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Tuesday 24 May 2022

I Hear My Song Begin To Say

Ten years ago last night I found myself standing in the packed Parr Hall in Warrington along with about one thousand other lucky souls watching the return of The Stone Roses. In November 2011 they announced their reformation at a press conference and then three sold out shows at Heaton Park in June 2012. Suddenly, on the morning of 23rd May 2012 they dropped word that the first 1000 people who arrived at the Parr Hall booking office with a piece of Roses memorabilia (a record or CD or a t- shirt) would get a wristband to the warm up show. If there's one thing the group excelled at first time around it was creating an event, gigs that were out of the ordinary (Blackpool, Spike Island, Ally Pally), a group capable of doing something  a little different (blowing the sound up live on BBC, throwing paint around the offices of their former record company, signing to a major label and then seemingly doing nothing for five years). The gig at Parr Hall fell into that kind of territory, for sheer unexpectedness if nothing else. 

I was at work and for some reason got home fairly early, opened the email, got changed and straight back into the car and drove over to Warrington, not expecting to get a wristband but at least giving it a go. I parked up near the centre of town and crossing a square heading towards Parr Hall a man younger than me, heading the other way, spoke to me as we passed each other- 'the wristbands have all gone mate'. I nodded and said something in reply. Then he said, 'I've got one but can't go. Make me an offer'. I paused for thought, wondering what he thought was fair/ derisory. I had no cash on me so it would involve a trip to a cashpoint whatever I offered. 

'Twenty quid?' 


And with that I got the cash, handed it over and he wriggled the wristband off his wrist and I slipped it on to mine. 

Standing around the square outside Parr Hall I had a slight sense of disbelief that it was actually happening, that this was some kind of elaborate prank. The pubs around the square began to fill up, people standing outside in the warm May sunshine. It occurred to me that almost everyone waiting to enter the hall had no idea at all when they woke up that morning that they would be seeing The Stone Roses that night. It seemed unreal. I texted a couple of people and then bumped into one of my brothers and his then partner, both with wristbands. Across the square I spotted friend of the band, journalist and Membrane John Robb plus former dancer/ FX man Cressa. It started to seem more likely this was actually happening. The hall doors opened and we filed in. No support band, a DJ spinning house records. The crowd downstairs nodding heads and beginning to shuffle and jig about. The room was full of expectancy, a buzz you could feel. When the DJ played Strings Of Life the energy levels rose again, the crowd upstairs on the balcony bouncing. A camera crew (Shane Meadows it turned out) moved around the room. On stage, a familiar looking drum kit, twin bass drums with lemons printed on the front, a bass amp covered in Toby jugs and guitar amps to the right. The Supremes' Stoned Love began to blast out of the PA and eventually a roar as four middle aged men took the stage, Mani entering like he'd just scored the winner at Wembley, John Squire with his face semi- obscured by his fringe and heading for his guitar, Reni in a home made head dress taking his seat behind the drums, and front and centre Ian Brown, pink Stone Roses t- shirt and jacket, waving and telling everyone to put their phones away, 'You'll miss making the memory of this while you filming this' or words to that effect. Shane Meadows film (Made Of Stone) caught their arrival on stage and the audience reaction, and then the beginning of I Wanna Be Adored. It captures it all very well. 

They played for just under an hour, the set largely based around the first album and the surrounding singles and B-sides, kicking in with the long bass- led intro to I Wanna Be Adored and Squire's liquid guitar lines drizzled over the top. As the bassline bumps along the crowd started to bounce with it, instantly picking up on what was happening. At the end of the song, as it faded out in a wave of guitar noise, Ian waved to his parents sitting up in the balcony, a huge grin saying 'look, we did it, we're back'. Then it was straight into Mersey Paradise ,the sun dappled psychedelia of 1989 spinning round the by now manic, hyper crowd, the song and crowd surfacing together to sing the refrain, 'you see it in the sea/ river cools where I belong'. A singalong, beefed up Sally Cinnamon. The epic cool guitar lines of Made Of Stone. The bedsit indie of Sugar Spun Sister and Where Angels Play. It all seems like a dream now- never mind that it was ten years ago, the fact it happened, in a small venue like the ones they played back in '89, seems unreal (moreso given the next time I saw them was with 80, 000 other people at Heaton Park and the one after that in a football stadium- they'd given up on out of the ordinary venues by 2016, taking the safer route). Reni's drumming was less fluid and rolling than it had been back in the late 80s possibly, the drums being played harder and with more punch- two bass drums would do that. Mani was grinning throughout the set, his basslines a key part of so many Roses songs. Squire his familiar inexpressive self, peeling off guitar lines and riffs nonchalantly as if thinking bout something else entirely. Shoot You Down was a pause for breath, the bouncing up and down calming a little for the hushed singalong part, the crowd caught somewhere between disbelief and delirium. Only two songs from The Second Coming made it into the set- Tightrope, subsequently dropped (Ian found it too hard to sing apparently- you can probably insert your own joke here), and set closer Love Spreads. In between the twin highlights of the gig songwise- the dizzying, bouncing, spellbinding psychedelic guitar pop of Waterfall with the crowd singing the guitar line to accompany Squire as he plays it during the end section of the song and then She Bangs The Drums, Mani's instantly recognisable bassline driving the song, guitar chords sprayed out, drums punching along and Ian grinning this way through. They finished with Love Spreads, just eleven songs in under an hour, no Fools Gold, no I Am The Resurrection, no Elephant Stone or This Is The One (all played later on during the massive reunion shows). They had to keep something in reserve I guess. No encore either, lights up straight away and everyone spilling out into the Warrington night, pinching themselves, hugging, unable to quite believe what they'd just seen. I stood waiting for my brother to emerge and a group passing by invited me back to theirs (I didn't go by the way)- it was that kind of night. 

