Noel & Liam Gallagher - The Guardian - 22nd April 1995
It's been one year since Oasis put out their first single. And it's been their year. Hyped as the future of British rock n roll, the lads have certainly got the hang of the lifestyle. But can they hack it in the US?
"ONE-TWO, one-two. One. Two." Cleveland, Ohio. The Mid-West. The heartland of mid-America, where so many English bands touted as The Next Big Thing have fallen on their pretty, overrated faces.
Oasis vocalist, Liam Gallagher, is standing in the center of a dusty wooden stage, like so many Great British Hopefuls before him, singing his heart out to an empty dance hall. "I live my life for the stars that shine/People say it's just a waste of time . . . Tonight, I'm a rock 'n' roll star."
In the gloom of the small hall the sort of venue Oasis haven't played back home for ages the song, Rock 'n' Roll Star, couldn't be more apposite. When the band first emerged in Manchester the song stood out as a hedonistic, escapist anthem for a disaffected, dreaming youth living in towns like Burnage, where Liam and his brother Noel (the band's guitarist and songwriter) grew up.
Then, as Oasis took the British music scene by storm and even their most outlandish rock 'n' roll fantasies became reality, the song began to take on a different significance one of celebratory self- fulfilling prophecy. Here in Cleveland, though, with the band's American campaign still in its early stages, the song once again seems to be about bedroom-bound boredom, defiant dreaming.
The song ends to the sound of slow, sarcastic clapping and isolated jeering.
Luckily though, we are not at the gig, but the soundcheck the sarcasm comes from the band's soundman. Cleveland, like most of the venues on the tour, sold out long ago. Radio stations across the country are playing Oasis on "heavy rotation" and their debut album, Definitely
Maybe, has moved steadily up the US chart into the Top 50. The David Letterman Show awaits. America beckons and rather than New York or LA, it's places like Cleveland that will determine just how big Oasis can become. The soundcheck drags on.
Outside in the sunshine, a group of six or seven teenage fans wearing REM T-shirts and Nirvana badges wait for autographs. One of them, a gawky 15-year-old with braces on her teeth, is waiting to give Tony McCarroll, the band's drummer, a box of biscuits.
"Hi!?" she beams at Noel Gallagher as he walks out to the band's silver tour bus.
"Not yet," he quips, with a smirk. "But I soon will be."
To the band's evident dismay, Cleveland, has, thus far, proved to be a drug-free zone in the debauched and drug-happy world that is Life on The Road Oasis-style.
As Noel and I have yet to be introduced, when he reappears, I decided to break the ice by asking him if he knows where Tony is. "I couldn't give a fuck," he says simply, and keeps
walking. Then he sees the box.
"Hey, is that for me?" he demands, expectantly. "Is that my cocaine?"
"No," the girl smiles coyly. "They're homemade chocolate-chip cookies."
Noel looks at her for a moment, suspicious that this is some sort of wind-up.
"Have they got cocaine in them?" he asks, hopeful to the end. He will have to keep looking.
Later, back in the dressing-room, the band's present predicament sets Oasis off on a bout of dewy-eyed memories of The Good Old Days, The Wild Times, The Halcyon Days, before success gave them everything they had ever dreamed of, and took all the fun out of things.
With a nostalgia and fondness reminiscent of the Stones remembering the Sixties, guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, excitedly recalls the early days when, with five band members, two roadies and all the equipment wedged into one Transit van driven by himself, they moved from gig to gig "like a bunch of fookin' Vikings, invading England for the first time".
The memories come flooding back: the fleapits they played and the TV sets they tipped out of hotel windows; the times they drove out of petrol stations without paying or did a runner from the local B&B . . . all because they'd spent the money for the whole tour weeks ago on drugs and drink.
"Ahh," one of them sighs, contentedly, "happy days."
"Yeah," someone agrees, "great memories."
Only A killjoy would point out it was only a few months ago. In fact, it's just over a year to the day since Oasis put out their first single. It's been a year. Their year. Ask Oasis to put into words what the last year has been like and they'll shake their heads and, without hesitation, say "mad". "It's just been absolutely mad."
Given that Noel Gallagher writes all the music and lyrics and makes most of the major decisions concerning the band on his own, or with manager Marcus Russell, it's paradoxical that Oasis started life without him.
In August 1991, Noel was on tour in America, working as a guitar roadie with Manchester mediocrities the Inspiral Carpets, when his mother told him his brother Liam was singing vocals with a group he's formed with three mates: Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs (rhythm guitar), Tony McCarroll (drums and bass) and bass player Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan.
