3rd July 2012
In 1989, a band changed my life. In 2011 that band unexpectedly reformed, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. This weekend, I saw that band play. On my return home, I find myself writing about why I fell in love, why I became a sceptic, and how I ended up in awe once again.
Since 1989, other bands have impacted on my life in ways I never expected but usually needed. As I hit my teens in the mid-80s, I was cluelessly lost in soft rock like Heart, pompous rock like Queen, and bland pop from the likes of Kim Wilde and Paula Abdul.
The first band that really mattered to me was New Order, around 1987, when I bought Substance on vinyl. You could say that New Order put me on the right track, but no band has ever meant more to me than The Stone Roses. In 1989, they really did change everything for me.
Myself and Lee Walker (my friend since the age of five) both lived in Stapleford, Nottingham. We both went to Bramcote Park comprehensive school, and we both fell in love with The Stone Roses in our final year at school. Lee and I were into something nobody else in our dreary town seemed to know about. That was a wonderful thing. It was our thing, and yet we did nothing but evangelise to anyone in earshot.
Some memories we carry as though pristine photographs or film. One of mine sees me lounging in our little garden, on a blazingly hot Summer afternoon, listening to The Stone Roses debut album for the very first time. I’d cranked it up loud on my Matsui portable stereo and fell for it a minute into I Wanna Be Adored. I heard Waterfall evolve into Don’t Stop and was in another world. I distinctly recall taking my headphones off, and turning to my Dad to explain how the last song was now being played backwards — yet also forwards — and how this was amazing. I don’t remember the exact words, but I know I was truly excited. This was new, special, incredible.
Lee and I would go ‘round each other’s houses and play the records. We obsessively collected every song on vinyl. We’d swap magazines featuring articles and interviews. Our walls were plastered in posters and cuttings (gradually pushing out the pin-ups of Kylie Minogue and Belinda Carlisle, in my case) and we’d endlessly discuss the nuances of the music, from the earliest available demos to the latest b-sides. We loved the b-sides. There were other bands we cared about, but it was The Stone Roses we adored.
Eventually, it seemed like almost everyone cared. Through my first year at college, the band dominated. In the common room, we’d take it in turns to play the same songs. One day in Computer Science (a subject I failed, by the way) eight of the ten students wore Stone Roses t-shirts, causing Mr. Holmes to ask accusingly if this was some kind of practical joke being played out at his expense. It wasn’t, but then again in some ways it was. This is who we are, and you are not like us. You don’t understand. You are old.
In my second year at college things changed, and all you’d hear in the common room would be Nevermind, Screamadelica, or maybe some techno. By 1991 The Stone Roses were at the mercy of a ridiculous contract, unable to record, and in the High Court. The energy and revolution began to fizzle out, and our heroes suddenly seemed all too human. We held out for The Second Coming, but ultimately that album was a disappointment. Music had moved on. We’d all moved on.
Fast-forward twenty years or so. It’s October 2011, and I’m sat in a Brooklyn apartment. Twitter tells me The Stone Roses have reformed. One of The Stone Roses is a man called John Squire, who had recently declared that he had “no desire to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester band The Stone Roses”. These were men who had grown to dislike each other. This seemed about as likely as The Smiths reuniting, and it took a few minutes to verify the news.
From my protracted position sat in Brooklyn, I declared right there and then that I would not buy in to this reunion, that I did not consider it in any way to be a good thing, and that I would definitely not go to the super-gigs announced for the Summer. I love The Stone Roses, but I love The Stone Roses I knew between 1989 and 1991. I never really loved the mid-90s version (fragmented lineup and terrible live), and I already resented the reformed 2011 version even more. This was not a good idea, and all my memories felt threatened. Had everything I’d ever invested in that band been for nothing?
Two weeks ago, I received a text from my friend Ben. He had a spare ticket to the second homecoming show at Heaton Park, Manchester. Until this point I’d held my view on the reunion. No good would come of me being there. And then, just like that, I replied to Ben. I’d love to go.
For the last two weeks I’ve honestly been nervous about it. For a start, I’ve been to massive gigs with 75,000 Mancunians before. It’s all mass singalongs and pints of piss, with enormous bar queues and insufficient toilets. I swore I’d never go to another stadium-sized show ever again. Couple that with the probable public demise of my favourite band and it wouldn’t really be a great day out. We’d all be thirtysomethings, all reminiscing, all ending up disappointed. Nostalgia: who needs it?
