Stone Roses – we look at their maverick ex manager Gareth Evans
Tap tap tap’.
There it was again, the tapping on the window.
It was ten o clock at night in our semi squalid, shared band house in West Didsbury with the painted dolls hanging off the roof and the overgrown garden full of psychedelic drip TVs and full of rock n roll residue.
‘ tap tap tap’…
I looked through the window and in the haze I could see a stocky figure in green combat shorts and armed with a manic stare.
It was Gareth Evans, the manager of the International clubs and, recently, the Stone Roses- the band who I had just interviewed for the Sounds music paper, for their second ever music paper interview in late summer of 1987.
I opened the back door and Gareth was spieling. He wanted the interview to go in now and would pay good money to get the piece published- did I want a holiday, did I want a car, he told me how he knew people like Barney from New Order who, he claimed, had a flat across the road and who he went yachting with, maybe I fancied a trip on the yacht? anything if the interview went in…stupidly I had no interest in this kind of stuff but kinda liked Gareth’s manic madness and utter blind belief in the band, who I already knew were brilliant but would surely find it tricky in the, then narrow music scene, to make an impression outside of their local cult following.
Gareth stood there, affable and slightly dangerous- the last of the old school managers making it up as he went along, the maverick manager who would do anything for his band. He grinned that disarming grin with that look of innocence, mixed with his devious madness that would be vital to the Roses breakthrough, where the band’s brilliance, combined with their manager’s daredevil naivety would cause a youthquake before causing a whole new set of problems for both parties.
At the time he was the only person in the world who truly believed this band were going to be massive. I mean, I could see their brilliance but it was just that the music scene was not looking at Manchester or bands at that point of time but I also felt that there something so good about the band that they could breakthrough is someone could find the audience. Even the ice cool and utterly confident Ian Brown was not as confident as his manager but then Gareth knew little of the music scene and this was his real advantage. He also didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘no’ and was setting about his managerial role with a messianic zeal.
Gareth Evans already seemed the most unlikely manager for the band who years later confessed that they had chosen him as they were in need of anyone who could give them a break but also found him amusing and his over the top antics that were almost like a parody of the rock manger. When they first met him at his office, after answering an advert in City Life, he famously told them he could sell anything and dropped his trousers to show off briefs he was selling and talked about gold bullion he was dealing in and waved wads of cash around. It was so much like some sort of Carry On film that the core of the Roses fell in love with his blarney and also the fact that told them that they could rehearse at his International clubs on the stage, through the full PA, which the ever pragmatic band saw as a great opportunity as well getting free access to his clubs for all the gigs with the added bonuses of free drinks.
If there was ever a key contribution that Gareth made to their cause it was this.
Rehearsing in a big venue, on the big stage was the making of the band musically. Instead of being cramped into the city centre rehearsal spaces at Spirit rehearsal rooms they now had a chance to make the big band sound. They now had access to the proper stage and a chance to make the big sound- whether by accident or design Gareth’s simple act of letting the band rehearse in the International space had helped make them.
Just who was this person? The most controversial figure in the Roses history…Interviewing him and others over the years paints a certain fuzzy picture. Hanging out with him in 2007 added more information. The facts, as ever, blur a bit but it seemed he had been a mod and hung out on the Manchester scene in the mid sixties, running around the coffee bars and clubs like the Twisted Wheel, getting to know Roger Eagle the scene musical professor and DJ whose musical knowledge created a far more hip scene than it should have been.
Hanging in the clubs he got to run a few spaces and got to know musicians traveling through town, learning to be a hairdresser at the hands of Vidal Sassoon he had opened a chain of hairdressers in the seventies and many older people on the scene remember him as the hairdresser. There was also talk of gold bullion and other adventures at the time but this has all been tricky to verify. In the mid eighties, itching to get back into music, he had got hold of the International clubs converting them into live venues in a shared deal that would end up in court years later.
In the mid to late eighties the two International venues were the key live spaces in Manchester.
Perched out of town in Levenshulme, the International One and International Two put on most of the bands that were passing through the city at the time. Writing for Sounds music paper I would be in there most nights covering bands, hanging out, causing trouble and gradually getting to know this maverick character that managed them, Gareth Evans.
Even at that point of time he seemed quite unconventional, a misfit in the hipster music scene of the city centre clubs and the direct opposite of the Hacienda crowd. Somehow though, he had ended up running the two clubs that had a great booking policy, due in no small measure to having Roger Eagle as his main booker.
The Hacienda may have already been successfully selling itself as the hippest club in the world but the International was where many of the bands were playing. The Hacienda may have had some great bands playing but Roger Eagle was a musical encyclopedia whose knowledge of blues onwards made him invaluable for booking groups. Many nights he would would be stood there at the bar at the back of the club holding court, with Gareth sometimes appearing with his infamous leer and vibrant personality sometimes annoying the venerable music man.
