The Stone Roses: War and Peace

Excerpted from The Stone Roses: War and Peace by Simon Spence. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher.


The Patrol

It started with John Squire and Ian Brown forming their first band together, The Patrol, during their final year at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys in 1979 when they were both aged sixteen. Initially a three-piece with Squire on guitar, Brown on bass and fellow classmate Si Wolstencroft on drums, The Patrol rehearsed on Thursday nights in the back room of Wolstencroft’s parents’ house in Hale Ringway, a civil parish close to Manchester airport, situated between the notorious council estates of Wythenshawe and the leafy, well-to-do market town of Altrincham on the south-westerly outskirts of the city.

Wolstencroft, who would go on to play drums in the original Stone Roses line-up, The Smiths and The Fall, had been in the same high-achieving school class as Squire and Brown since the age of eleven. He recalled that despite their rudimentary ability and equipment, including an amplifier Squire’s father had made, The Patrol made ‘a good noise’. He was closer to Squire than to Brown, having bonded over a shared love for The Clash’s 1977 eponymous debut. They had also shared Latin lessons and the distinction of being the first pupils in their year to be caned after being caught drawing graffiti on their school desks: ‘We got six with a bamboo cane off the deputy head.’

Brown favoured the Sex Pistols and thought that their 1977 debut Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols ‘was going to change the world’. Although he wasn’t fronting The Patrol, who as yet did not have a singer, Brown should have been. He combined a keen interest in politics with a self-confessed ‘rebellious streak’ and an effervescent personality. He was a born showman, well known for standing in front of the class entertaining everyone with his impersonations of the school’s teachers. Brown was also, thanks to his study of karate, not to be messed with. ‘I saw him use it on this guy in the chemistry lab,’ said Wolstencroft. ‘It was pretty impressive. I remember thinking the guy deserved it. Ian gave him a good kung-fu kick to the throat.’

Squire, although less confrontational, was no less defiant of authority. ‘I think he was the first kid in the school to play truant,’ said Brown. ‘And he did that by himself.’ He also had a recognized gift for art, which meant that while Brown and Wolstencroft got stuck into football during games lesson, Squire was encouraged and happy to stay indoors painting.

There was a fourth member of The Patrol gang, Pete Garner, who, while not in this band, would play bass with The Stone Roses between 1983 and 1987. Although a year younger and at a different school from the other three, Garner had been close to them, particularly Squire and Brown, since the age of thirteen. He lived in Brooklands, Sale, a five-minute walk away from Squire and Brown, who lived four doors apart on Sylvan Avenue in Timperley, a pleasant village enclave of Altrincham.

Garner shared the elder boys’ love of punk, and most days after school the gang of four could be found shooting the breeze at the local hot spot close to Squire and Brown’s homes. The allure of girls and cigarettes gave the spot, a bridge over a brook at the top end of Sylvan Avenue, a hallowed appeal. The small stream also signified the boundary between Sale in Manchester and Timperley in Cheshire. ‘When I first met Ian he told me he’d seen the Sex Pistols,’ said Garner. It was a lie, but an impressive one. Brown further impressed Garner with his copy of the eponymous 1969 album by The Stooges. Squire’s admiration for The Clash was self-evident: he played their debut album every day.

For Garner the distinction in the personalities of Brown and Squire was clear. ‘Ian was in your face, charming, very confident, full eye contact, people liked hanging around with him and he was always blagging you a bit. With John you had to wrestle stuff out of him, he’d think about what he was going to say before he said it, but he turned out to be creatively brilliant. They were always like that.’

Squire was usually known as John. Other people called him Johnny but never Jonathon. Brown was IBEX, a nickname that is used to this day. It originated from a fad at school where EX was simply added to the initials of your name. ‘I knew Ian had done karate,’ said Garner. ‘I think he was a black belt, but I don’t recall it being a big thing in Ian’s life when we started hanging out. I suspect as soon as music came in, it went out of the window. We became obsessed with music to the detriment of every other hobby we’d had.’ Wolstencroft, Squire, Brown and Garner were all from a similar background. ‘Ian and John lived in your bog-standard, post-war semi; pretty much all the houses round there were like that,’ said Garner. Or as Brown put it, ‘Poor, down to earth.’

Brown, born in February 1963, had lived in Timperley since he was six. His family, including younger brother David, had moved the ten miles east from Warrington in 1969 following the birth of his sister Sharon. His father, George, worked as a joiner and the new house with a garden was something to be proud of. Family always came first for George, who instilled a firm sense of discipline in his eldest son as well as passing on his strong socialist beliefs. He was ‘a bit to the left of Arthur Scargill’, said Brown.

