Alan White - Rhythm - 15th July 2000
In typically un-rock star-like fashion, Alan White has arrived at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium on time, and is contentedly playing a few Latin patterns to an empty arena when the Rhythm crew join him on stage to say hello. Outside the stadium the party is already well underway among hordes of animated Oasis fans, enjoying the long-overdue sunshine as they wait expectantly for the doors to open for tonight’s show. Coming to the end of a tour that has taken them to Japan, Europe and America, Oasis are back playing live in the UK for the first time since 1997. The well-documented departures from the band last year of founding members Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs and Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan, followed by the dramatic exit of Noel from the touring party in May, has resulted in an ongoing media frenzy in both the music press and the tabloids ? eager to speculate about the future of the band and the eternal tensions between the Gallagher brothers. With Noel now back with the band for the UK dates, everyone is just watching and waiting to see what will happen next in the continuing saga of one of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll bands
Alan himself despite the intense press scrutiny is relaxed and upbeat as he tells us how much he is looking forward to gracing the Rhythm front cover for a second time. It was back in early 1996 that we first heard the remarkable story of how he’d originally landed the gig with Oasis. At the time, many people had wrongly assumed that he’d secured the post because of his big brother Steve’s association with Paul Weller ? a long-standing hero of Noel Gallagher’s. As it turned out, that connection was purely coincidental ? Noel had actually heard Alan practising in a rehearsal studio and proceeded to make enquires as to the identity of the mystery drummer he’d been so impressed by. Alan returned home one day to be given a message by his mum. "Noel Gally-something phoned for you." And that, as they say, was that
Rhythm: After what has been a very turbulent year for Oasis, how does it feel to finally be back playing live in the UK?
Alan White: It’s fantastic, and for me personally there’s a different kind of energy when you play on home ground ? you give that little bit more, I think. After having been out on the road since February, these gigs are a real homecoming for us, and after everything that has happened, it’s great to just get up there and do it for the fans.
As a band, you have given both the music and the tabloid press plenty to write about in recent months, haven’t you?
Oh yes (grinning), shitloads has happened
Let’s go back, then, and start by talking about the departure of Bonehead and Guigsy from the band.
Things started to go pear-shaped after we’d finished recording Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants and Noel, Liam and I had to find two new guys to replace them. We weren’t actually that worried, because we knew there would be thousands of guitarists and bassists who would want a job in Oasis. What was important, though, was to get people in that we knew, and who fitted into the band on a personality level.
So how did guitarist Gem Archer (formerly of Heavy Stereo), and bassist Andy Bell (ex-Ride and Hurricane #1), actually come into the equation?
Noel knew Gem, and we all knew Andy, because I’d worked with his wife Idha in the past. And when the five of us started jamming it all came together very quickly - in the first week, really. We’re all into the same music and were instantly very comfortable with each other.
With a hectic touring schedule already planned for the first half of 2000, Andy and Gem certainly had a baptism of fire, which is not unlike the position you found yourself in five years ago when you replaced the sacked Tony McCarroll.
They’ve had to step into Oasis in its prime, just like I did, and hats off to them because they’ve done a great job. And it feels good not to be the ‘new’ boy any more.
How is the rhythm section working out with you and Andy?
For me it’s great. No disrespect to Guigsy, because he’s a great bass player, but we’ve just got a bit more bounce to it now, which has given me more freedom. Andy fits in really nicely with me - we’re both into funky playing - and Gem is really solid on the rhythm too, so I’m very pleased.
From all the positive things you’ve been saying about the band’s new recruits, it certainly sounds like the tour was going well until May, when Noel dropped the bombshell that he was quitting overseas touring with Oasis.
It was odd because everything was fine, the gigs were going fantastic and we couldn’t get any better, or be any happier really. Then one night there was a bust-up and Noel was on the plane home. Liam and I had to decide what to do, and we decided to get another guitarist in. I knew Matt Deighton (who has previously performed with Paul Weller and Mother Earth), and he flew out the next day. We had a rehearsal in Milan and basically that was it, we carried on gigging.
Just like that? You make Noel’s departure sound like a minor inconvenience.
Yes, because that’s what you do when you are on tour. What all of this is about is the fans and playing the music. Thousands of people had bought tickets to see Oasis, and there was absolutely no way we were going to knock it on the head just because Noel wasn’t there.
After the departure of Bonehead and Guigsy, though, it must have been very strange to then lose Noel from the line-up as well?
