Top Of The World

The Christmas edition of the NME used to be a big thing. Now the NME is given away for free by the doors in Top Shop but it was always a big deal back in the day. Double sized (88 pages!), albums and tracks of the year, alternative rock stars and indie bands in fancy dress, Shaun and Bez pissed and stoned… enough to keep you going through the long hours when there’s nothing to do at a family Christmas.

In 1989 The Stone Roses were the NME’s band of the year and it flew them out to Switzerland for photographs on top of a mountain. That year they had done a nationwide tour picking up converts on a daily basis, put out their debut album plus 3 singles, and played two era-defining gigs (at Blackpool in August and Ally Pally in November, plus Top Of The Pops). The two album based singles had B-sides that were as good as most of the album tracks (Made Of Stone in March had Going Down, She Bangs The Drum in July had Standing Here and Mersey Paradise). In November they put out the double A-side of Fool’s Gold and What The World Is Waiting For, a game changer if ever there was one. They would never be that good again and in some ways 1990 would do for them- they stalled and lost the lightness of touch and sureness that in 1989 had put them on top of the world.

This Is The One

A year later NME’s writers crowned Happy Mondays as the band that made 1990 tick. In the summer Step On made them pop stars. In November they put out Kinky Afro, produced by Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne, a move that found them with a sound perfectly suited for the times and with a lyric that is unmatched. The extended Euromix (by Oakenfold and Osborne) made its way onto various releases (the USA and Australia both got the Euromix). My mp3 version is from The Factory Tape that came with Select magazine in 1991.

Kinky Afro (Euromix)

I’ve not posted Low’s Just Like Christmas yet this year, something I have done most Decembers at Bagging Area. It is a delight, from the rattling drums and sleigh bells to the sweetly sung words describing the band travelling from Stockholm to Oslo in the snow while on tour.

Just Like Christmas

I hope all of you have a wonderful Christmas, whatever you’re doing and wherever you’re doing it. See you in a few days for the post-Christmas lull.


We All Get Hurt By Love

In 1994 Kylie went for some credibility- not that she needed it, everyone loved Kylie anyway- but she was fed up with feeling like a puppet in the SAW production line. Brothers In Rhythm were on board to provide some dance productions skills and she had signed to DeConstruction (then a pretty hip dance label). Confide In Me is a slow burner, opening with violin and piano. Sweeping Arabian strings and a didgeridoo join in with the indie-dance drums. Kylie does her thing.

Confide In Me (Master Mix)

I’ve posted this before but it’s worth a repost while I’m in Kylie territory, a Go Home Productions mash up of Kylie’s Slow and The Stone Roses’ Beggin’ You. Slow is a great, sultry pop song and was co-written by Emiliana Torrini, an Icelandic singer who has graced these pages before. It looks like The Stone Roses have called it a day again- the poor reception given to the two singles and Ian’s frustration with the others not wanting to do much work is one reason that was whispered about. Another is the ever present tension between Ian and Reni. To be frank, after the Etihad shows it looked done to me anyway. This mash up is good fun.
While I’m here, I always thought this 2010 single was a really good, classy piece of electro-pop too.

One Love

Just up the road from us later on today a concert will take place at Old Trafford cricket ground, where Ariana Grande and a host of pop stars will perform with all the proceeds going to the families affected by the bombing at the arena two weeks ago. The One Love Manchester concert has shown the best side of human nature- fair play to Ariana Grande for coming back so soon and bringing so many people with her- and also some of the worst- ten thousand people applied for tickets either they weren’t entitled to (free ones for those at the arena gig) or to sell on at a profit. The line up includes Pharrell Williams, Justin Bieber, Take That, Coldplay, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry.

A smaller scale fundraiser is taking place at the Deaf Institute on the same day including Marshall Jefferson, Mr Scruff, Graeme Park, Steve Cobby, Dave Haslam, Peter Hook and The Light, ACR, Denise Johnson, Badly Drawn Boy.

This city has shown what it’s made of in the last two weeks (and I’m sure any other city would have done the same) and it’s moving and heartwarming to see. I’ve been moved to tears I don’t know how many times during the last fortnight.

