Spike Island Festival, Widnes
Saturday 24th July 2021
The Clone Roses/Oas-is/The Smiths Ltd/Happy Mondaze/The James Experience/True Order
For some this was a chance to reminisce about that infamous day in May 1990. Some were not even born then. For all, this was a triumphant and joyous occasion.
This was an event that had to happen. God has always been a big fan of The Stone Roses. In 1990, He smiled at the idea of Spike Island, and blessed attendees with blazing hot weather. Back then, it was dubbed the second summer of love, with the gig being likened to Woodstock. Now on this almost-anniversary, it seemed as if the delay was even planned to coincide with this year’s heat wave. It was not quite as hot as that day back in May 1990, but the sun did still shine and the heat at the peak time of around 5pm did bring back memories.
What this event would be unable to replicate was the sheer excitement surrounding the headline act. The Stone Roses were a band whose every word was worshipped, every look, each gesture. No other band in my own living memory has so successfully captured the feeling of the youth of its age, has given young people the desire and freedom to want to be themselves.
But there was still excitement in the air, with this being the first big gig for a long time for most. It was both a commemorative and celebratory occasion. It must have been a painstaking wait for both the bands involved and organisers, but finally now was the time. There must have been nerves amongst some, but none on stage showed them. There must have been a sense of relief, but also of happiness and joy.
There was a minor wobble getting in as ticket scanners had not arrived on time, but this did not delay matters too much. Once inside, it struck me that the size of the arena was smaller than for the original gig. The capacity for this event was around 15,000, whereas the original was 30,000, but this was still a good number for a line-up of tribute acts.
With such a strong supporting cast, it seemed most were keen to get in as early as possible and the arena was soon pretty full, close to a sell-out. There were more bucket hats to be seen than the entire contents of Joe Bucket’s Timbuktu-based bucket hat warehouse. Lads and lasses were generally very well attired. If anyone needed more clothing, there were a couple of cool clothes shops. There were not many flags like you see at other festivals, but plenty of flares (the smoking kind), particularly towards the end (plus a few flares of the trouser variety).
First up was True Order, beginning with perhaps New Order’s most famous song, Blue Monday. I have only ever seen New Order once, and I don’t recall Bernard Sumner dancing much, but this impersonator did a little bit of fairly entertaining dancing. Their set was comprised of tracks from the greatest hits, Substance, with nothing from Technique, even. True Faith was announced as a “new one” and this set the tone for these bands to jokingly pretend they were the real band from a particular time. There was no woman in the band, so Gillian was not represented. They didn’t play my own personal favourite, Thieves Like Us. But in general, it was a very enjoyable opening set, and most pleasingly, it demonstrated that the sound quality for the event was going to be really good.
MC Tunes (among the original Spike Island DJs) was one of the warm-up DJs. He asked who had been at the original gig and this writer tentatively put his hand up. When he asked the question, “Who was not even born in 1990?” this got a much bigger cheer. There were plenty of people of all ages and it’s great that The Stone Roses – perhaps all the bands being represented on the bill – have both a young and old following, the younger ones perhaps having been brought up on their music by parents, or having discovered it themselves.
Next on the bill was The James Experience. Tim Booth’s look-and-soundalike was really good, an excellent dancer who got into the spirit of things. When he spoke, it was clear he was Scottish, but this did afford him the opportunity to joke that the band should be called Jimmy. He said they’d got a personal message of support from the keyboardist from the real James which was a strong validation. On a more serious note, he dedicated Laid to a friend called Tommy who had recently died. They began the song slowly but gradually increased speed and got the crowd really bouncing. The James Experience was the most daring in terms of playing lesser-known hits, and they didn’t even play Come Home. Of course, they had to play Sit Down, and this came last, with the band successfully managing to get the majority of the crowd to sit down. All really good fun.
Happy Mondaze followed, and I was slightly surprised that they were lower down on the bill, though this may have been because the real Bez would be appearing a bit later. Their Shaun Ryder won the award for me for being the closest impersonator, looking and sounding just like the Shaun of the early 90s – with baggy jeans, baggy striped top, even the baggy haircut and a similar swagger (and was even quite short). There was a great party vibe to this event, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the Mondaze were the ones to really get the party started. Fake Bez disappeared off stage a couple of times – perhaps to do a line back stage I wondered – but in fact, he was just greeting fans at the front. The Mondaze greatest hits still sound fresh, and they even squeezed in Black Grape’s Reverend Black Grape, and this was absolutely allowed.
