I wasn’t a fan of The Stone Roses at first. I was 14 in 1989 and a metalhead. In those days and at that age you didn’t have much of an eclectic taste in music. I was well aware of who they were however. I was a big music fan and studied it hard, even if I wasn’t into the band. I had mates who were into The Roses and if I’m honest, I liked them. But that was hard to admit when I was meant to be a “mosher”.
Anyway, as my youth wore on my tastes widened dramatically. I became a fan of The Smiths first, then Joy Division. Then I realised that Manchester had something. I became a student of the Manchester music scene and have obsessed about it since. Unfortunately by the time I’d become a fully-fledged Roses fan they were nowhere to be seen. Nothing had really happened since the release of One Love in 1990. Then in 1994 came the famous NME front cover of the band spotted at their bolthole studio in Wales. I couldn’t wait to hear their new stuff. The problem was Oasis were really taking off and five years is a long time in music. Could any band survive the hype that surrounded the imminent release of their second album? I doubt it. Like the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace a few years later, there was no way the album (or film) could ever stand up to the hype. Nothing could be that good.
The Second Coming did come out eventually in 1995 and as far as I’m concerned the album title was more than apt. I absolutely loved it from start to finish, and at points in my life since then I’ve often considered it to be better than the debut. I had a couple of mates who’ve always believed it to be the better album. It’s derision, I believe, is mainly due to the aforementioned reasons i.e Oasis and the hype of a 6 year wait for the follow up to an album of a generation. That however is an argument for another day.
The tour was announced for the winter of 1995 and I was desperate to see the band. This was pre-internet days (for most of us) though and I lived many miles from the nearest ticket outlet. I don’t really remember what happened now but I didn’t get a ticket. Gutted.
Then a while later came the announcement of two arena shows between Christmas and New Year in Sheffield and London. London was out of the question in those days but Sheffield? It was still about 250 miles away but that could be done surely? I wasn’t making the same mistake as the last time and snapped up two tickets for the Sheffield gig over the phone when they went on sale. I’d ask the questions later. If no-one would go with me or I couldn’t afford the travel or whatever stopped me from going, at least I had the option – no ticket however meant no go. Luckily my mate Chib was up for going. Luckily he also could use his work’s van for the trip so we were set!
One problem I had though was the factory I worked in at the time didn’t allow anyone to be off at Christmas and New Year. I was explaining my predicament to one of the chargehands and she suggested going home sick the day before, making it seem more authentic. A plan was concocted and I roped in my sister to phone in sick for me for the days I was away. Now we were definitely set.
I’d purchased a few tickets for gigs down in England previously which had ended in me not making the trip for one reason or another, notably a couple of Madness gigs (one at Finsbury Park and one at G-Mex). I was determined not to continue the run, and even when we set off (late as usual) I still didn’t believe we’d actually make it. The fact we were in the coldest winter in my living memory didn’t help, or until recent winters anyway! I remember seeing the temperature gauge in my dad’s car often reading -9 and -10 at that time.
I was navigating and let’s just say I’d have no chance of being a co-driver in a rally car. We zigzagged our way down into England, stopping every 20 miles or so. The reason for this was so I could throw snow onto the windscreen to clear it. It was so cold that everyone’s windscreen washers had frozen and the build up of salt on the road accompanied by the bright, crisp winter sunshine meant you couldn’t see a thing out of your windscreen within minutes. The hard shoulder of the motorways were simply littered with cars sorting out their windscreens. We were just a couple of young lads and the word preparation wasn’t in our vocabulary. It took us a while to realise that buying some bottled water would be easier than me losing my fingers to frostbite.
Eventually we ended up in Manchester. Which would have been fine if that’s where we were meant to be but we weren’t. Luckily we easily found signs for Sheffield, followed them and ended up on what I now know to be Snake Pass. For many years I thought we’d made a serious blunder as we travelled at 20-40mph over mountains in a long procession of traffic filled with lorries. Surely there must be a motorway between Sheffield and Manchester?! I now understand the Penines kind of get in the way of a motorway but I didn’t then.
We eventually ended up in Sheffield, found signs for the arena and arrived about half an hour before the doors opened. Perfect. It had taken us nearly 8 hours however and if we’d just come down the A1/M1 we could have halved that. We got into the venue, bought a couple of pints and hotdogs and got our seats, from which we didn’t move again all night. We were about halfway back to the left of the stage. I seem to remember the standing area had a barrier halfway back? Seems a bit strange in hindsight but I’m sure there was.
