Do you remember what you were doing on Sunday 27 May 1990? Chances are it wasn’t anywhere near the experience of some 28,000 loved-up punters that descended on an island near Widnes, for a concert that will go down in rock history.
The Stone Roses’ played Spike Island at the tail-end of more than a year of near non-stop touring (even taking in Japan); a period which saw the release of the group’s seminal debut album and established them as the premier custodians of the nascent indie-dance crossover sound.
The venue, a man-made isle in the Mersey estuary, had never held a concert before – it was reportedly chosen by Roses manager Gareth Evans – and the unlikeliness of the location was compounded by organisational challenges.
“Our management really fucked up,” bassist Mani told NME in 2010. “There were security guards taking booze off people, there was a lot of overcharging for food and drink, and there wasn’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.”
Plus, as the gig continued, there were even fears that the combination of windy conditions and a high spring tide could even lead to the island being flooded mid-concert, something that mercifully never happened.
Remarkably, the event only received a drinks licence on the previous Wednesday, after the concert organisers made their third application for said licence.
The authorities reportedly had a ‘change of heart’ after a senior Cheshire police officer told the magistrates that it was ‘better to contain drinking on the island rather than risk many of the 28,500 pop fans flocking into pubs and wine bars in the Widnes area’, the Liverpool Echo reported.
Elsewhere, the paper said that ‘a full scale police operation’ was organised to cope with the numbers attending the festival, with officers drafted from all over Cheshire for the event… adding that the police ‘didn’t expect any trouble’.
Support acts for the day were varied – a Zimbabwean drum group and reggae artist Gary Clail shared the lineup with Paul Oakenfold, Dave Haslam, Frankie Bones and others – before the Roses took to the stage at 9pm… when the place went off, despite questionable sound quality.
“Even though the sound was blowing all over the place, it was impossible not to be moved by it,” author Jon Ronson told NME.
“When Brown came out brandishing an inflatable globe [during the show], it was everything it was supposed to be – the world in their hands. When you saw it, you absolutely felt like you were a part of something, at the centre of that place and time.”
Crowd for The Stone Roses. Spike Island, 27th May 1990.— British Culture Archive (@britcultarchive) May 27, 2020
Previously unseen photographs from that eventful day in Widnes 30 years ago today.
All images taken and submitted to our @peoplearchive by Ellie Finch. pic.twitter.com/M7WjS44OFh
The band would play three more gigs – in Finland, Northern Ireland and Glasgow – before retiring to the studio to record their second album, a process which would end up fragmenting the group.
But for one windy day in May 1990, anything seemed possible.
As former The Face editor Sheryl Garratt told 909originals a couple of years back, the Spike Island gig was a core part of the euphoria and optimism of the times – a coming together of like-minded souls, dancing to a unified beat.
“I think it was the last great unifying youth movement, and I’m not sure music will ever be that central again,” she explained.
“In that period from the summer of 88 through the huge outdoor raves of 89 then Madchester and the Stone Roses at Spike Island in 1990, it felt all the separate strands of youth culture were getting knitted together, that the old divisions between surburbs and the city, north and south, indie rock and dance, black and white, were dissolving.”
Or, as the late, great Factory Records boss Tony Wilson put it in a clip from Granada’s The Works, recorded in 2001, “The American writer Hunter S Thompson has this great line about how if you stand on a hilltop outside Las Vegas and look west, you can see the very point at which the tide of the Sixties finally stopped and began to ebb backwards.
“If you stand on THIS hill, outside Runcorn, and look north, you can see the very point at which the thrill and the vigour of late 80s British youth culture reached its high water mark, before ebbing backwards into the flotsam of Britpop and fizzy pop… Spike Island, Widnes.” 🙂
The Stone Roses at Spike Island, 27 May 1990 – Setlist
I Wanna Be Adored
She Bangs The Drums
Shoot You Down
(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister
Where Angels Play
Made Of Stone
Elizabeth My Dear
I Am The Resurrection