“WE WANT TO BE THE BIGGEST BAND IN OUR STREET,” SAYS THE STONE ROSES’ RENI IN A MID-1980s ARCHIVE CLIP, AN UNINTENTIONALLY HILARIOUS MOMENT WHICH BRIEFLY SUMMONS HOWARD MOON FROM THE MIGHTY BOOSH AS HE SELLS HIS SOUL TO BECOME “THE BEST JAZZ PLAYER… IN YORKSHIRE”.
Before imploding under familiar and not quite so hilarious rock ‘n’ roll pressures a decade later, Reni and his mates had become the biggest band on their street.
And then some.
Combining footage of a rise through bleach-blond gigs to bowl-cut tribal triumph at Spike Island with tentative 2012 rehearsals and highlights of comeback gigs in Warrington and Heaton Park, Shane Meadows’ new film MADE OF STONE – now released on DVD and blu-ray – is an affectionate account of The Stone Roses’ surprise return, and a nostalgic look back to the days when the band drove the moment.
Meadows describes the documentary as a love letter, and with Midlands heart throbbing as his crew arrives at a remote farmhouse half way between Manchester and Liverpool to film the band’s first rehearsal, love becomes blindness. Or, at least, that is one interpretation. Examining a board on which is chalked a proposed set list he notes ‘newie’ among familiar song titles: an indicator that The Stone Roses have every intention of minting fresh material.
But Meadows fails to ask the question and, for this, he was criticised when the film premiered in cinemas earlier this summer. More glaringly, there is no examination of the wrangles which tore The Stone Roses apart first time round, nor investigation into how they were overcome. That is, if they truly have been – a bust-up while in Amsterdam is also glossed over, leaving a gaping hole in the film, and the complex inter-band dynamics are never really explored.
Throughout, Ian Brown is charming, middle-age seeming to have mellowed caricature into a gentler, more gregarious, figure. Loon-eyed Mani is cheeky scamp, for all the world giving the impression his life’s saving grace is that he can play the bass so well. Reni is quietly knowing and frequently funny, generous in rehearsal. John Squire is often withdrawn, mostly appearing to be a man who doesn’t really know what he’s doing there. Or, rather, is acutely aware of – and seems embarrassed by – his motivation for being there. Questioned by a reporter over his 2009 artwork proclaiming “I have no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses”, he mumbles blankly “There is no grave”…
“It’s not Big Brother,” Meadows said afterwards, justifying his impassioned, partisan, approach. Disappointing, perhaps, from a gritty filmmaker who has the instinctive ability to get right down to the marrow. And probably also political – swerving the issue of artist approval MADE IN STONE doubtlessly shares with the majority of music documentaries for which director is directly employed by band. But, while even a sliver more substantial meat on the bones would have made for a much more interesting film, it matters little. MADE IN STONE plays as a mood-piece and works extremely well – looking and sounding as fantastic as should be expected.
The opening sequence – an extended slow-motion shot of Brown patrolling the blissed front row of a crowd, set to an Alfred Hitchcock voice-over on creativity – is spectacular: beginning as audacious, then mesmerising, and ending having been strangely moving.
Meadows extracts absolutely the maximum out of whatever material he got, particularly during the lengthy Heaton Park version of FOOLS GOLD. But the intimate rehearsal footage is equally tremendous. Watching the band being here, now, and doing it, reacquainting with songs and each other, eye-contact as much a part of locking down the groove as the playing, is a charged reminder of just what great groove it was they cut.
MADE OF STONE is a warm and nostalgic celebration of The Stone Roses; a fan’s-eye view. As such, it’s unlikely to appeal to those not as deeply in love with the band as Meadows.