There are few things in life more powerful or enjoyable than the shared experience of live music, watching your favourite band, play your favourite songs surrounded by your best mates punching the air in delight. Graeme McIver braves the showers, flying glass bottles and the out of tune singing to end a 23 year wait to see The Stone Roses on Glasgow Green.
"It takes time for people to fall in love with you....but it’s inevitable"
Ian Brown 1989
Let me put you in the picture…
The first 6 months of 1990 was an important and exciting time to be active in left politics. Genuine world changing events seemed to be happening on a weekly if not daily basis. The US had invaded Panama, the Berlin Wall finally came down, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the Communist Party of Russia voted to end its monopoly of power signalling the end of the Cold War and the Poll Tax was introduced into England and Wales one year after Thatcher imposed it on Scotland. I would like to say that I was consumed by activity, at meetings every night, immersing myself in the big issues of the day, but I wasn’t. I was 21, just moved into my own flat and was mad about a band from Manchester. Don’t get me wrong, I was moved and inspired by Mandela’s release, the poll tax had helped to politicise me, but whilst many of you Point readers might have been thinking about events in Moscow, Cape Town and Berlin my thoughts were focused on a field, in the middle of industrial complex on the Mersey Estuary near Widnes. Along with a dozen or so mates from Selkirk we set off in a hired van for Spike Island to see the Stone Roses. With just one, glorious debut album and a handful of singles under their belt the Roses were in the vanguard of a new and exciting music scene that changed the face of pop music and youth culture in the UK. The rave generation had a guitar band they could like and indie kids stopped gazing at their shoes and started to dance. We all liked the Madchester scene of Happy Mondays, The Inspiral Carpets, James and in my case New Order but in the Roses we’d found a band we adored.
“The time is now” shouted lead singer Ian Brown at sunset on Sunday 27th May 1990 as the Roses walked onto the stage and into musical folklore. For those of us who were there, that dusty, polluted field, with virtually no amenities, terrible sound and dangerously few access and exit points across the Sankey Canal became our generation’s Woodstock. Although surrounded by toxic dust, a concrete factory, smoke belching chimney’s and cooling towers, we felt that we were in an open air cathedral where 27,000 of the baggy generation worshipped at the alter of Brown, Squire, Mounfield and Wren. “The past was yours but the futures mine” sung Brown and at that moment to me there were two types of people in the world. Stone Roses fans who were either at the gig or who were gutted they couldn’t be there and the rest of humanity, who didn’t know about it, hadn’t heard of the group and who I held in the type of dismissive contempt that comes with the certainties and arrogance of youth.
Noel Gallagher would later be quoted; “Spike Island was the blueprint for my group. We were going to become the biggest band in the world. The Stone Roses, and the impact of that gig stretches so far beyond the gig and the music.”
Just two weeks later the band played a much smaller show inside a huge tent on Glasgow Green. One of the great regrets of my young life was that I didn’t go. Broke after our trip to Widnes, (via Blackpool and Warrington) I thought that there would be plenty other opportunities to see the group. Whilst Spike Island was a defining moment in that particular period of youth culture the gig on the Green was considered to by the Stone Roses best live performance. It also marked the end of what is now referred to as phase one of the Roses career. Embroiled in contractual disputes and internal tensions it would be another four years before they released their second album and even longer before they toured again and I got to see them at Barrowland Ballroom. Within months of the release of The Second Coming the band started to disintegrate with first the drummer, Alan “Reni” Wren walking out followed a few months later by guitarist and song smith John Squire. Finally, after a series of disastrous live appearances culminating in an excruciating set at the Reading Festival in 1996, the Stone Roses split.
