Alan White - Rhythm - February 1996
It's the parents I feel sorry for. Having one child spending every waking hour playing drums in the house must be bad enough, but two? I wouldn't want to live next door either.
But ofcourse Mr and Mrs White must be very proud. You know one of their sons already - Steve, who works with the modfather himself, Paul Weller. But have you met Alan, who currently stands as the luckiest drummer in the world, having had a permanent placement with the biggest band in the country dropped effortlessly in his lap?
It could be suggested that Oasis' interest in Alan White stemmed from the fact that he was Steve's brother - Noel Gallagher and Weller being best Britpop buddies - but in fact that's just coincidence. And it's certainly not a theory that Alan would have much time for.
"I've always wanted to get a name for myself, not off Steve's back," he says. "I happen to be his brother, but we're two different blokes - I'm Alan White." No, it was all far more bizarre than that. Alan was working with Idha and Andy Bell(ex-Ride) at Matrix Studios when Noel Gallagher walked past the door and heard him playing within. As far as Gallagher was concerned he had found a replacement for Tony McCarroll who had just been sacked from the band. "I don't really know what happened," states Alan, "I still haven't got round to asking Noel. I went home a couple of days after working with Idha to see if I'd had any calls, and my Mum said, 'Well, some bloke called Noel Gally...Gally-something...'I said, 'What, Noel Gallagher?' 'Yeah, that's the bloke. He sounded Northern; he sounded like someone out of Coronation Street'. I said, 'You know who that is don't you, mum? Noel Gallagher from Oasis!' 'Who are they then?' 'Alright mum...' I thought somebody was winding me up, and I was literally waiting for Jeremy Beadle to walk in. I would have broken down in tears.
"So I phoned him back the next day - I thought I'd let him stew and it was him. I was like, 'Bloody hell, it's you!' He goes, 'I've heard you're a good little drummer. We're sacking ours; do you want to be in my band?' I said I did but that we ought to have a jam or something. He says, 'No, I've heard you and you're alright. As long as you're not eighteen stone and an ugly bastard, you get the job.' He asked me to meet him for a drink, so I met him in a cafe in Camden, and there he was, sitting outside with his bottle of Becks. 'You must be the boy', he said. And that was it, I got the job."
The next day Alan and Noel went to a rehearsal studio to run through the material for Oasis' forthcoming album (What's the Story) Morning Glory? which they were due to start work on the week after.
"Then it was Top Of The Pops the next day," laughs Alan. "It was all right in at the deep end. It was only 'Some Might Say', which wasn't hard, but you have to get it a little bit right for telly. I had an old Rogers kit at that point which Noel loved. We started playing and really hit it off, we had a nice little thing going. I've been so over the moon with it all, plus I've been so busy that I've never had the chance to sit down and think about it. It's just great to be doing it. I'm well pleased."
You don't have to be a genius to figure out where Alan's interest in drumming came from. Being Steve's younger bro meant that there were, as they say, "always drums around the house." Alan started messing around with the instrument at the age of ten and after a few lessons at school ended up spending three years under the tutelage of Bob Armstrong, who had also taught Steve. Perhaps it's because of that that Alan and Steve's playing isso technically similar; from a distance it's almost impossible to tell them apart visually - that mechanically accurate right arm, the huge left-handstroke...
"That's a compliment," says Alan graciously. "I'd say Steve is probably a very big influence on my playing. A lot of drummers with brothers who are also drummers would probably say, 'He had nothing to do with it', but he was a big inspiration for me. I think he is the governor when it comes to drumming, he's fantastic. The reason we look similar - apart from being the old man's fault - could be to do with Bob as well. We were both taught how to play the drums gracefully if you like. I think that's probably where it'srubbed off - that and the fact we're brothers."
Something else that I would imagine is unavoidable being Steve's sibbling is an appreciation of jazz. Alan hasn't done the jazzer bit to the same extent as his brother, but with the relative simplicity of the Oasis gig has come an urge to get back into the, let's say, more cerebral side of drumming as well.
