Friday, July 02, 2010

The Stone Roses - "Ten Storey Love Song"

Back in the 90s (and it's strange to think about how long ago the 90s actually were), I did all sorts of bits before, during and after university. One of them, was a temporary involvement with big-gig security, working for a company that provided security to lots of the huge English festivals. There were many funny moments that can't really be printed, but there's another one that occurred to me this morning that can.

Security was always a lottery at a big festival - you could end up doing anything from the easy and surreal (guarding doors backstage while famous people came and went), to utterly boring (directing traffic at the edge of the site on dusty trails for hours), to frantic (dealing with an entry gate, particularly the main gate). Somehow fate intervened when I decided to do the 10 hour overnight bus journey south for security at the Reading 1996 festival, and from nowhere, I was plucked to do main-stage security, standing in front of the main stage for 3 solid days in the pit.

The lineup is recorded on wikipedia, and my memory is of seeing The Prodigy, Terrorvision, Ice-T, Garbage, Dodgy, Super Furry Animals, Moloko, Kula Shaker, Sonic Youth, Ash and Reef. It's where my love of Billy Bragg started, I caught all of his set, and it stuck with me since. A guitar, a guy, belting out his songs, and some politics I was utterly in agreement with - evidently I'd started my drift to the left even back then.

I was in the pit when Sonic Youth closed it - that was an all-hands-on-deck set - I think they were last. It was one of the more disconcerting moments I had, after 3 long days, standing on the security plinth above the crowd in the front row in the dark, with blitzkrieg sheets of white noise pouring out of the PA behind for minutes upon minutes upon minutes, while nuclear whole-stage strobes caused the 80,000 odd faces in front of me to flick in the darkness like some deranged film, eventually bringing me to the edge of vertigo. And in the midst of this you were supposed to spot and fish out bodysurfers, many of whom were huge guys wearing heavy duty boots, and every time the strobes fired, they weren't where you thought they were last time.

(The barrier in front of the crowd was about 20 feet separated from the stage by the 'pit' - and had a raised platform on the stage side you could stand on, to see better, or fish people out of the crowd. It looked something like this, only the one at Reading was monstrous and had no 'separations' in the platform, so you could walk/run along it the width of the stage. Anyway, you would stand 'down' in the pit when it was daylight, when the crowd was reasonably under control, when nothing needed attention. When it got dark, you needed to help or retrieve someone, or have a careful look into the crowd, you would stand 'up' on the plinth)

Then there was my front stage security encounter with the crazed and fluorescent Julian Cope, who chose to jump through the pit and up on to the security barrier, saunter up to me, and lean on my shoulder in front of the crowd while singing a couple of lines. Which I thought was very cool being a Cope fan, although not only did I have to maintain the arms-crossed deadpan serious security face, I took some heat for it from my Glasgow security colleagues afterwards ("***t was wearin' a dress!"). Not to worry - they felt more of a man when they got with the herd - Julian - you can lean on my shoulder any time. (Oh - and if anyone who was in the front 10,000 people while JC was playing happens to have a picture of this moment, I'd love a copy. It was a pretty funny moment, so there's got to be a photo somewhere)

Then there was seeing Black Grape live. Even better, seeing Bez live. Never has a man looked so off his face, and jumped up and down in a Sergio Tacchini tracksuit to such massive crowd acclaim. Still a legend...

But the moment that still stands out for me, was seeing Stone Roses live. It's universally gone down in the collective memory as a disastrous gig for them, a shambles, and was the last gig the Roses ever played. But not only did it sound not bad to me, it had some amazing moments in it.

And the most amazing moment for me was standing up on the plinth, facing the crowd, while they cranked out "Ten Storey Love Song" - with the sound blowing outside in the wind, that heaving subterranean thud that you only ever get from a massive PA system, and that huge walking bassline. There was a girl in the very front row, clearly a fan, tears streaming down her face the whole song. It's never left me.


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