produced pioneers like Joy Division and the Smiths? What did it feel like as Stone Roses fever began to sweep across England? And most important, what did “I Wanna Be Adored” and “This Is the One” sound like, and how did the feeling of those songs transform the people who heard them? In short, what was it like to be there when it was all going down?

You will, alas, get surprisingly little of that from “The Stone Roses: War and Peace,” Simon Spence’s new look at the rise and fall of the ultimate Band That Dropped the Ball. Spence’s volume arrives with the promise, trumpeted on the dust jacket, that the author has interviewed scores of people, and it certainly feels like that. There is a sense that Spence has labored very hard to gather as much minutiae as possible, and the result, at times, has all the joy and lyricism of a tax return. Just as the Stone Roses themselves got bogged down in the tedium of the music business, so does the book. Too many passages read like this one:

“After Trent, Dudley and Tonbridge, a show at London’s ICA saw the Roses playing to their biggest London crowd to date (500) and was reviewed euphorically by Melody Maker and the NME. Birmingham, Aberystwyth, Camden, Oxford, Shrewsbury and Preston followed before the band were forced to cancel dates in Milton Keynes and St. Helens to finish the recording of B-sides for their upcoming single, ‘She Bangs the Drums.’ ”

I suppose there are fans in Aberystwyth who will be chuffed to find their Welsh hamlet name-checked, but I don’t especially need to hear about it unless something interesting happened there. If musical micro-trivia is your bag, O.K., yes, “The Stone Roses: War and Peace” does have a few curious sugarplums here and there. For a while, before it broke into the spotlight, the band tried collaborating with Martin Hannett, the visionary Manchester producer who had helped Joy Division pin down the stark, haunted gloom they were going for. By the time the Roses eventually collided with him, Hannett was in the midst of a downward spiral; he died not long after, at the age of 42. In a studio with the Stone Roses, we learn, “Hannett spent an inordinate amount of time attaching a tiny little microphone to the bassist’s thumb to record just the sound of his plectrum hitting the strings.”

Lovely, that. Early in the book, we also make all-too-brief acquaintance with an unfortunate lad named Si Wolstencroft, who played the drums with embryonic incarnations of both the Stone Roses and the Smiths before moving on to enjoying life as a Pete Best-like alternative-rock footnote.

It’s fun to learn about stuff like that, but as “The Stone Roses: War and Peace” slogs on, its rote recitation of facts (with none of Tolstoy’s touch, I’m afraid, when it comes to giving them poetic resonance) becomes distressingly numbing. Flip anywhere at random in the book and you’re apt to come across some strikingly boring sentences.

Even instances of rock ’n’ roll genesis appear to be missing the necessary big bang. Ian Brown, the frontman of the Stone Roses, had no intention of becoming a singer until one night, at a party in Manchester, he floated into a chance encounter with Geno Washington, a soul singer who told Brown he had star quality and ought to make the most of it. Spence delivers this story with such absence of drama you might mistake it for an aside.

In a way, a good rock biography is like a good romance novel. As a reader, you already sort of know what’s going to happen: band comes together, band comes apart, band rediscovers the magic for one last fling. We derive pleasure, with a rock biography as with a well-executed bodice-ripper, in direct proportion to the author’s success (or failure) at conveying the narcotic rush of the moment.

This one does succeed as a cautionary tale: up-and-coming garage bands would be wise to study it and show it to their lawyers as a prophylactic measure to avoid being fleeced and exploited. The book fails, though, at distilling and catalyzing the romance of the Stone Roses during their one Wordsworthian, bliss-to-be-alive moment, which, in the end, is the only thing most people care about.

Which means, in a way, that “The Stone Roses: War and Peace” falls perfectly in sync with the band’s whole ­career. The Roses were known for messing things up. Why should their biography be any different?

Jeff Gordinier is a reporter for The Times and the author of “X Saves the World.”


