Although Manchester legends The Stone Roses may have called it a day after the band unexpectedly reformed in October 2011, the legacy remains.
One of the big deals about their return was the reappearance of drummer Reni, so elusive in the 16 years following his departure from the band in 1995.
Arguably the best drummer of his generation, and a genius, we’re here to celebrate the legend—even though it seems he’s returned to his elusive ways.
Reni Bangs the Drums
Reni is a naturally gifted genius often hailed as the best drummer of his generation by many producers, journalists, and music industry professionals.
But one of the unfortunate things is he remains quite obscure in the drumming community. You never see him in, say, a Rolling Stone magazine list of Top 100 Drummers.
Quite ludicrous, really, when Dave Grohl is always up there in the top 10. As much as we like Grohl, he’s nowhere near Reni’s level.
In fact, we keep coming across people unaware of Reni’s brilliance, dismissing him as mediocre or worse. This viewpoint is usually down to ignorance, listening to She Bangs the Drums on the radio and thinking that’s it.
But watching him in his heyday, he was obviously one of the best drummers on the planet. As Pete Garner, formerly of The Stone Roses, said:
“Reni was so much better than any drummer in a little band, like another level. He’d learned his craft. Everyone else I knew in bands had started like we did and you work at it, but he was already…. He’d been doing gigs when he was a kid. Those early gigs basically people would just lock onto him, it was pretty mindblowing really. Now, he’s gone down in history as the hat and the Fools Gold riff but most people have not seen Reni drum like he can drum. Later on in the band he toned it down. Those early gigs it was always him people would talk about afterwards, ‘Where did you find that fucking drummer?'”
It’s an odd state of affairs. There’s very little footage that’s been released of Reni from early Stone Roses gigs.
Some of it is on YouTube, gigs from 1985 at the Haçienda. There’s a short section of that at the start of this feature. From the 30 minute gig, that’s pretty much the only time the cameraman spent recording Reni, instead focussing 99% on Ian Brown leaping about the place.
Meanwhile, in the background, you’ve got one of the greatest drummers in history going ballistic. It’s annoying to have lost that golden visual opportunity.
Alan John Wren (“Reni”) is now in his late 50s. His drumming style has varied during the numerous iterations of the band.
He joined The Stone Roses in 1984 and immediately became a sensation, with Mancs flocking to see the band just to see the guy play (the band’s music wasn’t particularly good at the time, largely being a post-punk noise).
The Who’s Pete Townshend saw an early gig—he was hosting an anti-heroin do in London.
He immediately recognised Reni as the most naturally gifted drummer he’d seen since Keith Moon. The band was already aware their drummer was better.
The story goes Townshend then tried to steal Reni for his solo album, but the drummer declined the offer, preferring to forge ahead and leave a new legacy.
The opportunity came when The Stone Roses made a mid-80s musical shift after deciding not to release what would have been a punky debut album—Garage Flower.
From 1986 onwards the Stone Roses found its classic sound, which is a mix of psychedelia (although the band denied it was a psychedelic band, but the influences are there to see), jazz, blues, and rock.
This allowed Reni to show the full range of his natural talent.
Unusually, he cut back to a three-piece kit, added in his backing vocals to many songs, and let his live performances do the talking.
All of this helped him define the sound of the Madchester generation, as he and Mani influenced (and riffed off) the burgeoning dance music craze of the late ’80s.
But the drummer didn’t stray too far away from his influences, as rock and jazz (we feel, at least) were at the heart of his playing.
You have propulsive tom tom numbers like Elephant Stone that are highly energetic. But his feel for the drums was also perfectly suited for quieter moments.
Standing Here is a classic example of that, with the closing segment of the song relying on a soothing complement to Brown’s contemplative lyrics.
And his jazzy influences are also ever present, again on Waterfall (a song on which Reni’s backing harmonies are incredible). It’s the inverse of Standing Here, with Reni let loose in the song’s exhilarating closing moments.
Well worth watching on the famous Blackpool 1989 gig, by the way, get your earphones in for that one. The final 40 seconds are incredible.
But his chillout style was perhaps at its very best on the band’s most relaxed number—Shoot You Down.
You can see throughout the Blackpool 1989 gig the level he was at.
Across the full 60 minutes, his drumming was astonishing. Superhuman. We make the claim it’s one of the all-time great drumming performances. Nuanced, subtle, thunderous, energetic—all the hallmarks of genius.
Again, for the official recording of that gig, the camera crew spent far too much time lingering on Ian Brown.
But the tantalising shots we get of the drummer show the then 25 year old at his spectacular best. A blur of energy, fusing John Bonham‘s technical prowess with Keith Moon’s showmanship.
What made him so good? It’s the Mozart consideration—where does genius come from?
Reni was a natural talent as a kid and hung around instruments in his parent’s pub, with locals classing him as a “freak” due to his unnatural abilities.
So from a young age there’s a mixture of gaining experience rapidly, plus his natural abilities as a drummer.
By the time he was 20, he was highly accomplished across a wide range of music (and could also play the bass, guitar, and piano).
And he has a distinct style. Speaking in 2009 for the 20th anniversary of the eponymous debut album, producer John Leckie said:
“Reni just had a collection of drums – you can’t say Reni plays a lovely drum kit – every tom, cymbal, and drum is from a different kit. That’s how he makes it up. He’s such a great player. When I listen to him play, I just sort of think, ‘Fuck! No-one else plays like that!'”
His style is a merger of rock, jazz, and his own energy and enthusiasm. He was very creative with his approach.
