Dave Simpson Interview - 15th October 2003

  DAVE SIMPSON, author of Stone Roses: The Illustrated Story, has enjoyed a close association with the Roses throughout the years. Dave ran the music fanzine Avanti (it caught the eye of one Ian Brown who can be seen reading the Roses issue of the fanzine on Rapido TV) and worked for Melody Maker for most of the 90's. He was granted an unprecedented 100 questions with the band in Oslo over four hours, in April 1995.

He has followed the respective solo careers of the band since their split, and has interviewed both Ian Brown and John Squire. He currently writes for The Guardian.

Thanks very much to Dave for giving this interview.

Q1) Was Avanti your first venture into journalism ?

Pretty much but not quite. I bullshitted my way into getting an interview with Howard Devoto in mid 88 and sold it to a pretentious Scottish music mag called Cut. Oh, and I did some earlier fanzine stuff. The first thing I recall ever doing was an interview with A Certain Ratio for Bluer Skies in 86. Drummer Donald Johnson - who of course invented the spiralling motif Reni uses on Resurrection - burst into the dressing room with a red fire extinguisher between his legs singing Cameo's Word Up.

Q2) Can you please tell us about this fanzine ? How many issues did it run for ?

I did 3 issues of Avanti. The first cost me a fortune, lost a fortune, had a big Joy Division piece as the cover and still clogs up my loft. Avanti 2 was the rethink and I accidentally struck gold. The cover had the 'Best Band On The Planet' line about the Roses which the NME have used ever since. It sold and sold and sold. Ian (Brown) read a copy on Rapido TV and after that I got orders from as far as Japan. In the end, after about three reprints I decided to call a halt and get on with issue 3, which had James on the cover. It didn't do as well as 2 - I just about broke even - and I still have a few of those. I never was much of a businessman.

Q3) You were one of the first journalists to recognize the Roses' potential. Can you recall exactly the first occasion on which their music caught your attention ?

The first time I saw them, really (see answer to Question 8). I'd caught Made Of Stone late night on Richard Skinner on Radio One but a lot of stuff sounds good at night (especially after some obscure Belgian flute music) but I had made a mental note. But the gig... that was it for me.

Q4) Do you still have copies of any of the fanzines and in particular the Roses issue ?

Hundred or so, maybe more of issue one, two copies of issue two, one of which is signed by Ian, Mani and John and is one of my greatest treasures. Issue three, maybe there's ten up there in the loft. I'm moving house soon so will have a bodycount !

Q5) Why did the fanzine end ?

Cos issue 1 and 3 lost all the money. I made on issue 2 so I was back to break even. By this point I'd lost interest in the idea of a fanzine after running out of favourite bands. You can only write so much about the same bands unless you get new interviews etc. But I suppose the main reason was I was increasingly busy writing for Melody Maker and that just took over from Avanti ! I had a national stage to whine on about obscure Mancunians, and I was actually earning a few bob instead of losing money. In my crazier moments I have thought of either doing another for the fun or reprinting issue 2 as a commemorative something or other.... if the band reform, I'll do it. Maybe.

Q6) Do you still have the tape of your interview with Ian for Avanti ? Were you nervous when doing that interview ?

It's in the loft. I was pretty nervous, yeah, but often in these instances my nervousness makes me go for it a bit more. I remember they were very cocksure, very defensive. My mate later said it was a bit like watching Ali versus Frasier, which is an appropriate analogy. In all fairness they probably beat me to a pulp. I haven't listened to the tape in years. I'm scared to, in a way. But virtually every moment of that day is imprinted on my memory right from Ian getting refused admission to his own gig (Leeds Polytechnic: 30th June 1989) to Ian being told off for smoking a spliff to my mate not getting in. I can picture his face along with about 50 others pressed against the doors.

Q7) How and when did you make the progression from Avanti to Melody Maker ? You had started working at Melody Maker by the Roses issue of the fanzine, is that correct ?

Yeah. In Feb 89 I sent a review of Drug Free America in and they printed it. That was it. I'd sent Everett True (reviews Ed) a copy of issue one which probably boosted my indie credentials but I suspect he thought it was naive junk !

Q8) What are your memories of the first occasion on which you saw the Roses - Leeds Warehouse, 8th May 1989 ? You said you were "blown away" in your book.

