In an alternate universe it’s Simon Wolstencroft rather than Mike Joyce pounding the tom toms at the beginning of The Smiths’ ‘The Queen is Dead’. In some other reality, it’s not Reni banging the drums for the Stone Roses: Funky Si has the stool (and possibly the iconic bucket hat too). In this world, however, Si Wolstencroft was the drummer in The Fall for 11 years, until he left after a disagreement with Mark E Smith over a tax bill. Lesser individuals might be bitter over having missed out on being in two of the most iconic bands of all-time. Not Si. As his brilliant memoir You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide reveals, he’s seen and done all of the rock n’ roll clichés and has some wonderful stories to show for it.
You Can Drum… is more than just a book about sex and drugs and rock n’ roll (though there’s plenty of all three here). At the heart of the story is Manchester; its people and the music that has made the city so iconic. The usual suspects are all here, from childhood pals like Andy Rourke, Ian Brown and John Squire through to his bandmates in The Fall, Si recounts the highs and lows of the past 40 years from the unique perspective of someone who was there at the very beginning. After rehearsing with Morrissey and Johnny Marr, he turns down their offer to join The Smiths because he doesn’t like the sound of the former’s voice. He leaves The Patrol before they bloom into the Stone Roses in order to go on tour with The Colourfield. Regrets? He’s had a few…
Some of the most entertaining parts of the book are centred on Si’s anecdotes from his time in The Fall and his relationship with Mark E Smith. Although the frontman’s reputation as a cantankerous dictator isn’t disputed, Si recognises his softer side, and reveals how Smith arranged for each band member to have a pension. Such instances are rare, though, and it’s the darker side of Smith’s character that we’re privy to more often than not in the book. During the recording sessions for Bend Sinister, the singer takes issue with producer John Leckie:
Leckie wore something purple coloured every day and had an inner peace about him, and this wound up an alcohol and speed-fuelled Mark E Smith no end. Mark hated anything vaguely hippyish. At one point in the sessions, Mark spat at John, shouting ‘Get some work done cunt’, which made me feel very uncomfortable.
Throughout the book, Si’s encounters with the good, the bad and the ugly provide an amusing back drop to the main story. From serving Molly Sugden (ask your parents) in the delicatessen to turning down a fare from footballer Teddy Sheringham after a stint as a cab driver, Si brushes shoulders with an eclectic range of celebs including Bill Hicks, Barry White, Anthony Kiedis, Robbie Coltrane, Sir David Frost, Baby Spice and Lisa Stansfield (who chews the face off Mark E Smith in a bar, much to Si’s revulsion). An altercation with Keith Flint from The Prodigy is another highlight:
Keith was sitting on his own in a red-velvet upholstered booth in the VIP area of the club. I didn’t really want to talk to him, as much as I liked his band, so went to take a seat. On entering the roped off area Keith snorted at me.
‘You carnt sit ere, s’reserved for the lay-deez.’
I didn’t see any signs saying reserved for Keith Flint’s fucking ladies.
I told him to fuck off and started to advance towards the rude, pierced fucker. Hughie, who knew Flint from the circuit, saw what was about to happen, came running over, got in between us and defused the situation, but I wasn’t happy. You can’t talk to people like that.
After parting ways with The Fall, Si hooked up with his old school chum Ian Brown and played on the Golden Greats album, co-writing ‘Golden Gaze’. A few years later, things come full circle, when he plays ‘Bank Robber’ with Ian and John Squire during the sound check for the Justice Tonight gig at the Ritz in Manchester. It’s a special moment for Si and one of the most poignant scenes in the book. Three childhood friends and ex-band mates, reunited for the first time in years, playing the music of their youth.
You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide is published by Strata Books and is available now.