I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard Sally Cinnamon. It was November of 1988 and I was in the back of a car headed to Derby to watch my beloved Manchester United play an away game at the old Baseball Ground. I was just 17 and being tolerated by Johnny and Will, a school year older and profoundly cooler than myself, they were old enough to drive AND had a car, so we made our way from our homes in Macclesfield, a small mill town about 18 miles south of Manchester,(though apart from matchdays, it might as well have been 1000 miles in any direction) soundtracked by music of my hosts choice, which was only fair. I had only recently graduated from drinking cider in the park to sneaking into the one pub in town that accepted photocopied birth certificates as ID, so in cultural terms, I was limited to say the least ; I didn’t listen to John Peel or know what the NME was – I hadn’t any concept of music outside of Radio 1 or Top Of The Pops apart from The Beatles and Dylan records in my parents collection and the mod obsession we’d adopted at school as an extension of our love of The Jam, The Specials and Madness … At this point though I think U2, Simple Minds and Echo and the Bunnymen ruled my world. Johnny and Will though were different – their horizons had broadened – they’d started going to gigs, going out in Manchester, they’d discovered “indie” music – i’m not sure how or why, all I know is that during that car journey they played a cassette that changed the whole course of my life.
Side one was “Substance”, the New Order singles collection thus far, amazing stuff and I remember it growing and growing on me as the tape repeated, but side 2 was a schizophrenic mix of songs by various ‘indie’ artists of the times, bands like The Brilliant Corners, The Wedding Present, Happy Mondays, Man From Delmonte, The Cardiacs, Blue Aeroplanes drifted out of the speakers – but most striking of all, a couple of singles by some band called The Stone Roses. “Sally Cinnamon” was instantly amazing. What the fuck is that? Who are these people? They’re from Manchester? How could no-one know about this music – it sounded like a classic there and then, I thought it must have been around for years. Then the recently released “Elephant Stone” complete with b-sides that soundtracked the Northern hills and mills that rolled past us. The Stone Roses – sold to the boy in the back of the car with the stripey shirt and badly gelled hair. “Can I have a copy of this tape…..please…..please?”
With great tolerance and patience, Will, Johnny and their mates slowly let me venture into this whole scene I had no idea existed, a Narnian trip into a world full of fantastic bands that were loved intensely by a knowing few but seemingly hidden from wider view. It was like joining an exclusive club, a club where like minded people could gather nightly at various clubs in the City – long forgotten places like DeVilles where we’d run from room to room when a record we didn’t like came on, the Venue and 42nd Street where legendary DJ Dave Booth would beat mix indie guitar music the same way club DJ’s made acid house so seamless , The Boardwalk where so many great bands would debut and rehearse (Oasis amongst their alumni) , The Ritz with it’s sprung dancefloor and cheap beer, but most of all our regular Thursday pilgrimage to the Hacienda and Dave Haslam’s Temperance night. Even then it was obvious that the “Hac” wasn’t like any other club, you made an extra effort if your destination was FAC51 and no snaking queue, psychological age tests on the door or Mancunian weather could deter us. More and more acquaintances were made, records were bought, new and amazing bands were discovered, it was like a treasure trove not just of the past, but at the time, of the present.
Apart from pestering DJ’s to tell us about the latest new track they’d just played, the record shops in Manchester were a happy hunting ground too. The staff of Piccadilly and Eastern Bloc had an incredible empathy with their customers – a lovely fella called Martin in Piccadilly would, every Monday morning, tell me what i’d like out of the new releases, he was never wrong, his colleague Laura invited me to a shop party where a band she loved would be playing because she thought i’d be into it, it was The Charlatans, pre-Indian Rope…whilst over in Eastern Bloc, Andy McQueen was a source for all things Roses related. He was a fan too and moved in their circles. From sneak previews of tracks to tapes of early demos he helped satisfy our unrelenting hunger for everything and anything that was going on in music RIGHT THEN.
