To coincide with Palace’s Happy Mondays collaboration which dropped today, we dusted off this 1990 interview by Nick Kent with the Mondays and The Stone Roses. Lucky you!
It’s the evening of Thursday 23rd November 1989, and the UK’s living rooms are experiencing a culturequake, a musical shift of seismic proportions. On that night’s edition of BBC1’s nation-uniting music show Top of the Pops, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays make their debut on the chart show. Madchester is very much in the house – in your mum and dad’s living-room, in fact – and serving notice that the British musical underground is now swaggering overground.
Performing Fools Gold and Hallelujah respectively, the gangs of scrappy Mancs show up the other musical turns, who include New Kids On The Block and Bobby Brown, and instantly cancel mainstream pop. Legendary FACE writer Nick Kent was there, backstage with both bands, writing a lightning-in-a-bottle story that appeared on the cover of the January 1990 issue. To celebrate the Mondays’ new collaboration with Palace, we’re proud to reprint Nick’s piece: right place, right time, right bands, right proper journalism.
“Last night his bed caught fire ’cos o’ smoking that. There were flames comin’ up from ’is pillow. He didn’t know owt about it tho’. He were fookin’ comatose!”
The Happy Mondays’ infamous dancer, Bez, whose bed it was, holds aloft a pellet-sized lump of hashish the colour of wan excrement towards the gaze of The Stone Roses’ drummer, Remi, then flashes him a good, conspiratorial “mad” look before stating, without any intended irony: “Aye, when your bed’s on fire, you know you’re dealin’ with top fookin’ draw!”
Across the room, the Mondays’ singer Shaun Ryder is being asked by a journalist just exactly what he and the rest of the band want out of “the drug experience”. Ryder squints his weasel eyes and gives the question due thought.
“Uh… well… uh… illumination, pal. Yeah! Illumination, definitely. Well illumination, like, half the time anyway. Cos t’other half we just like to get fookin’ roarin’ shit-faced, y’knowharramsayin’?”
Welcome to the New Power Generation. A hundred years ago, most of this mob would have ended up on a pressgang. Today, one month shy of 1990, they’re the two great dark British hopes of pop for a whole new decade. So what does that tell you about “civilisation” and the Nineties?
“The Nineties actually began during the six weeks that Ride On Time by Black Box was number one in England,” says Factory Records supremo and Happy Mondays’ pet Goebbels, Tony Wilson. “Happy Mondays and Stone Roses entering the charts together the same week and getting their first Top Of The Pops together as a result… That makes this decade now well and truly declared ‘open’. This makes it official.”
To boost these young Mancs’ jubilant moods further, a big black beatbox stands proudly at one corner of their communal dressing room blaring out alternate sections. The Stone Roses boys instigate a session of The Beatles from one speaker played against some acid house whooping and looping out of the other. Every now and then the Happy Mondays change the music as Shaun Ryder simply turns off the Beatles and leaves the tape of atonal honks and scrambled rhythms to ricochet through the room. One can’t help but see something symbolic in all this.
“They’re the only other group we can just sit down and have a drink with, like,” says Stone Roses’ singer Ian Brown, indicating Ryder and his cronies. “The Mondays and Stone Roses have the same influences, really, ’cos we’ve been to the same clubs. Blues nights, reggae nights, house nights, a bit of Parliament, a bit of Funkadelic… We’re all cakin’ it from the same record collections, just doin’ it up different.”
“You’ll find no rivalry here, pal,” mutters Shaun Ryder, before pausing to think. “Well, the only rivalry ’tween us and the Roses, like, is over clothes, really. There’s always been a bit of a race on to see who’s got the best flashiest clothes, right, and what part of the world these clothes come from. ’Cos we’re both flash coonts, y’knowwharramean!
“They’re dead brilliant, Stone Roses. They’re more tuneful than us but we’re a top band too so it works great together, I reckon. I mean I can call ’em mates. Ian! Fookin’ Mani! Reni! Friends, y’knowwharramean? And particularly fookin’ Cresser, man! Whooray, we taught him everythin’ he fookin’ knows.”
Talk turns to the subject of another shared experience – producer Martin Hannett, the troubled Phil Spector of the North. “We went into the studio with him in 1985 and he produced the first version of I Want To Be Adored,” Brown is telling Ryder, “and a bunch of other stuff. Riffs that weren’t songs. It was a disaster. He were only half-there.”
