Aziz Ibrahim talks Unfinished Monkey Business ahead of his gig at the Unitarian Church


Aziz Ibrahim, shot for Getintothis by Kevin Barrett

Aziz Ibrahim and Inder GoldFinger will play an intimate gig at Ullet Road’s Unitarian Church, Getintothis’ Paul Fitzgerald had the chance to have a conversation with Ibrahim ahead of the gig.

Former Asia, Stone Roses and Ian Brown guitarist Aziz Ibrahim & Ian Brown and Winachi Tribe percussion maestro Inder GoldFinger will come together on the 21st year Anniversary since the release of Ian Brown’s debut solo album, ‘Unfinished Monkey Business‘ to celebrate their collaboration on the record.

Unfinished Monkey Business was funded and produced by Brown, enjoyed a Top 5 UK Album Chart position, achieved gold sales in the UK and brought him Top 20 hits such as My Star, Corpses In Their Mouths and Longsight M13. Both Aziz and Inder worked on the album, developing the ideas with Brown, writing and bringing the record’s strong South Asian influence to the fore.

In many ways, Monkey Business is a natural extension of their original collaborative work on the album. Unfinished Monkey Business perhaps didn’t get the time in the spotlight it deserved.

Fate and circumstance took a hold, and the album was under-promoted as a result. Aziz and Inder want to take us on an immersive journey with the very soul of this album, paying tribute in their own way and with the blessing and encouragement of Ian himself.

Ibrahim replaced John Squire on guitar duties for the Stone Roses and Goldfinger was a regular on percussion for Brown’s live shows.

The tour of intimate performances in unique spaces takes us on a journey, highlighting the South Asian musical expansion of Brown’s songs and calls in to Liverpool’s Unitarian Church on April 26. Support on the night will come from Ian Brown’s regular tour comrade DJ Lowrider.

Ian Brown – Top Ten Golden Greats

We caught up with Aziz for a chat ahead of the gig.

Getintothis: Tell us how the Monkey Business project came about
Aziz Ibrahim: “Originally, I’ve always looked at the Unfinished Monkey Business album and always thought about how it was never promoted to, or exploited to, its full potential, as in it didn’t give people an insight as to what the songs were about. In a way the album was almost, to me – this is my perspective, not Ian’s – almost a protest album. It said something about musicians, especially from our era. We had something to say. And in the statement of making an album with no producer, no engineers or whatever, just making it old school as in the way you’d make it in your little box room – you just made music – that’s how it came about.

Making an album and having the courage to make something where you didn’t put the sheen on it, the polish on it and everybody was doing that. Other bands were using John Leckie, for instance, for their next album, whether it was Cast or Manics – there were various bands who wanted to work with John. In a sense, I think, I can’t speak for Ian, but Ian’s mentality, I felt was always “Let’s do the opposite”. Or do what he felt, which was just: “I can make an album, I don’t need anybody to help me make an album”.

Maybe musically he likes to feed off other people, to bounce ideas off each other – you know the way the chemistry works in a band. And it was great, because the co-operation between two people, for instance, which is what happened in the early days of it was just the two of us bouncing ideas and enjoying music in the old school way.

Getintothis: Anything attached to it?
Aziz Ibrahim: “Nothing attached. It was just for the fun of it. There was no record deal in place. There was nothing in place. Just the aftermath of the Roses. I have to talk about the way the album came about because it’s part of the story of why I’m doing what I’m doing now. The album was finished, really, just between the two of us. Some songs were brought in from, let’s call it The Third Coming … and then there was this finished album. We began with this fantastic band, Sylvan Richardson on bass, Simon Moore [on drums]and we had this really eclectic band, an ethnic minority majority. There was West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians and there was [Ian], your Englishman. That was the core. It just felt fantastic.

The series of events that followed were that Ian was, wrongfully, incarcerated and that was towards the beginning, really. We’d just begun to do some shows abroad. We’d played Japan and we’d done some shows in Europe. We’d come home from a show in Paris and this event happened. I call it “an event” because it’s such a story. It really depressed me how an innocent person could get sent down for something like that. It happens all the time, yeah, I know. But it basically put a halt to Unfinished Monkey Business because when Ian came out he was already in a state of mind where he wanted to … he’d written a fresh new load of songs.

So then Golden Greats came about. So Unfinished just went by. So, I’ve always wanted to take that album out on the road. Just recently, somebody mentioned to me it was the 20th anniversary of the album … and I thought to myself this is a great time to let people enjoy that album because they had had an opportunity really to get into it. I always wanted to take the songs which I’d co-written, to take them further so that they evolved. When you play a song it evolves and you see what works and what doesn’t. So, I asked Inder and thought it would be a great time to get together – we hadn’t played together for such a long time. And for us to work on the songs and the material to take them to where they should have gone.”

The Stone Roses – Top Ten

Getintothis: To give them room to breathe?
Aziz Ibrahim: “To mature. It’s as simple as that. I thought if we give them the music between us, the percussion and my guitar, my state of mind and also over the years I’ve grown in confidence as a vocalist – I’ve never thought of myself as a great singer. I wanted, needed, the confidence to become a frontman. [I’m not] hiding behind a guitar all my life. Over the years, I had a band with Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. And then working with Dalbir Singh as a duo, boosting my confidence as a vocalist and a frontman, so I could handle the singing parts. It was second nature to me anyway, having words with Ian on various albums and songs. And then I contacted Ian and said: “Listen, this is what I’d like to do, how do you feel about that? Inder and I would like to celebrate the fact that you gave us an opportunity to collaborate and contribute our south Asian culture into the music. I’d like to celebrate that in a tour. Inder and I would like to go out as a duo, but we’re open to suggestions. Is that cool with you?” Ian OK’d it, gave it his blessing and here we are.

