‘Don’t be sad it’s over, be happy that it happened’. After the Stone Roses announced their last ever gig two days ago, a lifelong fan takes us on a journey through British musical history
‘This is a live resurrection,’ said Ian Brown at their now famous press conference in October 2011. It seemed as unlikely as it was preposterous. The split had been acrimonious. The bad blood between childhood friends Squire and Brown had looked impossible to heal. Both had released solo albums with barbed attacks against the other, perhaps Squire’s more wistful, whereas Brown went for the jugular. Nobody really expected it, or even wanted it to be honest. I was extremely vocal about not wanting them to reform for years. I wanted the friends to heal their rift, but was extremely anxious that they didn’t, to trot out the cliché, taint their legacy.
But of course, no one was more excited than me to see them in a room together. For the first time since 1995, or perhaps even 1994, Reni having quit the band in ’95. Who knows if he sat down and told them?
The atmosphere was relaxed and full of bonhomie. They were in good spirits and assured the assembled press scrum, and us, the fans, that this was ‘no trip down memory lane.’ Mani brought tears to the eyes when he asserted that, ‘something magical happens when us four are in a room together,’ and you never doubted him.
Asked what they missed about being together, Ian replied, ‘I’ve missed them as players, you know, cos I can sit there and watch them play all day. It’s lucky for me.’
My cynicism had given way to intense elation. The band that had shaped my youth were back in business.
Reni cuts in, smiling, ‘and he does, he doesn’t do much.’ It’s a jokey comment, and it’s all laughs, but if you look closely, pause it, rewind, watch again, play it in slow motion, there’s a very brief scowl from Ian before his infectious smile appears. Then a sidewards glance. It’s very telling, and sets the tone for what will unfurl as the whole reunion progresses over the coming months and, subsequently, years. Looking back now, Ian and Reni dominate the press conference, and you can sense the tension between the two, there’s a bit of eye-rolling and frowning, none of which was really apparent at the time.
‘We’ll ride it til the wheels fall off,’ laughs Ian.
‘We’ve still got something to give to people.’
‘The modern music scene is boring. Very corporate.’
All of these have proven to be true.
‘It’s not about the money,’ from the effusive Mani, always the mediator.
If it feels as though I’m writing this in the past tense, it’s because I believe it is.
At the time of writing, I have just witnessed them play a sold-out gig at the intimate/cavernous Leeds Arena. They have two remaining gigs to play at the weekend in Scotland. And it feels as though they may well be their last.
So, the upshot of the press conference was that they were getting together, to play two, which would turn out to be three, gigs in Manchester, they were going to ‘take it round the world,’ and it was strongly intimated that there would be new material. My cynicism had given way to intense elation. The band that had shaped my youth were back in business. I never doubted for a minute from that moment on that they were going to ‘shake up the world,’ such was the exhilaration of seeing my childhood heroes together in that room, exuding what appeared to be nothing but love.
The race for tickets was unprecedented. Both gigs sold out in a matter of minutes. China’s notoriously slow internet meant that I missed out. Two of us had multiple windows open on two computers. Crash after crash after crash. Some things were thrown around that Beijing living room that afternoon.
On Facebook, I wanted to kill the ‘Stone Roses tickets in the bag!’ brigade.
Most of them wouldn’t attend anyway come the day, they just got caught up in the social media one-upmanship stampede.
But then, a third date was added. Unannounced. It just appeared. People had obviously given up, so it was relatively easy to obtain two tickets.
I muddled my way through the 80s like most people.
Two Roses tickets in the bag!
My gloating was purely internal. Who was I gloating at? Probably myself, for doubting and not really wanting it to happen in the first place. I obviously secretly did. Maybe I’d just built up a defence mechanism, probably due to the PTSD I had obviously suffered when they left me.
I muddled my way through the 80s like most people. It’s a much-maligned decade, but musically, it was the most diverse and forward-looking decade on record. Although hip-hop had its birth in the latter part of the 70s, it flourished as a creative force in the 80s. House music was born. Punk’s limitations had given way to post-punk, or new wave, or whatever label suits. Punk had inspired people, but was short-lived, and what sprung up afterwards was infinitely more diverse. Most of this took place in the 80s. The independent scene, and ‘indie’ as a concept flourished throughout the 80s. People were experimenting with electronic music more, in itself, no new thing, but it was pushed into exciting new directions in the 80s. Synth-pop, Gothic rock, Glam metal and a myriad of other styles thrived in the 80s. It was a great time to be a kid.