Culture vulture Garner, a fish out of water at the rough all-boys Burnage High School, recalled being introduced to Ian’s mum, Jean: ‘The first time I went round to his house, his mum was saying to him, You’re not hanging round with him, he’s bad news.’

Squire had been born in November 1962 in Broadheath less than a mile away from Sylvan Avenue. His father, Tom, was an electrical engineer working at the vast General Electric Company factory in nearby Trafford Park. Tom’s record collection held a sacred place in the life of the house, and included jazz greats such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. There was also room for The Beatles, Elvis and Peggy Lee. ‘I didn’t hear a bad song until I left home,’ said Squire. His younger brother, Matt, was best friends with Brown’s brother David.

Brown and Squire, legend has it, first met in a sandpit as young children in the fields near their home – and in all likelihood, with their families living so close to each other and the children so similarly matched in age, they did. It’s a hazy memory, at best, for both. Until punk brought them together they were not friends. They didn’t attend the same primary school, and nor after both passing their 11+ did they socialize much at Altrincham Grammar.

‘We became friendly at thirteen, fourteen,’ Brown said. ‘I started chatting to him and I took “God Save the Queen”, the first Clash LP and “One Chord Wonders” by The Adverts round to his house. He was into The Beach Boys and The Beatles. We were total opposites. I was very outgoing, the class joker, and he was the loner.’

‘Virtually everything we did together was related to music,’ Squire said. Before The Clash, The Beach Boys had been Squire’s great obsession, initiated by the TV advertising for the 20 Golden Greats album. It was, however, the Sex Pistols’ debut single ‘Anarchy in the UK’ in 1976 that made him want to pick up the guitar for the first time. ‘I think I was fourteen when I heard that and realized how electric guitars could be made to sound. I started pestering my dad for a guitar, got a paper round, started hanging around guitar shops on the way back from school. It was the next Christmas I got the guitar. I’d sit depressed on the windowsill in my bedroom with no amplifier, picking my way through “Three Blind Mice” on one string wondering how long it would take.’

For Squire, Brown, Wolstencroft and Garner, punk was their defining teenage experience and influence. Squire got his mum to take in his grey cotton flares and add zips. Dr Martens shoes became de rigueur, and they were regulars at Discount Records, Manchester’s key punk record shop, which had fortuitously for them opened outlets in Sale and Altrincham after establishing its city centre reputation.

Alongside the Sex Pistols and The Clash, another early punk band, Generation X, became a key influence. Squire, particularly, was smitten by the band’s eponymous 1978 debut. ‘That’s where John gets a lot of his sound from,’ said Wolstencroft. ‘We thought the first Generation X album was a masterpiece.’

‘Me and Ian both loved The Damned as well,’ said Garner. ‘Ian had The Damned’s “Stretcher Case/Sick of Being Sick” single, which you got free if you went to a certain Damned gig in London. Ian, being an opportunist, wrote to Stiff Records [home to The Damned and The Adverts] and they sent him one. He was the only person who had it. That single was like the holy grail.’

Brown and Garner also shared a passion for Slaughter & the Dogs, who hailed from nearby Wythenshawe, particularly their 1977 ‘Cranked Up Really High’ single. ‘It Won’t Sell’ by The Panik, released by Manchester independent label Rainy City Records, was another key 7-inch for the pair. ‘The guitarist in The Panik went on to be in V2, another Manchester band we really liked,’ said Garner. ‘You have to bear in mind you’ve only got so many [punk] records in 1977, so you know every note on everything. As soon as one of us got a single, the first thing you’d do was play it to the others, to turn them on to it.’

From around the age of fourteen, the four schoolboys had also been checking out punk bands playing live. Squire remembered his first gig – The Clash at Manchester Apollo in 1977 – as ‘the most exciting thing I’d ever experienced’. Brown also saw The Clash in 1977, and travelled the city to watch Manchester’s premier punk bands Buzzcocks, Slaughter & the Dogs and The Fall. He managed to catch Public Image Ltd (PiL), formed by John Lydon after his former band, the Sex Pistols, broke up in 1978, and The Stranglers. Brown and Squire were also both at the famous March 1979 Joy Division gig at Bowdon Vale youth club in Altrincham.

