John Squire interview June 2007

Xfm Interview

This interview with John Squire was broadcast on XFM Manchester on 13th June 2007. Marking the opening of John’s art exhibition at the Smithfield Gallery, much of the interview is about his art, but also we discussed the Stone Roses and so on. I invited to John to bring in some records to play. As well as those covered in the interview, there were a couple we didn’t have time to play or talk about; including ‘She Said She Said’ by the Beatles and ‘Complete Control’ by the Clash.

The interview was hard work – getting blood out of a stone (rose) – in the sense that John Squire is a downbeat sort of character, and he admitted he ‘mumbled’. He had told me that he wasn’t much into talking about the Roses and the break-up, but when the subject did come up he seemed honest, even though, if I was reading the situation right, it’s a complicated emotional issue for him.

I was wondering, when was the last time you made a point of sitting down and listening to a Stone Roses song?

I played a few last time I toured [2004], so just prior to that; I was forced to, for work.

So the irony is that I probably listen to more of your music that you do, and the listeners probably do; I listen to two or three a week.

Why’s that?

Because I love the band! Your last solo album, came out three years ago and I wondered if since then if you’ve been writing songs?

I have, yeah, although I’ve not played guitar this year I have to confess. When I made the quantum leap to actually call myself a painter for the first time, that really got in the way of the music. I got halfway through an album and hung up my plectrum.

So what made you decide to make that leap to call yourself a painter and put away the plectrum, what was it?

I think, ironically, it was the music. Simon Moran – my manager – had the idea of putting on an art exhibition to promote the first solo album and he really had to twist my arm to get me to do that because I didn’t feel the work was good enough and I didn’t think there was enough of it to warrant a show, but seeing it all together and going through that process, I really enjoyed it. Then with the second album – which was wholly inspired by the work of Edward Hopper – I realised that instead of painting, I was trying to sing and play and write songs about painting, and I don’t know, maybe the kids weren’t ready for that.

This evening we’re going to talk more about your art and your work as a painter and also your music career and you’ve kindly brought in some tunes for us to listen to, some tunes that influenced you and got you into music and so on. Why did you choose this one; ‘Sloop John B’ by the Beach Boys?

The first album I bought was a Beach Boys album called ‘Twenty Golden Greats’ I think – great title! – and I think it was just after I was leaving junior school they were the first band that I became obsessed with. So it’s from the first record I ever bought; it seemed appropriate for today.

(BEACH BOYS ‘Sloop John B’; Pet Sounds album)

As John was telling us before we heard the Beach Boys, he’s embarked on his art, pretty much full time. What are you currently working on John?

A huge painting for the exhibition in July down in the Smithfield Gallery [London, opens July 4th 2007].

How big, a big canvas?

You need a ladder; that big.

And it’s propped up against a wall somewhere?

Yeah, I’m going straight back to that

For people who haven’t seen examples of your work…

And there’s a lot of them!

How would you describe the paintings you’re working on now? They’re large…

Not exclusively, no. I’m doing some 10 by 8 inch stuff as well. I work backwards; I paint a full canvas and then I proceed to bury it with sand, glue, and more paint to hide most of the original image and reveal the areas that I choose to. It’s quite an elaborate layering process.

Is there any particular colour that predominates?


It’s abstract work, but I know you’ve done a portrait of John Lydon, for example, so is that something you’ve left behind that portrait work in favour of this abstract, multi-layering thing?

Yeah, I think that was a bit of blind alley really.

That was a bit of a one-off?


I know you were a fan of John Lydon’s, and you still are, and the next record you’ve brought in to play us is ‘God Save the Queen’ by the Sex Pistols.

Yeah, I thought I should play the song that made me want to pick up the guitar for the first time – I think I was fourteen when I heard this and realised 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. And I think it was the next Christmas I got the guitar.

Did your Dad know you were going to make a racket that sounded like the Sex Pistols?

I think he hoped I’d progress onto modern jazz.

(SEX PISTOLS ‘God Save the Queen’; Never Mind the Bollocks album)

I wondered what’s involved in being a painter? What’s a day in your life? Do you have a routine, or do you wait for inspiration?