The chaos of those final months was not entirely unexpected or without precedent. The turbulent history of The Stone Roses appears to be a blue-print of how not to have a successful music career. Just as the band started to gain a modicum of success they almost all ended up in jail after they attacked the offices of FM Revolver, a record label to which they had signed earlier in their career and who had re-released a single, Sally Cinnamon, with a new cover and video without the bands permission. Covering the Wolverhampton based offices in paint and wrecking the car of the label’s boss they group caused an estimated £10,000 of damage and narrowly avoided incarceration. They also entered into perhaps one of the worst recording contracts in history with the label Silvertone, an off-shoot of Zomba Records. They were at the time poorly advised by their then manager, Gareth Evans, a hairdressing wide-boy who had allegedly impressed the band by dropping his trousers at their initial meeting to show them the underwear he was selling wholesale. When they were eventualy properly advised as to the inequity of the deal they then spent several years and hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to extricate themselves from the contract and suing Evans.
Turmoil followed them at every turn. On what should have been a breakthrough live TV appearance on BBC2’s The Late Show the power cut out just as they began to play Made of Stone. As presenter Tracey MacLeod apologised to the nation an irate Ian Brown could be heard shouting “amateurs” at the BBC technical staff. The press conference on the eve of Spike Island, held in a Manchester hotel, was interrupted by a journalist shouting at the band complaining about their rudeness to the gathered world press. Interviews for TV with Brown and Squire prior to the release of their debut album are toe-curling and embarrassing as they often maintained excruciating silences after being asked questions. Critics hit out at the vocal performances of an often off-key Ian Brown whilst a supposedly triumphant return to headline Glastonbury in 1995 was aborted when guitarist John Squire fell off his bike and broke his collar bone. After Reni and Squire left the group, the uber-cool Stone Roses hired the guitarist from the uber un-cool Simply Red and then, following a fractious press conference and woeful performance at the Reading Festival it was all over. The Stone Roses were no more. Over the years rumours abounded of possible reunions but these were debunked most forcefully by John Squire in 2009 when he produced an artwork that stated; “"I have no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminalManchester pop group The Stone Roses.”
So that should have been that, until in October 2011, following a series of leaks and hints, the four original members called a press conference at the Soho Hotel and announced that the Stone Roses were back together and would be going on tour for the first time since 1996. When tickets for their homecoming shows at Heaton Park Manchester went on sale, 150,000 were sold in 14 minutes. The band entered the Guinness Book of Records for the fastest selling concert tickets in UK history. Thanks to my mates Stuart and John I was one of the lucky ones to get hold of a first night ticket. Award winning film maker Shane Meadows announced he would be producing a documentary cataloguing the reunion, rehearsals and live shows whilst a film, entitled Spike Island, which follows the exploits of a young band who travel to the gig was released in June of this year.
Given the legacy of mishaps and letdowns, inconsistent live performances and a lack of material how was it possible that a band could generate such incredible cultural interest and demand for a reunion tour? The answer lies in the genius and the enduring power of their music and inparticular their eponymous debut album. It is this musical legacy and what it means to so many people that has bought the band, for want of a better phrase, a get out of jail card. Where other groups would have been confined to the dustbin of history or at least the bargain bins of record stores, the Roses continue to be a source of inspiration, influence and joy to a great many people.
From the opening bass lines of, I Wanna Be Adored to the closing guitar loops of, I am the Resurrection, the 1989 album The Stone Roses formed the soundtrack of my young life and has rarely left it since. Its one of those albums that you never tire of. It’s the one you reach for when you’ve had a few drinks and you’ve got some mates round. It’s the one you want your kids to hear. You play it when you’re happy or sad, celebrating or commiserating, stuck in traffic or speeding along the motorway. Although the band were rumoured at the time to be unhappy with the sound of the tracks, producer John Leckie helped create a record voted Best Album of all time in the NME, Best Record of All Time in a BBC 6 poll and has regularly been placed highly in various lists of all time greatest albums.
Alan McGee, founder of Creation Records said of the final track, I am the Resurrection; “The breakdown in that record is the greatest bass and drum breakdown in rock n roll history. I found the Stone Roses life changing to be honest. They made arguably the greatest debut album ever. If it wasn’t for the Stone Roses I probably wouldn’t have found Oasis. Absolutely fucking seminal!”
