Si Wolstencroft is among the many near-mythical figures of the Manchester music scene. Si parted ways before The Patrol became the Stone Roses and he turned down The Smiths. Right place, right time, wrong choices? Timing is everything. Spending an unlikely 11 years in The Fall and hooking up with old mate Ian Brown during his solo days, his memoir ‘You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide’ reflects on a life driven by a passion for playing. Mark Millar caught up with Si to talk about the book.
XS: I’m a Roses fan and obviously knew who you were, and read the book last week, and it is a fascinating read, especially for someone like myself who is into the Manchester music scene, I really loved it and great to ask you some questions about it.
Si: Well it goes right back about 30 years to 1980 when we first started playing in bands, in fact right back to Patrol, the punk band we had in school.
XS: So why did you decide to write the book?
Si: People have always said over the years “you know everybody, you” and I do know a lot of the bands in Manchester and I’ve been in some of the most iconic ones or involved with them anyway, and I just thought “I’m 50 now, so start writing”. It was a good experience – I had to look through all my old Union diaries which I got every year, just remembering where we were on certain days. My friend Stuart who is a writer edited the book for me and it’s just me plain speaking about my situation and how I came to be here now. I’ve got a new band The G-O-D – we’re a punk funk band, and I’m really enjoying it. We’re just doing an album now. I’ve never stopped really, I’ve never stopped drumming.
XS: Why did you decide to become a drummer, and what drummers influenced you?
Si: Well it was really Top of the Pops – Thursday night was the big TV event of the week and in the playground the next morning that’s all that was discussed. Did you see Bowie, did you see Slade, these were the talking points, and I thought “I wouldn’t mind being a drummer”. I used to practice all the parts and copy them with knitting needles and biscuit tins and learnt how to drum basically myself. The DIY ethic made Ian, John and I want to start our own little group, modelled on The Clash. Ian was more of a Sex Pistols fan. That’s how we started. We did a load of gigs, and a couple of recordings – Jail of the Assassins was one of them and it’s on the internet, and to cut a long story short I met Johnny Marr before they became the Stone Roses and basically joined a group with him and Andy Rourke on bass and we searched for a singer high and low (we were called Freak party) and about a year and then I got involved with drugs so we split up for about 6 months.
In the meantime Johnny had met Morrissey and said to me “Hi Si, I want you to be in my new band, we’re called The Smiths and it’s kind of…your band!” Anyway, he wanted me to be the drummer. By this time I had sold my drum kit to buy drugs so I hired a kit and went down to the studio and we recorded “Suffer Little Children” about the tragic Moors Murder case, which wasn’t very appealing to me musically at that time. I was more into British jazz funk – bands like Beggar & Co and Incognito, so it was a million miles away from what Morrissey was singing, this maudlin track. So I said thanks but no thanks to Johnny, and the rest is history. Of course I joined The Fall after that for about eleven years which was great at the beginning for the first few years and then I ended up playing with Ian again on his solo album Golden Greats.
XS: So you joined The Fall – I’m sure Mark E Smith was hard work at times? I know you hit him at least once, famously for remarking on the death in your family.
Si: That’s right – Mark blamed me for his epilepsy. He used to say “it’s Simon’s fault, he keeps hitting me”. But it wasn’t like that. I’m not a bully. At first we were great mates but there were times when it got out of hand after Brix had left (Mark’s wife). Her book has just come out – The Rise, The Fall and The Rise by Brix Smith Start. I’m reading it to see what she says about me! I liked Brix, but she had me down as the getaway driver when Mark left her and moved to Edinburgh. She still talks to me though.