The twins get me up about 6.30…

How old are the twins?

They’re two. But that’s very handy because I need to work during the day now – I used to do a lot of night shifts with music but I need to work in daylight now, so it’s breakfast and then it’s into the overalls and out into the shed.

And that’s where you do your work, out in the shed?


All that paints a picture of someone who has quite a solitary existence – in the shed, working on the paintings – ands that’s a massive change from being in a band, which is a kinda like being in a gang isn’t it?

That’s true.

How does it compare?

I think it suits me, in middle age! But there are a lot of similarities. I spent a lot of time on my own making music and learning to play. I feel like the work is coming from the same creative source, if you like, so I’m not doing anything that different, just a lot quieter…

When you say that it suits you, is that also one of the things that lies behind the way you ended-up doing solo albums, and now you’re working as a painter; that idea that things work best for you not being part of a band?

I don’t think I had a real yearning for that. I did try to put two bands together after the Roses, neither of which worked. Going solo and stepping up to the mic’ and being the singer was like the last throw of the dice. I didn’t feel I could face putting another bands together, although, ironically, the session musicians I ended-up working with on that last album were a really good set of people and I would happily have toured the world with them but it wasn’t to be.

Although you’re loving the work you’re doing now, the buzz of working in that kind of solitary existence and working towards making those pieces of art is a very different buzz to, say, performing live. I mean, I’m lucky enough to remember some of those iconic gigs like Blackpool and Ally Pally and before that and after that; do you miss that buzz of performing in front of those kind of crowds?

I’m sure I would enjoy it if I was onstage tonight, for example. But the primary buzz for me has always been that moment of creation, being that first person to hear a new song, hear a new riff. Now the buzz for me is being the first person to see a new piece of art and to see how it all comes together.

The next song you’ve got for us is by the Jesus & Mary Chain. Which one is this?

This is from Psychocandy, it’s called ‘My Little Underground’.

The Mary Chain must have been formed around the same time as the Roses; 1984-ish?

I think they were pretty well established before we were known nationally. They were a big influence, they really opened my eyes, They were like a reconnection with the music I’d initially got into; I could hear the Beach Boys in those chord changes and melodies, I could hear the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes and for me it made melodies – pop melodies – relevant again. After listening to the Mary Chain I found I could start to write proper songs.

(THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN ‘My Little Underground’;Psychocandy album)

We were talking while that song was playing about a gig the Mary Chain did at the Hacienda. There were only about two hundred people there if my memory is right.

And three hundred bouncers…

Yeah, it was just after that gig in London when the band had trashed or the crowd had trashed some venue in London.

Did the crowd trash the band!?

I don’t think I can remember the details! They were an influence on you at that time, just before the Roses broke. That Creation Records sound – the Mary Chain and early Primal Scream – a lot of that did feed into a lot of the bands that were around at that time

We had no pop sensibility in our music until I heard the Mary Chain; they really knocked me into shape.

You’re talking about ‘So Young’, and songs like that?

Yeah, that album we did with Martin Hannett [which was never released]. The Mary Chain just showed me there was a way of combining what I loved about punk rock and what I loved about the Beach Boys.

rom a fan’s point of view, the Stone Roses early-on did go through a change from being aggressive and dark-sounding, to having what you just called a ‘pop sensibility’, which was kinda like having colour in the music, and one of the things that reinforced that change was the design for those Silvertone singles, the splashes of colour, those sleeves for ‘Elephant Stone’, ‘Made of Stone’, those designs helped put the Roses in a different place, away from any kind of dark, aggressive thing.

I don’t think so; ‘So Young’ had quite a colourful cover, if you remember that one. [On the early Silvertone singles] I just tried to ape the art that I admired at the time. I think looking back, it was people like Jamie Reid who designed the Pistols sleeves and the clothes that the Clash and the Pistols wore that got me into abstract expressionism and New York art in general; there was a real verve and energy about that stuff that I could see was mirrored in the music I was listening to. I wanted to try to do that for the Roses; I wanted the sleeves to be as dynamic as the music. So I don’t know if there was a direct correlation between writing pop songs and finding red and blue in the palette.

