The Manchester scene is a convenient myth to sell product, whether it be records or newspapers," says John Squire.
A few hundred miles south of Manchester, the Stone Roses guitarist sits in a London steakhouse with his band mates and shrugs off his hometown. "They've created this mock scene, some people have," adds the band's bassist, Mani. "We've never felt any part of anything like that."
Whatever their misgivings, the Stone Roses are the most successful band to emerge from Manchester since the Smiths. They're the ones who won all the major categories in the New Musical Express readers' poll, the ones with the highest profile in the United States, the ones who are largely credited for popularizing flares in their hometown. The group has its critics, but almost everyone agrees on one thing: The Stone Roses write good songs, and that gives them a commercial potential that many of their neighbors don't have.
In London to mix a new single (and appear in court after vandalizing the offices of their former record company, which released a video without their permission), the Roses eat a late dinner and talk — mostly in low, listless tones — about how good they are. "We feel we're the only British group worth exporting since the Sex Pistols, definitely," says singer Ian Brown.
From the start, this was the Stone Roses' attitude. "I never wanted to be a pop singer," says Brown, "but I always watched pop programs and knew I could do better than the people I was seeing. I still love watching the programs, seeing what fucking idiots people make of themselves. I like the fact that a group can become successful, and by way of what you are, you can show up all the other people who are around you. Your existence can expose other people's bullshit. I want to do that."
Neil Fitzpatrick, from the Manchester band Distant Cousins, remembers sharing rehearsal space with the Roses in the mid-Eighties. "There'd be holes in the walls," he says, "and silly graffiti like 'Stone Roses are a fucking great shit house motherfucking kick rock band.' And we'd answer, 'Oh, really?' "
Less colorful Stone Roses graffiti soon spread across Manchester's public buildings as the band polished its material and honed its original hard rock into a more Sixties-influenced, pop-oriented sound. The Stone Roses made their name playing warehouse raves in Manchester, and when their debut album came out last year, melodic songs like "Elephant Stone" and "She Bangs the Drums" immediately put the band on the charts and on the radio, capturing Smiths fans with its pop melodicism, rockers with its sullen attitude and young girls with the band members' waifish good looks. (They captured the imagination of the British tabloids as well, when the papers realized that "Elizabeth My Dear," the Stone Roses' rewrite of "Scarborough Fair," envisions the murder of the Queen.) A subsequent single, the slow funk workout "Fool's Gold," made inroads into the hard-core dance audience.
"We believe that anyone can do anything and everyone's a star," says Brown. "And that's evident from the shows we do. It just feels like a whole bunch of people in a room, celebrating something — maybe just being alive."
Now the band is planning an American tour, a second album — and, of course, a great deal more fame. "We don't want to be an English phenomenon," says Squire. "There's a lot of other British groups doing well in America," adds Brown, "but we think we're better, so we want Americans to see us and hear us, definitely. It's just as important to be big in New York as Manchester."
Asked how big the Stone Roses want to be, Brown says, "I don't think anyone's gotten as successful as we want to be," his voice betraying not a trace of the ambition that's in his words. "I wanna see as many places as possible. Meet as many people as possible. Change the world. All that."