* * *

Squire, Brown and Wolstencroft left Altrincham Grammar in the summer of 1979 and enrolled at the Timperley-based South Trafford College to study for A-levels. Brown and Wolstencroft arrived for the first day at college in September, after a summer spent rehearsing The Patrol, in newly acquired, Two Tone-influenced tonic suits. Two Tone was a fresh, young, English take on ska, revolving around bands such as The Specials, The Beat and Madness. The movement was closely linked to the burgeoning mod-revival scene led initially by The Jam and featuring bands such as The Chords and The Purple Hearts. ‘Ian, Si and John turned mod,’ said Garner, the only one of the gang who didn’t, ‘which basically meant putting your [upturned for punk] shirt collar down, doing it up to the top button and putting your hair in a side parting. It was like, wait a minute, three weeks ago everybody was a punk!’

At South Trafford College, where Brown took politics and Squire continued to pursue art, they met Andy Couzens, a fellow first-year pupil and the fifth and final original member of The Stone Roses. Couzens played guitar with the Roses for three years from 1983 until 1986. He was originally asked to become the singer with The Patrol after Brown and Wolstencroft saw him have a fight in the college canteen. ‘Andy handled himself pretty well. He had a spiky haircut, biker boots and a car, so Ian asked him if he could sing.’

‘I said, All right, yeah, why not? Never say no,’ said Couzens. ‘Ian liked the idea of it: Look at him. He’ll be a good singer. It seems ridiculous now.’ There were close to 2,500 people at South Trafford College but, even before being approached, Couzens had noticed Brown. ‘He was turning up wearing tonic suits. He had a pretty striking look.’

Couzens had ‘done punk’, loved Joy Division, but since the age of fifteen had been heavily involved with football hooliganism, following both Manchester City and Stockport County ‘for the fights, not the football’. Couzens lived in Woodford, a village five miles south of Stockport, and had chosen to study at South Trafford College in an attempt to break away from the hooligan scene. Timperley was almost ten miles from Woodford, a journey he made in an old MG Midget.

For him, joining The Patrol was as much about forging new friendships as being a front man and he began hanging out after college with the gang on the bridge. Garner, now in his final year at Burnage High, gave Couzens a copy of The Panik’s ‘It Won’t Sell’ as a welcome. ‘The record wasn’t that good,’ said Couzens, ‘but the picture of the band on the sleeve was important. It was a directional picture for The Patrol to go for.’ With Garner acting as an ersatz roadie, and Couzens on vocals, The Patrol moved out of Wolstencroft’s parents’ back room and began rehearsing at the Walton Road scout hut in Sale.

Among the Mohican Haircuts

‘John was writing the guitar riffs and we were just joining in,’ said Wolstencroft. ‘Ian wrote one song about Prince Charles. I can’t remember what that was called, but it made me laugh.’ Brown wrote a song called ‘Black Flag’, after the famous anarchist symbol. ‘Ian would sing that one and play bass,’ said Garner. The Patrol also attempted a cover of The Monkees song ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’, which had been part of the Sex Pistols’ live repertoire.

Brown and Couzens quickly grew close, travelling together to watch promising Welsh mod-revival band Seventeen, whose fast transformation into The Alarm left a sour taste. ‘We realized they were really just doing it for the money,’ said Couzens. ‘And we didn’t like it.’

Wolstencroft, Garner and Squire had no such reservations about the motivations of The Clash. All three bunked off studies to follow the band throughout January and February 1980 on their 16 Tons tour, making gigs in Chester, Wales, Bristol, London and Manchester at the Apollo where The Specials were the support. Squire met NME photographer and future Stone Roses collaborator Pennie Smith on the tour. She was famed for her photographs of The Clash, particularly her cover shot for London Calling. It was Smith who facilitated the three schoolboys’ introduction to The Clash’s entourage. ‘The Clash treated us really well,’ said Garner. ‘It was a massive influence.’

Brown also saw first-hand how The Clash treated their fans. The day after the gig at the Apollo, he and Garner acted on the rumour that the band were recording in Manchester. They took a train into the city, intending to go round the studios. It started to rain, and despite their chutzpah they realized that they only actually knew one studio, Pluto on Granby Row. ‘We were both soaking wet and we realized how stupid this was,’ said Garner. ‘As if we’re just going to walk up to the studio, they’re going to be there and they’re going to let us in.’

However, as the pair approached the studio, they were in luck. A car pulled up and Topper Headon, the band’s drummer, got out. He took pity on the two bedraggled kids and invited them inside, where Brown and Garner spent all day watching The Clash record the single ‘Bankrobber’. ‘They were fantastic,’ said Garner. ‘Not many bands would do that.’ Brown was less star-struck. Observing singer Joe Strummer sat under a grandfather clock, weirdly clicking his fingers in time with it, only served to entrench his opinion that the Sex Pistols were punk’s finest band.