18 May 2012

Waterstones trade non-fiction buying manager John Lewis selects the best film, TV and music titles from the publishers’ lists (June to May 2013)

Simon Spence
The Stone Roses: War and Peace
Viking, June, £20

Spence’s account traces the band from their early formation and covers their trajectory to figureheads of British music in the ’80s, with the release of their classic debut. It also delves in real depth into their self-destructive tendencies, which tore them apart in the mid-’90s. Titles on the Manchester music scene and associated bands are always well received in the market (the hardback of The Hacienda sold 27,000 copies alone) and with input from at least six former band members and 400 hundred hours of interviews this is one Stone Roses book fans will want to read. Copies of this superb biography will not remain on shop shelves for long if ticket sales for the forthcoming reunion gigs are anything to go by.

South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) 05/08/2012

The Stone Roses – War and Peace

by Simon Spence


Three stars

It’s hard not to feel that The Stone Roses’ comeback is just a chance to make some money, but after reading this, it’s equally hard to begrudge them the right finally to do so.

Musicians exploited by management is a tale at least as old as the gramophone, but the Roses’ svengali Gareth Evans was remarkable even by pop business standards. Described as an “awful Mancunian mutant cross of Arthur Daley and Tony Wilson”, the book opens with Evans making bags of cash selling bootleg Reni hats and past-it’s-sell-by-date Special Brew at the Spike Island gig; similar tales of his brazen chicanery, if not outright robbery, give Simon Spence’s biography much of its impetus.

Spence explains how the Roses formed a sort of yang to the Wilson/ Hacienda/Happy Mondays yin, and if Michael Winterbottom ever returns to Madchester to make a companion piece to 24 Hour Party People, Evans’ character will easily carry the movie.

The band weren’t blameless – they signed contracts they knew were ridiculous, based partly on apathy and partly on a not-in-it-for-the-money-man kind of altruism. And having finally emerged from court to sign a multimillion-pound deal with Geffen, they spent years recording The Second Coming then imploded. No wonder it’s time to hit the road again.

Spence – who previously worked with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham on two acclaimed memoirs – is very good on the early days and the opening chapters are packed with detail, from the customisation on John Squire and Ian Brown’s scooters to the key records and gigs that influenced the schoolmates.

But the book bogs down in what the author describes as the “sticky bit in the middle” and is then overtaken by events at the end as news of the reunion breaks: Alan Wren and Gary Mounfield withdraw their cooperation and Brown goes so far as to call Spence “a parasite”. So while there are many new interviews here, the key figures are represented through old cuttings, probably long familiar to serious fans.

Spence also fails to explain exactly why they were so important. In the opening pages they are described as “the hottest, most notorious band in the world” and “the last of the great rock’n’roll bands”. This hyperbole is carried throughout (we are told later of the “golden age of Mancunian cultural dominance”), but there is no evidence for those who weren’t there that the Roses were more than a very good drummer, bassist and guitarist, plus a captivating frontman who couldn’t sing, who caught the zeitgeist for a few years.

The book loses something when its most engaging character, Evans, leaves the stage, and fans will know most of the story already, though the early details may be enough to justify a purchase. The less committed might be better off waiting until after this tour and the official Shane Meadows documentary.

James Porteous


The Sunday Business Post (Ireland) 28/07/2012

Still waiting for the real scent of Roses

The Stone Roses

War and Peace –

The Definitive Story

By Simon Spence

Penguin, €25.20

Reviewed by Eamon Sweeney

The triumphant appearance of the Stone Roses at the Phoenix Park earlier this summer was overshadowed by the tragic events that marred the highly contentious Swedish House Mafia concert, which took place just a few days before.

In stark contrast to the widely reported mayhem which occurred that fateful Saturday night, the gardai made no arrests when Manchester’s answer to the Fab Four packed nearly 50,000 people into the park the previous Thursday.

No arrests and no trouble certainly aren’t indicative of the colourful and chequered career of the Stone Roses, which features court room drama, an acrimonious and prolonged break-up and an emotionally charged reunion.

