Original snare drum design – courtesy of Mik Grant
The Rub were the band fronted by one of the best drummers of his generation Alan ‘Reni’ Wren of The Stone Roses. Emerging at the front end of the 00’s with a brand of music completely different to anything the Roses’ released, The Rub have gone on to achieve cult status amongst fans due to their short outburst of activity before going back into the shadows. (Lots of great articles on the Stones Roses here )
In an exclusive interview for Louder Than War conducted by Matt Mead, drummer with the band Mik Grant tells his own unique, charming story of how he was chosen to fill the ‘throne’ of one of the most revered drum stools in Manchester.
LTW: Can you please let me know some details from your background? Where you were born, here you grew up and what are your first memories?
MG: I was born in 1967 alongside my twin sister Maureen in Greenock on the banks of the River Clyde in the west coast of Scotland.
I come from a big family so my first memories were lots of dancing and singing at parties. Every house was crammed with people from babies to pensioners, very chaotic and very entertaining. There were lots of power cuts but it didn’t change anything. Out came the candles, guitars and the party carried on. Greenock is set in a spectacularly beautiful area with the river, mountains and amazing sunsets, but it was also a major industrial town. Shipbuilding, sugar refineries, and cotton mills. That, along with a couple of nuclear bases.
I remember in primary school being shown government advice films about what to do in case of a nuclear attack. Close the curtains and sit under a table etc…but then the teacher would say not to bother as we’d be incinerated in a fraction of a second. That kind of shit sticks in your mind for a long time. That odd mix generated a lot of creativity, it’s always had more than its fair share of artists and great musicians from every style and genre.
What was the first music you remember hearing?.
I couldn’t tell you for sure but it would have been either The Beatles, which was always a constant, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra or Glen Miller. I remember going into the local record shop to buy my first single aged 5. I think it was about 45p and it was Crazy Horses by The Osmond’s. I remember being mesmerised with the sound and energy of it, the guitar riff and the drums just completely grabbed me.
Maureen bought I’m a Long Haired Lover from Liverpool (sorry Mo). We got home and I put it on right away, then took it off the turntable so Mo could play hers. I put the record on the bed, two minutes later I had sat on it and snapped it in half. I was gutted! Not only because I broke it, but now we had to listen to Long Haired Lover over and over.
When did you start getting into more serious music?
I remember discovering albums in my eldest brothers collection and playing them when he was at work. Led Zeppelin, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Dr. Feelgood, Average White Band, Steely Dan, America, Jimi Hendrix. I was into everything and later started discovering stuff on my own. The Ruts, The Damned, The Clash, XTC, then discovered Motown, Stax, Ska, and Two-tone, it just kept coming, discovering one thing led to another. The great thing about music is that it defines timelines of your life. Whenever you hear this or that song, you can be transported back to pivotal moments in your life. I love that.
Who influenced you to start playing the drums? At what age did you first purchase your own drum kit?
Has to be my brother. My first kit was on Christmas Day when I was 7, only a toy kit, bass drum, snare, one tom and circus like cymbal. I got it set up in my bedroom and within a couple of hours I had managed to put a hole through the bass drum skin. I didn’t get a real kit until my 16th birthday when my parents bought me a brand new Premier Royale kit to try and stop me getting into so much trouble, it worked. I found a new focus and passion that lasts to this day.
Were you in any other bands before The Rub?
Lots. When I first started playing I went to jam sessions and got a lot of support from experienced players. I did all the local club circuits covering all the usual well known tunes, not what I really wanted to do but it was earning me extra money and I was learning at a faster pace. It was making original music which I wanted to do, so after a while I joined Glasgow band Fallen Hero, a rock band, we gigged a lot in Glasgow and around the west coast. I then joined Greenock band Medicine Hat, who were a bit more indie and experimental.
In 1990 I got a call from my brother, his band Ghostdance had split and he was forming a new band with Ghostdance guitarist Richard Steel (now with Spacehog) and would I play drums as he was now going to be the frontman, but I had to relocate to Manchester. I decided to quit the day job that I hated and made the move to focus on music full time. That project sadly fizzled out after a couple of years due to a lack of finance. Richard and I went on to join Dave Hicks who was playing with Peter Hook in the band Monaco, and formed Rawhead, which was a rock band that used a lot of samples.
