We are the resurrection!
Well they don’t come much bigger than this do they?
I’m stood side stage on compere duties at the Manchester Ritz as the ”ËJustice Tonight’ tour hits town.
It’s time for the encore and the atmosphere is already electric. The Clash set led by Mick Jones with guest vocalists Peter Hooton and Pete Wylie have already brought the house down. I’m looking out at the sea of faces in the audience, and feeling the pure joy as these songs, that are so entwined with people’s lives, are brought to life one more time by the band. They have delivered great versions, switchblade guitars and a tight rhythm section, they swing and they and they roll, just the way it has to be, just the way Mick Jones wants it.
How can you follow this? How can this be topped?
For three days on the tour we have had to keep a BIG SECRET. Every night on this important tour there are special guests- last night James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers delivered a great version of the Clash’s ”ËClampdown’ in Cardiff- pure rock n roll, pure passion.
Who’s the special guests going to be in Manchester?
The lights dim and two figures shuffle onto the stage. For about thirty seconds no-one seems to notice them”¦
Then, wooosh- fuck me it’s the Stone Roses!
Ian Brown and John Squire of the legendary band have chosen this tour, this cause to make their reformed live debut, to make their statement. It’s the perfect way to ease back into the spotlight. None of the big showbiz bullshit but an important gig on an important tour and chance to tie up a lot of loose ends in one go.
There’s something quite moving and important about a big Manchester United fan like Ian Brown making this statement of solidarity with the Liverpool fans over this call for justice but then Ian knows that this is a bigger story than of rival clubs. He knows that this is a story of the contempt the authorities have for people and that the demand for justice on this tour is universal and not just about one team. Like Mick Jones- who’s a big QPR fan- this is about the bigger picture, this is about the way that people died that horrible afternoon and that way that football and rock n roll integrate in our culture and resound so strongly with us. It’s about the way that the people’s music is the perfect match for the people’s game and it’s about that ancient cry of justice that is so part and parcel of all the great rock n rolls.
For John Squire this must be a big moment, he may be in what has to be the biggest band in the UK of the moment but in his youth the Clash were everything to him. He had a Clash mural painted on his wall and the story goes that he had guitar strings used as laces on his brothel creepers because Joe Strummer did- afterall he was a 14 year old kid besotted with one of the greatest rock n roll bands of all time- what a cool way to start his long musical journey.
John stands there on stage looking cool as fuck, tousled hair, guitar slung, ready top go- just pure six foot of pure talent. The already electric atmosphere is now cranked up a lot of notches. Everyone realises that this is a moment of pop culture history, the return of the Roses.
Mick has asked them to play ”Elizabeth My Dear’ the very direct anti monarchist song off that classic debut album. What a perfect moment, a strong political statement and also not one of the hits. Just like the comeback for ”Second Coming’ when they avoided the baying press and did the Big Issue interview- this is a statement of where they are coming from, using their power in a good way and never taking the easy, obvious route.
The song starts with John playing the guitar line with an effect on it that gives it an almost sitar like drone and then Ian intones the words and the ”Scarborough Fair’ melody. He sings in that great nasally folky voice and adds to the ballads like English folksiness giving the song an ancient air. It could have been written hundreds of years ago and makes you think about the power of song and the way that protest songs have been so much part of our culture for such a long time.
I stand there and think about punk rock and the way that it must have been there is medieval times and before and how that we are all in our own little ways just carrying the flame from one generation to the next. Post gig in the hotel bar I’m chatting to Mick Jones and he’s telling me the same thing- that we are just carrying the baton, doing our bit and then handing it on to the next generation.
And that’s the link isn’t it?
The Roses and the Clash, the two bands from two generations who occupy the same place in their respective generational psyches. The bands that empowered people and took the battle cry into the mainstream. Both bands steeped in romanticism and meaning that goes deep into the DNA of those generations. And the great thing about tonight is that there is a definitive moment when that baton was passed and it’s all tied up in the next song they play together in this most special of encores as the rest of the band come on. As Mick puts his guitar on and grins that Cheshire cat grin you can sense the moment.
All those years ago- three decades ago- the Clash were in town and on tour. After the gig they booked some studio time to record a new song. Later in the bar Mick tells me that this was how the Clash worked. They would gig and then book the local studio and spend all night and the next day recording and that this trip to the long defunct Pluto studios on Granby Row – off Princess St near the Cyprus and the former Factory building Pluto studios was set up by Keith Hopwood, fresh from selling 80 million records (80 million!) with Herman’s Hermits. The studios are still there and specialise in music for children’s TV.
They finished the show and trouped down to the studio and began to work on this long dubbed out groove that became ‘Bankrobber’ walking down the street were two fifteen year old kids who heard drums coming down the street and then saw Topper Headon walk out onto the street and they then followed him into the studio.
They sat there and watched the Clash put together one of their greatest singles and were looked after by the band, whose legendary caring instincts for the fans was part and parcel of their whole thing. The two teenagers were Ian Brown and former Stone Roses bassist Pete Garner, they watched Joe Strummer lost in inspiration, clicking his fingers along to the studio clock writing words on scraps of paper and the song began to shape up.
And all those years later Ian has learned those very same lyrics in that methodical professional way of his and delivers them perfectly, those strange scraps of Strummer words that are full of the romantic imagery of bankrobbers and the Clash as outlaws and outsiders that sums up the whole punk rock, outlaw ethos that oozes through tonight. The spirit of the Clash its so powerful you can smell it.
Just to make things tidy in the soundcheck me and Ian decide to phone Pete Garner who lives round the corner and get him to come down to the show and he turns up.