Squire was inspired by his experiences on the 16 Tons tour. He wrote The Clash-influenced punk-pop tunes ‘Gaol of the Assassins’ and ‘Too Many Tons’ and introduced them to The Patrol’s rehearsals. Squire had been working diligently on improving his guitar playing. He’d been to a blues and folk guitar teacher and studied a book called Lead Guitar that came with a free flexi-disc of blues-based music. ‘That stuff came easy to me. I just liked the sound.’ His dad had also rigged up the transformer from Squire’s old train set to the record player in his room so he could slow his records down and work out guitar parts at his own pace.

Using wages from part-time jobs, The Patrol recorded both the new Squire tracks at a demo studio in Rusholme, where a pre-Simply Red Mick Hucknall acted as sound engineer. ‘Gaol of the Assassins’ was surprisingly accomplished. Couzens could carry a tune and the mid-tempo song allowed Squire to show off some fine melodic guitar lines. ‘It’s like what he would play later on in the Roses,’ said Wolstencroft. ‘John already had a feel for it, a good rhythm and a good sound.’

A promising dynamic between Squire and Brown was apparent in these early explorations. ‘Ian was always brilliant at talking it up,’ said Garner. ‘If he met somebody he’d convince them within five minutes that the band he was in was the best band ever, whereas John would get down and do the work. You can put a lot of The Patrol’s stuff down to John. He was responsible for writing a lot of the lyrics, probably a lot of the music, if not all of it. Together it worked out quite well.’ Brown had also handled the harmonies on ‘Gaol of the Assassins’ and the faster, less intricate ‘Too Many Tons’, as well as helping write the lyrics.

After recording the demo and producing a limited number of cassette copies with inserts designed by Squire, The Patrol played a handful of gigs beginning in March 1980. Squire used the college facilities to produce posters and flyers to help publicize the shows, which were mostly organized by Brown, who by now had a scooter to go with his tonic suit and was busy putting his face about south Manchester.

‘I was always on the move,’ Brown said. ‘I had mates all over town, not just from where I was from. I was hanging out with kids everywhere.’ Among Brown’s new mates was Gaz Smith, the leader of a gang of salty punks from Stretford, home of Manchester United FC, that coalesced around the band Corrosive Youth. This scene also included art students from Cosgrove Hall animation studio who were developing the Danger Mouse series, which would become an international hit in 1981. Incongruously among the Mohican haircuts, some Stretford punks had their leather biker jackets adorned with early cartoons of Danger Mouse and his sidekick Penfold.

‘They were all right, decent lads,’ said Couzens. ‘They decided they liked Ian.’ People seemed to gravitate towards Brown, agreed Wolstencroft. ‘He attracted people with style, no matter who it was or what the style was. He just clicked with people.’ The Patrol played youth clubs with Corrosive Youth, including nights at Sale Annexe and Lostock near Stretford. ‘It was an excuse for us to all go out somewhere different,’ said Couzens. ‘I never thought anything of it. We were just doing it.’

For Wolstencroft, the best Patrol gig was at South Trafford College when they supported progressive rockers Scorched Earth. ‘It was the first time we were on a stage that was higher than six inches, with monitors and proper equipment. It wasn’t packed but there were over a hundred people in the crowd and we were quite good. We had attitude.’

Equally exciting was the band’s first gig in Manchester city centre, at the Portland near Piccadilly Gardens. ‘It was an old-school late-1970s bar,’ said Garner, ‘a long room with a little stage at the end.’ For Garner, the highlight of all The Patrol’s shows came in a village hall in Dunham Massey, an upmarket rural area between Timperley and Lymm.

The Patrol included a cover of The Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster’ in their set, and Brown asked Garner to play bass while he sang the song. ‘It was the first time I ever played bass. And the only time I played with The Patrol.’

The Patrol also did a cover of the Cockney Rejects’ 1979 single ‘I’m Not a Fool’. The Rejects (who also included ‘Blockbuster’ in their live set), alongside the Angelic Upstarts, were leaders of a new energetic street-punk movement dubbed Oi! Brown, Squire and to an extent Garner were hooked on the raw excitement these bands generated. They were direct, avowedly working class and aggressively anti-establishment.

‘We all loved the first Rejects album,’ said Garner. Both he and Brown were also fans of the Angelic Upstarts’ incendiary 1978 single ‘The Murder of Liddle Towers’, written about amateur boxer Liddle Towers, who died in police cells. Brown saw the Upstarts, celebrated for their left-wing stance, play live between fifteen and twenty times, and even acted as roadie for them. The band’s singer, Thomas ‘Mensi’ Mensforth, a former apprentice miner, became something of a mentor. ‘I remember Ian humping gear in at the Mayflower in Belle Vue and another club in Moss Side, a community centre,’ said Mensi. ‘He jumped in the bus a few times to come to places like Bolton, Oldham and Blackpool.’