Noel, who had taught himself guitar when he was 13 and been writing songs ever since, saw them play and, recognizing his brother's obvious star potential, offered to take over and do all the songs but only if he had total control and "they did it right". "If you're not in it to be bigger than the Beatles," he would say, "it's just a hobby."
From this point on, the story of Oasis's success would become the stuff of legend; ridiculous schoolboy stuff. After months of rehearsals in Manchester, they heard that Alan McGee, whose label, Creation, gave the world Primal Scream and the Jesus And Mary Chain, was going to be at a gig in Edinburgh. They drove up and demanded a support slot. When they were refused, they threatened to burn the place down. By the end of that night, they had a deal with Creation and McGee was driving back to London phoning people at the label every 15 minutes telling them he'd done it: he had signed the future of rock 'n' roll.
On April 11, 1994, Oasis released their debut single, Supersonic ("I'm feelin' supersonic/Gimme gin and tonic"), followed by a trio of classic singles Shakermaker, Live Forever and Cigarettes & Alcohol.
From the beginning, Oasis's arrogant confidence set them apart. With a loud wall of raucous guitars, a string of smooth Beatles-like melodies, and a singer who sung in a thick Northern drawl that managed to recall both John Lennon and the Sex Pistols' John Lydon, Oasis had the temerity to sound as if they actually knew they were the first great English group of the Nineties.
Draw a line through the pivotal influences in English rock music from the Beatles the Small Faces, the Who, the Kinks, T Rex, through to the Sex Pistols, the Jam, the Smiths, Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses and they would all lead to Oasis.
The music press, predictably, went bananas, not only over the music but the band's headline-hungry extra-curricular activities which included stealing a load of golf-carts from Gleneagles, Noel's predilection for sprinkling cocaine on his cornflakes and press interviews during which the two Gallagher brothers would invariably lay into one another, both verbally and physically.
"Guigsy used to be completely and utterly stoned 24 hours a day," Noel recalls. "I don't think he spoke to me for four months. Tony was just totally befuddled by it all and me and Our Kid were like fookin' Punch and Judy."
Helped by a live reputation that put the likes of Blur and Suede in the shade, Definitely Maybe sold 100,000 copies in four days, and by the end of the year had sold more than 700,000. A Christmas number two, the Beatles-ey Whatever, completed a triumphant nine months. "I'm quite proud of the fact that everything I ever said about the band was justified and came true," reflects Noel later, in rather more approachable humour. "Other than that, it's just been mind-blowing, and a total and utter fookin' laugh."
This Monday sees the release of yet another all-new four-track EP, Some Might Say, a gloriously catchy, full-blooded racket as mindless and brilliant as the Pistols or the Stooges in their hey-day, with a flipside, Acquiesce, that reminds you the best punk rock was built on great pop songs.
Oasis obviously have no intention of relenting and Gallagher's talent is beginning to look almost insolently easy. Acquiesce, he says, was knocked off in the Severn tunnel when his train got stuck for a couple of hours.
Even more appropriately, Some Might Say was also written "out of boredom" when the rest of the band failed to show up in the studio because they were in the process of being thrown out of the notorious rock 'n' roll London hotel the Columbia, for throwing a table through the windscreen of the manager's Mercedes. The number one spot is taken as read.
Touring the US though, is another story as endless British bands regarded by the Americans as over- hyped could tell you (not least Suede and Blur, who both died a death there). Even English pop phenomena like the Smiths, the Jam or, more relevantly, the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays have all struggled there.
Trying to crack America is something of a tightrope; it could be the making or breaking of them.
It can take months and months of constant touring and promotion. And the boredom and pressures (pleasures) of being on the road have driven many a band to self-destruct. Bands can return home to find the fan base that made them has, in their absence, moved on. Setting out to capitalise on the first wave of success, a band like Oasis can find that lack of time to recharge the creative batteries might ensure there is never any second wave.
In recent years, only the visually-lavish, stadium- friendly homegrown acts such as Depeche Mode or U2 have sustained their success there. If nothing else though, their gig in Cleveland demonstrates why Oasis could be destined to join them.
Whereas most American guitar bands or indie bands play up their nihilistic image or the social messages of their songs, Oasis are a good-time band. (Noel has summed up their songs as being "about shagging, taking drugs and being in a band".) At the same time, their lyrics strike a perfect balance between rebellious teenage disdain and romantic adolescent escapism: "I dream of you and all the things you say", "Let me be the one that shines with you", "I think you're the same as me/We see things they'll never see/You and I are gonna live forever."
