It actually happened and now there’s a film to prove it!
The unlikely resurrection of The Stone Roses was firmly set in celluloid last night as boyhood fan Shane Meadows’ joyous documentary Made of Stone was premiered to over a thousand diehard fans in Manchester.
Screened in the Warehouse Project’s latest humongous home near Old Trafford, the great and the good of the North’s film and music world, along with an excited swarm of Stone Roses diehards, gathered to watch Meadows’ labour of love.
Excited, grubby and underdressed I joined the giddy swarm filing into the cavernous temporary cinema, gawking at Mani, John Squire and Ian Brown on the red carpet (ominously Reni the drummer hadn’t turned up).
My dad brought me up on The Stone Roses and their first album is the soundtrack to almost every childhood memory I have of the early 90s. So when I discovered I had been assigned a ticket two hours before, the excitement and panic managed to propel me from Sheffield, via Trafford Park Station, to the middle of an industrial estate in what seemed like ten minutes.
Dusty and sweaty I tried to catch the eye of the immaculately dressed hostesses ushering photographers and cameramen through the ropes. The gormless shock of coming across such a glitzy event in the haze of a Trafford industrial estate subsided when I was finally noticed and handed a ticket.
I had gone from sitting on my sofa in Sheffield to a world premiere of one of the most eagerly awaited music films of the last twenty years in an hour-and-a-half. It is impossible but it happened. The film itself documents something even more incredible.
The excited crowd treated the screening like a gig and there was a huge roar when the opening shot of Ian Brown high-fiving the crowd at their recent massive show in Heaton Park filled the screen.
This sequence is the only arty tinkering Meadows allows himself in the whole film.
Over the top of a triumphant slow-motion shot of Ian shooting the vast crowd on a front-row fan’s iphone, Alfred Hitchcock’s voice floats, explaining the nature of happiness: “Everything creative. Nothing destructive.” The sheer happiness on Ian’s face at that moment shows the truth of that statement. The Roses’ creative genius had triumphed over destructive bickering.
It is one of the many poignant moments in a film that is crafted from pure love.
Shane Meadows is a self-confessed Stone Roses fanatic. Before the film he explained how after years of idolising from afar in the wilderness of Uttoxeter he managed to get a ticket for Spike Island, the band’s era-defining smash-out gig in 1990, but gave it away the night before whilst on acid! This disappointment has stayed with him and he talks about his love for the band throughout.
He uses himself as a character in the film many times. Explaining his shouty excitement when he was first asked to direct in the back of a taxi; snatching a note they’ve written for his scrapbook when he arrives at their rehearsal hideaway; describing his disappointment and worry when Reni storms off stage in Amsterdam; and showing his open-mouthed joy and giddiness before the warm-up gig in Warrington, when he finally gets to see them live; he is the voice of every diehard fan.
It is noted that Shane Meadows is a genius at provoking emotion in his films but the effect is even stronger in this documentary, you can really relate to him as an old fan and he uses this brilliantly.
The most poignant moment in the film, which had people wiping their eyes in between cheers, began with footage of a famous interview of Ian and John in 1989 a few weeks before their first album was released.
Between baked giggles and cheeky grins they countered some very negative questioning with honest confidence and smiley arrogance and had the audience in stitches. This is edited together with footage of their rehearsals before the reunion tour in a cottage in Warrington. Waterfall is performed perfectly, and with a camera on each face their cheeky winks, piss-taking and effortless chemistry is wonderful to see. They really are the same band as before.
The director explained afterwards that he stood in the middle of the band in their small cottage shooting the rehearsals on his iphone using a Super 8 app! He noticed their little interactions during the changes and realised it needed to be captured from inside rather than out.
The happy tears were flowing freely now and Meadows’ knowledge of a typical Stone Roses fan’s buttons were obvious from then on. The secret Warrington warm-up gig in 2012 was particularly well edited and juxtaposed Meadows’ guilty joy at finally seeing them live to the contrasting emotions of those who had queued outside with t-shirts and chord song-books (they had to provide proof of their fan credentials to get a free wristband). Some got in, some didn’t, but the frantic reaction of a whole town showed how strongly people feel, young and old, towards such an important British band.
Coverage of Heaton Park itself is saved until the very end and a mesmerising Fools Gold breakdown is played in its entirety; you get the sense Shane and producer Mark Herbert, another huge fan, were picking cuttings up from the floor and sticking them back on, not wishing to chop up The Stone Roses in full pyschedelic freak-out.
The gigs in Heaton Park that the whole reunion was geared around was given a surprisingly short snippet – although a closing snippet – and the director confirmed at the Q&A that he wanted the secret Warrington show to be the ‘heart of the film’, a testament to how special that day was to him personally.
Other highlights included the European tour of Barcelona, Lyon and Amsterdam where a mardy Reni stormed off stage before the encore, leading many to believe the band would not last to play the already sold out Manchester gigs. The remander of the European dates were cancelled but the band’s fragile relationship was eventually repaired, a process that was quickly skipped over by our partisan director.
Indeed, there was some things that could have been explained properly if the director wasn’t acutely aware of the fragility of the arrangement. Understanding the need for ‘not shoving a camera in their face’, as he put it, Meadows skilfully covers up this gap in the narrative by explaining the first break up in ’96.
There is so much else I want to write about but I don’t want to spoil your experience of watching such a beautiful gem of a film. Watching it as part of an audience of fans, friends and family was special and exciting, but the way the film portrays nostalgia, that tricky bittersweet emotion, and the story of four childhood friends reliving their youth, would move anyone.
Although there is plenty of live footage it is not a concert film, the early years and their slow crumbling is played out but it is not a biopic, expect a typical Shane Meadows story of life, love and music. A live resurrection.