Brown also followed the fashion of Oi!, wearing a green MA1 jacket, Levi jeans, and Dr Martens boots with yellow laces, which signified the wearer was anti-racist, or SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice). This was important as Oi! nights were plagued by right-wing National Front skinheads who aped the look but whose MA1 jackets were black and bootlaces white. The Upstarts often took what Mensi has called a ‘pro-active defensive’ stance: ‘We would look round the bars for the fascists before the show and we would disrupt them before they had a chance to disrupt it. That’s why I wasn’t interested in whether my roadies could string a guitar. I wanted to know they could hold their hands up in a row. Although Ian was a little bit skinny, he was a game fucker.’

Wolstencroft and Couzens back that evaluation. ‘Ian wouldn’t go looking for a fight but he was a fighter,’ Wolstencroft recalled. Couzens said Brown was ‘not frightened of anything’. Outside the Rotters club in the city centre, a bunch of blokes started having a go. ‘Ian stood up to them. He challenged them to hit him and the bloke did.’ Brown offered up the other side of his face. ‘Ian just kept doing that,’ said Couzens. ‘Then he said to the guy, You’re a prick, you’ve just made yourself look like a prick, and walked off.’

Under the influence of the proudly patriotic Mensi, the seventeen-year-old Brown had a small Union Jack, with the word ‘England’ across it, tattooed on his upper arm. ‘Later on Ian would be embarrassed by that tattoo,’ said Garner. It was difficult to explain and easy to misinterpret. The Upstarts, who had featured on the cover of the Socialist Worker newspaper, had introduced an unusually quiet acoustic song called ‘England’ into their live set. It was written as a tribute to the bravery of the English working classes, whom Mensi reckoned had too often been sent to war on the basis of greed. The song was also part of his arsenal against the rise in popularity of the British Movement and National Front among alienated working-class youth at a time of rising unemployment in the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s government. Both neo-Nazi parties had ‘tried to hijack aspects of patriotism’, said veteran anti-fascist Mensi, who wrote the lyrics in part to ‘take the flag back from the people who had hijacked it… I was trying to say I can have pride in my country and still have respect for other people. I used to lecture everybody.’ Mensi felt he had ‘instilled something’ in Brown that made him proud.

This new-found fondness for Oi! was not shared by The Patrol’s drummer Si Wolstencroft. ‘I hated it. The songs were just too quick, with no sort of subtlety to them.’ He was the first of the gang to lose interest in The Patrol and college, drifting away from both.

The Patrol blew their one shot of making something of themselves when they missed the chance of playing in front of a potentially influential crowd at the Osbourne Club in Miles Platting, inner-city Manchester. Garner learned one afternoon that Adam and the Ants were cancelling that evening’s gig because their tour bus had broken down. Garner had planned to attend and was on the phone to the venue asking what was on instead. Told they were struggling to find a replacement, he suggested The Patrol. ‘I was blagging, telling him they’ve got a following, they’ll pull a good crowd,’ said Garner. ‘So the guy said, Okay, if you can get them down, I’ll put them on.’ But Squire could not be located. ‘He was sat in a field chilling, hadn’t told anyone where he was going, just sat in a field doing what he does.’

Wolstencroft joined a new band called Freak Party, exploring an interest in British jazz funk with bass player Andy Rourke and guitarist Johnny Marr, who had often mixed with The Patrol gang at a pub called The Vine in Sale. Freak Party would become The Smiths, and although Wolstencroft kept in touch with Squire and Brown, their passion for Oi!, and increasingly the scooter scene, saw their paths diverge.

Garner also favoured Marr’s musical direction. He’d finished school in the summer of 1980, and after a period on the dole had landed his dream job at Paperchase, the hippest record and poster/magazine shop in Manchester. Marr, whom he knew from primary school, worked in an independent fashion shop called X Clothes nearby in the city centre. ‘Ian and John used to come into Paperchase now and again,’ he said. ‘But we just didn’t hang around together any more. They were getting into the scooter thing, listening to the Rejects and the Upstarts, and I’d gone the other way, starting to listen to The Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls and The Stooges. I had long dyed black hair. We were still mates, but we didn’t hang around the bridge any more.’

It was Couzens who stayed closest to Brown and Squire, even after he was thrown out of college. ‘We basically stopped doing the band and started doing the scooters,’ he recalled.