Manic Street Preachers were the support for the Wembley gig the following night which I think was either their first gig without Richey or the first time they played a song they’d written after his disappearance (A Design For Life). Think it was the latter. Anyway, Black Grape were the support act for this particular gig which I was pleased about as I was a bigger fan of them. Unfortunately I remember the sound being really muddy which was a shame. Tramazi Party was my favourite song at the time and I remember it took me until the chorus to realise they were playing it. Still enjoyable nonetheless but a bit disappointing.
Eventually however, it was time. When they strode onto the stage it was electric, especially after the anticipation built up by the Breaking Into Heaven intro that had been playing since the lights had gone down. Although I was only 19 at the time, I had been to a lot of gigs both large and small, and festivals. But I’d never felt like this before. I remember Ian Brown asking if “Manchester was in the house” and virtually every person shouting a positive response. After receiving a rapturous applause the band launched into I Wanna Be Adored. I was struggling to believe I was actually witnessing it all. She Bangs The Drums swiftly followed, as did Waterfall and Ten Storey Love Song. Up until I was lucky enough to see Pink Floyd at Live8, this was by far and away the best 4 song set I had ever witnessed. To be honest though, the standard didn’t really get any lower but that start was just breathtaking.
It was mainly Second Coming material after that with only Made In Stone and I Am The Resurrection from the debut album getting an airing if my mind serves me correct. Halfway through was a mini acoustic set comprising of Your Star Will Shine, Tightrope and Tears. You could have heard a pin drop if it wasn’t for the thousands of voices singing along.
The encore of I Am The Resurrection doesn’t really need any words from me. You can guess what it was like. The one disappointment of the gig was no Fools Gold but we were well aware that they hadn’t been playing it, Robbie presumably no match for Reni’s skills on the track.
We were absolutely buzzing. We practically danced our way out of the venue and back to the van. The euphoria quickly died down as we shot straight back to reality hitting the freezing temperatures of the cold winter. We took several wrong turns trying to get our way out of Sheffield. A combination of having no idea where we were going and the adrenaline going through our bodies made our judgment appalling. Even when we eventually found the M1 we ended up going south instead of north for quite a while before realising our mistake.
We hadn’t really planned what we would do after the gig except find somewhere and sleep in the van. Chib drove for as long as he could and we eventually pulled in at Scotch Corner services near the border. We had two thick duvets each and wrapped ourselves up in them thinking we would be warm. What actually happened was we spent four hours trying to sleep but getting nowhere near as the adrenaline and cold temperature kept us wide awake. We both thought the other was sleeping as neither of us made the noise so when Chib asked me if I was awake and if I wanted to get going, the simple reply to both questions was “Yes!”.
As we neared home I remembered a few mates were going to see The Prodigy that night in Livingston, near Edinburgh. I had decided not to go as I thought I either wouldn’t be back in time or too tired. As the sun rose though I started to feel great again, buzzing from the previous night. We got home to Fife around lunchtime and the first thing I did was phone my mates who were going to The Prodigy hoping they hadn’t left yet. Luckily they hadn’t and I was picked up by them a while later. The main reason I wanted to go was they were doing a joint mini tour with The Chemical Brothers but wasn’t sure if the Livingston date was included in this. Unfortunately the Chemical Brothers didn’t play but seeing The Prodigy was good enough for me. First time they had played live with a guitarist and it was when they debuted Firestarter.
That night is another story though, the adventure was nearly as big as the previous night’s. Nowhere near as good though. In fact, hardly anything has come close to it. I can’t really decide between the Roses gig, Pink Floyd at Live8 and Daft Punk at Rockness as my favourite ever gig. All were life-changers, all were massive adventures and all I can remember like they were yesterday. Most importantly I know how they made me feel, and how they still make me feel just thinking about them.
Right now is all about The Stone Roses however. I thought I was really lucky getting to see them in one of their last gigs before it went downhill and never imagined they’d ever reform. As time went on, a reformation seemed even more and more unlikely. I wasn’t bothered since I’d seen them and “didn’t want their legacy ruined”Â. I was like a kid at Christmas when the press conference regarding the reformation happened though and I’m not afraid to admit it.
As the current tour is now well underway and Heaton Park just over a week away, anticipation is huge. I now live in Manchester, the city I loved from afar for so long and you can feel the excitement building and building. In fact, I work right next to Heaton Park and am looking forward to some free of charge and hopefully hassle-free parking! Funny how things turn out.