Spike Island: The Legacy Of The Stone Roses' Legendary Gig

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Famously the wind blew the sound in every direction but that of the audience, the beer ran out almost immediately and heavy handed security made getting in and out a trial of epic endurance. But why let reality intrude on myth?

Spike Island, the huge, chaotic Stone Roses gig on a reclaimed toxic waste site in Cheshire, in May 1990, will always be remembered as a key moment in British pop culture, when the Madchester scene broke out into the open and one of the best British Indie bands of all time had their moment in the sun – or, at least, the outdoors.

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Twenty-three years on, the Roses are having another moment. Last week I wrote about Made of Stone, Shane Meadows’ terrific documentary following the reformed band in the months leading up to last summer’s triumphant gigs at Heaton Park, in Manchester.

On Saturday evening, as the sun went down and the crowd came up, I was in Finsbury Park, watching Ian, John, Mani and Reni play a magnificent set for a scrum of  – how best to put this? – rather more mature revellers than those gathered the last time I saw the Roses play north London, at Ally Pally in 1989.

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The Finsbury Park gigs (they played on Friday, too) felt like a proper celebration, like watching old friends at last make good on their extraordinary promise, and to genuinely enjoy themselves in the process. They’ll be in Glasgow this weekend doing it again.

Then, last night, Esquire co-hosted a screening of Spike Island, a new feature film following a group of Roses-obsessed Mancunian kids through 48 hours in the run up to the 1990 gig. They’ve certainly thrown the kitchen sink at it.

A pie-eyed slice of gritty Northern drama, a chemical romance, an acutely observed period piece (the hairstyles alone deserve a sequel), director Mat Whitecross’s film, maybe even more than Meadows’ documentary, is an unabashed love letter to the band.

It features some eye-catching acting from a young cast, especially Elliot Tittensor as Tits and Emilia Clark as Sally. And of course a banging soundtrack. But most impressive is the recreation of the gig itself, when 27,000-plus pilled-up teenagers in flappy trousers and bucket hats descended on Widnes to pay tribute to their generation’s (my generation’s) finest pop group.

No-one knew then that it would all go so horribly wrong just a few years later, the band slowly imploding, their last gig a calamitous headlining performance at the 1996 Reading Festival, by which time John and Reni had already quit.

And no-one knew then that it would all come so good again almost two decades later. True story.

Spike Island is released on June 21.

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