It has gone down in musical folklore as the landmark gig in the career of one of Britain’s best loved bands. Thirty years ago this week the Stone Roses played at Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom. Lloyd Hewitt-Robinson turns back the clock
August 12 marks the 30th anniversary of the now legendary Stone Roses gig, at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool.
The performance has become part of music folklore, not just within the circles of Stone Roses fans but as a pivotal moment for the ‘Madchester’ music scene in general.
Four thousand people were in attendance that night and the gig itself was at the tail end of a huge national tour with the concert at the Empress Ballroom, their 45th date of what was to be the Manchester band’s breakout year.
The release of their classic 1989 self-titled debut album had only been released a couple of months and the seaside date was seen to be the perfect end to the band’s relatively successful national tour, but nobody could have predicted the legend that the gig became.
John Robb, the renowned music journalist, author and musician who hails from Blackpool, was at the Empress Ballroom. He recalls: “After The Smiths split, there weren’t really any guitar bands around to replace them, then the Stone Roses came along and they became the sound for that generation.
“A couple of nights before that gig in Blackpool they played to about 19 people in Brighton, so it was a big step up for them. At the time of the gig, the album was only at number 19 in the charts but after this gig, it all changed.
“When you watch the video of the actual gig, it’s not that great, the sound quality I mean, but it was about much more than that anyway. It was baggy jeans and T-shirts everywhere and most people were on drugs having a great time together. The admiration the crowd had for them was just electric, I had never felt anything like it.
“But it was also about the fact that it was happening here, in the North of England. Normally it is New York or London where these things start but this time it was Blackpool and that felt very special and was something totally new, they became the soundtrack for that period.
“I would say that on the day there were probably 500-800 from Manchester and it was just a great day out at the seaside. The venue itself played a part, it’s a great place to play and somewhere an indie band back in those days would not have played at.
“It was something special, it was were all the baggy trousers and T-shirts became a thing and it was where the Stone Roses thing really started. It was just a great gig and a great venue, if you play there it just looks spectacular.”
In 1996, Robb penned The Stone Roses And The Resurrection of British Pop a biographical book on the band and their influence, with a re-edit of the book being printed to coincide with the Stone Roses reunion in 2012.
The Stone Roses’ gig was the first major music concert at the Empress Ballroom since the infamous Rolling Stones concert in July 1964, which ended in a riot and the place being smashed up.
The incident enraged local councillors so much they placed an indefinite ban on the group and prohibited the Rolling Stones from playing in Blackpool for 44 years, until 2008 when Peter Callow, the leader of Blackpool Council at the time lifted the ban.
Ian Brown, Stone Roses frontman said of the Blackpool venue, “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.”
Reviews of the performance were just as complimentary as the fan adulation, which is not always the case in the music industry, especially at the beginning of something new and unknown like the Roses phenomenon was at the time.
Record Mirror’s reviewer, Craig Ferguson, reported at the time, “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 the 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 played 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.”
The energy the Stone Roses provided that night must have been electric, even after all these years later, the performance is held in such high esteem.
But it isn’t just a gig that has got better through Roses-tinted glasses and the lens of time, the gig was turned into a commercial concert to be bought on VHS just a year later.
Many successful bands which came after the Stone Roses have cited them as huge influences on their own tastes and careers. Both Noel and Liam Gallagher have stated how much of an influence the fellow Mancunians were on them and their circle of friends.
“Maybe it was the drugs, but I think it was the music as well. I remember seeing them at Blackpool, Spike Island, and it was just… it’s youth, innit – you look back and nothing will ever compare to it,” said Noel Gallagher in 2017.
The Empress Ballroom is marking the occasion later this month with their own 30th-anniversary concert on August 31, featuring The Clone Roses, who many considered to be the best Roses tribute act around.
The night will also feature cover bands dedicated to The Smiths (The Smiths Ltd), Oasis (OaS-is), Happy Mondays (Appy Mundays) and The Courteeners ( The Courtbetweeners). The Clone Roses plan to recreate the concert in its entirety by playing the exact same setlist from August 12 1989, as shown below.
Intro / Don’t Stop
I Wanna Be Adored
Sugar Spun Sister
Made Of Stone
She Bangs The Drums
Where Angels Play
Shoot You Down
I Am The Resurrection