‘I never wanted to be in a group,’ Brown said. ‘I sold my bass and got a scooter with the money – £100.’ After leaving college in the summer of 1981, Squire and Brown took a succession of easy-come, easy-go jobs to pay for music, scooters and nights out. ‘The first thing I did was scrub pots,’ said Brown. The job washing dishes at a hotel lasted about three weeks, after which he worked in an office, on a building site and washed caravans, but was mostly on the dole.

Squire stacked shelves at Tesco. He found work as ‘a barman at the local, a labourer and a grease monkey for a roller-shutter maintenance firm’. His dad had tried to get him a job as a forklift truck driver at his GEC factory. ‘I hesitated so much the job was taken by someone else. I always think of that as my lucky escape from the mundane.’

Skulduggery and Shenanigans

Initially the scooter revival had been kick-started by the release of Quadrophenia in 1979, and Couzens watched Brown’s obsession with scooters grow. He had set him up with a part-time job at his uncle’s caravan sales site, and for a time Brown had played the part of the film’s lead, Jimmy, riding his scooter to work in his tonic suit. ‘It very quickly jumped from that to “scooterboys”, who were anything but mods,’ said Couzens. ‘They were more like Hells Angels or hooligans on scooters. Although John and I got into scooters, it was to a lesser extent than Ian. We continued trying to make music. Ian didn’t take any of that seriously and went for the scooter thing hook, line and sinker, up and down the country, on rallies and runs.’

‘The Scooterboys were not Mods,’ Brown told Melody Maker. ‘We were a mixture of punks, skins, anyone who had a scooter.’ Brown became a well-known face on the scene in 1981. It was a boon year, one that saw the mod look of suits and parkas replaced by the skinhead look of green army combat trousers, MA1 jackets and Dr Martens, scooter clubs springing up all over the country and a fresh wave of national runs taking place.

The first of these was Scarborough Easter weekend 1981, when 10,000 scooterists gathered, followed in July by a run to Keswick in the Lake District that ended in a full-blown, Molotov-cocktail-scarred riot, and resulted in scooter runs being banned from the Lake District for twenty years. Brown was there.

One of Brown’s closest scooterboy pals was Mike Phoenix. ‘Ian and I met up because on his way to work he used to come down through Sale past our house,’ said Phoenix. ‘He saw my scooter, stopped and we got chatting.’ Phoenix ran a club on Monday nights above the Black Lion pub in Salford called the Twisted Wheel SC, named after Manchester’s original Northern Soul venue. Brown became a regular. ‘Ian used to sit on the door with me, take the money and watch for the best-looking girls coming in.’ The club was rammed with up to 300 people, with another 100 outside in the car park – all dancing to Northern Soul, Motown, ska and 1960s mod music. ‘It was magical.’

Brown had a strong and classic look: white Levi’s Sta-Prest jeans or loose-fit Levi’s Red Tab 501s with a twisted seam, Dr Martens boots, Jaytex or Brutus checked shirt and a black Barathea three-button jacket with chrome buttons and an original Twisted Wheel patch sewn on the breast pocket. He was charismatic, spinning stories and telling jokes that would hold the attention of huddles of scooterboys, and the girls loved him. He had an ability to make easy mates with anybody, even, on one memorable run, a group of Hells Angels. He was unafraid to put forward his opinion on any subject with a cheeky grin. ‘But when he lost his rag, he really lost his rag,’ said Phoenix. Brown would often tell Phoenix, ‘I’m not bothered about being rich but I want to be famous.’

Stockport Crusaders and the Rainy City Cruisers in Salford were the main scooter clubs. Phoenix and Brown knew most of the faces on the scene. The small clique they rode with included members of the Chorlton Trojans scooter club, such as the always ultra-sharply turned-out Johnny Poland, a key influence on Brown’s style. The Trojans were renowned for their silver helmets with Mohicans fashioned out of a brush of fox’s tail. ‘Four or five of us would go everywhere together,’ said Phoenix. On the fringe of this gang of characters was Stephen ‘Cressa’ Cresser, a future member of The Stone Roses’ road crew. ‘Cressa was a good lad, funny, but he didn’t have a scooter,’ said Phoenix. ‘He used to come along on the back of somebody else’s.’

Throughout 1982 and 1983, Brown and his rum and rowdy clique would be regulars at the rallies in Brighton, the Isle of Wight, Morecambe, Great Yarmouth and Weston-super-Mare, as the scooterboys became the scourge of seaside towns. ‘You’d go out on your scooter and people would throw things at you and the police would pull you up,’ said Couzens. ‘You’d get heckled. You couldn’t leave your scooter anywhere because it would get smashed up. It felt dangerous, and that’s part of being young. You want to kick against things.’

