As the Stone Roses return to play the fastest-selling gigs in UK history, Anna Doble writes for Channel 4 News from Manchester’s Heaton Park.
More important than Picasso, reckons Damien Hirst. Inspirational, says David Beckham. Labour MP Iain Wright even managed to get them into Hansard this week, quoting She Bangs the Drum (“The past was yours, But the future’s mine”) in a jibe at the Tories.
So how did the Stone Roses – who only released two albums and never had a number one – end up being national treasures?
As the band made their long-awaited comeback at Manchester’s Heaton Park last night, the answer was loud and clear. It might not be personal (230,000 tickets were sold in 68 minutes for these three gigs, at more than £50 each) but it certainly is generational.
If you were 18-25 in the Roses’ heyday, you are now around 40-50. Lead singer Ian Brown is 49. The band’s legendary guitarist John Squire turns 50 in November. Your correspondent spots shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, 42, clutching a beer and queuing up to buy merchandise.
So now seems a good time to relive your youth, whether onstage or off it; to summon up the good old days before mortgages and children; when the country was in recession and England were losing on penalties in major football tournaments.
Music writer and broadcaster Andrew Collins tells Channel 4 News: “The Stone Roses arrived at a time of great optimism – the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ousting of Thatcher, solidarity and freedom breaking out across the former Communist bloc – and filled a gap with their dazzling sense of self-belief and skyscraping ambition.
“They were the right band at the right time. And they saw the benefit of ‘event gigs’, which helped to build their legend.
“For those that witnessed these events – many of them the founding fathers of Britpop, which came to emblemise the mid-to-late 90s – it felt like some kind of empowering countercultural movement.”
Under grey skies the band open with I Wanna Be Adored, 1991’s hymn to youthful aspiration long since converted into an anthem of dead-cert self-belief. “I don’t have to sell my soul,” sings Ian Brown, and multimillion pound incentives aside, you believe him.
As he struts the stage, the supreme primate of the rock n roll jungle, one wonders if Liam Gallagher’s entire career was a “Tonight, Matthew, I am Ian Brown” moment on Stars in Their Eyes.
“As you can see we’ve still got it,” Brown tells the crowd who, despite the complaints about overcrowded bars running out of beer, are determined to drink deep from the Roses’ citrus-themed show (the band’s emblem is a lemon and the screens oscillate wildly with images of the fruit).
For all the talk of fresh animosity, Brown appears to whisper sweet nothings into bassist Mani’s ear throughout as the band, framed on big screens by those famous Jackson Pollock paint splatters, race through the classics from Sally Cinnamon and Fool’s Gold to Waterfall and Love Spreads.
But it’s not all cuddles and nostalgia. There is a distinct whiff of menace, from the ever-so-feral feel around the horribly disorganised bars to Ian Brown’s outburst at the royal family, “those dirty parasites down the road celebrating 60 years of tyranny”.
Jubilee hate turns to jubilation as drummer Reni hammers out the era-defining pulse of I Am The Resurrection, tonight’s finale. The crowd (not all middle aged by the way, many here were probably born post Roses split) sings along to every word.
The Roses end it with a group hug, then the four take a bow before fireworks light up the rainy Manchester sky. As comebacks go, perhaps only a reunited Smiths, also of this parish, could compare. And if you think it’s all about money, you probably have a heart made of stone.