River Splashes Against The Rocks

There’s yet another thirty year anniversary taking place today. Three decades ago today The Stone Roses played Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom, a summer jaunt to the coast by a group then riding the absolute crest of the wave. The gig was the first of the group’s one off specials, an attempt to stage gigs that were out of the ordinary, to give fans something special. The Empress Ballroom, part of the Winter Gardens, is a beautiful room with Victorian coving, a sprung floor, balconies and glass chandeliers. The band spent the day of the gig larking abut on the seafront for the NME’s photographer before playing a perfect show. A Dave Haslam DJ set warmed the crowd up (not they needed it, everyone was more than ready and in the mood). Ian took to the stage with a flashing yo-yo and a cry of ‘Manchester, Manchester, international, international..’ and then it was take off- most of the debut album plus Where Angels Play and Mersey Paradise.

Mersey Paradise

Thirty years on from its appearance as the B-side to She Bangs The Drum and the penultimate song played at Blackpool, Mersey Paradise became the song of our summer holiday this year. My daughter, a slowly growing interest in Manchester’s musical history, suddenly declared that the song was her new favourite. It’s one of mine too, full on psychedelic pop- Squire’s fast, circling, chiming guitar riff and Reni’s brilliant drumming (and backing vocals) power the song onward through it’s two minutes forty-four seconds. Ian surfs on top, the words tumbling on top of each other, occasionally bubbling up for the listener to singalong- ‘she doesn’t care for my despair’, ‘river cools where I belong’.

It turns out that I’ve been singing the wrong words for nigh on three decades- ‘river splashes against the rocks/ A slow escape and hope the tracks won’t/ lead me down to docklands/ it’s all places where we fall to pieces’ has been my version since 1989. According to all the lyric sites it’s actually-

‘River splashes against the rocks
And I scale the slope, I hope the tracks won’t
Lead me down to dark black pits
Or places where we fall to bits’

Can’t see me changing that habit now but you live and learn. Thankfully I’m much better with the second verse.

‘As I stare an oil wheel comes
Sailing by and I feel like
Growing fins and falling in
With the bricks, the bikes, the rusty tin cans
I’ll swim along without a care
I’m eating sand when I need air
You can bet your life I’ll meet a pike
Who’ll wolf me down for tea tonight’

There’s a lack of guile and a real pre-fame sense to the words to Mersey Paradise, lyrics that they couldn’t have written later on. The Mersey runs through south Manchester, forming a southern border to Chorlton, where Ian and John lived at the time most of the first album’s songs were written and it’s easy to imagine the song being written following a walk in Chorlton Waterpark. The words hint at something darker too, a drowning, love, heartbreak and despair on the banks of the river. A song they put on the B-side of a summer single too along with the much longer, majestic, Hendrix pop of Standing Here. Who’d have guessed that within in a year it would be all over? Or that a B-side from a 12″ single in 1989 would still be turning kids on to the band in 2019?

Take A Look Around There’s Something Happening

Drew pointed out on Twitter at the weekend that today is the 30th anniversary of the release of The Stone Roses debut album, 2nd May 1989. I’ve thought about this fact a bit in the days since. At first I thought I wouldn’t post anything about it as a) I’ve covered The Roses fairly extensively here and recently too with three posts about their backwards songs b) posting about album’s birthdays runs the risk of falling into a nostalgia trap which I try to avoid maybe not always successfully and c) I wasn’t sure I had anything to add. Drew asked me how the thirtieth birthday made me feel? Old, Drew, mainly it makes me feel old.

In May 1989 I was a couple of weeks short of turning nineteen. Two days after the album was released, 4th May 1989,  I saw them play in the Haigh Building at Liverpool Poly. I don’t think when I went to the gig I realised the album was out, being less well informed than we are now, pre-internet. For the record the gig cost £3.50 and I still have the ticket somewhere. The album came out with little fanfare to some lukewarm press reviews but began building a word of mouth buzz during the course of the long tour they undertook to promote it and some increasingly breathless live reviews in the weeklies. The Haigh Building was a small venue and rammed the night they played. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band that had the effect on me that The Roses had that night, playing a set of songs many of which I hadn’t heard before but which fried my brain. Of the eleven songs they played I’d heard four- Sally Cinnamon, Here It Comes, Elephant Stone and Made Of Stone. There was virtually zero audience interaction- at one point Ian stopped between songs to ask who’d thrown the lemon on stage- but they had charisma and a diffident confidence, John’s fluid guitar, Mani’s rumbling, melodic bass and Reni’s effortless drumming and harmonies. Ian swayed and bobbed at the front, eyes half closed and microphone in hand, calmness lost in the swirl of song around him. They started with I Wanna Be Adored and finished with I Am The Resurrection, just under an hour on stage, no encore. Head spinning psychedelic songs, 60s inspired but with enough of the late 80s in them to avoid being just retro or revivalist, and judging by the audience, hair starting to grow out and clothes starting to get baggier, fervently mouthing the words to the songs, something was stirring, something was about to happen. I got the album the next day.