I stopped to think about all of this. The Stone Roses have somehow become legendary. That debut album is always up there in the best albums of all time lists. Kids who weren’t even born seem to love them.
They sold a quarter of a million tickets for these shows in one hour.
And so, I’m standing there, in the rain, in Heaton Park, with three great fiends. I’ve enjoyed The Wailers, and hated Beady Eye. I haven’t managed to get a drink, aside from some whisky I smuggled in via hip flask. I need a piss.
At around 9.10pm, The Stone Roses take to the stage. The atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve experienced in a field ever, be it at Glastonbury or any other big gig. They play I Wanna Be Adored, and I can’t really see them, and all I can hear are Mancunians high on poppers singing every word, and every guitar and bass riff. This continues through Mersey Paradise, and I’m starting to wonder why I came.
The first couple of songs out of the way, and the crowd, most of which is stoned, starts to chill out a bit, and I can see and hear. Ian’s voice is alright it seems. The band is tight. The band was always tight. John, Mani, and Reni are incredible. They always were. I suddenly feel happy, relieved. I notice I’m singing, and beaming. I’m in a field watching The Stone Roses homecoming. And it’s good. It’s really good.
There are a few low points. Playing backwards track Don’t Stop probably isn’t the best idea, but they play every track off the debut album so they have to. Ian’s voice really does fail him a few times, and as much as I love Something’s Burning it’s a track that creates a lull half way through the show. This Is The One is an amazing record, yet hearing the Mancunian crowd shout “This Is The One” tonelessly for four minutes reduces an anthem to a football chant (Manchester United take to the field with this song). Still, that’s pretty much all I’ll chalk up in the cons column.
The pros column is bursting. They play a few of my favourite b-sides. Where Angels Play transitions into Shoot You Down (as they often did live) and the coupling is perfect. They do a massive Fools Gold that goes on for maybe ten minutes (9:53?), cranking out something bigger than ever before. Waterfall is incredible, and at times the guitar sounds far outweigh the occasional lightness of the recordings, nodding to the punky angular noises the young Stone Roses made during the demos of the mid-80s. There is mass anthem hysteria singalong hands-in-the-air madness for Made Of Stone and She Bangs The Drums. They play a thirteen-minute I Am The Resurrection, and I’m transported back to dancing on the stage each student night at Rock City. Again, I sing every word, I rediscover those dance moves, albeit less energetic. I’m in heaven. Really.
We shuffle from the field slowly, as only 75,000 people can. There are fireworks above, whilst Bob Marley’s Redemption Song plays, and we all sing along. The mood is victorious, and everyone seems happy. They did it. They nailed it. My friend Olly turns to me and says “I think I just experienced something really special”. He’s right. He did.
“Haters” is probably a bit strong, but there are a lot of people who don’t like The Stone Roses; don’t “get” it. It’s OK to dislike things of course, but some wear their dislike proudly like a badge of dubious honour. Many say they only have “a couple of songs”, which is massive stinky bullshit. The fact is, The Stone Roses will be in your face a lot this year. They trended continuously on Twitter for four days. There will be footage from a few festivals on TV, and badly captured video on YouTube. You won’t like it.
Live footage of The Stone Roses exposes the poorness of Ian Brown’s voice. On TV, up close, they’ll look old. They are old. You’ll see and hear this, and be utterly bemused as to why people like me care so much about this band. I understand entirely, but consider this:
The Stone Roses are more than the records, more than musicians, more than a formula. In 1989 they changed people’s lives because they created a small revolution that we could embrace. Their time was right, and they mattered to a diverse audience of kids for whom everything else was fake. They bridged the gaps between indie and dance. For a short time they were the culture of our country. They were what the world was waiting for (or at least, what people like me were waiting for). And we fucking loved them for it.
Judging by their performance at Heaton Park, they still have the power to bring us together and make us feel magnificent. We came together because of them, then we all went away and grew up. And then we came back together. If you know why that matters, and you found what you were looking for at Heaton Park, you’ll know what I mean. if you don’t understand, and can’t make sense of what I’m saying, then that’s fine. I wish I could explain it. But then again, I’m glad I can’t.
Heaton Park, Manchester, 30th June 2012