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I'm not a northern thug; Former Stone Roses singer Ian Brown refutes his hard man image to Andy Welch, ahead of tomorrow night's Liverpool gig.

Byline: Andy Welch

STELLIFY. It's a word used in classic mythology to describe the transformation of a person or thing into a star.

It's also the title of Ian Brown's recent single, the first taken from his sixth album, My Way.

For ancient Greek characters such as Orion and Cassiopeia, their respective hunting skills and unrivalled beauty were rewarded when Zeus and Poseidon placed them in the heavens for posterity.

Ian Brown's ascension to such a lofty position was more his own doing. If his place as one of Britain's best front-men wasn't secured by The Stone Roses' first album - 20 years old this year and still sounding as exciting as ever - his six solo albums have certainly done so.

He looks every bit the rock icon when we meet - his expensivelooking jacket has the words "Born To Raise Chaos" embroidered on the back.

"Simian," he says. "I used to have to look that word up when it was first used about me."

He's been talking about himself all day, but he still sounds interested, although he claims the only thing more boring than talking about himself all day is reading about himself.

"Why worry? It's a cliche, but it's true - you worry about something, it's not going to change. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. I've always had that mentality. That's why I still look young," he says, eyes beaming.

"I've got a few grey hairs, but that's just having kids that's done that to me. Actually, I worry about my kids. My lad's 171/2 now, so I'll think 'He's out in his car, it's three in the morning, where is he?' But then I only worry he's crashed because I'll have to pay the insurance!" Brown's latest album is a bold album, infinitely more personal than his last offering, The World Is Yours, on which Ian voiced his disapproval of the war in Iraq, the conflicts caused by religion, and politicians who stand by while there are children living on the street.

"I wanted to bring it back full circle with this record," explains Ian. "It's not because I'm happier with those situations. I wrote the last album so that, rather than sitting in interviews and talking about the war, repeating myself, I wanted to document it on an album.

"Newspaper quickly becomes chip wrappers, but with an album, I could record my thoughts on the injustices in the world.

"It's then good to do the reverse of what you've done before, so this album is about my life, my feelings and my personal way of being. Hopes, dreams, aspirations and all of that."

There are also some rather blunt messages in there, aimed squarely, it would seem, at his former Stone Roses bandmate, John Squire. The pair haven't spoken since Squire walked out on the band, and have traded blows in the press pretty much ever since.

The aforementioned Stellify is perhaps Brown's best song, at a push, second to his master class in lyricism FEAR. [Each of FEAR's lines begins with those letters - "For each a road", "for everyman a religion", "face everybody and rule" and so on.] "Stellify is the first song I've written since FEAR that's up there with it," he says proudly. "I've now got something to follow it with, and I've been looking for it for the last eight years."

The song was originally written for Rihanna.

Ian's sometime co-writer and producer, Dave McCracken, is signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation stable of writers, the only Brit among them, and, through his connections, Ian was invited to write for some American artists.

"Vanity Kills was for Kanye West, too," he says, "but we missed the deadline for that one. Then we wrote Stellify and after a few days of loving the tune, I said 'Let's keep that one for me'. I can hear her singing it, and she'd do it better than me, but I just love it.

"If I had another nine like that or like FEAR, I'd quit, that'd be me. Where would I go from there?" Where indeed. In all likelihood, he'd quit music for gardening.

Something he threatened to do after The Stone Roses split up.

"I said that after the Roses, and things had got so messy with that I just wanted a clean life, and what could be cleaner than growing flowers and taking them to market?" he says.

It's a phrase that might surprise some, who see the swaggering frontman, nicknamed King Monkey, and hear stories about him being abusive to air stewards (he was sentenced to four months in prison for threatening to cut a hostess' hands off) or having on-stage altercations with security guards, and write Brown off as a thug.

Sitting down to talk to him, nothing could be further from the truth.

He's a sensitive soul and downto-earth in a way singers of his status simply aren't. He doesn't drink, he talks about his kids - he has three; a young son, Emilio, with his wife, Fabiola, and two from a previous relationship - and drops in heart-warming stories he's picked up from his travels.

"Did you know there are drummers in Japan who go up into the mountains to master the art?" he asks, apropos of nothing. "It takes them nine years to learn the beat, then they come down the mountain, carrying these 30ft-long drums, and play for the villagers. Nine years! Longer than it takes to be a doctor, rhythm studying? That's deep, that. Deep."

If people do have the wrong impression of Ian, he knows why.

"One person might perceive me as godlike," he begins, referring to his NME Godlike Genius award from a couple of years ago, "and the next might think I'm a northern thug.

"I don't think I've done myself any favours because I'm up on YouTube fighting with my security guard and all that, but I swear I've not had a proper fight since I was 14. I only hit him in the arm.

"I'm not into fighting and I never have been, but a little YouTube film makes me look like a thug. But what can I do about that? Most of the country thinks northerners are barbarians.

"Think about it, how can I be macho? I'm an Englishman that doesn't drink beer, which makes me a rarity, and I'm a singer.

"That's a bit effeminate, isn't it? How can you be a macho man if you're strutting around on stage singing?" [bar] IAN BROWN plays Liverpool University tomorrow.


Still doing it his way - Ian Brown
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 11, 2009
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