Stone Roses: The Flower Show, 1985. A Recollection.
Stone Roses People, do you remember your first time? Fortunately, Vivienne Wilson had the common sense to write down her memories many years ago, so that it would not be forgotten. The names of the people involved have been changed as some of them have grown up and have things like responsible jobs, kids etc.
These events took place on 30th November 1985 in Manchester and if I shut my eyes and relax I can remember it all as if it happened last night
I’d done hours of yoga that day, so I felt all stretched out and relaxed like a big old pussycat.
I’d arranged to meet Gavin in the foyer at six. My liking of Gavin was increased by his willingness to remain friends with me after I’d treated him so shabbily. He arrived looking dapper. I remember he had shiny silk cuffs at the ends of his sleeves. His coat was a kind of grey/blue colour. He looked like he’d made an effort for the evening in a young Michael Stipe kind of way. The seventies panelling and orange plastic seating made him look out of place, but then we were used to that.
Katie arrived next wearing a totally inappropriate cocktail dress under a heavy winter coat like me. This was in the time when she still had her sun hat hair. Her hair was dark at the top and blonde at the bottom. She crimped and sprayed it so that it stuck out looking like an oversized hat. She also had an obsession about carrying umbrellas around, because if her hair had got wet, she would have looked totally ludicrous. Sometimes, when she was feeling lazy, she would put on a straw hat that she had modified and pull bits of her hair through it. She was quite shy and her hair worked well as a prop to hide behind.
Alan and Steve arrived. They completely ignored us and carried on talking to each other. They had a way of talking about things we had no comprehension of like cricket and rugby, which made it impossible to join in their conversations. At that time they always came across as being utterly confident. They were from the north and Katie and I were from the south. Alan often met old friends when we were on nights out. He was expecting to see people he knew later that night.
“Have you seen them before?” I asked Katie.
“No, I’ve never even heard anything by them.”
“Neither have I.” said Gavin.
“You’ll like them.”Â said Alan; “I’ve seen them a couple of times this year and I’ve heard them on the radio. That guy who does the Friday night show on Piccadilly recorded them doing some stuff and he quite often plays those tracks. I taped them, but the quality’s not very good. They’re just so much better than a lot of the crap you find yourself listening to without really thinking about it.”
As a group it was music that brought us together. We all liked the Velvet Underground, The Clash, The Jesus and Mary Chain, James, Death Cult and The Smiths. This was Manchester in 1985 and we were too young to have been proper punks. We’d all been the outcast brainy freaks at our respective secondary schools and now we were all standing in a brightly lit hall, waiting for someone called Duncan, who had managed to borrow a van for the night.
Alan made a point of sitting opposite me in the van. It was an old Ford transit with bare wooden bench seats on either side. There were no seat belts and we often crammed in as many people as we could fit on the benches. Travelling in the van was very much a social experience, because you were crushed between the people sitting either side of you and when it turned corners too sharply, you often found yourself sitting on the knees of the person opposite you. Sometimes the back door handle was broken and if you were sitting on one of the end seats, you had to hold the doors shut – the person sitting next to you would have to hold on to you too when the van swung round corners, so that you did n’t fall out.
Throughout the journey, Alan made ridiculous statements about pedestrians we could see out of the windows. These were mainly people wrapped up in their dark winter coats and shielding themselves against the wind and rain with their umbrellas. A girl at Piccadilly bus station was apparently asking for it, because she was wearing a mini-skirt. Another, nearer the railway station had a face like the bottom of a baby’s pram – all piss and broken biscuits. Katie and I ignored him and carried on looking out of the windows. It was n’t clear who his comments were directed to, but he certainly did not appear to be looking for a response from either of us and Gavin was ignoring him too. Steve had sat himself in the front passenger seat next to Duncan and they were engrossed in their own conversation, seemingly about cricket.
We stopped at a phone box at the edge of the city centre and Duncan produced a crumpled piece of paper from the pocket of his jeans. It just had a number on it, which he called. The rest of us waited, shivering in the van. It was a freezing cold November night and there was no heating. After about fifteen minutes, a bloke who none of us knew arrived to take us to the gig. He hardly spoke. He just checked that we were the people who had called, got the van keys off Duncan and drove off.