Some of The Stone Roses’ songs required a more traditional approach, such as with She Bangs the Drums.
So we think some of the confusion with music fans over Reni’s abilities come from records like that, where he plays it straight.
Keep in mind Bonham, Moon etc. also did these on studio albums. The former on tracks such as Kashmir—great drummers know what great songs require.
But live performances are a different matter.
And Reni was spectacular. You can see his brilliance in the band’s live performances, where he sings and drums simultaneously.
Take this Finland 1990 performance of Sally Cinnamon. He’s effortless. Fluid, energetic, and he unleashes a physics-defying roll at 2:30 that most drummers just wouldn’t physically be able to do.
From our understanding after 20+ years studying drumming, it’s his limb independence matched with an intrinsic ability to know where to fit into a song.
He’s extremely loose-limbed and capable of unnerving bursts of physics-defying prowess. All whilst remaining subtle, innovative, and a showman.
His natural ability for holding the sticks, his speed, and agility simply mean he can do things other drummers can only dream of.
Then, of course, there’s the singing element. Singing drummers aren’t unusual (check out Levon Helm), but for his incredibly physical style—to reel off relentless backing harmonies is remarkable.
Elephant Stone, for instance, is a relentless battering of the right tom-tom, including sweeping one arm under and over the other.
Reni does it all whilst providing those distinctive harmonic backing vocals.
But what’s impressive is his ability to easily shift between styles. The Second Coming album showcased his rock grooves, providing big rhythms.
In the bootleg rehearsal recordings, there are his drum solos, his take on the famous Bonham shuffle, and much more saved for posterity.
His drumming across Second Coming is fantastic, tracks such as the sprawling Daybreak provided the world with one of the all time great pieces of drumming.
Listen to 4:20 onward. Not the best isolation in the world here, but you still get the groove and his relentless inventiveness with fills.
But it was a great shame we didn’t get to see him touring with the band in 1995 as we feel he was really hitting the absolute peak of his skills around then.
All of which seems lost on the drumming community! And this is the main reason we spent the time piecing this feature together.
There’s just not much about online about Reni. Certainly not enough praising his drumming skills to the extent they deserve.
This guy is up there with Bonham, Moon, Baker, and the other rock drumming greats. Much respect to you, Mr. Wren.
Reunions, Bucket Hats, & The Future
Oh yes, so what happened to Reni after he suddenly quit The Stone Roses in 1995, not long before the band’s US tour?
He was replaced by Robbie Maddix who did a solid job in his place.
After leaving, Reni became highly elusive and not much was heard of him. From what we gather, he was working as a landlord around Manchester.
Other old articles from the mid-late 1990s hint he was working on solo projects. He’d even built a small studio next to his house, but then when it was robbed his projects were once again delayed.
In 2001, he did reappear with his band The Rub (named after a Shakespeare line, “To sleep; perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub”) playing the guitar and singing his songs.
Unfortunately, there were never any official releases and The Rub quickly disbanded.
And Reni went AWOL with The Rub. Barely anything was heard from him between 1995 and late 2011, other than a few bits and bobs.
He provided a random interview in 2005 with Mani to Ceefax. During that he mentioned a Stone Roses reunion wasn’t an impossibility.
Blow and behold, in October 2011 Reni suddenly reappeared in public with The Stone Roses for the band’s reunion press conference!
And the four members promptly went off on various world tours up until June 2017, after which (and without officially announcing it) they called it a day.
For the reformation, Reni’s drumming style changed again.
Taking to a double bass drum kit, he expanded the array of drums and cymbals to a much greater degree.
And after a tentative start in 2012, in subsequent tours he was full of wild enthusiasm and relentless creativity. The Guardian said of a May 2016 gig:
“On the face of it, the drummer is the most obviously replaceable component of a band, but while fans are divided over the merits of a live Led Zeppelin without John Bonham, or Black Sabbath minus Bill Ward, the idea of a Reni-free Roses is untenable …
With an extra bass drum, what look like new teeth and a grin that never leaves his face, Reni has regained his youthful pomp and is playing as well as ever. His backing singing and those trademark funky grooves are powering the band with a gusto that they haven’t had in years.”
He wasn’t as unnervingly brilliant on his return, age having cost him of the flexibility and energy he had at his peak around age 25.
But a Reni with diminished abilities is still one of the best drummers on the planet. And we got to see him live twice in Manchester—a real privilege.
And The Stone Roses did a (on the whole) great job with their return, playing on their strengths and providing strong live shows.
Also, a note here on the various hats the drummer wore during his time in the spotlight.
During the band’s heyday the drummer would always wear what became known as the Reni hat. These remain popular in England, especially since the band reformed.
Even if it is now all over (which would be wise—after six years the band simply toured and only released two new songs), Reni hats and the drummer should reach legendary status.
To be awkward about it, we’ve included a few clips from the band’s reunion shows. He did take to wearing the Reni hat for the live shows, although he also regularly wore a strange dreadlock hat thing.
As the band didn’t give interviews to the press, it’s rather unclear what was going on there— but that added to the guy’s elusive nature.
As the band is now gone for good, we’re sincerely hoping this doesn’t cause him to disappear again.
Always elusive and keen to steer clear of the limelight, the very few interviews he’s provided show a ready wit and great sense of humour.
But he’s made a bunch of money now from the reunion tours. And we’re happy about that—the guy deserves reward for his contributions to music.
But how about a one-man drumming tour, Reni? If not, then all the best.