Our dad built Steve a loft for his drums, and when Steve got his own house I sort of got promoted to the loft," Alan remembers. When I was up there I used to get all these jazz books out and tinkle away, but I've never really got into it heavily because I've never had anywhere to practice. Hopefully this year I'll be able to get a house and get my dad to build me a studio.I've got three months off, so I'm going to bet back into doing my latin and samba stuff, a bit more technical stuff than I've been doing with Oasis. I really enjoy the straightforward stuff, but it does get a bit frustrating when you want to get your double bass poedal out, which I really want to do."But Alan's main vibe is undoubtedly groove based, as his list of influential bands shows. "I was really into James Brown's stuff; I really loved the Clyde Stubblefield grooves and all those boys. Mainly a lot of soul. Once I started getting older I started listening to a lot of '60s stuff as well,like The Beatles, The Who, The Stones...stuff like that. So I was taking ideas from those sorts of drummers really. Ringo was a big influence. A lot of drummers nowadays think it's brilliant to play as fast as possible. I think that's all very well if you've got the space and you're in a band where you can do that, but there are four other blokes in my band, everyone's doing things at the same time, and I don't want to kill it. Space is just as important as doing a 100 miles an hour paradiddle in one bar. 'A Day In The Life' by The Beatles - Ringo's tom fills are so sparse, but that's what makes it.
"I'm one of those band drummers rather than a technical clinician," he continues. "I really rate them though; I used to go and see them with Steve, people like Dave weckl or Vinnie, the usual. But you'd come away from these things blinded by science; it was like being back at school with your math teacher. I used to say to my dad, 'It's all great stuff, but do you reckon it'll get me a gig?' And if I went to Noel Gallagher and went, 'Hey Noel,check this out...' blllllllrrrrrr, loads of paradiddles and fast stuff, he'd tell me to fuck off."
Why, he'd punch your face in."He'd get somebody who knew 'Day Tripper' or 'Ticket To Ride', and they'd be in there. That's what songwriters want these days."
And songwriters don't come much more prolific in their requirements than Noel Gallagher. In a recent interview, defending the fact that while Oasis' royalties are split five ways, he gets all the publishing, Noel has effectively stated that he's the only one who earns it, no matter how much of a contribution to the songs the rest of the band make, because he does all the writing. Isn't Alan bothered by this attitude?"
I can understand where he's coming from, but I do think the drums play a major part," he reveals. "We could be jamming away and I could do something with a little samba rhythm in it or something, and he could go away and whistle that in his head as a groove and come up with something. But at theminute I don't have a song in me, I don't think I ever will. I'll leave that to him - don't mess around with a well-oiled operation, he's doing a bloodygood job. But I think Bonehead (rhythm guitar) might be attempting - he's got his piano and I think he might come up with a few tunes. And Noel's always up for ideas anyway, he's not like this ogre or anything. He always tells me to do what I want in the studio."
Of all Alan's drum parts on Morning Glory, one of the highlights has to be his work on the blinding 'Wonderwall' (which most certainly plays a majorpart in the overall composition). Dynamically sensitive to the point of being almost upsetting, the delicacy of his sound and sublime subtlety of those snare graces makes this a truly consummate performance.
"I couldn't wait to do that track; I did it in one take, I didn't want to touch it," enthuses Alan. "'Roll With It' was the first track that I recorded with them as soon as I got there. Everyone was so keen to get in there and start hitting things. It's alright, it's got a little sparkle. I did a few others which are a bit more solid. But with that one, everyone was moving with one another and it sounds good as a band. Another thing is that a lot of drummers tend to listen to the drums from a drummers point of view, which you have to do because you're a drummer, but at the end of the day you've got to listen to the band - it's not your drums that are going to be right up front. You've got to have a bit of leeway and a bit of give and take, which is what I've always done. If it sounds good with the guitar and he's happy, then why change it? It makes the band. I think the whole album sounds like a band rather than everyone doing their own thing."
There is of course another side to Oasis other than the purely musical one.The band have brought good old fashioned rock'n'roll attitude back to a British music industry seriously in need of a character injection. From being thrown off a ferry to cindicated drug stories to Noel's sincerely regrettable AIDS/Blur remark, the press have loved every minute of their affair with Oasis. Alan doesn't seem like the sort to get involved in any of this stuff - he's just too chilled out - but what does he think of the Oasis image?
"I think there is definitely an image that's been brought up about Oasis," he concurs. "There is an image because of the way they are. If Liam's got something to say, he'll say it; like the thing about Justine from Elastica getting her tits out - he wanted to say it, so he said it."Er, yeah...
"What Noel said about AIDS was well out of order, I must say. But he realised it and did make a formal apology in the press. He was on the piss that day and he shouldn't have said it. I don't know if any of the band saw any come back about that apart from Noel."
