They don’t make bands like the Stone Roses any more. In many ways they are the last great inspired English sound, before Oasis came and recycled every half baked rock riff into Definitely Maybe. In the early 1990s, the Manchester scene was borrowing and stealing from every other type of music they could get their hands on to come up with a new, inventive genre that captured the feelings and emotion of the day. The Stone Roses were THE band that hit on THE perfect mix of blues, melody and dance beats that defined an entire generation.
We’ve done the music critic’s definition of the Stone Roses, but for me this doesn’t for a second scratch the surface of what this band meant to the kids around at the time. Their melancholy melodies mixed with their surreal lyrical poetry seemed to be a hymn for young people like myself. Without question they were my favourite band. I used to get up every day and listen to Elephant Stone and Going Down, as I had my morning soap bar spliff and soaked in the bath before going to college. They were the far off boom-box soundtrack to my first sexual encounter as I fumbled underneath the moonlight in our local park, and the brave beat to those young parties where the future seems like your friend and all your candle-lit dreams will come true.
A famous music journalist once wrote that the power of music is that it takes you straight back to the place where you first heard it. This is such an important quote in our cultural history that it’s been stolen, reused, passed off and praised in almost every nostalgic article since sepia photograph manufacturers created sentimentality. Of course, it’s important because it’s so bloody true. I still remember the tune that got me into the Stone Roses – Fools Gold. I was sitting at my dealer’s house one Christmas and he’d just got in some Purple Haze, the cheese of my generation. He had it on 12” release and put it on his record player. “Just shut up and listen to this” he said. I opened my ears and my life was never the same again.
I never did get to actually see the Stone Roses the first time round. A combination of student-hood, marijuana addiction and a love of House and half-step kick dancing kept me away from the concert halls. The first time they came to my home town I wasn’t into the band and the second time round, just after they’d released their second album proper, the gig sold out in mere minutes. So when I heard that they were playing up at Heaton Park in Manchester, it was all I could do to sit there with my partner on three different computers with a bunch of browsers open, just waiting like a kid at Christmas for the moment the tickets went on sale.
The big day
The big day of the gig finally arrived some months later. I woke up about the time I used to go to bed in my party days. A cup of hot coffee and several of those eye-stretch things you do when you’re tired and somehow I found myself in the car. We drove at an average speed to drop the kiddies off with a minder some twenty five miles down the road, before turning the car round to go hell for leather up to Manchester. We were anxious to beat the morning rush, but within a few minutes we were gazing at the natural beauty of the morning sunlight playing across a hundred parked cars as we hit the first of many tailbacks of that day. Nine hours and a motorway stop later, highlighted by the food at service stop (a fiver for what was basically a chicken nugget in a bun), and we were at our destination.
The whole of Manchester seemed to be humming a Stone Roses tune when we arrived. We stepped into the hotel lobby to the opening chords of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ and quickly found our room. We showered, got our best threads on and in next to no time were standing at a taxi rank. Here we met a Scottish fellow who looked like he was no stranger to the heady mix of cheap amphetamines and super strength lager. Clearly an educated fellow, he mused and waxed lyrically on the merits of Asian hire-car drivers, pulling no punches with his rhetoric. Imagine then his surprise when the taxi me and the missus jumped into had a gentleman with a turban in the driving seat. We simply told the driver to go, and he slammed his foot on the accelerator, turning our philosophical Jock friend into a little bright red dot in the distance.
We arrived at Heaton Park to the sweet sounds of Bob Marleys backing band, The Wailers. As we walked into the gig we heard all the accents of the world. It seemed like every nation of the earth was represented in the audience. My stomach started growling from the lack of attention I’d given it since the chicken nugget incident, so we bought some hot-dogs, which tasted a bit more like a combination of hot rat and hot horse, to line our stomachs. With food sorted we turned our attention to more hedonistic pursuits, looking for the bar. As usual proper planning and anticipation of the alcohol requirements at this gig had been overlooked, with people standing ten to twelve sets of shoes deep at the bar. Those few brave souls who’d fronted out the queue and got out with the beer in tact were cheered by the rest of the queue, in a slightly sarcastic cheeky manner. For me, after all that hassle of travel I couldn’t be arsed to go and stand with a load of people, pushing and jostling one another for position for a few drinks. Well not right away anyway.
