Roses reviews

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

The Stone Roses – War and Peace

by Simon Spence

Viking

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