Although Alan's managed to maintain a quiet presence in the band as far as the press are concerned, he is started to get recognised in the street.
"I was in Sainsbury's yeaterday and a little kid came up and asked me for my autograph," he says sounding surprised. "This is in Lewisham - they allexpect you , because you're in Oasis, to be living in Hampstead or something, but fuck it, I'm not, it's cheaper round here (South London). I signed about four or five autographs. It was a little bit of a buzz. I've been there, doing Saturday jobs and all that, and if my hero walked in I'd be well pleased. I'm opening a fete at my old school and talking to the kids about not listening to the teachers, doing what they want to do and pissing everyone off. They wanted me to do something for Christmas but I wasn't here. "
How does it feel being the only southerner in a very hardcore (in the viberather than musical sense) Manchester band?
"They like me because I'm down to earth, and if I don't like something I'llsay so. I think that's why I got the job. I play the drums and I'm honest.It's that sort of louty thing. In France we're billed as abunch of football hooligans, pissheads, whatever, but we still sell a lot of records, so wemust be doing something right. Kids are naughty, aren't they? You go into that school," Alan points through the window at his, Steve's, and indeed Ginger Baker's old school which is just behind the house, "and they're ten times worse than when I was there, they're little sods. Kids are gradually getting naughtier and naughtier, and they look up to bands like us. We'renot telling them what to do; we're not telling them to go and smoke drugs,or do coke, or drink beer. We're just telling them that is what some of us do; Noel does it, but he's not saying, 'This is what you should do'. He's telling them the truth."
Despite the high-octane rock'n'roll rollercoatser that is the Oasis lifestyle, Alan claims that he's still the same man he was when he joined."
Everyone in the band's their own man, and that's created an image in itself. If there was a ruck and Liam was getting a good hiding, I'm sure everyone would bowl in; but a bunch of builders or plumbersd would do that.It's because we're so down to earth. I've not changed at all since I've been in the band. You know, Noel still sees the same people. And his mum Peggy; you should see them - they're just the same as when they had nothing.
Eighteen months ago he didn't have a pot to piss in, none of them did, but the only thing that's changed is that they have a few quid in their pocket now. But they're still Guigsy and Bonehead from Manchester, and they can still go up there, see all the old boys and have a drink. If they had changed, them sort of people up there would have noticed it because they're pretty hardcore."
Okay Al, what about this Blur/Oasis thing.
Indeed, but doesn't it piss you off?
"At the end of the day there's been a few slaggings, but I don't get involved. If there's anything to be said then let Liam or Noel do it because they're always up for a bit if that anyway. It bores me and it's starting to bore everyone else as well. When you're in America and you read about it inthe paper...You're a thousand miles away and you get bloody Blur and Oasis...I'm sick of it. Good luck to them, let them get on with it and do what they want to do."
The thing that's always struck me as odd about the whole debate is - and call me an old cynic if you must - that the two bands aren't even vaguely similar in any way whatsoever.
"That's it, it's two different things. They're more teenybop, and we're a little bit more hardcore." That word again. "I think we're appealing to the masses more; we've got fans from fifteen up to 30. They're a younger generation band, the music's different, it's just that we're two young bands from England and we're doing very well."
Since this issue of Rhythm is the Britpop special, I thought it would be apt to get Alan to shed some light on this enigmatic concept. Unfortunately he wasn't much help.
"I don't really know what Bripop is," he shrugs. "Next year it might be Afropop, mightn't it? There might be a bunch of reggae bands that are doing really well. It's only something that sells more papers and a headline for NME. As long as they've got something to define all these bands then they're happy. But it isn't Britpop, popular music is what it is. I wouldn't put us in the same pigeonhole as Pulp or Blur because we must be doing something a little bit more than them to have sold so many more albums. It's gone backto number one this week; the single's gone up to number four. It shows we really are the governors at the end of the day. I'm not blowing my own trumpet, but I think we're the hardest working out of all these bands. You always hear about other bands being on holiday or taking a year out, but we've just got to plod on because we enjoy it. I'd gig every night if I could; I thoroughly enjoy getting up there and getting sweaty."
So there you have it - Britpop is nothing more than the media lumping together a number of essentially unrelated and very different bands and conning the public into believing they all live in the same metaphoricalstreet. The power of the press, eh...?