I still have the T-shirt. Stretched, faded, full of holes; it is, if you can believe this, almost 23 years old.
It’s awful, really, such an ugly design, bought from a bootlegger who was working his way along the queue for the gig. But the words on the back are why I’ve kept it; the reason this particular shirt has survived so many flittings and wardrobe purges: Stone Roses, Glasgow Green.
It was 9 June 1990. I was 16, going on 17. How can I tell you what it was like, that night, and what it meant? My feelings are all mixed up with the summer-evening heat, the nervous excitement of being in the big city, and the throat-clarting dust of the red blaize on which we queued to get into the big tent.
That summer, music meant more to me than it ever had before and it ever has since. Though I loved The Smiths, I’d just missed them; they split up shortly before my 14th birthday, and so I could only admire them in retrospect. But the Stone Roses, well; sometimes, listening to the Roses, I felt as if I was inside those delicate, indelible songs of longing and belonging, and might never get out, and didn’t want to. When they came on, finally, at Glasgow Green, sweat raining from the roof, four ragged, swaggering silhouettes against the dry ice, the crowd of 8,000 sang the riff to I Wanna Be Adored so loudly the band were drowned out. It was our song. Our moment.
A few of us, pals from school, had come through from Alloa in a hired mini-bus. Driving across the central belt, listening to the Happy Mondays. Kincardine, Cumbernauld, Stepps; Wrote For Luck, Lazyitis, Hallelujah. We talked, as the motorway blurred by, about Manchester, Madchester, with the loud authority of ignorance, as if we knew something about it. The Hacienda, Afflecks Palace. These were just words to us, words we had learned through the NME. But it felt exciting to say them, and to make plans (never realised) to go there one day and see these places.
Michael Winterbottom’s brilliant film 24 Hour Party People gives a terrific insight into what it must have been like to be at the centre of the Manchester scene, but what the film doesn’t tell you is what that music meant to those of us out in the sticks. It sounded like freedom and a kind of defiant euphoria. That was true, for me, of the Stone Roses in particular. “The past was yours but the future’s mine”; “I’d like to leave the country for a month of Sundays/Burn the town where I was born”. For a boy in the middle of screwing up at school, sick of his friends, his council scheme, sick of being poor, sick of the government that had seen his dad on the dole too long; for a boy who had already been to too many funerals, the way Ian Brown whisper-sung these lines sounded like the possibility of escape. “I am the resurrection and I am the life.” Those words, before the Roses, had meant a white coffin, obscenely small, and a weeping mother. Now? They just sounded like joy.
The Stone Roses will play Glasgow Green again, next month, on 15 June. I’m sure they’ll be great, and while a part of me would like to be there, I’ve made no attempt to get a ticket. Ian Brown might sing better, and I could afford to buy an official T-shirt this time, but it couldn’t possibly mean as much. The past is mine. I’ll settle for that. I’ll settle for the memory of that moment, that night, that summer, when we sang that there was no need to sell our souls, and then we all grew up and sold them anyway.
“Why are they so important to people?” asks a middle-aged fan in Shane Meadows’ forthcoming documentary about the Roses’ comeback. “You know, and I know. But you can’t write it down, can you?”