Better yet for the States, on top of a formidably meaty rhythm section, Noel's guitar solos offer a veritable nirvana for the massed ranks of America's air guitar solo exponents, with Live Forever, in particular, a song that is destined to be the Freebird of its generation.
The Cleveland front row consists of an impressive array of teenage devotees: baby Baywatch blondes screaming at Liam, pogo-ing punk wannabes and all-American college kids. Oasis's only handicap States-wise is the total lack of stage show. Oasis live equals optimum cool maximum noise, minimum effort and not pandering to anyone. As always, they blaze through the set standing virtually motionless, only occasionally breaking out into toe-tapping.
Stage banter consists of a cursory "ta very much" and they make no bones about showing their irritation with the American ritual of stagediving, as a more or less constant bombardment of kids clamber or cartwheel over the audience's heads to the front of the stage. "Any of you touch me," Liam warns them, "an' you'll get a smack, knowworrimean?"
To the audience's bewilderment, despite the applause, Oasis do not do encores. The show ends with the soaring groove that Oasis have honed out of I Am The Walrus, a finale impeded only by a barrage of icecubes, peanuts and bananas being thrown at the drummer, Tony. These come, not from the crowd, who go home happy anyway, but from the side of the stage, where Liam is unloading the contents of the buffet from the dressing room.
After the gig, amid the usual throng of would-be groupies, grunge fans and fanzine geeks, are a number of people whose job descriptions appear to be "Something in the music business".
Radio playlist promoters, local record store managers and regional marketing men connected to the band's record label, they are here for that essential part of Playing The Game known as Meet- And-Greets. The suits are here to tell the band how much they "love you guys", and hang out with them trying to be cool ignoring the fact they've all got Santana moustaches and asking the boys in Oasis if they get much time on tour to play golf or if they've ever seen a better stage show than the last Floyd tour.
Most of the band behave amiably enough (as long as the drinks keep coming) but Noel is not having any of it. He resolved to stop doing Meet-And- Greets after the record company put on a dinner for the band and the MD made a speech thanking Liam and Noel for coming by calling then "Leland and Norton".
"I don't give a fook about meeting some guy from Tower Records, The Territory of Bogarse, Ohio, who says he'll display our record better is we meet his wife and talk to him," he complains. "They'll all say, 'I really want you guys to know what a great job I'm doing for your band'. I just say, 'You're PAID to do a great job, you fooking idiot.' Bands come over here and, because the band before them did Meet- And-Greets, it's expected they'll do them too. Well, someone will say to the next lot of bands, 'Oasis never did them, so you don't have to.'"
By now, the alcohol is flowing freely and members of Oasis are walking up to the Meet-And-Greet brigade almost at random, and asking them, "So, have yer got any drugs, or what?" Noel is now really getting into his stride.
"Here's a fookin' story, right? And you can quote me on this cos I love fookin' stickin' it to the American record company . . ." he says, embarking on a fantastically libellous story about one of the big-wigs from Epic Records.
He has, at least, procured some Ecstasy. "Yeah, I got it from this girl who says she gets it prescribed cos she gets depressed. So I said, 'That's a shame . . . Can I have six? I'm a bit depressed myself.' " As the evening ends, one of the suits makes the mistake of schmoozing Noel and saying that after tomorrow's show, maybe he could come backstage so Noel could meet his wife. Noel looks at him for a moment then says, "What the fook do I wanna meet yer wife for?" and walks off to get another drink.
The following day, Oasis are down in the lobby by 11am, in good time to sort out breakfast (a McDonald's and some Benson & Hedges washed down with a Jack Daniels) before piling on to the tour bus to drive to Detroit. The main point of this exercise seems to be to get the food for the day out of the way nice and early.
On the Oasis tour bus, pride of place is taken by a special cactus, given to the band by U2's Adam Clayton, which appears to have produced a beautifully exotic orange flower, but on closer inspection turns out to be a Cheesy Wotsit.
We check into our hotel. The five members of Oasis race each other down the four-star stairs, pile into the hotel's revolving door (all in the same compartment), and head off to the venue, spread out across the road like a slightly scruffier bunch of Reservoir Dogs, ready to ruck and have a laugh, banging on shop windows, pushing people's doorbells, dodging the homeboys driving by, and threatening to pull each other's sideburns off. After years of dossing around in Manchester on the dole or doing a string of deadend jobs, they are going to enjoy themselves. Being on the road, as Noel puts it, "is a total laugh; it's insanity".
By Noel's estimation, for three or four months in the middle of last year, Oasis were "totally and utterly out of control".