XS: I’ve been reading Mark’s book “Renegade” to see if you are mentioned in it…
Si: Renegade is a good book, and I’m not mentioned in it which I’m glad really. Most people that are in it he slags off. I hadn’t seen Mark for about a year and a half but when I did it was fine, he shook my hand and he didn’t shake anyone’s hand. Well he might have shaken my mother’s hand when she gave me a lift round to his house when I first joined in 1986. I didn’t want to use the title of the book to mention The Fall, it’s about me and my journey so far. I’m just carrying right on. The G-O-D are playing at the Kendall Cawley in July and next weekend we’re playing at Liverpool South City. Pete Doherty is on, not that I’m a fan.
XS: Is there any The G-O-D music on line at the moment that I can check out?
Si: There’s a tiny thing on You Tube of a rehearsal for one of the songs that will be on the album, but we’re keeping it back. We’re nearly ready – another couple of weeks and there’ll be something on line along with a video. We’re hoping to get my cousin Nico Mellalegro involved – he’s agreed to appear in our video. I don’t know if you’re aware of him – he was in the Spike Island film about the Roses and he’s a very good, up and coming actor. He’s currently filming with Tim Roth. They are making a film called 10 Wellington Place.
XS: There was already a film made called 10 Wellington Place?
Si: Yes, Dickie Attenborough was in it and John Hurt. 1971 – brilliant film. Nico’s playing the guy who was unfortunately accused of murdering his wife and kid and he was actually innocent. He came from Wales. Timothy was his name. They pardoned him after that but it was too late by then. They don’t always get the death sentence right!
XS: When you were in The Fall, there were obviously albums coming out every year. Do you have any favourite albums by The Fall?
Si: My favourite Fall album of all is “This Nation’s Saving Grace” but I didn’t play on that one! I joined for the next one which was Ben Sinister, which is a good album – I like Terry Waite Says on it. I also like Entertainment Scam which came out in 1993. We hit a peak then. When I first joined it was great, and it went a bit downhill from 1993, it kind of trailed off, the sales, the gigs, Mark was being a bit difficult to work with (most people thought).
XS: Do you ever regret leaving?
Si: I had to leave. I had a daughter Emily by this time, in 1996, and I was getting very heavy documents served by Customs and Excise totalling tens of thousands, and he’s supposed to be paying it off every month but he was just pissing it up the wall. I ended up going and driving a private taxi for a couple of years, which was actually pretty good fun. I didn’t have any trouble, put it like that.
XS: Manchester’s a pretty small place – did you ever pick up anyone famous in your taxi?
Si: No! I wish I had a story like that. My mate picked up Billy Idol, who was appearing at what was called the G-Mex Arena back then. We kind of fought over that – I was really into Generation X, Billy’s band. I did pick up Man Utd footballers quite a lot, in fact all the time, because we were based in Altrincham which is in Cheshire and so we had Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke, Bryan Robson, quite a few of them really, They were all okay actually. I’m looking at Utd’s ground now from my window! The sky’s a bit foreboding tonight, but it is Manchester…
XS: Noel Gallagher asked you to join Oasis at one point, didn’t he?
Si: He did, yeah, when we were in LA and it was the time when the band was imploding and I got in the lift in the Hyatt at Sunset, came down with Craig and Stephen from The Fall and who steps in but Bonehead. We went to the bar and Noel’s there who I knew from the days when he was a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets (I used to see him down The Fall’s office corridor in New Man Street). Anyway, he asked me if I wanted to join the band – I think it was when they had just kicked the other guy out (Tony McCarroll) but at this point I am surrounded by my band mates so what could I say? Anyway, the moment was gone and maybe he was just jesting but of course I would have joined them – who wouldn’t?! Same as the Roses.
XS: When Reni walked off stage in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, did you think, “I might get a call from Ian here”?
Si: It was a funny situation that because no-one was expecting that at all, and least of all Ian. People were thinking that’s it, he’s gone, this might be a chance Si, but secretly I was hoping they wouldn’t ask me because I think it’s a massive gig for anybody to fill his shoes and that includes players like Zach Starkey. They tried it before with Robbie Maddox but it wasn’t the same either. It was all about the drums originally. If I had to I could because I know most of the back catalogue, but they haven’t asked me!