Like everyone, chart music was my entry point, but I gravitated towards the indie scene. Smash Hits guided me, but I was always most interested in the ones who looked and sounded weird, so I cracked on with Melody Maker, NME and Sounds. Throughout this time, incongruous stuff was always present. I owned Slippery When Wet and Keep Your Distance by Curiosity Killed The Cat, by my estimation around 1987, a time when I was obsessed with The Cure, The Mary Chain and New Order. 1987 was also the year some indie band from Manchester released a song called Sally Cinnamon.
John Peel was the place we got to hear all this indie music, but for some reason, he never played that band. It went to number 3 in the indie charts, which had replaced the real charts in our hearts and minds. So, I needed to hear it. A quick trip to Sydney Scarbourough’s and it was in my hands. I loved the cover, a picture of those old-style sweet vending machines, the title seemed to match the cover and, as used to the name as we are now, The Stone Roses, the band’s name, sounded weird back then. Oxymoronic. A clash of the brutal with the beautiful. Something that their musical output would mirror; often savage lyrics hidden beneath sugar-sweet melodies.
When I got it home, I played it to death, but it wasn’t a band I expected to go onto great things. It was a nice, jangly indie tune, with lyrics about sugar and spice and all things nice. They were ten-a-penny back then. I certainly wasn’t expecting this unremarkable-looking, little indie band to occupy the place they would in years to come.
They’d been going in some form or other since the early-80s. In 1985, they’d recorded an album with Martin Hannett, infamous genius-cum-sociopath former in-house Factory Records producer. A single, So Young/ Tell Me had been released but the album was shelved. It contained early versions of I Wanna Be Adored and This Is The One, but the band weren’t happy with the production. It was a hard-edged sound, not unlike Joy Division’s, radically different to the sound they’d perfect on their debut.
After Sally Cinnamon, they enlisted Peter Hook of New Order to produce their debut album proper. His commitments with his band meant it fell through, but the sessions yielded Elephant Stone, their first single on Silvertone Records, and an indication of the direction they were heading. It was a bigger, more confident sound, groovier, and more muscular. It wouldn’t sound out of place on their debut album, indeed it appears on the American pressing of the album.
People were starting to take notice. Already big in Manchester, the national press started to prick up their ears. I remember having my hair cut as a teenager, and they were being interviewed on Radio1 on their Newsbeat section. Asked what the song was about, John Squire gave the classic surly response, ‘Love and death…war and peace…Morcambe and Wise.’ I remember it clearly. I thought it was genius.
They were like a proper gang. The last outlaws in town.
They used to appear on indie TV shows quite regularly. Snub TV and Transmission are ones I remember clearly. They were famed for their surly interviews and I just thought they were so fucking cool and aloof. They had no time for idiotic questions and didn’t try to hide their contempt. It made a massive impression on this 15 year old. To me, they were still resolutely indie, but they had aspirations way beyond the indie charts. At that time, I didn’t. I liked my bands to be underachievers. The mindless pretentiousness of the teenage mentality.
They started to dress differently too. The punk/goth look was replaced by a more mod look, then finally, their signature look of flares, baggy tops, big fishing and mountaineering coats and Reni’s bucket hat. I clumsily followed suit as they became my favourite band. They were like a proper gang. The last outlaws in town. They refused to play by the rules. Just like me. My life was quite regimented, I attended private school, but I was a cheeky little shit, always on detention, but for subjects I could be arsed with, a grade A student, and a pretty handy rugby player. A teacher’s nightmare: disruptive but clever and good at sport. Category: unclassified. What the fuck do we do with this kid?
They were punk. They just didn’t look like punks or sound like punks.