This book is, surprisingly, only the second proper biography about this trailblazing band. Putting the plethora of tacky cut and past biogs firmly aside, the only other substantial study is John Robb’s The Stone Roses and the Resurrection of British Pop, which has recently been republished to include the story behind this year’s reformation tour.

Simon Spence was meant to have the full cooperation of Ian Brown, John Squire, Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield and Alan ‘Reni’ Wren for this project, but in typicaly turbulent Roses style, it all eventually unravelled. Brown even phoned up Spence to call him a “parasite”.

The fact that it doesn’t come with the Roses’ official blessing makes it a refreshing antidote to all the gushing praise and paeans to their legacy, such as Damien Hirst’s recent laughable claim the Stone Roses were more important than Picasso.

The band’s background has never before been so exhaustively detailed. Spence is a good biographer and his stint writing the acclaimed memoirs Stoned and 2Stoned with the legendary Rolling Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, clearly stand to him.

Years before they graced a gazillion magazine covers, the Stone Roses made the front page of the Manchester Evening News for covering the city with graffiti. This acts of widespread vandalism was a creative response to all their frustration and thwarted ambition. It made them pariahs in their own home town, where they couldn’t secure a single gig booking for over three months.

The slow but steady rise of the Roses in the mid-1980s is comprehensively detailed, featuring interviews with former band members and associates. When their day finally came, to say that they enjoyed a meteoric rise is a gross understament. Iconic shows at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, London’s Alexandra Palace and Spike Island, which Spence initially covered for former ‘style bible’ The Face, are brilliantly documented.

Just when the Roses were on the cusp of a global breakthrough, Spence reveals how the band slowly disintegrated during the recording of their unfairly maligned Second Coming. “My head was totally done in; a million miles away from where it should’ve been,” Mani later said, referring to the death of his father.

The former band of brothers were now at war. Squire wanted to fire an under-performing Mounfield. Squire himself was hopelessly hooked on cocaine. The first act of the band’s career ended in public humiliation with a disastrous headline slot at the Reading festival in 1996.

At the funeral of Mani’s mother in March 2011, the band properly touched based for the first time in 15 years, and Brown and Squire rekindled their friendship. Last October, they made the shocking announcement that they would reform for a world tour starting in their native Manchester and concluding in Belfast in August 22. They sold a whopping 220,000 tickets for three nights in Heaton Park in under an hour, making their Mancunian homecoming the fatest-selling concerts in British history.

While it’s obviously an absorbing yarn, the main flaw of War and Peace is that it really should be much more colourful and pack a far funnier punch, as the Roses were arguably the cheekiest band of rogues to ever grace pop or rock music. Brown memorably called U2 “drivel”, Lou Reed “a miserable bastard’, Guns N’ Roses “redneck rubbish” and remarked that Bruce Springsteen “always sounds like he’s having a shit”.

“The whole thing about the Roses was that we had the best laugh you can ever imagine,” Mani told this writer in 1998.

“One day I’ll write the book and you’ll be pissing in you pants at all the shit we got up to.”

Jon Brookes of the Charlatans once said that the Roses were a bit like four characters starring in their own comedy show. Spence could also have delved deeper into their radical socialist and anti-monarchist beliefs to offer a more complete and revealing picture of the band’s personalities.

Still, in the absence of an officially sanctioned biography or, indeed, a single interview since the press conference to announce their reformation last October, Spence admirably fills a gaping void to deliver a decent holiday read for any fan. Meanwhile the truly definitive story of the Stone Roses – in all its shocking, hilarious and zeitgeist defining detail – remains to be written.


The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 28/07/2012

 The Stone Roses: War and Peace

Simon Spence Penguin, $29.95

SIMON Spence has gone to exhaustive efforts to compile War and Peace, interviewing past members of the Stone Roses and dozens of people close to the Manchester band during their halcyon days in the1980s and 90s.

His timing couldn’t have been better, either, with the band announcing their reformation after 15 years of acrimony only a few months prior to the book’s release.

