Eight months since the announcement that shook the world, and we finally arrive at the weekend that would see 210,000 people descend upon Europe’s largest park for without doubt the largest and most anticipated reunion in music history. For many of us the eight month wait has been a breeze, considering we’ve already suffered seventeen years of questioning, reliving, wandering, imagining, waiting and hoping for this date. But now, all the ‘what if’s’ were about to be answered in what was a mouth watering resurrection that would hopefully shift the focus of music back to its rightful home. Roll back seventeen years to when I was a young teenage lad and my own love affair with ‘Stone Roses’ came to fruition, stemming from watching a programme on VH1 about the Manchester scene. It was in this documentary that started an interest that would last forever. I remembered hearing ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ and I knew then that my music taste had taken a turn for the better as I imitated Ian Brown’s monkey movements around my bedroom. I had found the first band I truly adored, all on my own with no outside influences whatsoever.
‘Roses’ fever gripped me from then on as I spoke about them constantly at school, buying all the albums as well as documentaries and live concerts on video. I became known at school for having this strange obsession with the ‘Stone Roses’, maybe annoying people rather than being seen as cool or anything like that. To be honest, we weren’t talking mainstream music for that age group so maybe I was seen as a geek. To cement this fixation, my final year of Sixth Form culminated in my first ever karaoke performance where I wore an Ian Brown wig (not needed today), and a t-shirt stating “And On The Sixth Day God Created Manchester”. In front of about 1000 people I embarrassed myself by belting out ‘She Bangs the Drums’ in the style of a broad Mancunian, with about 99% of the audience confused, having never heard the song, or even the band before. But it wasn’t the usual song to be singing on a day meant for laughs and fun, I took it one step further such was my passion. That’s just one example of the fascination that many like minded fans possess in honour of a band that created and inspired so much greatness, and I’m sure similar stories that show comparable infatuation can be told up and down the country. People have wanted this reunion for so long that demand was unprecedented, and to fill Heaton Park three times over turned out to be quite an easy task, going in the record books for the fastest selling rock gig ever. In fact, they probably could’ve had shows all week if they wanted to.
The anticipation in the hours leading up to the show was rife, and even the briefest of showers that occurred moments before the start couldn’t dampen our spirits. Swarms of people of completely different ideals and backgrounds congregated within the park and the excitement gripped the majority of us.
The band promptly arrived on stage to a roar that shook the surrounding trees, and the moment had finally arrived that we’d all been waiting for. Ian Brown announced that “we were raised in this weather” when he saw the rain fall, in other words, it shouldn’t bother us northern folk. The bass line of first song, ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ came rumbling through and the crowd erupted like a volcanic explosion as all the pent up impatience poured out in one fell swoop. We all sang along harmoniously to the simple yet powerful statement that shrouds the songs essence, repeating Ian’s wishes over and over, which I think he succeeded in. Somehow the rain became unusually kind to us and suddenly stopped mid song and wouldn’t return for the duration. ‘Mersey Paradise’ was next and was received well, but this separated the die hards from the pretenders. Those that knew the band well were able to sing every note and word to perfection, those that didn’t, well they suddenly quietened despite bellowing the previous song with its few lyrics to remember. Even when ‘Sugar Spun Sister’ followed, the area I was stood in remained quiet and the signs looked ominous that many people had come along the ride. Fans’ favourite ‘Sally Cinnamon’ majestically made its way into the limelight to another barrage of screams, but then the softer, mellow sounds manifested, and that’s when I first noticed the signs that this colossal venue may not be the best platform for the ‘Roses’ to display their vast array of natural talent. With songs like, ‘Where Angels Play’, ‘Shoot You Down’, ‘Bye Bye Badman’, ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ and ‘Standing Here’ making up the next five songs, it became apparent that a lot of their work is not suited for a stage of this magnitude as the sound failed to project to the outer regions where I watched. Perhaps it was louder nearer the front, but that’s no consolation for those stifled at the back. I have to say, you couldn’t fault the band’s performance for this because these songs aren’t meant to be played loudly, with an edge or raw. They’re emotional, melodiously perfected, cool, indie tunes that hit home when played personally or to smaller audiences, or is that just what we’ve become used to over time, and being played on such a grand stage is benign to us? When you look at when ‘Oasis’ played Heaton Park a few years ago, the atmosphere was electric with everyone screaming and bouncing about such is their energy, but they are the hype of stadium rock, the ‘Roses’ are not a stadium rock band! But with demand as high as it was, and the amount of money put on the table, how could they turn it down? It also became noticeable in this period of quiet vibe that many of the people were only there for a day out. With those that really appreciated the music listening intently and whispering the lyrics, many others took this time as an excuse to talk amongst friends with their back to the stage, not really paying attention to what was actually going on.