You’ve described those sleeves in your own words as “Jackson Pollock copies”. What attracted you to the paintings of Jackson Pollock?

The first time I ever became aware of his name was flicking through a Clash photo book and Pennie Smith had made a comment about Jackson Pollock with reference to a photo of Paul Simonon, and they used to drip paint on their clothes and on their guitars early on.

Did you attempt to get permission to use the original paintings, his paintings?

It would have been nice you know, but who do you get in touch with? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have happened.

Another part of those Stone Roses sleeves was the lemon motif that appears, for example, on the sleeve of the first album. What’s the significance of the lemon?

Apparently it was used by student protestors in Paris in 1968 as an antidote to teargas and we had a song on the album ‘Bye Bye Badman’ that referenced that. I thought, let’s slice a lemon and use that graphic device and then nail it to a painting.

Is it weird when you have those ideas and all the ideas that lie behind it but most Stone Roses fans aren’t going to get any of that from the sleeve?

You don’t need to beat people over the head, do you? With your lemon…

How did the lemon thing work anyway? What did the rioters do with a lemon? Put it in their eyes? Sniff it or what?

I think they put it in a glass of coke.

Coca Cola?

With ice.

You confessed earlier that you haven’t heard a Stone Roses track for a long while, so I’m going to play ‘Waterfall’ from the first album you released; which was declared to be the ‘Greatest British Album of All Time’ in the NME. How do you feel when you hear things like that?

Er, well I hear a lot of things. I feel, like I need a drink…

Maybe I’m a different kind of person, but if I’d made a record that was declared the ‘Greatest British Album of All Time’…

What would you do next?

Well, maybe I’d think that, but I would certainly always carry that thought with me.

For me it’s always about the moment of creation. Dwelling on facts like that doesn’t really help. I mean, it’s flattering, but I don’t really agree with that.

So what would have voted as the ‘Greatest British Album of All Time’?

I think it would be Revolver, or Beggar’s Banquet.

(THE STONE ROSES ‘Waterfall’; The Stone Roses album)

Obviously that album has since been lauded with praise, but at the time there was a struggle wasn’t there? You had a following quite quickly in Manchester, but it took a long while to get the Roses noticed, especially by London record companies and the media.

Songs like that one were on demo tapes on London record company desks a couple of years before we got anywhere and that puzzles me.

People didn’t seem to be listening did they? At that time was there a moment when you doubted whether you would make that bigger break?

Not really, I remember falling asleep on the sofa watching the telly Chorlton and I woke up thinking we’re not going to make it.

You had that moment of doubt?

Just the once.

Generally, how did the band pull through, dealing with the various record labels and the disputes at that time and the problem of the London media, trying to get them to pick up on the band?

What kept us together? We loved doing it, we loved being together, we loved playing music, in a stinking beer sodden cellar at the International….

What changed? What brought about the demise of the band? You had that enjoyment even in had times, but when the band were successful the enjoyment seemed to go.

It wasn’t that quick.

It was six or seven years later; it was during the making of Second Coming was it?

I’d hate to paint a picture that we had a great time and then we made a hit record and fell apart. But as you say, the making of the second album finished the band off in a way.

How did that happen? What were the ingredients to that?

Lack of faith in the management, changing labels. In the process of extricating ourselves from the Silvertone deal, we found out that a lot of money had gone missing, so we tried to get rid of the manager as well. Whilst making the second album, it was like we were lost at sea, we didn’t have a business manager, we didn’t have any kind of management really. Doug Goldstein got involved – the Guns ‘N Roses manager – and the band were a little bit unsure about whether to go for that and Ian and Reni had a row about it and maybe it expanded from that issue, I’m not sure. Ian came to me and Mani and told us that Reni had quit the night after this big row and said he wouldn’t work with again anyway. This was a couple of weeks before the tour was due to start and I could see in Ian’s eyes that there was no turning back from that point and I think that was really the last nail in the coffin for the band. It was never the same after that moment. I realised I was facing a choice in a way; that I could either do the tour without the drummer or the tour without the singer, and that was no contest.

But when you announced you were leaving, it seemed to come as a shock to the rest of the band.

I’m sure it did. It’s a pretty big step to take, a bold move.