Burn Me Out Or Bring Me Home

This picture is the Bagging Area eye view as I Wanna Be Adored kicked in on Sunday night and the rain continued to fall, Mani playing that two note intro and Reni thumping the kick drum. After those few seconds most of song, occasional bits of guitar aside, was inaudible. The crowd drowned it out. We were down on the pitch, jammed in tight, a sea of hands in the air and multiple arses sitting on the shoulders of others. Flares and coloured smoke all over the place. This is the gig as event, as spectacle. The following few songs were bellowed equally loudly- Elephant Stone, Sally Cinnamon, Sugar Spun Sister, Bye Bye Badman, Mersey Paradise, Where Angels Play. These songs aren’t really built for stadiums, they’re made for bedsits and back rooms, and playing them to 55, 000 people inevitably pulls and stretches them about as much as they can take.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly why this particular group have struck such a chord. The Heaton Park gigs four years ago were mainly attended by the thirty to fifty-somethings. This one and the three nights before it were half-full with kids, wide eyed at their parent’s heroes. There are groups with bigger back catalogues and with better singers. The Stone Roses are pretty uncompromising and unhelpful- no press, no concessions to the game- and surly with it. Ian speaks barely a word to the crowd all night except for a late dedication about father’s day and three words to introduce All For One (‘All For One’ he says). If they hired an open topped bus and drove through the town centre I’ve no doubt thousands would turn out to cheer them. I can’t think of another band so geographically defined who inspire so much adoration, the crowd willing them on at every turn. They’ve got some indefinable quality and the crowd fully expect to play their part. At times the scenes on the pitch are close to mayhem, the air thick with all kinds of smoke. But the PA is too quiet and the crowd too boisterous to really listen to the band- you can enjoy it, be part of it, soak it up and have a party, but not really listen. It seems much of the time we have paid £65 to listen to the people around us sing. The only song that gets anything close to an audience shrug is Begging You- and its a wild, squally live version well worth sticking with. On the other hand the visuals are stunning. The massive screens show close ups the band and crowd shots with Squire’s artwork dripping and sliding over the top, trippy and brilliantly clear.

The band- John, Reni and Mani- are super tight and locked in. Squire in black jeans and leather jacket, hiding behind long hair and beard, peals off riffs, solos, chords and notes, switching from rock to funk to psychedelia but with hardly a flicker of emotion. Reni is like no other drummer on earth. Mani stands still, occasionally grinning. Ian’s vocals are low in the mix and he sings fine, only really going astray on Made Of Stone. Most of the time, the crowd sing for him and with him. There are some real peaks musically- Fool’s Gold is shimmering funk with a jawdropping extended section. Shoot You Down shows exactly how subtlety can work in a stadium, Reni and Mani’s shuffling rhythms overlaid by Squire’s restrained Hendrixisms and the crowd allowing the vocals to be heard. Waterfall is everything it should be, liquid and joyous, a moment in life turned into song. It segues into Don’t Stop, the backwards psychedelia spinning out into the masses. During She Bangs the Drums I actually get a little choked up, a song about the beauty and confidence of youth being sung back by a mixture of the young and less young. Breaking Into Heaven is heavy and menacing, the difference between the lightness of the first album and the darkness of the second obvious. This Is The One is the highpoint- Squire hits the opening, chiming notes, the band totally in tune with each other and Ian in the groove, a song that shows that they wrote some affecting street poetry back in the late 80s. It really is The One. After that, as expected, it’s I Am The Resurrection. Reni plays an introductory drum solo, rolling round the kit before hitting the opening beats as Mani joins in. The versus and choruses are once again inaudible as the crowd takes over. Then the wig out. The band take a bow, hug and join hands at the lip of the stage, finally departing as fireworks explode, a little limply, behind the stand. To our right a man drops down on one knee, produces a ring form his inside pocket and proposes to his girlfriend. The band have gone. Beautiful Thing rings out over the sound system. The lights come on. She accepts. Everyone nearby cheers and offer handshakes and pats on the back. That kind of night.

In truth I thought Heaton Park was better (and I’d far sooner see them indoors, in a much smaller room like at Warrington in 2012 or Halifax last week). I’m not sure I’d go to see them at this kind of gig again, much as I would hate to not go. As I said at the start, there’s something about many of these songs which is the opposite of stadium rock. They’re personal, little jewels that shine brightest when the subtleties can be heard. But they were ripped off first time around, still making not a penny on that first album, the one their entire reputation is built on. Who can blame them for wanting an easy payday? There will be 16, 17, 18 and 19 year olds last night who got their heads re-assembled in a new order, seeing things differently today. There are forty somethings who missed out who got their chance. And there’s something about the late 80s sense of togetherness and optimism that has survived, briefly resurrected for two hours in the rain in a run down corner of East Manchester.