Pete Garner the coolest dude in Manchester! The man with the long black Johnny Thunders hair in those early Roses pics and still very much part of their family. He mooches in and loves the show and we talk and remember that he was the first person I got to know in Manchester before I moved over from Blackpool when he worked at Paperchase- a record shop in town and he took my fanzines from me.
There is more history as well. I arrive early at the gig ready for my compere duties and the soundcheck is in full swing. The Farm band and Mick are not there yet, they had to make a detour to Liverpool because someone had to sign on (no-one gets paid for this tour- real life is very close for some people).
The Roses, typically of a band who matched their talent with their work ethic, arrive early- they were always very professional- and decide to sound check ”Bankrobber’ they need a drummer and Si Wolstencroft steps up. Wow! funky Si! the first Roses drummer and, here’s one for the historians; the drummer in their teenage Clash style punk band, the Patrol.
They run though a three-piece version of Bankrobber- just Ian. John and Si. Afterwards Si tells me how brilliant and strange it was; ”Ëjust like being in the Patrol’ he smiles, remembering the band who played five gigs in the South Manchester youth clubs all those years ago in thrall to the Clash.
The later gig is special. Today I’m deluged with emails and Facebook and Twitter talking of history and a gig to talk about for decades and what’s great is that the reason that we are all in this room together has not been forgotten. As the band lurch from ”Bankrobber’ to ”Armageddon Time’ and Ian takes the vocal again that sense of camaraderie and of the real idea of ”we’re all In It Together’ extends from the stage to the audience. It’s pretty special.
Post gig we go to the hotel bar and the night is full of great stories, and that kind of electric buzz when you know you have been part of something really important.
I know we are in cynical times and no-one is meant to believe in the old stuff any more but nights like this make you feel that you can change things and that rock n roll is a powerful force that has a real purpose.
Mick is in ebullient form, he doesn’t walk but floats around the room buzzing that the Clash songs that he wrote all those years ago have finally found a real sense of purpose that they are the vehicle for change after all this time. He tells me great stories form the punk days, remembering the anarchy tour telling me of the few gigs that were allowed to go ahead like the one in Wales in Caerphilly, ”ËIt was a lovely old cinema by the castle, a nice spot. I went to my paternal grandmothers just up the road before the gig and she told me that there was this dreadful group playing in town that night and she was going to sing hymns and carols with the church group outside to protest against the tour. I had to tell her that I was one of the support band son that tour”¦’ he laughs, he recalls Johnny Thunders bottling some one is a wild west style fight in a bar in London ”he just appeared from nowhere jumped up onto these blokes shoulders and wacked the guy..’ he laughs as he tells stories of how naÃÂ¯ve the youthful UK punk generation were and how the Heartbreakers brought in the drugs and the bad vibes along with their great music.
We talk of Arthur ”Killer’ Cane and the great film about the late New York Dolls bass player that they had watched on the tour bus that afternoon on the way to the gig and how it had made them all feel so sad.
Mick talks of hanging out with Cane at those last shows he played with the Dolls and the late bass player’s agonising over what to wear onstage. We talk of Pete Doherty and the way the tabloids have told his tale and how his music has been overshadowed and diminished by the press. We talk of Sid and Nancy and the Clash and the Clash’s amazing work ethic .’We should have taken a holiday’ he smiles and you realise that those overnight recoding sessions on the road, the double and triple albums, the world tours were all crammed into such a short space of time which was insane. He says it all felt like too much when one night they were on tour in Australia in a studio in Sydney working on songs- and I wonder does any band work like this now?
He tells me how wonderful it was writing with Joe Strummer and how Strummer would give him sheets of lyrics and he would make songs out of them, ”Ëthey were such great lyrics and they had a music and melody to them, you just read them and they made tunes by the way he had written the words’ he says admiringly, downplaying his own role as a brilliant melodic songwriter. As well as being one of the great arrangers of songs in rock n roll (just look at Clash songs- they build and build- every great trick in the book is played out in there- they just don’t do verse, chorus, middle bit and out- they are brilliantly constructed by the great arranger). When he talks of Joe you feel him in the room and on this tour his spirit is everywhere- Strummer would have loved this.
He talks of the camaraderie in the early punk scene and his respect for the Pistols and his regret that the Clash’s success drove a wedge between the bands and as he talks you get a real sense of what the punk thing was like- that hope and that idealism and that belief in rock n roll that has flared up again tonight in Manchester and on this Justice Tonight tour. Even Mick Jones, a man with a million great stories, seems taken aback by this tour and this evening.
The night winds on, Ian Brown is talking about the north and the power of Liverpool and Manchester being together and how the two cities can take on the world, some drunk in the bar tries to get Ian to slag off Oasis but he wont have any of it pointing out that ”in Manchester we stick together.’ Ian Brown is buzzing, the ethos of the tour captivates him and fits in perfectly with what the Stone Roses are about.
Ian Brown is talking fast, he’s buzzing on the gig and on the Roses, I tell him how the band’s reformation has lifted people in these heavy times and we talk of old times and of Pete garner and Funky Si who are still in the bar. Someone else mentions the new Roses tunes and how great they sound.
Two dates in and this tour is shaping up into something else- there are more guests on the next few shows and more may turn up at the last minute.
But the key is, as Pete Wylie, announces on stage, ”we want Justice”¦’
Oh and let’s not forget a great opening set from Liam Frost, whose sharp singer songwriter tunes set the time perfectly, he also did a great version of Echo And The Bunnymen’s ‘Killing Moon’.