Shaun Ryder counters: “He’s a fookin’ mate to the Mondays, Martin. He’s great when he’s with us, man. Mind, he likes workin’ with us ’cos we give ’im a lot of E during sessions, right! E sorts ’im right out! During the Hallelujah sessions, we were givin’ him two a day, and this were when they were 25 quid a go, right. But it were worth it ’cos he kept saying, ‘I can’t feel anything but I’m in a fookin’ great frame of mind.’ Plus it stops him gettin’ bladdered.”
Most members of both groups are paying little attention to the music and the conversation, preferring to huddle over the week’s music papers, notably those pages that tend to feature themselves (which, at the moment, is a lot). Each review they doggedly peruse seems to have signed off with some excitable reference to the Mondays-Roses progress being akin to “the North rising again”, but the only rise Shaun Ryder is concerned about at the minute is situated somewhere inside the over-generously well-ventilated crotch of his black Oxford bags. He sidles up to the statuesque make-up girl brought in specifically to make him and his band look “presentable” to a peak-viewing audience and mutters apropos of nothing in particular: “So do you reckon me willie’ll look big enough to the world hangin’ there in these fookin’ strides, then, luv?”
The Stone Roses would like to take this opportunity to clear something up. At least their manager would. We’re all in the bar now and Tony Wilson is busy pulling all the stops out in yet another of his overgenerous Mouth Almighty routines when he turns a bit patronising on the Stone Roses and accuses them, in front of this writer, of unprofessionalism at a certain gig due to excessive drug use. The easy camaraderie freezes for an instant as the Roses’ manager reaches out his hand and places it softly but firmly over Wilson’s mouth. Then he whispers something in his ear that causes Wilson to stiffen momentarily. Then he turns to me. “You should know the Stone Roses don’t take drugs.”
What he’s trying to say is that the Stone Roses don’t take drugs in remotely the same way Happy Mondays take drugs. But then, no one takes drugs like Happy Mondays. The Mondays’ recent trip to the United States was highlighted a) by the lads introducing themselves generously to PCP (“Top fookin’ gear, man! If it’s good enough for James Brown, it’s good enough for us”), and by yet another drug bust, this time on their second day in New York where several of them were busted smoking “something inflammable” with “a bunch of black geezers in some park, like”.
The reviews they received were mixed and troubled. Americans evidently found it hard dealing with the concept of real Northern hooligans on Ecstacy, but that didn’t stop Tony Wilson from egging on Factory’s press officer to wangle Happy Mondays every drug transgression into the tabloid press. All of which begs one inevitable question. “Do I have any problem with any of Happy Mondays dying on me?” he looks at me while both the Mondays and Stone Roses contingent look on a little aghast. “I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with any of these guys dying on me! Listen, Ian Curtis dying on me was the great thing that’s happened to my life. Death sells!”
Doesn’t that make you just a voyeur?
“I’ve got news for you, pal. I am a voyeur!”
“Tony’s just a businessman, really,” Shaun Ryder opines shortly after Wilson’s outburst. “Someone like him… I mean, he likes us… at least, I think he does… But he’s got to use the drugs angle to sell us, y’knowwharramsayin’? I mean, what the fook could Gaz, Bez or me be like without someone like Tony exploiting us? We wouldn’t ’ave jobs ’cos we can’t do fookin’ jobs. That’s just a fookin’ fact, right!
“I mean, he’s exploitin’ us, right, but we’re exploiting the situation he’s given us ’cos, like, two years ago we had to have drugs on our person ’cos we were sellin’ ’em, right. So if you got caught, then it were a bigger problem. ’Cos it were bigger amounts we were carryin’. But like, now we always carry the name of a good solicitor around with us. I’ve got this card, right, and I just show it to the filth, when they come pryin’. Whereas before when they’d search me they’d always find, like, 47 plastic bags and no solicitor’s card… Fookin’ hassles, y’knowwharramean?
“We’ve chosen to live like this and that’s it. We’re just playing a game, the same game we’ve been playing for a long time. That’s the one trouble with being on Top Of The Pops, though. Someone in the force might get clever. The police are thick. They’re dirt thick.
“We just see Happy Mondays as this license to do what we want right now as much as possible. The police and that can’t do worse to us than what they’ve already done, like. And if I do get banged up, it’s not like it’s something that’s never happened before. Jail’s nothing new to me, man. ‘Bird’, like, it’s all down to how you use your time, really. I mean, you can read a few books. Or study a foreign language. It’s a bit of a lark really.
