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Having collaborated with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham on his memoirs Stoned and 2Stoned, former The Face, NME and iD writer Simon Spence approached The Stone Roses' Reni about collaborating on a book. Though the drummer initially cooperated the band opted not support book following the announcement of their reunion last year. Unperturbed, Spence will publish The Stone Roses - War And Peace on 7 June. Having written the cover feature on the Stone Roses for our new issue, Q312 out now, he speaks now about his dealings with Reni, the band, their management and more.
When did you first decide to write a book about The Stone Roses and why?
"It came as a surprise. After Andrew Loog Oldham I believed I would never write another rock book as that was the last great rock'n'roll story untold. I spent ten years working closely with him - the Rolling Stones Svengali, manager and producer - on the books Stoned and 2Stoned - after tracking him down in 1991 in Bogota, Colombia where he'd been a recluse for 20 years. Nik Cohn described him as the, The most flash personality that British pop has ever had, the most anarchic and obsessive and imaginative hustler of all. Also, in image, sound and aura, not many could hold a candle to those golden Stones years 1964-1967 he presided over. The Shadows do it for me, and The Four Seasons... but not sincerely. And if you're going to spend years on a book, it has to be sincere. The Pistols had been done, and I wasn't there anyway - too young, and, indicative of the changing times, The Libertines story - I watched intrigued from the sidelines, mainly for Doherty - had been told in book form repeatedly. To be honest, I went bananas in South America with Loog Oldham; it took a long time to appreciate what I'd done and to recover. Drugs don't help. Then once they're out of your life, kids come in and rock'n'roll was so terrible for the past 20 years anyway, you didn't miss much. Then the kids need providing for. So clean, and with Stoned/2Stoned as a calling card, I took aim. I thought, and it wasn't just me thinking this, that nothing satisfying had been written about the Roses and every great rock band deserves one great book, an England's Dreaming, Hammer of the Gods or The True Adventures Of... I wanted to do something that matched what the band had meant to me, and a generation, and would reverberate still. The aim is always to provide a literary equivalent of the band, as high as they go, so must you. The Roses had always been more than a band to me, an inspiration since Blackpool in 1989; and they had kick-started my career. I'll admit I was quite happy to put my life in their hands and, often to my own detriment, tried to keep the Roses attitude as a moral compass. Basically, the work with Andrew Loog Oldham and to a lesser extent, Don Arden (RIP, the Most feared man in music business history, who I spent much time with working on his book), had shown me how to do it, and required such fortitude and guile, I finally felt man enough to take it on. This, being the Roses, you knew it would be an almost impossible ask. I always knew I was the perfect fit, and you just jump in even if you don't pull it off, then at least you know you're going to enjoy the homework."
You initially approached Reni about collaborating on a book, was he receptive to the idea? What was he like to deal with?
"That's right. I began chasing Reni, via his manager John Nuttall, in 2008. I loved the fact he was so reclusive, and had not spoken to the press since quitting the band in 1995. It was a challenge. And because John and Ian had spent so many years trading insults, I felt his silence carried great dignity and mystery - preserving the Roses uniqueness. So, a biography about Reni was actually the initial idea. Nuttall told me Reni said No to all requests, but that no one had put the idea of a book to him before. Reni was intrigued enough to request copies of Stoned and 2Stoned. Although he appreciated those works, and saw potential, the stumbling block, I later learned, was the fact Reni didn't want to talk about his family and early life. It took a further two years of intermittent requests, and some nudging from Nuttall, before Reni final acquiesced - but only because the book now being talked about would be a broader work on the Roses and incorporate the voices of everyone involved in the story. Reni was a joy and an inspiration to work with. He never put a foot wrong. His way of life really chimed, and was one I greatly admired. My one regret is that I never got to see the art he'd spent many years working on. My favourite Reni moments were: I'm not answering all those questions, and when he added a splatter of new names to the list of interviewees: David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Ian McCulloch, Iggy Pop, Stewart Copeland and Buster Bloodvessel... Oh, and, of course, finally, his: Maybe we can wait a year."
