Stone Roses played their first outdoor festival in 1987and we were there- an in depth report

They are full of attitude but seem oddly and beautifully out of sync with the torrid times.

Their singer threatens to leap into the lake in front of the stage.

They know they are good and this makes them ooze even more attitude than usual and there is an undertow of clockwork orange bravado and menace to them, mixed with their paisley psychedlia and newer chiming songs that are twisted with a romance and beauty- it’s beguiling contrast between the hard and the soft, the stone and the rose, that makes them so fascinating.

This is 1987 though and the Stone Roses are the misfits on the scene.

In their own heads they are the biggest band in the world but few believe them.
These were the times of the Tube on TV, the Poly disco, Hacienda hipsters looking the other way and the band being the outcasts in Manchester. They were mistakingly derided as being a Goth band by the snooty in crowd in town who somehow mixed up the band’s Creation Records inspired leather trousers and bass player Pete Garner’s jet black Johnny Thunders hair with the Goth scene.

It was never clear who had started this rumour- maybe Tony Wilson who had never liked them because they were once managed by Howard Jones, the former boss of the Hacienda before leaving to set up his own label and management empire.

This had made Tony unhappy and he had slated them, calling the dreaded G word.

The Stone Roses were never Goths and anyway, that wasn’t an insult in my books – surely Joy Division, the band that had created Tony’s mini empire were a Goth band! and the Goth scene itself was full of great music that the media trendies had decided to never like and missed out on, including Manchester own Chameleons who whilst never being a Goth band were embraced by many on that scene and seemed to have a half life of near success that, at the time, it was felt that the Roses could end up with.

The Roses were out on a limb, few us believed in them- but the ones like me who did, knew they were fucking good.They had rubbed people up the wrong way and their graffiti campaign had put noses out of joint, their first single was not accepted by the local media for being ‘too rock’ and their following was looked on as being ‘too rough’.

Despite this they had gone to ground and got a new manager, Gareth Evans- that larger than life character that ran the International One club and took great pleasure in not letting the NME into his club but always looked after me and my friends as we hung out there every night checking out bands.
Evans was now the band’s manager and this had further raised eyebrows. The local media was full of bands like Raintree County and Desert Wolves and had a fear of the bands like the Roses whose more rock n roll sound was never something they were comfortable with.

The band had spent 1987 playing the occasional gig and honing down their sound, writing songs and slowly changing, moving away from the punkier, more anthemic songs and sound of their early years to that crystalline guitar genius already hinted at on new single Sally Cinnamon that would eventually become their trademark.

We would see Ian Brown walking down Burton Road in Manchester clutching a keyboard on his way to John Squires to write songs with, that work ethic already ingrained. He would leave his flat on Chatham Grove, where he lived in next door to Mark Tilton (brother of Ian Tilton the Stone Roses photographer) who played guitar in my band the Membranes. He would walk up the bohemian enclave of Burton Road on the way to Johns in Chorlton, writing- writing- writing.

That summer in 1987 they had released Sally Cinnamon, a perfect single that caught the balance between the old and the new Roses. It caused a few ripples at the time but over the years has become acknowledged as their first true classic.

They had played a smattering of gigs that year and had now got their first festival booked for August in a park in Liverpool.

Larks In The Park was a great festival, Held in Sefton Park in Liverpool, it was one of those park festivals, a stage set up behind an ornamental lake facing a sloped area in one of those great British municipal parks- you know the places all Victoriana and botanical gardens. Over the years there had been a good selection of names who had played the event.

In the early 80s the annual event attracted names such as Echo And The Bunnymen, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood and many others. An extended version of the Sefton Park bandstand was used as the bands’ stage, while the audience made the grass their seating area.

The Larks In The Park series started in 1980 when it cost £2,000 to stage the three-day festival – money which was raised by the Larks’ committee from their own fund-raising events.
On August 11th 1987 there was a smattering of local heads sat on the grassy slope watching the bands. The key story that year for anyone interested were two upcoming local bands, with one from each city who were, in their own ways, taking guitar music back to its roots and away from the far too polished eighties mainstream.

