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Music

Dried up Roses all turn to stone…

There are still questions about the (final?) disintegration of The Stone Roses in the summer of 2017.

John Squire finally confirmed the break-up in late 2019, but the reasons for the split are unknown and it seems that most of the new songs the band had been working on since their reunion are lost.

The Stone Roses live in Milan in 2012
© Alfio66 / Creative Commons

Were plans for a third album scuppered by the apparently disgruntled Reni, whose departure back in the mid-1990s led to the band’s first break-up?

Were the batch of songs recorded so far below expectations that they were shelved forever, not even worthy to sit alongside Garage Flower?

Or was the whole promise of a “live resurrection” just cover for a couple of runs through The Hits and an overdue (and well-deserved) payday?

Maybe the two limp tracks that did emerge really were all that there was.

But there were references to new material as far back as a rehearsal setlist for the 2012 comeback shows in Shane Meadows film Made of Stone. And it’s not even known if the two apologetic singles we eventually got actually came from there.

The Stone Roses: Made of Stone

Those two songs – ‘All For One’ and ‘Beautiful Thing’ – underline the problem with The Stone Roses’ presumably final run.

Against all the odds and in the face of a justified amount of cynicism, the comeback gigs themselves were thrilling. It felt as though the band had pretty much picked up where they’d left off. In fact, it felt less like a continuation of 1996 and more an alternate timeline branching off in 1991.

With a setlist almost entirely made up of songs from the Roses’ 1987-1990 imperial phase, and just a smattering of the messy-but-overmaligned Second Coming (I like it), the shows (re)captured a moment in time and almost threatened to transcend nostalgia.

But the reunion couldn’t quite manage that without offering something genuinely new. And so to the comeback songs.

And what goes up must come down
Turns into dust or turns into stone

The Stone Roses – ‘One Love’

The last single of the band’s first (pre-break) run was ‘One Love’. That track dazzled and shimmered, but at the same time there was a sense of it treading water, rather than following the leap forward of the genre (re)-defining ‘Fools Gold’.

A quarter of a century on, ‘All For One’ magnified that sense of disappointment many times over.

A vapid murmur over a meandering shuffle, it sounded like the work of a band who had wilfully ignored the last 25 years of pop music. The will-this-do lemon-aided sleeve was almost an apologetic admission that this was little more than a regressive retro retread.

Follow up ‘Beautiful Thing’ was significantly better, but it was still too little, much too late.

What was so disappointing is that – collectively and individually – the band had in the past already proved themselves more than willing to evolve.

For all the poor reviews and disappointment at the time, their belated Second Coming was a real shift from what came before.

Despite conventional wisdom you can usually judge a record by its cover, and the drastically different artwork showed that this wasn’t going to be The Stone Roses 2.0.

Released as the Britpop scene the band had so inspired was exploding, it sounded both unlike everything around it and markedly different from the band’s own past

And with ‘Breaking Into Heaven’, ‘Daybreak’, ‘Love Spreads’, and especially ‘Tightrope’ and ‘Begging You’, they came up with a clutch of songs every bit the equal of The Stone Roses.

More than that, after the split each member of the band moved on in very different directions in the following two decades.

First out of the traps was Mani, who revitalised a stuttering Primal Scream and within four years was a vital part of two of their three best ever albums.

After John Squire popped up to frazzle all over Oasis’s Knebworth encores, he had a false-if-temporarily-successful restart with The Seahorses, whose cookie cutter Britpop at least felt of the time (though not a second beyond it).

A second album was promised but never came. Bootlegs of the sessions show a painfully straightforward and essentially tuneless Britrock. It wasn’t much worse than a lot of the stuff being released around the time, but it wasn’t much better either.

Squire went on to (self-)release the underappreciated Time Changes Everything (with olive branch ‘I Miss You’ and self-mythologising ‘15 Days’ among the standouts). Edward Hopper tribute Marshall’s House followed.

John Squire – ‘I Miss You’

If you can get past or even enjoy Squire’s strangled Dylan drawl they’re both lovely, shy, understated records. He then called it a day, giving up pop for painting and sculpture until the reunion.