Just when frustration was kicking in at the lack of consideration shown by those I stood shoulder to shoulder with, the fine melodic riff of ‘Waterfall’ lit up the clouded sky to wake those around me that had slipped into chat show mode, making an atmosphere worthy of the arena and the act as the singing to well known songs continued followed by ‘Don’t Stop’, which is ‘Waterfall’ played backwards. The buoyant and bouncy mood continued with guitar classic, ‘Love Spreads’, ‘Made of Stone’ and Man Utd entrance song, ‘This Is The One’ as the crowd found their feet again to be reminded of why the band are so special. Even though the atmosphere picked up, the sound was still distant in parts. Suddenly I was thrown back to thirteen years earlier stood all alone on a karaoke stage as I was able to relive and sing my heart out just as passionately to the summer of 1989 song, ‘She Bangs the Drums’. Before the finale, Ian Brown made a rare speech over his disgust at the monarchy and preceded to the soft, short, choir like interlude of ‘Elizabeth My Dear’, a song he clearly regards just as importantly as the day it was written over twenty years ago. They ended with ‘I Am The Resurrection’, which had the crowd buzzing to its peak, even treated to the tantalising instrumental at the end where the band displayed their flair as the crowd continued to dance and mimic every guitar note till the very end.
The crowd cheered and clapped in thankful admiration and gratification that these four guys finally managed to overcome their differences and give the fans what they deserved after all these years as they all embraced each other, arms aloft at the finale with a simple message from Mani stating, “We’re Back!!” An impressive firework display exploded at the end to highlight what it meant for Manchester, what it meant for England, and what it meant for rock music in general, all the while with ‘Redemption Song’ by Bob Marley being played as the huge crowd made its way home. But it was an important message that was relayed to the music world as many of us were united for this nostalgic religious offering of one of the UK’s most important bands. Rock music may be an underground phenomenon these days but this proved that it can still outweigh any modern commercialised pop tripe as and when it wants to. Perhaps this could be the kick up the arse the industry needs to overhaul a genre in the commercial world that is simply uninspiring.
Looking back, it was a slightly strange evening. I expected the band, especially Ian Brown, to connect with the crowd more between songs, sharing tales of CS gas and sucking lemons, but he rarely spoke throughout the whole two hours. John Squire looked as cool as ever, showing no emotion on his calm face, his trademark for decades. Mani looked shocked at seeing so many fans in front of him, as if the occasion would get the better of him, but ultimately it didn’t affect his delectable playing. Reni wore his token sun hat that started a fashion craze all those years ago, with what seemed like a headscarf beaming from underneath, looking like he was embracing it all and show that he still has the energy and ability to play them drums to a tee. From an organisational point of view, you hear a few things upset the applecart, but what do you expect when 70,000 music lovers crash down onto one venue to see a reunion like this? What is disappointing is the original photography contract that had to be signed prior to admittance, which relinquished full control of pictures to the band before publication, for a sum of £1. I hope this wasn’t the band themselves coming up with idea, but a contract put forward by a management or PR company, who sometimes fail to realise the work that is put in for little or no monetary reward, simply for the love, a concept alien to them! Although a second amended contract was later released, which was the typical photography contract which so many bigger bands release to photographers, that's not to say they are fair. I know that several top professional photographers instigated by Ian Tilton’s facebook postings boycotted the gig on principle, hence the lack of photos accompanying this review.
What happens from here is the key question. Once the summer festivals are done with, will they be working on a new album and really show how great and magical they are as a studio band? They spoke of the possibility beforehand, but there have been rumours of arguments, highlighted by Reni’s encore no show in Barcelona, which has been perceived to be brushed under the carpet for now. If they do record again, it’ll certainly be interesting to see whether they can capture the same wizardry that made them legends and such an inspiration in the first place.
All in all, mixed reviews have been uttered since the three day event, but few have said they were dire and shouldn’t have bothered. You can’t fault the bands performance and playing ability, but in order to fully engross yourself into it, then a venue this size is not the answer. I’ve heard people speak about how it’s the best gig ever and it was simply amazing. For those that truly know the music, it was virtually impossible to rock out to the first part of the set due to the nature of the music. I think these people just wanted to highlight the fact that they were present to witness history and fit in with the ‘cool kids’ as I wouldn’t say it was monumental, maybe its underlying message meant more than the actual show, uniting the people and creating more of an interest in rock music to boost the plummeting industry and give people hope again? Overall though, was I disappointed? No. Am I glad they reunited? Definitely. Would I see them again at Heaton Park? Probably not. Would I see them at a smaller venue? Most definitely.
Review by Nigel Cartner