We began to follow bands around that we loved. There always seemed to be a gig in Manchester at the time, and you couldn’t move for local bands that people buzzed about, if it wasn’t the Mondays or James, the Inspirals, Dub Sex, King of the Slums and co, someone would be in from out of town who we were waiting to see. Bands like the Pixies were playing to just 1000 people in Manchester at the time, around Doolittle, tearing the roof off the International 2, The La’s, another band with some indefinable magic that seemed to filter through some classic early singles, particularly “There She Goes” that was already too big for it’s boots even back then…The Smiths might have gone but in their wake, ‘alternative’ music was alive and kicking and Manchester was like a petrie dish for new music and sheer creative energy.
This was fucking amazing. We thought it was always like this and we’d just stumbled across something that happened all the time. Surely everyone went through this, it was so simple…wasn’t it? Acid House was happening, Ecstasy was hitting clubs – everything was changing…but that’s a WHOLE OTHER conversation…
What excited us most of all, without any doubt was The Stone Roses. I can’t explain it, there was something other worldly about them, even in a glut of what felt like great bands – they were a different level. Before even seeing them, there were the records – Sally Cinnamon was amazing – next was Elephant Stone – the first with the John Squire pollock-esque art, with b-sides to kill for, then Made of Stone – a bona fide classic with fucking “Going Down” on the b-side, a song every band nowadays would fucking kill for. The aesthetic was special unique – consistent…. – and then there was the way they sounded, the way the records grooved, that Ian Brown sounded so much like one of us.. At the time of course there was no internet, no MTV2, no YouTube, no fucking MySpace or Soundcloud. The NME, Sounds and Melody Maker were there if you looked, and they’d started to just about take notice, but bands were growing on the down low. You had to hunt out slithers of information, know where to look..There was a natural mystique about music outside of the mainstream in those days, and if a band, like the Roses did so well, controlled what you saw, what you heard and HOW you saw and heard it, then it could be incredibly powerful, especially if it was backed up by amazing records that seemed to step up release by release.
So when you saw them for the first time – fucking hell – it all just fitted together. Bits of TV trickled out – there wasn’t much TV for ‘alternative music’ at the time – late night things on ITV (Transmission) and BBC2’s Snub TV, both of which featured the band and their soon to become customary unhelpful interview style. But they fucking had it and it was that drip-feed of access to this thing that seemed so obviously special that made every single thing about them feel like an event. When Tony Wilson showcased them on his seminal Granada regional late night arts based TV Show “The Other Side Of Midnight”, they performed “Waterfall” live. Fuck, they looked amazing – Cressa, who worked Squire’s effects pedals danced like a man possessed, looking cool as fuck, Ian Brown waved his microphone lead around in a way that became his own, Squire hunched over his guitar, ice cold, working his magic, Reni a whirlwind on the drums but still hitting note perfect backing vocals and Mani swirling around his Squire decorated bass like he was wielding a machine gun like Al Pacino in scarface. They looked great, they dressed great, they sounded great and it was just RIGHT. Jesus Christ – this was the real deal.
The first time we saw the band live, it was Liverpool Polytechnic in May 1988 – part of a marathon UK tour of shitholes that they did up to and around the release of the album. It was 2 days after the release of the album. The music press had raved about the record, but really the pebble had just been thrown into the lake and the ripples were yet to really turn into waves. The band had already, as was their promise, become the biggest “in their street” and were selling out big rooms in the City to adoring audiences. But outside of town it was different. We didn’t have a clue, we thought the whole world already knew – surely…so we got to Liverpool early, expecting the same sort of throng, but the gig was maybe half fulll, mainly with travelling Mancunians and a few curious locals. Scouse stalwarts The Real People supported, (wearing waistcoats by the way – they’d turn up a few months later in full baggy regalia with their mini indie-dance classic “Window Pane”) and it felt like any other gig, but we were about to see the Roses…and once their road crew started to set up (even they looked as cool as the band) the mood in the room changed. Those present huddled forward and you could definitely sense the expectation…Cressa wandered out, we all squeezed forward…the band shuffled on like they owned the place. And they did. The bassline to “I Wanna Be Adored” rumbled forth those who KNEW began to move, a strange mixture of jumping and dancing en masse…and when the guitar kicked in, it was fucking bedlam. Tapes of the bands’ demos and works in progress on the album had floated around Manchester, so we knew the tunes, and had no real idea what it SOUNDED like in the room right there, but it didn’t matter, everyone was just right there. In it. 2 days later in Manchester, Ian Brown walked onstage on a balmy night for a triumphant homecoming gig, ringing a bell – it was another of those moments, and there seemed to be so many with this band, and the room grooved as one with the band. Unbelievable stuff.