The Mondays, we’ve been friends for over ten years, pal. There’s no one else we’d rather be with for doin’ the things we wanna do. When you’ve been friends that long… Qell, for a start you can take the piss out of each other for something rotten and get away with it. Gaz can call me some right snide things an’ I won’t fookin’ crack ’im one.
“But, like, our keyboard player’s off his fookin’ trolley! Daft as a fookin’ brush! He’s a top lad, our Paul, but he don’t half talk some fookin’ toss sometimes. If he were ’ere right now, he’d be over ’ere talkin’ daft! And you’d probably hate him ’cos he’s a bit of a bastard too. You just ’ave to say, ‘Shurrup our Paul and listen to what yer sayin’, ya great fookin’ knobhead.’ But he’s daft. That’s just his way.
“People keep askin’ us about Manchester… We never ever really stayed in Manchester. We get around, pal… London… Paris… Bez was found livin’ in the fookin’ Sahara Desert in a fookin’ cave, man. It’s the fookin’ truth, that. Manchester’s just where we’re from.
“Well, our sound’s allsorts really. Funkadelic, One Nation Under A Groove, being eaten by a giant sandwich… That were fookin’ tops, that… Northern soul… Punk rock… Jimi Hendrix… fookin’ Captain Beefheart. And a lot o’ drugs on top o’ that. It was thru’ Bez with E… Just ‘get ’em down yer throat, son! More! More! Go on! Throw ’em down yer neck!’ That’s how we really got to see how E can get you, like, right out there. You’ve just got to pelt it down yer.
“I don’t want to get serious with music. Our music is about not even thinking about havin’ a future. It’s all going now. Right now, we’re it. When it stops it stops. We’re just doin’ what we’re doin’.
“Me old bloke he works for us, right. He’s basically one of those workin’ class geezers who never ’ad a fookin’ clue, always gettin’ banged up or fucked over. Me mam was a nurse… She’s like a three-year-old, really… Good woman an’ all… But she’s a worrier… too nervous… Well, y’can’t blame her what with the phone goin’ all the time and the police tellin’ her I’ve been booked, y’know… But me old bloke always instilled in me this belief that we may not be big hard blokes but there’s not a situation we can’t handle. And that’s how we live our lives for better or worse.
“I mean, I’m in this for the fookin’ money, man. I was more interested in money than learning at school. Money, wearing the flashest clothes and cookin’ around! Nowt’s changed, really. We all wanna make a fookin’ pile.
“But at the same time I think we’ve got, like, principles… a fookin’ sense of loyalty. You can’t buy our loyalty. You can’t buy our loyalty. We’d never leave Tony and Factory, like (pauses). Well, not unless someone offered us seven million or summat dead tasty like that!
“Positive thinking. That’s all we’ve ever really believed in. You’ve got to make things happen for you… Positivity comes from inside. We can see right from wrong. Why be glum? Why celebrate sitting around being lonely in bedsits? You should encourage people to go out and talk to each other. Communication makes things go round.”
Stone Roses make statements like that with a straight face. In the company of the Happy Mondays and their walking Viz cartoon workshop of personal magnetism, they seem a bit vacant. But here in isolation in some other room in a hotel, their vague statements come across buoyed by a certain quiet authority. The main thing about The Stone Roses is that, unlike Happy Mondays, they’re going to be really huge – foreseeably as-big-as-U2 huge.
“It started in February really with Made Of Stone coming out. We played the Haçienda then and sold it out. It was just the atmosphere. People were just willing us to go on.” Then came the album on Silvertone and everything seemed to explode. Mick Jagger purportedly asked them to support certain dates for the Stones on their American tour last year: “But we said no, ’cos everyone else would say yes. We’re against hypocrisy, lies, bigotry, show business, insincerity, phonies and fakers… There’s millions of ’em and they’re all pricks. People like Jagger and Bowie… They’re so insincere now they’re just patronising.”
Then came Europe and Japan where “everything was boss. It was all getting chased around train stations. And havin’ our hair pulled. It was mad. Unreal. It was like being in Help.”
Being bigger than U2? “Well they’re empty anyway – what does all that emptiness say to all those people? But yeah, I think we can deliver on that. We’ve always felt we could be the top group in the world. It’s only now that others are saying the same thing. We can handle it.”
