In the UK, we meekly accept whatever our masters think is best for us. Rising cost of living? Fair enuff, guv. Can’t heat your house? I’ll just nip down to the local Warm Space, shall I? Dragged out of Europe? That’s democracy, mate. We’ll just need to get on wiv it. The French though – they know the score. Any time they feel hard done by, any time their world appears unjust, boom!, out come the Molotovs. Over a million French citizens took to les rues recently to protest the government’s planned raising of the pension age from 62 to 64. Pffft. Work-shy slacquers. It’s 66 in England, mate. 66! Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles, Sir Geoffrey ‘Urst. Anyway, where woz I?
Decided without a vote and pushed through by the will of a persistent Macron, it was firmly decided. The workers were suitably enraged. In Paris, fireworks were thrown indiscriminately at hastily drawn police lines. In Bordeaux, the town hall was set ablaze. Tear gas was fired, hundreds were arrested, everyone lost their Gallic cool. The pension age would still be raised, but not without Macron and his ministers knowing exactly what their citizens thought of them. The one plus point to come from the dissenters’ actions was that the city of Paris would not now play host to the first state visit by the new King George, whose aides quickly kyboshed the idea. Parisienne republicans sniffed the air and shrugged with typical je ne sais quoi.
55 years ago, in May 1968, rioting in Paris became so severe there was a real threat of civil war. The city’s student population, liberal and left-leaning by definition, occupied the universities in protest at fellow students’ arrests following an anti Vietnam demonstration. The authorities were quick to react and a heavy-handed police operation resulted in skirmishes, baton-wielding beatings and more mass arrests. The conflict between the Parisienne students and police intensified. Barricades were put up and knocked down. Civil order descended into disorder. Police used batons. Students threw torn-up paving stones and Molotov cocktails. Two nights of stand-off on the Left Bank ended after police set fire to cars and they themselves used Molotovs to disperse crowds.
The trade unions, no fans of President de Gaulle or his policies, were moved to declare sympathy action. At the height of this action, most of France ground to a halt as 11 million French workers (almost a quarter of the working population) went on general strike. Despite talks between both sides, the strikes and the riots continued. The President ran off to Germany, worried that rioters would attack him in Elysee Palace. He would return at the end of the month, bolstered by a notion to dissolve his cabinet and reform his government in a way that would appease the strikers. But anyway…
In the early days of the Stone Roses, Ian Brown had hitch-hiked his way around Europe. On his travels, he’d met someone who’d been in Paris in 1968 and this man’s tale became the lyric to Bye Bye Badman. He told the story of how, during the riots, the activists learned to combat the effects of the tear gas being used to control their movements by sucking on lemons.
It’s no concidence at all that the artwork on Stone Roses’ debut album cover features an unobtrusive, brush-daubed tricolour and a couple of lemons (albeit added after John Squire had ‘completed’ his painting)… a piece of art he called Bye Bye Badman.
Smoke me, choke the air. In this citrus-sucking sunshine I don’t care.
Here he comes, got no question, got no love
I’m throwing stones at you, I want you black and blue
I’m gonna make you bleed, gonna bring you down to your knees…
It’s all in there.
Stone Roses – Bye Bye Badman
It’s a tune that belies it’s appearance. Lightweight and breezy, with skiffly, shuffling drums and a rich tapestry of interwoven guitars, it could well have floated off the grooves of a Mamas and Papas or 5th Dimension record.
The guitar runs throughout though, they mark it as something a bit special, a bit unique; the phased and chugging electric backing that allows the sun-dappled acoustic splashes to shimmer, the cleanly picked counter-riffs, the fluid and chattering fret runs at the end that bring to mind Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, all of it underpinned by expansive and expressive bass playing. It’s no real surprise that Stone Roses became the touchstone for enthusiastic amateur guitarists and wannabe hit bands everywhere.
And the melody. It’s sing-song and nursery rhyme-like…until you begin to decode the lyric. The title itself is seemingly a veiled reference to President de Gaulle and, as the song unfurls line by line, it’s apparent that this seemingly insignificant track (song 4, side 1) is in fact a pop art statement of political intent, revolution disguised as art. That it’s done so with lovely doubletracked Ian Brown vocals makes it all the sweeter. In the live arena, Brown can’t sing for toffee. Thank goodness John Leckie had the golden touch when it came to coaxing a tune from his vocal chords.
Here’s the demo that Stone Roses presented to Leckie. As you’ll hear, never underestimate the role of the producer in helping a group to realise their ambitions.
Stone Roses – Bye Bye Badman demo
I listened to Stone Roses’ debut album the other day and it still causes as many little rushes of uncontainable excitement as it did on first hearing it 34 years ago. Let it sink in that more time has passed since the day I bought it from Walker’s at Irvine Cross than the time between the riots in Paris ’68 and the Stone Roses writing a song about it.
Ian Brown famously pumped an arm aloft and bellowed, “This is ‘ist’ry!” from the Alexandra Palace stage in November 1989. No, Ian, your band, their album, THIS is history. D’you feel old yet?