I’d found my new heroes. I loved The Mary Chain, but The Roses were renegades of a different kind altogether. I devoured their interviews and adopted their socialist, anti-monarchy rhetoric with relish. On TV they were aloof, to the point of being semi-mute; they simply didn’t even answer stupid questions, just looked at each other and rolled their eyes in disgust. In print, they were mega-articulate, fiercely principled and uber-intelligent. They were in thrall to The Clash, so as they were influencing me, they, in turn, had been influenced by the politics of punk. They were punk. They just didn’t look like punks or sound like punks. Our idea of punks as teenagers anyway. We’d yet to understand that the ethos of punk lives on in different art forms.
So, there I was, awkwardly making the transition from Robert Smith-alike indie kid, to be-flared scally. And I still thought they were a minor indie band. I had no idea they were basically appropriating the Manc football terrace look. In my head, I was dressing like an indie kid. In reality, I was looking like a raver or a football hooligan. I was the polar opposite of both. For the time being…
Made Of Stone followed. Their first bona fide classic single. It got to number 90 in the charts. We were still in the age where indie songs never got anywhere near the Top 40, and we didn’t want them there anyway. This would change very soon as we willed them towards the top. But they were still our band. The Cure, New Order, The Mary Chain etc were sort of indie, but they were established and allowed in the charts. Plus it was funny to see them on Top of the Pops. But The Roses were still kind of underground, and we were a bit precious about them, being snobby teenagers. We wanted them to ourselves. How fucking pathetic, wanting your heroes to not earn a living but wanting them to continue being ace just for you and the relatively small number of like-minded cool fuckers. (Juvenile bell-ends).
However immature we may have been, it felt exciting to be part of this movement. Little did I know, I was moving away from my indie comfort zone. I didn’t yet see any difference between Pixies and The Roses. Both were indie. Within a year, the two bands would inhabit totally different worlds in my mind. But for now, they were in the same box. In fact, Doolittle was released precisely two weeks before The Stone Roses, my boys’ debut album. They were the first two albums I actually bought on the day of their release, which was unusual in those days. Albums were generally sold by singles then, no one really paid much attention to release dates. You heard the single on the radio, you bought it. If it had two singles you liked, you bought the album. Or you saved up your pocket money and went into town on a Saturday. Release day was Monday. Who went into town on a Monday? It was unheard of for teenagers.
But fuck me, after the colossal Made of Stone, and the building momentum, the attitude, the clothes, the gang mentality, the anti-establishment posturing and their effortless cool, I couldn’t wait to hear more. It was my first taste of addiction. Sure, I was already obsessed with music, but I’d hear a song on Peel, wait til I had enough money, and buy the album. For The Roses’ debut album, I was literally batshit-crazy with anticipation, it was like when an addict is craving the fix, shaking, sweating, hyperventilating. I went into town at lunchtime, which wasn’t allowed at my school (rebellious as fuck), bought it on vinyl and revelled in showing off the iconic cover and inner sleeve to my mates, to whom The Roses were a band they liked, but not as obsessively as me. There were four of us who were best mates. Geoff’s band was The Mary Chain, Adrian was a Pixies obsessive, Peaksy was The Smiths and I was The Roses freak. If waiting to buy the album was scoring the smack, the five-hour wait to actually play the fucking thing was like your teacher finding the smack and confiscating it until home time.
Remember the first time you heard I Wanna Be Adored? Living through it, in real time was incredible. Multiply it by 100 million. On first listen, there were about five earth-moving songs. I won’t lie, it was a slow-burner for some of the others. The whole album took a few weeks to be adored (natch). And contrary to popular wisdom, the reviews upon release were pretty indifferent. I recall only Bob Stanley from Saint Etienne, then writing for Melody Maker, giving it a salivating review. The rest were average.
The 90s were a new decade. A new dawn. The collapse of communist regimes around the world, and limitless possibilities.
It didn’t sell well either initially. But the hardcore fan base was rabid. Something was definitely happening. And because of its relatively underground nature, it was like being in a secret club. I say this with the benefit of hindsight. They were my favourite band, their album was never off my turntable, we did feel like the cognoscenti of this underground phenomenon, but we didn’t really know we were part of a game-changing youth movement. Until the end of the year at least.
I always say, for me, the 90s began with The Stone Roses album, and ended with Is This It by The Strokes. It just seemed to belong in the 90s. A new decade. A new dawn. The collapse of communist regimes around the world, and limitless possibilities.
