Nev­er mind the bol­locks, here’s the Sex Beatles

An archival tribute to Oasis, 25 years on from the release of their groundbreaking debut album, Definitely Maybe.

Twen­ty-five years ago, Britain got a cul­tur­al reboot. Hot on the heels of the one-two-three punch of the sin­gles Super­son­ic, Shak­er­mak­er and Live For­ev­er, Oasis released Def­i­nite­ly Maybe. Then, it was the fastest-sell­ing debut album in the UK. Now, it still stands tall as a straight-up blast of thrilling rock‘n’roll.

That heady sum­mer of 94, The Face was there, putting Oasis on the front of the mag­a­zine the month before the album’s release. Liam Gal­lagher was obvi­ous­ly there too, star­ing cool and defi­ant (fun­ni­ly enough) from the cov­er in an icon­ic pho­to­graph by Nor­man Wat­son. Not that the mem­o­ries are super-clear.

I was 21, was I?” pouts Liam when remind­ed of the sil­ver anniver­sary of Oasis’s block­buster break­through year. Cool. I can’t real­ly remem­ber that sum­mer. All I remem­ber is that we were fuck­ing tour­ing a lot, doing gigs a lot. I wasn’t ner­vous. I knew we were the bol­locks, and I was just excit­ed, I guess, wait­ing for peo­ple to get on it and catch up.

I knew we weren’t the best,” he con­tin­ues, but I knew we were good. I knew we could def­i­nite­ly fill a hole. The [Stone] Ros­es had dis­ap­peared – I’m not say­ing we were like The Ros­es, but there was a fuck­ing gap in the mar­ket. And we were def­i­nite­ly the ones to fill it. I was fuck­ing buzzing man.”

With a bit of prod­ding, though, he can remem­ber his first Face cover. 

I fuck­ing loved the head­line: Nev­er mind the bol­locks, here’s the Sex Bea­t­les.’ And that was a top pic­ture, man, I love it. It was obvi­ous­ly done in Lon­don because they put make-up on me – the first time I’d had that, a styl­ist and all that tack­le. And they put a kaf­tan on me. Decent hair­cut. It was sexy, dare I say it. There, I said it, so fuck it.” 

To mark Def­i­nite­ly Maybes 25th anniver­sary, here’s writer Cliff Jones’ equal­ly clas­sic Face inter­view with Oasis. Read on for some time­less Gal­lagher argy-bargy…

In the plush, com­put­erised stu­dios of Radio IFM, Liam and Noel Gal­lagher are gath­ered round a micro­phone, along with rhythm gui­tarist Bone­head, for a pre-Glas­ton­bury singsong. Engi­neers scur­ry about doing their sparky one, two, test­ing” rou­tine, lev­els are set and tape machines sent spin­ning in motion before the final fad­er is nudged upwards and the voic­es of the ter­ri­ble two­some fill the room with a hilar­i­ous stream of Yes you did”, No I didn’t” mock abuse. Like an unfor­tu­nate stu­dent teacher sent in to deal with an unruly class of fourth for­m­ers, pre­sen­ter Jo Whiley, while clear­ly a fan, might as well talk to the wall as attempt to main­tain order. 

Whiley: Alright, alright! Qui­eten down. If you all talk at once, we won’t hear what Liam’s saying.” 

Noel: Who cares what he has to say?” 

Liam: Every­one does. I’m the star.” 

Whiley: I want to know if you ham up this argu­ment thing between you and Noel?” 

Liam: We pork it up, we nev­er ham it up.” 

Noel: It’s all an act for the ben­e­fit of the NME, actu­al­ly.”

Whiley: Liam, do you feel com­fort­able doing acoustic sets like this?” 

Liam: I do when I sit on chairs like these.” 

Whiley: What are you going to be doing at Glas­ton­bury, I gath­er it’s your first time?” 

Liam: Sell­ing toothbrushes.” 

Whiley: Has your mum told you off lately?” 

Noel: Yeah she told our Liam off for com­ing back home. She wished he’d stayed away.”

Whiley: So, what are you going to play for us tonight?” 

More to-ing and fro-ing ensues before they even­tu­al­ly set­tle on the sin­gle Shak­er­mak­er, end­ing the ses­sion with Sad Song, an evoca­tive new tune writ­ten and per­formed by Noel. As usu­al, the broth­ers Gal­lagher have pulled them­selves back from the abyss of uncool in the nick of time, redeem­ing them­selves with some fine acoustic pop. 

