Heaton Park, Manchester. The final night of the Stone Roses residence in the middle of a muddy field in what (wikipedia tells me) is the biggest municipal park in Britain. It is almost eight years since myself and Flamingcross went to the Ian Brown gig at Claremont Gardens near Esher. Eight years ago when Ian Brown was joined on the stage by a Stone Roses tribute band to back him for a collection of Roses classics following yet another spat with John Squire played out in the pages of the music magazines. It was a good night. The weather was mellow and treated us gently and Ian was in tune which he wouldnt be when I saw him at the Donny Dome in November 2005 but you could argue that it was Roses karaoke. Without the rest of the band, what did it really mean?
Being the pappy, mourngy bugger that I am, I have to say Im not a big fan of open air concerts. Especially in the middle of what is turning out to be (a few days of sunshine apart reminiscent of 2004) a very wet pretty miserable English summer. My initiation to the festival atmosphere was Castle Donnington Monsters of Rock in August 1988. And my abiding memory of that festival to Metal and Lycra was seeing a group of kids sliding gleefully down a muddy banking, big smiles on their young faces, while on the slope above them a line of blokes fifty yards wide pissed lager up against the boarding at the side of the stage. So on the 96th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme I approached Heaton Park with grey Mancunian skies above us with a certain amount of trepidation and a pair of Saloman walking boots that Id last worn to go up Helvellyn. It had rained on Saturday afternoon and 140,000 pairs of feet that had been to see the Roses before me on Friday and Saturday night had already turned the grass to a muddy porridge, but the ground was better than Id anticipated. However, if that dark Lancastrian sky unloaded on us I knew that the situation could quickly turn nasty.
Once through the security checks, we were penned in on all sides by fast food stalls. Booze was being pumped out on an industrial scale with machines squirting out rows of pints simultaneously at £4 a go. There was an abundance of bucket hats and waterproofs milling about as the stench of burgers blended in the air with the ubiquitous aroma of cannabis. We had a long afternoon in front of us. Almost as long as the queue for the toilet, which after my £4 pint I desperately needed to visit. When I finally got there, looking down at the piss soaked toilet bowl to a brown soup swilling below me, I have to say that I wouldn’t be a woman at these things for a gold fucking pig. Human beings really are appalling.
But despite the shocking state of the toilets, and worries over the changeable prospect of the weather and Ians voice, the afternoon passed pleasantly. The Wailers and Justice Tonight, a super group consisting of Mick Jones from the Clash (the Clash have the worst teeth in rock Joe Strummers were legendary and Mick is carrying on the bands legacy. His choppers are like tombstones) with Peter Hooton from The Farm, and Pete Wylie (wearing what looked like a gold sequin-covered boiler suit), joined on stage at various times by John Power and John McLure from Reverend and the Makers, promoting transparency surrounding the events of the Hillsborough Football disaster, were the highlights, the crowd jubilant. I enjoyed the rolling reggae bass lines of Dirty North (whose overall style was a sort of cross between The Streets and a Wythenshaw version of The Artic Monkeys). Plan B, the final act before the Roses, came out with their clutch of Northern Soul/Motown styled hits, which were received well, but then descended into cover versions and some bloke doing Beatbox which Im sure sounded fucking great in his bedroom when he was stoned but for me at least didnt transfer to the stage. And from there the group treated us all to a prolonged display of rapping. The bloke from Plan B reminds me of Harry H. Corbett, constantly wanting to push his straight acting (or in his case urban rap dub street, innit) when what the public really wants is Harold Steptoe.