“From now it’s just gonna be the five of us sealed off into our own little world,” states singer Ian Brown, whose face bears the sculptured cuteness of a perfect pop idol. “It’s inevitable, really, isn’t it? But the bonds are strong enough. I’ve known John since l was four. Mani and Reni for ten years… Nothing can stop it. We were on the dole for five years. Now we’re earning, so we’ve got to stay and take it all.
“We wanna keep moving. The world’s too small. lt doesn’t end at Manchester. I don’t see us as part of a Manchester scene as such. l want to get out as fast as I can. I’ve seen it all. Still, it’s home. And there’s always been that scene. Before it was The Boardwalk and all the bands that played there and knew each other. And we were always not included. Now we’re the scene but in fact we were always outside the so-called ‘Manchester scene’.
“Tony Wilson, he’s alright, I suppose. He put the Pistols on, didn’t he? Built t’Haçienda. But he shouldn’t go round like he’s the spokesman for Manchester ’cos he’s out of touch. And Jonathan Ross is a tosser. We’re saying we’re going to do his show now [Ross had been disparaging about Stone Roses on his show two days before]. Then at the last minute we’ll pull out. Don’t wanna be treated like a fookin’ monkey.”
John Squire, the group’s guitarist, declares: “The next album will be more positive, tidier, looser, better. The idea with the first album was to make each song extremely different from the last, but we didn’t get it. So that’s the aim with the second. We don’t want to sound like a band.”
“It’s not about bands with us,” adds Brown. “It’s always been about records. That’s our big aim. To make some of the best records anyone’s ever gonna make, and still come out of it all with our self-respect.”
“Our vision of the Nineties?” asks Squire. “Time to see who’s who, isn’t it?” says Brown.
Well, it was time to see who was who in the Eighties, but nothing happened. Brown looks at me and suddenly he hasn’t got a real answer.
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” he offers.
“You can’t say it hasn’t done some good, Ecstasy.” Ian Brown is still talking, and somehow the conversation doubles back to the topic of this strange designer drug and how it appears to hold the key to unlocking the essence of both the Mondays’ demonic howl and the Stone Roses’ tricky mega-pop. “Ecstacy has loosened people up who maybe weren’t really in touch with their own spirit. But I was in touch with me own spirit before, so I don’t believe it’s changed me. But I can see it’s changed a lot of other people. Only last year, people were taking it to extremes using it to dance themselves into a trance with. l mean, fook that. You’ve got to stay conscious, stay awake. Or else you’re just like some old hippie… Am l right?”
“E were great two years ago, y’know.” Shaun Ryder is pausing for his last reflection of the afternoon. “lt made everything peaceful. But now the violence is comin’ back in the Manchester clubs. There’s too much freebasin’ goin’ on. It’s takin’ over in Manchester… Like, everyone in Manny had a binge on E, right, only the people who had a binge on E from the start are now having a freebase binge on cocaine. All the lads we know in London… it’s the same.
“Y’know, two years ago I’d have said legalise E. But now… l don’t know, like. Cos E… it can make you nice and mellow but it’s capable of doin’ proper naughty things to you as well. E can get you into big fookin’ bother! Fook, if we legalised E, man, we’d probably have a race of fookin’ mutants on our hands!”
“So ah says to him: ‘Just ’cos you got hairs round your lips, our kid, there’s no need to talk as like a coont.’”
Finally, most of the Stone Roses and Mondays have exiled themselves off to the make-up room when a haughty Home Counties BBC employee strides into the dressing room and demands of those present, specifically the groups’ two drummers and myself, to start dismantling the sacred black beatbox toot sweet.
“It’s not just that noise,” she gestures at some mind-warping rendition of Ballad Of John And Yoko currently being sampled and cross-taped into hyperspace. “It’s… all this.” Her hands wave neurotically at the gargantuan powerchord running out into the reception hall that the groups’ roadies rigged up for the occasion.
It’s a moment to savour, this: Ms Jodphurs vs. mangey Gaz, the beetroot-faced Happy Mondays drummer, not so much human being as apprentice troglodyte. For if there is a moment for the North to “symbolically” rise into the Nineties and tell the South to stop sitting on its face, then why not let it be this one? But it doesn’t really register with old Gaz, who just turns a bit sheepish before sloping out to do as he is told. Welcome to the no-power generation.