Remember when we were heroes?
When we are gold?
Said I miss you
And I know deep down that you
Miss me too

John Squire – ‘I Miss You’

Despite being the first to leave the band, Reni all-but disappeared from view, surfacing only briefly for a few gigs as frontman of The Rub.

But Ian Brown was the real suprise. His first solo album still doesn’t get the love it deserves, but it did at least launch him as a successful standalone artist. That’s something few thought likely after the Roses’ Squire-less (and Reni-less) Reading ’96 disaster.

The Stone Roses off key at Reading ’96

Unfinished Monkey Business was the most Roses-dominated post-split release from anyone in the band. ‘Ice Cold Cube’ was salvaged from Reading and ‘Can’t See Me’ was based on a Mani Roses demo.

Late era Roses Aziz Ibrahim, Nigel Ippinson and Robbie Maddix pitched in. The album was sparked by Ippinson’s gift of ‘What Happened To Ya?’ (another Squire sideswipe).

It remans the most personal, singular and interesting record any of the band has ever released. It’s certainly the most fun.

What happened to ya?
Did you change your mind?
What happened to ya?
We were one of a kind

Ian Brown – ‘What Happened To Ya?’

An unfortunate jail stint meant Brown never properly toured Unfinished Monkey Business, and while follow-up Golden Greats cemented his solo status and pushed up the electronics, it didn’t quite have the same quirky spirit as its predecessor.

Brown’s next four albums before the Roses reunion saw him continue to stomp his own path and were bouyed by some real highlights (‘F.E.A.R.’, ‘Keep What Ya Got’). But it felt like he had lost his momentum by the time the band finally reformed in 2012.

The sense of suspicion around the comeback was dented by a joyously irreverent press conference and obliterated with a burst of energy at the first batch of comeback gigs. But there was still something missing.

When Reni stomped offstage before an encore that never came in Amsterdam it was clear the imagination necessary to make a pop group really matter just wasn’t there anymore.

The Stone Roses stutter in Amsterdam in 2012

Reni’s dodgy ear monitors and hissy fit could be easily shrugged off, but rather than yelp his apologies and call it a night as he did, nothing was stopping Ian grabbing John and kicking into an acoustic ‘Tightrope’ and ‘… Resurrection’ to send the crowd home happy instead.

Nothing perhaps, except a lack of vision and desire that rock ‘n’ roll needs for a truly live resurrection.

But it wasn’t to be. The gig ended in acrimony and the two comeback singles offered only an apologetic rehashing of past glories a quarter of a century past their sell-by date.

So what happened next?

When he rejoined the Roses, Mani was replaced in Primal Scream by Simone Marie Butler. I guess he’s kind of unemployed now.

Reni has disappeared again, and John is back at the canvas. And so it falls to Ian once again to carry the musical torch.

His first move was ‘First World Problems’, an ambiguous swipe at his now-ex bandmates.

It was followed by ‘From Chaos To Harmony’ – maybe the closest thing we’re likely to get to a formal dissolution notice.

Dried up roses all turn to stone
Too much poison to ramble on
Thinkin’ for myself with my own brain

Ian Brown – ‘From Chaos To Harmony’

So far, so bitter, but it also might also be his best song since ‘F.E.A.R.’. It packs the sort of sort of wry, genuine emotion the Roses’ studio comeback lacked.

The rest of the album didn’t have all that much going for it. And so not for the first time with The Stone Roses, we’re left wondering what might have been.

But a great album (and a half), a smattering of singles, and a triumphant live return is more than most bands can ever hope to look back on.

And like Ian said at the band’s last gig in Glasgow: don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy it happened.

Categories
Music

Special Needs interview for the unpublished State of Play magazine [2019 re-edit]

Back in 2005, I was given my first proper writing commission. I was to interview an up-and-coming band called Special Needs for a new magazine called State of Play.

I thought the article would not only propel one of my favourite groups into the charts, but also launch my career as a music journalist.

© Digital Sneakers

I wanted to be a mix of Jon Savage, Lester Bangs and Nik Cohn, and I all-too-often wrote like a low-rent, self-conscious knock-off of all three.

