In 1989, a band changed my life, but when they recently reformed I didn't want to know. This weekend, I gave my scepticism the slip and witnessed the resurrection.
When I hit my teens in the mid-80s I was lost in soft rock (Heart fanclub member), pomposity (owned every Queen album) and bland pop (thought Kim Wilde was a visionary). Since then, many bands have impacted my life in unexpected ways. My first grown up band was New Order, when I took a chance on Substance in 1987. New Order put me on the right track, but no band has ever meant more to me than The Stone Roses. In 1989, they permeated every aspect of my life and changed everything.
The past was yours...
Lee (my friend since the age of five) and I 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. Lee and I were into something that, at first, nobody else in our dreary town seemed to know about. That was a beautiful thing and it was our thing, yet we did nothing but evangelise to anyone who'd listen. The sun was shining, the music was amazing, and the future was ours.
The Stone Roses were more than the records, more than musicians, more than a formula. In 1989 they meant something because they were the epicentre of a small revolution that we could attach to. Their time was right, and they mattered to a diverse audience of kids for whom everything else seemed fake. They bridged the gap between indie and house. For a short time they were the culture of our country. Their influence was everywhere and they were hard to point at directly, a kind of hyperobject. Hyperculture. What the world was waiting for.
Some memories I can replay as though a home movie. I remember lounging in our little garden, on a blazing Spring afternoon, listening to the eponymous debut album for the first time. I'd turned up the volume on my portable stereo as I Wanna Be Adored faded in, and was immediately sold. I heard Waterfall evolve into Don't Stop and I distinctly recall taking off my fuzzy orange headphones and turning to my Dad to explain how the last song was now playing backwards — and also forwards — and how this was blowing my mind. He cared about music and I remember that he smiled.
Lee and I would go 'round each other's houses and play the records. We obsessively collected every song on vinyl. We never missed the music papers and we'd exchange magazines; even the smallest article or update was valuable. We plastered our bedrooms in posters and cuttings (pin-ups of Kylie, Kim and Belinda didn't stand a chance) and we'd endlessly discuss the music in great detail, from the earliest available demos to the latest b-sides. We loved the b-sides. We cared about other bands, but it was The Stone Roses we adored.
Eventually, it seemed like almost everyone cared, and they dominated my first year at sixth form college. 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 us wore Stone Roses t-shirts, causing Mr Holmes to ask accusingly if this was some sort of practical joke at his expense. It wasn't, but there was a clear message: this is who we are, and you are not like us. You don't understand, because you are old.
In my second year at college, things changed; all you'd hear in the common room would be Nevermind, Screamadelica, or maybe some techno. By 1991 The Stone Roses were weakened by a ridiculous contract, unable to record, and in the High Court. The energy of revolution fizzled out, and our heroes now seemed all too human. We held out for the big-budget comeback but The Second Coming was a disappointment — sunless and weirdly Led Zeppy — and an unhappy unraveling followed. Music had moved on. We'd all moved on.
Fast-forward twenty years, to October 2011. I was working away in Brooklyn. Twitter informed me The Stone Roses had reformed. This was surprising, considering guitarist John Squire 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, so the idea that they'd get back together seemed as likely as The Smiths reuniting. It took me a few minutes to verify the news.
I declared there and then that I would not support this reunion, that I did not consider it in any way to be a good thing, and that I would not go to the enormo-gigs scheduled for Summer. Everything that happened up to 1991: that's The Stone Roses I love. My loyalty was tested throughout the messy mid-90s, and I already resented whatever happened next. A reunion was a bad idea, and everything I'd loved felt threatened. Had everything I'd invested in them been for nothing?
Two weeks ago, I received a text from my friend Ben. He had a spare ticket to the homecoming show at Heaton Park, Manchester. Until this point my scepticism had held firm; no good would come of me being there. And then, out of the blue comes Ben, needing a quick decision. Yeah, I'd love to go!
I was honestly nervous from that moment on. For a start, I've been to massive gigs with 75,000 Mancunians before. It's all mass shoutalongs, anxiety-inducing bar crushes, overflowing portaloos and airborne pints of piss. Against this delightful backdrop my once favourite band would return to ruin the memories and trash the legacy. From no angle did it look like a great day out. A field of thirtysomethings heading for disappointment, seduced by needless nostalgia.
I stopped to think for a second. That debut album is always up there in any best albums of all time list, and kids who weren't even born in 1989 seem switched on. They're a legendary band. They sold a quarter of a million tickets for these two shows in one hour. It might be amazing. Maybe I can sidestep my scepticism because, you know, I should be there.
I'm standing there...
And so, I'm standing there, in the rain, in Heaton Park, with Ben, Ollie, Sally and 75,000 strangers. 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.
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 around me Mancunians are high on poppers and shouting every word, du-du-duh-ing every riff. This painful chorus 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 starts to chill out a bit, and I can see and hear. Ian’s voice seems alright tonight. The band is tight; they were always tight. John, Mani, and Reni are incredible. I suddenly feel happy, a sense of relief. I’m singing, and I'm beaming. I’m in a field watching The Stone Roses homecoming. And it’s good. It’s very good.
There are a few low points. Playing backwards track Don’t Stop probably isn’t the best idea, but they're playing every track off the debut album, so they have to. Ian’s voice does fail him a few times, and as much as I love Something’s Burning it creates a lull halfway through the set. This Is The One is a fantastic 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 busy. 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 more vast than ever before. Waterfall is incredible, and at times the lightness of the recordings gives way to the punky angular noises they made on those mid-80s demos. There is mass hysteria during Made of Stone, and singalong hands-in-the-air solidarity for She Bangs The Drums. They play a thirteen-minute I Am The Resurrection and I’m transported back to Thursday nights dancing on the stage at Rock City. I sing every word, and rediscover some of those old shapes. I’m in heaven.
It's over. We shuffle from the field slowly, 75,000 individuals but one connected mass. There are fireworks above, while 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. Ollie turns to me and says “I think we just experienced something really special”. He’s right. We did.
Bye bye badmen
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. Many say they only ever had “a couple of songs”, which is 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. You might notice the weakness 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 get that, but for a few short years The Stone Roses meant everything to people like me. So try being nice, or quiet.
Judging by their homecoming, they still have the power to unify and make us feel euphoric. 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 okay. I wish I could explain it, but then again, I’m kind of glad it was ours, not yours.
Heaton Park, Manchester, 30th June 2012
- I Wanna Be Adored
- Mersey Paradise
- (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister
- Sally Cinnamon
- Where Angels Play
- Shoot You Down
- Bye Bye Badman
- Ten Storey Love Song
- Standing Here
- Fools Gold
- Something’s Burning
- Don’t Stop
- Love Spreads
- Made Of Stone
- This Is The One
- She Bangs The Drums
- Elizabeth My Dear
- I Am The Resurrection