“Yeah, and you can stay at ours after if you need, as there is nothing left in Manchester….” I responded.
It was “Roses weekend” in the city, and with such anticipation added to the shortage of rooms at such desperation, that even the nearest Premier Inn felt that charging £180 pounds for one night was acceptable. Which, for anyone who has stayed at any of their establishments up and down our drenched isle will tell thee, is nowhere near the correct valuation. If you’re using Lenny Henry to advertise your skills, then we, the paying public, know your level.
The last time my texting friend Chris and I went to a gig together, was to see first-series Edmund Blackadder impersonators The Inspiral Carpets supported by hugely underrated, Liverpudlian one-album wonders The La’s, at the renamed G-Mex in July 1991. So baggy were we, that this seemed a thoroughly reasonable way to spend 24 hours: walking the streets of the Northern Quarter, hanging out at Eastern Bloc records and Afflecks Palace, smoking cigarettes, comparing others bell-bottom inchage, surrounded by our own fashion movement and music scene. Thousands of yards of shuffling denim, the heels of Wallaby’s and Kickers treading through the hems of over-long jeans. You could have ironed a seam into the steps of the venue, so much cotton was lost there.
At the top of the Madchester pyramid were The Stone Roses, closely followed by the eternally shitfaced, maraca-wielding Happy Mondays. There has been far too much written about these bands over the years, by far more professional scribes than I. But here are the Stone Roses facts: one truly great album (nearly ruined by one track I will come to later), two brilliant singles afterwards, then an album of such self-indulgence, it renders ‘Chinese Democracy’ by Axel Rose utterly punk rock. It’s hit and miss rate is only matched by England’s penalty takers at major tournaments.
The enmity between all parties has also been well documented. John Squire – the guitarist responsible for the melodies and riffs that joined a fierce independent record label culture, with shuffling dance, and threaded them with choruses of instantly memorable shoutalongs – even went as far as to create a piece of art called “I’LL NEVER FUCKING WORK WITH THEM AGAIN” or something similar. However, having met again at the funeral of the bassist Mani’s mother, they decided to have one last hurrah.
The dates were announced last October, and sold out in minutes. Three nights at Manchester’s Heaton Park, with over 75,000 attending each night. The scramble for tickets was enormous. The sense of relief at securing four Wonky Golden Tickets was palpable for everyone that got them. And for those that didn’t, the costs were at £250 each by the Sunday night after they went on sale.
However, the then reality set in. The last time I saw them was the infamous gig at Reading Festival in 1996. Quite possibly the worst gig I have seen by any band, let alone one I regard in such high esteem. Live, they could be ridiculously unpredictable – Ian Brown has rarely been able to hit a note, albeit having had a successful solo career as a ‘singer’ since 1988; drummer Reni had not been known to hit a skin in anger for nearly 20 years (other than his own with a needle, allegedly); and Squire hadn’t played guitar publicly since follow-up project The Seahorses disbanded in 1999. His solo albums so unnoteworthy they’ve been erased from the collective memory. Only Mani had continued to hone his skills by playing bass for possibly the most rock’n’roll band in Britain, Primal Scream. Fair to say that this was unlikely to have done his physical, or mental, condition much good. So, what was going to happen? The anticipation, anxiety and excitement grew as the weekend approached.
And so, as gameday dawned, plans were hatched: assemble the troops from Dublin, London, Swansea and Lincoln. All meet at Pause Mansions, then head into the Northern Quarter, few beers, tram to Heaton Park. Easy. However, the trams were already busy going into town, let alone out the other side to Heaton. The city centre was heaving – the resident scum scrum of mid-afternoon Saturday shoppers and families stood aghast. Groups of 30-40-somethings, from up and down the country and beyond, male and female alike, sang and shouted their way off trams, through the heart of Picadilly Gardens, and coursed through the veins of the sidestreets that lead off it. The top was off the bottle, and after 20 years, it became apparent that some were going to make up for lost time.
An illustration for you, if you’ll indulge me: The Family Pause lived in Hertfordshire, before moving to Manchester 2 years ago. In the spring of 2010, we planted tomatoes to nestle alongside the herb garden we had grown – we could do this, as in the South East of England we had a thing called sunshine. When my job changed, we sold the house and moved. However, right before moving, the tomatoes were about to ripen. They were massive, and the harvest was indeed bountiful. We had waited months for this, and the lucky bastards that we sold the house to got a free crop of huge, organic, home-grown produce. Mrs Pause still wonders what they would have tasted like to this day. We will never know.
