Early Stone Roses & Smiths Man 'Funky' Si Wolstencroft Interviewed

He's the man with the funky groove who went to school with John Squire and Ian Brown, didn't like the cut of Morrisey's cloth and recently joined The Stone Roses on stage to play The Clash's Bankrobber with the Justice Tonight Band...
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Born in 1963, Simon’s drum skills became self-evident early on. From keeping a beat with paint pots and knitting needles as a small child, via a family holiday in Spain – on which a generous cabaret drummer allowed the starstruck 9-year-old the chance to play a real drum kit for the first time – to ultimately being given the ‘Funky Si’ moniker by Johnny Marr during their time playing together; Simon’s style and technique evolved over many years into the distinctive solid back beat still in evidence today.

Passing the 11+ and earning a place at the prestigious Altrincham Grammar School in 1979 provided the beginning of a lifelong friendship with classmates Ian Brown and John Squire. From listening to the Buzzocks, Sex Pistols and The Clash to visiting the Manchester Apollo after school (helping load tours in and out of the venue in order to gain free entry to the gigs there) and then on the night bus back to Altrincham after underage nights out – sometimes sleeping rough; the three formed a strong bond which ultimately led to the formation of The Patrol (with Simon on drums, John playing guitar and Ian initially on bass then singing).

After an explosion of local youth club and village hall gigs, attended by an entourage of hardcore punks, The Patrol played fewer gigs and ultimately disbanded during their time at South Trafford College. As his classmates went on to forge The Stone Roses, a chance meeting in a local pub with two like-minded musical aficionados in the form of Andy Rourke and Johnny Marr produced Freak Party – the precursor for The Smiths. The only part lacking at this juncture was a singer. After Morrissey had been found, despite playing drums on the original demo recordings, Simon declined the drum hot-seat in the band as he didn’t like the cut of Morrissey’s jib. As The Smiths’ star rose, Simon went on to work with, briefly, The Stone Roses and Terry Hall’s The Colourfield.

As Madchester, The Hacienda, and the local area became the centre of an unparalleled musical universe, Simon continued to play for a number of the era’s most evocative artists such as The Weeds, before finally becoming a long-standing member of The Fall. He debuted with the band in 1986 on the Bend Sinister album and in the following decade became much loved by Fall fans  who described him as ‘a human drum machine’.

From keeping a beat with paint pots and knitting needles as a small child, via a family holiday in Spain

Simon departed The Fall in 1997; before coming almost full circle to collaborate with, and play for, Ian Brown in 1999 on his second solo album, Golden Greats. Simon co-wrote the Top 40 track ‘Golden Gaze’.

The opportunity to play once more with Ian and John Squire, at a secret benefit gig with Mick Jones of The Clash in December 2011, completed the musical circle for the trio who first performed together all those years ago .

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Since then Simon has continued to work with and play for a number of bands and solo artists; developing his repertoire into a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the Manchester music  scene. Simon is currently playing with The Family Bizzare, alongside Jez Kerr (ex-Factory signing ACR ), who supported New Order on their recent UK tour. Simon has also undertaken a new project called HouseShare, recording their initial demo tacks during June and July 2012.

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The Family Bizzare (all photographs by Sue Dean)

For Words On Music, Si Wolstencroft writes: My first ever gig was with Ian Brown and John Squire as The Patrol back in 1980, when the three of us left Altrincham Boys Grammar School and started at South Trafford College – this was how we began to cut our teeth as musicians.

I have played hundreds and hundreds of gigs since; some of them small ones like our first gig as The Patrol at the Sale Annexe Youth Club; then a few larger ones during my eleven years as the drummer in The Fall – including supporting U2 at Elland Road on their Joshua Tree tour.  In 2000, I was back with Ian again on the main stage at the huge Mount Fuji festival in Japan.

All these experiences pale, and none have delighted me more, than when I was ultimately reunited on stage again with Ian and John – if only briefly – at the Ritz Theatre, Manchester, in December 2011…

The Stone Roses reformation and Heaton Park gigs had only just been announced; it seemed the whole of Manchester was buzzing with the news and everyone suddenly wanted to see the Roses first ‘on stage’ performance together.

In 2000, I was back with Ian again on the main stage at the huge Mount Fuji festival in Japan

Ian rang me in the morning to invite me along to the benefit gig with Mick Jones of The Clash; where he and John were due to perform The Clash’s ‘Bankrobber’ and Stone Roses’ song ‘Elizabeth My Dear’. This had not been announced as part of the gig and was a very hush-hush affair.

I grew up listening to The Clash and wanted to be one of the first to see Ian and John back on stage together after such a long time – it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Mick’s drummer was late for the sound check so his roadie Davo asked me to fill in on drums which I gladly agreed to do. As I sat down on the drum stool to begin, I looked out to the front of house and saw a beaming John Squire with red guitar stood directly in front of me on stage, ready to launch into ‘Bankrobber’. This was a song Ian and our mate Pete Garner (who played bass in an early Roses line up) had actually witnessed being recorded at Pluto Studios in Manchester all those years ago – providence indeed!

After shaking John’s hand for the first time in 16 years, I sat behind the drums, started the obligatory ‘count-in’ for my friends, and launched them into the Clash classic. Talk about going full circle, this was amazing; I was actually shaking when the song had ended, a sensation I had never encountered before, nor since.

That’s how much the Patrol reunion meant to me. There I was with old friends and a boyhood hero, Mick Jones. Never meet your heroes, they say – Mick Jones has to be an exception to the rule.

It didn’t matter to me that Mick Jones’s drummer turned up for the show and I had to watch from the sidelines; I’m best known as the man who turned down the gig with The Smiths after all…

‘Si Wolstencroft’ was the answer to a recent question on Mastermind. He was interviewed for War and Peace and, on the road with the Roses during their recent European dates, gifted his copy of the book to Ian Brown.

This article first appeared on www.wordsonmusic.co.uk

The Stone Roses: War and Peace by Simon Spence is published by Viking, £20 hardback, available here. You can read more of his work on his blog here.

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