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.
Advertisements

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=”https://vimeo.com/22480716″>Go Home Productions – Begging Kylie</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/borisbhd”>BorisB High Def</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>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

Spiked

Twenty five years ago today I was one of thirty thousand people standing on an island in the river Mersey near Widnes, just next to a chemical plant. The idea a year or two previously that a British indie guitar band could draw that many people to watch them was absurd and that was one of the things The Stone Roses brought to the late 80s, the thinking big and being ambitious. The day itself involved a lot of sitting around, a few support acts that didn’t really connect at all and huge queues for the beer tents. This wasn’t really a beery crowd though, unlike Heaton Park in 2012 which was collectively about as drunk as it could be. The band came on at nine and played well, clearly partly blown away by the event and the crowd’s enthusiasm. The sound quality has been debated ever since, the wind whipping it about the island. Where we were, it sounded good. The final three songs were illuminated by the lights bouncing off the huge mirrorballs suspended above the stage just as it had gone dark- Made Of Stone, Elizabeth My Dear and I Am The Resurrection. We were driven there in Al’s Grandad’s chocolate brown Austin Allegro. I distinctly remember the compilation tape we played on the way. Killer by rave hero Adamski (and Seal)…

808 State’s Pacific, which was everywhere that summer (and the one before)…

< width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/tLxDRePUwEY&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

And this, Sympathy For the Devil. Woo woo.

That Second Coming

I’ve shifted position on The Second Coming several times since it came out at the end of 1994. At first I loved it, despite the negative press- actually probably because of the negative press. It was so good to hear Roses songs after such a long absence. Now I feel it’s not such a great record, not even a good one maybe. Looking back the band were in trouble creatively from after the release of Fools Gold. One Love, a song I do really like, was a rehash (although Something’s Burning showed a road they could have gone down). The lengthy, torturous, on-off sessions for The Second Coming, the court case, the money from signing to Geffen, the distance growing between Ian and John, the increasingly unpredictable Reni, the tension between Ian and Reni and John and Reni- all these things have been documented in the last few years and all show a band ebbing away.

Breaking Into Heaven is startling and breath taking, full of deliberately cliched and genuinely funny lyrical imagery and more guitars than you can shake a stick at. A four minute introduction with field recordings, tom toms and all sorts, then the verse and chorus, full of it and on fire, and a heartspinning bridge section shifting on one heavenly chord. It has groove, it has sleekness, it is tender and tough. It’s a keeper. Driving South is a Jimmy Page fest and (like Primal Screams’  Rocks or Jailbird) just has to be enjoyed rather than thought about. Ten Storey Love Song, the only song that could conceivably have fitted on the debut, is a rush of chiming guitars and swooning. Three songs in and all is good.

After that things go tits up- Daybreak is a studio jam that gained vocals, they could do that sort of thing all day and probably did. Straight To The Man a B-side at best, different and a bit funky but not up to the standard they had set. Good Times is a riff, a filler. Tears is too self-consciously epic. Lyrically the lightness of touch from the debut and its singles has gone. I used to like How Do You Sleep? but usually skip it now. Your Star Will Shine is affecting, neatly played and sung, and Tightrope sounds pretty good, an actual band performance. Begging You stands out sonically and has energy to spare. But really it takes the last song to pull the album out of its nosedive. Love Spreads redeems it at the finish, a genuinely great Stone Roses rock song, with power and dynamics and a proper Roses theme (a female Jesus). They still had it on Love Spreads.

Throughout there’s nothing wrong with the playing, the guitars are often superb, the drums and bass spot on, the singing is fine and in places the singing actually makes it more than just a British rock album, Ian Brown’s voice roots it somewhere else. But it doesn’t feel like an album- it feels like a bunch of songs finally scraped together, in a rush ironically, with a few massive high points but too much middling filler. It’s overdone in too many places and it is too heavy (in many senses of the word but mainly it seems too heavy in that it is weighted down, lead footed). I think, twenty years later, it is a 6 out of 10. Primal Scream’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up (see yesterday) is a 7. There’s a big difference. GOBDGU works better as an lp, fits together better somehow and is more coherent but it doesn’t have those two or three songs of genuine brilliance that the Second Coming has.

I don’t really take any pleasure in being this critical- this is a band I adored. Tellingly when they reformed for those gigs recently the only songs from The Second Coming that made it to Heaton Park were Ten Storey Love Song and Love Spreads. We’d all loved to have heard Breaking Into Heaven. They played Tightrope at the secret Warrington gig but dropped it afterwards. Everything else was jettisoned- was it down to reunion sensitivities, a band member not wanting to force a song in that they liked but no-one else did, or down to the realisation that many of the difficult second album’s songs were not quite good enough?