WARNING: This article is about Manchester 80s/90s band The Stone Roses and has an uncharacteristically sentimental ending
My various social networking feeds are mostly full of just one story: The Stone Roses Reunion.
This is not surprising really. I live in Manchester, a place where fresh rumours of a Stone Roses reunion surface every single day from one source or another. The only difference with the most recent frenzy is… it’s all true.
When I heard last week’s buzz my first inclination was to bury my head in the sand and let the whole thing blow over as it so often had in the past. Whether it was true or not wasn’t the point, it was more a case of “Oh Shhh!”
But I am compelled to pass comment now that the story has been verified by the band. Watching the press-conference footage I was actually quite moved. People are saying they’re just doing it for the money. Well, so what? I do things for money too – things that I also do for love (the money just helps). But Ian Brown’s comment about how they all have kids and that they don’t want to embarrass themselves in front of them was a surprising turn, one that hints at how serious this reunion is for the four old friends. Four old friends who, more than contemporaries The Smiths, were a band of equals – there were no lawn-mower parts (as Morrissey once rather cruelly described bassist Rourke and drummer Joyce) – Brown’s vocals swam alongside Mani’s bass, Reni’s drums and Squire’s guitar in a unique way for a mainstream band.
So I am going to put aside my original skepticism (though I can’t promise to do so forever) and wish them luck. And to wish their fans luck as well. This event has been built up for so long that common sense dictates that it will be a huge let down. But I think we should give them a chance.
Why, in this tedious era of reunited old chart-toppers am I letting the Roses off the hook? Why, as a still relatively young musician struggling to carve out a small niche for myself in the current musical landscape am I allowing four pre-britpop chancers to effortlessly swagger up to a 140,000 capacity weekend double-bill at Heaton Park?
Because, unlike most bands who ill-advisedly resurrect an old act in exchange for today’s inflated arena prices, I don’t think the Stone Roses actually went as far as they should have gone. Maybe that’s why they are so revered. Actually, I think that is precisely why they are so revered. They did not outstay their welcome. I remember seeing Oasis in 2000 and just after Liam was hit in the face with a bottle (which he seemed to barely notice) I thought to myself: “Call it a day lads”. Ten years later they were still going, little more than their own tribute act. But The Stone Roses? They released an era-defining debut album after six years of working out exactly what sort of band they wanted to be. Then there was nothing for five years. Then they released what might be deemed as the ultimate “Difficult Second Album” which was regarded by all but the most fanatical as a disappointment. Then they broke up after losing half their members and playing a disastrous show at Reading Festival.
Admittedly I’ve skipped out most of their triumphs in that paragraph (Spike Island etc) but what should have been the golden days of their musical career was taken up by a legal battle with their first label. This is not just troublesome for a band, it is a tragedy. Not only for the artists but for those that had elected them as the figureheads of their particular youth movement. What is vital here is not the waste of time but the loss of momentum. By the time they released The Second Coming… well… it was the eve of Brit-Pop. It was too late.
I am not a fan of The Stone Roses. They aren’t part of my musical DNA the way they are for many Manchester-based musicians. I never saw them live, they were not the soundtrack to my youth. I was born in Portsmouth. Need I say more?
But I am a musician. And there are some bands I love. So I understand, from a theoretical standpoint at least, why this reunion matters to people (and why it matters more than similar stories in the press – eg Steps also reunited this week… no comment).
Regardless of how successful a band is, of how much undeserved press they get, of how much money or sex or plaudits, and regardless of whatever errors of judgement they make, in my mind one thing is true: Being weighed down by the invisible shackles of a lengthy legal campaign when you should be riding a wave that will never come again is a tragedy for a band. It is hard to live with this many “What ifs” flying round in your head. There are few emotions more difficult to shoulder than regret.
In the end it is all about youth and how our society worships it. We sneer at those who try to return to it, we sneer at those who never let it go in the first place. But we also sneer at those coming up behind us, of the new youth movements that just seem like the ones we had but with a rubbish soundtrack (which is what the generations before us thought of the ones we were shouting about).
I somehow never got caught up in one. This is something that at times I feel sad about and at others feel liberated by. The three albums that I remember most from car journeys as a child were: “Shades” by J. J. Cale, a cassette of Beatles oldies and an album by Scottish folk group Battlefield Band. My first live experience was a Billy Bragg concert with my parents. My first musical obsession as a teenager was Jimi Hendrix. My first inspiration to be a musician myself was John Otway. None of the good stuff was local, none of it was drawn from anything that I had grown up with myself. I had no real connection to any of it, I did not own even a tiny fraction of it. There was no call to arms, there was nothing I could scale and triumphantly pin the marching-colours of my generation to. There were just the songs I liked and the songs I didn’t like. I am poorer for this. But I am also freer.
So, as a consequence, I cannot ignore the fact that Ian Brown can’t sing. I can’t ignore that Fool’s Gold is a song that for me lacks substance, that lacks angles and direction. I do not get shivers when I hear She Bangs The Drums. And as for Waterfall, I prefer the recent cover by my friends The Travelling Band – because I have a connection with them but none with the original version.
I do not know how to conclude this article. The subject is one that I have no claim to and can cast no judgement upon. What I think is interesting here is that I have begun with a news story and ended up talking about myself. And though it was accidental I think that was always supposed to be my argument, when we talk about our relationship with a band or a novel or a painting, we are talking more about ourselves, about the way we navigate a trail through our lives, the way we respond to the various signposts and unmarked precipices.
And so, although I do not particularly care how successful the new Stone Roses tour goes, or whether they record any new tunes, or whether said tunes turn out to be any good, I wish them all the best with their newly patched up friendship. No one can deny them that. For their sake, I hope it is a happy continuing rather than a happy ending.
POST SCRIPT: My profound sympathies go out to tribute acts The Clone Roses and The Complete Stone Roses. It must be a difficult time for you right now.
FIRST PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2011