However, another myth is that on the release of the album, critics and fans alike made the connection between its loose, loping neo-psychedelic properties and acid house music which was running parallel to the band’s trajectory. Nowhere was the connection made in the media. It’s become accepted wisdom that this is the case. It’s possibly true that the sound of The Haçienda influenced the members, and it does share its hypnotic groove. It’s also true that it was a comedown album for post-club gatherings. But it was never explicitly stated at the time.
The She Bangs The Drums EP was released in July 1989, two months after the album. For my money, it’s the best EP of all time. Backed with the peerless Mersey Paradise and my favourite Roses song, Standing Here, it was pure gold, and it propelled them to number 34 in the singles charts. This was a BIG DEAL. Now, I was starting to accept they weren’t just an indie band. Momentum was building, and the reviews more positive. In August, they played to 4000 people at Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom, then not a concert venue. It was traditionally used for actual ballroom dancing and political party conferences. That day, Blackpool was besieged by thousands of kids in flares, Kickers and Reni hats. If you lived in Blackpool or attended the gig, you’d have sensed then that something big was happening. This was an unprecedented move for a band that had just released an album whose reception was lukewarm at best. But the few knew.
What followed would launch them into the stratosphere. Next up, the intention was to release What The World Is Waiting For, the title, a typically self-mythologising statement. On the B-side was to be Fools Gold. Indeed my copy of the 12” has What The World Is Waiting For on the cover, the initial copies following the original intention. However, it was Fools Gold which was garnering all the attention. They’d been advised to put that out as the A-side but weren’t convinced, but when it became the one to receive more attention, it was changed to a double A-side, with Fools Gold getting top billing and its name on the cover for further pressings.
the perennial underachieving indie band had become a full-blown phenomenon and spearheaded a bona fide youth movement.
It was at this moment that the connection between The Roses and dance music was explicit. It simply didn’t occur before this. Mani’s bassline was nicked from a Young MC’s Know How, Reni played the breakbeat from The Funky Drummer by James Brown, John Squire’s psychedelic wah-wah guitar wizardry was out of this world, and Ian’s whispered delivery sounded like nothing else. It was tailor-made for the dance floor. And it graced every dancefloor in the land as it went straight into the Top 10. They had arrived in the big time. My indie heroes were on the cusp of greatness, and now, I was willing them on with every inch of my being. It was a watershed moment in pop history.
On the week of release, they played to 7000 people at Alexandra Palace in London. Manchester’s disciples descended on London for a day trip. The acoustics didn’t make for the best-sounding gig, but it announced to the lagging London media that the northern oiks had conquered the capital.
What happened next was nothing short of a cultural landmark. On 23rd November 1989, The Roses played Fools Gold on Top of The Pops with fellow Mancunian Psychonauts, and more overtly dancey, Happy Mondays, who performed Hallelujah from their Madchester Rave On EP. And Manchester exploded. It was a huge moment and announced a sea-change in popular music and culture. In the space of a year, the perennial underachieving indie band had become a full-blown phenomenon and spearheaded a bona fide youth movement, which, with acid house running parallel, was the most seismic scene since punk changed everything.
Now we felt we were making history. By the end of the year, the album had been re-evaluated and was now at the top end of most publications’ Album of the Year lists. In NME, who’d only given the album 7/10 in a lukewarm review, they were Band of the Year, and on the peak of a snow-capped mountain on the cover of the Christmas issue, which proclaimed, ‘On Top of the World!’ Spectacular u-turns by many who’d dismissed it as average or worse. Sounds had it as number 1. As we entered the new decade, things would never be the same again.
1990: Spike Island, One Love and they’re gone…
As is customary record company practice when a band hits the big time, two Silvertone singles re-released. Elephant Stone and Made of Stone both found themselves in the Top 20.
Sally Cinnamon also got a re-release. And there was an accompanying video, made without the band’s consent. What followed is possibly my favourite Roses story.
So incensed were they, although probably not that much, that they paid label boss, Paul Birch of FM Revolver a visit. The Jackson Pollock-inspired artwork for their records was legendary. John Squire, an accomplished artist, designed all the artwork, and the band decided to Jackson Pollock Birch, his wife, his office and the cars outside. They were subsequently arrested looking like one of their record sleeves.
