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'Stone Roses' looks at legendary British band you may not know

November 13, 2013|By Thomas Suh Lauder
  • Ian Brown of the Stone Roses gets close to fans last year at Heaton Park in Manchester, England.
Ian Brown of the Stone Roses gets close to fans last year at Heaton Park in… (Dean Rogers )

The formula for a successful British band is simple: Grow up together in an industrial town (in this case, Manchester), wow 'em in London, win over Europe and Asia and then shred the music charts in America for the really big money. After getting tantalizingly close, the Stone Roses never made it in America, burning brightly across the pond in the late 1980s and early 1990s before famously flaming out.

As the new documentary "The Stone Roses: Made of Stone" makes clear, the Roses were the Manchester band conquering Britain, Europe and Japan, more so than contemporaries Happy Mondays and the Charlatans and years before Oasis came along. The Roses led the psychedelia-meets-acid-house soundtrack to the "Madchester" scene of flared jeans and warehouse raves. They were to Madchester what the Beatles were to the British Invasion: the groundbreakers, the trendsetters, the mad scientists. 

"Made of Stone" has been making limited appearances around the country, starting with New York's CBGB Music & Film Festival in October and most recently, two nights each at three ArcLight theaters and the iPic Theater in Pasadena. (The next scheduled showings will be tonight at 8 at the ArcLight theaters in Hollywood, Pasadena and La Jolla. No other screenings are planned before the DVD release Dec. 3.) 

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The film follows the band as it announces its reunion two years ago and embarks on a tour of Europe. Last Sunday, the crowd at the upscale iPic, a cross between a private screening room (40 seats, 25 filled) and a restaurant/lounge, was primarily made up of locals who became fans at some point in life.

The tumultuous story of the band has been covered on-screen before, notably in the 2004 BBC special "Blood on the Turntable". The Stone Roses had achieved some notoriety in mid-1980s Manchester with some early singles before Ian Brown (vocals), John Squire (guitar), Gary "Mani" Mounfield (bass) and Alan "Reni" Wren  (drums, and the one with the hat) teamed up with producer John Leckie (XTC, Radiohead, Elastica) to record their 1989 debut album. To this day, their self-titled debut album routinely makes the best all-time album lists in the British music press. A compilation of studio B-sides and non-album singles is almost as good. 

But almost immediately after exploding onto the British music scene, it all just as quickly fell apart. Questionable management deals and legal fights over recording contracts led to an injunction that shut the band down. Salvation came in the form of David Geffen when his label stepped in and signed the band and allowed it back into the studio.

What followed was a disappointing sophomore album, "Second Coming," released five years after the debut. Reni quit before the band's disastrous truncated U.S. tour, which ended with Squire breaking his collarbone and leaving the band shortly after. The band's breakup left behind bitterness, renouncements and long-lasting feuds among its members.

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But where "Turntable" is clinical in its examination of the band's rise and fall, director Shane Meadows' "Made of Stone" comes from a much happier place and with a lot more heart. Beginning with the surprising news conference in October 2011, when the four original members announced a reunion tour, Meadows intertwines two storylines: the history of the band (told through old footage and interviews) and the reborn Roses prepping and embarking on its reunion tour.

Besides a few appearances by the director and Oasis' Liam Gallagher (on the Roses: "The best band ever to come out of Manchester"), the camera keeps to the band members and their fans. Meadows does a nice job of capturing that sense when loss becomes found, between members of the band who had been apart for decades and especially for fans who did not think they'd ever get to see them again. According to producer Leckie in a phone interview: "It's thanks to the fans for keeping it alive, really, because the band kind of went dead." 

The reunion tour has been part of a revival for the Roses in British pop culture. Strains of "Fools Gold" can be heard in "The World's End," the latest chapter of Simon Pegg's series of comedies. Emilia Clarke ("Game of Thrones") appeared in last summer's "Spike Island," a small British coming-of-age film about a road trip to their legendary 1990 show.

"Made of Stone" ends with a homecoming concert at Manchester's Heaton Park in 2012, almost a year before the band co-headlined at Coachella last April. It's at Coachella where the band's lack of recognition in America was most obvious. Crowds were small for a headlining act, and judging by Twitter traffic (especially on the first weekend), a lot of people had just never heard of it. "When they play in the U.K. and a lot of other countries, the whole audience sings the songs," Leckie noted. "There's 20,000, 100,000 all singing every word and every verse of every song."

With the ArcLight showings tonight, there's yet another chance for the Stone Roses to conquer America.


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