Spence’s aim is to separate fact from and write the definitive biography of the band, from their formative years through to the recording of their lauded eponymous debut and era-defining 1990 Spike Island show, the years-in-the-making follow-up album Second Corning to the bitter squabble, court cases and sudden dissolution. For the most part he’s done a fantastic job, although his obvious reverence for the subject matter often results in a rose-coloured view of proceedings and there are also instances where minute detail is given to inconsequential matters while more significant moments are given scant regard.

The book was reportedly initially supposed to be a collaboration with reclusive drummer Alan ‘Reni’ Wren, however he apparantly withdrew his suport after vocalist Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire became incensed by news of the project when the band first reconvened. It’s a shame, because a few more first-hand accounts may have filled in a few of the gaps.

Daniel Johnson

RadioNation (Italy) 16/07/2012

Essendo una fan dei The Stone Roses, non appena mi hanno parlato di questo libro “The Stone Roses – War & Peace” l’ho ordinato subito da amazon e, sperando che mi arrivasse prima del concerto di Milano (domani), non vedevo l’ora di sfogliarlo e leggerlo.

E’ arrivato la settimana prima del concerto, quindi con Ian Brown, John Squire, Gary “Mani” Mounfield e Alan “Reni” Wren in sottofondo mi sono messa a leggere questo lavoro brillante ed estremamente dettagliato di Simon Spence.

“Revolution is not “showing” life to people, but bringing them to life”: inizia così il libro “War & Peace” e fondamentalmente questa frase descrive ciò che hanno fatto i The Stone Roses per loro stessi e per il pubblico: nel giro di qualche anno, Ian e compagni hanno dato vita a un nuovo modo di concepire musica; hanno influenzato e ispirato milioni di persone e, chiaramente, tantissime altre band.

Il libro di Simon Spence non riguarda solo ed unicamente la musica o la storia di questa grandissima band che, in un territorio come quello di Manchester su cui la Factory dominava senza confronti negli anni ’80, si è fatta sentire: si parla anche di una vera e propria ribellione che fa quasi pensare ai The Stone Roses come una delle prime band indipendenti, se non la prima, della storia.

Oltre alla musica, ci sono tantissime informazioni sul background e sulla personalità di questi artisti : pensate che Ian Brown, prima che fosse il cantante dei The Stone Roses, col suo gruppo di amici andava a fare a botte con un altro gruppo di persone e, in mezzo a queste altre, c’erano componenti degli Happy Mondays.

La personalità dei musicisti, la personalità della band, quella del management (Gareth Evans in primis), i produttori, i concerti, la musica che seguiva ogni singolo componente, l’accento terribile di Mani, l’adolescenza, l’intesa tra John e di Ian, i primi passi, gli incontri importanti, le foto inedite, tante interviste e tutto quello che volete sapere e scoprire su questa grandissima band: una biografia davvero completa e unica nel suo genere.

“War & Peace”, insomma, è un libro che si legge come un romanzo e prende davvero tantissimo; ma, dato che al momento è uscito solo in UK (in Italia solo su Kindle), consiglio di tenere (su google translate molte parole non si trovano) aperto nel browser: vi assicuro che lo slang di Manchester non è per niente semplice…

Buona lettura e a domani!

by Teresa Fabozzi

The Scotsman 17/06/12

By Fiona Shepherd

WITH the Third Coming of The Stone Roses already under way and scheduled to stretch out across the summer, taking in some 18 festival appearances worldwide, fans can expect a flurry of related material capitalising on their feverishly awaited return.

Simon Spence’s biography – punted as “definitive” rather than authorised – at least has the distinction of pre-dating the reunion announcement in its conception. The Stone Roses: War And Peace sets out to tell their story as methodically and comprehensively as possible, drawing on 70 new interviews, including group members past and present, their associates, peers and contemporary commentators.

