Stone Roses: Still Mad for It after all these years

A Stone Roses gig in 1990 was the defining moment of the indie scene. James Mottram watches a new film that revisits the legendary concert just as the revered band are touring again

The sign says Spike Island was the "birthplace of the British chemical industry". Well, that's one way of putting it. For any music fan, the Widnes wildlife haven is synonymous with a more recent event: May 27, 1990, when The Stone Roses played their near-mythical gig to 27,000 fans. A genuine "were you there?" moment, arriving just a year after the band's seminal self-titled debut album, it was the pinnacle of the "Madchester" music scene that spawned such generation-defining bands as Happy Mondays and The Charlatans.

Today, director Mat Whitecross (who previously brought us Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) is trying to recreate that glorious day for his film Spike Island. "People describe it as a baggy Woodstock," he says. "If you talk to anyone from Manchester who grew up around that time, it was a huge event for them. It was one of those things where bands were formed as a result of having seen The Stone Roses." Not least Oasis, formed by the Gallagher Brothers in the wake of seeing the gig.

With an ominous power station looming in the background, a few dozen excitable extras are shivering nearby in shorts and T-shirts. "It was snowing on us in the middle of a take," Whitecross sighs. "And it's supposed to be the height of summer." Dotted around are clusters of palette crates, ready to be set ablaze as the night draws in, while the camera is set to loom over 20ft-high wall meant to be the concert perimeter.

The shot is a key one, as Spike Island's teenage protagonists march up to the gate on that blissful Sunday. According to Whitecross, what he loved about the script, penned by actor-writer Chris Coghill, was its grassroots viewpoint. "It's about kids trying to get into the gig, rather than told from the perspective of The Stone Roses. They don't have tickets, they can't get in, they don't know how to get in — they have to blag, steal, lie their way in… by any means necessary."

Ironically, that very scenario is a very real possibility come the end of June. As any fan knows, The Stone Roses announced a feverishly anticipated reunion last October, with a series of gigs set to be played this summer to expectant crowds. The first to be scheduled – to be played at Heaton Park, Manchester – sold out in record time. "The timing's extraordinary really," says Coghill. "I started writing the script three years ago, and it just so happens the stars have aligned."

It's the sort of serendipitous publicity financiers only dream of. With This is England director Shane Meadows also working on a documentary about the Roses' fractious history, the renewed interest in the band, and their music, can only be a good thing for Spike Island. Though as Whitecross points out, this is no biopic. "It's not about The Stone Roses. That's what appealed to me. It's a coming-of-age story. You don't have to be a massive Stone Roses fan to get into it."

Spike Island's focus is a bunch of schoolmates who have formed their own band, Shadow Caster. "All we want to do is get our demo to the Stone Roses," notes newcomer Jordan Murphy, who plays drummer Zippy, "and by any means necessary, we'll get it there." With the songs written by Ash's Tim Wheeler, Murphy and his co-stars all had to rehearse as a real band. Some, like Adam Long – who plays bassist Little Gaz – were old hands. Others such as Nico Mirallegro – lead guitarist Dodge – had never picked up their instrument before.

With the band led by singer Tits (Shameless star Elliott Tittensor), "all the lads in the film are slightly different versions of me," says Coghill, who was just 15 years old when Spike Island happened. Raised in Manchester – his parents' house is near Heaton Park – he was promised a ticket for the gig, but it fell through. "I ended up spending the entire day sitting in mum and dad's house, gutted, listening to the album on me own. Very tragic! It's always pissed me off that I never went."

Since then, Coghill, who oddly enough played Happy Monday's Bez in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People, befriended both singer Ian Brown and bassist Mani. "I emailed both of them at the conception point, and they said, 'You've got our blessing. Anything we can do to help it move on.' And they've been great. We got the music licence straight away." Which means such glorious tracks as "I Am The Resurrection", "Made Of Stone" and "Waterfall" will all get an airing (though with the gig the backdrop to the story, Whitecross is not recreating onstage footage).

With the production also acquiring rights to guitarist John Squire's distinct Jackson Pollock-inspired artwork, there is even unconfirmed talk that the band may take small cameos (Coghill also plays a small role, as Tits's uncle). Such has been the level of support, Mani turned up to watch a rehearsal. He was "dead sound" according to Tittensor. "We played the song for him, and it must've been the shittest run through of the song ever," he laughs. "It was probably the pressure of him being there."

The question is will the film – and the music – chime with young audiences? Judging by the young cast, then the answer is a resounding "yes". Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, who plays Tits's love interest Sally, recalls one trick Whitecross has used to get everyone through the bitterly cold night-shoots. "They whack on The Stone Roses, and genuinely everyone is like "We're gonna have a mint time!" Everyone's just comes up on it. Their music has such heart to it."

According to Coghill, he thinks the upcoming gigs will show just how the band's music has been embraced by a new generation. "Talking to extras here, there are a lot of young people who are like, 'I can't wait for Heaton Park'." Whitecross concurs, citing the timeless quality to their music. "It does feel that The Stone Roses are one of those bands that people keep on returning to." With a third album underway, the Roses' revival starts here.

The release date of 'Spike Island' is still to be confirmed. The Stone Roses play Heaton Park on 29 and 30 June, and 1 July, and the V Festival on 18 and 19 August

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015