To read­ers of the music press, this sort of Sooty and Sweep rou­tine will now be very famil­iar. To every­one else, the above is a mild intro­duc­tion to the squab­bling sib­ling part­ner­ship behind Oasis. Despite the rel­a­tive­ly good-natured resolve to today’s broad­cast ban­ter, there’s a more seri­ous malaise in the air. Liam, the 22-year-old doe-eyed singer, seems trou­bled and edgy. The broth­ers main­tain a brood­ing silence all the way to the pub. 

As the after­noon wears on, the scowls inten­si­fy. Noel has cho­sen now to inform Liam that he’s been asked to join Crazy Horse, back­ing band to the leg­endary Rock n’ Roll warhorse Neil Young, for an on-stage jam when the group play Lon­don. Liam is not amused. So me twat broth­er thinks he’s Eric fuck­ing Clap­ton now, does he? He’ll be wear­ing fuck­ing win­kle-pick­ers and a pony­tail next. He’s in Oasis now and that should be good enough. Our kid’s bet­ter than all those old blokes any­way. He’s up there next to John Lennon in my book.”

Liam’s anger with his broth­er seems to trig­ger a host of wider con­cerns that come tum­bling out in an aggres­sive, free­wheel­ing stream of con­scious­ness. The pup­py­dog eyes have nar­rowed to squint­ed slits behind his green-tint­ed wire rims and he stabs at his solar plexus, wracked with some deep, pent-up frus­tra­tion. I’m on fire inside. I’m just get­ting to know myself, and there’s things I don’t like. Parts of me are evil, parts of me are good, but I’m locked up in chains so I can’t get it all out.” He slams his wrists togeth­er, pre­tend­ing his hands are cuffed. But I opened the doors in my head, threw the key away and let it all in: mad­ness, bad­ness, evil­ness, good­ness, beau­ti­ful­ness… It’s like that Guin­ness advert, my head – a uni­verse in a glass.”

The bar­man comes across to tell Liam to get his feet off the seats, pro­vid­ing momen­tary dis­trac­tion from this cat­a­logue of tur­moil. I ain’t no politi­cian or preach­er, but I know what’s right,” he con­tin­ues. Take reli­gion. Once you fuck God off, you’re out on your own. You either get to know your­self or you go insane. Remem­ber that geezer who did those paint­ings in the old­en days, well his girl­friend says, Give me a sym­bol of your love,’ so he chops his ear off! That’s mad­ness. Why didn’t he just say, I love you’? What I’m get­ting at is: the IRA is mad­ness, reli­gion and love is mad­ness. I’m up for wak­ing peo­ple up, not falling in love and say­ing how great life can be when it can’t. I don’t care about any­thing, me. No, I care about our mum and John Lennon… and being in a band.”

As Julian Cope points out in his new auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Cool has con­text.” In the case of Oasis, that con­text is pop: The Bea­t­les, the Pis­tols, The Smiths, The Stone Ros­es, the romance and escapism of sex and drugs, the youth­ful real­i­sa­tion that the grand inher­i­tance is yours for the ask­ing. It’s about get­ting a bot­tle of cider with your mates, stick­ing on a Bea­t­les album, talk­ing shite, puk­ing up, meet­ing strange girls and maybe hav­ing sex,” says Noel with con­vinc­ing pas­sion. It’s about escaping.”

I’m aggres­sive, but I’m not a hooli­gan. I’m no Evan Dan­do either, all this I do smack, I do crack’ tor­tured artist bit. I love snort­ing, I love sex, but I’m not into smash­ing things up.”

From Super­son­ic, Oasis’ answer to Louie Louie, to the unashamed T-Rex rip-off of Cig­a­rettes And Alco­hol, a track from their forth­com­ing debut album, Oasis are unabashed in their popist aspi­ra­tions. Melodies pil­fered whole­sale from pop’s trea­sure chest, evoca­tive gui­tar bal­lads, cocaine bab­ble, poignant one-lin­ers – all cohab­it with­in Oasis’ three-chord uni­verse. Such is their brazen approach that these influ­ences, while obvi­ous, become some­how irrel­e­vant. We’re a cheap-shot band,” com­ments Noel with a sly smile. The Bea­t­les, the great­est band in his­to­ry, write Hey Jude and it’s a cheap-shot melody. Our sin­gles – Super­son­ic, Shak­er­mak­er — are cheap-shot melodies. Nev­er be afraid of the obvi­ous, because it’s all been done before.”

