Monday, July 02, 2012

The Stone Roses, Heaton Park, Manchester, Saturday June 30, 2012

The first Stone Roses song I remember being aware of is Love Spreads. The lead single from their long-awaited second album was released when I was 14 and still truly to fall in love with music. But that song caught my ear even at that age, when it was played on the radio amongst the reggae pop, Take That and Wet Wet Wet.

But as with almost all music I heard at that age, it slipped from my memory when the radio playlists moved on to something else.

It wasn't until 1996 that I rediscovered The Stone Roses, by which time they'd finished dragging the sorry remains of their carcass around the festival circuit, a poor imitation of the band that had once had the world at their feet.

The first Stone Roses album I owned was The Complete Stone Roses, a compilation of their output on the Silvertone label that was a birthday present from my Mither. As introductions go, it was more than enough to ignite a love for the band that has never diminished in the intervening 16 years.

Shortly afterwards, I picked up from Groucho's in Dundee a second hand copy of The Second Coming, the album that transformed the Roses from jingly-jangly psychedelic pop gods into thunderous Zeppelin-inspired rock gods. It was John Squire's cocaine album, the riffs and egos coming between a group of four childhood friends and forming chasms that eventually shattered the greatest band of their generation.

So by the time I finally picked up a copy of The Stone Roses' debut album, from Woolworths in Dundee's Wellgate, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the band. Except I didn't. The Complete Stone Roses, while containing most of the tracks from that debut, included shortened, neutered versions of that debut album's monumental bookends, I Wanna Be Adored and I Am The Resurrection. It also missed out anti-monarchy lullaby Elizabeth My Dear and the laid-back groove of Shoot You Down.

This wasn't just a record. This was THE record. The world's most perfect record. When I am Grand High Poobah of The Whole World, I will insist everyone receives a copy with their birth certificate.

Since then, I've acquired various other Roses records - "lost" debut album Garage Flower, a shouty burst of punk-inspired Goth anger that barely hints at the band the Roses would blossom into; an almost unlistenable bootleg of the legendary Spike Island live show; the Turns Into Stone compilation that shoehorns together all of the Silvertone singles that didn't appear on the debut album; an ill-advised but passable remixes album from the turn of the century; various CD singles and live EPs; and, as my salary has grown as middle age approaches, the beautiful but expensive 20th anniversary edition of the debut - heavyweight vinyl, three CDs, a DVD and a lemon-shaped USB drive in a hefty presentation box.

My love for The Stone Roses has been one of the constants in my adult life, and until recently, so had one unbending certainty - The Stone Roses would never reform. The divisions between Ian Brown and John Squire, and between Reni and John Squire, were too wide. Brown was adamant that he didn't need the quitar player, that his solo work stood on its own two feet where Squire's was empty posturing and none-too-subtle ego-stroking. It was the first question asked in any interview with a former Rose - when would they return? And the answer was always the same - we won't.

That always seemed the best solution to me - I'd rather their reputation remained unsullied by an ill-judged money-grabbing reunion. Better to remain that tight-knit group of 20-somethings from the Blackpool Live DVD than four 50-year-olds milking the cash cow.

But at the same time, I always maintained that if they ever did reform, I'd be first in the queue for tickets.

All of which is a very lengthy preamble to the weekend just finished. I've driven 770 miles in a 2003 Renault Clio, from Montrose to Manchester and back again, via Falkirk and Newcastle in both directions. Given the chaos that the Biblical rains brought to the rail network over the weekend, it still appears to have been the better option.

Our gang of three decided to eschew the support acts - we weren't in Manchester to see Hollie Cook, The Wailers, Professor Green or Beady Eye. Our Saturday was devoted to one act and one act only.

Having attempted and failed to catch a tram to Heaton Park - not even standing room on the first tram we saw heading out on the Bury line from central Manchester, and then a line of trams heading for Oldham Mumps - we took a taxi to the venue, our cabbie giving us a list of what indie clubs we should head for after the show.

We caught the end of Beady Eye, who sounded just as flat as when we saw them at the Barrowlands last year. It's an indication of how far Liam Gallagher has fallen that people were standing in the car park drinking warm beer rather than rushing to catch his set. Even a rendition of Rock'n'Roll Star dedicated to Ian Brown, and a run through of Morning Glory, failed to ignite the crowd.

But from then on, we were in countdown mode. Barring a late, but by no means unlikely, disaster or falling out, we would be seeing The Stone Roses in the flesh.

I've rarely encountered such a peaceful atmosphere at a gig that size. We didn't bother attempting the crush for beer, but bumped into someone fresh from the bar queue who sold us four bottles of Fosters for £20. But everywhere you looked, people were smiling. Even as the crowd started thickening at the front of the stage, there seemed to be none of the aggression that would normally accompany the inevitable shoving.

When the Roses did appear on stage, there was no fanfare, no fireworks, no elaborate backing track. Just four men ambling on stage, picking up their instruments and bursting into I Wanna Be Adored. And from that second onwards, I was 16 again.

It was a near-perfect setlist. The only way it could have been bettered would have been by extending the gig by adding Elephant Stone, Tightrope, Driving South and Breaking Into Heaven. All of the songs from the debut album made an appearance:

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

Personal highlights were a roaring take on Fools Gold, a song I've never been too fussed by, but that on this showing gave the musicians a chance to shine; Waterfall and Don't Stop - the latter including some phenomenal bass runs from Mani; and the double header of Love Spreads and Made of Stone.

I hadn't long said to one of my mates that Squire hadn't really let the guitar rip when he howled into the opening riff of Love Spreads - that was a genuine goosebump moment. The song ended with Ian Brown rapping over the fade-out:

A pen and a paper, a stereo, a tape
All this with a nice big plate of
Fish, which is my favourite dish
But without no money it’s just a wish
Now I don’t have to dream about getting paid
I dig into the books of the rhymes I've made
I hit the studio and get paid in full

Sugar spun sisters outgoing the distance
Get me, I’m seeking some assistance
High in the realms tonight,
Sky-high like a meteorite
I’m easy like the holy ghost
Ain’t no voice, it’s just a toast
High in the realms tonight,
Sky-high like a meteorite

Stone Roses all the rage
Stone Roses up on the stage
Not a pause, down the doors
Let’s have a round of applause

The first verse is lifted from Eric B & Rakim's Paid In Full, but the rest is all Brown.

It was followed by Made of Stone, my all-time favourite Stone Roses song, and the one I've always thought has the best interplay between Mani and Squire.

Reni's drumming was ferocious throughout. If you'd taken away the rest of the band, it would still have been an absorbing show just watching him drum. It frequently sounded like he was playing live hip-hop rhythms. It's good to have him back.

Those were just my personal highlights, but there wasn't a weak spot at any point during the gig. The band's song and album titles lend themselves to plenty of cliched review titles: What The World Is Waiting For, This Is The One, I Am The Resurrection, Second Coming and so on.

But Ian Brown summed it up as the band stood centre stage post-gig: "We're back".

1 comment:

Paddy said...

Saw them on the Friday. My SR history different to yours. Bought the albums at time of release, saw the early shows, watched them fade away. Looked forward to Second Coming, massive disappointment (barring Ten Storey Love Song). Watched them implode and die...
And then Friday at Heaton Park I was 18 again, lovingly gazing at the debut album on vinyl. "Adored" was epic and it never faded right through to "Resurrection".