They were handed a fine, and outside Wolverhampton Crown Court, about a hundred fans greeted them, cheering them on. They looked like naughty schoolboys, and rewarded fans with free tickets to the just-announced, soon to be legendary, concert that would take place on a former industrial site in Widnes.
May 27th, 1990 was the day that changed everything. ‘Sunset Sunday’ it proclaimed from the t-shirts at the merch stalls. I bought an official t-shirt plus a snide one for good measure outside from some scouser flogging hats, scarves, flags, and somewhat ambitiously for such a scorcher, umbrellas from the back of a paint-splattered van.
I entered a boy and came out the other side a completely different person. It was that seismic.
Spike Island. It sounded so exotic. Legendary. Still does. Like Woodstock. To those that weren’t there, despite the subsequent reports, it still sounds like a trip. And it was a trip. Quite literally for me, as it was the first time I’d driven a car on a motorway. Hull to Widnes. Easy. I’d been to Widnes loads of times, following Hull F.C. However, there were no sat-navs in those days. Only three squabbling teenagers hunched over an Ordnance Survey map, taking wrong turn after wrong turn. It should’ve been easy. At every service station on the M62, there were young lads and lasses making the same pilgrimage. We should’ve just followed them. Anxious stuff for a first-time motorway driver.
When we finally arrived, the mythical island was a lump of land bordered by foreboding chemical factories. I’m telling you this with the benefit of hindsight. We didn’t give a fuck. We were home. We were here to see The Stone Roses. And it felt like a mini-revolution. For me, there was no mini about it; I entered a boy and came out the other side a completely different person. It was that seismic. My band had arrived.
I can only liken it to the first time you take ecstasy or acid. After you come down, you look at the world differently. You can never get back home again. Your perception is altered forever. Only that day, I took nothing. No drugs. Not even a beer. I was Stone-cold sober.the queues for the bar were fucking ridiculous, so we just camped down near the front, in the sweltering heat, with a packet of Embassy each and a bottle of water between four of us.
We were living through history. The last great youth movement.
To me, despite my awkward transition from shy, tie-dyed indie-kid to be-flared, Wallabeed scally, The Roses were still really, an indie band. White boys with guitars. There was a lot of shit on that long day, but there was something I’d never equated indie music with at a gig, despite Fools Gold, and actively resisted until that day. A young DJ called Paul Oakenfold was banging out dance music. That was what the townies were into. Not me, the baggy indie-kid with no interest in electronic music. Everyone in the 28,000-strong crowd moved as one, entranced to the hypnotic groove being pumped through the sound system.
Rave music at a rock gig? Fuck that!
But it pulled me in. It was like being on drugs. Not that I knew what the fuck an E was like yet. But some magical force loosened me up and I went with it. Maybe those rollies grinning ravers were passing us had been something else. Or maybe it was just that fucking infectious. As the sun came down, everyone was proper raving, and every single fucking person in that field was smiling. It was chemical for 80% present, but for me, it was organic. The only chemical influence on me that day was the polluted cloud that allegedly enshrouded the attendees.
Everything changed. I was brand new.
It all had the desired effect, as when they finally hit the stage, the audience were rabid for the four surly Mancs. The gig was incendiary, no matter what you may have read, and it all fitted together perfectly. House music made me listen to The Roses differently. The two genres shared that same hypnotic looseness, and I was born again.
From that day on, my mind was open to all the possibilities the era threw up. We were living through history. The last great youth movement. And from then on, I lived and breathed it. It was biblical.
A life-changing moment beneath tangerine skies under the watchful eyes of dank cooling towers pumping dirt into the summer air. Without the splash of colour that the event brought, it was a grim place indeed. I felt like Jesus coming out of the wilderness, but I’d given into temptation.
Don’t believe the negative reports of that day. Most are touted by people who weren’t there. It’s like the people who proclaim ‘Ian Brown can’t sing live,’ who have never been to a Roses/Brown gig. It’s jealousy or petulant bullshit. I can guarantee you, no one among that crowd left with a feeling other than complete satisfaction. Half the so-called journalists who have since dismissed it as ‘polluted,’ ‘soulless,’ or ‘sound was shit,’ probably didn’t attend. The Roses’ story is littered with these received wisdom tales, all written by NME-type hacks who probably weren’t born in 1989.
