Director Shane Meadows – best-known for gritty dramas such as This is England – shows a neat line in cinematic storytelling by bookmarking this hugely enjoyable documentary about The Stone Roses with footage of singer Ian Brown using a fan’s smartphone to film the stage, and himself, as he greets the front row at the start of the Roses’ big comeback gig (okay, there were three of them) in Manchester’s Heaton Park.
It is, of course, fitting that this film is wrapped in a moment that the vast majority of fans (and band members) would’ve thought impossible. At their prime in the late 1980s, The Stone Roses were as big as bands get (which is, of course, massive), but thanks to a combination of the usual ingredients (too much murky business, too little rock ’n’ roll music), one of the UK’s biggest bands imploded. It was a bitter moment and it took decades to heal shattered relationships.
Although I certainly didn’t dislike them, I thought The Stone Roses were rather overrated and too derivative to be regarded as something uniquely wonderful, but Made of Stone certainly proved to me that they were one hell of a band. I came into the cinema curious, and left a fan.
Meadows goes right back to early 1980s, as the band gradually took shape over several years before finally bursting through, in spectacular style, during the Madchester days of 1989. There’s some great footage of band members in pre, early and middling stages of their development (and curious haircuts), interspersed with the current band reforming and rehearsing ahead of their triumphant 2012 return.
The band’s warm-up gig at Warrington’s 1,000-capacity Parr Hall is a genuine highlight, and deserves the lengthy focus it is given by Meadows. As well as seeing the band perform in a relatively small indoor setting (far preferable to watching them in a field, a place where only hippies should be allowed play music), much camera time is devoted to many of the fans queuing up to see their heroes, many of them lads and lassies who’d been there first time around and who regard The Stone Roses as a key point in their lives.
It was a nice cameo for the band’s fans, as it shows how important a group can be – it’s not all about fame and money, folks. Anyone can do that; what the Roses did was really affect the lives of many people. They stopped them from feeling ordinary.
Ultimately, though, this film should’ve been about discovering more about the band, their break-up and reforming. One of the problems – aside from Meadows being maybe a little too reverential towards the band – was the fact that interviews with band members ended after drummer Reni threw his drumsticks away after a frustrating gig in Amsterdam, where he had major sound problems with his earpiece.
Tellingly, singer Ian Brown alone went out to face an angry Dutch crowd, explaining to them that the drummer was gone and there’d be no encore. If we didn’t know what happened next you would’ve assumed the band was about to split again, but Reni eventually reappeared with his drumsticks and the Stone Roses are touring still.
It's interesting that Reni comes across as the most talented group member (as well as being an exceptional drummer, his backing vocals more than helped Ian Brown along), while also being the one most uncomfortable with the fame thing.
Presumably the band decided there would be no more interviews after the Amsterdam tiff, and a clearly exasperated Meadows explains that people don’t want a camera rammed in their face at such a stressful time. But that’s laughable. Don’t agree to be in a documentary, then, lads.
So the final third of the film is more about capturing a live show than a documentary getting behind the scenery and into people’s heads. It’s easy to feel as though a great opportunity of capturing a moment was lost. Pity. Still great fun, though, and - as someone coming in without a fans' perspective - I found Meadows' reverence for the band quite infectious. And I’m definitely going to pick up their first album, albeit a quarter of a century too late.