Breaking Into Heaven

Expectation Versus Disappointment

On the eve of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 Lord Nelson issued a message- ‘England expects that every man will do his duty… and scrape through the group stage before a draining but ultimately hopeless exit in the first knock out round against the first good team we play’. I paraphrase but it was something like that. ‘Reaching the knock out round would actually be a bonus given the woeful state of our performances and results at the World Cup in Brazil’ muttered Hardy to no-one in particular. So, come on boys, give us something to get cheerful about tonight against the Russians. A goal or two would be lovely.

Our other ‘boys’, the sunburnt travelling supporters, are covering themselves in glory, spending their evenings in Marseilles drinking their body weight in lager, taking their shirts off, dodging tear gas, battling the French riot police and attempting to take on Isis in one-on-one combat. FFS. The summer sport of hurling plastic furniture across foreign squares is one of the key features of an England campaign. Add this to the Brexit campaign and you have to assume Europe will be only too glad to see the back of us.

Another group of Englishmen battling crushing disappointment released their second new song at midnight on Thursday. After All For One things could only get better and thankfully with Beautiful Thing they have- the highlights of the seven minutes are Reni’s gold medal funky drumming and John Squire’s guitar playing, the return of the wah-wah and some nice phasing too. The guitar break at around four minutes is the definition of both fluid and liquid and the solo in the fifth minute with some backwards parts is great too. Ian’s lyrics are streets ahead of the Dogtanian nonsense on All For One, with references to crucifixion, sisters, living as one and some vague threats to vampires. It’s nothing especially new. I’m sure John, Reni and Mani can play this kind of thing in their sleep but it’s a step forward for sure and will sound huge played live.

If We All Join Hands

Ok, let’s do this. The internet consensus is that the new Stone Roses single, All For One, is dreadful and that includes the opinions of people I know whose taste counts for something in my eyes. The problems, in no particular order, are a) the lyrics b) the tune c) the guitar playing d) the drumming and (lack of) bass and e) the written for the football stadium nature of it. It arrived like Roses things do with a sense of event, fanfare and expectation. It was the first time I’ve listened to Radio 1 for I don’t know how long. They’re on a hiding to nothing really, the weight of expectation, the gap, the silence since the re-union gigs, all mean that almost whatever they put out would be not enough.

But still, a) the lyrics- yes, dreadful, completely. The Dogtanian theme tune. If they’re an attempt at an early 90s positivity, power-to-the-people style vibe, they’ve missed the mark. The buckets of reverb on Ian’s multi-tracked vocals don’t distract from the fact that these are unfinished, half thoughts that needed to be reworked. b) the tune- I don’t mind it, it’s sticks. There’s something lurking in there. I’ve been trying to like it. c) Squire’s guitar playing is the highlight for me, and pretty restrained by Second Coming standards. The comparisons to Beady Eye and The Seahorses are a tad unfair- the riff, breakdown and re-entry at two minutes thirty something and solo are pretty good to these ears. d) The drumming- it does seem to lack Reni’s trademark fluidity, thumping away in a Ringo manner. The bass is submerged beneath everything else. e) It’s undoubtedly been written with football stadia in mind, all together now, sun going down, ‘in harmony, all one family’ as Ian sings, beery blokes with shaggy haircuts hugging and spilling their lager. Which is a shame- if they’ve started writing for their perceived audience then they have got a problem. Because if you take the feedback fade in, the riff, the solo, the phased sections and remix them, pull the FX forward and drop the words further back, make it more experimental and psychedelic, rather than something to be bawled back at you by 75, 000 people, then you’ve got something that picks up where they left off at some point two and a half decades ago. Not a single maybe but a song. And this is the real issue with it- it does sound, as people have said, like a song from a mid-90s Britpop compilation rather than the headspinning, sweet rush of the psyche-pop Roses of Don’t Stop or Elephant Stone or the fluid dance influenced Roses of Fool’s Gold or Begging You or the lighter than air Roses of Waterfall or This Is The One. They’ve mistaken muscle for swagger, volume for presence.

