For 51 weeks a year, Benicassim is an unassumingly quiet seaside town on the Spanish coast. Located approximately 30 miles north of Valencia, Benicassim has a modest population of just under 20,000 and although it has a steady flow of tourists and holiday makers throughout the year, for one week in July every summer, it transforms itself to become what feels like the capital of Europe for over 50,000 festival goers.For lovers of live music, Benicassim is festival heaven. UK festivals do have their merits but the heat of the Spanish sun and the picturesque beaches make Benicassim a far cry from the mud-cladded, water-logged fields at the likes of Reading and Leeds. The festival has consistently boasted one the best line-ups across Europe for the past decade, and with ticket prices considerably cheaper than its English counterparts, there’s no wonder why thousands of Brits are ditching their wellies for their flip-flops and heading for the Spanish coast each year.
This year, Manchester legends The Stone Roses were the big draw, following their resurrection after a 17 year hiatus. They would headline the Saturday night with support from Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds. Despite the likes of Bob Dylan and New Order occupying the other headline slots, it did feel that this festival belonged to the Roses. Their return had captured the hearts and minds of fans of all ages and throughout the week leading up to their headline set, the town was awash with devotees sporting Lemon emblazoned t-shirts and bucket hats in tribute to their heroes.
On the Saturday morning I was awoken by the sound of Noel Gallagher sound checking his Oasis classic ‘Talk Tonight’ on stage, and this set the tone for the rest of the day. The atmosphere around the campsite just told me that something special was going to happen that night, with renditions of ‘Sally Cinnamon’ and ‘She Bangs The Drums’ being constantly belted out from all corners, it felt more like I was going to watch my team play in an FA Cup Final rather than go to a Stone Roses gig. On the beach it was no different, with Stone Roses t-shirts galore and groups of holiday-makers playing their way through the Roses’ back catalogue out of their portable speakers; this really was what the world was waiting for.
Noel Gallagher offered the perfect warm-up and his mixture of Oasis classics and solo work really whetted the appetite for the arrival of his fellow Mancunians. Noel commented that this was his 100th post Oasis gig and that the Benicassim crowd was one of the best he’d ever played to. This was met with rapturous applause and he burst into his hit single AKA…What a Life, converting the arena into a huge dance floor. He worked his way through stripped down versions of Oasis classics Half the World Away and Whatever before culminating his set with the timeless Don’t Look Back in Anger, sparking a mass sing along and a few tears. It was a euphoric ending to a triumphant set – Noel had teed things up perfectly for the Roses, the question was, could they deliver?
The crowd had gradually built up during Noel’s set and you could feel the anticipation building as ‘The Stone Roses’ appeared on the screens at either side of the stage. As the crowd built up the heat intensified and the fans were becoming dehydrated and restless. Cups of beer were flying through the air, as was the occasional dubiously warm liquid. Reni’s double bass drums, covered in the iconic lemon logo, were wheeled out and The Supreme’s Stoned Love blasted over the PA system. The crowd surged forward in excitement yet again and within minutes; four figures appeared from the side of the stage.
“Hola!” Bellowed Ian Brown. “Is there any Spanish here?” he asked a slightly bewildered crowd. Mani burst into the bass line of debut album opener I Wanna Be Adored and the crowd chanted back every single note, immediately encapsulated in the Roses mastery for the next hour and a half of their lives. “I don’t have to sell my soul, he’s already in me” professed Brown as the crowd yelled every word in return. Brown has often been criticised for his vocal abilities but he was on top form and incidentally, this was the only song from their extensive summer reunion of which professionally shot footage made its way onto the internet, perfectly showcasing Brown’s talents to any doubters.
They eased into B-side and fan favourite Mersey Paradise before (Song for my) Sugar Spun Sister and Sally Cinnamon sparked a sing along loud enough to have been audible in Valencia. The band really came into their own midway through the set when an epic 15-minute version of 1989 single Fool’s Gold had the whole crowd speechless as John Squire demonstrated exactly why he is regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time with a blistering outro incorporating parts of The Beatles’ Day Tripper. Individually, the Roses have often been hailed as the best musicians of their time and collectively, they are regarded as one of the ‘tightest’ bands the country has ever seen. This was clear for the whole of Spain to see when they breathtakingly played through their classic single Waterfall before proceeding to play it backwards in Don’t Stop, exactly as they appear on the band’s eponymous debut LP.
Next up was Love Spreads, only the second song to feature in their set list taken off The Second Coming. Ian Brown ended it with an impromptu rap before they embarked on an epic closing quadruple of fans favourites: Made of Stone, This is The One, She Bangs the Drums and climaxing with the triumphant I am the Resurrection. The roar as they played their final note was deafening, the band lapped it up and quite deservingly so.
Before the reunion gigs had started, there was the inevitable cynicism that the Roses were only in it for one last pay day, but at Benicassim, it was once again clear for everyone to see – these four love playing on a stage together and judging by the crowd’s reaction, the world needs The Stone Roses. The reunion had been a huge success, probably better than they could have ever imagined, the crowd knew it and the band knew it. They played their last gig of the year the following month but 2012 will definitely be remembered as the year of the Roses, and with gigs already planned for next summer, 2013 promises to be just as special.