Unlike bands such as Ride or Blue, who were sim­i­lar­ly her­ald­ed but took time to shape up and did so under the glar­ing spot­light of the inkies, Oasis ges­tat­ed in pri­vate, emerg­ing per­fect­ly formed this year with a set of three-minute teen clas­sics in tow. Peo­ple think we hap­pened overnight,” says Noel, between sips of gin and ton­ic. We were togeth­er 18 months before we sound­ed any good and anoth­er 18 months before we had a record out. We’re not embar­rassed by our suc­cess because we deserve it, and if you don’t want to be as big as The Bea­t­les, then it’s just a hobby.”

If you’re won­der­ing how Oasis came to find them­selves the talk of Plan­et Pop with­out actu­al­ly hav­ing made any records, let’s fill in the gaps. The Oasis sto­ry begins three years ago in Bur­nage, a tidy but dull two-car sub­urb of Man­ches­ter. Named after the city’s indoor cloth­ing mar­ket where the broth­ers would meet before going to watch Man City play, the band was start­ed in a bid by Liam to beat Sat­ur­day evening post-footie bore­dom. Broth­er Noel was on tour in Amer­i­ca with Inspi­ral Car­pets as a gui­tar road­ie when he was casu­al­ly informed over the phone by his moth­er, By the way, our Liam’s start­ed a band.” He returned home in time to catch their debut. I told our kid the band was shite, but he def­i­nite­ly had some­thing as a front­man. Then I said, You either let me write the songs and we go for super­star­dom or else you stay here in Man­ches­ter all your lives like sad cunts.’” The band took the Noel option and spent the next 18 months writ­ing songs, lis­ten­ing to records and per­fect­ing their sound, emerg­ing only to play the occa­sion­al pub gig to the uni­form dis­in­ter­est of everyone. 

The break came via Sis­ter Lovers, an all-girl Man­ches­ter band Oasis were friend­ly with. They scored a sup­port slot with Boyfriends, a band Cre­ation Records boss Alan McGee was inter­est­ed in see­ing, for a show in Glas­gow. Oasis seized the day, turned up at the venue and informed the pro­mot­er they were ready to play. When told polite­ly to piss off, they threat­ened dam­age and were grudg­ing­ly allowed a four-song set. By some bizarre twist of fate, McGee turned up to the gig ear­ly, saw the impromp­tu set, and before the end of the first song was on stage clutch­ing his heart with one hand and his cheque-book with the oth­er. McGee knew Noel had the pop eth­ic sussed and that Liam was the front­man he’d been dream­ing of since Cre­ation began – a mix of the punk spir­it of Lydon, the sex appeal of Ian Brown and the acer­bic wit of John Lennon. 

Demos sur­faced. Peo­ple raved. A world­wide deal was struck with Sony that made the band very rich. John­ny Marr even offered Noel the gui­tar he wrote Pan­ic and How Soon Is Now on as a token of his esteem. The music press too moved into action. In a series of reviews and pro­files, the papers con­firmed this wasn’t just anoth­er this week’s future of rock’n’roll” scam, but some­thing alto­geth­er more important.

The new year saw Oasis trans­formed from indus­try secret into punter’s delight. They went from a bustling 100 Club on London’s Oxford Street in March (scene of Pis­tols gigs and a for­mer drink­ing haunt of John Lennon) to a packed-to-the-rafters Mar­quee, in under two months. The Super­son­ic sin­gle fol­lowed in April and a nation­al tour kicked off soon after. A sec­ond sin­gle, Shak­er­mak­er, com­plete with I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing New Seek­ers melody rip-off, crashed the top 20, the band brought some Ready Steady Go atti­tude to Top Of The Pops, and the whole rat­tling caboose was off down the track. 

Through­out all of this, the band’s rep­u­ta­tion as rock’n’roll hell-rais­ers was being talked up by the mar­vel­lous musi­cal myth machine. There were tales of whor­ing and drunk­en­ness, drugs and hotel demo­li­tion, get­ting thrown off a cross-chan­nel fer­ry, caus­ing East 17 to flee their hotel, lug­ging chairs into swim­ming pools, steal­ing motorised golf carts at a Gle­nea­gles record biz meet’n’greet and, of course, who could for­get the irre­press­ible brawl­ing of the broth­ers O’Hooligan?