It was, quite simply, the moment when indie kids and ravers rubbed shoulders, and merged into one another. It was school, but the teachers had eyes like saucers and didn’t slap you if you asked questions. No one I know who went left with any other feeling than I’ve just described.
There was no going back.
School on Tuesday was all about Spike Island. The history teacher couldn’t compete. Our future history was being told in the present by me and my mate.
Something’s Burning was laid-back, impossibly groovy, dirty and cool as fuck.
They’d played two new songs at Spike Island. Future single One Love and B-side Something’s Burning. At the gig, the former wasn’t too impressive, the latter a shuffling groove, which had no discernible melody. They sent the crowds running to the bar. It makes me laugh when people cry for ‘new material’ at gigs. Literally every gig I’ve been to, when the dreaded words, ‘here’s a new one’ are uttered, there’s a mass exodus to the bar, or out for a fag in these no-smoking times. No one wants it. You want the songs you’ve loved, the ones you’ve lost your virginity to, the ones you’ve danced around your bedroom to in front of the mirror, the ones that remind you of your first girlfriend. You don’t want to hear songs that you’ve never heard before, it’s just noise. You’re there to party.
We’d have to wait just over a month for the release of the single. If you were clued-up, you got the bootleg of the concert on cassette, but it was shit quality. It went straight in at number 4 in the charts. The upwards trajectory was in full flow. They were going to be bigger than U2! My band were going to be the biggest band in the world. All indie principles were abandoned as we willed them on to conquer the universe. They hadn’t ‘sold out.’ They’d done everything on their own terms. They hadn’t courted the media, quite the opposite. They were a pure word-of-mouth success and they’d got there purely on talent, personality, attitude and capturing the zeitgeist in spectacular fashion.
When I bought the single, One Love was a bit disappointing if I’m being honest. They’d tried to capitalise on the groove-based Fools Gold, but gone for an ‘anthem.’ The Roses could write anthems in their sleep, but when they actually tried to write one, it felt a bit forced. It’s still a great song, just not a ‘great’ by their standards. Ridiculously high standards. Something’s Burning, on the other hand, was laid-back, impossibly groovy, dirty and cool as fuck. The natural successor to Fools Gold. The logical progression. What their next album, due to be released later that year, should sound like. It’s one of my favourite Roses songs, and I couldn’t wait for the album.
That summer, the British music scene danced to The Roses’ tune. Their influence was everywhere. Even U2 took inspiration for their next album, Achtung Baby. The biggest group in the world wanted to sound like The Roses. Let that sink in. They had the world at their feet.
And then they vanished into thin air.
That new album would come out over four years later.
The record they eventually released, Second Coming, is a great record, and it’s grown in stature over the years, but any Roses fan at the time will be lying if they said they weren’t a tad underwhelmed. It’s not the album they were born to make after Something’s Burning. They’d been away for too long, everything had changed, and on their return, they were just another band. True, the expectation was massive, and they achieved their highest ever chart placing at number 2 for Love Spreads. Unfortunately, the zeitgeist they had straddled was no more, and they weren’t relevant anymore. That and another young Manchester band in thrall to them had come along and usurped them.
The album finally dropped in December 1994, when Oasis were riding high.
In March 1995, on the eve of their tour, Reni quit after a row with Ian.
Weeks before their scheduled Glastonbury headline slot, John Squire broke his collarbone in a bike accident.
The band, with new drummer Robbie Maddix, played a sold-out tour in November and December 1995. I attended two, Bridlington, their first since Glasgow Green in 1990, and the Brixton Academy all-nighter.
Both were blinding gigs which hinted at a bright future.
In April 1996, John Squire quit.
They played an absolutely disastrous, embarrassing headline set at Reading Festival in August 1996.
In October 1996, Ian and Mani, the last men standing, called time on the band.
I was heartbroken.
I’m heartbroken today.
It’s 22nd June 2017. I went to see The Stone Roses last night.
It pressed all the right buttons, the crowd were going apeshit, they sounded as tight as ever.
But something just didn’t feel right.
