Q: February 1990
They come from the mists of Manchester’s acid house parties to the dance halls of the future, via the hallucinatory swirl of early psychedelia. And with them The Stone Roses bring an unshatterable self-confidence and several coach-loads of Their People. But the earthlings are friendly, particularly Peter Kane.
The somnolent suburb that is forever Muswell Hill hasn’t seen the likes of this in many a moon. Not since the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream dropped in on its sprawling Alexandra Palace in the Spring of 1967 when Pink Floyd and a Kevin Ayers-fronted Soft Machine were among those who let their hair down as a fund-raiser for the ailing International Times.
Happenings, to use the period parlance, were the name of the game then and that particular one has gone down in the books as the most visible gathering of a fast evaporating underground, one which espoused a few alterations in the unfolding fabric with music, love and various mind-bending substances as the lubricants to keep it all running smoothly. Something was deemed to be in the air and a cynical cackle would, no doubt, have generated the need for stiff counseling and an invitation to “try some of this, man”.
Yet here we are, a snappy November Saturday, the best part of a generation later and a cycle is repeating itself, albeit with a few significant changes in the script. Gone is the comforting paraphernalia of beads, bells and those evil smelling Afghan coats and in its place is a harsher, street sussed code for urban survival, and partying that has taken its cue from the new psychedelia of acid house.
The participants are mostly laddish, working-class and not afraid to look the world in the eye. So as well as a certain pharmaceutically induced detachment, getting bladdered and taking in a match – preferably at Manchester’s Maine Road – somehow fit into the modern equation too. And should you be wearing flares and a T-shirt bearing the legend “On The Sixth Day God Created Manchester” then so much the better (or worse).
Everywhere, pop pundits’ pulses can be heard to quicken, for here, surely, is a new tribe, one with a Mancunian spiritual home and The Stone Roses, in the ascendant, as its most likely terrestrial deities. Why else would some 7,000 units of pallid, oddly garbed British rock fan be collected on this rather singular hilltop overlooking London Town?
The trouble is that Ian Brown and John Squire, said band’s singer and guitarist respectively, don’t see it that way. While grudgingly admitting that Ecstasy and music may have loosened up their city, gentle probing as to whether a special atmosphere or, heaven forbid, “a scene” is stretching out from there provokes a silence of such length that Carl Lewis would have time to run 100 metres. Eventually they settle for a joint “No”.
This might come as a bit of a blow to the likes of Paul, 17, who’s down for the day with a specially organised coach party of fellow devotees. His civic pride knows few bounds nor are his allegiance to and enthusiasm for the fast-rising “indie” pop combo of the moment open to dispute. “I don’t know what it is, but they’re probably the best band in the world. They’ve got it, like. Brilliant. You can’t explain it. But just like in the ’60s it was The Beatles, it’s gonna be The Stone Roses in the ’90s. Biggest band ever, definitely. All the best bands come from Manchester – Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, James, The Smiths, New Order. Er, Joy Division, when they were going, they came from Manchester. It’s where it all starts. It doesn’t start in London. If I were a millionaire I’d live in Manchester – Moss Side.”
Such a vision of the city as pretty much the pivot of the universe may be touched by bias but there’s little disputing the place’s domination over British independent music throughout the ’80s. Add to the above list the rattling charms of the Buzzcocks amid the last breaths of punk, The Fall and the whole of Tony Wilson’s Factory empire and you’ve got a viable regional set-up that owes little to anywhere else. It’s small enough to retain a single identity while, with its surrounding towns, it’s of sufficient size to Support music of many different hues, particularly when it comes to dance.
It was here, particularly at the influential Hacienda club, that Chicago’s house beat gained one of its prominent British footholds with skin and bones getting mercilessly jacked to the mixes of Farley Funk, Adonis and Marshall Jefferson’s Move Your Body in the summer of 1086. What was then house, pure and simple, gained its acid prefix for reasons that are still a little hazy and with it came the club sound of ’88, wrapped in a new-for-old hallucinogenic gimmick. And whether it’s The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, or 808 State and their ambient groove, they all share the same grounding, the same bubbling network, even if they’ve ended up doing different things with it.