We seemed to drive round and round in circles for ages before pulling up outside a run-down red brick, Victorian warehouse on a dark deserted street. I could hear the faint hum of traffic in the distance, but it did not seem as if we were in the centre of a city any longer. The door was propped open by a temporary barrier. We paid our ÃÂ£2.00 to get in and were each given a piece of paper which said “This is Blackmail” and had a penny laminated onto it. We walked through into the main area of the warehouse. In one corner, loads of cans of holsten pils lager were stacked up and someone was selling them to the punters. This was cash only and there was obviously no such thing as a liquor licence.
The warehouse was lit by floodlighting, so it was actually quite bright inside and there were crates dotted about. Alan said hello to a couple of people who had come up from Derbyshire and told them he’d catch up with them later on. Then he led me over to some crates and told me he wanted to talk to me and we sat down. It soon became clear that he actually wanted to talk at me. He spoke non-stop about Native American indigenous people, which oddly enough he did not come across as being very knowledgeable about, for about an hour. Up until this point I had really fancied him. He looked delectable in a post punk, slightly gothic way. Like a cross between Byron and Michael Hutchence dressed in East German army surplus clothing. He had good taste in music, had been to lots of gigs and my reputation for being stroppy and focussed on my own projects to the point of extreme selfishness did n’t seem to bother him. When I started to feel nauseous, I asked him if he wanted a drink and walked over to where the beers were without waiting for a response.
This proved to be slightly more complicated than it usually is at a gig. I had to buy raffle tickets and was given the cans of pils as prizes in a tombola, which it was impossible to lose in.
Walking back with the cans in my hands, Duncan grinned at me mischievously. This was the first time we’d met. I felt as if he’d looked right into my head and seen what I was thinking about Alan. For someone who was a student, he was actually very bright and practical. He did n’t spend much time going to lectures or in the library. In fact he was n’t about much, even though he lived on campus. Most of his friends seemed to live in and around Manchester and he appeared to spend most of his time hanging about with people who were either in bands or else following bands around. For him, being a student was really about hanging onto that kind of lifestyle for as long as possible.
“Are you going out with him?”
“What the fuck are you doing sitting listening to that gobshite for?”
I handed him the can that I’d actually bought for Alan.
“Cheers. I hate students.”
The lights went out and an intro track began to play. The people in the warehouse all moved in towards the middle in front of the stage. The intro lasted for several minutes and dry ice was pumped out towards the shivering scenesters. Suddenly the band began to play. It was as if the whole warehouse had burst into flames. The songs were raw, but they had an energy that sliced right through me. This was not like listening to U2 or Simple Minds. These people were my age and their songs made perfect sense to me.
I felt paralysed. It was as if my ears and eyes were functioning, but the rest of me had been put on hold. The singer started dancing around in the audience. Between the vocals, he was swinging his mic around. He swaggered up to me and put his face right up to my face, before charging off again.
People around me were dancing, shouting and cheering. They clearly had a lot of friends in the audience. To say it was exciting is like saying that chocolate tastes nice. Seeing them play made me feel differently about my life and myself. It made me feel comfortable about taking risks and about doing what I wanted to do, no matter what other people thought about that.
Part way through a song, the sound distorted. In frustration, the drummer smashed a window with his elbow and then an amp blew up. The band left looking like the people who’d followed Marlon Brando around on his motorbike in The Wild Ones – moody, gang-like, angry.
The rest of us stood still for a few moments taking in what we had seen. The band were edgy and gave off an air of being disturbingly dangerous, so we were n’t quite sure if they had finished with us.
We were chatting about the gig and finishing our drinks when someone came up and told us we had to leave, because we were n’t supposed to be there. The warehouse belonged to British Rail and they had thought that the band had been filming in there during the day. Apparently, the British Transport Police were on their way.
We had some trouble getting into the van. Duncan’s sister, Pauline, was lying on the floor in the back of it semi-conscious. She looked about 12 years old and was ridiculously drunk. She was wearing the obligatory REM-style far too big for her coat and a beret, which had amazingly managed to stay on her head.
We got in and sat round her pulling our feet back, so that we were n’t kicking her. She was far too drunk to sit up on the seats with us. She drifted in and out of consciousness throughout the journey home, but we did learn that she was looking after the band, who were called the Stone Roses.
All words by Vivienne Wilson. You can read more from Vivienne on LTW here.