In 1993 I formed the band Aniseed along with Dave Naylor, Andrew Melchior, Stuart Wilson and Danny Ashbury. I grew a lot in that band over the next six years. In 94 I was introduced to Jayne County who was friends with Dave our vocalist. Jayne was an American transvestite singer songwriter and actress who was part of the early New York punk scene, she had some great tales to tell involving The Ramones, Iggy pop, Bowie, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and a host of others. Anyway she had an album written and wanted to record it.
We rehearsed for a week and booked Abraham Moss Studio in Cheetham Hill for 5 days. Done and dusted in 10 days, that’s the way to do it. The album Jayne County & The Electric Chairs Deviation was released a few months later in 95. We had a hair raising night at the album Launch in Covent Garden. We were joined by Pete Burns and his wife Christine for one of the strangest most memorable nights I’ve ever had, culminating an even stranger end to the night back in Danielle Dax’s home.
Aniseed continued to grow and we were regulars on the London circuit. We were hanging out and doing some recordings at Strongroom Studios in Shoreditch. Spice Girls on one side of us, The Prodigy on the other and Orbital upstairs, things were looking good and we were being touted on MTV Europe as the next big thing. Mani was a fan of the band and having been to a few of our shows, was interested in getting us in a studio to produce us. Sadly that didn’t happen. I don’t think we could raise enough skunk for him.
We were the last band to play the Hacienda with support from new upcoming band Elbow. But as per usual it began to fall apart around 98 and it pretty much self-imploded. I then got a call from Robbie Maddix out the blue shortly after who I did a few gigs with along with Aziz Ibraham.
The Rub. The band the illusive drummer from The Stone Roses, Reni, fronted in the early 00’s. Who contacted you about being part of the band? Were you on Reni’s radar to be the drummer in his band?
I got a call from Reni’s manager John Nuttal, who was a long-time friend and supporter of my previous bands. He said “Reni’s throne is free, would you like to try it out” I said why sure, let me know when he wants to get together, he said “can you go now?” Turns out I was living just up the road in Hulme. I was at Reni’s door an hour later.
Were you a fan of The Stone Roses? What was it like meeting Reni for the first time?
Honestly I can’t say I was a massive fan, I was busy doing my own stuff at the time. What did stand out to me the most about The Stone Roses was their attitude. At the time I didn’t know the ins and outs of it but when they went loco with paint all over some office in protest, man, that was hilarious shit, fuckin’ classic!!
I didn’t know what to expect when I knocked his door that first day. I remember the door opening and being greeted with big grin and a warm welcome from Reni, getting a coffee and meeting his partner and family, we then went up to his studio in the attic. I sat at the kit and he asked if I could play Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. I duly obliged. As I was playing I saw his face light up, we had a good chat, I got the job and started the next day
When you joined the band was it early on in the bands formation?
I joined in 99. I’m not sure how long it was going before me, although I was aware I was replacing someone
At your initial introduction to the band were Pete Garner and Lee Mullen playing in the band?
No. Pete was about regularly but not in the band, and it was Lee I replaced, so he wasn’t around. I did get to know Lee shortly after, top bloke and a great percussionist who went onto tour with George Michael. At the start it was just Reni myself and Tom Evans on bass
Where were rehearsals held?
We rehearsed in Reni’s attic, after a week or so I had a set of keys to his house. I’d arrive about 8am every day, have a coffee, some stretching exercises, I’d get on the kit and play the Immigrant Song at full pelt nonstop for 60 minutes, stop, stretch a little then do another 60 minutes playing Paranoid by Black Sabbath.
Tom would then turn up and we’d go through the songs. Reni would the join in later on when he finished doing the normal family things, school runs etc and I’d leave about 8 or 9 in the evening. Go home, eat, sleep repeat. This went on for months until Reni and his family could take no more, so we moved into my old rehearsal room at Apocalypse in Radcliffe, then eventually a room in Salford above a gym.
What were rehearsals like? What kind of vibe was there in the rehearsals?
Intense, the vibe, much like any band or creative group. Some days were absolutely rocking, full of energy, great humour, group love and creative jamming. Along with some days that were miserable and you all fuckin hate each other, but for me, every day was a hard working day good or bad, I was physically and mentally exhausted every time I went home, but that’s a good thing
Who were the bands musical influences at the time?