After that night we resolved to go everywhere and anywhere we could to see the band on this tour, which took in big cities and satellite towns alike, for every Manchester and Birmingham there was a Warrington, St Helens, Middlesborough, Preston gig – they literally went everywhere. We headed to Shrewsbury, to see them in a club called Park Lane (every bit as neon and cheesy as it sounds). Now no-one came to Shrewsbury, least of all a band who was starting to cause a stir, and this band was special. The promoters, security and everyone didn’t know what had hit them. Even at this point, in a ritzy club in Shrewsbury, the crowd treated these 4 lads like returning rock stars. What a gig. As we wandered out, a bloke we recognised from always being side of stage with the band came up to us and said to us in full Mancunian glory “alright mate, do you fuckers want to meet the lads?”. We thought he was taking the piss, but full of adrenaline and youth we followed to see where we ended up, and unbelievably 2 minutes later were stood in the Roses dressing room. The band sat unmoved, smoking, chatting – things just happened around them. We couldn’t believe it – we got our set lists signed, uttered gestures of adoration at our heroes and generally didn’t know what the fuck was going on.
The fella who took us in, was a gentleman called Steve Atherton, better known as Adge, and a bona fide Mancunian musical legend. He was the bands’ tour manager at the time and would go on to manage bands himself, to this day he looks after the likes of The Coral. I’m not sure what Adge’s motivations were, but his move was genius. The gaggle of fans in the dressing room must have made the band feel like every night of the tour brought new people and buzz, made them feel like stars wherever and whenever, perhaps this helped to them to play that part so well – or maybe he was locking in people like us that he recognised from following the band around, knowing that the hardcore would spread the word like mini John The Baptists. The album was spreading, the media were picking up on it, but the band and the people around them were building an army of fans that loved this band like no other – and that was a smart, and powerful move. In Walsall, at the salubrious Junction 10 a few days later Adge recognised us and again let us come backstage, this time bearing that days Melody Maker, the bands’ first ever front cover, to be signed along with t-shirts, drumsticks and anything else we could get our hands on. There’s no doubt about it, we felt part of something and it was something that was growing and growing, and there was no way anything could stop it, it all seemed so inevitable.
Being so young we had absolutely zero sense of perspective. As I keep saying, this just seemed so natural and normal, we couldn’t imagine things being any other way, we thought we’d just hitched a ride at a fairly early part of the journey and felt excited to be there, and each day – anything could happen. The tour snaked on throughout May and June whilst plaudits for the album grew and “Madchester” became a media phenomenon…As the tour came to a close “She Bangs The Drums” was released and charted at number 36…The same week, The Happy Mondays’ “Madchester EP” charted and both of “our” bands were going to be on Top Of The Pops – fucking pop stars, but we always knew that – still 20 of us gathered at my house to watch it – and re-watch it over and over again on video.