“But why this fruit-filled metaphor, you plodding twat?” I hear you cry. Well, after months of waiting, it is fair to say that on each morning after the gigs, hundreds, nay thousands, woke up/came round and asked, after ascertaining where they were, “were they any good?” as there is no way on God’s beer-soaked parklands that they will they remember a single thing. One text from my handily placed Glaswegian reporter in an advanced party, Grant – no stranger to witnessing some pretty grim scenes in his time as a lifelong BMX-er – declared via text: “this…..is….hell.” I was concerned.
We’d had a warning from the day before that the beer queue was anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours long. Unacceptable. So, load up on beer in town, top up when needed at the gig. And, true to the text, it was a scene of carnage and drunken, slippery devastation: beer queue arguments, accusations of pushing in and not having the right money. It was not good.
And then there were the toilets: with a chest-high divider, and the blocks face to face, within seconds you were right in front of a stranger, urinating like it was the most natural thing in the world. “Sorry pal, but I find it really difficult to slash with you looking into my eyes” my partner in piss declared, laughing at the weirdness of the instant familiarity.
“Don’t worry, it could be worse,” I told him, “you could be trying not to stare at your missus…” I indicated with my head to three ‘doors’ down to see a woman, trousers round her ankles, trying to relieve herself. Her position and obvious discomfort was reminiscent of a skateboarder sliding down a steep rail, as his board disappears and he is almost split in half with said iron bar – her arse and hips almost above her shoulders, as she tried to practically mount the urinal on tip toes. Her husband kept a nominal vigil as a shield to deprive prying eyes and save her some dignity. He failed on all counts. It was 7.45pm.
We found a space near the speakers, not too muddy, and not too surrounded by crazies. But, suffice to say we saw plenty: such as the man carrying three pints like a water divider, that had obviously swerved to avoid a quick-swinging elbow, and had adopted the ‘Sideways-Question-Mark-With-Belt’ style of limbo-only posture, and stuck to it when the wind had changed direction. Imagine a position from televisual vomit ‘Hole In The Wall’, but with no wall. Or the man leaving the beer queue with the best ‘Z-Legs’ of the day – feet, ankles, knees and hips all at 45-90 degree angles, a paralytic snow-plough on a muddy nursery slope. And he’d lost probably 30% of the beer he had waited 45 minutes for. He was so shaky he made Mohammed Ali carrying the Olympic Flame look like Cool Hand Luke.
Or the two women we conservatively aged at 45-50, in matching Barbour jackets, supporting each other at propping angles like two beams in a waxed-jacket wigwam, looking for their third structural support. Facing away from the stage, staring into the opposite distance for a sobering redemption, they must have found it in the countless wine-miniatures that were filling their pockets and hands. And had probably been doing that all day. It showed.
And who can forget the ‘Human Fountain’ next to us? An absolute tool of a man, bedecked in deer-stalker hat and groomed handlebar moustache, that had been shouting badly and incorrectly throughout the set. He was having wine poured into his mouth by a friend with the bladder of an expertly smuggled-in wine box. He couldn’t pour it himself, however, as his hands were occupied as he happily filled an empty pint pot with his own tool, creating a constant flow of liquid in and out. As I said: carnage.
I won’t say much about the music, as they were brilliant. I went with the attitude of “please don’t be shit” and was amazed at how tight they were musically. Note perfect throughout from my ears, apart from Mr Brown, but that didn’t matter – he was there to lead the singalong, with the best karaoke band The Heaton Choir have had the privilege to sing with. And to enhance the point further, they played the song I detest, and have done for over 23 years: ‘Don’t Stop’ is the track, and I have always found it a lazy, studio knob-twiddled version of the wonderful ‘Waterfall’ from the first album. However, it was amazing. It made sense, and after all those years of annoyance and disappointment, they exorcised the ghosts of poor performances and disappointing records for good in one fell swoop. And to finish with ‘I Am The Resurrection’, it felt like a band had truly been born again. I’d pay to see them when they next come round again, and recommend if you get a chance to see them you should. And if you haven’t seen a friend for over 20 years, and feel like you want to do it all just one more time? Do it. It was life-affirming. If only some could have remembered it.
Post-script: After the gig on Friday night, a young man went missing. 22 year-old Chris Brahney didn’t make it home to the Manchester suburb of Timperley. After a desperate search, and pleas from friends, family and celebrities alike, his body was found in the Manchester Ship Canal near Salford Quays several days later. Although nearly a quarter of a million people attended, his was the name that most people wanted to know about afterwards. It is a terrible tragedy, and I hope that his family find peace.
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