Somewhere in France, summer 1998. “Look at that poseur, who does he think he is? Liam Gallagher?”
We were on a coach with a bunch of kids as part of a French Exchange trip I had the pleasure of being involved with for seven years. It was a 20 hour trip so and there was always a video player on the bus, controlled of course by yours truly. I mainly took the opportunity to introduce a new generation to Monty Python and Fawlty Towers. This time I had taped a load of stuff from VH1. The singer is question was naturally Ian Brown. I smiled patiently and told the lad that the people on screen were the most influential British band ever.
Watching Shane Meadows’ film of the Stone Roses 2012 reunion, “Made in Stone” just confirms that I was right.
The Beatles are rightly lauded for leading British music out of the grey post war austerity era and into the glorious technicolour of the ‘sixties but were they merely aping and improving on what they had themselves heard, first from the US rock’n rollers, and then the art house experimentation on show when they toured America in the mid sixties, coming into contact with the West Coast scene and the Pet Sounds record by the Beach Boys? Debatable but worth thinking about given the Fab Four’s untouchable status.
Until the Roses the Clash were the most original UK band around, along with perhaps Joy Division. Certainly the energy and total self belief in what they were doing was a new thing considering how us Brits are often so self deprecatory. But you can hear bands like Television, the New York Dolls and (especially) the Ramones in the Clash. And Kraftwerk were an enormous influence on Joy Division as referenced by in New Order’s seminal dance track “Blue Monday” which samples the West German band’s track “Uranium”.
Where do the Smiths come in all of this? Hard to say. They are my favourite band so it’s hard to be objective. Were they truly original? I can certainly hear the Kinks whimsy and Englishness, but once again the New York Dolls crop up, along with Marc Bolan and the usual suspect; Lou Reed. Johnny Marr told the NME that the Rolling Stones inspired many of his key riffs including “Big Mouth Strikes Again” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”. It goes without saying that no band ever exists in isolation and Morrissey cites popular culture and the ‘fifties plays such as “A Taste of Honey” as a huge inspiration for his lyrics based on social dislocation.
The Stone Roses traced their roots to of the Manchester scene of the early eighties which produced bands such as the Fall, Joy Division/ New Order and the Hacienda night club scene. Their first major gig was supporting Pete Townshend in 1985, but it took a lot of hard gigging and setbacks aplenty before the Roses broke through into the mainstream. Almost overnight the band were transformed from a critically acclaimed but unheard of act, to being elevated to God like status during the summer of 1989. Their eponymous début album released in June caused the NME to comment; “ the album arrived this spring like a bolt of God-kissed lightning” concluding , “ it is a Technicolour daydream, a season ticket to the fairground, a renewable narcotic”.
For the record this was the last album I bought on tape! What I do remember about the Stone Roses was their enormous self belief and swagger. And this is perhaps the key as to why the record caught the moment. The Smiths and earlier bands commentated on the destruction of the northern working class, documenting the isolation brought about by de industrialisation. The big, usually unionised and state owned work places had been destroyed by the Tories. It can be argued that solidarity and togetherness were a casualties of this politically motivated attack on working class and the Smiths reflected this collective loss of confidence. The Stone Roses, however were intent on kicking back and front man Ian Brown’s swagger (totally and unashamedly copied by Liam Gallagher) allied to Mani’s laddish demeanour were saying, this is who we are, this is what we do, you got a problem with that?
But the Roses music is not just about aggression; far from it. There is whimsy aplenty (“Elisabeth, my Dear, “Mersey Paradise” ) as well as the anthemic (“I Wanna Be Adored”) but the the most interesting track from that period, which wasn’t actually on the original record is “Fools Gold”. The song is the reason why the Stone Roses referenced for their originality as it’s not remotely like anything else. It starts with a Mani bass riff and, with the most strange syncopation imaginable evolves into a kind of funk sound with John Squires guitar and Brown’s vocals giving a somewhat northern rock feel. The core of the Roses’ sound is the amazing drumming of Remi, allied to Mani’s crafting of bass-lines that the songs are often built around, with the textures of Squire’s guitar wrapped around the track. Brown’s understated vocals are the icing on the cake.
But as with all great records there are some damn fine tunes in there which would stand alone acoustically. Nirvana, somewhat surprisingly have this down to a tee. Amongst the heavy grunge sound and all that goes with it, there are powerful melodies. The Stones Roses have them in bundles.
Legal wrangling and internal strife killed the Stone Roses as a creative force within 18 months. The second record took five years to get out due to bust ups with various record labels, and was a flop artistically and commercially. The emotional destruction on the individual band members was horrendous. But without the Roses there would have been no guitar band revival in the UK and the world would have been deprived of Brit Pop and all that went with it.
In 2011, and out of the blue the Roses reformed. Shane Meadows’ film tells that story as well as providing context via the band’s troubled history. The gig parts of the film ably demonstrate the aura that the Stone Roses still have, and their ability to create a sense of one ness with their now disparate audience is quite something to behold, especially at a one off warm up gig in Warrington which was only announced on the day.
Art and culture are not the preserve of the middle classes or the privileged. The music produced by the Stone Roses stand up with any in the classical genre. The raw talent was expertly marshalled by producer John Leckie and the lesson for us forty somethings that had free access to musical instruments and tuition is pretty straightforward; we must invest and above all believe in our young people and instill the confidence in them to be creative and tell their stories whether it be through creative writing, producing works of art or music.
Hull has the chance to fulfil this via our City of Culture status in 2017. But to give the opportunity for our artists, young and not so young, we must fight every cut imposed by this Tory Government and their Lib Dem desperado side kicks. A campaign must be built across the north via the Trade Unions and council Labour groups. The will to stop the government is there in our communities and our cities. If Ed Miliband and the Shadow Cabinet can’t see or feel this then they need to get out of the way and let the people take control as when the Stone Roses’ music was our soundtrack. We organised and drove the strongest prime minister of the post war era from Office. Thatcher’s 100 seat majority meant nothing. We did that. We must do it again.