Despite the epic associations of the title, that story, as somewhat dryly recounted here, is neither a tale of high drama nor a blur of entertaining or eccentric rock’n’roll anecdotes but one of potential developed, reached and then stymied through a mix of irresponsible management, unfavourable contracts and fracturing relationships, played out in venues, rehearsal rooms and courts.

In that respect, The Stone Roses biography is not radically different to that of many lesser bands. The crowning moments, such as their classic debut album and the zeitgeist-capturing Spike Island gathering (although frontman Ian Brown describes their show at Glasgow Green a couple of weeks later as “the best ever”), were few but significant and enduring.

However, Spence doesn’t go to great lengths to assess their cultural impact as one of the UK’s most influential and adored bands or to get under the skin of these folk heroes. Even his account of Spike Island, at which he was present as a young journalist, is more forensic than personal.

Spence previously collaborated with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham on his memoirs and it is the Roses’ mercurial manager Gareth Evans who emerges as the most intriguing character of the piece. Arguably it is for the best that the Roses themselves remain an enigma.

The Stone Roses: War And Peace

Simon Spence

Penguin Viking, £20

The Saturday Age (Melbourne) 16/06/12

Life&Syle, page 34 – 594.30cm

Capital City Daily – circulation 265,704


Simon Spence

Viking, $29.95

THE Stone Roses combined punk and psychedlia and were the next new Manchester thing after New Order; if Tony Wilson and Factory and the Hacienda were the Manchester establishment, then the Stone Roses went against all that.

They were against Smiths-style gloominess, too, and they single-handedly made flares respectable again. Madchester, ecstasy, the Summer of Love (1990); it makes you dizzy just thinking about how long ago that was,

The Roses also had a flake for a manager – one Gareth Evans – whose eccentricity was part of the Stones Roses brand even though it wasn’t helping them move forward. By the mid-’90s the band were in trouble: their early contracts had turned into a liability and the songs had dried up.

The stress and sense of having plateaued led some of the members into heavy drug use, and the American tour fell to pieces.

Reading this book, one observes, without rancour, that apart from the band’s lack of sleaziness about girls, there is hardly a rock ‘n’ roll cliche left untouched. Even the songwriting duo of Ian Brown and John Squire ended in acrimony and 15 years of public sniping. They were in the peculiar position of being one of the defining and influential bands of the period at the same as being perceived – by themselves as much as by anyone else – as having fumbled the catch.

Other bands, such as Oasis, took much further what they started.

It would be a sadder story than it is if it didn’t also include Fools Gold and I Wanna Be Adored.

Owen Richardson

Don’t Stop 10/06/2012

War & Peace Review

Paul Stevens – Webmaster

Originally planned in collaboration with Reni (and promising over 70 new interviews) it was very much discussed on the Don’t Stop Forum in the months that lead to its release and as such there was much expectation. I tried to avoid talk of the book so I could approach it with an open mind when I finally came to review it and I was thrilled to find it a genuinely enthralling read; easily my favourite of the big Roses biographies. Despite all I have read and known on the subject of the band over the years, I was surprised at the plethora of new information presented by Spence to keep me entertained, particularly in the first half of the book.

The whole thing is fiercely entertaining and flows superbly; the chapter’s subject selection is logical, he gives a focused account with them all and you can feel the author’s passion for the band in every paragraph. One of the few drawbacks for me is the sheer amount of people name-checked in some chapters (particularly around ‘Second Coming’ and the Zomba/Silvertone lawsuit) which is a little tricky to keep track of who is who at times.

The early chapters are the most informative with Spence masterfully telling the story of their formative years. It was a treat to see the vast selection of early band photos too as well as the various promotional literature and press releases from first label Thin Line and various notes from producer John Leckie.

Overall it is a joy to read that is hard to put down and a very successful Stone Roses biography that tells the band’s first two comings nicely in the time when we’re all excited about their third!


Room Thirteen 2/06/12

Online Rock Metal Alternative Music Magazine

The Stone Roses reunion has been one of the most highly anticipated comebacks of our time. With the band set to reform for a world tour this summer, there’s no better time to release The Stone Roses War and Peace; a book that tells the story of a band who defined a generation.

