x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Can the Stone Roses' revival live up to fans' expectations?

Ahead of their Dubai concert, we look at the band's volatile, legendary history.

The singer Ian Brown and the Stone Roses helped inspire a musical movement with their indie sound. Stian Lysberg Solum / AP Photo
The singer Ian Brown and the Stone Roses helped inspire a musical movement with their indie sound. Stian Lysberg Solum / AP Photo

In October 2011, the Stone Roses' comeback announcement caused widespread excitement and trepidation. More circumspect minds drifted back to the 1996 Reading Festival and the band's heartbreakingly humiliating final gig. Were they about to further tarnish the legacy?

"It was a worry," says Matthew Priest, a fan, fellow musician and occasional protagonist in their continuing saga. "I saw that Reading show. Around me people were crying. It was horrible. It was nothing that resembled the band you loved."

The Stone Roses, whose revival reaches Dubai's Media City tomorrow, occupy a unique niche, a seismic, semi-mythical role in modern rock history. "They're our Beatles," Priest says. "Our Stones."

Indeed, the Roses did not just inspire fans and bands but whole musical movements. Formed in Manchester in 1983 by the singer Ian Brown and the guitarist John Squire, plus the bassist Gary "Mani" Mounfield and the drummer Alan "Reni" Wren, the band forged a vital sound, uniting melodic indie with the spiritual vibe of the burgeoning club scene.

They would rule Madchester, a media phenomenon that brought fame to a flood of local acts such as the Mock Turtles. Bands from elsewhere (notably the Midlands-formed Charlatans) moved north, and the Roses hosted the scene's Woodstock in 1990, a huge gig at the remote Spike Island. While the fellow Madchester originators the Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets courted column inches, the Stone Roses remained aloof and made a lasting impact.

"I hated knowing too much about bands: less is more," says Leon Meya, who would later find fame fronting Northern Uproar. "I got into the Roses when I was about 11. We were on a school trip. I listened to the track Elephant Stone about a million times on this bus. As a young lad it really affected me."

Down south, meanwhile, the band Dodgy were also rather in awe. "In 1989/90 that's what we were trying to do, too, mix up a bit of Sly and the Family Stone, The Beatles," says the aforementioned Priest, Dodgy's drummer. "We were such fans that for our first three singles we used Paul Schroeder, who was the fabled engineer who held it all together on their first album."

Holding it together became increasingly difficult, however. The Stone Roses' self-titled debut is widely regarded as one of British rock's finest, but the follow-up sessions dragged interminably as personalities clashed. Wild rumours about their behaviour emerged, some via Dodgy, who briefly hired the studio next door; when Priest joked to a journalist that Brown would now "only answer to the name King Monkey", the story was published as fact - and stuck.

Finally released in 1994, the Stone Roses' portentously titled Second Coming was awash with overblown, Led Zeppelin-style anthems.

The media knives were out. The now widely mocked frontman's singing became an issue, further exacerbated when the drummer Reni left. "As well as being a brilliant drummer, he carried Ian's vocals a lot live by doing the harmonies," Priest says. Squire then quit ahead of that Reading Festival performance, in which Brown's singing was excruciatingly off-key. King Monkey split the band shortly afterwards.

Meanwhile, the Britpop scene was in full swing and owed much to the original Roses blueprint. Oasis openly aped their swagger and style as Manchester again became an epicentre, inspiring younger bands such as Northern Uproar.

Britpop eventually died but the Roses' influence continued. Kasabian arrived in 1997, mimicking the band's rhythmic groove and media stance ("The Stone Roses made a point of being hard to talk to," said the singer Tom Meighan. "We were the same"). Kasabian's sound has since evolved but the Roses' hardcore fans remain devout, as the Montreal musician Rishi Dhir discovered. His band Elephant Stone are named after an early Roses single, which attracted abuse from fans "repulsed by the fact that we're named after such a 'sacred' song," says Dhir. "Then they complain that we don't sound like the Roses. What a world."

That slightly unhealthy devotion was finally rewarded in 2011, when the original quartet announced their comeback shows. Typically for the Roses, negative rumours emerged, notably about Reni's health. But the gigs went ahead with the band intact and even helped spark something of a Britpop revival.

So how are the new Stone Roses shows matching up? Meya has seen several. The first, in Barcelona, "was like the best gig I'd ever seen", he says. Priest, fittingly, caught them at a festival. "We hightailed it down the motorway just in time, and it was worth it," he says. "It was just amazing."

The Stone Roses perform tomorrow night at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Tickets are Dh295 and Dh495 and available through www.thestonerosesdubai.com

artslife@thenational.ae

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