In terms of that, what were the immediate circumstances that made you decide to have a clean break?

I didn’t see any future in it other than a treadmill, trading on the past. It didn’t fire me with any sort of creative enthusiasm.

(THE STONE ROSES ‘Ten Storey Love Song’; Second Coming album)

Since the break-up of the band, have you been surprised at how bad the relationship is between you and Ian?

It’s hard to say really. I knew it would be final.

Because he would have felt you let him down?

I’m sure he did.

Why would it be final?

We didn’t hang-out together at school and our relationship formed after school through music, through punk rock, and virtually everything we did together was related to music, so to take that out of the equation by leaving the band; I knew it would be the point of no return.

It’s become a public feud between you and Ian, with things being said in the press and so on; that’s regrettable isn’t it?

Certain things get passed on to me but I’m not an avid reader of the music press so I’m pretty insulated from it. I’ve kept my comments to a bare minimum; I think there was one in an unguarded moment, but I don’t agree with slagging off your old mates.

I know that you and Ian have mutual friends, have any of them tried to intervene to try to heal that personal rift that you have with Ian?

Not really. I see Mani a couple of times a year, but the only person from those days that I see on a regular basis is Steve Cressa – who appears on the back of the first album surfing behind one of my amps – he did ask recently over a pizza if I thought we’d re-form because they Mondays have done it and whenever he goes out that’s all he gets asked. I sidestepped the question…

Have you been offered silly money to reform?

Lots of money, but it didn’t seem silly. But that isn’t what you meant is it?

The money thing isn’t the thing…

I think it’s too late. And I’m pretty sure the band’s legacy would be tarnished by a reformation.

Even though there are thousands of people out there who’d be made-up…

We wouldn’t know until the dust had settled whether it had been a mistake of not. I tend to think that I was involved with three other people, and the band is a separate entity, and whatever we created – whatever the sum of those parts was – it became another thing. And in a way I feel like I’d be doing that entity a disservice to cash-in on it.

But time changes everything; John; can you imagine a moment when what you’re saying now would change? If Ian phoned you up now and said let’s play a gig – say, a charity gig, whatever kind of a gig – and that it would mean something to him and the fans, and, if you like, it would bring a sense of positive closure. Would you say yes?


Thank you for your honesty John!

I would say the opposite.

Ok, let’s hear your next choice of music. This is Jimi Hendrix. What made you choose this song?

I told you earlier about the moment of inspiration that came from listening to ‘God Save the Queen’. Immediately after buying the guitar 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, and a few years later my Dad rigged up the transformer from my old trainset to my record player so I could slow all my tunes down and then I’d re-tune and work things out at a much easier pace, and I spent a lot of time with this particular track and a lot of these licks made it on to Roses records later.

This is Jimi Hendrix ‘Red House’.

(JIMI HENDRIX ‘Red House’; Are You Experienced? album)

John, we’ve been talking about your music and also your art, and you were telling us earlier you haven’t finished the work for the new exhibition that starts on July 4th.

There’s enough there to put on a show, but I paint everyday so I’ll come up with stuff in the meantime, and there’s a show following it in September so any spare can go into that.

Have you any intention of bringing the music and the art together? I know that Marshall’s House – your second solo album – was influenced by the work of the artist Edward Hopper, but I wondered whether you’d maybe thought of bringing out a book with your work in it and a CD with it, say, or making a specially commissioned piece of music to play in the gallery, or bringing the music and the art together in any other way?

I am working on a sound installation but it’ll be fairly hard to dance to!

And that’ll be part of the exhibition?


Is that going to be finished for the 4th July?


We’re going to have to finish now, but can I thank you for coming in today?

I’m flattered to be asked.

Your final choice of music is Evie Sands. Can you tell me a bit about her, because to be honest it’s a new name to me.

She’s still recording now but she had a lot of bad luck in the Sixties. She was signed at the age of 17 to the Blue Cat label, and I’m amazed she’s not more widely known so I thought I’d take this opportunity to spin one of her tunes.

Thanks for coming in John.


(EVIE SANDS ‘Any Way That You Want Me’; Any Way That You Want Me album)