Ian’s future is looking Rosey
He was the king of the Manchester baggy’ scene, and since the demise of The Stone Roses in 1996 Ian Brown has struck out on his own. Rumours are growing that his old band may stage a reunion, but for now Brown is preparing to play Thetford Forest as a solo artist.
talking with Ian Brown is a curious experience but a more enjoyable one than his past form would suggest.
When he was the Stone Roses' frontman he and his three Mancunian bandmates had a reputation for being sarcastic, often monosyllabic, in their dealings with the press.
But over the course of a 15-minute chat on the phone he is talkative and funny, divulging his conspiracy theories, musing on marijuana and reflecting on the demise of his original group, who were probably the greatest to come out of the pre-Britpop wave of British bands.
Maybe it's because he has grown up and is married with kids, as well as enjoying success as a solo artist. The eternally urchin-faced Brown is now 42, which doesn't seem right somehow, but he explains it by saying he's “two 21-year-olds trapped in one body”.
Before the mid-90s' Britpop explosion, and before Liam Gallagher of Oasis took Brown's simian stage act as a template for his own performing style, The Stone Roses won a legion of fans with their fusion of guitar band introspection and shuffling dance beats.
Brown is keen to point out he has produced twice as many solo albums as he did with the band that made him famous, and has signed a new deal for two more albums with Polydor.
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“I had to establish myself as a solo artist - I didn't want to be accused of using the Roses to get anywhere,” he explained. “Doing four albums makes me a catalogue artist. This is a time where I can embrace my past.”
Those albums range from 1998's Unfinished Monkey Business via Golden Greats and Music of the Spheres to his latest, Solarized, which received mixed reviews.
But while he has retained a keen following for his dubby, Eastern-influenced sounds, fans were ecstatic when he began including Stone Roses' classics in his set-list last year.
“I did a show with the National Trust last year at Claremont Gardens in Surrey, the famous one where we did the Roses songs, in front of 5000 people and that was perfect.”
Appearing in the scenic setting of Thetford Forest tonight won't be unusual for Brown and his band.
“We're looking forward to Thetford Forest. It's a chance for me to get a show off the traditional circuit. With the Roses we were always trying to avoid that, we liked to do something a bit different. Bring it on!”
This fondness for gigs that are “a bit different” goes all the way back to the Stone Roses' famous show at Spike Island in 1990.
“Spike Island was a big highlight - 30,000 people in the middle of nowhere!” he recalls.
“Another one has got to be the first time I went to Japan: kids on the other side of the world singing your songs back to you! I've been every year to Japan since I went solo, I've got quite a big fanbase there.”
Brown and his band, which featured Roses bassist Gary 'Mani' Mounfield, were among the highlights of last month's Glastonbury festival, headlining the Other Stage.
While the audience enjoyed his new material, the old Stone Roses' songs She's a Waterfall and Made of Stone got a fervent reception - as did Brown when he asked the crowd if they wanted to see the band reform.
Over the past decade it has been a thorny subject. It's often the way that when a successful group breaks up, the member thought to be the driving talent isn't necessarily the one who remains famous. Just as Take That songwriter Gary Barlow has slipped into obscurity while Robbie Williams became a global solo star, similarly Stone Roses guitarist John Squire has faded away while Brown - whose vocals have been derided as weak by critics - has remained a charismatic, hollow-cheeked figure shambling around the musical landscape. He and Squire were childhood friends but still don't see eye-to-eye almost a decade after the Roses' split after a pitiful showing at Reading Festival.
“I never had an argument, he just left and did it by phone, and I didn't think that was right,” he says. “He said he was going to quit playing guitar altogether and then the next day he launched a new group.”
That group was The Seahorses, short-lived purveyors of plodding Britpop, and little has been heard of Squire in recent years - until he popped up in London's Time Out magazine shortly after Brown spoke to the Eastern Daily Press, pledging to “put the Roses back together”. When asked whether he would be able to get on with Brown, he replied: “Well, that remains to be seen.”
So by the time Brown takes the stage at Thetford, supported by world mixing champions the Scratch Perverts, there may have been further developments.
Either way, this summer promises to be a busy one. As well as two Forestry Commission gigs, the other in Delamere Forest in Cheshire, a greatest hits compilation is due out in August, which will feature the best of his solo material and some new songs, which he describes as having an “acid house reggae rock'n'roll mood for the summer”.
It sounds original… “I'm always trying to be original. I make sounds to move me, and I hope they move someone else.”
What really seems to move him is the state of the world - the topic gets him far more fired-up than talking about his laid-back music.
“I didn't vote. Who am I going to vote for? I can't give Labour my backing while Blair is leader. That war was about oil.
“But then again, how much power has the British government got when America comes knocking on your door? We have got a million jobs depending on America.”
ID cards get him riled too. Last year he overtly criticised the idea in his song Kiss Ya Lips (No ID), singing: “I ain't no number/ Don't require no ID round my neck/ So Mr Number Maker/ ID cards won't stop no hijack jet.”
In a similar vein, he says: “It seems like they are going to bring these in through the back door, like they are for our protection. But they're not; they're keeping tabs on us all. I don't like the idea of a Big Brother society. The guy [Kamel Bourgass] who was picked up for ricin, he had a false ID. It's not going to stop anything.”
He sees these issues in the context of a society in which we're all in thrall to the economic powers that be.
“After world war two all the businessmen and politicians got together in America and created a consumerist society. Everyone had got to have a fridge, then a video and a TV.
“This generation, everyone is into consuming things and replacing them. Get a PowerBook computer and six months later it's out of date. They have got the world by the short and curlies.”
Born in Warrington in 1963, he grew up in Cheshire, where he attended grammar school and college before getting a job at the DHSS in 1983.
He and Squire had formed punk band The Patrol in the late '70s, which evolved into the Stone Roses while he worked as a civil servant. He quit to take the band on the road, and says he spent five years on the dole before the band got a record deal in the late '80s.
Although he clearly has reservations about Britain, looking back now he thinks kids have it easier by comparison with his youth.
“I think the only thing about Britain is you can see the seasons change,” he reflects. “You can have a young life. It's not like in the Third World, where you have got to work as a kid.
“I think being a teenager now must be better than ever. You can go to Fabric nightclub, you can be out until six in the morning. There's so much to do and things you can be a part of. It's tough to be 19, but if you want you can buy an ecstasy pill for a quid.”
Fifteen years on from being a figurehead of the ecstasy generation, Brown lives a fairly restrained life, dividing his time between his home in Manchester and a flat in Shepherd's Bush in London with his Mexican wife Fabiola and three sons aged 13, nine and five.
“I haven't had a drink for eight years. Still smoke weed, once the sun has gone down,” which prompts a meditation on the injustices of soft drugs being illegal. “Every culture has got marijuana. The first American flag was made of it. Washington used to grow it. It's in China, India. They give it to the babies straight after birth in India to calm them down. It's given as a medicine to heal.
“Magic mushrooms are in the same category. The man who discovered the DNA code was tripping when he found it, because he wanted to see things differently. They are natural, it's not like heroin or crack, where it's man-made. Our society's attitude is 'Whoah, evil drugs, it's going to make people jump off a bridge or whatever'.”
His own stance is one of a man who's been around long enough to take the long view, even if he has a perpetually youthful quality that should keep the Thetford crowd entertained.
“I feel like I have had a lot of ups and a lot of downs,” he reflects.
“I have always got one eye around the corner because I would say if it's going great, then you don't know what's coming next… ”t
Ian Brown plays at High Lodge, Thetford Forest, tonight. Tickets are £22 - contact Thetford Forest on 01842 814612.