Spike Island

Whether you like The Stone Roses or not, this 2012 film is about how important music used to be to teenagers.

Spike Island is a historical film now, not just because it’s set in 1990, but because it is about something that is dying out. Teenagers and twenty somethings didn’t just used to like music, they loved it, they embraced it, and they were inspired by its brilliance. It was as important as football or sex or having a laugh. In a time when you had to make more of an effort to do anything, getting to see your favourite band was a key rites of passage moment. Usually it involved a series of hurdles- getting tickets at all, getting enough money to buy tickets, getting transport to get to the gig, finding the place to stand at the gig. Even then there was the drama of what will they play, what will the opening song be? And the memories of the gig were indelible. Spike Island perfectly catches a moment that conveys all this excitement. 

 These things seem trivial to today’s teenagers because all they have to do is go online to find out what will be played.  They can film parts of the gig on their phones and if they don’t get there, they can see it on YouTube courtesy of someone else who filmed it. The Stone Roses were in many ways at the nexus of this, arriving just before technology started to become the all-encompassing monster it is today. Also, not only where they difficult to get tickets for but they were a band that represented their audience more than the distant idols of other generations.
Chris Coghill’s energetic script nimbly delivers all the key moments in that build up towards a big gig. Its masterstroke though is that the kids ultimately don’t get in! If this were an American film no doubt they would gain access by some ruse and probably end up meeting the band, a fairy tale ending. Here, after a lot of attempts to get tickets and cheeky on site efforts to scale the fortress like area  they are left outside when the music starts and they never see the iconic concert. Yet they do experience it. What this does is liberates the characters from the situation and makes it much less about The Stone Roses (amusingly referred to as Guns and Roses by the main character’s mum!) and more about the special time when you love music more than almost anything else.
The narrative does a good job in placing the kids’ fixation on the band in the context of their family lives too. Dwelling in poorer districts of Manchester’s red brick areas, they are from families that are fractured by violence or illness. Coghill picks up on things like parental behaviour and the effects it has and that banter that flies between good mates.  The kids have already formed their own band and now they see the chance to attend the gig of a lifetime. It also turns out to be an event that changes their lives forever in different ways, pulling apart their juvenile friendships in some cases for something more grown up. Being at Spike Island proves to be the end of something and the beginning of something else. 

"This window could do with a clean, mate" "Top one, nice one, sorted" "You what?"
Director Mat Whitecross vividly illustrates the potent mix of youth and music with pacy movement notably in the introduction of each character at the start when they indulge in a little Stone Roses trashing their old record company inspired shenanigans. Later the concert itself is rendered well enough to convince us we are there even though the extras show it’s all a digital composite. It’s thanks to Whitecross and the cast that we never imagine that.
The boisterous kids are word (im)perfect and a mixture of familiar TV faces from the expected likes of Shameless’ Elliot Tittensor (excellent) to the more surprising Emilia  Clarke (likable) from Game of Thrones as well as unknowns. There is plenty of Mancunian `having it` aggro and convincing enough musicianship from the pretend band.
Spike island is more fun from a modern perspective than the Stone Roses’ slightly dated music but it could be about any band really. It’s entertaining to a tee though it does leave you to ponder whether the main character who would be in his forties now would still go by the nickname `Tits`!

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