By developing a strong local base through what were often illegal warehouse parties, the band were gradually able to mix ‘n’ match rock and dance styles into a mere palatable whole away from the immediate scrutiny of a media still centred a couple of hundred miles down the road in London. John’s assertion that “the only valid point to draw from coming from Manchester is we’ve seen a lot of other people get off their asses,” seems but half the story.
With a track record embracing only a couple of independently produced singles before signing to Andrew Lauder’s nascent Silvertone label in the summer of 1988, it’s hard to quibble with John’s assessment of the band as “just starting”. Elephant Stone, their debut 45 for the label, represented a sudden upgrade in fortunes as well as being produced by New Order’s bullish bassman, Peter Hook (someone from whom the Roses have learned, if nothing else, the theory and practice of advanced interview technique. the day-long silence , the reverse thrust, the yes/no parry are all effortlessly accommodated within the repertoire). But it was the important first album, released last April, which has confirmed them as the band most likely to, The spacy arrangements aligned to a fresh and fertile combination of melodies, harmonies and guitars is genuinely heady stuff; one that is as likely to appeal to anyone with a hankering for the good old days of Revolver or Their Satanic Majesties Request, say, as to those for whom the ’60s aren’t even a blur.
Apart from the various surly defence mechanisms employed by John and Ian in interviews, there’s a self-containment, an unshatterable confidence in their own worth and the all important attitude that seems well suited to the times.’ one that says, You get to go round once, so make the most of it. When offered the chance to warm up the colossal audiences on a few dates on the current Rolling Stones tour, they promptly refused, declaring “the Stones should be supporting us.” They are unashamedly part of the modern dole culture – leaving school at 16 and then, as John would have it, “frying to avoid work but ending up doing jobs that we hated, like washing pots and caravans.” Nor will their long-term prospects and reputation for sullenly “not playing the game” be in any way harmed at all by incidents like that on The Late Show, their first television appearance, where their volume level exceeded that permissible by the BBC unions and tripped the “limiter switch”, instantly cutting the electricity and leaving Ian yelling, “Amateurs! We’re wasting our time here, Iads!”, on live TV. Legends have been founded on less.
Plainly it would be wrong to take the outward diffidence as an aura, but their healthy disrespect for those who hold the reins as well as their belief in the strength of the individual possesses obvious attractions. The dainty usurping of Scarborough Fair into Elizabeth My Dear, for instance, leaves one in no doubt as to where they stand on our noble Royal Family, inviting, as it does, the taking of a pot shot at our glorious monarch. This way for the revolution?
“Anything is possible when people get together, like East Germany,” says Ian. “All they had to do was go on the street and say, No, we’re not having it. There was nothing anyone could do. They (the authorities) had to go. Right y’are, we’ll have some changes. I don’t see it being naive. I don’t see it being young or hippy-ish that people will come together. I believe they will because they will have to. I’m talking about people being constantly had over, sold short, misled, having the wool pulled over their eyes. Eventually they’ll say they’re not having it anymore. I’ve got faith in people.”
Outside this other Palace, some of Ian’s people are already coming together, preparing for a two-hour wait for the doors to open Political upheaval, however, doesn’t appear to be very far up anyone’s menu. Being there is what it 5 all about and Liverpool, Leeds, Cardiff, Bristol, Sunderland and Glasgow have sent their representations. Some have no chit for the evening’s entertainment, hoping to find a way in on the night. Rumours abound of £8.50 tickets swapping hands in Stockport pubs for five times their face value, although touts seem to be settling on £25 come half past eight. Good business all the same.
The choice of the Ally Pally, a venue more used to hosting antiques fairs and exhibitions, is a conscious one designed to bypass the normal rock circuit. “We wanted to play somewhere different. Originally we tried to get a warehouse but with all the parties it’s been really hard and this was the only place we could find that wasn’t a rock ‘n’ roll gaff. The best legal alternative,” explains Ian with the sang froid of one whose only apparent concern is whether a glitter ball dangling above his head is going to be alright on the night.