I was going to go through the record song by song but you don’t need me to do that and I’ve written about most of the songs on it before. In the middle of side two, before the glistening, heart stopping dynamics of This Is The One and the full on arrogance plus freak out of I Am The Resurrection is Shoot You Down, a full band song with smoky, late night vibes, softly sung vox and brushed drums, guitars by Hendrix if he’d been from Chorlton-cum-Hardy not Seattle.

Shoot You Down

This one was recorded for the album but didn’t make it, was played live all the way through the tour and at Spike Island just over a year later. It finally saw the light of day on a cash-in 12″ released by Silvertone years later, the label the band were in dispute with and taking to court to get rid of. A minor classic, rolling drums and bass with droplets of guitar, the sound of early summer, freshly mown grass and rain after sunshine.

Where Angels Play

There’s an audience recording of the gig at Liverpool Poly here. They used to sell these bootleg cassettes, often terrible recordings with shonky home made covers. I bought quite a few before I learned my lesson. This one is good though and shows Ian’s vocal issues weren’t always a problem.

In an internet coincidence I came across these on Twitter, songs from the album re-imagined as Penguin book covers (done by Barrabas Youngblood). I love the This Is The One cover, taking the ‘girl consumed by fire’ line as its starting point, and the way the art for Waterfall and Don’t Stop are inversions of each (as the songs are too. Waterfall’s lyrics tell of a girl getting out of her home town and dropping LSD on the cross channel ferry, ‘lifting the lids of her eyes’, an archetypal 80s Roses lyric). Bye Bye Badman is superb too, the cover depicting the song’s Paris ’68 riots theme (also the origin of the lemon motif, an antidote to the effects of CS gas according to an old man they’d met in a pub).

The opening line of the second verse of Waterfall asks the question ‘now you’re at the wheel/ tell me how, how does it feel?’ Thirty years on it makes me feel old Ian, there’s no getting away from it, but listening to the songs (and hearing my 15 year old daughter singing them round the house) they make me feel young too, not as young as I was in May ’89 maybe, but young enough.

Untitled And More

Stop me if you think I’m going too far with all of this but my investigations into the backwards songs The Stone Roses released as B-sides in the late 1980s has taken me further into new territory. Two weeks ago I started with the official releases- Full Fathom Five, Guernica and Simone- which paved the way for the giddy, trippy backwards version of Waterfall that is Don’t Stop. Last week I got sucked into a backwards wormhole with the vinyl version of Full Fathom Five which when reversed gave us the Peter Hook version of Elephant Stone. I also found the intro music, the backwards version of She Bangs The Drums that is I Am Without Shoes.

Delving further I was reminded of a Silvertone re-release of the debut album, an anniversary rip off edition, where they stuck some ‘new’ backwards tracks out as to entice fans in (along with the album on a USB stick that was shaped like a lemon). There were five of these untitled songs, all versions of songs off the album, played backwards. Presumably Silvertone went through the tapes and found the bits Squire and the rest abandoned once recording was finsihed. This one is Untitled 4, some of the guitars and bass from I Wanna Be Adored, with a lot of extra noise and feedback.

Simone was an extra track on an import 12″ single, the U.S. release of Adored- I posted it two weeks ago- but this fan made video for Simone is worth a watch, capturing something of the spirit of the backwards songs and the times (Belinda Butcher from My Bloody Valentine and the Soon video is present too, drifting through the washed out visuals ).

Going deeper now. A Youtube user named Zouch has reversed Don’t Stop.

Don’t Stop backwards is Waterfall forwards but there’s a lot more than just that going on here, with forwards and backwards vocals and John’s guitars playing in both directions.

Incidentally, there seems to be a difference between analogue and digital backwards. Analogue backwards songs are true backwards, playing the notes from back to start. I’m guessing there’s a difference between playing tapes backwards and vinyl backwards too. Digital backwards reverses the bytes but plays them forwards. I think- if you can confirm or contradict this or know more, feel free to let me know. This would help account for the difference between the vinyl and CD single release of Full Fathom Five possibly (of which more below).

