It wouldn’t be the first time that Axl Rose has kept us waiting. As the Not In This Lifetime tour visited the US and South America last year – hitting such notable rock’n’roll towns as Foxborough and East Rutherford – British fans were left feeling snubbed by the band whose special relationship with this country was consummated when they tore up the Marquee club in June 1987. If not Axl, then surely Slash – a man raised in Stoke, who claimed to be “proud I was part of this grand lineage of English pissheads”, and identified with the capital so strongly that he called his son London – would prioritise Britain over, say, Glendale, Arizona?
Turns out they hadn’t forgotten. In December 2016, news broke that they were to play two nights in the capital. And when the tour bus reached the London Stadium on June 16 the mood was one of gleeful nostalgia laced with please-don’t-fuck-this-up trepidation. We’d heard the reports from the international press; many of us had made the trek to see the band. But when Duff McKagan pumped out that opening bass line to It’s So Easy, shortly joined by Slash’s coruscating riff and Axl’s still-potent banshee howl, the longest-odds event in rock’n’roll felt real for the first time. “You’re too kind,” bantered Axl, his Union Jack topper capturing the spirit of Brexit. “How ya doing…?”
Mr Brownstone. Welcome To The Jungle. Rocket Queen. Sweet Child O’ Mine. Nightrain… The London Stadium set-list practically wrote itself. And so did the reviews, which were notably kinder than the raspberries blown when Axl dragged his hired hands to the O2 in 2010. “You can’t blow the roof off a stadium that doesn’t have one,” trumpeted The Guardian, “but they damn well tried.” “Really, this had no right to be as good as it was,” gushed The Times. “Big stadium rock is inherently ridiculous,” considered The Telegraph, “and when played in front of 80,000 people in its natural home, it not only makes perfect sense but transports you somewhere thrilling.”
Classic Rock’s Dave Everley was more measured: “We get the hits, of course. Drill down, though, and you can’t help but wonder at some of the song choices. Eight covers – including The Damned’s New Rose, a mawkish Black Hole Sun and instrumental versions of Wish You Were Here, the piano outro from Layla and the theme from The Godfather – is taking the piss. This is a stadium, not the lounge bar of the Holiday Inn, Poughkeepsie.”
Another note of dissent came from the Arts Desk, which complained that “the acoustics at the back of the venue felt like sludge… those drinking in the bars outside could probably hear Axl and Slash more clearly”, but conceded that “the evening’s climax, Sweet Child O’ Mine, was a thing of true beauty”.
But money talks louder than any rock hack, and with the London dates alone pulling in £13.1 million, June was never going to be the Gunners’ kiss-off to Britain. In November, a run of European dates for 2018 was announced. And while the band’s itinerary continued to frustrate – how come Germany is getting four separate shows? – the big news was that Download had pulled off the festival coup of next summer. “It’s great to have this iconic line-up of Guns N’ Roses headlining at Download,” said festival boss Andy Copping. “I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I have been wanting this to happen for years.”
The other entry on fans’ wish list is a studio album from the classic line-up. This was the year that Appetite turned 30 – an event marked with a private concert at New York’s Apollo Theater in July – and a tantalising development is that by next summer there may be new material. The core line-up have been operating under a virtual media blackout in 2017, but guitarist Richard Fortus didn’t get the memo, confirming in July that “magical” studio material is in its early stages. “We’ve been recording a lot of stuff,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Just ideas… but not going into a studio and actually tracking a new record.
Asked if he thought a new GN’R album will happen, Fortus answered: “Yeah, I do. It’s sort of too good not to happen at this point, that’s how I feel about it. This band is really a force right now, and I definitely hope that we do, and I think we’re all sort of counting on it and we’re also planning on it.”