In 1989 I was thirteen and living in a moderately sized house in Gildersome, a suburb of Leeds. My father was both a police officer and graduate of boarding schools; my mother (who had failed her 11 plus) had worked her way through a succession of jobs to accommodate both my younger sister and myself. By the time I was old enough to notice whatever joy the relationship had once contained had been replaced by a standoffish resentment.
At the time, I didn’t really understand music. Outside the house, my school mates favoured house and dance music which sounded synthetic and over produced to my ears. Inside the house, the 1960’s ruled the roust: Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Melanie, early Beatles and Motown but, to be honest, as an increasingly testosterone soaked young man the hippie vibe didn’t really do it for me either. What I was missing, was context. John Peel provided it.
Peel was an influential English DJ and taste maker who’d once taken to the air and played the Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Sidewalking’ nine times within an hour because it sounded good. One night, for whatever reason, he played the song that closed out the Roses’ debut ‘I am the Resurrection’
From that point on, I was living in a post-Stone Roses world
Which opens with a Motown drum, which rises and falls like a dance record (which uses, unusually for a rock record, dynamics) and then the bass kicks in and then the guitar and then the vocals. From that point on, I was living in a post-Stone Roses world.
The records themselves were educational, the covers modelled after Jackson Pollock and making me curious about art. The lyrics deeply evocative and concerned with politics, gender, place and beauty. In interviews, guitarist John Squire would name check older bands, sending me scurrying to my father’s record collection, to see if he had a Byrds or a Hendrix best of. They were a band that made me think and they had bass that excited me, lyrics that moved me, drumming that thrilled me and guitar solos that sent me over the top.
Five years passed. I left home. Fell deeply in love and realized that love might not be as deep as I imagined. In that time, I also fell deeply in love with music, with literature, with art. The initial allure of this was almost certainly due to the Roses, who got into an almighty legal scuffle with their label, Silverstone, over rights (their deal precluded the band profiting from the sales of CDs, an industry that exploded seemingly overnight and rendered vinyl pretty much irrelevant.) and promptly disappeared, amid rumours of drug addiction.
They weren’t, as one of their songs suggested, ‘what the world is waiting for’
Time doesn’t stand still and pop culture moves faster than most other kinds of art. By the time the Roses returned Britpop was in its ascendency and the Manchester quota was covered by Oasis, mouthy caricatures of Mancunians. They weren’t, as one of their songs suggested, ‘what the world is waiting for’ and the delicateness of their touch had been replaced with a heavy, lumpen seventies rock vibe. They also gave their first interview in five years not to the NME or Q or Select, but to The Big Issue –a magazine dedicated to materially benefitting the homeless—a political act that I still applaud, but which the media appeared to consider dilettantism.
That wasn’t the problem, though. Brown and Squire weren’t getting on, Brown and drummer Reni weren’t getting on and, as the band has admitted since, everyone was addicted to different drugs. The end was an ugly thing, Reni was sacked, John Squire left and was replaced by a session musician whose clients included Simply Red. A Keyboard player was added (who infamously shouted at a gut wrenchingly bad show at Redding Festival 1996 ‘Yo! Put your hands together! It’s The Stone Roses’) it was a long, slow death rattle that only finished when Bass player Mani left to join Primal Scream.
Fifteen years have passed, I’ve moved to Manchester. A fabled land that seems to produce more musicians per capita than any other city. It’s not true, of course. Liverpool or Glasgow probably produce as many bands, but we reshape popular culture --New Order, Happy Mondays, The Roses—in this town and we’re really good at making sure that you know about it. Manchester is both more and less than I hoped it would be.
The Stone Roses weren’t the best band ever; they weren’t even the best band I’ve loved, just the one I’ve loved most profoundly
Over the last few years the city has started to commodity its ‘Madchester’ highpoint. There’s been photography exhibitions, Peter Hook (currently at war with his former New Order bandmates) opened ‘The Factory’, a nightclub situated where the Factory Records offices’ used to be on Whitworth Street. Recently he undertook a tour of the ‘Unknown Pleasures’ album he recorded with seminal Manchester band Joy Division. I’m savvy enough to know that all this is inevitable, but still find it sobering.
A few months ago the band that once sang ‘Kiss me where the sun don’t shine, the past was yours but the future’s mine’ out of the stereo above my bed in my parents’ house announced their reformation. It was, if I’m completely honest, the sight I never wanted to see. I don’t begrudge anybody a payday, but there are some bands that move people so that time freezes. Take that line I just quoted. I loved it when I was 13, as a child who didn’t get on with his father because I knew it to be true. I loved it as a 16 year old man-child for the same reason. As a 35 year old? I’m a little too experienced to believe in that line, the naivety of it. But I savour the memory of belief.
This summer a lot of men (and maybe some women) who were 13 years old in 1989 are going to stand in a field in Manchester, whilst wearing parkas, with ‘more salt than pepper their hair’ (to misquote another of Manchester’s sons, Elbow) and watch the even older band perform on stage. I won’t be there. The Stone Roses weren’t the best band ever; they weren’t even the best band I’ve loved, just the one I’ve loved most profoundly. They contextualized music for me, allowed me to excavate the past and plumb the present. In some small way, they were responsible for taking a very unhappy adolescent and enriching his world with music, literature and art. I don’t feel like they owe me anything, that they should have stayed split to protect the sanctity of my childhood memories. But I don’t think the kid who loved them needs to see the inevitable disappointments of the wider-trouser years either.
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