As it happened, State of Play‘s publisher ran off with everyone’s money on the eve of its launch, leaving a trail of unpaid debts and no magazine.

I didn’t become music journalism’s Next Big Thing (or any sort of thing), and Special Needs split up soon after without having put out the album they’d just recorded.

But there was an epilogue. Funfairs & Heartbreak got a posthumous release a year after the split, and even after the dust had settled it was a really, really good album.

Special Needs- Blue Skies (Live at Camden Proud in 2011)

Don’t take my word for it. You can buy it on Amazon for less than a fiver, or listen to on Spotify for nothing.

The band had a short-lived reunion in 2011-2012 before calling it a day for good, signing off with a couple of freebie farewell songs ‘It’s Over’/‘Back in the Day’.

And here’s that article for the forever-unpublished State of Play, re-edited for 2019. A bit less breathlessness, a lot more paragraph breaks.


There are changes taking place at Needs HQ. By the time you read this, Special Needs will be known more snappily (and less offensively) as The Needs. More importantly, the band will be back on the road and on the verge of releasing their first album.

Special Needs have been bubbling under the surface for some time now. They’ve picked up positive reviews for their first few singles and ever-increasing attention from fans and media alike. But for a while, things seemed to falter.

“In a sense, our honesty has been our biggest downfall,” says lead singer Zachery Stephenson. He’s wrong of course.

The emotional honesty bound into Special Needs’ music and attitude is in fact their greatest virtue, despite the career-threatening stubbornness and volatility that often comes with it.

Zac, guitarists Andrew Pearson and Daniel Shack, bass player Phil James and drummer Neil Allan are hunched around a table in a pub on Kilburn High Road in north west London. “The same pub we used to go to two years ago when we were playing in London every week,” says Andrew.

He’s concerned that the band haven’t spread their music as far and wide as they would like. All that is about to change.

© Re-Action Recordings Ltd

Later this year, industry wrangling permitting, The Needs will release their recently-recorded debut album. Given the many preconceptions about the band, it promises to surprise a lot of people.

Whether or not you’ve heard Special Needs, it’s likely that you’ve seen their name bandied about, either in the music press or the broadsheets.

Special Needs have often been lumped into a collective of other garage rockers in London, all making similar post-Strokes music aimed at the lowest common denominator. It’s fair to say the band resent that.”

It’s as if they think we’re idiots, like we sit around sniffing Pritt Stick, but we pay council tax,” Andrew says. “We’re not buffoons.”

Daniel adds that the image of the band has always been “London, ramshackle, sloppy rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s never what we were”. The album, however it sells, will banish those comments for good.

Special Needs made the record with producer Ian Grimble on the back of some high profile engineering credits.

“There were a couple of people, trendy east London rocky-type garage producers that we spoke to about doing it, but we wanted that big, full sound,” Zac says.

Special Needs – Francesca

“With the stuff that Ian has done in the past, McAlmont & Butler, the Manics’ Everything Must Go, he was able to get that.”

The album has a very lush sound. It’s full-on, but delicate too. Andrew calls the songs “aggressive lullabies”.

“Me and Daniel always used to talk about [Phil] Spector and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, who were really powerful but soft at the same time,” he adds. “You can ram your fist into something, and it’s kinda like the energy of that, but it happens in slow motion. I think when you do that it becomes something special.”

The hope is clearly to make an album that endures. One that isn’t just a burst of noise and aggression.

“You can have a great song and you can do it with energy, but energy only lasts five minutes,” says Andrew. “The album’s got a real tenderness to it, a real softness, and that lasts for years.”

Special Needs have put out three singles to date. Their first, ‘Sylvia’ (backed with ‘Tarts’), is a record they all-but disown. “If anyone tries to claim it was a single release we’ll sue them,” Andrew says, trying his best to look stern but not really succeeding. “It was a demo that got put out.”

© Re-Action Recordings Ltd

It’s a bit rough around the edges, sure, but it certainly isn’t a bad record. Follow-ups ‘Francesca’ and this summer’s ‘Blue Skies’ give a much better indication of where Special Needs are as a band right now.

