Spike Island 2021: What a fkn day!!!
This was an event that had to happen. God has always been a big fan of The Stone Roses. In 1990, He smiled at the idea of Spike Island, and blessed attendees with blazing hot weather. Back then, it was dubbed the second summer of love, with the gig being likened to Woodstock. Now at this almost-anniversary, it seemed as if the delay was even planned to coincide with this year’s heat wave. It was not quite as hot as that day back in May 1990, or indeed the previous couple of days, but the sun did still shine and the heat at the peak time of around 5pm did bring back memories.
The thing this event would be unable to replicate was the sheer excitement surrounding the headline act. The Stone Roses were a band whose every word was worshipped, every look, each gesture. No other band in my own living memory has so successfully captured the feeling of the youth of its age; has given young people the desire and freedom to want to be themselves.
But there was still excitement in the air with this being the first big gig for a long time for most. It was both a commemorative and celebratory occasion. It must have been a painstaking wait for both the bands involved and organisers, but finally now was the time. There must have been nerves amongst some, but none on stage showed this. There must have been a sense of relief, but also of happiness and joy.
There was a minor wobble before getting in as apparently scanners to scan tickets had not arrived on time, but this did not delay matters too much. Once inside, it struck me that the size of the arena was smaller than for the original gig. I believe the capacity for this event was 15,000, whereas the original was 30,000, but this was still a good number for a line-up of tribute acts.
With such a good supporting cast, it seemed most were keen to get in as close to the start as possible. The arena was quite soon pretty full, and so this must have been very close to a sell-out in the end. There were more bucket hats to be seen than the entire contents of Joe Bucket’s Timbuktu-based bucket hat warehouse after he’d just had an especially large bucket hat order. Lads and lasses were generally very well attired. If you needed more clothing, there were a couple of cool clothes shops. There were not many flags like you see at other festivals, but plenty of flares (the smoking kind), particularly towards the end (plus a few flares of the trouser variety).
First up was True Order, beginning with perhaps New Order’s most famous song, Blue Monday. I have only ever seen New Order once, and I don’t recall Bernard Sumner dancing much, but this impersonator did a little bit of fairly entertaining dancing. Their set was comprised of tracks from the greatest hits, Substance, nothing even off Technique. True Faith was announced as a “new one” and this set the tone I suppose for these bands to jokingly try to make out they are the real band from a particular time. No woman in the band, so Gillian was not represented. They didn’t play my own personal favourite, Thieves Like Us. But in general, it was a very enjoyable opening set, and most pleasingly, the sound quality was really good, so we knew we had that to look forward to when the following bands played.
MC Tunes (among the original Spike Island DJs) was one of the warm-up DJs. He asked who was here at the original gig and this writer tentatively put his hand up. When he asked the question, “Who was not even born in 1990?” this got a much bigger cheer. There were plenty of people, young and old, and it’s great that The Stone Roses – perhaps all the bands being represented on the bill – have both a young and old following, the younger ones perhaps having been brought up on their music by parents, or they’ve just discovered it themselves.
Next band on the bill was The James Experience. Tim Booth’s look-and-soundalike was really good, an excellent dancer who really got into the spirit of things. When he spoke, it was clear he was Scottish, but this did afford him the opportunity to joke that the band should be called Jimmy! He said they’d got a personal message of support from the keyboardist from the real James which was nice. On a more serious note, he dedicated Laid to a friend called Tommy who had recently died. They began the song slowly, but then sped it up and the crowd was really bouncing to this one. This band was the most daring in terms of playing less well known hits, and they did not even play Come Home. Of course, they had to play Sit Down though, and this came last, with the band successfully managing to get the majority of the crowd to sit down. All really good fun.
So next up we had Happy Mondaze. I was slightly surprised that they were lower down on the bill, though this may have been because the real Bez was coming up a bit later. The Shaun of this band won the award for me for being the closest impersonator, not only looking and sounding like the Shaun of the early 90s – he had baggy jeans, baggy striped top, even the baggy haircut and had a similar swagger (and was even quite short!). There really was a great party vibe to this gig, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the Mondaze were the ones to really get the party started. Fake Bez disappeared off stage a couple of times – perhaps to do a line back stage I wondered – but in fact, he was just greeting fans at the front where I could not see him. A Mondaze greatest hits still sounds fresh, and again, the sound in general was very well rendered. They even squeezed in Black Grape’s Reverend Black Grape, and this was absolutely allowed.
The Smiths Ltd were the band I expected to go down least well, but I was forgetting just how close we were in the vicinity of Manchester, and so not at all surprising that these too also were also very well received, with most people knowing most of the words. I suppose a Smiths tribute band could, if they chose, sing a lot of less well known Smiths songs and it would still be a good set, but again, they mostly favoured the more familiar, such as This Charming Man and There is A Light That Never Goes Out. I suppose a crowd of probably mostly Mancunians will never forget one of the bands that blazed a trail for other Manchester bands to come, even if they were not of the same style as many Madchester acts. An excellent Morrissey, and a pretty good Johnny Marr.