Liam Gallagher agreed, “They changed my life. People in bands weren’t cool to me – they were strange people in leather kecks, black jackets and gold guitars…but then the Roses appeared and they were wearing the same kind of clothes as our kid and his mates…I heard the album, saw them on TV and thought this is the band for me.”
Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers said, “The best rhythm section, the best guitarist, best front-man, great lyrics, brilliant artwork, amazing hair cuts, glorious tunes, close to perfection, they were my working class heroes.”
Never one for an understatement artist Damien Hirst said, “The Stone Roses are more important than Picasso”, whilst comedian Russell Brand was quoted, “Firstly the Roses stirred a generation into life, then they galvanised a city and finally paved the way for Noel Gallagher…but we’ll forgive them that for the first two!”
Whilst their music has never been overtly political the album seemed to catch the zeitgeist of the turbulent times of the late 80’s. The cover art, designed by guitarist John Squire was a Jackson Pollokesque piece of splattered paint with overlayed slices of lemon and the red, white and blue of the French tricolour on one side. Squire produced the work, entitled, Bye Bye Bad Man, as a tribute to the May 1968 student led riots in Paris saying, “Ian had met this French man when he was hitching around Europe, this bloke had been in the riots, and he told Ian how lemons had been used as an antidote to tear gas. Then there was (a) documentary—-a great shot at the start of a guy throwing stones at the police. I really liked his attitude." In the song of the same name Ian Brown sings, “in this citrus sucking sunshine…I’m throwing stones at you man, I want you black and blue and, I’m gonna make you bleed, gonna bring you down to your knees…”
Another album track, Elizabeth My Dear is a poisoned pen-letter to the Queen. Lasting less than a minute and set to the tune of Scarborough Fair, the song finishes with the sound of a silenced gun shot…
Tear me apart and boil my bones,
I’ll not rest till she’s lost her throne,
My aim is true, my message is clear,
It’s curtains for you, Elizabeth My Dear
Prior to the official reunion Brown and Squire performed the song together on stage at a Justice for Hillsborough Campaign Benefit in Manchester when they appeared with Mick Jones from the Clash and members of Liverpool band The Farm. It was the first time the duo had performed together in 16 years. To prove that age has not dimmed lead singers antipathy towards the royal family and authority in general Ian Brown stated prior to the Heaton Park shows; “my dislikes are Royalists and the Royal Family, working class Tories and the enslavement of the people by the ruling class elite.”
Elizabeth My Dear was the penultimate song on the set list at the famed Glasgow Green on June 9th 1990. Twenty three years and one week since their greatest triumph the Roses returned to the Green. This time I had a ticket, this time I wasn’t going to miss it.
In the Horseshoe Bar before hand and on the Green itself I met up with old friends who between us had seen the band at Spike Island, Glasgow Green, Whitley Bay Ice Rink, Barrowland Ballroom, Razzmatazz in Barcelona, (yes John, Stewart and Dave, we know you were there…you’ve only told us 100 times!) and Heaton Park Manchester. We shared jokes, anecdotes and stories about those gigs and the times we’d spent following and listening to the band. In a sense our conversations before hand were similar to those of footballs fans speaking before a game. To the outsider we present a united front, remain steadfast in support for our favourites and bristle at any criticism. Privately we share darker thoughts and concerns. Does our defence/rhythm section still have what it takes? Will our striker/lead singer hit the back of the net/high notes? Like most football clubs the Roses have had a habit of testing fans patience and loyalty. Yet just like most football fans we keep coming back for more.
The day started with Dundee favourites The View warming up the crowd as dark clouds gathered over East-end of Glasgow. The sun was back for the excellent Jake Bugg before Primal Scream reminded us they are one of the best live bands on the circuit. At the 1990 gig, it was said that the condensation that built up inside the tent hosting the concert turned to rain. At the 2013 show the rain came on for real soaking the crowd as the DJ played dance tunes from the late 80’s early 90’s. Amazingly, just before the Stone Roses took to the stage the rain stopped and a double rainbow appeared in the east over The People’s Palace. Stoned Love by the Supremes heralded the arrival of the band along with a surprise as the skirl of the pipes echoed around the Green. As Mani’s rumbling bass introduction to Adored rung out, the crowd jumped in unison and then began to sing the lead guitar part. Worries about Ian Brown’s vocals seem irrelevant as you can barely hear the band at all over the sound of every word being sung or more accurately chanted as if on the terraces.