Yet while the band profess to have no tribal instincts towards music, their followers undoubtedly have. As well as Wrangler flares whistling through the dust and some rather unnecessary sun hats worn, no doubt, in deference to those modeled by Reni, the Roses’ powerhouse sticksman, the dress code crosses black street styles with a baggy, asexual functionalism that’s designed for ease of movement. It’s not The Marquee, more Northern Soul AII-Niters, something that Ian professes to once being part of.
“I used to go to them in Rhyl, Rotherham and Doncaster, but I was still buying punk records. Very into it I was. All through the night till late in the morning. It was just something to do. It was either that, New Romantics or long raincoats.” Memories of Tommy Hunt, Dean Parrish, Donnie Elbert doing Little Piece Of Leather, even San Remo Strings, revived for the umpteenth time back in 1981, seem sweeter than anything punk managed to inspire. “Nothing, was it? Just a couple of groups. Still got respect for John Lydon though,” is the verdict. ‘Punk stopped you listening to stuff like Hendrix and then years later you hear Electric Ladyland and it’s an excellent LP. But at the time you don’t listen to it because you believe all the bollocks. I wish I’d heard Jimi Hendrix when I was 12.”
A sort of loose arrangement is struck that records are generally preferable to artists. There is no glint, forever, of a fanciful nostalgia in their make-up. Heroes are plainly a little thin on the ground, as might be expected from those whose most quoted lyrics to date are a desk-clearing “Kiss me where he sun don’t shine/The past is yours but the future’s mine/You’re all out of time”, as found on their uplifting jangle She Bangs The Drums.
A final piece of the jigsaw is their producer, John Leckie, a man who admits to being first impressed by the fact that they didn’t yet have ideas but that they could actually sing. laving previously put his name to the works of the more artfully conceived Dukes Of Stratosphear, XTC’s camp, acid-etched alter-egos, John was originally approached with some rough demos in the Spring of 1988 by Rough Trade supremo, Geoff Travis, only to find that by the time he had got around to taking a peek at them on their home turf, Silvertone had already secured their signatures. Yet as befits of man of natural modesty, he claims to have done no more than “tidy them up a bit” before going on to recall, “they were a bit of a shambles the first time I saw them. I got the impression that Reni was the star of the show and that a lot of people had just come to hear him drum. These days he’s not trying to be Cozy Powell so much.”
John’s opinion, however, that some of the best music is of a psychedelic coloration, thanks to its self-generating hallucinatory powers, makes the two parties obvious kindred spirits. Using a full house of ’80s technology, the results, particularly on the 10 minutes’ worth of Fools Gold, go beyond mere ’60s pastiche and get closer to the space and scope that surrounds the best black dance music. And all that using just a basic rock format.
The rougher edges may have been polished up in the studio but on the night, on stage, everyone seems powerless to deal with the unresolved welter of unfocused sound which ricochets around the cavernous building. It’s all something to do with the varying action of noise currents running through hot and cold air, apparently. In fact, after all the pre-match build up, it’s as though anticipation has got the better of everybody. Following an initial crush for the front, there is neither the room nor the intent for anyone to get much higher, unless on tip toe. Around the sides and at the back, a few souls adopt a reclining pose of some suffering while others let their bodies negotiate the warming thermals, arms hovering like petrels’ wings. It’s all surprisingly tame.
Shrewdly managed, buffeted by an organisation around them that is still based on friendship, and now touted as The Next Big Thing, the pendulum is presently going right their way. Yet if the day was originally conceived as projecting The Stone Roses head first into the top drawer, then it didn’t quite work. What it did do, however, was to confirm them as the ones to watch and, who knows, even exercise the top half of the body to in the months ahead. No matter about the vague sensation of deja vu, the ’90s, it seems, start right about here.
Q Magazine February 1990, p16-19; Peter Kane. Photography by Chris Taylor.