She's a Maid of Stone
The Sex Pistols gig in June 1976 at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester, has been well documented as a pivotal moment in music history.
It’s been depicted on film and written into folklore as a special place in time where many of the small, select crowd were inspired by John Lydon and his band, to go out and follow their own creative paths.
Members of Joy Division, The Smiths and The Fall were all in attendance and subsequently went on to create their own artistic legacies for years to come.
Mick Hucknall was there too.
I’d have given anything to have been there.
To have been touched by the hand of Lydon, and launched into a lifelong musical quest to who knows where.
You didn’t have to be talented.
You didn’t even have to be a musician.
Originality and confidence were the only pre-requisites needed and, back in 1976 – as with most five year olds, I had both in abundance.
I despised being too young to have been there. Too young to even lie about being there, but what if there was another one?
Maybe the last such moment of musical epiphany ever, and the stars aligned once more, for such an occasion to take place?
When Dave Haslam booked James and The Stone Roses on the same bill at International 2 for the ‘Never Going Underground’ – Anti Clause 28 benefit gig on 30th May 1988, who was to know that this would come to be known as the ‘Lesser Free Trade Hall’ moment of that generation?
It’s been described as the night the Madchester scene was born, one of the best gigs The Stone Roses ever played and many future musical talents claim to have been there and subsequently inspired to follow their own artistic paths.
Noel Gallagher was there too, but as he looked very much like Clint Boon at the time, no one can confirm whether it was him or not.
It’s difficult to tell when these pivotal moments are.
There was no sign on the door saying ‘Inspiration Alert’.
No post gig de-brief with instructions to go out and buy guitars the very next day.
I’d only been to a dozen or so gigs by the time this one came along and had sworn every one of them was the best I’d ever been to.
No one told me it was to be that pivotal a moment in musical history – not until a good thirty years later.
I heard of the Stone Roses through the Tony Michaelides Sunday night, Piccadilly Radio show, where he interviewed a lad who’d produced a fanzine named ‘Made in Manchester’.
For the sum of a £1.50 postal order and a large stamped-addressed envelope, you could obtain a copy, along with a cassette of demo tracks by The Railway Children, The Bodines, King of The Slums and a band called The Stone Roses.
Tony ‘The Greek’, as his radio nickname went, then played song two from the tape on air – a tune called ‘Sally Cinnamon’.
It went on something about ‘Cherry aid’, and a guitar that sounded like it was rusty.
It was fuckin ace.
Enough to find out what a Postal Order was and send off for a copy.
‘You are my world’, rang round in my head, day after day.
Pencil cases and text books at school were adorned with ‘The Stone Roses’ legend, and a privaliged band of close mates were taken in to the circle of trust.
We’d scour the gig listings in Piccadilly Records Shop window every Saturday in hope of seeing them live in order to consumate the relationship with the best band nobody knew.
You’d hear a band, go and see them play, then you’re bonded for life, and at International 1 on Anson Road, Longsight on 26th June 1987, this 15 year old school boy fell hook, line and sinker for the Stone Roses.
The poster outside informed us that Tony The Greek was on decks pre gig and feeling we already had a bond, I marched up to the guy in the DJ booth to demand where Tony was, whereby his unmistakable voice confirmed that not for the first time, I’d made a complete twat of myself.
“Are you really Tony The Greek?”
“Yes mate, I am”, he replied
“It’s just – you don’t look very Greek”.
He asked my name, and enlightened me that it was the same as the drummer from the band ‘Magazine‘ .
The fact he’d mis heard ‘Mark’ as ‘Martin’ didn’t warrant correction and he went on to recall the encounter on his radio show the following Sunday night, dedicating a tune to the young lad who thought he should look more like a waiter.
During the autumn and winter of 1987/88 me and my newly enlightened mates saw the Stone Roses on another three occasions, supported by the The Waltones, The Monkey Run and The Inspiral Carpets.
The gigs were jubilant, ecstatic journeys of discovery as the small crowd and the band fused together.
That legendary debut album was honed in front of less than 200 strong crowds in a sweaty Longsight venue, played on a foot high stage, a good two years before it was actually released to the world.
Hearing ‘She Bangs The Drums’ or ‘This Is The One’ for the first time, whilst your foot pushes against the bass monitor in order to stop another stage pile on, never leaves you.
It was something new, yet familiar, hard as nails yet yearningly beautiful, and it felt life changing.
It was clear this thing would quickly transcend beyond the International 1 and on to god knows where, but I didn’t want it to.
This was my band and I wanted them to stay right here.
None of us even knew what the songs were called and grew to know them by melody alone.
After a gig in the February of 1988 we got hold of a setlist, snatched from Manni’s bass monitor.
With this, we had actual names to this amazing collection of tunes and tried to work out which recalled melody matched the new found titles.
As we set off back to North Manchester, one pal took his lead from our equivalent of The Rosetta Stone and proceeded to put two and two together and made 5.
Arms aloft, he set off down the middle of Upper Brook Street singing at the top of his voice,
“She’ll carry on through it aaaaall…….She’s a maid of stone”.
No one said a word.