The eighties had been a dire decade in mainstream terms but the underground had remained strong and these two bands were returning the sound of guitar music to a very British root.

The Las, like the Stone Roses had had a complex gestation, with revolving members and a stop start career. Initially formed by the brilliant local artist and musician Mike Badger the band had been taken over by the maverick Lee Mavers who had joined the band as a JJ Burnel worshiping bass player and had moved into the frontman role- taking the band into a sixties beat direction, stripping all the polish away from the songs and adding brilliant melodies and his very direct vision of how things should sound.

At the time it seemed like the Las were heading for some kind of break through, whatever a breakthrough meant in those days. They had the songs and they even had a bit of a crowd supporting them.

The Stone Roses were playing an away gig and only a few of us knew them that day, Sally Cinnamon was yet to make any sort of proper impact and was a long way away from the song that now brings stadiums to their knees. They sounded fab though and as ever Reni’s drumming was the talking point for the people sat in the grassy slope who were taking any notice.

Still impossibly youthful looking, he flailed away at the song with his power and rhythm stand out but the rest of the band were not dragging him down, John Squire was already a great guitar player really enjoying the space created when Andy Couzens had been removed from the line up the year before.

Pete Garner stood sideways facing across the stage, holding down the bass nowhere near as badly as he would modestly make out and was very much a key part of the band…unbeknown to everyone outside the band at the time though he had already left the group and was just filling in the gigs until they found a replacement- he may have no longer been in the band but he was still loyal to the gang. He had felt he was holding them back and that it was time to go but still gave it all that long lost August afternoon.
The focal point was, as ever, Ian Brown wearing his leather trousers and paisley shirt, his hair cut short and spiky and with a glaring cheekbone intensity he was thriving at playing on the bigger stage and in the outdoors. The fact that the audience smattered up the grassy slope were more interested in trying to keep warm on that cool August night than the band only added to his fire.

In those days the singer was more dynamic and retained a punk rock energy to his stage movements that also had many of the moves that he would make famous a couple of years later.

If no one else seemed to believe that the Stone Roses were going to be a big band, Ian Brown already knew it and that was not in a big headed kind of way. He just knew how good the band was and would always claim to be the biggest fan of the rest of the group.
It was in these times that his attitude was so important and it would only be a couple of years later that this attitude would envelop the whole of the UK, empowering a generation of pop kids in the way that punk had done in the late seventies.

In 1987 in Sefton Park it was a dangerously thrilling attitude and one of those great standing up against the prevailing attitudes that threaten to suffocate young bands. At the end of the set Ian attempted to jump into the water in front of the stage with his attitude and dignity intact.

The Roses may not have caused much reaction that day but the people that knew, knew. They understood that it was only going to be a matter of time that the Roses would be a big cult band, there was no notion then of taking the mainstream- the Roses themslves invented that one when they finally broke though in 1989.

I remember thinking how frustrating it was that bands with such a great sound and great songs such as the Las and the Roses were getting pushed aside by the music scene at the time, I felt the Las were going to break pretty big (which meant the indie charts and not the grown up charts in those days) and the Roses cold follow in their slipstream- how back to front that notion was!

I also labelled the two bands Britpop…it was 1987 and the NME would invent he same term in 1985 but they were 8 years too late, it had already happened…
I remember leaving the park as the night drew in thrilled at the two bands. It felt like the Beatles in Hamburg, Stones at Ealing- early days but the cusp of a northern renaissance but there was never any sense of what was going to happen almost exactly two years later when the Roses totally changed pop culture with the legendary gig at Blackpool….

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Regarding the comment “I also labelled the two bands Britpop…it was 1987 and the NME would invent he (sic) same term in 1985 but they were 8 years too late, it had already happened…”

    According to my maths, if the NME invented the term “Britpop” in 1985, then surely they were there two years BEFORE you – not eight years after!!

    (Britpop wasn’t generally banded about as a description until the days of Blur vs Oasis in the 90s).


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