In the meantime, the bands’ live plot had taken huge turn. The seemingly endless list of gigs came to an end and only one was planned – a trip to the seaside in August to Blackpool Empress Ballroom. Suddenly, going to see The Roses wasn’t just something we could do once or twice a week, it was 6 weeks away….6 whole weeks….that was a fucking lifetime to us in those days. We talked about that gig and planned it for weeks, what we’d wear, getting there – what would they play? what would it be like? People who had laughed at us before for liking these bands with weird names were growing their hair and wearing flared jeans – they even wanted to go to the gig – things were changing…
In the meantime I’d decided to write a fanzine. You just did that sort of thing then. Nowadays you’d write a blog, or just go on twitter – but I had to DO something…I had buckets of energy fuelled by this band and the life we were living at the time, so i decided to write about it. There was no plan, aims or objectives, i didn’t think anyone would care – if i sold 50 of them to like minded nutcases and our travelling group grew some more then great. It was a typically teenage affair – a track by track (complete with marks out of 10) of the album, gig reviews, a ‘feature’ about how us hardcore fans were going to have to accept that the world was about to discover “our” band and they wouldn’t be our little secret anymore…I can’t even look at it now…it’s just an outpouring of young naive enthusiasm
But of course I wanted the band to like it…so off to Blackpool I went complete with a ring bound file with all the planned pages for the fanzine in it, hoping to somehow get the band to see it. The day before I went into my mums work and made hundreds of little photocopied flyers advertising the zine – “Made Of Paper ; The Stone Roses Fanzine ; Onsale Monday in Piccadilly Records” (they wouldnt mind i’m sure….)…
We got to Blackpool and there was no doubt about it, the whole thing stepped up a notch that day. Hundreds of people wandering around the golden mile, buying uo what became known as “Reni Hats” – the local traders couldn’t believe their luck – selling out of sun hats that had probably sat on their shelves for a decade. People swarmed the town wearing approximations of the bands’ outfit on the album sleeve, a baggy army out in full force – it really was happening. I gave out my flyers, threw them from the balcony in the massive empress ballroom – making sure everyone got one and then the band came on and played one of the most important and iconic gigs of the era. Watching the start from the balcony to see 3,500 people jumping up and down as one as “adored” kicked in was spine tingling. It was so obvious.
After the show, we stalked the side of stage to see if we could get spotted and invited backstage, and right on cue, there was Adge, inexplicably still not irritated by me and bunch of megafan mates and he hauled us over the barrier and walked us into the aftershow party they held backstage where the band, growing entourage and a stream of other bands, faces and lunatics partied. We had our cameras and snapped away, the band each looked over the fanzine and gave it their blessing – John Squire – “it’s very thorough”, Reni – “sound but don’t be turning up on my doorstep and shit like that” and then whilst most in the room probably made it through the night with a cocktail of heady chemicals, we were back in the car heading for Macclesfield high pretty much solely on the events of the day.
The fanzine wasn’t ready for Monday…we had to get the photos developed (this was 1989 don’t forget!!!) and i had to get access to my mums photocopier at work…By Thursday I had it sorted and sauntered into Piccadilly records with 30 fresh maiden copies of “Made Of Paper”. As usual I sought out my behind the counter friend Martin, and (somewhat belatedly) asked him if they’d sell my fanzine. “Of course” he replied, “what’s it about”….when I told him, he shook his head and smiled a little half smile and went off to fetch the manager. The manager came out swearing his head off – “where have you been you little prick, we’ve had people bothering us about this fucking fanzine all week and we didn’t even know about it”…..I mumbled my apologies and said that it was all done now and I had it with me…. “how many copies have you got”….I told him and his face turned purple. “FUCKING THIRTY? YOU’D BETTER GO AND GET PHOTOCOPYING YOU LITTLE TWAT WE’RE GOING TO NEED HUNDREDS OF THESE”. That’s what it was like with the Roses …it was like an exponential thing …unstoppable momentum and people wanted anything they could get their hands on that made them feel a part of it, and laughably and unwittingly, my photocopied nonsense had a bit of their default magic dust.
Cutting what’s already been a long story short, I’ve worked in music in one form or another ever since, and as a full time “professional” since about 1994. All I wanted after the Roses was to be around music and for the whole of my career I’ve been inspired by and chased that feeling that we had listening to that tape in the car or leaping up and down at Liverpool Poly, the excitement of walking in to buy the album on the day of release, that buzz of knowing that you’re seeing something powerful and a bit magical that the world won’t be able to ignore. I was in the right place at the right time, and i’ll be forever grateful to the Roses and the City of Manchester for that incredible grounding and unforgettable experience that’s pretty much shaped my life ever since. It’s so rare, maybe even unrepeatable…but they made it feel so fucking natural.
Not so long ago Sony released a repackaged version of The Stone Roses debut album to mark the 20th anniversary of release I think – there was a limited edition box set that seemed really hard to track down, but I managed to get hold of one through an old mate who was also now working in music – the provider? – the very same Will who was driving the car and dictating the soundtrack on that trip to Derby back in 1988…….
LTW boss John Robb has published a book ‘The Stone Roses and the Resurection of British Pop’ – Described by Vox as ‘An exciting, substantial and hyperbolic study of the most important pre-Oasis Britrock outfit’ Available HERE