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 Maybe’s 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.”
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.”
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.