Despite all the love in the room, my partner and I still managed to have a falling out as the tension of the nine hours travelling and lack of beer finally began to take its torrid toll. We started to wonder if we’d been the victims of the media hyping up some burnt out gods of yesteryear. Just for something to do to ease the stress, we decided to give the bar another try.
After a little time standing, waiting in the bar, I was surprised to see a nice, middle class looking chap coming back with hands full of lager. Some short, bald geezer in a beige Ralph Lauren jacket (we’re sure you know the one) pulled some paper out of his pocket and offered the chap some notes in exchange for his beer. Our chap barely had time to shake his head before the geezer knocked his drinks out of his hands onto the floor. I was beginning to worry that the whole night would be a bit like that. There were a few shady characters about and I’m sure if Ross Kemp was there he could’ve done a quick documentary on the Who’s Who of the Manchester Underworld. Danny Dyer would have creamed his pants.
This edgy attitude reminded me somehow of the old Rave scene. Like anything could happen at any moment. It kind of gave the night energy and a gravity that had been missing from many of the more safe events I’d been to in my life. My musing was bought short as I suddenly found myself at the bar, knocked out of my social observation. Noting how long it had taken to get to the bar, I stuffed my pockets full of mini-wines and Barcadi Breezers and it was back to the missus for the music.
The main event
So a few Hacienda classics, like Voodoo Ray, Energy Rush and Renegade Soundwave and a sprinkling of Mani’s other band, Primal Scream, and we were all lined up for the main event; The Stone Roses. You know how I was saying how we were wondering if it had all been worthwhile? Well that all changed the moment the Roses came on the stage. Every number had backing vocals provided by the entire crowd. They totally owned it. I live in a ‘normal town’ south of Manchester and we don’t have anything like they’ve got up there. It was like every single one of the lads and lasses there were proud of their history and heritage as the town that bought this sound to the world. I’ve never experienced anything like it anywhere else – and believe you me I’ve been to a lot of places. I was beset by a mix of admiration and jealousy, like I was so happy to be around them, but at the same time I wished I was one of them. It was like a kind of magic that danced around the crowd and enticed you with its mystery.
When the instrumentals dropped the spirit of Bez (alright we know he’s the Monday’s man) was reborn as thousands of people who were really too old to know better began doing the air maracas and arm waving moves.
A few people have told me that the Roses ain’t supposed to be that great live. Well I did think that Ian Brown’s voice sounded a bit out of tune, but it sounded like it was almost meant to be like that. The one time he hit a succession of notes just right, it almost felt wrong. This was an exercise in “if it works, do it”, because tens of thousands of people were feeling the moment. So much so in fact that the sing-a-long-a-Stone-Roses often threatened to drown out the noise from the band. There was a smile on every face and people began to hug one another and break down each others social barriers with humour and new found confidence. Just like that music journalist had said, the music had taken each and every one of us back to that special place in our youth, long before the disappointments of adult hood had disaffected us into aggressive, scared cynicism.
The whole vibe of the event started off as an air of almost heavy anticipation, with many members of audience no doubt anxious to see their heroes in all the glory of yesterday. Now, with souls satisfied this had turned into a sweet breeze of peaceful contentment as we walked back through the gates into Manchester proper.
We didn’t know where we were going, but we were kids again in a beautiful and friendly world and were sparking off the beautiful vibe. We spoke to a guy who wanted to talk about where now for the Stone Roses. Were they going to get locked in a time-warp, a bit like Madness, of eternally revisiting their old songs or what if there was still some legs in the band, a capacity for revisiting their old unfinished symphonies? Maybe this reunion could spark off a new life into the band that could see new anthems making their way onto a third album of epic importance.
Whatever happens next with Roses, let’s allow this moment to last for just a little longer. The sweet taste of being part of something wonderful was still in my mouth as I drove home the next day. I’d finally got to see them, the band that had meant so much to me in my youth had reminded me of what it is to be a child again as an adult.
All I could think about for the next few days was the possibility of making another trip up to Manchester to see this awesome band again. If you’ve never seen them, or if you just want to see a truly brilliant musical experience, then make sure you get to see these guys. Remember when they used to call this place Mad-chester back in the day? Well this concert was a trip right back down that memory lane and you felt like you were a paisley shirt and a pair of bell bottoms away from a sun shined banging party somewhere, were everyone had met for the first time and wanted to be friends.
If life is measured in moments that take your breath away then this was truly one of those special times that I’ll remember every day to my grave. Even if the spliff and ‘everything else’ does take the shine off my memory just that little bit…