It’s a (budget) Wall of Sound with melodies that drag you in with their sweetness, disguising the sadness behind it all. “We’re just struggling to survive, trying to make the best of it. That’s the way everybody is, and if we sound like The Monkees when we do it, then that’s the intention,” says Andrew.

There are smart flourishes all over the album, from the music hall piano on ‘Martin’s In A Fix’ (played by James Blunt’s touring pianist Paul Beard), to the layered a cappella breakdown on ‘The Girl From The Laundrette’.

And then there’s ‘A Town Called Angelica’, a song that marries its bleak lyrics with a downbeat melody that doesn’t shy away from the darkness.

“It’s about a place in the north called Annesley,” Andrew explains. “My dad used to work there in the same factory for 20 years. The whole mining community disappeared and was replaced by a Kodak factory, making film for very cheap cameras.

“That was the place which held the fabric of the community together, and it’s been closed down. I talked to my dad about six months ago when the song was written, and he was a manager there, only him and three people left, just clearing out the lockers. That’s what that song is about – the passing bell for the death of a community.”

© Re-Action Recordings Ltd

The pit in Annesley was one of the oldest in the country, making the subsequent collapse of its once-modern replacement feel all the more crushing.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. If these songs were nothing more than misery wrapped in melody there really wouldn’t be a point.

The recurring theme here is one of escape. Of realising that the world isn’t perfect and wondrous all the time. That sometimes it feels like everything will disintegrate, but you can always try to get away.

What the band aren’t saying is that escape is as easy as a trip to the funfair, even though the British seaside pops up repeatedly in their lyrics.

“It’s very apparent that people seem to think that we think the seaside is some sort of Mecca, some sort of opportunity,” Andrew says.

“‘Tarts’ was never intended to be some sort of song where, ‘We’re 17, life is terrible in the city, let’s go and live in Skegness’.

“The whole point of that song is that life is pretty hard, but living there isn’t going to make it any better. The whole point of it is the death of the English seaside – a flippant kiss down the arcade, and it just meant nothing, it was raining and there was nothing around.”

Daniel adds, “The seaside used to be something, but now it’s just a glorified fucking arcade machine on the seafront. Maybe it wasn’t better, but it was a place where people went to congregate, and now it’s the cheapest, tackiest place in the world.”

© Digital Sneakers

Andrew agrees, “You get there, and it lasts three minutes before you get bored. Someone has a ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hat, and you flip it off and there’s nothing behind it – if you’re lucky there’s a bald patch.”

So escape, if it’s possible, is not to be found beside the seaside. So where does that leave us to run? Well, there’s music. Andrew singles out Suede as the group who inspired him to pick up a guitar and form a band.

“Just to walk around the village I grew up in with a ridiculous dyed black quiff. You get into that mentality where you think all you have to do is walk down the road and you’re something,” he says, and he wants Special Needs to inspire people in a similar way.

“If things go to plan there’ll be a generation of young people who’ll be able to walk out of houses and comb their hair properly, and think something is possible.

“Maybe if it’s just 20 or 30 people in Kilburn who say that there was a great band that used to practice down here and we used to walk past there every day, then maybe there’s a hope.”

Special Needs’ lyrics are shot through with that dream of escape. Of being the Billy Liar who actually caught the train. “Hold on, hold on”, “I can do anything”, “We’re not broken yet, we’re not letting go”, “Run away, run away, we’ll run away”.

“‘Blue Skies’ wasn’t blue in a Sid James, luminous skies way,” Andrew says. “It was blue like Billie Holiday. That’s what the song meant, ‘I’m really, really fuckin’ blue’. The whole song was just an escape from misery.

“And funfairs and heartbreak [the band’s old clubnight and lyric from ‘Get Around’] wasn’t an optimistic thing – it was like a snapshot between being sick in the toilets and kicking your heels running outside the pub.”

© Christine Rush

The band have walked that same tightrope between happiness and despair, and there have been turbulent times when everything nearly fell apart.

