This is the first in a series of earworm weekend indulgence blog posts that detail my personal relationship with music. Approach with caution: may contain references to obscure(ish) bands. Hopefully some of the music fan experiences are universally recognisable though.
The Stone Roses reformed last week, 15 years after calling it quits. They’re one of those bands who’re called ‘seminal’. Even by their guitarist John Squire.
In 2009 –- responding to band reformation rumours — Squire produced a piece of metal artwork that stated ‘I have no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses’. Two years later, he’s changed his mind.
UK fans of the group are obviously excited. 225,000 tickets to gigs in Manchester have been sold within hours of going on sale.
I’m a little conflicted about The Stone Roses reunion. They’ve always held a special place in my affections. They’re the group that unreservedly got me into this whole music thing. Before they came along, I guess I was, like most people – listening to music without truly listening to music. They tipped me over that unseen line from thoughtlessly consuming music to being passionate about it.
It could be any band, really. They get you at that certain age when you’re young, dumb and full of generational optimism. Or, as Ian Brown declared on the first Stone Roses song I ever heard, She Bangs The Drums: ‘Kiss me where the sun don’t shine/The past was yours but the future’s mine/You’re all out of time’.
The brilliant thing about The Stone Roses though — like most exciting bands that shake up young lives — is they had a distinctive look and each individual member brought their own vital part to the whole.
Ian Brown was the talismanic front man, John Squire’s soaring guitar histrionics made the group stand apart from their indie pop/rock peers, Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield’s bass underpinned many of their finest moments, and Alan ‘Reni’ Wren was a hell of a funky drummer. Their ‘baggy’ flares wearing vibe made them look – like most exciting bands that shake up young lives – as if they the last gang in town. A gang most were desperate to join.
1990 was the year I became hopelessly devoted to them. Their ‘Woodstock for a generation’ gig at Spike Island was followed by a concert at Glasgow Green in a big tent. Glasgow was where it all clicked together for me. I almost didn’t go. Didn’t have a ticket. A mate persuaded me to. I’m glad he did.
I remember heading to the gig by train, flares – embarrassingly, a little larger than the band’s – flapping. It was easy to spot which fellow passengers were going too. They wore flares and/or Reni’s soon-to-be iconic bucket hat. Scoring a ticket from a glum-looking ticket tout outside the gig was easy. Ironically – now that present day Roses tickets are being sold on eBay for hugely inflated prices – they were being offloaded at face value. They weren’t giving them away but it wasn’t a big payday for the touts.
The atmosphere in the 7000-capacity tent was amazing before the band hit the stage. This was the one. The gig itself was a bit of a blur, to be honest but a couple of incidents live forever in my memory.
Each Stone Rose arrived on stage individually to hail the masses as first album track I Wanna Be Adored’s lumbering bass line unfolded before the song and the audience exploded into life. There are certain moments you never forget.
And mid-set, after the mighty Fool’s Good, I slipped outside to cool off for a bit. The heavy smell of wacky tobacky hung in the air. Dazed concertgoers filed past for a smoke before heading back in to rejoin the communal worship of their band. This – I distinctly remember thinking – is how it must have been in the sixties when the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were at their peak.
In a way it was. The Stone Roses laid the foundations of what became Britpop. Oasis’s Noel Gallagher later declared The Stone Roses “kicked open the door and we nailed it to the wall” with regards to a resurgence in guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll. The early-to-mid-nineties in the UK were heady days. Everyone, and not just the music heads, embraced the sounds of the time and each other (the drug ecstasy helped).
By then, The Stone Roses had blown it. Legal wrangling over their original record label contract and in-band bickering delayed the follow up to their self-titled debut for five years. By the time the heavily Led Zeppelin-indebted Second Coming emerged in 1995, the likes of Oasis and Blur had stolen their thunder and many of their moves. Reni left first before the tour promoting Second Coming. Squire left next. Brown and Mani limped on to a final, excruciatingly awful appearance at the 1996 Reading Festival, accompanied by Simply Red session musicians in place of Squire and Reni, before also realising the game was over. Or, as Noel Gallagher sang, ‘Please don’t put your life in the hands/Of a rock ‘n’ roll band/Who throw it all away’.
The Stone Roses’ 1989 debut album and initial burst onto the music scene was a special time for me. It’s what makes the prospect of the reunion a little troubling. What if they blow it again and tarnish their legacy further? There’s a reasonable chance this could happen. Sadly, despite his undeniable appeal as a totemic scene leader, Ian Brown could never sing well live. It’s a worry.
Ultimately though, unlike some other band reformations, at least The Stone Roses resurrection will feature all four original members. It’s churlish to criticise too harshly. If anyone deserves the right to be The Stone Roses, it’s them.
They’re promising to tour the world. If they come to Australia, I’ll be there despite any misgivings about both the band and myself trying to recapture lost youth. I still have (greying) hair so won’t need to wear a Reni hat but donning ‘baggy’ gear again will be ideal for hiding the waistline spread in the 21 years (!) since The Stone Roses originally made me love music. They’re also responsible for me — even now — slouching into a simian gait after a few drinks. (My wife witheringly accuses me of apeing Liam Gallagher’s mannerisms but it’s actually Ian ‘King Monkey’ Brown who’s to blame).
Hopefully, they and I aren’t, as the aptly-titled I Am The Resurrection notes ‘a no-one nowhere washed up baby who’d look better dead’.