Entertainment & Arts

Stone Roses resurrected in Manchester

Stone Roses singer Ian Brown
Image caption Stone Roses singer Ian Brown was on form during the homecoming show

Seminal rock band The Stone Roses have returned to their home town of Manchester for the first of three gigs in which they will play to a total of 220,000 people in Heaton Park.

To the right of me, eight blokes embrace as if they are about to go into a rugby scrum. They start bouncing up and down in unison - one bouncing on my toes - and break formation only to raise their arms and sing along.

To my left, a girl on her boyfriend's shoulders holds both arms aloft, looks to the heavens and shouts "Yes!" before spending the next 12 bars with her palms against her cheeks in a state of tearful reverie.

In front, a guy holds a fat cigar between two fingers as he waves an outstretched arm.

This is a moment to be savoured.

This is the first major UK gig by the Stone Roses' original line-up for 22 years.

Image caption Some 75,000 fans will watch the band each night for three nights

The band's 1989 debut album is one of the greatest ever recorded and, while they never achieved full commercial superstardom the first time around, their legend has grown in their absence and the 220,000 tickets for these three gigs sold out in 68 minutes.

The Stone Roses are not universally adored, but those who love them really, really love them.

To those fans, they are more than just another band. As well as having made an album that reached parts that other bands could not reach, they encapsulate an era of freedom and optimism that has long since been replaced by mortgages, kids and mid-life crises.

"It's a buzz. Plus it's a reminder of very happy time in the '90s," says one fan, 37-year-old Nick Hopewell from Derby. "It was all about the people and the vibe back then. Things may be a little bit more tame these days."

With an average age of around 40, the crowd, like the band, were here to recapture those glory days.

Some reunited their own old gangs of mates and dug out their floppy hats for the occasion, while others took children who were fed the Roses' music along with their Farley's Rusks and are now old enough to claim them as idols of their own.

And few song intros can transport you to another place as swiftly as the opening of the first track I Wanna Be Adored.

Image caption Brown and bassist Mani shared a joke on stage during Friday's concert

First Mani's bass brings its dramatic rumble, then John Squire's guitar kicks in before drummer Reni takes up his magisterial groove.

And before singer Ian Brown has sung a note, the crowd are already singing along - singing "na na na" to the guitar line - and are delivered from under these cloudy skies in this suburban Manchester park to a more euphoric plane.

Brown, a restless presence, prowls the length of the stage and back, and has lost none of the cheeky messiah complex that makes him so compelling.

"As you can see, we've still got it," he assures the crowd early on. Luckily, during the first few songs, the crowd is singing too loudly to be able to tell whether he has gained the ability to sing in tune.

Squire, bathed in dry ice with a studiously cool expression and ruffled black hair, appears every inch the archetypal guitar god - and you get the impression he knows it.

Mani, meanwhile, whose potent basslines underpin the band's best songs, seems to wear a slightly strained expression, as if he is high on Immodium rather than the ecstasy that is associated with their baggy heyday.

And Reni, the enigmatic but inspired drummer, thankfully appears to be enjoying himself under his floppy hat and false dreadlocks.

Each member contributes something different but utterly crucial to their magic. When they are good, they are glorious. It is musical greatness to the power of four.

But the Stone Roses can also sound awfully ordinary at times.

Wayward vocals

After five or six songs, the energy levels in the crowd start to drop dangerously and the band move into a mid-set lull.

It becomes clear that Brown's vocals are still rather wayward and the sound from the PA, which is being blown about like the dry ice, does not help.

The band only had one great album plus a few more stand-out tracks - but eke out two hours to give the fans value for their £60 tickets.

The atmosphere picks up again with Fools Gold, Waterfall and Love Spreads, and the crowd rediscovers its voice in the home straight with Made of Stone, This Is The One, She Bangs The Drums and the finale I Am The Resurrection.

As the fans around me scream the lines "I am the resurrection and I am the light", the words take on a new meaning - not just for the revived band, but also for the punters who are reclaiming a bit of a life that they had left behind.

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