I can sense that was the last time I’d ever see them.
Little clues. I was unusually looking out for flaws because I’d read there was more tension between Ian and Reni. Again. Reni stopped his harmonies at some points leaving Ian’s voice horribly exposed. No one onstage looked to be enjoying themselves. It was a workmanlike set, but there seemed to be no spark. No magic. Animosity between the drummer and the singer.
I’m pretty sure we’re done.
It was a live crucifixion.
After the 2011 press conference, you could virtually feel the buzz of hundreds of thousands of balding, rotund middle-aged men and women who’d given birth three times but were still up for the occasional knees-up. The Stone fucking Roses were back together. Original line-up. A dream come true. The impossible was happening in a huge park in Manchester in June 2012. For three nights
People can scoff at nostalgia tours all they like, but they exist for a reason.
People can scoff at nostalgia tours all they like, but they exist for a reason.
Dare to dream. Something will go wrong surely. This is The Roses we’re talking about.
I watched the press conference over and over again in my flat in Beijing. In tears most of the time. Tears of joy. I hadn’t wanted it to happen, but just seeing them together in that room was magic, as Mani had said. I was going to come home from China for this. And I was never going back.
I was going back. Not to China. Back to my golden years.
People can scoff at nostalgia tours all they like, but they exist for a reason. Yes, there’s plenty of good music around at the moment. But it doesn’t smash us in the face because we’re not 17 anymore. Hopefully, it does to the 17-year-olds, and I hope modern bands mean as much to them as The Roses did (do) to me.
But I doubt it.
I don’t think I can name a band that could elicit such a response from people my age. Such is their stature. They have become bigger over the years as more people have discovered them. Fathers and mothers have passed them down to their offspring. There is just something about that band that is truly magical. The times were golden, we thought we could change the world. We did change the world briefly. The open-mindedness brought about by that scene, and the club scene that it went hand-in-hand with, made the world a different place. Everything changed. Drugs opened minds and the possibilities were endless. Of course there’s going to be nostalgia for the band that spearheaded the last great youth movement this country has seen. The time was beautiful. Who in their right minds would sneer at that?
The band did a short ‘warm-up’ tour before Heaton Park, and sure enough, tensions threatened to derail them again. In Amsterdam, Reni walked offstage and walked out of the band again, leaving Ian to apologise to fans from the stage on his own.
‘The drummer’s gone home, the drummer’s gone home. I’m not kidding ya. So there ya go. I’m sorry about that.’ The crowd started to boo. ‘Go on then, get it all out. The drummer’s a cunt.’
Exit stage left.
It looked as if the famous bad luck had struck again. Rumours everywhere. Reni’s quit. Flown home alone. Robbie Maddix is waiting. Heaton Park is cancelled. The whole group have disbanded again.
All around me, strangers were hugging each other, kissing, crying. Tears every fucking where.
Thankfully, they took to the stage on 29th June 2012 with Reni, all smiles.
‘Did you miss us?’ beamed Ian, that infectious smile allaying everyone’s fears.
Then, the rumble of that bassline. People were singing to a bassline. ‘dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum dum dum dum duuuum.’ Then Squire’s fluid guitar, ‘der der der der der der der der der der der der der der deeeeeer, der der der der der der der der.’
I Wanna Be Adored sounded as majestic as it ever had. It was MASSIVE. All around me, strangers were hugging each other, kissing, crying. Tears every fucking where. It’s one of the most amazing spectacles I’ve ever witnessed. Pure, unadulterated JOY. Unbridled LOVE. Unerring PASSION. I’ve seen them play better gigs since then, but that explosion of positive emotion on that day for 90 minutes was something you can’t describe with any words in the English language. It made me think where the love had been. We’re capable of it. Why doesn’t it come out like that EVERY FUCKING DAY? At 39 years old, I thought I’d seen it all. I thought I’d lost my sense of childlike wonder. Lost the ability to be blown away. I was overjoyed to be proved wrong, as I sang every word of every song, with tears in my eyes, rolling back the years. So much had happened in the interim, but I was transported back to being 17 years old, naïve, and full of love and hope.
