Admittedly the name The Stone Roses won’t mean jack to a lot of people, but for me and many more besides there was a period when little else mattered, certainly in terms of music. For a brief moment in the late 1980s and early 1990s The Stone Roses – a Mancunian band with the best attitude and songs for a million and one miles in all directions – looked set to rule the UK charts before taking on the world, only to implode under the weight of drugs, inflated egos, financial wrangles and that age-old classic ‘musical differences’. A charismatic foursome, they were influenced by 1960s psychedelia, garage rock, punk and soul, but were also firmly rooted in the present, tied in with and feeding off the ecstatic surge of the acid house scene. Their songs beguiled with their beauty, and filled a great many dancefloors with their funk, but there was always a sting in the tail, an anti-royal, anti-right wing attitude that helped to shape a great many people’s outlook on life and thoughts on society. Their fans were (and still are) devoted; being into The Stone Roses didn’t just mean sitting around listening to an album, or going to the occasional gig and buying a t-shirt; it was something that completely shaped your personality for the decades ahead, and I can’t think of any other single musician, group, artist, director or author that has had the same effect on me.
The same can be said for Shane Meadows, the UK filmmaker responsible for some of the best movies about the British working class this side of Ken Loach or John Schlesinger. Meadows has made the excellent TwentyFourSeven, This Is England, Dead Man’s Shoes and A Room For Romeo Brass, to name but a few, and is an avowed long-term fan of the band. The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone is his documentary of the band’s triumphant reunion in 2012, which culminated in them selling over 450,000 tickets for homecoming gigs at Manchester’s Heaton Park in a record 14 minutes.
The band’s quiet guitarist John Squire and swaggering singer Ian Brown were childhood friends, but after an acrimonious split in the mid 1990s they didn’t talk to each other for over 15 years. Bassist Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield enjoyed a successful time as a member of another band, Primal Scream, and drummer Alan ‘Reni’ Wren – the first to quit the band back in the 1990s – seemed to disappear completely, with rumours of his whereabouts and projects occasionally emanating from deepest, darkest, rainiest Manchester. Despite countless offers from promoters to reform for huge sums of money the band always resisted, with artist Squire even going so far as to create a work entitled ‘I have no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses, 12.3.09’.
That stance softened after an emotional reunion at the funeral of Mani’s mother in 2011, which saw Squire and Brown re-ignite their friendship. With the four members talking to each other once again, the offers to play gigs began to roll in, and eventually the band’s comeback was announced at a press conference. Meadows was there to film it and document the rehearsals and gigs that would follow.
The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone begins with a re-cap of the band’s first incarnation, with old footage of interviews and home videos charting their initial gigs in Manchester and London and the subsequent rise to prominence in the UK, where at their height they staged a huge outdoor gig at Spike Island, near the town of Wigan (this gig has even inspired a recent film called Spike Island, by Mat Whitecross). Context is everything: every second band gets to play to crowds of 100,000 people these days, but in 1990 indie bands in the UK simply did not and few would even dream of putting on such a massive concert. The Stone Roses showed others the way and changed the mindset of a great many bands that would follow; Spike Island signalled the start of an era in which guitar-based bands started to think big again.
This early footage contains interviews with the young Squire and Brown at their most awkward: they are monosyllabic, shy and mysterious, dodging questions and stumbling over answers, but their mix of arrogance and charm is often intoxicating. ‘It takes time for people to fall in love with you … but it’s inevitable’ deadpans Brown to one interviewer who has the temerity to ask him why his band are not sitting at the top of the charts when they purport to be ‘the best in the world’.
After showing the band’s decline and break-up, Meadows shifts his focus to the rehearsals in 2012 before the comeback gigs. There is much hugging and bonhomie as the group plays together. The director, who never actually saw them play live first time round, is like a kid in a candy shop, walking around the studio and unable to hide his joy when he happens upon a practice set-list.
At a free warm-up gig in Warrington, fans flock for tickets after an announcement on social media and the radio. The footage of these die-hards as they arrive out of breath at the venue is fantastic, and Meadows speaks with many of them. Many of those interviewed here – shot in black and white – look and sound as though they could be characters from any number of Meadows’s feature films, and while some are young the majority are now in their late 30s or early 40s, explaining that they had to leave their workplaces or dump their kids with childminders in order to hurry to Warrington’s Parr Hall in search of a ticket. Their fervour illustrates exactly what The Stone Roses mean to a great many people, and the interviews are extremely insightful – Meadows is one of them, after all. (Two of my favourite quotes from fans that sum up their devotion are as follows. One man states “There’s a reason why I’ve still got my hair like this, there’s a reason why I’ve never worn a tie, there’s a reason why I listen to that album at least once a week and it still makes me tingle’. Another, post-gig, explains: ‘You know when you get an album and you play it when you have a great time, you play it when people pass on, when you get married, when your kids are born … It makes you feel good that further down the line, things come good’.)
It’s amusing to see grown men and women – people who have witnessed birth and death and wedding days and redundancies and depression and illness – become so emotional over a small wristband ticket that allows them entry, or indeed the fact that they weren’t able to secure one and have to stand outside with the rest of the unfortunate few in order to listen to the muffled noise within.
It’s at this point of the film that Meadows’ focus shifts from the band to the fans; at the reunion gigs he concentrates on the reactions of the crowd, although staple footage of the band is included, and this is carried through to the end of the film as a worldwide tour takes in the huge UK gigs and various performances in Europe and Japan. It’s a necessary move, given that there are no interviews with band members in the film, merely half-conversations snatched as they prepare to take the stage or kid around in the rehearsal space. It’s also both a blessing and a curse: Meadows’ wide-eyed passion is infectious, but it ensures that the documentary is very much in the category ‘by a fan and for existing fans’, with little substantial insight from Squire, Brown, Wren or Mounfield.
When drummer Reni angrily walks off stage in Amsterdam prior to the big Manchester gigs Meadows backs off, and honestly explains his reasons for doing so, stating that he thought the last thing the band would want is someone in their faces with a camera. While this is true, many other documentary-makers would see this as the most intriguing point, the crack behind the otherwise good-natured facade that they should leap upon, the chance for a spot of This Is Spinal Tap-style comedy. I completely admire Meadows’ dignity here in covering but also refusing to dwell upon this incident, but unfortunately it does highlight the fact that this is a fan’s love letter, even if it is far from being a one-sided PR puff piece.
Still, with an air of celebration around the return of a seminal band, Meadows can’t have been expected to make a dark exposition of out-of-control egos like Ondi Timoner’s Dig! or a comedic sideways glance like Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster. He has made a positive film about what looks to have been a generally positive experience for a lot of people, and given his lack of experience in the field his footage of the concerts is involving and expertly sequenced.
The long-standing animosity between Brown and Squire seems to have disappeared entirely, and so the life-affirming tone feels right. Like many fans I never thought I’d see the day when The Stone Roses would return, but it happened. Shane Meadows has made an enjoyable documentary of this event, and those of us that will always cherish what this band stood for (and still stand for today) will enjoy it thoroughly. Leaving my records and t-shirt aside for one moment, this is a well-made documentary but it may not appeal to music fans who are unaware or uninterested in The Stone Roses. That’s a shame, as it works well as an upbeat and celebratory portrayal of fandom, free from any hidden agenda and containing some heartwarming moments.
Directed by: Shane Meadows
Starring: Ian Brown, John Squire, Alan Wren, Gary Mounfield
Running Time: 96 minutes