The Stone Roses have an almost Beatles-like aura to them that no other band has managed to achieve since John, Paul, George and Ringo called it a day. Im sure that when Oasis put their wibbling rivalry to one side and get back together to do a tour and knock out another album, complete with Noels Union Jack Epiphone Sheraton II and Liam wearing John Lennons hair that he bought off eBay, flogging one last mile out of the Brit Pop donkey, at some point in the future, the interest will be as high as when the Roses announced their reformation last Autumn and tickets for any concerts will sell like biscuits to a fat man, but Oasis for all their nods and winks to the Fab Four were always about Liam and Noel with the rest of the band being pretty much interchangeable, whereas the Stone Roses sum like John, Paul, George and Ringo was significantly greater than their individual parts. Because despite their solo efforts (the highlights for me being Love is the law by Squires Seahorses back in 1997 and Ian Browns epic F.E.A.R. from The Music of the Spheres) there is a sense that the promise was only partially fulfilled. That had they stayed together there would have been other songs as monumental as I wanna be adored or as melodic as Elephant Stone. Perhaps even one that had groove and swagger to match Fools Gold. Its a similar aura that surrounds the peculiar story of Lee Mavers from The Las a belief that there is more to come; more than can be achieved. More that hasnt been heard. But almost everyone had given up. There were perennial rumours, all quickly denied by the Roses themselves, each with their own respective careers to be getting on with apart from Reni who, has he said himself in the press conference that announced the resurrection of the band and which was repeated in the tour programme for Heaton Park, Ive just been keeping out of the way [ ] on the whole. It didnt look like it was ever going to happen. I met Mani briefly by the bar at the Carling Academy on Hotham Street in Liverpool back in 2005 when I was there to watch Scouse folk heroes Shack. He was quickly surrounded by thirty-something blokes, all asking the same question that Id posed. Why wont the Roses get back together? Cos theyre spanners, mate, he said cheerfully, smiling.
The opening gig was a secret affair and fittingly took place in Ian Browns birthplace of Warrington. Only announced the afternoon that it took place, it was, according to the news reports, a triumph. Human nature is fundamentally optimistic, regardless of how shit life can be sometimes, and we need these affirmations that everything can turn out all right. That we can re-grasp something that we once held. That the past is a place we can visit.
Not that everything has gone smoothly. In Amsterdam in June the gig stumbled to a halt when Reni buggered off home early. As Ian Brown announced: The drummers gone home, Im not kiddin yer. Before going on to describe Reni in less that flattering terms to the angry Dutch mob who wanted to know where I am the resurrection was. For many fans the first thought when they heard the news of the Amsterdam fiasco was oh, oh. But theyve held it together. But then again theres a lot at stake. Deals have been signed and festival dates confirmed. Ticket sales for the three nights at Heaton Park will have grossed more than twelve million quid alone. This is a long way from trashing the Revolver offices back in 1988. The resurrection has seen the group rake in a fortune. New material is promised.
The smoke machines mixing with the aroma of burning onions and scorched fat from the kebab stalls heralded the headliners taking to the stage just after 9PM, with the bass line to I wanna be adored rumbling out over Manchester. This was what the world had been waiting for. Especially if you were Northern and in your thirties.
Sound systems have moved on a lot since the Monsters of Rock in 1988. And so have big screens. The quality of the aural and visual experience at Heaton Park was all that home cinema 3D promises. Listening to Kiss crank out Deuce at the Monsters of Rock was like listening to them on a 10 watt ghetto blaster from across a field. Tonight with the Roses we were in clear Bang-Olufsen surround sound. And the screens were superb, with split multi-images at the side and behind the stage, colour-coded to each song with graphics overlaying the images. The overall experience was amazing. Though this being the age of personal smart phones you still end up watching part of the show on some twats camera phone as they hold it up in front of you, recording it for their Facebook page.
The next hour flew by. My abiding thought after it was over and done with and the fireworks had exploded above Manchester was that the musicianship was amazing. Reni and Mani holding the groove down while Squires splashed melody lines over the top in a brilliant display of guitar playing. That said, I dont know what hes been like for the rest of the shows, but for some reason Mani looked extremely uncomfortable throughout the gig on Sunday night. The big screen would flash a close up as he tickled his bass, and he had the look of a man whod just had a suppository slip on him. A sort of Good God, that hurt and I dont think its over oh-oh expression. The last time I saw anyone on stage with a similar pained look on their face it was Tommy Cooper. But whatever it was that was bothering him, it didnt effect his bass playing. Which was brilliant, the lines rolling out into the night, anchored to Renis drumming. Reni wore some peculiar headdress. I have to say I dont think its going to take off in the same way as the bucket hat did. I might be wrong, but I cant see it happening. Later in the night he stuck his trademark hat on top and the promise of regaining the past was fulfilled. And Ian Brown WAS on tune. Not that he needed to be for most of the night. Because this was sing-a-long-a-Roses. From I want to be adored through Mersey Paradise, Shoot you down, Bye Bye Badman, Waterfall and all the rest, the crowd lyric perfect helped Ian to hold the tune. The highlight? Well, I am the resurrection ringing out through the Manchester night was amazing. The crowd chanting out the words. But then again, some woman who’d been on her blokes shoulders, who thought she was at Woodstock and we should all be fascinated by her instead of being able to see the band, getting hit at the side of her head with a plastic bottle filled with what I can only hope was piss, was also pretty satisfying.