Lastly, for the moment, a Youtube user called Bryan has put together twenty three minutes of Stone Roses backwards songs played forwards (these are backwards versions of digital releases- this is made clear by the first song, the CD single version of Full Fathom Five played backwards, to give us a disjointed version of Elephant Stone, as opposed to the backwards 12″ vinyl version which if you recall gave us Hooky’s Elephant Stone). This first track makes it clear that the backwards songs were worked on, not merely the tapes reversed, and had parts added and taken away. It is followed by reversed versions of Guernica and Simone (Made Of Stone and Where Angels Play, both floating around in swirly rushes with the song surfacing ever now and then and then fading into the whirlpool). Bryan has then stacked up Untitled songs 1 to 5, the ‘new’ backwards tracks now played forwards to give us an alternative version of Where Angels Play, two scrambled versions of She Bangs The Drums, the version of Adored posted above and then the return of She Bangs The Drums). Are we done yet?

 

I Am Without Shoes

This is a follow up to my post last week about the various backwards B-sides released by The Stone Roses in 1988-89. The version of Full Fathom Five I posted- Elephant Stone backwards if you recall- is the CD single version, with extra guitars added to the ghostly swirl. The original version, found on the 12″ single, is different (fewer if any additional guitar parts). But what can also be discovered from the Elephant Stone 12″ single is that if you reverse the version of Full Fathom Five you get the Peter Hook produced cut of Elephant Stone single i.e. before John Leckie mixed it. Hook’s version is sparser and less produced, a truer version possibly, opening with a blare of Squire’s wah-wah pedal. So what I’m getting from all of this is that the 12″ version of Full Fathom Five is the Hook version of Elephant Stone played backwards and the CD single (and what Silvertone have served up in re-issues and re-releases ever since) is the Leckie version of Elephant Stone played backwards with extras.

There is also this which I had forgotten about until reminded by reader Michael- I Am Without Shoes…

I Am Without Shoes is She Bangs The Drums backwards with additional forwards words and is the equal of any of the other backwards B-sides. The fade in of backwards guitars and vocals at the start is a sort of slow-rush and the whole thing shimmers and burns.

The Youtube poster above has gone a step further, reversing the backwards version at 1.26 and adding it to the original backwards one, resulting in Ian’s forwards vocals from She Bangs The Drums returning at the end. According to Google the additional forwards lyrics are…

‘I’m serious
I want her
I have to be sure
I admit that I’d hate to die
Please help me
I am without shoes
I wouldn’t be selfish
I cursed myself and they laughed
Please
I am Without Shoes
Yeah
I don’t think I need to stare
Please help me
I am without shoes
I wouldn’t be selfish
I cursed myself and they laughed
Please
I am Without Shoes
Yeah
I don’t think I need to stare
Please’

These new forwards lyrics are fairly untypical Roses fare, possibly the result of Squire’s backwards lyric writing method of writing down what the backwards vocals suggested once the tapes were switched around. The title went on to inspire a Charlatans song too, from 1997’s Tellin’ Stories.

I Am Without Shoes was sometimes used as their intro music when they took the stage during the long tour they did to promote the release of their album through the spring of 1989, the tour that broke them nationally, with increasingly positive and breathless press reporting building through to a gig at the ICA where Bob Stanley said he’d seen the light and finished his review with ‘Sweet Jesus, The Stone Roses have arrived!’. On other occasions they entered to the trippy, rolling drums and bass and screeching sounds of this piece of music, built around a drum break from Small Time Hustler by Dismasters…
Next job is to put all these together- the intro tape, the two versions of Full Fathom Five, I Am Without Shoes, Guernica, Simone and Don’t Stop.

Simple Lives Yeah

Back in 1988/89 The Stone Roses were a blast of fringes, flares and winter coats coupled with psychedelic, insurrectionist guitar pop and abstract expressionism. They also had a tendency to take the tapes they’d recorded their songs onto and play them backwards. These backwards experiments created four songs, all four of which are headspinning adventures in sound. I remember reading an interview with the band where Ian and John spoke about for fun they used to drive out to the airport, park up near the runway and lie on the bonnet of the car while jumbo jets took off overhead (hallucinogens may have been involved). I seem to recall them saying that the backwards songs were partly an attempt to get that kind of sound on disc.

The first released fruit of these studio experiments was the Elephant Stone 12″ single, out in 1988 (Elephant Stone sounds more and more to these ears like one of the shiniest gems in their back catalogue, especially the 12″ mix). Full Fathom Five (named after a Jackson Pollock painting) is Elephant Stone backwards, vocals and music, Squire’s guitar lines recognisable, the trippy shoom-shoom sound of backwards cymbals a constant with Ian’s menacing backwards vocals.

