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The Record That Changed My Life: Vernon Kay on The Stone Roses' Debut LP

'They created something special, and Manchester created something special too. You can’t separate them.'

vernon kay stone roses
Source: BBC

For a Bolton lad growing up in the late 80s there could only be one choice, really.

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Born and brought up in Bolton, Greater Manchester, Vernon Kay first came to prominence presenting the Channel 4 music show T4, and after stints on TV, hosted shows on Radio 1 and Radio X. He joined BBC Radio 2 in October 2023, where he now presents the most-listened to radio show in the UK, with 6.9 million listeners every morning.

This month he is also hosting the BBC Piano Room sessions that sees 20 artists performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Maida Vale studios. Guests include Brit nominated Olivia Dean, Johnny Marr, Elbow and the Libertines and past sessions are available to listen to on BBC Sounds and watch on BBC iPlayer.

Vernon’s choice for the record that changed his life is rooted in his teenage years in Bolton, and encapsulates a time that he describes “when we were at an age where we wanted something to be a part of – and this was our sound.”

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Thanks for this Vernon. To be honest, I had a funny feeling you might choose the Stone Roses – given your age and where you’re from…

Well yes! This came out in ‘89, and I think I was 16 at the time. So that's when everything as a young adult kind of falls into place and this was a major jigsaw piece in the picture of my life. And you know, with the baggy scene and the Hacienda and all that kind of stuff, the Manchester scene was something that we all wanted to be a part of and I think this album just summarizes the whole amazing energy that was created by that. Walking around Manchester at the time and seeing it all and witnessing it all and it was everywhere – everyone was on this trend. On every street corner, down every high street in Manchester, everyone knew that this energy was coming.

How important was that scene to you as a 16-year-old from Bolton?

When you're at school you’re influenced by your peers, but in my school at that time everyone was into the same thing: we didn't have the goths in the corner or the punks over there, or the mods or whatever. Everyone was jumping on this Manchester music. We’d go into Manchester on the train every Saturday morning and we just walked around. Do you know what I mean? Because we loved the energy, we loved what was going on, we wanted to be a part of it.

Source: mega

'Madchester' clubbers in 1989 - 'Down every high street in Manchester, everyone knew that this energy was coming.'

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Do you think that’s why this album in particular is so special for a certain generation of people? It's like a collision of place and time as well as music.

Yeah, definitely. If you look at everything that was going on in Manchester at the time, and you look at the attitude that was created, from the Smiths and then Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, all that kind of stuff – those guys were rock 'n' roll rebels in a way, because they didn't fit in to what was going on coming off the back of the more glam period of the 80s.

The music was just part of it. I guess if you were an art student studying fashion, you could say we went from very pointed, very angular pop stars, to the clothes that were being worn in Manchester, like your Joe Bloggs baggy jeans, baggy t-shirts, floppy hair. Everything was suddenly more relaxed and less structured. It was a whole youth uprising.

Do you think part of what set The Stone Roses apart is that it's a really optimistic album and Manchester music has always had a bit of a miserablist cliché associated with it? You think of Joy Division and New Order and the Smiths and it's all pretty bleak, whereas this is bright and shiny and almost '60s Californian sounding, with chiming guitars and lyrics about 'citrus sucking sunshine'.

Definitely. And also you could really sing along to it. They were all anthemic tunes; as soon as you heard them you were hooked in straight away, you were singing along almost immediately – “I Wanna Be Adored”, “Made of Stone”, “Waterfall”, all those big tunes. And still, 35 years on, you put them on in the car and you're up and away and it's gleeful, it's joyous. Yeah, it's a real opposite to Joy Division and all the other big bands from Manchester prior to that.

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I think another one of the joys of it is there's a proper structure and it tells a story. It takes you on a journey.

Absolutely. The album starts with that long intro to I “Wanna Be Adored” and ends with the huge instrumental outro of “I Am the Resurrection” – what a journey that is! I also think ending the album with “I Am the Resurrection” is a sign of things to come. I think it's them kind of signposting that this is the start of a movement that's going to take us into the ‘90s, and everything that would follow them.

If you look at the people who have been influenced by the Stone Roses and, in particular this album, it's pretty much every band who was successful throughout the ‘90s. And then even if you look at some of the remixes of “Fools Gold” – I know it's not on the British LP, but it was on the U.S. version – they’re just absolutely bonkers. And they set us up for a lot of dance music in the ‘90s.

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Do you think it’s a uniquely Mancunian album – that it has that swagger that only Manc albums have?

I do, but I think it’s more than just swagger because it's so soulful as well. The lyrics are great, John Squire's playing is unbelievable… and then there’s all these legendary gigs that they did that people now say: this one was pivotal and that one was pivotal. I know everyone talks about Spike Island, but the gigs that they did at Blackpool or Alexandra Palace are completely iconic as well. In my opinion, they created something special, and Manchester created something special too, which they were a big part of. You can’t separate them. To be honest, even listening to it now just puts a smile on my face.

I wanted to ask about the musicianship on this record, because you've got three amazing musicians there, and then you've got Ian Brown, who gets a bit of flak for not being the greatest singer in the world, but I think he was definitely the greatest frontman in the world for a little while.

Well, it's an interesting one, because actually it doesn't matter. Ian Brown looked awesome and he was a great representation of what the Stone Roses actually stood for. And I've been fortunate to have had some decent chats with Ian and he's just a genuine nice bloke. And I love his solo stuff.

spike island
Source: mega

The Stone Roses' huge Spike Island gig is seen as the high point of the Madchester scene.

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How did you feel about the reunion in 2011?

Was it 2011? Thirteen years ago? Holy cow. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I was at the Etihad gig in 2016 and when they first came on stage and started playing, it just made you realize how special that whole era was. And the reaction they were getting at that gig was mega. Everyone had a massive smile on their faces from start to finish, because of how special it was and how special that band are.

I remember on the Saturday when I was driving up from London to the gig, I had the album on repeat, all the way up. And then I got to my mum and dad's house and my mum said: “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m going to watch the Roses, mum”. And she was like, “Are they still going? I remember when we heard bloody nothing else in this house but that bloody album!”

Have you seen the Made of Stone documentary? The first scene where they rock up at a rehearsal room, and then they get into it straight away. Oh my god! A cup of tea, a quick chat, and then Reni ties his headband a bit tighter and off they go and you're like f***ing hell. This is unbelievable.

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the stone roses reunion
Source: mega

The Stone Roses reformed in 2011 for a series of euphoric gigs.

And now John Squire’s back making new music with Liam Gallagher…

Come on, you've got John Squire and you’ve got Liam Gallagher together! It's absolutely awesome. Don't think of it as a Stone Roses or an Oasis collaboration. Just think of it as these two legends together making some music. We played it on Radio 2 and the reaction was awesome.

But I think ultimately with the Stone Roses, the reason why we love them so much is because of the melodies that we attached to ourselves to. That's the main thing. The music was so good and we were at an age where we wanted something to be a part of – and this was our sound.

Vernon Kay is on BBC Radio 2 from 9.30am-12pm Monday to Friday with Piano Room Month continuing to Friday 23rd February. Vernon also presents Dance Sounds of the 90s on BBC Sounds.


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