The Smiths Ltd were the band I expected to go down least well, but I was forgetting just how close we were to Manchester, and so not surprisingly these were also very well received, with most people knowing the words. A Smiths tribute band could, if they chose, sing less well-known Smiths songs and it would still be a good set, but again they mostly favoured the more familiar, such as This Charming Man and There is A Light That Never Goes Out. A crowd of mostly Mancunians will never forget one of the bands that blazed a trail for other Manchester bands to come, even if they were not of the same style as many Madchester acts. The Smiths Ltd featured an excellent Morrissey, and a pretty good Johnny Marr.
Bez was next DJ up, although in fact, he didn’t man the decks: someone else played the tunes – ranging from Primal Scream’s Loaded to House Of Pain’s Jump Around – while Bez bopped about, getting the crowd going by shouting words of encouragement.
What I always loved about the Madchester scene was the mutual appreciation between the bands. Prior to this event, Bez said of the original Spike Island (which he did not play at himself of course) that it was the best gig ever. There were some people back in the day who seemed to think there was a bit of rivalry between bands, but it would be impossible to say which of the bands on the line-up was the best, not because they’re all so different, but because they’re all equally well-loved. The only slight surprise for me was the closing track I assume Bez himself chose (perhaps a personal favourite) which was London’s Calling by The Clash.
By now the arena was pretty much full to bursting, with everyone having an absolute whale of a time. Every single person I spoke to seemed really happy to be a part of this great event. It did seem like the majority had not traveled much more than perhaps around 50 miles, which goes to show just how many fans of this music there are in quite a small catchment area.
The final support was Oas-is, copycats of what were never my favourite Manchester band – I tend to side with the camp that says they were just a glorified pub rock band – but of course, again, they went down very well with the vast majority. This tribute to the lower-cased, italicised version of The Stone Roses got the elements right, with a tough-looking Liam in parka jacket and Noel with obligatory shades. In my view, the real Oasis could only ever support the real Stone Roses in their dreams. But I can’t deny they do have some good songs, particularly the early ones. Ironically, in the VIP area during this band’s set, a DJ played The Real People’s Windowpane (the band cited as Oasis’ main influence). I did have a little dance to that.
Clint Boon, formerly of The Inspiral Carpets, was the final supporting DJ. He mostly played dance tunes in this, his second set. I didn’t hear Inspiral Carpets played once (or The Charlatans for that matter), but possibly they were played out of my earshot while on other parts of the island.
As the time approached for The Clone Roses to appear, I did feel almost the same nervousness as when The Stone Roses are about to take the stage. I spoke with one guy, and we both wondered if there was a chance that any of the real Roses would appear – perhaps Mani, we speculated. This didn’t happen and, perhaps because it was not the real Stone Roses, when The Clones came on I did sense a slightly anticlimactic feeling: there was no huge cheer, the crowd did not immediately start singing along to the guitar intro to Adored as they usually would. But for god’s sake, this was a tribute band, they were trying their best! Before long, the crowd did seem to jerk itself into action, and the singing began.
Unsurprisingly, they played the longest set of the day, and another thing people would have wondered was how close a set it would be to The Stone Roses’ original Spike Island set. The answer to this was: pretty close, though not identical. It was almost more respectful that it was not identical. They added Mersey Paradise – which I remember being very much a surprise omission from the original set, given Spike Island’s location – and left out Don’t Stop and Something’s Burning. Fool’s Gold segued very nicely into Where Angels Play as per the original gig, with the Clone Roses’ Reni doing an excellent job. There was a bit of a change to the running order, but aside from that, it was very similar. There were no songs from Second Coming, which might have been a pity to some, but to be expected.
Sally Cinnamon usually seems to go down the best with local fans, but tonight it was a toss up between this, Made of Stone and She Bangs The Drums, with its double chorus and killer lyric – “Kiss me where the sun don’t shine, the past was yours but the future’s mine.” Standing Here was another stand-out with its epic outro. Shoot You Down will always be the Roses’ sexiest song. It occurred to me just how many of the Roses songs are basically love songs about trying to win over a girl. And finally Resurrection will always be one of the best ever closing songs.
The sound for the original Spike Island gig was notoriously not very good, so it was great that the sound quality throughout this gig was excellent. The organisers had got everything right, from the pricing of tickets and drinks, right through to the layout and general organisation. I take my bucket hat off to them.
We didn’t get Bob Marley and fireworks at the end as per the original gig, but I suppose with around double the capacity at the original they may have had a bigger budget back then. The Clone Roses’ Ian did produce a large globe-like beachball towards the end, as per the original gig that bounced around the crowd, which was a nice touch.
Well, we did it guys. Top one, nice one. And so the question remains – is Manchester music a religion? I don’t know – you’d have to ask any of the thousands of people who were at Spike Island: The Resurrection. Should this become a regular event, or should they at least do another one, perhaps Spike Island: The Second Coming? Definitely!
All words by Nick Fisk. Further writing in his archive here. Further writing in his blog here.
All photos with kind permission of Warren Millar