To borrow from the Reverend Ian Brown, “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at”. Where we’re at is an artificial island in Widnes, banked by a murky estuary and overlooked by a toll bridge. But, steeped in sunshine, for the thousands gathered here, this is our Mersey Paradise.
Spike Island, site of The Stone Roses’ fabled 1990 concert, hasn’t hosted a gig before or since, so there’s ambition verging on audacity on the part of leading tribute, The Clone Roses to get this huge celebration off the ground. But off the ground it goes, breaking right into heaven.
Tribute acts have their sceptics, but from the six on offer today, there is no sense of novelty. Fifteen months and two postponements after The Resurrection was originally scheduled, the bands and DJs assembled feed the pilgrims (men and women, young and old) a breath-taking banquet of Madchester hits and cult classics.
As the live music gets underway, the True Order frontman announces: “I feel like I’ve just got out of prison”. The sentiment is not lost on the early worshippers, and is further embedded by set highlight, True Faith: “I get this feeling I’m in motion/A sudden sense of liberty”. The band are tight, loyally understated, and loved, particularly by a large youthful group, who go wild for Temptation, Bizarre Love Triangle and, well, everything else they play.
The James Experience (Born of Frustration), aptly open their sermon with Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), the wonderful flailing limbs and vocal range of today’s Tim Booth giving the greatest hits a soaring energy. The crowd, in a mass act of defiance, rebel against the later commandment to Sit Down, rather jumping up, arms aloft, the first dinks of descending-lager-can-on-skull inaudible against the choral refrain.
Between acts, we get the gospel according to Bez, as well as DJ sets from long-time Clone Roses supporter and Inspiral Carpet, Clint Boon; veterans of 1990, Andy (808 State) and MC Tunes and indie evangelism from MC Dave Sweetmore.
The impressive Happy Mondaze bring a dose of Manc menace to proceedings, twisting melons, calling the cops and yippee-ippee-ey-ey-ay-yey-yey-ing through a groove-laden gig. Hallelujah, cry the congregation.
The Smiths Ltd make it ok to enjoy Morrissey, and what a treat that is. The microphone is swung around like an incense burner, and the hoards are hypnotised, happy in the haze of a drunken hour. Marr’s Jaguar jangles away as the crowd oscillate wildly to indie disco staple This Charming Man. Strangers lock eyes during There is a Light that Never Goes Out, vowing that to die by each other’s side would be a heavenly way to die.
Anthemic Britpop follows with a snarling, Supersonic set from Oas-is. “Tonight, I’m a rock’n’roll star” rings true for both priests and parishioners. This is the biggest crowd these bands will have played to, and the biggest we ticketholders have enjoyed in forever and a day. All we need is fags and booze, and to be here now. Live Forever and Champagne Supernova threaten a plague of laryngitis, but Gallaghers and gig-goers come together for a rousing Acquiesce. Why? “Because we neeeeed each other.”
Anticipation rises. The bar queue snakes. Whatever magic dust has been sprinkled on the island settles. And then, what the world is waiting for…
As a nod to 1990, the Clone Roses walk on to The Dismasters’ Small Time Hustler surprising a few expecting the familiarity of The Supremes’ Stoned Love. I Wanna Be Adored’s creeping thud of a bassline, however, is no surprise, but it spreads – via Clone Mani – through the hallowed soil, through thousands of Adidas soles, propelling everything skywards. As is tradition, the faithful chant along to every note of Clone Squire’s intro riff, before a euphoric ‘Adored’ rings out to accompany a swaggering Clone Ian.
The intricate beats of Elephant Stone showcase Clone Reni’s superb drumming. This really is a band that study and know their roles, and to play like the originals takes some doing. After countless gigs and years on the road, they have mastered these precious songs, and earned this celebration.
In a set remarkably loyal to its predecessor, an exception is made to bring in crowd-pleaser Mersey Paradise, and it’s a decision that pays off. Someone grabs me by the arm. ‘This is amazing’, he says, then wanders further forward to share the good news.
Roses gigs – Stone or Clone – often feel like a play in two acts: light then dark; melody then groove; spite first veiled, then unveiled. Perhaps it just depends when the sun goes down. Relative lightness here comes from singalongs (they all turn out to be singalongs) She Bangs the Drums and Sally Cinnamon; the gentle venom of Shoot You Down; and despite its moody – and superior – verse, One Love. The band have the crowd in their palms, and any doubters present have evidently been converted.
(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister is a delight, planting its trippy fairground love story on the lips of every gathered candy-floss girl and sticky-fingered boy. The sky has probably turned green over this former toxic waste site before; for now, though, its several shades of blue slip temptingly towards dusk.
Like so often, Fools Gold is the cue for the second act, its funk-fuelled rhythm setting shoulders rolling, the whispered lyrics slowing time, before virtuoso guitar enraptures and possesses. Either side of that epic sit Standing Here and Where Angels Play, stellar B-sides, fan favourites, and here, beautifully faultless renditions.
Through a cloudless canopy, a Waterfall of holy water cascades, as pints of bliss anoint the swell. We chant in tongues “Daa-DUH-duh-duh–duh-duh-der-duh”, and carry on through it all. Soon, we’re reminded with bone-buzzing bass that This Is The One all of us have waited for. But first, hymn for the ages, Made of Stone, in its tin-twisted glory, gifts a primal release of all the frustration of the past eighteen months. I love the scene.
Delivered with choirboy contrast, the threatening brevity of Elizabeth My Dear unites band and believers in not-so-silent prayer, as 1990’s huge inflatable globe is presented to the crowd by Clone Ian. He’s got the whole world in his hands.
The drums kick in. Five bass notes build on top. The world is bouncing off bucket hats. I am the Resurrection brings with it the knowledge that the end is nigh, so for the next eight-or-so minutes, you better ‘ave it. Teasing false dawns of verses ramp up the ante before the arms-wide-open euphoria of the chorus, and the ensuing ecstasy of the Squire-led wig-out. Perfection. The band join hands and revel for a final moment. They are adored.
No-one wants to leave. This has been a triumph. A triumph of ambition, of organisation, of talent, and of love. A taste of the greatest thing one can do with one’s freedom: dance in a field to great music, get loaded and have a good time. The mood throughout has been one of shared jubilation, togetherness and generosity. For that alone, it’s like no other gig I can remember.
Our Clone Roses, Gav (Ian), Tony (Squire), Baggy (Mani) and Phil (Reni) release a message the next day: “We aren’t rock stars, just 4 lads with normal jobs like everyone else who for the last 20+ years have been fortunate to do what we do. But that yesterday was something else…The atmosphere was something special. You made us feel like the Stone Roses, and we can’t tell you how good that feels…”
There’ll be no second coming, but The Clone Roses have resurrected Spike Island as a fantastic music venue for other artists. They’re now on a crusade to coax Liam Gallagher into performing here next. And that could be, well… biblical.
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