Justice Tonight : Milan : July 2012
In which the The Justice Tonight band go to Milan and support the Stone Roses..
We are sat in the grandstand of the San Siro hippodrome.
It’s late afternoon, the sun is beaming down and in the distance the Stone Roses are finishing off their sound check, a sound check that includes Roses classics as well as jams of the Beatles Michelle, the Clash’s Magnificent 7 and Radio Clash.
The rooms are ornate wood and the lockers are full of silk jockey hats, which quickly get handed round. The grandstand is serving as the dressing room for tonight’s gig on the big festival stage at the other end of the hippodrome- about a mile away which can only be got to in a shuttle bus.
It’s a very unlikely venue with the grand and iconic neighbouring San Siro stadium serving as the backdrop dominating the skyline. There is a replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s giant horse statue outside but no real horses today.
The Justice Tonight Band are in town to play with the Stone Roses.
Decades ago, Il Duce, Mussolini paced these very rooms and sat on the balcony like a surrogate Roman Emperor watching the horses rush past. He must have felt like the unstoppable emperor at the time, sat there all plump and shiny with the modern coliseum of the San Siro, the home of Inter and AC Milan standing imperious in the background.
It must have felt like he was at the top of his game at this stage in time. It was the 1930s, the high water mark of fascism in Europe and there he was- the top dog of a poisonous ideology- what could possibly go wrong? Il Duce was doing that strut that he was famous for round the clubhouse whilst Europe looked on nervously and yet 70 years later he and his politics are long gone from the mainstream and the club house is full of rock n rollers- the ultimate revenge.
Mick Jones is in a sharp pin stripe, the Farm and singers Babs and Bev with John Power of the Cast and your truly all in one section of rooms and the Stone Roses in another ”â a vociferous, free wheeling cast of rampaging ragamuffins that is a distant echo of the fall of Rome and the pouring into Europe of the Vandals and Visigoths back in the fifth century.
Not that the Farm are Vandals or Stone Roses were ever Visigoths or even Goths- that was dear old Tony Wilson mixing up his musical genres and mislabelling the band in their early days because their original bass player Pete Garner had long black hair. Pete was never a Goth, he was in love with the New York Dolls and Iggy and the Stooges but the label has somehow stuck. These days the Stone Roses are no longer a struggling local band, they are the biggest band in the UK and getting reconnected with Europe again after 16 years
There’s about 3000 people over in the stadium, in a not quite sold out, specially constructed big stage event in the Hippodrome. The dressing rooms are bizarrely at the end of the arena which means you have to get driven backwards and forwards to the stage in people carriers covering the mosquito ridden mile from stage to dressing room.
Justice Tonight are in Milan tonight to support the Stone Roses on one of a series of supports that the Manchester legends have given to the collective. The connections between the two groups are strong, denying the so called rivalry between the two cities.
The Farm may be big Liverpool fans and the Roses generally big United fans but that doesn’t stop the cause of justice for the 96. The Roses are big on the campaign and constantly tell us tonight about their support and how much it means to them as we share the backstage space like a mutual club of northerners with a special southerner running amok around the former fascist bathroom.
There is also the Mick Jones factor- John Squire was a huge Clash fan and Mick loved that jam he had with John at the Ritz gig last October. There are the shared roots in punk rock and the acid house/baggy days making this a perfect support slot.
The night before the Justice Tonight Band are treated to a slap up meal in Ribot restaurant next door to the stadium. There’s about 30 of us around the table making the meal look like some sort of mafia chow down jamming with the last supper which is kinda ironic as the Leonardo Da Vinci 1495 original of the painting is housed down the road from here.
Mick is sat the middle of the table, a pinstripe rock n roll don sat in the Jesus seat and the courses keep coming in a flood of food that shocks and delights the Brits who are used to the paltry portions back home.
Italy is a country full of sensual delights, including food, and tonight they are in the business of proving it. The Italians may not have world beating rock n roll like in the UK but in food and love they have something else to indulge in.
The rock n roll is provided by the Brits, those northern sages whose bands have taken Europe by storm through the decades. There’s huge posters of Morrissey all over town as the fellow Mancunian legend is selling out another of his solo tours and the Roses are the big news this week whilst the Clash are still very much part of the cultural DNA over here.
When I used to tour in Italy in the eighties, everywhere we went people would talk about the Clash. The band played two shoes in Italy in 1980 in Turin and Bologna, which went down in local history and saw them adopted by the revolutionary left as heroes of the movement, a movement that was huge at the time. The Clash were at the musical vanguard of an Italian idealism and remained there through the decades and played the country often in the early eighties, including two May 1981 shows at the Milan Velodrome and the Bullring that many scene veterans I bump into tonight recall with the glint and fervour in their eyes of people who have seen something really special.