Happily running the clubs he was turned onto the Roses when Howard Jones had booked the Roses band to play one of their early gigs at the International One, spotting Ian Brown’s charisma and the musicality lurking in the young band he kept tabs on them and when they answered the advert he made his move. (Whether this is 100 per cent true is open to conjecture!).
That first meeting with the band had set the boundaries of their relationship- the manic manager entertaining the street smart band with his mad tales and pranks and his insanely confident vision of their future. No young band could not be swept up with this blur of confidence and self belief and they also liked the cut of his gib and his outsider status within the city.
No-one knew or cared about the truth! was there any truth? truth gets in the way in rock n roll and Gareth’s mad stories were either brilliant yarns or quite possibly even true and in music either version is genius.
It was almost impossible to tell whether he was bluffing or not, but his belief in them was his managerial genius. He would profess to know nothing about music and then pull off the most audacious ideas like when they headlined the Empress ballroom a couple of years later – the grand gesture that made the group. No normal manager would have dared to do this, no normal manager would have managed a band like the Roses in the first place – they operated beyond the rules and it would take someone like Gareth to even dare to step up to the plate. His role in their breakout is a moot point and the band are not happy with his role in proceedings so a lot of this is open to conjecture,
When Gareth took over, the Roses went to ground and started rehearsing. The space of the International saw them start to tweak their sound and create something with more space and melody. The five piece line up that had been so effective in the early days at creating their punkier sound was, maybe, not quite right for the move and also Andy Couzens had been less than impressed by his cohorts with the new manager- a new fault line was appearing in the band.
At the time the band were an enigmatic presence on the Manchester scene. A group who had arrived full of glory and swagger in 1985 when they were being managed by Howard Jones. I can still remember them rehearsing next door to my band The Membranes, where they seemed like a fully formed group working hard, looking like a gang.
There was then the first single, So Young and the impressive flyers- it seemed like they were going to break out then, They had seemed destined to break big in 1985. Their name was everywhere from the graffiti campaign to a local buzz and with Martin Hannett in to produce them, they seemed to have the team in place but everything had foundered and they had seemed to have disappeared to most people in town. I would still see them around, Ian Brown lived next door to the guitarist in my band just off Burton Road in West Didsbury and you would see him walking along the road- the then heart of South Manchester bohemia, going round to Johns to write songs or planning and dreaming.
One day I had bumped into the band on Burton Road as a couple of cars whizzed down the epicenter of Mancunian bohemia. Ian Brown got out and asked if I wanted to join them for a meal out as they were celebrating getting a new manager called Gareth Evans, I was on the way to London so couldn’t make it but I already knew of the Gareth.
Many people in town had tutted at their choice. The brash manager of the International clubs was no hipster figure and was not in the inner circle of the city. This only made the group like him more. They themselves were outside the city’s perceived trendy inner circle and their initial gigs, with their scooter boy following, had made some of the commentators and scenesters uncomfortable for some reason. The perceived yobbishness scared off the leafy suburban crowd who dominated proceedings and the band were happy to wallow in their outsider status.
Adding the volatile Gareth Evans to the mix only underlined this outsider status and the band were locked out of the city’s then commentary which was more concerned with the Smiths and the Hacienda. Almost playing on this Gareth had them rehearsing in his club allowing them to build up their sound in seclusion.
He also engineered the exit of the unfortunate Andy Couzens and the band settled into being a four piece which allowed John Squire to come out of his shell and into the guitar great that would be key in their breakthrough. Whether this was by accident or design is, again, almost impossible to work out. Evans claimed it was by design but cynics felt that it was more about Andy standing up to him and being concerned about the new manager of the band and his flamboyant and unconventional ways. After an ill feted gig in Dublin the guitarist had paid for his own flight home to get back to work which had caused ill feeling in the ranks, Gareth seized the moment and after a tense band meeting the guitar player walked out.
A few months later I saw the band play the Larks in the park festival in Liverpool with the Las. It was two local bands on one bill and a smattering of folk sat on the hill watching the Roses play on the band stand with the lake in front. Their sound had opened up and they were in that curious inbetween phase from their rockier roots to the supreme guitar jangle that they would trademark.
The four piece band went into the studio with Peter Hook and recorded their second single Elephant Stone as Gareth hunted down a deal for them. One evening I went down to the International and at the front of the venue by the main door I saw Gareth who took me to his dank office lair just to the side.