Their recorded legacy (such as it is and they’re in danger of pissing it away) rests on the eleven songs on the debut lp, the Elephant Stone and Sally Cinnamon singles, a clutch of B-sides from the album sessions (Standing Here, Going Down, Mersey Paradise, Where Angels Play) and the shimmering, mutant funk of Fool’s Gold. What they had in ’89 was a sound that managed to be progressive- it was 60s influenced but it was moving forward. Those songs weren’t written and recorded to be played in stadia- they were just written and recorded. They’ve become a stadium band since then- even in 1995 they were playing halls like the Apollo not arenas. If All For One was written in a shared flat in Chorlton and performed at a polytechnic student union building with a low stage and ceiling it would be a totally different song. The massiveness of those gigs three years ago and the groups growing reputation with the now grown up children of the original fans has totally altered their approach- on the basis of this song. There’s a chance that the album may be better, more nuanced and varied. The other problem here is that the music All For One harks back to is a debased currency- mid 90s, Dadrock. No one wants that- except I suppose a large proportion of the 150, 000 people who bought tickets for the shows this summer. I think they need to show that they’ve moved on, that the progressive nature that led them from Sally Cinnamon to Fool’s Gold is still there and that the lightness of touch they had that characterises their best songs is not lost. Instead they’re aiming for back row, half a mile form the stage

For the record then, and I reserve the right to change my mind whenever I feel like it- I don’t think All For One is dreadful. But it’s not great either. It’s alright- I can almost quite like it. But if it wasn’t them, I wouldn’t listen to it more than once. Yet here we are, loads of us, talking about it.

Two further things- in the summer of 1990 we waited ages for the new Roses single. It was delayed, the cover art had to be redone, the release date kept changing. Then it came out, One Love, the follow up to Fool’s Gold, a band at the peak of their powers and the height of their notoriety, and …. it was a bit of a let down. A decent tune, a shuffly drumbeat, early 90s positivity and power-to-the-people lyrics, but falling short. That was the moment their forward momentum stalled. John Squire said later he didn’t like the song, that it felt like they were selling something for someone. Sound familiar?

I’ve written about The Second Coming before, a flawed, overcooked, guitar rock album with a handful of genuine thrills. I’ve long thought that if  you could get hold of the mastertapes and had the technical skills, you could make a really interesting version- a long, drawn out twenty or twenty-five minute single track, an Orb style excursion, an Amorphous Androgynous psychedelic mix. Take the ambient, club influenced intro to Breaking Into Heaven and it’s burst into menace, the shimmering shards of Ten Storey Love Song, fade into and out of the campfire acoustic guitars of Tightrope and the wide eyed Your Star Will Shine, drop the vox in and out dub stylee, break down into Mani’s bass and Reni’s drums from Daybreak or Straight To The Man and then build up into Begging You. That, in my head, is where Don’t Stop, Waterfall, Shoot You Down, the backwards tapes experiments of some of those early B-sides, Fool’s Gold and Something’s Burning were heading. A headtrip. And that’s what All For One and whatever comes next should be.

How on earth have I got this much text out of three minutes thirty seven seconds of disappointment? Come on chaps, dig a little deeper and give us a little bit of something else.

And as a final thing, a few weeks back I saw this and it makes me smile…

<p><a href=”″>Go Home Productions – Begging Kylie</a> from <a href=””>BorisB High Def</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I Really Don’t Think You Know That I’m In Heaven When You Smile

Here we go again- as you probably know The Stone Roses have recently announced three big gigs next summer, two at Manchester City’s ground (we’ll get to that later) and one at T In The Park. Rumours that the gigs may coincide with a new album circulate, more in hope than expectation I think. Half the internet is in a frenzy, already poised over their laptops ready for Friday morning when the tickets go on sale- and then sell out in fifteen minutes. The other half scorns them- ‘Has there ever been a more over-rated band?’ I read somewhere.

When they first reunited in 2012 I was very excited, this time less so and I’m not entirely sure why. I went to Heaton Park- it was great. I managed to get into the Warrington Parr Hall free gig too a month earlier- that was even better. It was totally unexpected, it was a small venue, it was done in the spirit of the band. This time it feels more conventional- two gigs in a football stadium feels ordinary, rockist even- football stadia are for Oasis, for Bon Jovi, for U2. And it’s at Man City’s stadium, while Ian, John and Mani are United fans. At least at the gigs the Etihad will be full I suppose. Seeing them play live three years ago, against all the odds, was fantastic and whatever people say about Ian’s vocals (yawn) they can play. It felt like unfinished business, washing away the way they broke up, the disastrous rump Roses at the Reading festival. I can’t summon the same excitement this time. Maybe when the ticket sales open I’ll feel a pang, maybe someone will get on the website and book tickets, maybe I’ll try. But right now I feel  a bit jaded about it.

I like to remember them this way. Standing Here was on the B-side of the She Bangs The Drums 12″, a crazy feedback opener, a lazy (in a good way) Hendrix groove, strange wordy lyrics and a beautiful dreamy, coming-down coda. Effortless and electric. I loved them then- now half the world loves them too. Maybe that’s my problem. Indie purist snobbery blues.

Standing Here