Full Fathom Five

Released the following year (round about now in 1989) the Made Of Stone 12″ had two B-sides, the acoustic ode to oral sex that is Going Down and Guernica. Guernica is the music from Made Of Stone backwards (minus the drums) but with new vocals, sung forwards, smothered in reverb to sink them into the track. ‘You wanna hurt me stop the row’ Ian sings, and ‘we’re whores, sit down, we’re whores, that’s us’ (and the line at the top of this post). The driving guitars and bass of Made Of Stone sound immense backwards and it sounds like there may be some extra guitars or feedback added by Squire to double up that ghostly, rushing sound. It’s not unlike hearing them in a wind tunnel (or underneath the engines of a jet plane taking off). Guernica was produced by The Garage Flowers, an alias they used when producing themselves, and it’s no surprise they took the backwards experimentation further. Like Full Fathom Five, Guernica is named after a key 20th century painting.

Guernica

The third backwards B-side was Simone, only available in 1989 on a U.S. import 12″ (I Wanna Be Adored). It was this point, standing in HMV in ’89 that I realised I was in deep, about to cough up £8.49 for a 12″ single with only one song on it I didn’t already own. Simone is Where Angels Play reversed, a backwards version of a song that wouldn’t be put out by the group until Silvertone released as a B-side in 1991 in an attempt to milk the cow while it tried to sue them. Simone is a trip, shimmering and moody with guitar lines coming out of the inky blackness, no drums, the faintest, echo-laden whispers of vocals and then throbbing rushes of rhythm guitar. A swirling psychedelic stew. Play all three backwards songs back-to-back for full on backwards fun.

Simone

The ultimate backwards song was Don’t Stop, a song that graced the debut album, Waterfall backwards with cowbell, new drums and words, perfectly pitched (and perfectly placed, following on from it’s forwards version). I wrote about it last year, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the events of May 1968. It’s here. I said then that to write the lyrics for Don’t Stop John listened to Waterfall backwards through headphones and wrote down what Ian’s backwards vocals seemed to suggest, creating with one of the best set of lyrics on any Stone Roses song. You better stick Don’t Stop on after the first three for full effect.

Lemon

This song came to me a week ago via a compilation cd a friend’s husband made for me. He’s a native of Sheffield and opened with a local act and their song Lemons And Limes. Not only is the song ace but is perfectly timed for my Friday series, a round up of songs named after foodstuffs that I have on my hard drive, which started with honey, then sugar and then wine. Today we do lemons (and limes).

Hiem are/were a duo made up of Nick Eastwood and David Boswell, both former members of Sheffield groups from the late 90s- The All Seeing I (who had 2 hits in the late 90s with The Beat Goes On and Walk Like A Panther) and Venini (a group containing a post-Pulp Russell Senior). Hiem recorded tracks with Phil Oakey and Roots Manuva and put out an album in 2014 called Escape To Division Street (a local reference). The album included Lemons And Limes, a spoken word plus synths track about wanting to open a nightclub that played ‘half dance music and half indie’ which would have lemons and limes dangling from the ceiling dripping juice on the dancers below. The version above is a remix by Fitzroy North.

Also sucking lemons were Birmingham duo Free School who really hit the spot with this 2011 12″ single, a cosmic dive into the warmth, ten minutes well spent in very calming company. I’d forgotten how good this is.

Lemon (Original)

A few decades earlier Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd and famously recorded a couple of solo albums before retiring form the music industry and retreating to Cambridge. Baby Lemonade was the opener to his second solo album released in 1970. Baby Lemonade is whimsical and nursery rhyme-like, with loud acoustic guitars and wandering vocals and, like  most of Syd’s solo songs, it doesn’t really sound like anybody else at all except Syd.

Baby Lemonade 

That’s it for lemons (I know there’s that Led Zep song, but I’m not feeling Led Zep today).  Beyonce’s global smash, husband trashing album Lemonade unfortunately doesn’t have a song called Lemonade on it. The album was named after her mother’s advice to make lemonade when handed lemons. John Squire decorated The Stone Roses’ debut album with slices of citrus, a reference to the fruit’s ability to counteract the effects of tear gas and they wrote a song about it (Bye Bye Badman) but again, no lemons in the title. And it appears I own no songs about limes. Apples on the other hand…

Amateurs

Twenty-nine years ago tonight The Stone Roses appeared on BBC2’s The Late Show. There I was, finger poised over the Play and Record buttons…