Interview: Ian Brown
Published on September 15th, 2009 | Jonny Abrams
Yes – THE Ian Brown! In good spirits as he awaits the release of his sixth solo album, My Way, this cast-iron legend of popular music sat patiently with a coffee outside Tootsie’s in Holland Park as I bombarded him with questions about his his glittering musical career, one month on from his triumphant return to Reading Festival…
When you return to Reading, do you sense any lingering ghosts from the infamous Stone Roses performance there in 1996?
IB: Yeah. I felt great going back there. The site’s exactly the same as it was then – the bars are in the same place and the stage is the same. I felt like I’d come full circle, to be there doing it this year, 13 years later. Mega.
What do you think of the current UK music scene? Has anyone caught your eye?
IB: I’ve been stuck in my own record for about a year, so I’m not up on who’s fresh and out there and new. There’s a lot of good rappers in England at the moment. There’s a lot of good dance acts. A lot of good, young guitar acts. I think a lot of groups came from that dole culture of the late 80’s/early 90’s – it’s not as easy now. I think there’s a dearth of working class bands.
Whatever happened to South [whom Brown ‘mentored’]? I saw them at Reading years ago and they were blinding…
IB: Yeah, they were a blinding band. Super-talented. Proper music-makers. I dunno. I think they made four albums. I think they do ok in America and Japan but the UK never really took to them, did they? Dunno why that is. They’re lovely guys and, musically, they’re brilliant. Four albums and they’ve still not had a proper shout in England. I really don’t know why that is. They’ve got a good manager as well.
Some of the really great bands of the last decade or two tend not to hit the stratospheres of fame. Take Super Furry Animals, for example.
IB: Yeah, they’re a great band. Great musicians. Choc-a-bloc with ideas, aren’t they? Every project they do is completely different from the last one. Yeah, I agree – they’re a great band.
What songs are you most proud of writing?
IB: ‘Fool’s Gold’. And the fact that Run DMC sampled it is the best thing that happened to the Roses, I think.
Who wrote the lick?
IB: John [Squire] wrote the lick. John wrote all the music in the Roses. He wrote all the bass lines. Mani likes to have a shout about in interviews, but John wrote every bass note. Mani just played whatever John told him was gonna fit behind his guitar.
Is it true that Mani once chased Mel B around with his, erm, ‘member’ out?
IB: It’s possible, that. (Laughs) You’re a cheeky one, aren’t you? You’ll go far.
It’s all about the juicy soundbites. On that note, are you mates with Happy Mondays?
IB: Yeah, I am. I was in California with Paul Ryder last week, took the kids to stay with him, his missus and his kids at their house there for a few days. I still see Shaun…still in contact with Bez. Shaun’s got the only house in Swinton with a swimming pool! Shaun’s doing brilliant at the moment. He’s riding his bike, keeping fit. I first met Shaun in ’86 when he was trying to sell me black and white video recorders. He had about twenty of them under his bed. That’s when I first met him, and he’s back to his old cheeky self now.
Any idea what he was trying to raise money for?
IB: Who knows? (Laughs)
Did you used to party with the Happy Mondays back in the day?
IB: Yeah we did, a lot. All the time.
Did you ever match them?
IB: No, never. No-one could ever match Happy Mondays. Neither then or now!
This question could land either way: what’s the most rock and roll thing you’ve ever done?
IB: We used to get aerosols, get a little fire going underneath it, stand back, get an air rifle and shoot it – the explosions you’d get were out of this world. They’d go about ten feet in the air, with a ten foot smoke plume. We used to buy 24 caterers’ packs of fly-killer and floor polish and we’d shoot them. We probably did it eight hours a day for a week while we were rehearsing. And that’s how we created the greenhouse effect singlehandedly. (Laughs)
Is it true that you’re a black belt at karate?
IB: I gave it up three weeks before my black belt. I studied it for eight years and gave it up when I was 19, just three weeks off black belt. I just got this bee in my bonnet ’cause they were there to grade me, and it’s my only regret in life, that I didn’t continue and get it just so I could say that I got it. No, I never got it – I gave it up foolishly, three weeks before my grading.
Do you know of other musical karate types?
IB: There was Jean-Jacques Burnel out of The Stranglers – he’s got his own
. I think he’s 4th dan, now. John Robb out of Goldblade – he does martial arts. James Lavelle out of UNKLE trained in kung fu when he was a kid.
How do you feel about soundtracking CSI?
IB: Made up to be part of that. I think I’ve had three songs on it now. Absolutely made up, ’cause it was an out of the blue “CSI want to use your track”…of course they can.
Is it true that you used to steal lawnmowers to buy weed when you were a kid?
IB: Dunno where you’ve heard that crazy story from. Not at all, no. I did have a friend that used to have a VW van full of gardening equipment and horticultural supplies, and that was his front for dealing weed. He used to have forks and lawnmowers and all that in the back of his van. Maybe it’s been bastardised from that story.
The Stone Roses’ debut album is often cited as the best debut album of all time. What alternatives would you proffer?
IB: I think Never Mind The Bollocks [by Sex Pistols] is more exciting. More exciting and more original-sounding. And lyrically stronger, as well.
What would be the full lineup of your dream band?
IB: I’d have Steve Jones on guitar. I’d have Jimi Hendrix on lead guitar. Paul McCartney on bass. John Lennon as lead singer. Reni on the drums. Tim Hutton, my trumpet player, on the trumpet. And Inder Goldfinger, my percussion player, on percussion. That would be some band.
I’m obliged to ask you if there will ever be a Stone Roses reunion…
IB: You’ve got your obligations, and I’ve got mine! I’m contracted for another record at Polydor.
Your new one, My Way, is inspired by Thriller…
IB: Yeah, in the way that Thriller was flamboyant and there were no album tracks – it was all singles. Each one sounded like a hit in its own right, and that’s how I tried to make this one – as if it was all singles.
I enjoyed your cover of Billie Jean back in the day [b-side to ‘Dolphins Were Monkeys’]…
IB: Cheers, nice one. It was better live than the recorded one though, really.
What’s your favourite out of your solo albums?
IB: My latest one.
Is that always the case?
IB: Yeah. I think I’m like The Beatles – I think each one I’ve done is better than the last one. And hopefully I’ll never make a Let It Be.