The Stones Roses: The band who've waited 22 years to play a good Wembley gig
The Stone Roses play Wembley tonight June 17. Tickets are available here.
Never underestimate being in the right place at the right time.
Right place, right time. A sandpit, somewhere around 1966. John Squire is, apparently, naked. Ian Brown comes along and pushes away the bullies. They are four-years-old.
A decade disappears. The Sex Pistols release God Save The Queen and Brown plays it for Squire; a year later Squire, the boy with Beatles compilations, buys his first guitar to thrash out Steve Jones riffs and anything by the Clash.
Right place, right time: 1984. Pete Townshend, the Who guitarist, needs bands for an anti-heroin gig: Brown, singing now, writes a letter (‘I’m surrounded by skagheads, I wanna smash ’em. Can you give us a show?”). Townshend does, and tells the boys that Reni is the best drummer he’s heard since Keith Moon.
Manchester, the late 80s. It’s the right place, the right time. The city is a vibrating hub of chance, of talent, of the biggest bands and the best gigs. Manchester is cocky and swaggering: it has the Happy Mondays, 808 State, The Smiths. It has history with the Buzzcocks, and hope with what’s next. Brown and Reni are getting the word out with graffiti tags; the city can’t help but see their name. John Squire is building a collection pedals, playing with his sound like its plasticine. No-one else sounds like them and word is spreading.
“They weren't frightened. What you hear is the band… there wasn’t any pressure to prove themselves – they knew they were good.”
Producer John Leckie, who made the band's debut album
They aren’t there yet: listen to the ropey Garage Flowers, a late release of early demos. Things change when they meet Gareth Evans, owner of the International nightclub. It’s definitely the right place, and Evans is the right man; he’s a salesman who’ll strip to his tighty-whities to sell underwear, who has no problem turning away Yasmin LeBon when Duran Duran play (‘Sorry luv, you’re not on the list’). Evans lets them rehearse every night, all night, whenever they can, and the band pick up. The pick up so much they come up with Sally Cinnamon – a mix of swirling, phased guitars, cinema drums and running bass. It’s like nothing they've done before: “When I heard Sally Cinnamon for the first time” Noel Gallagher says, years later, “I knew what my destiny was.”
Then something happens. Manchester, in full swing as Madchester, needs a face. Up steps Ian Brown, who can’t really sing but has cheekbones that even drug addicts can’t carve out. He is handsome, he dances madly: he is, in other words, the one.
The Stone Roses, now Squire, Brown, Reni and bassist Mani, become the first signing to Silvertone Records. They are young and barely drink, full of endless confidence, a studio dream. Squire and Reni are white hot, and producer John Leckie finds a band who aren’t phased by anything: “They weren't frightened. What you hear is the band… there wasn’t any pressure to prove themselves – they knew they were good.”
They really did know they were good. Gigs supporting New Order and The Pixies come up, but are deemed not up to par. Out comes the immortal press release: “The Stone Roses have never supported anyone in their life and see no reason why they should now.”
Songs pour out of foursome: I Wanna Be Adored, Fools Gold, She Bangs The Drums. They are Byrds riffs over jungle drums, vague philosophies sung in even vaguer tunes. But it works, people dance and look good, which is all that matters. The Roses are some twisted alchemists, turning even jokes into hits, as Reni explains: “Mani would play the [Beatles' Taxman] riff backwards during sound-checks and we played along over the top for a laugh. Finally we said, ‘Let’s do this joke-song properly and see what happens.’”. I Am The Resurrection was the result.
With 1990 came their greatness, their eponymous album out a year and had already deemed 'godlike' in reviews. Their songs were answered when loved-up crowds didn’t want to do anything but adore them, all blissful and full of ecstasy. The magazines were full of hype – anything to distract from Thatcher – and briefly, the Roses seemed capable of doing anything. Brown talking about shooting Prince Charles didn’t seem to matter, nor did their ‘interviews’, where they treated the press to a gallery of smirks, pursed lips, half jokes, sniggers and silences. They grew and grew.
The band are some twisted alchemists, turning even jokes into hits... I Am The Resurrection was the result
Of course, the wheels came off like they always do. There was the contract dispute, the disappointing second album, the drug binges, the guitar solos. It was too much; they faded. Bands always do.
They reunited in 2011, with a tour in 2012/13. Still, the last time they played Wembley was 22 years ago, give or take. 1995, Friday December 29. Cotton Eye Joe was a top five hit. The Beeb were showing Teenage Mutant Turtles that evening and Bowie’s Labyrinth. Politics were as frail then as now, John Major limping to the end of year that saw him briefly resign and temporarily refuse Bill Clinton’s calls.
The Roses weren’t in much better shape themselves. They were shaky, missing Reni, who’d left. Afterwards, there wouldn’t be any gigs for months. John Squire dryly called it quits on April 1, '96 and the rest made only four more shows, until, in August, it was over; the Madchester icons done in. No more baggy trousers, no more bucket hats and bowl cuts.
They may have only made one good album, but their sound is everywhere. It’s the lifeblood of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, it’s in the Chemical Brothers, it launched MGMT, it changed Blur. U2 wouldn’t have done Achtung Baby with them. All of that has made them strong; they aren't young pretenders anymore. When they hit Wembley, they'll be a band the stadium has never seen. If you’re going, well done. Right place, right time.