Tony McCarroll - The Guardian - 7th March 1999
Tony McCarroll has just won £600,000 from his former band Oasis. Here he tells his side of the story - and the truth about the infamous 'Paris punch-up' - for the first time.
Tony McCarroll, sometime drummer with Oasis, attempts to live with a contradiction. 'I don't have a bad thing to say about Noel Gallagher' he'll say, and then without missing a beat: 'He's an arsehole though.' McCarroll who last week secured a £600,000 out-of-court settlement from Oasis, has barely spoken to the press since he was sacked from the band in April 1995. Hence, he finds hitting the correct tone a little tricky.
Before McCarroll talks, there are three sheets of paper to read, handed over his lawyer Jens Hills. Words have to be chosen carefully, especially since, as McCarroll speculantes the 'other side' - the Oasis management and their record company, Creation - will put a vigorous spin on proceedings.
As it turns out, the Gallagher's team called in some handsome favours. Next to a photograph of McCarroll, Friday's Sun asked rhetorically, 'Is This The Most STUPID Man In Showbiz?' - in return perhaps for an 'exclusive' on the next episode of Gallagher bad behaviour. McCarroll had to agree to give up future royalities, but all things considered he had reason to be pleased with the settlement.
When rock and the law meet - a meeting that's becoming a regular occurrence - the lexicons collide. In the accepted version of the Oasis story, it was the 'punch - up in Paris that did it' (McCarroll, so the tale goes, was asked to leave the band after fighting with Liam Gallagher in Paris). In legal parlance, McCarroll's team was arguing that the drummer was 'unlawfully expelled from the partnership and that the partnership was for as long as the record deal lasted.'
Hill was hoping to set some sort of precedent. 'McCarroll was - and is - a fifth Oasis,' he told The Observer a couple of years ago. The idea was that GMC should not only receive paymet for recordings he had played on - including the first album Definitely Maybe - but for future recordings, too. A difficuly case to argue, as Hills acknowledges. And as costs mounted, the risk sharpened for McCarroll. Hence the settlement.
McCarroll , 27 is slight quietly spoken , a little hangover. He 'got completely leathered' after the settlement, and tasted again a bit of luxury. 'I've been staying at the Savoy. I thought "flash, flash, flash, not seen that for quite a while" I sat down, had a beer, took it in. One reason why rock fallouts are particularly intense has to do with such sudden change. Sure, he loved the circus, he says. He liked endless people doing his bidding, the women, drugs - 'people from the record company chopping up lines when you came off stage'. Then overnight, he was back in Manchester, 'right down, looking in my pockets, trying to find out what it was all about.' He has a daugher , who was then five. He had to explaing that he might not be on the television again.
If the legal arguement was tricky, McCarroll things there was never any doubt about the moral one. 'All for one and one for all', he trumpets. 'You from a band with your mates, stick together'.
An argument that's made stronger still by his status as an 'Oasis original' . The Gallaghers - first Liam, then Noel - joined the already established line-up. 'We were in it together. I worked my bollocks off to set up the group. I was a member of a super - group one day and unemployed the next. I was trying to work out how.'
The punch-up in Paris was a punch up that never was, he now reveals. It might be a landmark in the Oasis story , evidence, as he points out, of the outlaw boys at work. 'But it just ever happened - Liam and I would never hit each other. Noel is different matter - he'd spin round and run if he saw me. I intimidated him'.
The Paris non-event started with a call from Marcus Russell, the Oasis manager , says McCarroll: "Marcus told me he was going to put out a press release saying I was leaving. "Can we make it sound sort of cool?" I asked'
This amounted to McCarroll's last request, convinced as he was, that the manager would do nothing to challenge Noel Gallagher's will. 'So they thought up Paris. Sort of cool. Though it made Liam sound cooler I suppose. The real reason is that Noel simply wanted me out.'
He did not like anybody disagreeing with him, says McCarroll, and he had disagreed once too often. Gallagher preferred the attitude of bass player Paul McGuigan: 'Guigsy is in awe of him'. McCarroll's card had been marked by Noel Gallagher a couple of years earlier than the '£1,000 incident', as McCarroll now calls it, smiling a little at the paltry sum in question.
It was summer 1993, Oasis were beginning to gain attention, and Russell had persuaded Creation Records to give the band £1,000 to spend on some equipment. 'I'd just spent £600 of my own money buying a kit, so I just asked for £25, £30 for some drum skins.' A few days later, Gallagher arrived at a band rehearsal, money spent, carrying a new guitar, says McCarroll. Where are my skins? I asked, and he says: "Oh yeah, I got you a gold plated drum key"' The had it out; McCarroll wated the old democracy - decisions made together - to greturn.
