On May the 27th 1990 the Stone Roses and 28,000 of their fans took over Spike Island for their now legendary gig on the Widnes peninsula. If you speak to any Mancunian music lover of a certain age this weekend they will tell you to a man or woman they were there. In truth fans had travelled from all over the country and beyond, I know this because we had a house full of them. The day was hot and sultry, with a mixture of dust and chemical smog hanging in the air that gave everything a faint orange hue. Never had I then, or have I since, seen so much open drug taking at a gig and by the time the band took to the stage the site was littered with casualties, there’s little wonder the 90’s Woodstock tag was attached. Unfortunately, the biggest casualty was the sound. A great happening it was, a great gig it wasn’t, tonight the Roses have a chance to
put that right.
At eleven minutes past nine the waiting is finally over and instantly it becomes clear that the Roses will not fail tonight. The reason? Because 75,000 people won’t allow them to, because 75,000 disciples have paid good money to see a triumphant return and that’s exactly what they’re going to get, come hell or high water.
The noise that greets the opening bars of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ is only superseded by the volume of the mass communal sing-along that follows, if there’d been a roof on Heaton Park there’s no doubt it would have come clean off. So loud they sing that 'Mersey Paradise', 'Sugar Spun Sister' and 'Sally Cinnamon' have all passed before 'Where Angels Play' conclusively gives us a chance to hear Brown’s vocal, complete with all its usual frailties.
Tonight is a celebration of all things Mancunian, and Manchurian, American and Canadian judging by those dancing around me. And no, they’re not press before you ask, but fans that have flown in just to be here at the first night of this long-awaited weekender. 'Bye Bye Badman', 'Shoot You Down' and 'Ten Story Love' Song are all met with similar adulation by the jubilant congregation before Fools Gold gets a full physical workout, showcasing exactly why a Roses reunion without Alan John ‘Reni’ Wren was utterly unthinkable.
Squire’s guitar is at times peerless, with 'Love Spreads' and the above 'Fools Gold' emblazoned with Zepplinesque flourishes, whilst Mani’s bass (if on more than one occasion overwhelming) punches, drives and binds a band in a way you feel no other could do. There is no question they are very fine musicians.
'Made of Stone', 'This Is the One' and 'She Bangs the Drums' remind you, if any reminding were necessary, how astonishing that debut album is; and yet, I still have a faint yearning inside of me that's hard to shake.
It was a chaotic set of events that brought me to Manchester in 1989, but that said, the timing could not have been more sublime. I arrived at the birth of something special and watched it explode into an unexpectant world, and like many in Manchester at the time I invested wholeheartedly into the band before me now. More than anything I wanted tonight to be perfect but given the band’s erratic performance history it was a foolish notion at best, underlined by Brown’s errant (if predictable) delivery of 'Elizabeth My Dear'.
But to quibble tonight is not only petty; it’s an exercise in futility. Tonight is not about all the right notes in all the right places; it’s not about a pristine sound. It’s about family, it’s about being part of the biggest gang in town, It’s about a ray of laser beam light in otherwise difficult times, and who can argue with that?
The fact that we’re stood here today is a minor miracle in itself and in part at least, testament to the enduring power of great music and fantastic songs. As Brown prowls the stage with a trademark swagger aped by many but perfected by none, he’s within his rights to feel at home. At times he even allows himself time to smile and enjoy the moment. “As you can see, we’ve still got it” is one of his few utterances on the night and it’s hard to disagree, despite not knowing exactly what ‘It’ is. There’s a touching moment as he embraces Squire mid set, perhaps dawning on him exactly what they have achieved here tonight, perhaps as a final expression of reconciliation complete.
As the 11 o’clock curfew comes into view it dawns on those unfamiliar with Roses shows that there will be no encores and there is only one song remaining that could possibly close the show. As Reni pounds out the unmistakeable opening rhythm of 'I Am the Resurrection' the long pilgrimage is complete, and once again a united body of 75,000 are sent into rapture. Not since the Pope’s visit in 1982 has Heaton Park witnessed this level of worship and it’s hard to imagine it will do again, at least until tomorrow night. It’s the crowning glory on a night that whilst not perfect still delivered exactly what it promised. As the conquering heroes take their bow and fireworks prepare to light up the night sky, the last word goes to Mani. “Wot’dya think of that, not bad for a bunch of old c**ts.