Why hadn't he spoken about the band after its split?
"I imagine he had in private - but just not to the press. I mean, why hadn't he released any music since the split? He was the drummer of his generation, one of the greatest drummers of all time.... as Ian said, He would fill the Manchester Apollo if he just set up his drum kit in there and played. It was part distrust of the media but more just maturity and good grace. It was Reni who said about Roses press articles, in 1989: No-one can ever get the right impression from a picture and a 1,000 words. You can't compress the whole of four people into that. He was, and is, also hugely protective of his private, family life. It's the most difficult thing to do, to have it all and then walk away, but, actually, by saying nothing, you could say he said everything. He had achieved a rare perfection with the Roses and he never sullied that."
What was the reaction of those around the Roses camp to you doing a book? What sort of people in the band's world did you speak to?
"Many were relieved that finally someone was making the effort to tell the true story. The only rebuttal we got was from their tour manager, Steve 'Adge' Atherton, who had long planned to write a book and didn't want to give away his anecdotes. Fair enough. There was sometimes a degree of caginess - from mainly the Mancunians - but having Reni on board in the initial period tended to break the ice. During the band's career, beside Reni, there had been ten musicians in the band. I spoke with six of them, usually in interviews lasting all day - hugely rewarding and emotional. The initial list we drew up totalled around 120 people, and we got to about 80 of them. This really is their book. The key was to use all the fresh information one person supplied to get a better degree of participation, or revive enthusiasm, from the next and so it progressed. Howard Jones, their first manager, was superb. John Leckie gave a great deal of himself. Paul Schroeder gave himself afresh. Geno Washington is still a star. Phil Saxe, the 'Mondays first manager, is a flared genius. I could go on... By spending so long interviewing people, it quickly transpired that there were many half-truths and mistakes in what had been put out in print about the band. John Kennedy, the band's lawyer, was a revelation and a cornerstone. A real breakthrough was when I finally got inside America. The key executives who worked on the band over there, first at Jive/Zomba and then Geffen, added a layer of previously unseen depth. The President of the latter label, Eddie Rosenblatt, was a true gent. And the band's American managers, Greg Lewerke and Doug Goldstein, were most forthcoming."
Did you deal with the band's old manager Gareth Evans when putting the book together?
"It's no secret that Reni, of all in the band, most disliked Evans. And Evans was the one person he didn't want me to speak to. I, however, secretly hoped I might sneak him in, and spent much time tracking him down. There were post-Roses incidents in Gareth's life, concerning him and the Roses co-manager Matthew Cummins, I found deeply disconcerting, Dougie James, a legend in Manchester, gave me some deep down and dirty material on Evans. Almost everyone I spoke to had an anecdote about him (much was unprintable). Overall, I couldn't help but like him. I wanted to give him a fair role in the book, and explain how he aided and abetted the Roses. Obviously he made mistakes too... and I didn't shy from that. I decided to rest when I finally tracked down Sue Dean, a well-known face on the 80s Manchester scene, and Gareth's girlfriend during those golden Roses years. She was still in touch with him. The thing was, she said: He is his own worst enemy. You won't get a rational perspective now from Gareth, the absolute truth and the media version of Gareth is so intertwined, it is now total mythology as to what happened, it's crazy. But he never tried to buy a Lear Jet. The jet was another story to add to many crazed Gareth stories. She said, even now, Gareth would stroll in the door and believe he should still be managing the comeback, he could make it better, bigger. I said a previous interviewee had remarked they always felt he was capable of pulling a gun at any moment. Dean laughed. He would love that," she said. Obviously I am slightly biased toward managers but it is not hard to see good in Gareth."
Your book is called War & Peace, why do you think there is so much conflict around the band?