Absolutely fucking awesome. The weird thing is me and my mate Brian went to see the support band, the Hollowmen, cos we knew the guitarist. The first thing we noticed was that Leeds Warehouse was full of Mancs, very unusual. So we watched the Hollowmen and I remember Brian saying we should give the main act "10 minutes". John comes on with the paint splattered guitar and presses on a pedal, up comes Elephant Stone... By the end of the gig the crowd were on the tables. I can re-live much of that gig like freeze frame. "We are Leeds, we are Leeds.." go the crowd. Ian nonchalantly juggles the mike and goes "This is Leeds"... they go into the next song. To this day my equal favourite gig ever along with Joy Division at Futurama and I must have seen thousands of gigs.

Q9) Can you give me some detail of the tape you own of this gig please ? You mentioned in your book that they opened with Elephant Stone. What was the setlist for the gig ?

Elephant Stone
Made Of Stone
Where Angels Play
Shoot You Down
She Bangs The Drums
I Wanna Be Adored
Sally Cinnamon
I Am The Resurrection

Q10) Did you write once that you thought How Do You Sleep was the Roses' greatest ever song ?

Haha. Er, maybe. I doubt it was that strong but I had a very strong experience in a record shop (Tower in fact) on Sunset Boulevard in L.A., just after the second LP came out. That song was playing, I was in LA for the first time and at that moment it just sounded like the best thing I'd ever heard. I still really rate the tune, lyrically and musically. Definitely one of their most underrated.

Q11) The Roses must have had a lot of respect for you as a journalist (and person) as, for a band noted for their relative avoidance of interviews and press, they granted you an unprecedented 100 questions with them over four hours in Oslo, in April 1995. Can you describe for us this occasion on which you interviewed them ?

Again, the whole day is imprinted on my memory. Little things like having a piss next to Mani at the soundcheck (when they did Love songs - they did two or three I think, including Alone Again Or); Ian doing the 'goldfish pout' while larking around. They remembered me from Avanti days and genuinely seemed pleased to see a friendly face from the old days. I spoke to John for ages before the gig. During it I was accosted by two Norwegian blonde girls who wanted to 'party' in my hotel room. I told them I had to interview the band and they could not believe this English idiot was turning them down for a rock group !! The interview was at the back of the tour bus, middle of the night. Very weird vibe. Mani was so defensive about Reni but I stuck to my guns and asked all the awkward stuff. I joked about being on question 14 and having 86 to go but I think they were into talking cos I knew my stuff and it wasn't the usual interview scenario. Later Terri Hall (the PR) told me they had a routine where, if they wanted to end the interview, one of them would ask for a can of 7Up. The 7Ups went undrunk that night.

One other thing I remember, much to my embarrassment, was that myself, Terri and the photographer went for a pizza before the gig, which was their first in years. They're supposed to be on at 8.45 but at 8.30 Terri convinces me to have one last cocktail. So the supposed Stone Roses superfan journo and the professional publicist make it to the venue for 8.40, by which time Waterfall is in full flow. The first Roses gig since 1990 or whatever and I'd missed the first two songs. We both confessed to Melody Maker... about a year later !!

Q12) Over the years, from your accumulated interview tapes, is there much unpublished material with the Roses (and in their respective solo careers) among them ?

Yeah but it's all crap. The good stuff goes in, except for a couple of occasions where someone's said "But don't print that" and I haven't and I wouldn't.

Q13) Can you summarize for us your career to date and what were your favourite publications to work for ?

I did Avanti 89 - 90, Melody Maker 89 - 98, the Guardian 94 to date and stuff like I-D, Cut, Oldham Evening Chronicle (!), Deadline and other mags along the way. I still do the Guardian and LeedsLeedsLeeds, which is football. Ahem. My favourite times were with MM - enough manic episodes for a book - but I like the heavyweight nature of the Guardian... and the money's not bad !

Q14) Do you intend to do any updates on your book, Stone Roses: The Illustrated Story, at some stage or even write another book on the band ?

No to the former. I've been asked to do the latter but I'd only do it if there was something new and I had full cooperation. Oddly enough when I interviewed Ian in 1998 he broke his alcohol abstinence to have a brandy after and he said "I will do a book with you". I looked him in the eye and for some reason said "Nah you won't". I guess I expected him to say "No, really, I will" but he goes "Yeah, you're right, I won't !!". I'm my own worst enemy sometimes but what the hell.

Q15) Having interviewed both Ian and John in their post Roses work, what feelings do you think they still hold for each other ?

It's a cliche but it's like a divorce. There's deep, deep love there on both sides but both, especially Ian, feel very hurt and let down. John's held the olive branch out enough times but equally, doing Roses songs on his recent tour drove Ian crazy apparently. I genuinely believe that if they were to meet, ideally over a beer or four, they would end up hugging each other. I just wish they'd do it sooner rather than later because life's too short and no one's getting any younger. Whatever it would mean for the band, it isn't good to carry that personal karma around.

