NME Spike Island review
NME June 9th 1990
“I don’t have to sell my soul/He’s already in me” – I Wanna Be Adored, The Stone Roses.
Ian Brown doesn’t have to sell his soul, but in a conference suite in Manchester’s Piccadilly hotel a hundred-plus ‘international press’ liggers are on a bargain hunt for titbits. It’s 25 hours before The Stone Roses are due on stage at Spike Island and a gruesome gaggle of journalists have sauntered over from surrounding media-clogged hotels for some free booze and a close look at the much talked of, rarely witnessed eight-legged Manc phenomenon.
All manner of nosey bastards are at the pre-festival ‘press-conference’. There are slick New York television presenters, thrusting Greek camera crews, incomprehensible Spanish gentlemen, blind drunk Mancunian blaggers and one US writer who babbles about the joys of the brain-damaging hard drug crystal meth as an aid to composition. Welcome to the circus. However much The Stone Roses policy of one-off gigging might be based on a genuine desire to avoid going through the usual touring motions, it’s certainly worked as a curiosity enhancer. The old “keep ’em hungry” trick has worked. But it’s also left a lot of people wanting live, face-to-face proof of the band’s worth. The Americans here in particular, seem to want proof that they’re getting the genuine juvenile Jaggers. The whole voices of a generation package. The Spanish just want to know if the band are going to play bullfighting arenas. But everyone is looking for a show.
“OLA! ‘Ello. Welcome to Manchester. How ya doin’?” Fag in hand, Ian Brown greets the press as he lollops up to the raised table at one end of the room with Mani, Reni and John Squire in tow. A crush of cameramen surrounds them, snapping at the obliging Brown’s monkey faces and fist salutes. The kerfuffle subsides and slowly, hesitatingly a dribble of questions gets underway.
Journalist: “Do you take a lot of drugs?”
Ian: “Do you take a lot of drugs?” Journalist: “Erm, no.”
Ian: “Well that’s alright then innit. Turn on, tune in, don’t drop out.”
Journalist: “Are you going to do a full-scale tour?”
Ian: “You’ll never see us doing a full scale tour. You can’t give your best, can you? Four days in and you’ll be like that (slumps forward) a cabbage, going through the motions.”
Journalist: “What are your ambitions?”
Ian: “Change the world end poverty make everybody happy I’ll do me best, do you know worra mean?”
Journalist: “Hello, I’m Dennis from WDRE in Noo Yoik city and we want to know when you’re coming to America?”
Ian: “As soon as possible mate.”
Reni: “Just send us the tickets, Dennis.”
By now it’s beginning to dawn on the microphone-waving journos that they’re not in a Bono babbler situation here. Sting-style pontifications are not the cards. Disgruntled, people start to murmur. Minutes pass.
“Does anybody want a stove?” Ian coolly offers out his cigarette packet and a re-assured video cameraman increases his efforts to shove his lens up Brown’s nose. “Who are you?” Ian asks him. “Alright mate. Where are you from with that camera speak to me. Don’t be shy. Come on it, all are welcome.” The cameraman backs off, trembling.
There are more silences. People stare openly at the band and whisper to each other.
NME’s Helen Mead asks them how they feel about being “the star attractions in this little zoo”, and gets a lot of monkey noises for an answer. Someone asks about The Rolling Stones. “It’s 1990, innit,” says Brown. “The Rolling Who?” With the Roses resolutely refusing the jump through the journos’ hoops, the conference grinds along mentally. Someone asks Brown to tell a joke, which he gets halfway through. There are flabby questions about groupies and future gigs which the band bat back at the audience. The American contingent are beginning to gripe as they get more and more irate with The Roses deflating Manc sarcasm answers. One of them stands up.
US Journalist: “Most of the press in this country wants to compare you to bands that are so hugely famous that they don’t even know how to measure that, and I just want to know if you’re prepared for what you think might be coming? I mean, that question about where you see yourselves in five years time is a legitimate question.”
Ian: “If I was sat in a café and someone came up to me and said ‘Eh mate, what do you think you’ll be doing in five years time?’ I’d go ‘Eh, what’ll you be doing when you’re 60?’ it’s not a legitimate question, it’s a stupid question.”
US Journalist: “Do you feel excited about all this around you?”
Ian: “Excited? No, bored. I’m waiting for someone to make me laugh.”
US Journalist: “How do you feel about being commercialised, because it strikes me as being against your will?”
“Yeah mate,” Mani points to his plain green sweatshirt, “someone made me wear this and I didn’t want to wear it what the f— are you on about?”
Journalist: “How do you think America will appreciate Manchester sarcasm?”
Reni: “With an American accent, I would think.”
As the questioners begin to flag Brown throws out a few gentle jibes about all- expenses-paid-free-trips, and one of the more excitable US correspondents jumps to his feet ranting wildly about the band’s (imagined) anti-American attitude.
“I come from Moss Side,” he shouts. “But I live in f—in’ New York and this is bullshit!” Behind him, a particularly pissed up local lad wades in, whooping and mauling the journo, whose wife, seated among the press, leaps to his defence. “Get away from my husband, or I’ll kick your f—in’ ass!” The journalist spins round.
“That’s my f—-in’ wife, you dickhead!” Chaos starts to break loose, but an unruffled Brown carries on chatting.
Ian: “Ere y’are, stay easy hombre. What’s oop?”
Journalist: “The point is, you’re talking about f—in’ travel, but you treat these people like f—in’ shit.”
