I am not, on the whole, a fan of the rock’n’roll reunion. The opportunity to bathe in sweaty nostalgia, to relive one’s “glory days”, to try to recapture the magic of a particular moment long passed… it might sound appealing in theory but so often it ends up as a scrum of paunchy, lachrymose middle aged blokes drowning themselves in fizzy beer while the heroes of their youth, a motley collection of age-inappropriate haircuts and missed alimony payments, fail miserably to reignite the spark that brought everyone together in the first place. Partly because of the inevitable rain.
For all those reasons, when The Stone Roses announced their resurrection in 2011, I decided to steer well clear. The Roses were my band – they came along at the exact moment I needed them to, when I was 16 – and they were magnificent: potent, swaggering, complete. They came from Hulme in Manchester on a wave of Ecstasy and acid house and baggy-trousered petty criminality.
They had a look, they had an attitude, and they had tunes that combined blissed out Sixties psychedelia with the sharp edges of punk and the groove of funk. For a lot of people – hundreds of thousands of people my age – they were our Beatles, our Stones, our Pistols, our Clash, our Smiths. I saw them at Alexandra Palace in 1989, maybe the single most exciting night of my life up to that point. Why would I want to roll along to what could only ever be a pale imitation of that, a rather sad and ultimately futile attempt to recreate something ineffable: the feeling of being 17 and at last unleashed?
Shane Meadows’s new film, The Stone Roses: Made of Stone, changed my mind. It made me wish I’d thrown caution to the wind and snagged some tickets to Heaton Park, last July, to watch Ian Brown and John Squire and Mani and Reni play the gigs they should have been playing in the early Nineties, when they were too busy watching all they’d created slip agonisingly through their fingers.
Meadows, the writer-director of the excellent This is England, among other things, is an avowed Stone Roses obsessive. He’s the perfect age to be – bang on 40, same as me – and my worry, as the film opened, was that his film would be another overly reverent rock hagiography, the kind you find on BBC4 on Friday nights, an assemblage of tired old clips and boring talking heads.
But it’s something else, something weirder and much, much better, and after a time it becomes clear that what might have been simply a fly-on-the-wall film documenting the band’s progress in the months leading up to those shows last summer is also a meditation on the vicissitudes of male friendship and, more importantly, a human story about what the music you fall in love with as a youth can still mean to you as an adult.
The centerpiece of the film is a terrific section, which I found extremely moving, documenting the single day last May when the Roses announced a free warm-up gig at the tiny Warrington Parr Hall. Meadows’ camera beautifully captures the excitement, the giddiness, the urgency of the crowd of people who begin to mass outside the venue: dads, mums, sons, daughters, marrieds, mates, kids, babies… ordinary British people, the same people Meadows has made his career filming, yearning to be taken out of themselves and their surroundings by the music of four not-so-young men with drums, bass, guitar, microphones and a bag full of songs that everyone knows all the words to.
The gig itself is triumphant – “And we’re still good looking!” shouts Ian at the end – and if not everything goes quite to plan in the weeks and months afterwards (Reni goes home before the encore in Amsterdam, Ian calls him a cunt) then all is forgiven in time for Heaton Park. You had to be there, probably. But if you weren’t, like me, then this film is at least some compensation.
I see they’re playing again in the next few weeks, in Paris and London and Glasgow and the Isle of Wight. I didn’t get tickets for those, either. Knobhead.
The Stone Roses: Made of Stone is released on June 5