Few British bands from the late 1980s had the same impact on pop music as The Stone Roses. The swaggering psychedelia of their classic debut album inspired a generation of rebellious club-happy Gen-Xers both in their native 'Madchester' and worldwide, paving the way for the likes of Oasis and Radiohead. But things unravelled bitterly soon after, and the group famously struggled with their legacy. Fifteen years later, they finally found a way past their differences and regrouped.
AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR THE MOVING IMAGE: It’s long been said that you shouldn’t meet your idols, and on the evidence of The Stone Roses: Made of Stone you probably shouldn’t make a documentary about them either. Speaking to the camera early on in this offbeat cataloguing of the English band’s reunion, filmmaker Shane Meadows describes the quartet as his 'all-time favourite band". That’s not exactly a guarantee of impartiality, and Meadows, normally a director whose sympathy for his subjects is tempered by working class realism, plainly looks excited to be side of stage or in the rehearsal room where the band’s mercurial members greet him by name. This is England, meet This is Starstruck.
Meadows can’t get the crux of a group that transformed British youth culture
It doesn’t need to be that way. Martin Scorsese, for example, has done great work on the careers of favourite artists, including Bob Dylan, George Harrison and The Rolling Stones, but Meadows can’t get the crux of a group that transformed British youth culture in 1989, paving the way for the Britpop era, before a slow motion implosion that officially ended in 1996. To be fair, Meadows is far from the first to be stymied by the band: an archival television interview from just before the release of their breakthrough 1989 album shows singer Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire clipping their interlocutor’s ticket with bemused silences and solemn pronouncements.
The film gathers pace with the unexpected revelation of the seminal band’s reunion in October 2011, a mere two years after Squire publicly declared that he had no intention of 'desecrating" the band’s grave. These middle-aged men – Brown and Squire are joined at the press conference by bassist Mani (Gary Mounfield) and drummer Reni (Alan Wren) – have lined faces and the haircuts of far younger people, but their appeal is made clear by the announcement of a pair of 75,000 capacity outdoor shows near their hometown of Manchester.
Meadows follows the band through rehearsals and a European warm-up tour, but they’re not heard from as much as they’re seen. There is far more rehearsal footage – cut with split screens to instil some interest – than interviews, with few answers provided as to an always idiosyncratic group’s background or intentions. Meadows pieces together archival footage and some reminiscences to illustrate the band’s formation in the early 1980s, and their place in the ever fertile British youth culture (they went from scooters to flares in a matter of years).
The music remains extremely good, although not the equal of northern forebears The Smiths or New Order, with the band’s introduction of groove to independent rock a turning point, but when an Amsterdam show goes badly for Reni and he wants to jack it all in, Meadows immediately cancels shooting so as not to annoy anyone in the band and threaten their solidarity. It’s not surprising that the best sequence concerns a secret town hall show announced hours prior to doors opening, which has fans literally running to the box-office to claim a free ticket with evidence of vintage purchases.
Meadows expertly catches the excitement and the fear, culling stories from young and old about what The Stone Roses mean to them. By the end of the evening he’s found those despairingly standing out front, too late to get a ticket but hoping to hear the set being playing inside. These are the people Shane Meadows has always written about, the marginalised who didn’t get to where they needed to be in time, and it makes for the best part of an uneven experience.