They were thrown out of Sweden for causing ?30,000 of damage to their hotel, thrown off a ferry to Amsterdam for starting a drunken punch-up, and banned from four chains of hotels in the UK.
"Me and Bonehead would just walk into a hotel room and empty it out the window," Noel laughs, almost in disbelief. "I would be doing interviews in my room or in the bar and halfway through, one of the band would come in for a fag or something. I didn't suss out that they were seeing where I was sitting. So I'd be playing it all down, saying, 'It's all been blown out of all proportion. It's all about the music' and the journalist would be thinking, 'I'm sure I've just seen a TV set go flying past that window'."
As for the band's drug intake, Noel says he's had to tell them to cool it all down now because they don't know when to stop. "Or rather, they do when they run out."
Both Liam and Noel have stopped smoking dope, which Noel says he smoked "since I was 14 non-fookin' stop. I hope they never legalize it neither it just mongs people out".
Cocaine, though, is, as far as Oasis are concerned, totally recreational. As he says in Cigarettes & Alcohol: "You could wait for a lifetime/To spend your days in the sunshine/Might as well do the white line."
The last time he was in Detroit, Noel remembers (rather vaguely), he ended up passing out with chest pains and spent the night in hospital. "The doctor said, 'It's a good job you're 27, cos if you were 47, you'd be dead'."
This time, he reasons, before he came out to the States, he saw the band's Harley Street doctor.
"Fookin' Jason Donovan was in the waiting room!" he laughs, decidedly embarrassed. "Now, he needs to see a doctor. Smoking draw was my only problem cos I've got low blood pressure so I used to faint every time I 'ad a spliff. The doctor said, 'Basically, you're alright with anything that gets you going, cos you need that!'."
He laughs. "I love my doctor, man."
Ask Liam Gallagher how he thinks he's changed in the last year and he looks away into the distance, doe- eyed and rather glum-looking and says, "I'm just gettin' more an' more an' more into me own little world, which is right. Feel at one in me own little world and that's what I always wanted."
Ask Noel how his kid brother has changed in the last year and he struggles to explain before saying, "He's just got more stupid. When he was at school, he was quite normal. Now he's definitely mad. He's mental. He's not mad like some people in bands are mad. That fucker's mad. Mad. He's madder than mad . . . He's just mad."
Later when we're talking about the pressures of stardom, I ask Noel what he thinks it's doing to Liam. Without hesitation, he says, "It's just making him madder."
Having spent most of the last 18 months touring, life on the road is what now passes for normal life to Liam Gallagher. "I had a month off in January," he remembers in disbelief, "and it done me head in."
Who knows what's going on in Liam's head? He's a 22-year-old dreamer, still trying to work himself out. He contradicts himself all the time depending on his mood, which is volatile, impulsive, extreme. He is either boisterously loud or worryingly sullen; either loves his brother to death or hates his guts; looks like a young George Best, supports Man City.
As Noel writes all the songs and makes all the decisions, he admits it's "all a bit Frankenstein's Monster, isn't it? But to be honest, I couldn't give a fook what happens to him. I only keep the band goin' cos if I didn't, me mam would kill me."
Even the way Liam walks a massive, rolling swagger, palms dropped at his sides, opened out, feet splayed almost sideways, looks as if he is ready for a ruck at any moment. Totally. If nothing is happening, it probably will soon with Liam around.
The previous night, in Cleveland, the band, the road crew and assorted hangers-on made it back to the hotel just in time for last orders.
"In that case," Liam shouted to the bar- man, "I'll 'ave three double Jack Daniels and cokes and three beers mate."
An hour or so later, Liam announced he was leaving the band. He was going to get some lessons, see if he can "get as good as Our Kid", and do his own thing. All because Noel had had the temerity to go to bed early.
Next day in Detroit, and Liam is not even interested on writing anything himself. "It wouldn't be as good as Our Kid's so why bother? I'm just into being a singer. Totally. I don't want to be a fookin' lyricist or a fookin' frontman, working the crowd and all that bollocks. Elvis never wrote a song in his life, did he?"
"I don't reckon Elvis was The King though," he says sweetly, sulking slightly. "I reckon John Lennon was. Imagine is one of the best songs ever. Totally. One of the scariest songs ever. It's just . . . Imagine, innit? Imagine, like, nish, or whatever."
In New York, another of Liam's heroes, John McEnroe, came backstage to meet him. "Mad bastard!" Liam beams, "a fookin' proper mad- 'ead. Had a spliff and that. He's got a band, right? So he was singing us these songs: 'You cannot be-ser-i- ous/Double faults hurt-my-head.' Mad. Totally fookin' mad."