How­ev­er, such tales make good read­ing for only so long. Any rock band worth their sad span­g­ly satin tour jack­ets can teeter woozi­ly along the road to excess. Hooli­gan­ism is an easy option when it comes to rock’n’roll cred­i­bil­i­ty because sad­dos still believe it’s some­how cool to smash hotels up, screw under­age girls and run their Bent­ley over their chauf­feur while drunk. This kind of behav­iour shocks because sex, drugs and mind­less vio­lence always shock the cos­set­ed and under­nour­ished sub­ur­ban mind. Shrewd lads that they are, though, Oasis have twigged that ulti­mate­ly it detracts from the music. I’m aggres­sive but I’m not a fuck­ing hooli­gan,” says Liam defen­sive­ly. I’m no Evan Dan­do either, all this I do smack, I do crack’, fuck­ing tor­tured artist bit. I admit it, I love snort­ing, I love sex, but I’m not into smash­ing things up. Chairs are for sit­ting on in my book.”

Noel explains the hooli­gan ele­ment thus: The lads get bored, get drunk, start brawl­ing and do the rooms. I go off and write music, because noth­ing else mat­ters to me.” With­out a hint of humour or irony he adds: If the Dev­il popped up now and said, It’s a choice. Music or rela­tion­ships’ – be it moth­er, girl­friends, even Liam, I’d sign on the dot­ted line.”

Liam’s young, he’s on a com­plete trip and he’s all mouth at the moment. He’s a genius front­man and was born to do this. But he also wish­es he was me. Always has done.”

Gui­tarist Bone­head, on the oth­er hand, has turned hotel trash­ing into a minor art­form. Dur­ing the recent tour, a posse of aspi­rant Bone­heads fol­lowed him from gig to gig in their black-and-white Adi­das tops, eager to gar­ner tips from an acknowl­edged pro: I tell em it takes years of prac­tice to get this good. I’ve got a chair in my house that I prac­tise throw­ing out of the window.”

The down­side to all of this man­i­fests itself main­ly in the reac­tion with­in their home town of Man­ches­ter. An Oasis back­lash has already start­ed that, accord­ing to Noel, has dri­ven him south to Lon­don. We played there for years and no one took any notice. Now all of a sud­den we’re Manchester’s long-lost sons,” he says bit­ter­ly. Either that or they hate us. All these so-called friends who’re say­ing, I remem­ber you when you were noth­ing.’ Well I don’t want to remem­ber, so fuck off.”

Hap­py to admit the Manc lega­cy in the form of The Smiths, the Ros­es and the Mon­days, Noel main­tains it’s no stronger than the Bea­t­les con­nec­tion, the Lon­don punk con­nec­tion or even the Amer­i­can Neil Young con­nec­tion. Music doesn’t belong to Man­ches­ter. Besides the place is a joke. All these kids buy­ing flares and God Cre­at­ed Man­ches­ter’ T-shirts then real­is­ing it was the emperor’s new clothes and the scene was fucked.”

On a more per­son­al lev­el, a curi­ous trend arose dur­ing the recent tour – Liam-bait­ing. The rules are sim­ple: as the singer emerges onstage you heck­le, throw bot­tles and take the piss out of Man City. You do it because it’s like teas­ing a pout­ing infant who doesn’t yet under­stand the con­cept of the wind-up. Staged or not, the aggres­sion, the antag­o­nism, the release, is all part of the deal with Oasis. At last month’s Heineken Fes­ti­val gig, the band man­aged to get half-way through the first song before Liam stopped the music dead. We wan­na fuck­ing play for you lot, so don’t start. We’re not fuck­ing dick­heads and we’re not Blur.” He claims he’s just not pre­pared to play in front of philistines. If they stop me get­ting into the music, then they don’t deserve to hear the songs.” 

Those songs deserve to be heard. More than that, they deserve to be real­ly lis­tened to. These aren’t dys­func­tion­al, dopey dole anthems – they’re too quick-wit­ted for that. Oasis’ debut album Def­i­nite­ly Maybe is packed with three-minute pop shrap­nel bombs, although it still lacks the impact of the band live. (Oasis some­how make most sense as a live expe­ri­ence and their inabil­i­ty to ful­ly cap­ture that on record is their only hand­i­cap now.) Still, it’s a mea­gre gripe. The songs are there in all their sneer­ing glo­ry along with some tru­ly stun­ning acoustic tracks that mark Noel Gal­lagher out as a song­smith to cher­ish. See this as Oasis’ pri­mal punk-pop album, a kick-off point towards some­thing more sophisticated. 