Brown’s gang would go to the Beehive pub in Eccles and fight with the locals, including the lads who’d go on to form the Happy Mondays. ‘They’d try and kick our scooters over; we used to fight them every week,’ Brown said.

Brown had five or six scooters, including two real head-turners. The first was a Vespa Rally 200, originally dark metallic blue and red, which featured the slogan ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ on one side of the rear wheel panel after the 1978 Sham 69 single, and on the other side ‘Stormtroopers in Sta Prest’, inspired by the track by underground Oi! band The Last Resort. Phoenix, a keen exponent of the art of scooter customization, revamped this scooter for Brown, painting it pink and candy red with a Japanese-style flag on the front and adorning it with a new logo, ‘Cranked Up Really High’, after a Slaughter & the Dogs track.

There was also a fondly remembered pink and white cut-down Lambretta ‘chopper’ with ‘Sweet and Innocenti’ written on the rear panel. Much of the customization was done at Andy Couzens’ parents’ house. Couzens, Brown and Phoenix would take a break from the hassle associated with riding scooters by going for rumbles around Manchester city centre in Couzens’ father’s white Jaguar. Guided by Phoenix they took the Jag to Clifton Hall in Rotherham, where Couzens and Brown experienced their first Northern Soul ‘all-nighter’. ‘They’d never come across anything like it,’ said Phoenix, ‘some dirty old music hall that smelled of stale grease where people were dancing all night.’

John Squire was also noted for his customized scooter and had done the work himself. It was a Lambretta GP 125 in iridescent dark blue, with the petrol tank, the internals and the forks plated in copper. The rims were painted and then flicked with paints in the Jackson Pollock-style that would later adorn The Stone Roses’ instruments and record sleeves. ‘John really was meticulous,’ said Phoenix. ‘He had good taste. That scooter would stand up today.’ Although not as heavily involved in the scene as Brown, Squire made it to rallies in Skegness and Morecambe. ‘John was pretty introverted, quiet, but dry as fuck,’ said Phoenix. ‘He would stand back and listen to everyone else.’ He was also keen to borrow records that were popular at the Twisted Wheel club. ‘So he could listen to bass lines,’ said Phoenix. ‘He was always looking for new stuff and looking to make it his own.’

‘Ian was definitely a face on the scene,’ said Johnny Bolland, who ran the Stockport Crusaders and would go on to own the company who made the Stone Roses T-shirts. ‘He was loud and funny. He had the image and the style. John was just there, one of the crowd.’ On the Manchester scooterboy scene, however, the punks and mods who turned skinhead like Brown were far outnumbered by the football hooligans, ‘Perry boys’, who had taken to two wheels. In fact around the country many of the new scooter clubs often had strong links to football hooligan firms.

Synonymous with this phenomenon in Manchester was a lad called David ‘Kaiser’ Carty, a well-known face from Moston. Among his crowd was none other than Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield, who would go on to replace Pete Garner as the bassist in the Roses. ‘Mani stood out, same as Ian,’ said Bolland. ‘Him and Kaiser were proper Mancs from north Manchester, the rough end of town.’

Mani, who was just a few days older than Squire, said his scooter crowd was made up of ‘punks, scallies [Perry boys], pirates, vagabonds and ne’er do wells’. They were a rowdy bunch, cruising about and getting ‘involved in skulduggery and shenanigans’, often clashing with the ‘smellies’ or ‘stinkers’ in nearby Oldham. ‘We’d kick fuck out of anyone with a leather jacket on or with long hair or anything like that,’ Mani said. They’d been at Scarborough in 1981, and were on many of the big runs such as Great Yarmouth and the Isle of Wight. Mani had a Vespa 90 racer called ‘Dirty Jimmy’. Alongside a taste for Motown, Northern Soul and mod-revival acts, they were into the psychobilly scene, a good-time apolitical mix of punk and rockabilly led by King Kurt and The Meteors.

Initially there had been a divide between Kaiser’s north Manchester scooterboy crowd and Brown’s clique from south Manchester. ‘We always used to think the southern Manchester scooterboys were a bit middle class,’ Mani said. Slowly that attitude dissolved and the two sets of scooterboys came together, realizing ‘we were all into the same scene: dress sharp, have a smart scooter and like good music’. Mani met Squire for the first time in the Northern Soul room at the Pips club and knew him by his nickname, Red John. Squire was a ‘real staunch communist’, one who always wore a hammer and sickle badge, said Couzens. Mani first encountered Brown under more troubling circumstances. ‘We were having problems with this gang of local skinheads,’ Mani said. ‘The word went out to Ian’s south Manchester crew; Mike Phoenix, Johnny Bolland and all their lot.’

