When The Stone Roses played in Lancashire

They are the band who defined an era. now one quarter of a century on The Stone Roses are back take on the next generation. The Manchester band has announced a series of stadium gigs next year. Mike Hill looks back at the days they played closer to home in Lancashire.

By Mike Hill
Friday, 13th November 2015, 4:02 pm
The Stone Roses in their heyday
The Stone Roses in their heyday

For a band synonymous with the Manchester scene of the late 1980s it will come as surprise to many fans to learn The Stone Roses’ first northern concert was in Preston and not their home town.

In all they have played five times in Lancashire culminating in their breakout concert at Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom in the summer of 1989 which marked the Roses’ arrival as the nation’s biggest band.

Clouds, Preston

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March 29 1985

The Stone Roses northern debut took place in the unlikely setting of Preston’s Clouds nightclub (modern day Evoque) and proved a landmark date on the road to fame.

After a successful local radio session had raised their profile in Manchester a sizeable crowd headed over and legend has it the gig was marked by a ‘riot’ among travelling fans, locals and bouncers.

Preston musician Pete Brown was there, “I personally was unlucky enough to see The Stone Roses play a terrible gig at Clouds in Preston back in 1985, they were pretty goth back then and not very good.”

The Stone Roses eponymous debut album

A music writer for Melody Maker was also in town to record the occasion and remarked, “Imagine the sound of fingernails scraping down a blackboard, amplified to an intolerable degree. The Stone Roses are tuning up. An angst-ridden vocal penetrates the plethora of deranged drumming and screaming feedback. The effect is impelling - for the handful of diehard masochists pulverising each other at the front of the stage. The rest are unimpressed.

“The Stone Roses, sadly, are like a whole host of other bands circa '76 - thrashing through a monotonous set, bereft of subtlety or sensitivity. They serve merely as a catalyst for aggression; channelling energy and fervent emotion into their songs for all the wrong reasons. What's more, this band appears to believe strongly in what they're doing, which is even more disconcerting.

“The singer reminds me of a harsher and less charismatic Pete Shelley, as he wails incoherently and hurtles around the stage. Potentially good songs such as "So Young" and "Nowhere Fast" were drowned in a mangled mess of dissonance. How they earned the label of Mancunian Deviant Merseybeat I'll never know, especially when they so blatantly lack melody and originality.

“A pitiful display.”

Never before seen photo of The Stone Roses at Blackpool's Empress Ballroom in August 1989

King Georges Hall, Blackburn

March 5 1986

After a few months away from the live arena, the first gig of 1986 saw another short trip over the Red Rose border for the band.

Rock journalist John Robb’s acclaimed biography, The Stone Roses and the Resurrection of British Pop, suggests their return to Lancashire was not an entirely memorable date in Stone Roses’ history.

Poster for The Stone Roses at Blackpool's Empress Ballroom gig in August 1989

Booked to support Chiefs of Relief, the paying crowd was largely disinterested in the Manchester lads and this indifference was reflected in their performance. Despite witnessing the live debut of future single Sally Cinnamon the audience was, in Lancashire lad Robb’s words, ‘bored and listless’. The Roses responded by performing a cover of Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s synthpop smash Love Missile F1-11 no less than four times before leaving the stage ‘sniggering’. The odd choice of cover had first been aired in Preston the previous year and long since dropped from the band’s set list.

Guild Hall Foyer, Preston

May 30, 1989

By the time The Stone Roses returned to Lancashire the secret was filtering out. And fast.

Their debut album was released on May 2 and four weeks later the band played the foyer of Preston Guild Hall.

The date saw Preston band Big Red Bus play support in what was only their second gig, guitarist Dave Spence recalls, “We were given a tape and told we were supporting them the following week, and while we’d heard of them - because they’d been around a while - the first time we saw them was when we came off the stage at the Guild Hall and went back out front.

The Stone Roses during the last comeback

“We were just blown away by what they were doing. I don’t know what it held then, but the foyer wasn’t even full.

“But it was just - and remains so - the most electric atmosphere I’d ever encountered at a live event. And I still go to plenty. It was amazing, and they were riding the wave at the right time.”

The Evening Post reviewer reported, “Like all rock stars The Stone Roses refused to come on stage until it was barely visible through a thick mist of smoke and the audience had been subjected to a barrage of backing tapes. The four lads from Manchester, who have so impressed the music pundits with their own mix of psychedelia and guttural guitar, finally made it to the stage - but for a first impression it was hard to know what to think.

“They sounded good , they may have looked good too but it was at least 30 minutes before the aftermath of the over-productive smoke machine allowed eager fans to get a glimpse of their heroes. The Roses have been hotly tipped by all and sundry as a band to watch out for, but on this performance you have to wonder what all the fuss is about.

“Sure they have some good songs which fall nicely between pop and and the usual indie sound but it takes more than that to be something special and win a place in the heart of music lovers the world over. The Roses evoke a 60s sound that plunders more from the era’s free-wheeling spirit than its distinctive laidback sound.

“But at times, on Waterfall and I Wanna Be Adored, it sounds like they have transported their jangling guitar noise from the heart of that decade - and it travels well. As far as stage presence goes, singer ian Brown was content to let his head sway from side to side and the rest of the band kept their movements to a minimum. It was clear from last night’s enthusiastic reception that The Stone Roses have a devoted cult following. Whether they will rise above this remains to be seen.”

Sugarhouse, Lancaster

June 8 1989

The tour to promote The Stone Roses debut album returned to Lancashire in the week the band found themselves on the front of Melody Maker for the first time.