Ian: “What are you on about? Who’s treated anybody like shit?”
Journalist: “I come from here, so I know when you’re winding people up.”
Ian: “What are you on about, mate?”
Brown puts on his best innocent-angel face. “Sort your head out, man. Sort your head out. Honestly.”
For all the scrapping, giggling and bickering, two noteworthy points did emerge from the pre-festival gabble. One, that the Spike Island show was costing £400,000 to stage and the Roses weren’t expecting to make a profit. Two, that although music is an international language, a percentage of music writers understand only one dialect, and it ain’t called Sardonic Northern Cool, it’s called showbiz.
Having failed to get blood from their imagined New Stones, the foreign press gave up, drank up and fanned out into the Manchester night, looking for ‘the scene’. ‘The scene’ however, had gone to bed early in preparation for Sunday’s day out at Spike Island. So they had to make do with Mick Hucknall sipping white wine in The Hacienda instead. So much for local colour.
“I’m not performing, I’m just participating.” – Ian Brown, on the Spike Island show.
Spike Island is the kind of place that an ad man might pick on for an industry privatisation commercial. Surrounded by gas towers and smoke stacks, its green spaces and lick of estuary might look appealing, filmed from a high- speed sunset. By five o’ clock on the afternoon of the gig, however, it’s more reminiscent of a football ground after kick-off. Outside, the car and coach parks are clogged and there are (site banned) bottles and cans everywhere. Inside, in front of the looming grey stage the 28,000-strong crowd is placidly shaking a leg to Gary Clail’s bassline pummelling.
From a distance, it could be Reading Festival. Close up, though, there’s a difference. The bright baggy clothes instead of fence-to-fence leathers, and a conspicuous lack of lager-soused corpses lying face down in the mud. In fact there isn’t even any mud. This is odd.
At 9 o’ clock sharp, with dusk approaching, yammering NY DJ Frankie Bones spins his last house groove as the Roses’ voodoo howl intro tape throbs out, the crowd shifts from dance formation to gig time crush. Brown dances on stage with his arms out wide, Reni kicks off the trampoline bounce beat, Mani weighs in with the bass line shudder and by the time John Squire unleashes one guitar bar of ‘I Wanna Be Adored”s rainbow rivulet solo-ing, 15,000 day trippers are spellbound and kinetically charged up. Further back, however, another 13,000 are having to make a gallant leap of the imagination to feel transported by the somewhat subdued volume level. They sing along in hushed voices to the driven pop dreaminess of ‘Elephant Stone’ and ‘She Bangs The Drums’, and innocently murmur the “you know you’ve always had it coming” lines to ‘Shoot You Down’. But they have to lean on their memories if they’re going to get carried away.
The Roses play coolly and confidently, but a third of the way in, there’s a danger of the ‘big event’ turning into a series of likeable hums. Next single ‘One Love’s gently psychedelic pop, slots in sweetly with the retro naivety of ‘Sally Cinnamon’ and ‘Sugar Spun Sister’. Against a changing back projection of John Squire’s paintings and collages, Brown trance grooves around the stage, self- possessed almost to the point of being totally oblivious, and Roses dancer Cressa’s bizarre love octopus moves hardly add to the visual clout. Just when it’s getting boringly polite, though, the stage is bathed in red light and the Roses start to edge out of beat-group mode towards their more shamanistic potential. ‘Standing Here’ is given plenty of Hendrix edge by Squire, a guitar god without the junkie showman twat mannerisms. And ‘Fools Gold’s wah-wahed funk is thoroughly sky-kissing.
As darkness descends, The Roses come further out of their shells, Squire’s guitar getting far heavier than the Manc rule book allows. Brown holds an inflatable glove aloft during ‘What The World Needs Now’, then boots it into the audience, and the huge disco balls above the stage reflect a spinning constellation of light points around the crowd. In the silence between ‘Made Of Stone’s power pop and ‘Elizabeth My Dear’s eerie rhyme, Brown carries on dancing like a mesmerised clubber caught unawares by the houselights. By now they have got it right. Arrogance and magic fuse.
The crowd bawl out the lines to the final exorcism of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ and it shifts into the mindwarping extended jam outro with Squire releasing concussive, paisley riff configurations and Brown hunched over his tom toms. They make it look easy. Like they could have worked that trick all along. In truth, Satanic, stadium Godhead is something the Roses could easily achieve (one they get their Pas sorted out). But that would be selling their souls to ’60s showbiz devils, and the band have their own, participatory, ’90s groove to follow. A more approachable, danceable, communal groove. They stack their guitars against speakers and before the hum has died down, a £1,000-a-minute firework display explodes New Age spirals into the sky, sending Ecstasy- friendly members of the crowd into bliss, and the sound-of-mind cowering for cover.
So, the last ten minutes aside, the Stone Roses didn’t blow anybody’s minds, or Kickers off at Spike Island. It was more of a faintly magical, mystery day out, with a bit of a community sing-song. The foreign journalists who come to see the New Rock Gods in person, probably went away feeling conned. But they were looking for the wrong things in the wrong place. They weren’t going to find Rock Salvation by prodding Ian Brown’s flesh, but they might’ve found some inspirational hints in the Spike Island spirit.
Two hours after the gig’s finished the car park is still bottle-necked with traffic. But no-one leans on their horn, and no-one is abusive. Instead, the Roses fans turn up their car stereos and stay cool. Some of them even get out and start dancing. Now if only they’d behaved like that at Altamont.