Q16) In the recent Live Forever documentary, journalist Jon Savage concludes that the Roses "lost their nerve", thus allowing (first Nirvana and ultimately) Oasis to steal their thunder. What are your own thoughts on this debilitating period of inactivity, and the comeback album Second Coming, today ?

There's probably something in what Jon Savage says but it's not that simple. The court case did most damage. I prefer to think they lost impetus, rather than nerve. Somewhere during a mess of legality / drugs and inactivity, the gang mentality broke down and it was never the same again.

I'm not really sure what I think of Second Coming, because it depends what mood I'm in. Sometimes I can stick it on and really get off on it; other times I find myself flicking through tracks. I might not play it for months at a time or more.... whereas the first album creeps on every now and again. I think basically SC is what it always was - deeply flawed with moments of real inspiration. I think generally stuff like Love Spreads / Tense Tory Love Song / How Do You Sleep are up there with anything they've done. I have phases of adoring Driving South and Tightrope. I've gone off Breaking Into Heaven and Daybreak but still like Begging You.

Generally the album is 2 tracks too long and reflects the circumstances of its creation - band falling apart, different studios / times, different producers, isolation in Wales. It actually says as much about the band's gradual implosion as any of the biographies - you can hear it in Ian's voice, which gets hoarser the better system you hear it on. Ultimately it's more John's album and can probably be compared to similar, band-fragmenting late Beatles albums like Let It Be and Abbey Road, although obviously the Roses always, always pissed over the Beatles.

Q17) Your love of the Roses is obvious from your fanzine (and I remember reading somewhere that you rushed home from a chip shop once because you were that desperate to play the debut again ?!) and the numerous Roses related features that you have done over the years. Your utter disappointment and frustration are also evident from the band's mistakes (your Melody Maker comments about Reading '96) and when their respective talent is not used to full potential (your Guardian review of The Rub's gig at Leeds). Would you agree that this is perhaps the most endearing feature of the band - the fact that they could reach such extraordinary highs yet also such painful lows ?

The chip shop story is true, ha ha. They're a very human band. Warts and all. I guess we all preferred it when there weren't so many visible warts.

Q18) Of all the occasions on which you have interviewed the Roses (as a band and in their respective solo careers), which stand out in your mind as being:

(a) the most enjoyable ?

Enjoyable isn't the right word for the Oslo bus thing but it was an amazing experience. I had a great time talking to Ian after he came out of jail and greatly enjoyed meeting John last year, when I felt we could have talked for hours. The thing is, I can see exactly why the pair of them hit it off, and equally why it's so difficult now.

(b) the most difficult (there seemed to be some uneasiness and tension among the Roses in your interview with them in Oslo for example, when you tried to broach the subject of Reni's departure) ?

Yep. I remember Mani saying "His problems ?? We'd have you crying in here, man". I said "Try me" and Mani seemed genuinely taken aback by that. I've had a lot of shit in my own life and I'm not one to back down from dealing with stuff like that. I hope that gained me some respect because they didn't walk out and in fact were great after that. I still have a lot of respect for Mani too, incidentally.

Q19) Can I ask you about The La's, a band that I personally would place on the same pedestal as the Roses. I found this La's article from December 1998 on the net that you did for The Guardian. Judging from the article, you obviously rate them highly also. Did you see the band at their peak ? Have you ever interviewed Lee ?

I saw them at the peak, about '90, and a year later when they were shite. I've never interviewed Lee but done John a few times, including one very strange night when we both ended up horizontal at opposite sides of a table in a Liverpool curry house and he was very emotional about Lee. For Ian / John / Roses read Lee / John / La's. Fucking waste what happened, but two of the best albums of all time. You can't argue with that, it really is George Best syndrome.

Q20) I've noticed that music journalists are increasingly setting up their own websites. Do you plan to set up one to cover your journalistic career ?

God am I that important ? I very much doubt it. To be honest I've never felt that precious about it. I think the day you start thinking of it as anything more than next morning's chip wrapper is the day you lose your edge. That's not to do journalism down, it's just that it's up to writers to bash it out and for others to say "this is great / shit". Same with records. John rates the first Roses album 6 out of 10 which is hilarious really, but I can see where he's coming from. I prefer that to "Oh yeah, best album ever made, man".

Q21) You currently are working for The Guardian. Do you have any interesting projects lined up at the minute ?

Moving house - work's on a bit of a backburner until then. It's the first time I've moved in 40 years so it's a big, scary, exhilarating, life-changing thing for me. Reviewing Travis tomorrow night just doesn't come close.

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