I don’t have to sell my soul, he’s already in me
At the press conference held in Manchester in October 2011 to announce the reunion, the band promised that the live shows would be more than just a nostalgia trip. However comparing the set lists for both Glasgow Green shows, despite a gap of almost quarter of a century between them, then there are eleven songs the same as 1990 from a set list total of seventeen. (Fourteen songs were played at the first gig.) Unsurprisingly the majority of which are from the debut album but added for the first time since their last appearance in Glasgow is Elephant Stone which joins Sally Cinnamon, Fools Gold and Standing Here as songs revisited. The only songs the band did not play at the original gig are from the second album (Ten Storey Love Song, Love Spreads and Breaking Into Heaven) and the B-Side of the single One Love called, Something’s Burning. Although I sang along to the words of She Bangs the Drums the line, “kiss me where the sun don’t shine, the past was yours but the futures mine” lost the resonance it held back in that dusty field near Widnes.
With no new material and a similar set-list, (no wonder Brown commented, “this is a bit déjà vu”) the band leave themselves open to accusations of cashing in on the same old same old. Yet try telling that to the 55,000 who are singing along to every word whilst punching the air and hugging their mates.
I find myself in this review falling into a similar trap that Shane Meadows fell into during his documentary Made of Stone. Just prior to the Heaton Park shows last year, the band embarked on a short tour of Europe as part of their preparations. At the gig in Amsterdam the band were booed for not playing an encore after drummer Reni stormed off stage apparently angered at monitor and sound problems he was experiencing. Ian Brown took the brunt of the audiences wrath and announced to the jeering crowd that the “drummer’s a cunt!” It looked like history was repeating itself and the band were imploding on the eve of something special once again. Although Meadows had unlimited access to the band during this time he chose not to confront them or find out what had happened. This was an obvious weakness in the film but for Meadows the documentary was a love letter to his favourite band. The film is more about peoples love for the Stone Roses rather than the Stone Roses themselves. Meadows told the NME; “When all that stuff happened it made me feel physically sick. I hated it. I did the opposite of what most filmmakers would do: turned my cameras off, put my crew in a room and said that if anyone tries to sneak out they're off the job. We've all seen it a million times, like the classic Metallica documentary (Some Kind Of Monster) which I love when they're all in fucking counseling but it's a bit Spinal Tap. I was setting out to watch the rebirth of my favourite band of all time. I'm not Michael Moore trying to expose the president."
Just like Meadows I cannot find it within myself to stick the boot in to the Stone Roses. Yes Ian Brown’s singing is still dodgy but fucking hell, he’s THE coolest, most charismatic front-man ever. Yes the set list is the same as twenty three years ago but have you heard that rhythm section and John Squire’s lead guitar? Yes they’ve sold out/cashed in and charged nearly sixty quid for a nostalgia fest but for the majority of us there that night it was worth it just for the extended I Am the Resurrection at the end.
There are few things in life more powerful or enjoyable than the shared experience of live music, watching your favourite band, play your favourite songs surrounded by your best mates punching the air in delight. Guy Garvey, the lead singer of another Manchester band Elbow put is succinctly when he said that the Stone Roses sound tracked his early life and “they are part of the glue that bonds me to my closest friends to this day.”
Ian Brown was right back in 1989, falling in love with the Stone Roses was inevitable. It’s a love affair that withstands disappointments, let downs, getting soaked in Glasgow or poisoned with toxic dust in a Cheshire field.
I am the resurrection and I am the light
I couldn't ever bring myself to hate you as I'd like
Other articles by Graeme McIver in The Point can be found here