Just before the soundcheck, I see him sitting on the steps of the venue, in his huge baggy trousers and striped Burberry shirt, singing to himself. He is singing: "Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily/Life is but a dream."
Just before the gig in Detroit, Bone- head and Guigsy (who more and more resembles a kind of bedraggled Dudley Moore) attend a press conference for local college radio stations, answering a series of questions like, "How do you feel about the quote that Oasis is just Suede spelt backwards?"
Luckily, Bonehead is in good humour, and he just stares at them manically and says, "Yeah but it's not is it? That's Edeus."
Asked whether they get bored on tour, Bonehead's answer is so passionate, it borders on outright aggression, as he shouts, "You just can't, though, can ya? Don't ya see? You just CAN'T!"
Someone asks if many of their dreams have come true, and the lads talk excitedly about getting to number one and so on before, to the journalists' total bemusement, they describe the time they went out on to the pitch at Man City for a presentation and then embark on a detailed discussion of what's wrong with City's back four.
The gig in Detroit is excellent and euphoric, the momentum interrupted only once when, halfway through, Noel puts down his guitar and walks off. "S'alright," Liam tells the crowd, "Our Kid's just gone for a piss." The band sit down on stage and wait.
As this might suggest, Noel is less than obsessed about cracking America at present. "If someone said, you can go home now, I'd go," he says sitting behind the desk in his hotel room. "I don't think it's possible for a British band to be big in America anymore. We will be to a certain extent, yeah, but if we get to a certain level, the record company are gonna want us to fookin' camp out 'ere, an' if it comes down to England and America, I'd rather just stay big in England."
Even Noel is beginning to wonder if Oasis can last five albums. "I wouldn't say I envy bands who haven't had the success we have but . . . I liked it better when we had to go and prove ourselves. I've only got to fookin' fart and it gets in the Top 10 now. I might start a label, start a band that I write the songs for but I'm not in. Write some songs that Oasis couldn't do you know, for people like Rod Stewart.
Also," he grins, "I think the time is right for the first post-Seventies super- group; me, Reni from the Stone Roses, Paul Weller on vocals, Johnny Marr [former Smiths guitarist] on lead guitar. . ."
In the last year, Oasis have conquered all the logical steps before them and have arrived at the stage where it's all up to them. Or him, and manager Marcus Russell. "We don't even have a contract," he smiles. "Just a handshake."
I ask him what would happen if Russell ripped them off? "Well I'd sue him, wouldn't I?" he says, simply.
Yeah, but you haven't got a contract, I point out. He thinks about it for a second, then hits upon the answer. "Then I'd burn his house down," he beams. "And he knows I would."
Some things, it seems, never change.
For now, at least, though, the shows (and the tours, and the partying) must go on. Upstairs after the Detroit show, in what passes for the hospitality room, rumours are rife of a special delivery by a dodgy-looking Mexican known as "Mario From The Barrio". Mario's arrival has in fact become as eagerly awaited as Santa Claus and The Man From Del Monte put together.
The band, therefore, are in excitable mood, especially when a group of inebriated college kids seemingly in the belief that it's a word the English find hilariously anachronistic make the potentially fatal mistake of chanting the word "wanker" at Bonehead.
The atmosphere is warming up nicely, and, over in one corner of the room another bunch of louts are pushing each other around, obviously looking for a fight. One of them picks up a chair, feigns throwing it, feigns throwing it again and then launches it across the room at someone's head.
"My God," cries one of the suits from the record company, in dismay, "who are THOSE guys?"
They are, of course, Oasis.
The party over, the last few fans loaded with the band's hospitality, finally drift away, many of them clutching signed albums as prizes.
On the cover of Definitely Maybe, you can see Liam lying on the floor of Bonehead's flat, staring dreamily up at a big blue globe. On the inside cover, his brother, Noel, stands centrestage, insolently holding the globe in his outstretched palm the world in his hands. Perfect.
Outside the venue, a couple of girls are sitting in a grey Cherokee Jeep with a bootleg of the night's gig blaring out of the stereo.
From the badly-recorded cacophony of guitars and electric noise, Liam's voice, emerging with increasing clarity and conviction, drifts out into the night and, as the Jeep speeds away, is left hanging there.
The drawl is unmistakable, as is the sentiment. "It's just rock 'n' roll," he sings at the end of Rock 'n' Roll Star. "It's just rock 'n' rollll/It's just rock 'n' rolllll It's just rock 'n' rolllllllllll . . ."