She Bangs The Drums

A month later they played Heaton Park, three nights of 80, 000 people, all sold out, with full support line ups and fireworks at the end as Resurrection faded out. It was good fun, the band played really well and gave a full set, with a fifteen minute version of Fools Gold, the song twisting and turning itself inside out, and the traditional set closer of I Am The Resurrection with the full on extended funk/ rock outro.  The whole thing felt like a celebration. It was great for people who didn't see them first time round to get the chance, a chance for others to relive the glory days of youth (which I suppose is what heritage rock is really or at least partly for), good for the band to get a payday (after being screwed over by Silvertone on album sales especially). At one point at Heaton Park I turned around to look behind me (we were fairly near the stage). There must have been 60, 000 people behind me, stretching all the way back as far as the fence hundreds of yards away. I wondered how much they were getting out out of it, whether seeing bands in big fields where you end up watching the screens as much as the stage, is ever that good. I've no doubt that seeing them at Parr Hall took the edge of Heaton Park for me- it was good, I wouldn't have missed it, but Parr Hall- the unexpectedness of it, the intimacy, the excitement and energy of the crowd and the band- was something else. I hope that doesn't sound elitist, or 'I was there and you weren't'- it's not meant to. I know I really lucked my in to Parr Hall, I could easily have not passed the man who sold me the wristband and moped around for a while before either driving home or deciding to stand outside the venue and listen from there, almost but not quite at the gig. 


Martin said...

Wow, am properly envious of this. Still can't get my head around the guy who went to the trouble of turning up, memorabilia in hand, to get a wristband knowing that he couldn't then go! But lucky for yo, so who cares.

Great post, cheers.

Tom W said...

That's a really excellent account of an extremely fortunate day. Twenty quid! I love the offhand symbolism of it.

Swiss Adam said...

I've often wondered Martin- he mumbled something about having to work but he'd made the effort to go and queue and then couldn't get out of work. You'd phone in sick wouldn't you?

Anonymous said...

Never seen Joel look as stressed as when he realised he didn't get the memo about memorabilia and we'd already driven there! He was a desperate man.

Adam Turner said...

Ha ha. I can imagine the look on his face.

The Swede said...

A superb review of the day and gig SA, although I can't quite believe that it all happened ten years ago. Time flies.

Rickyotter said...

Great story Adam, it was a super exciting time. Remember the stress of trying to get Heaton Park tickets, then realising they'd put a Sunday on. Saw them in parks and football grounds for a couple of years, then saw them at Leeds Arena - practically an 'intimate' venue in comparison, but the vibe was different and it was obvious that it would all be over soon - in a matter of weeks it was. Back to acrimony and rumours - something the Roses always excelled at

Echorich said...

It's important to share the memory and the emotions of those special gigs/shows we get to attend in our lifetime. It's never elitist, or rubbing people's nose in it. It's sharing the joy and excitement, letting it drift into others to appreciate and enjoy rather than it just escaping into the ethers.

Ludo said...

Great post - love to hear these types of stories. When I was at sixth form in Salford, me and my mates followed them around when they played NW England as much as we could. There was a small bit in The Word section of the Manchester Evening News once saying something like "Pop hopefuls the Stone Roses are playing Preston tonight" and me and my mate got the bus down. Fantastic gig on that amazing Spring '89 tour. After seeing them in Widnes Queens Hall and the International 2 we got on this free bus/ticket thing to an ACR concert at London Town & Country Club via Terry Christian's then radio show and were gutted to see we'd missed a Roses gig at nearby Camden Dingwalls by one day. The Roses were in the audience and we accosted Ian Brown asking why they'd put off the St Helens & Wigan gigs. Years later one of my mates was living in Barcelona couldn't believe his luck when the Roses announced the Razmatazz gigs there. I was gutted as I live in Thailand - I knew they'd play a near hometown gig as the comeback. Some criticism of the Made of Stone doc is too much footage of the lead up to the Warrington gig but I found that the most exciting watching now-aged Roses fans bolting from their offices across Warrington

Swiss Adam said...

Ricky the stress of Heaton Park tickets was quite real wasn't it. Shame how it finished but I think it was probably the right time. Interesting that they didn't give a single interview during the entire re- union. Either determined to keep some mystery to it or there would be too much uncomfortable stuff to discuss.

Echorich- yep, you're right.

Ludo- they were that kind of group for a while, people bussing/ training/ driving all over the place to see them. That tour in spring 89 was amazing, so exciting. I saw them in Liverpool. Agree about the Made Of Stone film- the Warrington bits are great.