It was not the main office but it was space where the venue business could be done. And it was in here that he ushered me in full of even more excitement as usual as he presented me with a prerelease copy of the Stone Roses Elephant Stone single. The tiny room seemed full of his exuberance as handed over the record and I remember looking at the unusual artwork and wondering how I was going to carry a twelve inch single around all night.
Around this time Gareth had driven me round to Reni’s terraced house in Gorton to interview the band. It was during the journey with the gnomic manger spilling his dream like a crazy horse about the band and how massive they were going to be that I detected a certain manicness and also a quite brilliant lack of knowledge about how things worked- unless he was bluffing, it was never clear. This lack of knowledge would be his initial strength and eventual undoing as the band’s manager.
He waited outside as I interviewed the band in the bare house – a large dog in the hallway had made menacing growls at the manager who preferred to let his band do the talking as they lay in the bed upstairs looking like a dole queue version of the classic Who union jack shot whilst playing a Hollies album on the stereo and claiming that was their roots- an interview situation so loaded with pop culture symbolism that it made me smile even back then. This was the Roses placing themselves in a different trajectory than the one they were already on.
The article, accompanied by Ian Tilton’s great split shots of the band with Ian and John in one picture and Reni and temporary bass player Rob who had recently and only for a couple of weeks replaced the departed Pete Garner in the band. The piece was delayed because Gareth had offered the Sounds editor a holiday in the Bahamas if they would publish it and that kind of payola was frowned upon in the late eighties but seems amusing in retrospect and underlines the difficulties many non London bands had in getting press in those days.
We knew the band were great but there was national perception that Manchester had had its quota of bands and that one more guitar band with a charismatic singer was pushing it. As Gareth sat on the phone and rang the Sounds editor Tony Stewart promising a Caribbean cruise, my feature got pushed back week by week. It seemed an almost impossible task to get anything for the band until, thrillingly, it finally got published- it was the first feature I wrote for Sounds but went in after the second one I had written – an interview with The Sun and The Moon- the band formed out of the Chameleons.
On the train a week after the interview ran, I met Gareth going to London and he asked if I could get the same piece into the NME whist telling me about how he hated traveling first class because he still believed in some sort if revolution and that’s why he was in second with me. I told him that the NME was a totally different paper and that you couldn’t write for both of them. He looked confused and asked if I knew anyone at the NME and I told him to get a press agent and gave him the phone numbers of Geoff Barrett and Hall or Nothing, the two best PRs at the time.
I then had to explain to him what a press agent was and that many music writers waited till a press agent told them what to write about. Gareth looked confused..was he bluffing or was he quite right in his assumption that a great band would have everyone falling over themselves to write about them? It was hard to tell. He did his ‘you know more about music than me’ innocent face and I wondered just how little or how much he actually knew.
Gareth had already signed the band to Revolver FM for the Elephant Stone single with a deal that was hardly in the bands favour. Many have pondered Gareth’s naivety at the time in scoring the deal but they forget just how far out of the loop of the music biz the band were at this point. Labels were hardly tripping over themselves to sign the group and it was, in hindsight, remarkable that the group got a deal at all. It was a deal that would cause the band and the manger problems in the future and this was further underlined with the next deal they signed to Silvertone. Nothing was ever simple with the Stone Roses. It was always a case of one step forward and two steps backwards – sign a deal and end up in court, get a manager and end up in court… it only added to their legend- like all great rocks roll bands the situation was always volatile.
The band were changing again, Pete Garner, as already mentioned, had left and Mani took over on bass, I remember his first gig at the International One looking impossibly young as the band began to morph into a looser look, the hair started to grow and the clothes got less rock n roll and more modernist/loose fit.
When the feature finally went in Gareth had been overjoyed and the haul to the glorious summer of 1989 started. The single scraped the indie charts and Evans started to work on the other papers. After I had advised him about press agents he went to Hall Or Nothing and gradually the NME came on board.
In this period you would see Gareth full of schemes and ideas. He would come up to you at the International after slipping you through the door and making the NME pay to get in (a favourite trick of his- there is also the famous story of how he didn’t let Yasmin Le Bon into the venue) and his wild eyes, framed by his untamed thatch of hair, would bobble around in front of you as he laid out the latest plan for breaking the band.
In 1988 the Roses played with James at the Clause 28 gig at the International and it was here that Gareth was playing every card he could. James were breaking big at this point- already the great untold story of the whole Manchester scene they had their breakout that occurred after the Smiths and before the baggy revolution and was smudged by both of them.
