Thursday, 16 June 2016

THE STONE ROSES, Etihad Stadium, Manchester 15 June 2016

My first outdoor gig of the summer is a triumph. 

Mani: "Anyone got any requests?"

Steve said, “I’ve got two tickets for The Stone Roses in Manchester because I can’t go. Do you want them?”

Why not? I have wealth now and am properly self-employed again.

The last time I was in Manchester was in 1996 to see Oasis play the football stadium at Maine Road. (I stayed overnight then – this time, I’m training it back in the small hours). On that occasion, after the gig, the ex-wife, friends and I ventured out to sample the Mancunian nightlife. People really did wear t-shirts with a packet of fags stuffed up one sleeve.

In ‘96, the biggest ever bomb attack by the IRA on British soil took place in Manchester and it’s twenty years to the day as I step off the train at Piccadilly. Two hundred people were injured in the blast but, astonishingly and miraculously, no one was killed. In the years after the explosion, the city centre has been completely rebuilt. The steel, glass and concrete tentacles of redevelopment snake out from the railway station through dilapidated Victorian streets, and the city as a whole reminds me of New York, as it seems to be built on a uniform grid system. The moment you leave the station there are helpful signposts at almost every road junction (not like London, then).

Typically for a British summer’s day, there’s rain, although the weather brightens up considerably by the evening. On these drizzly grey streets, it’s easy to believe a double decker bus nearly crashed into Steven Morrissey and Ian Curtis was abandoned too soon. The fabled, dour Northern sense of humour is in evidence in a homeless camp opposite the station with a sign that reads, ‘If the tent’s a-rockin’, don’t come knockin’’.

Here It Comes

After a chat with the politest ticket tout I’ve ever met (who’s sorry, but he can’t do anything with just one ticket, but have a good night), I install myself in my vertigo-threatening seat (left), directly opposite the main stage.

First up on an eclectic supporting bill are nearby Stockport’s Blossoms. With long shaggy hair and a drummer in a tight black t-shirt designed to show off his biceps, they look like they should be bashing out REO Speedwagon anthems. They kind of are, with the addition of Stranglers-style keyboard swirls. Blossoms are efficiently tuneful – and it all makes sense on the tough psychedelic rock of their closing number – but I’ll say this: Mumford and Sons have a lot to answer for.

Chronixx bring reggae from Jamaica. There’s no doubting their commitment to the ways of Rastafari, but me their performance sounds like a private jam session rather than a festival set. Their finest moment is a cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Everything's Gonna Be Alright’, inspiring the first crowd singalong of the day just as the sun begins to shine.

Bloody hell, that was high.
Public Enemy really kick things up a gear with their political rap, storming through ‘Fight the Power’ and ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’, together with the delightful surprise of a DJ scratch version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. At the end of their set, Chuck D exhorts everyone to shout ‘F*** racism, f*** separatism’ and make the Black Power hand salute. It’s easy to see why the Manic Street Preachers admire Public Enemy and got them to produce a remix of ‘Repeat’.

What The World Is Waiting For

Before The Stone Roses come on, the PA plays the Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin and Isaac Hayes’ ‘Theme from Shaft’. This is appropriate, because sonically the band exist somewhere between all three; tonight, more than ever, guitarist John Squire is channelling the spirit of Jimmy Page.

Live, the real star of The Stone Roses is drummer Reni. His drumming is effortlessly inventive and expressive, and I’d say the like hasn’t been since Keith Moon shrugged off this mortal coil. He’s complimented perfectly by bassist Mani, dressed from head to foot in white denim (top), which makes him the coolest man on the stage, if not the coolest man in Manchester. Frontman Ian Brown was never the strongest singer in the world, but in the context of the rambling drum patterns, dark funk of the bass and soaring guitar lines, his stoner vocals make sense. His lyrics about chemically enhanced romantic unions and surges of messianic self-belief are as life affirming as they ever were.

It’s obvious how this quartet inspired Oasis, but, for all their magnificence, they were really only the Gallagher brothers plus a gang of sidemen. The Stone Roses are the real deal, a four-piece unit in the classic band tradition: remove one of those pieces and the chemistry is gone (and we saw the catastrophic result of that all those years ago at the Reading Festival).

They’re all here, the perfect soundtrack to a summer’s night – ‘Elephant Stone’, ‘Sally Cinnamon’, ‘Sugar Spun Sister’, ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, even ‘Mersey Paradise’, plus two numbers I don’t recognise which might be the recent singles. ‘Waterfall’ is the immaculate centrepiece of the set, which is just as well as I have to leave for the train straight afterwards. Following the helpful signage, I leave the stadium with the opening chords of ‘Fool’s Gold’ echoing behind me. A security man who lets me out says it’s never the same if you have to leave early, but I’m pleased that I at last got to see and hear a band that, in The Stone Roses, made one of the defining rock albums of all time.

On the way back, I’m marooned in Derby for a couple of hours. A nice town, a river runs through it and, reflecting on a joyous evening, I sit and watch its thundering weir. It’s a waterfall.

Photographs: copyright Robert Fairclough

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