Their name was spreading fast with the release of ‘Sally Cinnamon’ as an actual single, and that meant more gigs and some radio play too.
The word was out.
What’s the logical progression for the next biggest band in the world after those magical nights at International 1?
Obviously, International 2.
The venue once graced by The Mighty Lemon Drops, Voice of The Beehive and Hothouse Flowers, just down the road on Plymouth Grove.
So this was where, on 30th May 1988, The Roses (as we now called them) were booked to support James, and the step up to a ‘proper’ venue was undertook by me and my pals as well as our band.
The place was packed out.
Who were all these people?
They must have come to watch James, or even Clause 28, who we belatedly discovered weren’t one of the support acts.
We made our way to the front, but the stage was higher than usual, meaning there’d be no high fives with Manni and no crowds flooding over the sound monitors.
Legend has it the Roses deliberately held back from coming on at their scheduled time for at least an hour due to being pissed off that they were dubbed as the support act, and it did feel like hours too.
Made worse by the fact there was now maybe a thousand people between us and the bar and even worse, the toilet.
If any of us gave up our spot there was no way we’d get it back and the longer we left it, the more chance the band would come on as soon as we’d made a move.
One of the now empty pint glasses seemed the best solution to the increasingly desperate toilet issue.
Willy was one of the lads who’d come with us and proceeded to relieve himself into an empty glass.
Much to the relief of those surrounding him, he stopped just short of any overspill situation, before reaching up and placing it carefully behind the guitar monitor on the stage when done.
Roadies appeared placing guitars and setting mic stands.
The wait continued, until finally the lights dimmed and the best band we thought nobody knew appeared.
My feet left the floor for the first time of the night as the crowd surged forward and back again.
Ian Brown responded as puppet master to this sea of adoration, elaborately nodding his head up and down to roars of the swaying masses.
Manni raised his right fist, beaming a huge smile whilst nursing the neck of his Rickenbacker, and as Reni did the last minute bass drum check that’s in every drummers DNA, Brown released the mic from its stand and began his much copied swagger across the front of the stage before announcing,
“We’re the Stone Roses”.
On that, he reached down and picked up a pint glass, then raised it to his lips.
Don’t do it Ian!
A massive gulp too, then dropped it like a poisoned princess, spilling the remaining contents across the stage floor.
Brown spat out what was left in his mouth and glared in disbelief across the front row of the crowd.
Did he know?
I think he had a pretty good idea.
He looked just like someone who’d drank some piss by mistake.
but he didn’t know we knew.
I remembered him once dive into the crowd at International 1 to throw a punch at someone , but was always left disappointed it was more akin to a table tennis stroke than a Carl Froch jab.
I never told a soul that Ian Brown punched like a girl, but feared the piss drinking incident could trigger a similar outcome.
As his glare rounded towards the pocket of giggling 16 year olds, now crouching just below the eyeline of the stage, the stabbing notes from Mani’s bass broke out into the start of ‘I Wanna be Adored’, played as their opening number for the very first time.
Ian Brown wiped his chin, then went on to produce a performance that would be still talked about thirty years later.
Our hysterics began to subside part way though ‘Waterfall‘, before becoming struck by a strange feeling stemming from seeing our idol, so vulnerable.
Willy tapped me on the shoulder, to show he’d got to grips with his breathing again, his face now awash with looming concern,
“Do you think he’ll be alright?”
“I’m sure he will mate – he’ll be fine”.
At the next Roses gig at International 2, it didn’t seem cool to be at the front anymore.
There was also the nagging doubt retribution may lie in wait, so we opted to take up a fake disinterested look towards the back.
A lad walked past wearing a leather jacket with “The Stone Roses” etched across the shoulders in white chalk lettering.
It was over, and it never really began.
The band whose name I’d been scrawling all over my school books didn’t need me or my mates anymore.
Their debut album release was imminent and those amazing tunes that only a select few were lucky enough to have experienced in all their raw, spiky beauty, were polished up and unleashed to the world.
Our secret was well and truly out.
Spike island came along and was something to avoid at all costs.
Seeing the band and their new fans so happy together would be too painful at this early stage of our break up.
Like seeing you’re ex in the passenger seat of an XR2i, screeching up to the Spar, as you sit outside sharing two’s on a cig as the driver leans out to ask what flavour condoms were available inside.
“They don’t sell condoms at Spar, mate”….
….And I would definitely not be going to Spike Island.
Things would never be the same for the Roses again.
I scanned the Heaton Park crowd whilst stood on a waste bin by the disabled viewing platform, as the opening notes to ‘I wanna be Adored’ triggered the choir of twenty thousand plus to sway together as one in full voice
It’d been twenty four years since me and The Roses had seen each other, and our acrimonious split felt it’d been the right move for both of us.
After all we’d been through, it was good to see the lads were doing ok.
A red flare lit the darkening skies, and the huge twin screens flanking the stage, flashed to each band member.
As the traditional opening number, had now been stretched to include an extended guitar outro, the stage cam flashed to Ian Brown nodding in time to John Squire’s guitar indulgence, before reaching down for a plastic bottle from the stage floor.
I wasn’t sure….but swear he took a long, hard sniff at the contents – just before placing it carefully to his lips.