A lapsed Rosarian, Stephen Watt was happy to proclaim – especially to his ticket-holding brother-in-law – that the Stone Roses' reunion was a purely commercial venture. But, when fate, an ‘anonymous’ tip off and the arrest of an associate conspired to provide him with a ticket, he swallowed his pride, put on his bullet-proof jacket, slipped his Glock 17 into his waistband and headed off to where he first saw the light. Would a pilgrimage to Madchester resurrect his passion or be a journey into the heart of darkness?
Illustration courtesy of the author
Leave no man behind. The words I held so dear, now reflect the enormity of my crime. JC is behind the wire, in no fit state to extricate himself. That’s why I abandoned him.
Communications are down, or at best intermittent. I’ve no way to contact him, and, even if I could, it wouldn’t help. The last messages were senseless, garbled, raving. He’d only slow me down.
It’s dark, too dark. Too dark to be making my way through these trees. I’d use the path, but it’s choked with refugees. The casualties strewn either side remind me of JC, but there’ll be time for recriminations later. Thankfully, the sky is continuously rent by explosions, an intense burst of light momentarily illuminating the foliage.
This is not a safe place, death lurks in the shadows. Even the children carry guns. And behind me, people are searching. If they find me, things could get awkward. There would be explaining to do.
I’ve been here before, and I’ve seen wild things, but then I wasn’t rational. My senses were heightened, alive, possessed. This time it’s worse: more edgy, more real. This time I’m in control, fully aware. Before there was euphoria, now there is just fear. But, what do you expect when you see the Stone Roses in Gunchester. Things were always going to get messy. I just wish I wasn’t in such a hurry to catch the last Metro, as the fireworks are spectacular.
Discounting cultural excursions to see such luminaries as John Cooper Clarke and Mitch Benn, and watching big band jazz with octogenarians (a pastime as dull and unrewarding as it sounds) I don’t go to gigs. And, I’ve only ever been to one festival, All Tomorrow’s Parties at Camber Sands, and, as we stayed in chalets, I don’t know if that counts. I certainly haven’t attended any musically-themed, re-enactments of Passchendaele. So, going to an all-day concert was unorthodox. And, considering it was my former favourite The Stone Roses playing, touring for the first time over 21 years, it was a once in a lifetime experience. Forget competent, but ultimately disappointing, subsequent albums, this was the Second Coming. People, we are at DEFCON one. Logistics leave me cold, but, feeling excited, I decided to plan what drugs to procure. It seemed like the thing to do. I’m going to a Roses’ concert, getting fucked up is de rigueur. I was high the first time round, why change a good thing? When in Manchester… Like most pipe dreams, it was never realised. I am not a young man. I have an allotment, and JC has just sired a beautiful baby, Georgina. When I say I’m baking, I’m not talking euphemistically. The house will soon be filled with the delicious smell of freshly baked bread, not the heady aroma of rare herbs.
I can’t remember the last time I took any narcotics, and a packed, alfresco concert in Manchester, with the inevitable undercurrent of extreme violence and constant threat of precipitation, didn’t seem the sensible place for a baptism of fire. The freak out forecast was high, and I’m far too old to end up in the first aid tent. What would they think at the bowls club? It’s not the done thing you know.
Many old friends claim, ‘I’ve changed’, the pejorative tone implying it’s not in a good way, and maybe they’re right. Rather than considering concealing grain alcohol in my rucksack, I was thinking of filling it with my waterproofs, a healthy snack and some wet wipes. Festivals can quickly turn to quagmires, and cleanliness and hygiene are always a priority, especially when you are out and about.
In the end I left my rucksack in the hall, because I didn’t want to look like a lost rambler. There would be ladies present. It was highly unlikely they would be interested, but a chap likes to look his best. I don’t give much thought to what I wear. I found a style that worked, think subdued football casual, and have stuck with it. I'm now on my ninth pair of Diadora Borg Elites*. They’ve probably been the only constant in my life. Well, apart from the existential angst, emotional turmoil and wet wipes.
In this instance, however, I was conflicted. Should I dress as I dressed then? Not that I bothered with those dreadful baggy clothes that made you look like you’d been sculpted out of blancmange. As a huge extreme sports fanatic, I’ve always had a great body, think Robert Plant with straight brown hair, and favoured tight fitting clothes. And there’s the rub. Now I’m a huge extreme sports fan, who resembles a zeppelin. I’m exaggerating, but, like love, I’ve begun to spread, and things would be snug. Being a little on the tight side, was not my only concern, as very few 44-year olds can wear 32-inch bell-bottoms, with massive, triangular floral inserts, with panache.
There’s nothing worse – well, apart from being incarcerated in a South American jail, accused of a crime you didn’t commit, with your balls and anus being intermittently hooked up to the mains, but that only happens once in a lifetime, surely? – than a man wearing clothes he’s too old for (not to mention being seriously unfashionable and unflattering). On the day I opted for a flat cap, short, drover-style Barbour jacket, boot-cut jeans, walking boots and, the pièce de résistance, vintage, 70s Porsche sunglasses, with removable, rose-tinted lenses**. It was the perfect mix of style and function.
It’s puzzling why I gave these trifles such consideration, as I’d expended extremely little effort acquiring a ticket. When I’d heard the Roses were reforming, I was underwhelmed. I adored their eponymous album, but rarely played it. They epitomised a time and place, but it had passed.
I wanted to go, but I didn’t know how to get a ticket. My brother-in-law was not so easily discouraged, and, as a dynamic manager, he was able to make it happen. At the precise moment the tickets went on sale, sixty of his subordinates started ringing the ticket line and didn’t stop till the job was done, just like the employees of the Salt Corporation opening Wonka bars. It wasn’t the best use of resources and his company did go into receivership shortly afterwards, but it produced the desired result. I’m not that organised. I was hoping I’d chance upon one like Master Bucket. And, amazingly, this lassitude came up trumps. I awoke one morning to discover that JC had not only procured a couple, but had also invited me. When Charlie realises he’s going to the chocolate factory, he runs home to share the good news with his family. I only had to turn over and ask live in lover if I could go. The negotiations did take the best part of three days, but I can be persuasive. I was going to Heaton Park and all I had to do was tile the bathroom, sort out the attic, join her and her mother on a weekend break in Scarborough, rebuild the garage and bring her the head of Alfredo Garcia. Result!!!!!
NEXT ISSUE: Proceed with Caution***
* The greatest trainer ever made, bar none, and I will fight anyone who disagrees.
** The glasses were originally given away with your new Porsche, so I don’t see why you’d need rose-tinted lenses.
*** If you’re really lucky I might even talk about the gig, but the again why bother? Why change a good thing?