“How come Scousers always know what’s happening before us?”
The Mancunian in the toilet, an aging Clash fan in a battered old leather motorcycle jacket, had just been chatting to my Evertonian mate John.
“You do know who the special guests are, don’t you?” John had asked him in the basement of the HMV Ritz. The guy didn’t have a clue. The look on his face when he was told it was the Stone Roses was supposedly priceless.
Back in Liverpool, the fact that the Stone Roses – or at least Ian Brown and John Squire – would be performing at the second night of the ‘Justice Tonight’ nationwide tour was the city’s worst kept secret for the past three days. Even outside the venue, chatting with one of the young lads from Boss Mag – the football fanzine inspired by Peter Hooton’s The End - the conversation revolved around what they might play rather than if they’d play.
Manchester, however, seemed oblivious to the fact that their greatest ever band would soon be writing another chapter in city’s musical history. The third coming wasn’t scheduled to take place until June 29th 2012 with a super-sized comeback gig in Heaton Park but that was before Mick Jones got on the blower to Ian Brown. Alongside Pete Wylie, Hooton and The Farm, the former Clash legend is touring the country to raise awareness and funds for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. It’s just the sort of cause – in aid of 96 families whose sons, daughters, husbands and brothers were let down in the most horrific way possible – that The Clash would have supported back in their day. By 1989, the year of the disaster and the year the Roses’ released their seminal debut, The Clash had long since split but there’s something about Hillsborough which has touched a nerve with Jones.
Everyone in Liverpool knows what Hillsborough means to Hooton and Wylie – in fact, it’s Wylie’s ‘Heart As Big As Liverpool’ which soundtracks the official video tribute to those who never came home on April 15 1989, but Jones has become equally as passionate over the years.
The idea for the ‘Juctice Tonight’ tour was born the night of the ‘Don’t Buy The Sun’ concert at Liverpool’s Olympia in September, when Jones – backed by Wylie and The Farm - played a set of Clash songs live on stage for the first time in 20 years. “One of the best, most emotionally charged concerts I’ve ever played,” he said after the gig. Backstage that night, drinking bottles of beer, they talked about how good it would be to do it all again. And again. How good it would be to take the music and the message to the rest of the country. But would anyone outside of Liverpool be interested?
Fast forward three months and on Thursday night, the question was answered. Cardiff was the venue for the first night of the tour and by all accounts, the place bounced as James Dean Bradfield joined the stage to belt out a rousing rendition of ‘Clampdown’.
No disrespect to the Manic Street Preachers – who have always supported the Hillsborough cause – but they’re not the Roses and when Brown and Squire walked onto the stage the following night, the place went mad. The crowd had already been treated to a set from The Farm (Highlight: ‘Altogether Now’), a set from Wylie (Highlight: ‘Sinful’) and the sight of Jones, with the biggest grin on his face, playing ‘Train in Vain’ but as the gentle chords to ‘Elizabeth My Dear’ started up, you knew you were witnessing a special moment.
This is what rock and roll is about for me. Protest music. Fighting injustice. I'm a QPR fan but I feel like an honorary Scouser at times as I've got so many good friends from Liverpool - Mick Jones
By now, you’ll have seen the three-song set on YouTube. If it looks and sounds amazing on your computer screen, it was a million times better in the flesh. Brown, in particular, looked fresher than he has for years. The band’s reformation seems to have taken years off him.
The sight of Mick Jones, John Squire and Ian Brown on stage playing together – literally inches from each other - is fantasy tour manager stuff. Even when Brown and Squire left the stage, they hung around to watch the rest of the set as Clash song after Clash song rang out.
Backstage, I spoke to Brown, Squire, Jones, Wylie and Hooton for a feature I was writing for the official Liverpool FC website. They were all good as gold – breaking off from posing for pictures and chatting with mates and fans alike – to make sure I had what I needed to help write the piece that would hopefully further raise awareness about what the night was really all about.
This is what they told me:
Ian Brown: "When Mick Jones asked us to perform for the cause, we didn't even need to think about it. It felt amazing to get up on stage with John but tonight wasn't about the Stone Roses, it was about Hillsborough. It was about injustice. I've always said, 'It's not about where you're from, it's about where you're at' and tonight you saw Liverpool and Manchester united. We're two ends of the same city in my eyes and if we'd got it together, London would never have got a look in."
John Squire: "People have asked about Manchester United and Liverpool but I don't buy into petty rivalries, this is about justice. It's bigger than football. Mick Jones is our hero and when he asks you to help, you help. It's a simple as that. We were delighted to be asked and delighted to play although I'm not sure they needed another guitarist up there! Seriously though, if us playing helps raise even a little bit more awareness about what happened in 1989 and to the families since then, then tonight will have been worth it. These people - the families - have been stitched up and that's why Pete Wylie, The Farm and Mick Jones are taking the tour around the country. I'm sure the Liverpool concert next Friday will be special with the crowd."
Pete Wylie: "What can you say about tonight? Mick Jones playing Clash songs, The Farm doing 'Altogether Now' with the whole crowd singing along and Ian Brown and John Squire on stage together again... That's rock and roll and it was all for the 96. It means so much to us that what happened in 1989, why it happened and what has happened since is never forgotten. To see a great crowd from Manchester and lots of fans from Liverpool turn out to support the cause together says a lot about both cities."
Peter Hooton: "The Stones Roses sold 225,000 tickets in just over an hour last month. They didn't need to do tonight but they did and I can't thank them enough. It's unbelievable they chose tonight - at this gig - to get up on stage together again. They were totally into it and the fact that they hung around afterwards to talk to everyone - fans from Liverpool and Manchester - was special. The opening night in Cardiff with James Dean Bradfield was amazing but tonight was unbelievable. Mick Jones is a legend and for him to join us on every night of the tour is fantastic."
Mick Jones: "This is what rock and roll is about for me. Protest music. Fighting injustice. I'm a QPR fan but I feel like an honorary Scouser at times as I've got so many good friends from Liverpool. The Clash always had a lot of love from Liverpool and I guess we've stayed friends all these years. The 'Don't Buy The Sun' concert in September was one of the most emotional nights I've ever been on stage. You could feel the passion in the crowd. It was so good - and for such a good cause - that it just made sense to take it around the country to try and raise awareness. It feels like the families are edging closer and closer to finding out the real truth after over 20 years and if this helps, even just a little bit, then I'm happy. Music unites people but injustice unites even more people. That's what this tour is about."
The mood backstage was great; everyone was buzzing. The lads from Boss Mag were stood in one corner of the dressing room with Mick Jones and John Squire, Roy Boulter from The Farm was knocking about in his shorts, Wylie, true to the lyrics of ‘Stay Free’, was smoking Menthol and Peter Hooton, well, he was still getting his head around the fact that the Roses had picked the ‘Justice Tonight’ tour to make their comeback.
Me? I was stood in the corridor with Ian Brown and three mates from Liverpool – one of whom, despite being friends with Mani, hadn’t spoken to the singer for 20 years. After a proper catch up, the conversation ended with an embrace, photos being taken, numbers being swapped and an invite for Brown and his kids to come to a cafe in a south Liverpool park for free ice cream.
It was that sort of night. Joe Strummer would have no doubt approved.
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