This must have been a difficult book to write; the Manchester four-piece are notoriously media shy, but somehow Simon Spence has interviewed over 80 characters in the Stone Roses story, including seven former band members, and has gathered a collection of unseen photographs.

As with many biographies the majority of key characters are missing, however, Spence notes that the band’s reclusive drummer Reni, was keen to take part in this project before The Stone Roses announced their reformation and went into a media blackout.

The band’s early history is covered in this book, thanks to early bassist Pete Garner and second guitarist Andy Couzens. One of the most interesting interviews in The Stone Roses War and Peace is with legendary producer John Leckie, who provides a fascinating insight into the band’s recording process.

Another great thing about this book is that Squire’s use of cocaine is treated sensitively rather than for shock value, and personality clashes and fights within the band are treated with diplomacy rather than favouritism.

Whether or not you’re a fan of The Stone Roses, this book is a fascinating read, which is well written and easy to follow. It is a must have for any Stone Roses’ fans bookshelf.

Tara Couper

Irish Examiner – 09/06/12

The Stone Roses: War And Peace 

Simon SpenceViking, £20; 
Kindle, €11.99
Review: Julie Cheng 

During the 1980s and 1990s, Manchester band The Stone Roses, featuring frontman Ian Brown, guitarist John Squire, bassist Mani and drummer Reni, gained a massive following with ‘Fools Gold’, ‘She Bangs The Drums’ and ‘I Am the Resurrection’.

Based on hours of interviews, Simon Spence puts the story of the band into neat chapters focusing on specific people, times or events. Insights include the infamous gig on Spike Island, the recording contract with Jive/Zomba and the creation of ’Madchester’.

As the terms of the Jive/Zomba contract were questioned, the relationship between Brown and Squire broke down. In 1996, after only two albums, the guitarist quit.

Fifteen years on, and to the ecstasy of the fans, Brown and Squire are speaking. What the world is waiting for is their reunion tour this summer.

Metro – 30/5/12


The Stone Roses: War and Peace
by Simon Spence
Viking, £20
two stars

RATHER like the band, Simon Spence’s biography of The Stone Roses is full of hyperbole, missed opportunities and murky history. Within three pages, he says they are ‘the hottest, most notorious band in the world’ – despite the fact their 1989 debut LP charted at a lowly No.86 in the US.

Although this is a manful effort to capture the story of the Roses’ rise to British fame and infamy, it never fully engages. Some of this isn’t Spence’s fault. The book was supposed to be a collaboration with drummer Reni but the reunion was announced and he pulled out.

It means Spence has to rely on interviews with former band members who fell by the wayside, but War And Peace is crying out for some insight from Ian Brown or John Squire beyond quotes lifted from other publications. In fact, the character who comes across as most intriguing is their colourful manager, Gareth Evans – presumably not the intention.

Ben East

MOJO – 29/5/2012


JULY issue 2012

The Stone Roses: War And Peace (three stars)
Simon Spence Viking, £20

From scooter boys to comeback millionaires, by the man who co-wrote Stoned with Andrew Loog Oldham.

This is a loving and detailed biog, and will be a gentle revelation if your Roses knowledge extends no further than the Empress Ballroom in 1989. Among the flaccid minutiae (Mick Hucknall was a sound engineer on early records, dancer Cressa’s favourite night at the Hacienda was a Tuesday) are some gems (Geno Washington smoking weed at Ian Brown’s Hulme flat c1983; Reni playing with Pete Townshend the same night as the Roses’ first ever gig). Spence’s access is often to the bit players, and this may be no bad thing – they’ve got plenty to say (Reni, according to early member Andy Couzens, answered the phone as Renee”, with a French Accent, and “had as Rottweiler called Bella the size of a big bloke”). John Robb’s 1997 biog is also out (and updated in time for the Heaton Park reunion this summer) – read ’em both and get yourself on Mastermind.

Anna Wood