The day after Noel’s appear­ance with Crazy Horse, the band are due at the pho­to stu­dio for The Face cov­er shoot. (For the record, Noel acquit­ted him­self mas­ter­ful­ly with Crazy Horse. The aged, den­imed god­fa­thers of grunge and the brat­tish young pop upstart togeth­er in one of those weird but utter­ly appro­pri­ate rock’n’roll moments. Liam was not present.) They arrive late and before long are at each oth­er. Noel accus­es Liam of being too big and impor­tant to be in this band” result­ing in a full-on fist fight and Liam’s sud­den walk­out, fol­lowed soon after by-his broth­er. You can argue that all this feud­ing broth­ers shtick is get­ting a lit­tle tired and pre­dictable. The cyn­ics among you may even sug­gest that it’s staged. What’s more like­ly is that they sim­ply can’t help them­selves. It’s no put-on. I wish it was some­times,” says Bone­head. They’ve always been this way.” The intrigu­ing ques­tion remains: why?

Theirs is in the great tra­di­tion of antag­o­nis­tic part­ner­ships in pop: Ray and Dave Davis from the Kinks, Town­shend and Dal­trey of The Who, Reed and Cale of the Vel­vet Under­ground, Mor­ris­sey and Marr of The Smiths, Lydon and the rest of the world. Oasis’ on-stage atti­tude is mere­ly this ten­sion pro­ject­ed out­wards. What lies at the heart of all this is their fun­da­men­tal inabil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate with each oth­er. Once sep­a­rat­ed, they admit to a curi­ous yin yang rela­tion­ship, although they can’t actu­al­ly bring them­selves to admit it to each oth­er. We’re Catholic Irish stock so you just don’t say those sorts of things,” says Noel, shrug­ging his shoul­ders. The clos­est we got was when our kid said, I wouldn’t sing anyone’s songs but yours and John Lennon’s,’ and I said, I wouldn’t have any­one else sing my songs but you and John Lennon.’ We shook hands and were at each oth­er again ten min­utes later. 

Liam’s young, he’s on a com­plete trip and he’s all fuck­ing mouth at the moment, and that winds me up. He’s a genius front­man, he was born to do this and that’s some­thing I can’t be. But he also wish­es he was me, always has done. His fans come up to him after shows and I hear him giv­ing it all this gob­shite, and I think, Shut up you twat, I babysat for you.’ You see, our kid wants to be remem­bered like Sid Vicious, while I just want to be a great song­writer. He thinks I’m bor­ing and soft and he can’t under­stand that you change.”

You could be me and pret­ty soon you will be, but you’re gonna need a line / I could be you if I want­ed to, but I’ve nev­er got the time.” A telling moment, from a Noel song buried away on the B-side to Shak­er­mak­er, points to the heart of their rela­tion­ship. Although they have an elder broth­er, the mutu­al love of pop, Noel’s bulging record col­lec­tion and song­writ­ing tal­ent meant he was some­one Liam always looked up to. That song is me talkin to our kid. Liam’s naive and volatile but he is gonna be like me soon. He’s gonna have to get chilled out, take some drugs and suss things out first though, because at the moment he hasn’t a clue what it’s all about.”

On Liam’s side, Oasis is a way of declar­ing pub­licly that he’s some­thing more than just Noel Gallagher’s lit­tle broth­er. So he’s five years old­er than me. What the fuck does that mean? In body maybe he is, but in mind I know he’s talk­ing shite, so don’t gimme none of this broth­er­ly love bol­locks. I’m age­less and he’s a twat. He knows noth­ing about me and my life. He thinks he does. All I know is he writes songs and I sing them, he’s a sad twat who wants to jam with a lot of old men and I’m not. I know I can’t write songs like he can, but I’m Liam, son of Mar­garet, and I have my own things to say. I do write my own songs but I nev­er show them to him.”

The sim­ple truth is that the Gal­laghers are doing their grow­ing up in pub­lic. Noel is com­ing to terms with his younger broth­er as an equal, hav­ing always been the elder broth­er. Liam, it seems, is still com­ing to terms with being Liam, the kid who played vio­lin at school, got kicked out at 16, got a job, hat­ed it, went to see The Stone Ros­es and now finds him­self fronting the best new band Britain has pro­duced in years. 

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