Short answer to that is Led Zeppelin. Long answer would be Led Zeppelin in more detail.
Did the band all gel pretty well together as a live unit from the off?
It did at the start, but Tom’s health was suffering and he’d been diagnosed with M.S. He was also increasingly more leaning towards the production and engineering side of music. We were looking for other members to join. Lyndsey Reed suggested we try out this young lad from Altrinham. Turned out to be Casey Longden, I think he was only 19 at the time,. He had a voice that blended really well with Reni, so he came in on vocals and rhythm guitar.
Tom eventually bowed out and we spent a long, long time finding a bassist. For one reason or another we couldn’t find the one who would fit. Eventually an old school mate of Casey’s stepped in, Neil Nesbit, young green and inexperienced, but eager. His voice meant we had three part harmonies to add to the mix. Great, it was beginning to come together, not in any way a finished product but the basis was there. We just wanted to go and gig.
Did you all spend time together just in rehearsals or was there any element of hanging out as mates?
No hanging out as there was no time. I never saw anyone in my usual circle and only saw my partner Carol for a few hours at night. It was a full on commitment.
Did any members of The Stone Roses and associates attend rehearsals?
No. Pete and Mani were about occasionally when we were at Reni’s, but not when we were elsewhere.
You said that all the compositions were original Reni songs. How were these introduced to the rest of the band? Was there any element of jamming in rehearsals?
I was given a few minidisks with Reni’s demos of the songs that were already written when I first joined. I loved those demo’s they weren’t great recordings but the vocal harmonies, the drums, bass and guitars were all there. They reminded me of an old favourite album of mine when I was younger. Klark Kent, which was Stewart Copelands first solo album. It just had a certain sound and energy that was hugely pleasing. Yeah jamming was always allowed and encouraged, even parts of the gigs were jams, but at the end of the day Reni knew what he wanted to hear, for me that was a metronomic backbeat with offbeat bass drum, flams and triplets.
The demos of those songs that I’ve heard show a real depth of quality. It’s a real shame these songs have never seen finished studio results, would you agree?
I would have loved to have had them properly recorded, a real shame indeed. For me, those demos that you’ve listened to are the basic early conceptions that Reni made himself, but there were better recordings later on made at rehearsal when the band were in full swing, but I’ve no idea if they still exist.
Did Reni drum in rehearsals? Its rumoured that he is a master of many instruments, did you see any of these in practice?
Very Rarely. I don’t think he wanted to step on my toes, but he did now and again to show me what he wanted, or to just let rip on the kit for 5 minutes. His fluidity and feel were always great to hear and see close up. He undoubtedly changed my whole approach to drumming forever, as did working with my brother and Robbie, playing music is a continuous lesson that lasts a lifetime.
As for master of many instruments, I heard him on guitar and sing, on bass and sing, on piano and sing and everybody knows how well he drummed and sang, not an easy thing to do. I think Mani once said “he’s a better bassist than me” not sure I agree, but I got his point. I wouldn’t say he’s the best I’ve ever heard on any instrument, but you don’t have to be. That’s the beauty of music, you just have to mean it and he means it.
Did you know the historical significance of playing on Reni’s old drum kit? You played on the famous paint splattered floor tom. Was the rest of the kit the same one that he played on The Second Coming album?
How could I not, as a drummer I’m aware of who played on what over the years, but for the general masses there are few kits that are as instantly recognisable. The rest of the kit was a mix of pearl and Yamaha drums. I don’t know if that’s what was used on The Second Coming though.
I tuned the drum kit before every sound check. The bass drum had the best sound out of any kit I’ve played. The kit has new skins all round. The whole kit sounded wicked.
Did it take long from rehearsals taking place to the announcement of the short tour The Rub did?
It didn’t once we had a full line up, it just seemed to take a very long time to get that point, so maybe as a new band we went out a little prematurely, but that’s what new bands need to do. You can’t be sure in a rehearsal room if it’s going to work live straight away with a first set of new material, whether the arrangements work etc.. and a zillion other things that you tweak as you perform more before an audience, but most new bands aren’t under the kind of pressure and expectancy that The Rub were under before we even started. Obviously for Reni especially, but I was also aware from the start the scrutiny I would be under too.