Last December, Special Needs had just signed their first album deal and seemed on the cusp of something important when they chaotically imploded on stage. It all happened at a gig to celebrate some of their fans’ birthdays.

“The band’s the one thing that keeps us together, and sometimes that doesn’t even look like it can,” says Phil.

There were fists flying, recriminations yelled and, later, apologies hollered across the venue while the crowd watched disbelieving and open-mouthed.

So what happened? In Andrew’s words, Zachery, more than a little worse for wear, “turned up as Batman and tried to maim me onstage”.

It’s ridiculous, and Zac admits, “We can look back at it now and laugh… but at the time it was terrible, it was breaking all of our hearts.”

Zac concedes that he’s undergone some drastic self-improvement since that night, and the lyrics of their song ‘Convince Me’ were written in the aftermath.

There came a point where it became clear to the band that, as Zac says, “We realised that it’s the only thing in our lives.”

© Re-Action Recordings Ltd

Last year, Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell took some time out from fluffing his own ego to claim that Andrew Pearson was the one person who should be in the NME’s 2004 Cool List.

When this is brought up, Andrew quips, “It’s often said – by himself – that he’s a genius, and that was confirmation of his talent, his insights, and his visions of the future.

It’s Daniel who notes that it was the rest of Borrell’s comments that were maybe more perceptive. The singer called Special Needs “one of those bands where it feels like they’re breaking up every time you see them”.

Zac and Daniel argue that a certain vulnerability and unpredictability is maybe a necessary requirement for a band to stay honest and exciting, but all are happy that Special Needs have taken a step back from that edge they seemed so close to falling from last December.

Andrew says, “The thing I’m most proud of is that we’re still together, and we still play together, we still enjoy it. We’re still trying to get somewhere else, still trying to write better and better songs.”

Since their near break-up the band have enjoyed mixed fortunes. ‘Blue Skies’ sold well but just missed the Top 40, and while the album sessions and accompanying tour have been a success, behind-the-scenes label difficulties have delayed its release.

Despite these setbacks there’s a quiet confidence about this band – not arrogance and brainless swagger, but an assured self-belief.

As Zac says, “the songs are great songs,” and on their release, snobbery and cynicism about The Needs will evaporate.

Andrew adds with such sincerity that you can’t help but believe him, “I doubt there’s anyone in London that could come and sit in this pub and write a better song than we could.”

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Wrestling

WrestleMania 34: Live review and full show match results – plus video highlights

After all the build up, it’s finally time for WrestleMania 34, coming to you LIVE from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Check out the full match card and our predictions right here, as well as making sure you know who’s holding which title as we go into the Showcase of the Immortals.

WrestleMania 34
WWE

You can watch the Kick Off show in full below, right here for FREE and follow all the action and results right here, complete with video highlights and our on-the-spot verdicts. Could WrestleMania 34 compete with another storming NXT TakeOver?

Read the full article at Digital Spy

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Wrestling

WWE’s Paul Heyman charts the death, rebirth and evolution of the pro-wrestling manager

Paul Heyman has a busy time of it at WrestleMania 34.

As well as walking his client Brock Lesnar to the ring, he’s also inducting Goldberg into the WWE Hall of Fame 2018, and hosting his own one-man show An Evening With Paul Heyman in New Orleans.

WWE advocate Paul Heyman
WWE

Digital Spy recently spoke to him about all that (as well grilling him on Hulk Hogan, CM Punk, The Undertaker and more), and while we were on the phone, we also asked Paul’s thoughts on the death (and rebirth) of the pro-wrestling manager.

Read the full article at Digital Spy

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Wrestling

WWE Paul Heyman interview: The Advocate talks Goldberg, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker and CM Punk

WrestleMania 34 is just around the corner, and as Paul Heyman tells Digital Spy, “the entire week is a rollercoaster with the blindfolds on”.

His duties start with the one-man An Evening With Paul Heyman show with Inside The Ropes at the Joy Theater in New Orleans on April 5.

Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar
WWE

The following day, he inducts Goldberg into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2018 at the Smoothie King Center down the road.

Read the full article at Digital Spy