On May 27th, 1990, The Stone Roses would celebrate being at the zenith of their careers for their notorious performance at Spike Island. The show, which was the peak of the subculture that they helped forge in Manchester, had gone on to capture mainstream attention as well as the hearts of the rebellious nation’s youth in response to the dying days of Thatcherism.
The performance was full of glitches due to the deserted former toxic-waste dump, Spike Island, which is situated on the outskirts of Widnes and was a complete stranger to hosting an event of this magnitude. However, the chaotic nature of the event has only added to its legend and why it is remembered upon so fondly by the tens of thousands who were in attendance—as well as the hundreds of thousands who claimed to have been, of course.
In the January of 1990, the band’s management had been scouting potential locations for the ambitious concert they had in mind for that summer. Their efforts saw them visiting quarries, speedway tracks and caravan parks around the UK but none of them fitted the bill that was until they stumbled upon Spike Island.
The six months preceding the concert were one of a bizarre nature for the band as The Roses hadn’t played live for six months, a factor which meant there were no guarantees as to what the band would actually sound like on the night. There was also the small matter of a criminal damage case brought against the band by their former label boss after they decided it was only fair to smear his office, cars and girlfriend in paint as retaliation for a video for ‘Sally Cinnamon’ he had commissioned against their wishes.
At one point, the band felt like prison was a real possibility. However, much to their relief, The Stone Roses fortunately escaped with a mere fine. More problems would then occur when they returned to the live arena shortly before taking on Spike Island when they ventured to Scandanavia which, on reflection, was hit and miss in terms of success. The day before the show, the group then hosted a press conference which was nothing short of a disaster after manager Gareth Evans tried to charge the BBC and ITV for access. The calamitous decision making led to both of major press representatives declining to cover the event and one journalist allegedly claimed The Roses were “treating these people like fucking shit”.
Ian Brown, when discussing the issues as part of 2010 with NME, detailed how amateur the whole affair was and how it shocked him upon arriving on site: “The organisation was shambolic. The PA wasn’t big enough for a start, and certain things were going on that we didn’t know about. The management were taking people’s sandwiches off them at the gate to force them to buy five-quid burgers when they got in. Some kid got impaled. He broke out of jail, tried to jump the railings and ended up leaving his bollocks on top of them. We were still finding out about this stuff two, three years later.”
Mani later would back up Brown’s version of events: “Our management really fucked up. There were security guards taking booze off people, there was a lot of overcharging for food and drink, and there weren’t enough facilities onsite. There were a lot of aspects of Spike Island that were really badly thought out, but none of that is the band’s job.”
The supporting cast on that famous night bill that included DJs Dave Haslam, Paul Oakenfold and Frankie Bones, as well as sets from a Zimbabwean drum orchestra and reggae artist Gary Clail, The Roses then took to the stage shortly after 9pm with Ian Brown instructing the 30,000 strong crowd to “do it now, do it now” before the opening chords to ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ would get the evening off to a raucous start.
A camera crew from Central Music TV were present but, at the last minute, the band informed them that they were no longer needed and the only footage that exists of the gig was shot on a fan’s camcorder. Some fans who were in attendance claim it was the greatest show of all time, a life-affirming moment even. However, just as many people complained about the sound quality and amateur nature for a show of such magnitude.
The Stone Roses didn’t make any money from the event but have more than made up for that since with their huge reunions. However, this 1990 one-day festival would set a precedent for huge outdoor shows in Britain which would inspire Oasis to create history at Knebworth to Arctic Monkeys takeover of Finsbury Park in 2014 and many other bands to create their own Spike Island moment.
Check out footage from the monumental day in British musical history, below.