Interview: Funky Si Wolstencroft – the original Stone Roses and Smiths drummer talks to Louder Than War about his new book
What must be one of the most fascinating life stories in the history of Manchester music has been written up into a new book titled You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide. The book tells the story of drummer Funky Si Wolstencroft who, from the roots of the Stone Roses and The Smiths to The Fall, The Colourfield and Ian Brown’s solo career, has seen it all when it comes to the Manchester music scene. Louder Than War hooked up with the man himself to talk about his exciting new biography.
Louder Than War: Hi Simon, thanks for taking time out to answer a few questions. Your new biography, You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, sounds a top read indeed … first off,
who gave you that nickname ‘Funky Si’?
Si Wolstencroft: It was Johnny Marr who gave me the moniker Funky Si in early 1981. Johnny, Andy Rourke and I started a new band called Freak Party with a view to finding a frontman / singer, once we had written enough music to start playing gigs.
Andy and I were heavily into Jazz Funk at the time, as well as Parliament, Funkadelic, Chic and A Certain Ratio, who were never off the turntable at Andy’s Dad’s house. At the Freak Party rehearsal sessions in Ancoats, my drumming style turned from the punk style of the Clash / Patrol to a funkier style, not unlike that played by Wythenshawe sticksman Donald Johnson from A Certain Ratio.
I knew my nickname had stuck, the day I first met Rob Gretton when he exclaimed: “Ohhhh.So you’re Funky Si!”
Your musical resume is second to none and it’s quite unique how it’s taken so many twists and turns, playing across such a spread of quality groups, records and shows. But how do you feel when you sometimes hear the term ‘nearly man’ crop up when your name is mentioned … a nearly man is some one like Pete Best, surely not a musician who was asked to play in both The early Roses (The Patrol) and The Smiths, then went on to travel the world playing with The Colourfield, The Fall and Ian Brown?
I don’t consider myself to be a ‘nearly man’ whatsoever and it does piss me off when I have been described as such by some journalists in the past. Before signing a publishing deal with Strata Books earlier this year another interested publisher, wanted to rename my book The Nearly Man. I told them where to get off. I might not have the big mansion’s like my contemporaries, but I have travelled all over the world in some comfort, for a large period of my life, playing drums for money and had some fantastic experiences along the way. I’m happier now than I have ever been. After reading my book Ian Brown said to me:
“Si.Why don’t you call the book, Living the Dream.”
We both agreed, I have lived the dream. But once the title, ‘You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide’, was coined by my journalist mate Tin Tin, I was always going to stick with it. It makes people laugh. No, I certainly don’t consider myself, a ‘Nearly Man’.
I’ve listened to you actually going through a few extracts from the book on Soundcloud (see widget above) and really enjoyed it, it gives a great taste of what to expect from the book. You have some wonderful stories and experiences, some dark – some funny. There’s also a humour to it as well, as much as an honesty, with you talking openly about your own past drug problems.
When I first started writing my memoir, I was reluctant to delve to deep into my heroin smoking days. A lot of people in the music game knew it was my poison (I was taking it on and off for nearly 20 years, so they were bound to know.) I was obviously aware of upsetting my immediate family and friends, who led normal productive lives. It was my co-writer Stuart Bisson Foster, who eventually dragged the truth out of me after many hours of burning the midnight oil round at his place. I stopped all that messing about when I reached the age of 40, it’s in the past now and like I said earlier, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been right now. I wanted my story to be the truth or why bother writing it at all? Though it has to be said, if I had never got addicted in the first place, my life would have panned out totally differently.
Would you say its a story / biography you could have written say ten years ago, what’s inspired you to put it together now?
Many people have said to me over the years:
“Si, you should write a book about your life.”
But it wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I decided to give it a go.
I was watching an episode of Mastermind on TV one night, when John Humpries, the presenter, asked a young bearded Scottish man (who’s specialist subject was “The life and works of Stephen Patrick Morrissey”)…
“Who was the first drummer to record with The Smiths?”
I guess this book will also answer the many questions you must get from music fans asking about the many groups and records you played on, as well as why you left one group for the next?
I’ve tried to be as honest as I can when describing what it was like to work with all the characters mentioned. I’m very lucky to have worked with so many iconic artistes over the years. Hopefully the book will give an honest insight into that world.
There’s a quote from Ian Brown on the book’s cover isn’t there, did he help you go back and recall the early days when you were writing this, as well anyone else you worked with?
Yes, with Ian Brown, most definitely so. He remembers everything from our early schooldays at Altrincham Grammar, stuff I had completely forgotten, and he was only to willing to contribute to the story. He doesn’t forget anything and I mean anything. Brix, Marcia and Dave Bush from The Fall have also been a great help along the way.
What would you say were the greatest days of your career, when you were most happy … and in turn what were the lowest points of your career, and why?
The lowest point, was when I realised I had made a massive mistake by turning down the Smiths once they hit the big time. I sunk into a depression and this was the worst period for my self medicating.
The high points would be my first US tour with The Fall and my first appearance on Top Of The Pops with Ian, my friend from school.
Same with the many tunes / albums you played on, what’s your own favourite ever track you performed on?
The track I’m most proud of playing on, is Mr Pharmacist (below) with The Fall.I had just joined the group, recording at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London, and could closely identify with the lyrics, as I was coming down from the previous nights drug intake.
Yes, it’s been well received so far. Positive feedback includes, “Honest”, “Gritty”, “Humorous”, “Down to earth” and “Brave”. I’m really happy with the final product. It’s an honest account of my life.
Lastly Si, on the music front you’re still playing with Big Unit aren’t you, do you still enjoy playing live and being in a group?
Yes, I love performing more than ever now. I’m much more confident on drums than I was as a teenager. This just comes with practise. I’ve never once wanted to hang up my sticks, music is the best drug of all, and Big Unit gives me the opportunity to keep expressing myself. And long may it continue.
Follow Si Wolstencroft on twitter as @simonWolstencr1.
Order your copy of ‘You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide’ at Amazon.
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by Carl on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.