That night James were headlining but Gareth was pulling every old school trick in the book to make his young charges appear like the main band, delaying their stage entrance to build, the tension. The band also used this event, of a cause they fully supported, to arrive in the centre stage of the local scene. Ian Brown walked onstage famously with the bell in his hand and the gig was a triumph for them. They had come in from the cold, from the outside and were no longer the band that could have been, no longer in the slipstream of James and all the other Manchester bands but with a sound and attitude that was quite different and was a harbinger for another future in a different kitchen, a future that was now months away. In the mean time Gareth was courting bigger labels with Rough Trade in for the band. All manner of shenanigans and bizarre negotiations went on before they signed to Silvertone and went to London to record their debut album with John Leckie at the controls.
1989 and the band was everywhere playing round the small towns of the UK, arriving as cultural aliens with their different look and the backdrop of acid house bubbling out of their dressing room. The antithesis of indie music at the time, they were the baggied up new wave arriving to blow away the cobwebs of the last vestiges of punk rock that had splintered into a dour indie scene that needed changing.
As the album came out and scraped into the top 20 most managers would have been pleased but Gareth was different- he wanted more. He believed he had the biggest band in the world. This was no bluff. When he talked you could see it in his eyes. This was cool because I thought the same since getting the tapes of the pre release album after interviewing them again, this time round at Ian Brown’s flat in West Didsbury in 1988- the new songs sounded amazing, this had to happen.
On another train journey I bumped into Gareth and told him to hold out for America and do it like the Beatles and only play there when you can sell out the Madison Square Gardens, I joked…I didn’t realise he would take me seriously- but they could have pulled it off as well…
As acid house raged around the city Gareth came up with his most cunning plan- to play Blackpool Empress Ballroom. This was the master stroke, the moment when his naivety and self belief combined to create a pop art moment that would define the band for ever.
The Empress ballroom is the best venue in the UK, it’s Victorian grandeur undone by time and the accumulated dust of history. Bands like the Jam would play there on tour but it was the Roses gig that would define the band and the venue for ever.
The very idea of putting on a group who were just about selling out a toilet tour in the UK into the big venue was a master stoke but a risky master stroke…the Empress holds 3500 people, that was going to take some work to fill up but Gareth was, either, being insane or had a secret grip on youth culture at the time. He understood that something was seriously going on out there and that the Roses were more than an indie top ten band and that times were a changing.
The gig was, of course, a triumph, what the Roses had hinted at on the circuit was already leaking out and every hip kid in the UK was rushing down to Blackpool. The gig was a stroke of maverick genius- do the big show in the capital of northern showbiz and not in London- underline the band’s northern credentials and pull off an unconventional stroke of brilliance.
Of course it worked, the youth loved nothing better than a mad night out in Blackpool and the Roses had built up a fanatical base with their constant touring. The gig was a real event and with a big crowd in Manchester coming over it was never going to be embarrassing. The night has gone down in legend…one of the great gigs and the whole drama was played out in front of the invited press who had finally discovered the band and the Roses had broken through.
After that it should have been simple but of course the more out of control it got the better it got. There was Alexandra Palace- another grand gesture that should not have worked but was packed with the Roses at their swaggering first era peak defying the shit PA. Before the gig I met Gareth and he was swanning around backstage with a bizarre knitted cardigan with a butterfly pattern as the Granada film crew filmed the gig for the footage that has since mostly disappeared.
The soundcheck was stunning- I stood there with Gareth watching the band at a musical peak that was not matched by the splendid gig itself. Even Gareth’s wildest dreams were being superseded at this point and Spike Island was his last great moment, another audacious coup- putting on a huge outdoor event in the middle of nowhere in a time when no one put festivals on outside the small circuit of established events like Glastonbury.
The night before at the press conference he stood there side stage as the band stonewalled the world’s press, afterwards he took me down to his car packed full of t shirts and told me all about his plan of action…
After that the Roses disappeared into the wilderness years and all you heard were court cases surrounding Gareth. Maybe at this point he had done the job. Maybe he was going to be in trouble dealing with the more business like Americans, maybe the band had had enough…again it”s all very blurred.
I had not heard from him for years apart from some positive remarks about my Stone Roses book and then I rang him up in about 2005 to interview him for some long lost documentary. Gareth arrived back in my life like an express train. He had ideas about getting into TV and a particularly brilliant idea about the history of drug culture in music. We would meet in these city centre offices which turned out to belong to a graphic designer friend of his and not him as he had initially claimed. Whether he was bluffing or not mattered little. He was entertaining in his manic creativity if not someone you would do business with! speaking to the band at the time there was no love lost between them and their former manager and things had got pretty messy between them.
The meetings went on for about a year in various venues with an ever expanding collection of ideas which I have written up somewhere. I was going to front the series and Gareth was going to pull some connections to get it made which never seemed to materialize and without ever really pinning down what was exactly going on before they petered out and little has been heard from the most maverick of managers since then.