The band were amazing. They’d all mastered their craft to the point of being virtuosos in the intervening years. It all gelled perfectly, and Ian had never sounded better. They rattled through every song on their first album, a couple from their second, and assorted B-sides and EP tracks. It was as close to God as you could get if he existed. Absolutely spellbinding. And just like the old days, it brought people together. It rekindled an old friendship from the early 90s with the person who has become my absolute best friend. This Roses reunion was powerful stuff.
It was so good I went on the Sunday too. And to V Festival. And to Finsbury Park the next year. And to the Etihad Stadium for four nights last summer. They were all outstanding, perhaps peaking at The Etihad in terms of performance. Each time, they were tighter and tighter, the proverbial well-oiled machine. And each time, it was a cleansing, out-of-body experience. One I’d never tire of.
So I thought.
I knew my first love was dying in front of me.
If social media is to be trusted, which it usually isn’t, but occasionally is, rumours are rife of Saturday’s gig in Scotland being the last ever Stone Roses gig.
I’m not saying I’m some kind of clairvoyant, I was extremely upset by Wednesday’s concert in Leeds. The possible reasons were pulsing through my brain. Why did I not enjoy it?
Was it because I’d finally tired of them? Was it, because of emotional turmoil suffered this year, I’d lost the capacity to love? Had it stomped out of me? Was I jaded by the constant ‘comeback’ gigs? Was it because I’m sick of waiting for new material? Was I not inebriated enough? Was the unwanted presence of an ex, putting me on edge? The former friend who was sitting in a seat meant for me? Was the performance bad? Did they look uninterested?
It was none of the above, although some are certainly true, that’s for another time. The fact is, I sensed that would be the last time I’d see my boyhood idols. I was angry and upset with myself for not enjoying it. I even walked out after Made of Stone and listened to the muffled remainder from the smoking area. I’d never wanted to miss a second of a Roses gig before. I left the building just as resurrection was kicking in. I was overwhelmed by grief. I seemed to be the only one. Everyone else was buzzing, and I felt like a right cunt for bringing the mood down. I even used that old bullshit line of Ian’s voice was awful. It was during Don’t Stop, when I wanted him to stop. I was heartbroken, but it wasn’t until the next day that I realised I’d just witnessed a live crucifixion. Like Reading 96, but worse, because I hadn’t attended that one. I know it’s only music, but it isn’t, is it? It’s your life. Slipping away in front of your very eyes. I felt like as well as losing a lover this year, I’d lost my first real love. I tried to make parallels between the two. Had the end of that relationship killed my love for The Roses? Had she made it impossible for me to enjoy them again? No, too much credit given, I think. I knew my first love was dying in front of me. And it stings. It’s going to take time to get over. Longer than just a romantic relationship. That band had been with me through everything. Not run a mile at the first sign of trouble. The grieving starts now.
There is a possibility that it may not be the end, but I’m not hopeful. The signs aren’t good. I look back at the press conference from 2011. It was always going to be a clash between Ian and Reni. It was why Reni initially left. It was why he walked offstage in Amsterdam. And it was why it’s over now. There are rumours of Ian requesting a different floor from the drummer in hotels. It was always going to be them.
I’m not angry they didn’t record that third album. Contrary to what everyone says, they didn’t promise new material. They said that if what they recorded was good enough, they’d put it out. We got two songs. That’s more than anyone could have hoped for 6 years ago. I’m not angry that they apparently did it for the money. I don’t believe that was their intention, but if they did, so fucking what? Did we not love every minute of every gig we attended? We fucking adored it. It rejuvenated us. Filled us with love and hope. Made us love our fellow man for two hours at a time. Try and find any negatives in that! If they did it solely for a payday, who can resent them that? They got fucking screwed by that record company, made very little money from what has gone on to become one of the most influential albums of all time. They fucked up their career when they were about to go supernova. Give them all the fucking money they want. It’s a small price to pay for what they’ve given us.
Ian, John, Mani, Reni. I’ve got nothing but love for you all. If it is goodbye, I thank you for everything. Good luck. And I hope you can find peace again one day. I’m painfully aware I sound like a soppy twat now, but arsed. I’m sad, but judging by my feeling in Leeds, it’s probably the right decision to call it quits before it gets too toxic.
You certainly rode it till the wheels fell off.