The Stone Roses, the original sons of Madchester, released a life-changing record in 1989 (self-titled). Then, in 1994, they released a middling record, broke up, and spent 16 years bitterly sniping at each other and proving – with increasingly desperate solo ventures – how much less they are than the sum of their parts. Then, on a spring morning last year, This Is England director and committed northerner Shane Meadows got a call from the band’s frontman Ian Brown; The Stone Roses were to re-form – their ways not wholly reformed – for a set of homecoming gigs in Manchester. Tickets for the three dates – all 220,000 of them – sold out in 14 minutes.
The film opens with Alfred Hitchcock defining happiness as “a clear horizon,” as Mani’s bass line on "I Wanna Be Adored" purrs through. We see Ian Brown, just inches away, swaggering along the frontline of the Manchester crowd before taking someone’s phone and recording the surging mass of arms and faces. It’s the perfect metaphor for what follows; not just a resurrection of a band, but of a generation whom invested so deeply in Brown’s statements of youth and freedom, whom – in their adoration – gave his songs a transcendental sense of meaning.
In the first screening of the completed film, Meadows claimed this is a “warts and all” documentary. That’s a stretch. Made of Stone is, undeniably, a promotional tool; it is, after all, co-produced by the band’s manager. Told through early-years archive footage, behind the scenes access, video-diaries from Meadows and superbly intimate live shooting, Meadows pays tribute to the band’s hedonistic charisma while only hinting at the money-driven disputes with record labels, the drugs, the erratic live shows, the broken friendships that left so many could-have-beens, that made Brown’s “rule the world” rhetoric begin to stick in the craw. But if the film genuflects to Brown’s lyrics and John Squire’s melodies, it is – critically and successfully – far more interested in celebrating the effortless lyricism of the band’s followers.
The Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown.
The strongest section of the film is the scramble to witness the band’s unannounced warm-up gig in Warrington’s tiny, fantastically retro hall. “Stop music,” one fan proclaims as he reels from the venue in the sweaty aftermath. “F*ck Oasis, and f*ck Man City,” another shouts into the cold night. A third tells Meadows: “I know it, you know it, everyone here knows it, but you can’t write it down. There’s a reason why I’ve never wore a tie in my life, there’s a reason why I keep my hair like this, there’s a reason why I listen to that album every week and it still makes me tingle.”
Why do this oft-dysfunctional quartet engender such maniacal support? Are they even deserving? In Made of Stone, that question isn’t answered, nor is it deemed important. What is prized is the ability of such music to recall times past, about the legacy of youth, the meaning of collective remembrance. Through some strange creative alchemy, The Stone Roses made – still make – normal people feel and love and connect; that in itself, is a subject wholly worthy of Meadows’ lens, and of our attention.
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