‘We’d heard about this kid with a swastika on his head, some bonehead who was living near Mani’s who was bullying kids and causing trouble in the bars and clubs,’ said Brown. ‘So Mani’s posse came to our posse and asked if we’d go up to deal with this guy. That’s how we met. We were policing ourselves in those days. I remember seeing Mani sat down in this council house. I’m thinking, He ain’t no fighter.’

‘I vividly remember meeting Ian,’ Mani said, ‘and thinking, That kid looks like Galen off Planet of the Apes. He always had that striking simian thing. I liked him from day one because he looked like my favourite telly programme.’

Kaiser would often join Brown’s small crew on scooter runs. He was an expert ‘jibber’, always trying to get something for nothing, be it petrol or steak pie, chips and peas all round for the lads. They called themselves, briefly, the Manchester Globe Scooter Club – largely as a front to sell off hundreds of inch-wide black, red and green patches they claimed were the club’s insignia, at 50p each. ‘Nobody had any money, we were in a recession,’ said Phoenix. ‘We were young and just wanted to enjoy ourselves.’

Kaiser and Mani were both part-time members of an irregular Oldham-based band called The Hungry Sox, whose psychobilly and garage rock set was played mainly for laughs. Squire’s interest was aroused. He’d tried but failed to keep The Patrol going with Couzens and a succession of new members after Brown and Wolstencroft had lost interest. Now, in October 1982, Squire, Couzens, Mani and Kaiser came together to form a new band, initially calling themselves The Fireside Chaps before changing their name to The Waterfront. They rehearsed at Couzens’ parents’ house, where a full-size snooker table was often a distraction.

The Waterfront, with Kaiser on vocals, Mani on bass, Squire and Couzens on guitars and Mani’s mate Chris Goodwin on drums, recorded a demo tape featuring two songs: ‘Normandy (On a Beach)’ and ‘Where the Wind Blows’. Again Squire’s crystalline guitar lines are distinctive, especially on ‘Normandy’. The lyrics to the track were written by Kaiser and inspired by a recent trip to France when according to Mani, ‘everyone around our way all chipped the train and ferry and went to live in Port Grimaud, just outside St Tropez, for the summer’. Both tracks on the Waterfront demo, which Squire again designed the inserts for, were carefully constructed pop and in part precursors of classic period Stone Roses. Ironically, The Waterfront sounded more ‘Roses’ than the actual Stone Roses did in their early days, although ‘Where the Wind Blows’ did feature, remarkably, a whistling solo.

‘We spent quite a bit of time on that demo,’ said Couzens. ‘The first demo with The Patrol we didn’t know what we were doing, but that second time we’d got more of a handle on it. John and I talked about The Beach Boys a lot. We were definitely more pop-orientated. We had an idea of what we were trying to do.’ They tried to get Brown interested in joining The Waterfront. ‘John and I had an idea of having Ian and Kaiser at the front trying to do a counterpoint with one another. That’s what we were trying to push, this question-and-answer thing with these two lads at the front singing sweet pop music.’

‘We were joint singers for a couple of weeks,’ Brown said. ‘The Waterfront sounded like [post-punk Scottish band] Orange Juice. I was impressed I knew somebody that could play to that quality. Since 1978/79 John hadn’t done much except play his guitar.’ The Waterfront never gigged and came to an abrupt end. ‘It was John who said, I’m not doing this any more, and just stopped,’ said Couzens. Mani invited Couzens and Brown up to Oldham in an attempt to get something else going. They rehearsed for an afternoon with another member of the Hungry Sox gang, Clint Boon, at his studio the Mill, but nothing came of it.

Squire and Brown appeared to be leaving behind their adolescent obsessions of music and scooters and adopting new, more adult responsibilities as their teenage years faded out. Squire had landed a good job, and Brown was settling into a long-term relationship. The scooter rallies were becoming bigger and bigger, but growing increasingly ugly as racist skinheads, often without scooters, infiltrated the scene. The National Scooter Rallies Association folded in 1986 and the runs came to an end. ‘Ian’s last rally,’ said Phoenix, ‘was the Isle of Wight, August 1984. He went down with his girlfriend, Mitch.’

Photo by © Gered Mankowitz
from St. Martin’s Press

Simon Spence is a writer, journalist, and biographer who has collaborated with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham on the acclaimed memoirs Stoned and 2Stoned. He has written for the NME, i-D, Dazed & Confused and the Independent. He lives in London, England.