The thing is, once you start something, it starts to grow. People haven’t heard about it, or are just starting to hear about it. [And I thought] we need to give this time to grow, for them to get to know about it, come to the shows and enjoy it. Well, hopefully, enjoy it. And that’s what’s been happening. It’s turned into the 21st birthday. But it’s also given us an opportunity for promoters to pick up on it and say “I like that show”

Getintothis: It is something to be celebrated. I’m going to use the NME as an example – when the whole Stone Roses thing came to an end, they seemed to quite angry that Ian was working on his own.

Aziz Ibrahim: “The ENEMY as we liked to call them, like quite a few others, didn’t understand Unfinished Monkey Business, they jumped on the typical bandwagon of: “it’s not produced and it’s not fully this and that …”

Getintothis: That’s the joy of it though
Aziz Ibrahim: “Exactly. The joy of it was that it was supposed to be unfinished, unpolished. The title says exactly what it is. We were laughing. I remember Ian and me going: “Who are these guys? What are they on? Can they not read English? This is what it’s supposed to be.” It was almost like a punk rock statement in the sense that people with heart make statements like this to say “We decide, not the corporates and the big companies. We’re a kind of a band or artists that can make a statement like that and take a chance on something. We’ve got the courage to stand up and do something like this. And anyone with any nous will enjoy it for what it is, will see that and will celebrate exactly what this album represents”. It is more than Ian saying: “This is my solo album and I can write songs and I can stand up on my own two feet”. He already knew that, people who know him knew that. He has nothing to prove. So, in a sense it was just a rock and roll statement. In my opinion it was a finger up to everybody.”

Getintothis on the Stone Roses

Getintothis: I think it just didn’t fit into a box. Which again is part of the joy of it.
Aziz Ibrahim: “It never did. If you looked at the press at the time, they had already put their money behind a certain horse, they’d already put their money behind the demise of the Roses, who were a “disastrous combination of people”. They were right in some respects – who doesn’t know that the best of any band is the early chemistry. I’m not an Oasis fan, even though they’re friends, but the first album shows the beauty of the chemistry of youth and of friendship. Making that statement of the first album of the Roses …”

Getintothis: I think that says a lot about first albums in general
Aziz Ibrahim: “Camaraderie, friendships, that kind of thing. Of course [the press]were right about that. But they weren’t right about the future – what Ian was capable of. They had no idea of what he was capable of [doing]. They backed another horse. But to deny Ian for what he’s capable of … The strength and influence he had within the band is huge. I could see that. For me it was a new experience working with Ian – a musician of his calibre. I know people who say: “Oh Aziz, you can play this and you can play that and you’ve been in this band and you’ve come from quite diverse tastes” but I’d never worked with an artist like Ian Brown before. I learned so much.

Even when I joined the Roses, I learned so much. So the whole journey has been a learning curve. Unfinished Monkey Business and the reason for doing it as a tour is that learning curve. I wanted to put everything I’d learned into practise. I did want to make a cultural statement with that album because there are lots of cultural elements on that [album]. From the b-sides to the context within it. The tones and sounds we used were never mentioned in the press. … All I’m looking for is equality. I’m looking for diversity. I’m looking for the cultural content and people to recognise the work you do. Nothing more and nothing less.”

Getintothis: How are the gigs connecting with the crowds? What are the crowds like?
Aziz Ibrahim: “Superb. You can see passion and energy in faces. You can hear it in conversation. People really love these songs. If you do a good job of them, it takes them that step further. … With the freedom of just being Inder and myself, we can do anything we want. We can let our personalities stretch out in the music. We took a chance. We didn’t have a drummer, we didn’t have a bass player. We could have rung Simon Moore and Sylvan Richardson if they were interested, or some of the other members of the band. But I felt it needed that south Asian expression in there and our interpretation through our instruments and the way that we play. Keep it rock and roll, but put that cultural element in there.

Less is more, sometimes. I know it’s a cliché but it works. I exploit exactly that principle. It gives more space to branch out with the set and we can see it in peoples’ reactions. We’ve given them a show where you could be paying £30 for a ticket – it could be in an arena, but we’re doing it in intimate venues, interesting venues, just the two of us [means]we can give insight into every song because I was there at the foundation and the writing of them. Even some of the songs that I didn’t write, that Ian wrote, I know how they came about, how they happened, where we were at the time. Letting people in, like social media where you can get an insight to the whole story is all part of the journey.

I’ve always wanted to play Liverpool. I just remember playing in the early days of Ian Brown’s band and we were at the Royal Court at a sell out show … there’s a love and affinity we experienced, always in Liverpool, always in Glasgow, always in Dublin, always in Belfast. And other places, too. I can’t knock anywhere, but for some reason, I’ve always had a close affinity to those particular shows.

I want people to experience the shows that we’re capable of. I think, given the opportunity and a build up to more and more people being aware of them. At the moment I feel people aren’t aware of the show – they’ve never heard us, really. And when they hear us flex out on a stage, they’ll get a shock. It’s like “I never expected this”. I believe you deliver a show to its full potential, whether it’s free, whether it’s £5 or whether it’s £50, you should still deliver the same show.”