Friday 4 November 2011, 17:29
Back in the summer of 1989, The Stone Roses were the second most important thing in my life. I was going to try to avoid writing about them in light of their recently announced resurrection, but it's like that afternoon I spent in a Bulgarian gulag in 1981, learning how to ski: the harder I tried to avoid getting a pine trunk in my unmentionables, the more frequently it happened.
I first heard The Stone Roses on Snub TV. My girlfriend, Charlotte, phoned: "Turn the telly on, quick. There's a band on BBC 2. You'll love them."
I only caught 30 seconds, or so. Ian Brown being beyond tune and mesmeric, singing something about not having to sell your soul. All of a sudden my beloved Cure, Smiths and Beatles albums didn't seem so special any more. There was a moment of chemistry in that clip of I Wanna Be Adored that didn't just exude something indefinable and 'other', it exuded something indefinable, 'other' and NOW. It made House of Love sound like an unflushed toilet, the Wonderstuff sound like the Wurzels with worse tunes, and The Smiths sound like a fun-less dirge of somebody else's problems.
Woofer ran the local record stall in the indoor market in Mold.
"I heard this band on the telly last night."
"The Stone Roses..."
"Yeah, I think so. Have you got anything?"
Another early memory of hearing The Stone Roses was while listening to the build up to the 1989 Liverpool vs Everton FA Cup Semi Final on, I think, Radio City. They played Made of Stone. It must have been before that day's terrible events began to unravel. Wherever its rather stately and melancholic tones appeared, I will forever associate the song with that sad, sad day. Which is the precise reason why, earlier this week, I felt so sick when I saw an ad for a competition in The Sun to win tickets for their forthcoming gigs.
So what have I got to say about the band that hasn't been said before? Why are they relevant to a blog about Welsh music?
Well, The Stone Roses changed my life. When I met and interviewed Ian Brown in 2000 he told me that he meets someone every day who tells him the same thing. He didn't say this with any weariness. He took great pride in the fact that people had met their wives, or been inspired into new lives and directions, by their experiences at Stone Roses gigs. And he's right to feel pride in the love they engendered.
In retrospect, much has been done to displace the band from that initial fervour they generated: the immolation of their reputation at Reading in 1996; the endless Silvertone reissues; the boorishness of many of the bands that photocopied them (the Stone Roses were hard as nails but androgynous, too); 20 years of ubiquity at indie discos; 20 years of people not getting the link between The Stone Roses and funk, hip hop and reggae.
If I had a balloon for every snarling berk who'd demanded I stop DJing Toots and the Maytals, or Funkadelic, in favour of some "Roses", I'd have enough to fly myself to a tropical idyll, far away from snarling berks.
And then there is the fact that the band are oft derided by the people whose musical taste I most respect and admire. John Peel, famously, wasn't much of a fan, comparing them to Herman's Hermits. My broadcasting mate and DJ inspiration, Soundhog, would rather play almost anything else in his DJ sets than "The Stone bloody Roses".
I loved them, though. I'm not sure I still do, but I did then, and they did - undoubtedly - change my life.
I'd imagine they also had quite an effect on Gruff Rhys when he was studying art in Manchester during their ascent. There are certainly echoes of similar touchstones in Radiator and The Stone Roses' debut (particularly Love's Forever Changes). Catatonia, too, had moments of liquid, melodic transcendence that sounded like reverberations from The Stone Roses.
For whatever reasons they spoke to me more evocatively than any other band had done up until that time. They were all the good bits of my mum and dad's records, the swirling guitars and timeless melodies, with a swagger and a groove that set them apart. Their lyrics had a dark, mysterious poetry to them that was so much more romantic than Morrissey's Wildean wordplay and kitchen sink drollery.
"And for as far as I can see, tin-twisted grills grin back at me, bad money dies I love the scene..."
It took me months to fathom those words. Part of the allure of their debut album was filling in the gaps between the dreamy syllables you could make out, and the whispered ones you could not. What the hell was he on about?
But the real life changing experience wasn't the day that I bought their album (19 May 1989) the real life changing experience came when I saw them at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool in August of that year. I'd seen a couple of bands before, but I'd not experienced anything like that; still haven't.
The sun shone. The prom was full of kids my age in big trousers and bright t-shirts. There was candyfloss and lollipops. A fug of marijuana hung over the Golden Mile. The smiles were brighter than the dayglo signs on the funfair. This is all pretty much pat nostalgia. Ooh, how wonderful things were when I was thin, floppy-haired and fancy free. However, I'm not really a nostalgist. Necrophilia with one's past is unhealthy. As somebody once sang: "the past was yours but the future's mine..."
The sounds that came out of the speakers before the Blackpool gig filled me with a wonder and excitement I had never experienced before. It was Damascene, an ear-opening revelation fashioned entirely from incredible noises.
I had grown up on my mum and dad's old 50s and Motown rock 'n' roll singles, their Beatles and Bob Dylan albums. I started listening to Peel in 1988, bemused but attracted to the fey jangle of The Pastels, the strange rush of Loop and the banjaxing, splenetic grit of The Fall. I'd never heard Public Enemy, or Sly and the Family Stone, or The Stooges, or A Guy Called Gerald, or Sympathy For The Devil, or the multitude of other records I heard that night in Blackpool. But I went seeking each and every one of them out in the days following the gig.
I'd never ever heard anyone playing such a broad and unfettered selection of music. Genres, like the Berlin Wall, came down over those couple of summers - and that was the life changing inspiration. So, maybe this piece is more a tribute to Dave Haslam (the DJ that night) than it is to The Stone Roses. The latter enabled the former to amaze me and broaden my listening.
Four thousand people danced: kids from council estates, from nice middle class houses, from cities and villages, from Merseyside, Manchester and Mold. Indie kids, ravers and breakdancers. I try to live that open-minded, joyous dream in every DJ set I do, in every radio show I present, and - almost inevitably - fail every. But it's a goal worth aiming for.
The fact that they've reformed and are in danger of further desecrating that early philosophy worries me. But if one person goes to those gigs and gets their head blown as wide open by the possibility of sounds as I did, way back then, it will be a triumph.
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