The first gig you played was Bar Cuba, Macclesfield. Do you have any lasting memories from this gig? How did Reni feel about facing an audience for the first time in over 10 years?
Bar Cuba Macclesfield was supposed to be a quiet warm up gig before the tour. It was busy though, scattered with a few known faces including Bonehead from Oasis, Andy Rourke from The Smiths, Robbie Maddix, I think Aziz was there too.
I’ve sat on the stool for three drummers who have moved to the front of the stage, only a couple of feet away from their comfort zone but can feel like a different planet. So obviously Reni was a bit nervous, as we all were. Who wouldn’t be after that length of time off stage. If you’re not gigging regularly, you can get thrown by the stage sound, you get used to the sound of your rehearsal room and it can shock you when you start playing.
Did the band all travel together to and from gigs? I remember reading Reni turned up in a black limo at some of the gigs.
Yeah, we were all in a splitter van, band and crew and backline. Reni did hire a limo at the Macclesfield gig for us. When we stepped out that was when he wrote the “ I ain’t no fuckin junkie “ on a fans ticket. A couple of gigs he didn’t want to do the hotels and got a lift back home, there was always someone heading back to Manchester
The tour moved on to Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and London. The Glasgow show was your personal homecoming. Any stand out memories from this gig?
Leeds was an odd one, the audience just didn’t get it. I don’t know what they were expecting to hear, something similar to The Stone Roses maybe, certainly not what we were playing. There was a lot of confused faces in the crowd. I was told the sound was terrible afterwards but the whole show was a strange atmosphere.
It was really great for me to be back after 10 years away from Glasgow. We were still reeling a bit from the Leeds gig, but the packed Glasgow crowd were up for it from the start and stayed up for it all the way through and a good bit after. It didn’t seem to matter that we didn’t sound like the Roses, nor that they’d never heard the songs before, they were giving us as much energy back as we were giving them. That and the roar when Reni told them I was from Greenock are the two memories that stand out
Did Reni and the rest of the band feel enthused by the reception the band and the songs received?
Let’s face it, It was always going to be mixed reception and a lot of people were going to be disappointed regardless, but we all knew it wasn’t sounding as it should and there was a lot of tension. Neil was struggling as he hadn’t been in that long and the songs weren’t second nature for him yet, all this was exasperated with the vocal harmonies being swapped about on a daily basis and it was getting too much to remember what was what when on stage. It wasn’t making things any better it was making it worse
Manchester was obviously a big deal. Well known Manc faces were in attendance including Rowetta, John Robb, plus Stone Roses Pete Garner and Mani, who introduced the band on stage. Any memories of this gig?
I’ve never seen that venue with that amount of people squeezed in, another good crowd, and yeah it seemed like everybody was there .
If I remember right, both Pete and Cressa joined us on stage doing a bit of percussion
Do you have any memories of any other gigs from the tour?
I remember at the Nottingham gig I had load of par can stage lights right behind me, and they were fuckin hot!!!! Half way through the set I could smell my stool melting and thinking my arse is going to burst into flames here! Half expecting a Spinal Tap moment and self-combusting if I let one go.
I remember London being our worst gig with a lot of arrangements getting misplaced. Liverpool was a bit quieter, but it seemed to be received well mostly.
With the tour finished what was the plans immediately following?
Neil left the band pretty much immediately after the tour, so any plans were scuppered. We were supposed to follow up with a 30 date tour, but back to square one again. We did replace him with someone but he didn’t last long. We eventually ended up reworking it as a 3 piece with Casey on bass.
Was it after the gigs that the band demoed material for potential release?
We never got into a studio. The only thing we had was an 8 track which we recorded with in rehearsals. None of us were great at using it properly, they were never made for sending out.
Did The Rub come close to securing a record deal?
I’ve no idea to be honest, Reni kept all the cards pretty close to his chest. I only got little teases of info about it occasionally, which was pretty frustrating. Producer John Leckie came up to stay for a few days at rehearsals. I was a big fan and excited at the possibility of getting to work with him.