"I chose the title, with a nod to Tolstoy, after the first draft of the book came in at around 250,000 words. It was nabbed from a Squire one liner: When asked what Elephant Stone was about, he said: Love and Death. War and Peace. Morecambe and Wise. I actually felt it fitted with the band's career. The first version of the Roses, 83-86ish, they were angry and at war with the world, and then after that they brought the peace - and that cycle seemed to repeat itself to present. The conflict was born of many things. I've lived in Manchester for the past ten years, and you develop a pretty thick skin, the default setting seems to be taking the piss mercilessly and as close to the bone as possible. They were a ruthless, passionate band, and if you didn't quite fit into their vision then they wouldn't hold back. They always argued a lot - that's true - but I think there was more chaos than conflict. After the split, and for the past 15 years, it's pretty clear to see all that conflict was born of love. They were one-offs, and still are. Their natural waywardness, contrariness, is one of their most beguiling features... and now, older, wiser, and with strong management (for the first time) I expect more peace than war but they will always have that Pistols war-like undercurrent. Anything could happen."
When you started working on the book together, rumours of a reunion started again, did Reni ever believe or give you any indication it was likely?
"When we started in seriousness, in early 2011, there was zero chance of a reunion. For the past five years Ian, mainly, had strongly decreed the notion, as the other three made their interest known. The final nail in the coffin came in 2009 when Squire switched horses and made his: I have no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses, artwork. Early on I heard about Ian and John meeting for the first time in 15 years at Mani's mum's funeral. But despite, a month later, The Sun running the story as evidence a reunion was up and away, this was definitely not the case. In August 2011 Reni sat down for a meal with Ian, the first time they had met in years. I also heard stories of Mani and his wife babysitting Squire's kids. I presumed this was good news for the book. Yes, looking back, when I was asked how quickly I could turn the book around (initially we had been working toward an October 2012 publication date) that was a clue. In September, when I was told that all four were down in London meeting with promoter Simon Moran, I put the two and two together. In the summer Reni had been moving house and I think he was the most sceptical that the band could pull it off. Physically, playing drums is the most challenging aspect of the reunion, and Reni didn't want to play in any way lesser than he had in his prime. The challenge interested him but I think initially he had serious doubts about the musical worth of reforming, doubts, I know, that are now gone."
Apparently your collaboration with Reni was an issue between the members of the band when the reunion was discussed, why? What's their view/ status of the book now?
"Bloody hell. What a nightmare. The band reforming was the best and worst for the book there had never been any guarantees from Ian and John they would contribute. Mani had said he would, and would DJ at the book launch. The position, as I understood it, was that Reni was talking with them about the book and they were ok about it. The decision was to interview everyone and then finally take some specifics to Ian and John, rather than waste their time with questions such as what was Spike Island like just try and get some fresh stuff out both of them, as they'd both spilt their guts to the press over a number of years. What happened was a small article went in Bookseller, a publishing trade mag, about the book, misrepresenting it as Fully authorized by the band, and asserting I'd spent 400 hours interviewing the band! That snowballed, ending up as a two-page news piece in The Independent - who saw the book as a sign of an imminent Third coming. This is just a couple of weeks before the press conference. So Reni walks into the band's first rehearsal and they're sat there reading this that was the initial misunderstanding, and despite efforts, it was something that could never be patched-up. Ian thought I was just trying to cash in. This argument rumbled on in the background for some time the only thing they argued about apparently. Wisely, in the end, Reni, dropped the subject and I had a big decision to make. I did briefly speak with Ian, but he left me in no doubt he was firmly against the book. What am I hearing now? Shane Meadows' researchers have been in touch having heard great things about the book all the contributors have expressed support. I guess, ideally Ian would burn the book on stage, but I think they're too busy to give it too much thought. Ultimately I hope Ian comes round and sees Reni started something worthwhile I think also maybe Ian suspected I was trying to do an Albert Goldman job on him. Clearly not: the work pays my respects, leaves plenty of room for him, or any of the band, to tell their own story and we move on."
Simon Spence portrait by Gered Mankowitz
Q312 is on sale now, grab a copy for the full feature. The Stone Roses: War And Peace by Simon Spence is published by Viking on 7 June at £20 hardback. For more information visit Thestoneroseswarandpeace.wordpress.com or follow @stonerosesbook on Twitter.
10:56 AM | 31/05/2012
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