The Stone Roses Reunion has brought great excitement, but reveals a changing music industry, writes Buster Stonham.
Last week one of this country’s most important bands of the last thirty years reformed, sending the British music press into a media frenzy; and just to clarify I’m not talking about Steps. Seventeen years after the release of their last album The Stone Roses announced at a specially arranged press conference that they were reforming for a world tour, starting off in Heaton Park in their home city of Manchester, and would be releasing new material in the near future. The fact that tickets for the two Heaton park shows sold out in one hour and a third show, added due to demand, also sold out, suggests that public fascination with the Roses has not diminished during their seventeen year break. The most exciting prospect from this announcement is that a new generation will be introduced to the band that embodied the spirit of the Manchester scene of the 90’s that changed the face of British rock music forever.
As the latest in a growing line of bands to come out of retirement in recent years, many have asked why the Roses have unexpectedly decided to reform after such a public and bitter break up. It’s not as if the band’s members have been starved for creative outlets; bassist Mani went on to join Primal Scream, Ian Brown enjoyed a successful solo career and guitarist John Squire has had numerous projects, including forming The Seahorses. Inevitably the issue of money reared its ugly head, with concert tickets priced at £55, many understandably made the accusation that the Roses reformation is a cynical way to exploit their now middle aged fans’ disposable income. In the past, the band has repeatedly denied rumours of a reunion and criticised others who have cashed in on their pervious success. In June this year, John Squire told NME that “when [bands] just get-together for a big payday and everyone gets their old clothes out, that seems tragic to me.”
With the faint whiff of hypocrisy hanging around them, the band tried to cover their backs by promising new material sometime next year and explaining that they wanted to revive the chemistry of the Stone Roses, which could only be done by getting the four piece back together. This is an understandable feeling, as the sheer energy and hype that came with the rise and fall of the Roses was something truly special. It is impossible to believe that money has played no role in bringing these four Mancunian lads back together, but there is hope that something more can come from their reunion than just a fat pay cheque.
The Roses therefore are not the biggest sell outs in Rock since Johnny Rotten started appearing in butter adverts, but the trend of big name bands reforming seems to be a symptom of a changing music industry. With concert promoters keen to pack out mega venues like the O2 in London and the decline in CD sales inevitably making a dent in the monthly royalty cheques that traditionally kept artists’ bank balance in the black, the lure of a big one time pay off is proving to be enough for squabbling band mates to put their differences behind them. As a result, many current bands today are being denied the opportunity to prove themselves on the biggest stages, particularly when the time comes for festival organisers to choose their line ups. The guaranteed draw of a reunited big name act means festival bills are increasingly topped by acts that haven’t released an album for years. With their fans a little older and with more money in their pockets, promoters can exploit an older band’s established fan base for huge financial gain, the most sickening example of which was the outrageous £125 tickets for Led Zeppelin’s reunion shows in 2007.
In comparison, tickets to see Ian Brown and co. are mere peanuts, but in the midst of all the media hype it’s important to remember that sometimes what makes a band or artist so special is their association with a particular time or place. Nowhere is this more the case than with the Stone Roses. They embodied the culture of 90’s Manchester, blending rock music with elements of dance, paving the way for Britpop and moving the capital of the British music scene up to the North-West. Often, the best things in life are short lived, ending before they get a chance to become old and stale, leaving people with memories that are still fresh and vibrant. That’s why the mesmerising five year career of The Smiths will always be superior to that of U2 who insist on staggering on releasing mediocre album after mediocre album. The Roses’ two albums to date changed the course of music in this country and spoke for a generation. A band that can do this need do nothing more to go down as legends in their field; I can only hope their coming reincarnation does not take away from this legacy.