Journalist Richard Machin was among those who paid the £3 entrance and has fond memories of the night.

He said “In 1989 I was a student at Portsmouth Poly and was friendly with a lad whose brother played in bands in Manchester, and he first recommended the Roses on a visit to the south coast the previous year.

“My then girlfriend was from Warrington, where the Roses had played some of their earliest gigs, so she’d also heard the ‘buzz’ about them from back home, so we were understandably interested when we heard they were playing at the nearby Gaiety Showbar on South Parade Pier in April.

“We were among an audience of just a few hundred in Southsea that night, but the Stone Roses were superb and had us hooked.So it was that five of us resolved to drive the 500 mile round-trip from Portsmouth to Lancaster a few weeks later to see the Roses again, this time at the Sugarhouse, which was close to where my parents were living at the time and I persuaded my younger brother (who I think was 15 at the time) to come along as well to experience his first ‘proper’ gig.

“I’m not even sure we’d bought tickets in advance but remember queuing up in Sugarhouse alley and being very conscious there was a real sense of anticipation, there were clearly dozens of people there from Manchester and Liverpool and a palpable excitement, very different to the relative apathy we’d experienced in Southsea just a few weeks earlier.

“The Sugarhouse isn’t particularly well laid out (there are annoying pillars to obscure your view and the stage is pretty small), but I’ve always liked it, an old warehouse building with high vaulted ceilings and a world away from identikit college venues that are more like school halls.

“On that night in June 1989 it was alive, a seething mass of humanity and when the Roses came on and opened with ‘She Bangs the Drums’ – not ‘Adored’ as was more typical, then and now – the whole place went nuts, and I remember my poor brother being carried off by the swell with a slightly worried look on his face…

“I’ve heard bootlegs of the gig since and it still sounds as great as I remember. We all know Ian Brown has never been the greatest singer but that misses the point, the band were (are still) tight, stuffed full of great tunes and cockiness and this was them at the peak of their powers, just before the Empress Ballroom, playing in the north west to an audience of adoring disciples…and it can’t be overstated how different it felt and how the Roses and that Manchester scene energised music at that time.

“I’ve seen the Roses many times since, including at the recent Heaton Park and Glasgow Green ‘comeback’ shows, but The Sugarhouse still ranks as one of the best, for me, because it was a perfect combination of time and place. A brilliant night and brilliant memories.”

Empress Ballroom, Blackpool

August 12 1989

The Stone Roses concert at the Empress Ballroom has gone down in music folklore as the date when they became the biggest band of the year.

After a year playing smaller venues the date at the seaside was a big leap for the Roses and their growing army of fans.

A spokesman for the venue was quoted on the eve of the event as saying it was one of the fastest selling gigs in the ballroom’s history with all 4,000 of the £6 tickets being snapped up with three weeks.

Fans arrived from all over the country for what the music press had hyped up into the event of the summer. They wouldn’t be disappointed.

Record Mirror’s reviewer reported, “Talked about as the ‘gig of the year’ up here in t’North, will it be looked back on as the Stone Roses’ own ‘Shea Stadium’? They’ll probably play the genuine article before long, but for now they had to be content with a stately ballroom more accustomed to ‘Come Dancing’ than this subversive pop ‘n’ roll thingy.

“The familiar strains of ‘Waterfall’ played backwards announce imminent arrival of those cheeky devils, and suddenly 4,000 sweaty bodies turn to the distant stage.

“Ian Brown’s opening ‘Hello Blackpool’ (or words to that effect) is a bit forward and familiar but these guys are massive. We’re talking near hysteria as the hottest wah wah pedal in town signals ‘Elephant Stone’. ‘Made Of Stone’ is similarly play to near perfection – it’s all done with consummate ease. Hendrix lives! Resurrected in John Squire, he’s an influence much in evidence tonight, and effectively so in a setting of such grandeur. Lo and behold, once ‘She Bangs The Drums’ has been despatched with not a little aplomb, ‘I Am The Resurrection’ brings the proceedings to a fitting end, complete with crazy ‘getyourrocksoff’ instrumental funk- up. Ian stands by, fondling bongos, whirling a sparkling yo-yo, sneering.

“Surprisingly, there is no more, but even without an encore, the melting masses are well satisfied.

“It’s funny… I hear that Manchester was strangely quiet that night.”

Music journalist John Robb – who grew up Blackpool and wrote the best-selling biography of the band, The Stone Roses And The Resurrection Of British Pop – captured the moment.

He said: “It was like watching the Rolling Stones in the 60s at the peak of their power.

“I’d seen all these kids wearing flares in Manchester and knew the scene was getting bigger but then to come to Blackpool and see everybody wearing them – you knew you were there for the start of something.

“I’d been following the Stone Roses for a while and so knew them fairly well by then and they chose to have this big gig in Blackpool, rather than London, because it would give everyone a day out at the seaside.”

Lead singer Ian Brown later said the Blackpool gig was the moment he knew the band had made it when they pulled up outside the venue and saw fans wearing the same clothing they were.

He added: “We didn’t even want to play the regular rock ‘n’ roll circuit.The Empress Ballroom is now on the circuit. At the time we were the first band to play there since the Stones in the late ’60s.

“We all started wearing the flares but it was a big shock to us when we played Blackpool and we pulled up for the sound check and all the kids outside had flares and mummy shirts, and what had become known as Reni hats.”

A video of the concert later became a must have item for every Roses fan.