Bez was next DJ up, although in fact, he did not man the decks, but it was more like a show I once saw him do in Cardiff. Basically, someone else plays the tunes – ranging from Primal Scream’s Loaded to House of Pain’s Jump Around – while Bez bops about, getting the crowd going by shouting words of encouragement. You’d be surprised just how well it works. What I always loved about the Madchester scene was the mutual appreciation between the bands. Prior to this gig, Bez said of the original Spike Island (which he did not play at himself of course) that it was the best gig ever. There were some people back in the day who seemed to think there was a bit of rivalry, but really, to say which of the bands on this line-up is the best for example is pretty meaningless not because they’re all so different, but because they’re all equally well loved. The only slight surprise for me was the closing track I assume Bez himself chose (perhaps a personal favourite) which was The Clash’s London’s Calling.
By now the arena was pretty much full to bursting, with everyone having an absolute whale of a time. Every single person I spoke to was so nice and just seemed really happy to be a part of this great event. It did seem like the majority had not travelled much more than perhaps around 50 miles, so it just goes to show just how many fans of this music there is in quite a small catchment area.
And so we came to Oas-is, copycats of what I would say were never my favourite Manchester band – I tend to side with the camp that says they were just a glorified pub rock band – but of course, again, they went down very well with the vast majority. This tribute to the lower-cased, italicized version of The Stone Roses got the elements right, with a tough-looking Liam in parka jacket and Noel with obligatory shades. The real Oasis could of course only ever support the real Stone Roses in their dreams. I suppose I can’t deny they do have some good songs, particularly the early ones. I did nip into the VIP area during this band’s set to use the loo though, and as it happens, just caught the DJ in this area playing The Real People’s Windowpane (the band cited as Oasis’ main influence) which was a bit ironic. Had a little dance to this.
Clint Boon, formerly of The Inspiral Carpets was the final supporting DJ. He mostly played dance tunes in this, his second set. I didn’t hear Inspiral Carpets played once (or The Charlatans for that matter), but possibly they were played out of my earshot while on other parts of the island.
As it approached the time for The Clone Roses to appear, I did feel almost the same nervousness that I feel when The Stone Roses are about to take the stage. I spoke with one guy, and we both wondered if there was any chance that any of the real Roses would appear – perhaps Mani we wondered. This didn’t happen and perhaps because it was not the real Stone Roses, even though of course I knew it wouldn’t be, when The Clones came on, I did sense there was a slightly anticlimactic feeling. There was no huge cheer; the crowd did not straightaway start singing along to the guitar intro to Adored as they usually would. But for god’s sake, this was a tribute band! They were trying their best! Before long, the crowd did seem to jerk itself into action, and the singing began.
Unsurprisingly, they played the longest set of the day, and I suppose another thing people would have wondered was how close a set it would be to the Stone Roses’ original Spike Island set. The answer to this was: pretty close, though not identical. I think it was almost more respectful that it was not identical. They added Mersey Paradise – which I seem to remember being very much a surprise omission from the original set given Spike Island’s location – and left out Don’t Stop and Something’s Burning. Fool’s Gold segued very nicely into Where Angels Play as per the original gig, with the Clone Roses’ Reni doing an excellent job. There was a bit of a change to the running order, but aside from that, very similar. There were definitely no songs from Second Coming, which might have been a pity to some, but I suppose to be expected.
I tend to think Sally Cinnamon usually goes down the best with local fans. Tonight I think it was a toss up between this, Made of Stone and She Bangs The Drums, with its double chorus and killer lyric – “Kiss me where the sun don’t shine, the past was yours but the future’s mine.” Standing Here was another stand-out with its epic outro. Shoot You Down will always be the Roses sexiest song. It occurred to me just how many of the Roses songs are basically love songs about trying to win over a girl. And Resurrection will always be one of the best ever closing songs of course
The sound for the original Spike Island gig was notoriously not very good, so it was great that the sound quality throughout this gig really was very good indeed. The festival organisers really had got everything right, from the pricing of tickets and drinks, right through to the layout and general organisation. I take my bucket hat off to them.
We didn’t get Bob Marley and fireworks at the end as per the original gig, but I suppose with around double the capacity at the original, they may have had a bigger budget back then. The Clone Roses’ version of Ian did produce a large globe-like beachball towards the end, as per the original gig which bounced around the crowd, so that was a nice touch.
Well, we did it guys. Top one, nice one. And so the question remains – is Manchester music a religion? I don’t know – you’d have to ask any of the thousands of people who were at Spike Island: The Resurrection. Should this become a regular event, or should they at least do another one, perhaps Spike Island: The Second Coming? Definitely!
A version of this review originally appeared on Louderthanwar