The band were totally on fire at this point, at a total rock and roller peak with their music stretching out in a stunning diversity but still retaining the fire and spirit of the original punk rock. The Italians loved the songs, the lyrics, the rebel stance, the coolness and the politics. The Clash made a huge impact and tonight all these years later there are lots of Clash and related punk t-shirts in the crowd waiting for Mick to take the stage.
The set has been pruned down to 40 minutes for the support slot and we get ready in the wings as the audience shuffle towards the front. I go to the mic to introduce the band and rabble rouse the sun baked audience and get everyone down the front. My job is to remind the people of why we are here and that this is for the 96 and how rock n roll is about justice but we also want to have a party whilst we are seeking this justice.
The audience seem very up for it and sections of them start singing ”Ëjustice for the 96′. Maybe we will get justice before the people in charge die and achieve their tabloid sainthood- it’s a race against time but every journey starts with a series of small steps and this one is moving along to musical giant steps.
The band come on and kick into the Farm’s Groovy Train which sounds big as its shuffles along its quintessential early nineties baggy beat groove. Mick is cutting some great guitar lines across the song and it’s a real measure of the man that he seems as happy playing other people’s songs instead of his own. His friendship and support of the Farm is quite touching. He could quite easily grab some of the greatest names in music and put together a money spinning band to cash in on his legacy but seems at his happiest subsumed into another band, another gang and a band who can play the Clash songs with a genuine love and devotion that gets them closer to the feel of the originals.
Mick always tells me that the Clash wanted to be ”Ëdecent people’ and it’s this decency that he oozes through the whole operation. There are no airs and graces, no bullshit, just a wiry figure in a series of great suits, a big smile and a constantly evolving, brilliant guitar style that for many people defines rock n roll.
John Power is the special guest tonight as Pete Wylie has still elected to drop out of the shows as we await his return. The key to the whole affair is that it simply doesn’t mater who plays- Pete is a very big presence but the cause is the star, followed by those great Clash songs that electrify the crowd tonight each time one of them is played.
Train In Vain sees Mick deliver the Clash’s breakthrough hit in the USA looking and sounding lean and connected, underlined by his sharp grey tonic suit that gives him the air of a classic Motown player. Bankrobber is delivered perfectly by John Power who nails the song with a great vocal- the smoking dub of the original is perfectly replicated and really suits these big venues with its power and atmosphere filling the whole huge space. I get up for Rock the Casbah, grappling with Joe’s brilliant lyrics and dive into the crowd, who are all too happy to join in on the chorus of the song.
Peter Hooton gives it 100 per cent for White Man In Hammersmith Palais, dealing out his favourite all time song with the passion of someone who believes every word. Should I Stay Or Should I Go is massive with the whole crowd jumping- making it feel much more than the support band which of course it isn’t really- more like special guests and that’s the way the Roses want it. The set ends with the Farm’s All Together Now, which is a big emotional sing-along and is resembling a baggy era All the Young Dudes.
After the gig people tell me they have waited years for Mick to come and play Clash songs for them and when he goes to the backstage entrance to sign autographs he is quickly swamped by hundreds of people. The love of the Clash is still so strong here.
The Stone Roses go on stage late because they bump into Mick and are lost in conversation and then deliver a great stirring set that echoes up and down the hippodrome. Post show, back at the grandstand, the bands mingle, there is talk of more dates together and a general bonding in the sticky evening heat. Mani is vociferous in his support of the whole idea of the Justice collective, he knows that it could have been any set of fans crushed to death against those barriers, those criminal fences built into the stands of the decaying eighties stadiums that the Clash themselves had railed against in their classic Groovy Times song.
Downstairs we raid the jockey cupboards and dig out their funny hats for photos, there is collective high jinks and lots of laughing in the sticky evening air, even the mosquito’s have backed off for a moment as we pose for gonzoid photos- even on serious business you have to smile. The party spreads across town, back to the Roses hotel or local bars before everything winds up at 5 in the morning with a smashed glass and the realisation that the wake up call is less than two hours away.
Milan was a legendary event, a wam bam thank you glam raid and a big message, a call out to justice and a loudhailer of high decibel truth and a realisation that the more international the clarion call gets the better. It’s time to get the words out, time to amp up the rhetoric and wait for that September report of the Hillsborough disaster”Â¦