XS: It would be good if they did! Their new track All For One should sound familiar to you because the riff is very similar to The Fall track you played on, Squid Lord?
Si: Yes, it’s incredible! People were telling me about this and I kept saying “give over” and then sure enough it’s pretty much note for note. But I don’t think John Squire has been going through the Fall back catalogue to steal a riff from a Fall tune – I don’t think so, anyway! Isn’t it strange though – both guitarists, Craig Scanlon and John Squire, coming up with the same thing exactly. Interesting, that.
XS: Do you think there will be any more new music from the Roses soon?
Si: Well, I saw Ian this week actually, There’s only two tracks ready to go so I don’t know if I’m honest. They seem to stop and start and stop and start. They have been in the studio since last Autumn so they must have something else.
XS: You worked on Ian’s second album, Golden Greats – were you disappointed you weren’t asked to be involved in the third album?
Si: Well that’s partly my fault. Ian and I were classmates and we know each other very well and we’re both really stubborn. Also I was still flirting with drugs when I was in the band and so perhaps wasn’t doing as much as I should have been doing so when it came to the end of the tour at Alexandra Palace in 2000 that ended up being my last gig with him. We didn’t say goodbye to each other or anything and we didn’t ring each other, as neither of us wanted to back down. Once Ian digs his heels in then that’s that, he’s made his mind up, but he’ll always be alright, I think he still owes the record company a solo album anyway so whatever happens you’ll be hearing him on the radio again. And anyway he loves it like I do and he loves the feeling of being on stage. Not everyone is the same – I know Mani has been playing but I don’t think the drummer has been doing much over the last 17 years, drumming wise, recording or anything. We’ll see.
XS: It’s incredible that you were all involved in the early stages of the Stone Roses and The Smiths. Looking back, what band would you have preferred to stay in?
Si: That’s a very good question! Probably The Stone Roses for the pay offs I’m getting for these cheques! It’s not bad, is it?! I didn’t like The Smiths at first but I learned to love them – the later stuff like Panic, Sheila Take A Bow – it’s powerful stuff, and I love hearing Morrissey’s quotes in the papers and on the radio, they always make me smile. Similar to Ian – they’re both vehement anti-Royalists whereas I could take it or leave it, I’m not a very political person. I read Morrissey’s book and loved it. I thought his style was amazing, and I wish I could write like that. My style is just how I’m talking to you now.
XS: I found it hard enough to read Morrissey’s book – I prefer your style.
Si: I can’t pretend to be a top writer – I have my O Level in English but that’s about it. I’m not bad at spelling, but I just wanted to get it out. I’d perhaps like to do another book sometime. It might be about another band I might join in the future, you never know.
XS: Do you have a stand out memory over all of you time in music and bands?
Si: From travelling I remember Rio de Janeiro most – we travelled first class and it was just a wonderful place, and prehistoric looking. I loved touring and I’d like to do some touring with The G-O-D once we get up and running, maybe this year – that’s what I’m hoping we’ll do. And we’re going to release a couple of tracks in the middle of June and we have recorded 11 tracks in Salford in the new 6DB studios owned by Simon Dean Archer who was bass player with The Pixies for a while and PJ Harvey, and also The Fall. Mark records there too so we have to make sure our paths don’t cross! He was a dead funny guy and he really made me laugh, and he was very clever and taught me a lot – not all good things but some good things. He was very good at sizing people up.
How are things going now with The G-O-D?
Si: We’re about 80% there on the album so I’ll send it to you. It’s very Iggy, with a bit of Bowie, a bit of funk, some Ramones thrown in at times, it’s got a bit of an edge. And I can hear Chris’s lyrics throughout it which is unusual for me as I’m normally tone deaf. I’m working with youngsters now and they bring something to the table.
XS: We could talk all day! Best of luck with the book and with the music.