When he left, Reni told me that he said I was a better drummer than he was when they first started working together. That compliment was a real boost but alas, working together never materialised. Had we secured a deal John would’ve been the producer I’m sure which is one of my biggest regrets about the whole thing. I remember coming off stage in London feeling really angry and disappointed, John being the first person I saw, I could only apologies for our poor show
What are your favourite The Rub songs?
Soul Fool: great harmonies and a nice tempo, but it develops into something else. Double time building speed and a jamming end.
Shut Up and Play: purely because it was a different type of beat with a great half time groove that lets you go anywhere. It had this wicked repeating snare ruff that I loved to play.
Interloper: had a really nice swagger to it.
Wild Strawberry: just a beautifully simple song.
Did rehearsals and meeting up as a group just fizzle out or was there an official ending to the band?
We were still full on for a year after the gigs, but funds were low and we were struggling just keeping the rehearsal room. Reni sold the famous floor tom to help pay for it. I was living on a diet of beans, toast, peanut butter and banana sandwiches for months. Nothing was progressing and eventually I made the hard decision to leave early 2002.
Did you keep in contact with the rest of the band at the close of the band?
Only with Casey. We spent a lot of time on our own in that band, we’re a lot similar in personalities and it’s an egoless relationship, so it’s always been easy and enjoyable being in his company at work and socially.
What are your lasting memories and feelings of being in The Rub?
A real mixed bag of emotions. In a lot of ways it was the best and also worst band I’ve ever been in. I’m obviously proud that one of the most highly regarded drummers of our time chose me to be his drummer.
But at the same time it was unlike any band I’ve ever been in. It was completely Reni’s baby, I’d been more used to working in a more collaborative way mostly, even with the Jayne County album, the songs were already written but the drum parts were open for interpretation.
I’ve often thought what if we were a couple of years later, as I said we were only recording on that Roland 8 track which was a great tool, but it takes a long time to really understand how to get the best out of it, some people are great at that shit, we weren’t.
It’s a lot easier for me now using a Mac and Logic. I wish we had that available then. Same goes for social media, there was a massive Roses fan base waiting to hear us, but the first they got to hear it was at the gigs and it took a lot of them by surprise. We didn’t sound like they expected, we didn’t look like they expected. Social media would have changed the way we presented it for the better.
As with crowdfunding etc… that could have been a better way to go without the need of signing your life to some record company, Reni had already been through that so was understandably wary in getting the right deal.
Fast forward to 2011 with Reni included in the reformed Stone Roses. Were you happy to see your former band mate in the limelight again?
Truly and genuinely delighted for both him and Mani. I know when we were together Reni was getting offers of silly money to reform pretty much on a weekly basis, or offers to play with others, he always said no.
Reni and Mani were the bedrock of the Roses, but their royalty cheques weren’t the same as Ian and John’s. I’m glad they got their payday eventually.
Would you welcome a reformation of The Rub?
Never say never, unfinished business is always a regret.
When did you last see/hear from all the members of the band?
Still in touch with Casey, we lost touch for a while whilst we were both doing the family thing. I’ve still got a place in Manchester and will be back down soon, we’re going to catch up then. Neil moved to New York years ago, last I heard he’s now married and settled in San Francisco. I’ve not been in touch with Reni since I left the band.
What are you up to these days?
Family life mostly, we’ve got twin girls and I’ve been lucky enough to devote the last 5 years to being with them. We moved back to Greenock a couple of years ago to be closer to family and they’ve only just started school. That aside I split the rest of my time renovating where we live, making music, painting and doing photography.
Do you still drum?
Yeah, busier than ever. I’m doing a lot of live sessions with a lot of different bands, keeps me on my toes. I’m always looking for new projects and new people to work with. When drummers stop playing they can turn from Dr. Jeckyl into Mr Hyde. It’s not a good thing, that physical and emotional release when we play keeps us sane. I think if you gave everyone on the planet a kit we’d have world peace shortly after, it’d be like giving the world a natural E.
Lastly, what’s on your turntable at present?
Black Dove. A young upcoming band from Greenock. Saw them live recently and was really impressed with how tight they are, I think they’re all about 18 or 19. Check them out.
You can find further recordings of The Rub on Mik’s Soundcloud page.
All words by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found via the Louder Than War author archive pages.