A few days later, there was a cooling down of sorts, though Gallagher suggested (McCarroll claims) that the drummer should be put on a separte contract. It never materialized, though several weeks later, McCarroll unwittingly signed a contract containing a clause giving the Gallaghers the right to the band's name (Hills, clarifying at key points, adds that 'one of the few things factually set in stone [in the disputes] is that the band was called Oasis' before Noel arrived.)
Discussing the behaviour of Russell and Alan McGee, the boss of Oasis's record company, Creation, McCarroll is evidently torn. He got on fine with both, he says, but adds that the' manager might have taken care of me'. He is also fully aware that McGee had to be complicity in any bid to oust him from the band. From a business viewpoint, it was a sound decision. However unresonalbly we might think Noel Gallagher behaved, as the songwriter - a songwriter McCarroll rates - and ideas man, he had to be appeased. The record industry, notes Hills is 'like a machine which has to gobble some people up and spit them out' - a cliche enlivened when you see McCarroll's still visible anger. 'What I hated was how they humilated me. Telling the world I was crap and lazy.'
If the case had gone ahead, one line of Oasis' defense would have leant on McCarroll's allegedly sub-standard drumming. It is an allegation not endorsed by industry insiders. As one producer says: 'He was good, he did the job. Oasis were hardly playing complicated jazz.' 'I am a drummer, that's what I am' McCarroll stresses. 'I drum everywhere.' He hits the table illustration. 'I used to watch the Salvation Army marching when I was a kid and I walked at the back alongside the guy with the snare.' It's all he ever wanted to do - he was always the band's keenest musician, he claims, the one least turned on by stardom's perks. 'I'm not interested in all that being-seen-on-a-yacht-with-Kate-Moss-business'.
You're tempted to ask why not. And when McCarroll does his humble musician routine, you can understand why Noel Gallagher was prone to tease him. You can also understand how Gallagher - aware of his songwriting talent and eager to get on - would prosper against the artless McCarroll.
McCarroll hates how Gallagher has belittled him since he was sacked. Gallagher's favorite trick in interviews is to pretend to forget McCarroll's name. 'And for almost two years [after the £1,000 incident] when I was in the band, we barely talked. We'd be in a lift together and he would not look me in the eye. I intimidated him.'
Bass player McGuigan and guitarist Paul 'Bonehead' Arthurs have survived by never contradicting Noel. Their musicianship has never been an issue, even though McGuigan used to be known as 'one-note Guigsy', he says. Sooner a submissive player than one with an independent mind, is the McCarroll argument.
Liam, he feels, is less manipulative, more playful. 'He's the only one I've seen since. I saw him backstage at a gig in Manchester at the end of '95. "I feel for you," he said. 'McCarroll does not doubt, however, that the brothers Gallagher would always back each other. Following the settlement of the case, McCarroll's revenge may be to set about undermining 'the Oasis myth, all that hype'. A conscious decision was made, he says, before his departure, to concentrate on the Gallaghers and play up their antics.
From inside the circus, he would laugh at the gap between what actually went on and the exaggerated reports. The world wanted a 'mad for it' rock band; why not give it to them? 'But it was all bollocks. Like, Noel and Liam have never really fought; they never hit each other.' He compares their tussles to the choreographed wrestling of his childhood. The warring Gallaghers might have been a nice marketing line, 'but they just rolled around with each other'.
This is McCarroll at his most engaging, enjoying revealing the 'real, no so big, Noel'. His favourite anecdote stems from the band's first American tour. 'We were in a Seattle restaurant and we were after drugs. A waiter told us where we could get sorted with some weed'. Noel Gallagher, says McCarroll, wanted to score something stronger.
'He goes to meet a guy at a bus stop who says he has cocaine'. However, the dealer asks him to leave the $400 and pick up the drugs from a drop close to the bus stop. 'The cocaine,' laughs McCarroll, 'turns out to be flour.' McCarroll cherishes this story, claims it catches Noel Gallagher - the godfather of rock 'n' roll excess - falling for the 'oldest trick in the book'. As payback for his public humiliation, maybe this is the start.
'The dealer,' he suggests, smiling 'was obviously a baker.'
Additional reporting by Yvonne Ridley. A donation for this article was made to Manchester's Drake Music Project for diabled people