It was. Suddenly Liam and I were the only two ‘original’ members. But things move on and, even without Noel, Oasis still felt like a great rock band which is what matters. The unfortunate thing is that Noel writes all the f***ing songs, so we needed him back!
As he promised, Noel is back on board for the UK dates, so how is the atmosphere in the band now?
Everything is great at the moment. The changes in the band have actually made things more equal I think ? it’s more like the five of us together now, rather than the ‘I’m the songwriter’ vibe.
After the phenomenal success of 1995’s classic What’s The Story (Morning Glory) and the incredible gigs at Loch Lomond and Knebworth during the summer of 1996, Oasis seem to have suffered from an ongoing media backlash, with sceptics gleefully forecasting the imminent demise of the band at every given opportunity.
We were talking about those dates only the other day. For us they were fantastic, we made history. And now the press have the cheek to turn round and say we’ve lost it, that we’re not as big as we used to be. But we wouldn’t ever want to recreate those big gigs ? why would we? We’ve already done it. Last night we played to 35,000 people here in Bolton, in Dublin we played to 44,000, and next week we’re playing Wembley Stadium for two nights, So we can’t be that bad, can we?
Such ongoing negative press must be very frustrating, though
It gets on my tits because every side is negative. They say that the album is shit, but there were five people in this band that made that record and think it’s great. If people don’t like it, then f*** them, it’s our album and we love it. Most of them aren’t even interested in the music, though. They only want to talk about what Liam has had for breakfast and his personal life, which is wrong. When they do slag us off, though, it only brings us closer together, and makes us stronger, so we are able to turn the negative into a positive.
Who do you tend to hang out with most in the band?
I’m with Liam a lot, we just really get on together and have fun. It’s not just about being two geezers in a band, it’s also about being friends. It’s almost like a marriage, really.
Do you see the new line-up as a new musical start for the band?
Yes, but at the moment we’re still playing existing tunes. After the next album, of course, there will be songs that all five of us have come up with together, and that’s going to be very exciting.
One thing I was surprised about when I first heard Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants was the loops.
Noel has gone a bit loop mad on this one. Fair play to him for trying something different, you know, but I don’t think it’s something we’ll do again. Even though I haven’t been able to put as much into the album as I could have done, there’s still plenty of my playing on there. The next album will be different, not only have we got Gem and Andy on board, but we’ve also got our own studio now. I think it’ll be more in the style of Morning Glory, where we were raring to go and just went in andplayed it, rather than spending time arseing about with things.
Looking back now, what would you say is your favourite track on What’s The Story (Morning Glory)?
The whole album sounds really exciting, but I’ve got two favourites: ‘Wonderwall’ because I like the playing on it, and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, just because it’s a great tune and I’m glad to be on it. For me, it’s got a ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ type of vibe to it, and playing drums on a song like that is something that I can really be proud of. I wish I could have played on ‘Some Might Say’, it’s one of my favourite tracks, but Tony did that. Even though I egged Noel to let me re-record it, he wasn’t having it.
What kind of drum sound were you after on Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants?
I wanted good, live sounding drums, and I think I have managed to achieve that. For instance, I love the sound of ‘Sunday Morning Call’, it’s got a real live feel which is just what I wanted. ‘I Can See A Liar’ has a fresh, punky, Pistols-y vibe and for ‘Little James’ we put tea towels over the drums because Liam specifically wanted that Beatles sound. The album was recorded on lots of different kits, Gretsch, Ludwig and Rogers, they sound really nice and it’s great to have that character and history. I’ve been collecting old kits for a while now and I love them. I wanted to hear the drums on this album, rather than a wall of guitars, and I think I’m getting there. On each record, I manage to get the drums that bit louder, but I suppose I’m only really going to get them as loud as I want to when I do my own album.
And is that something you’d like to do?
Definitely. I’m really looking forward to experimenting with my drums when the tour is finished. I don’t know what it’ll be like, I’ll just mess about and try different things. Even though I think we’ve used too many loops on the album, I’m keen to experiment with them on my own terms. I’d also like to try some odd times and some jazz. I was chatting to Zak Starkey yesterday, he’s supporting us with The Healers (the band fronted by ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr), and weagreed that when you’re in a band you tend to fall into this routine pattern when you play every night. You can’t improvise because it’s not that kind of band, so you miss out on jamming and playing different stuff. When you arrived today I was up there doing some of my old Latin rhythms. It was great, because I don’t usually get the chance.
I see that you’ve got your own room to chill out in before the show. So what’s been pumping on your stereo recently?
Tony Williams, who I haven’t listened to for ages now, John Scofield, and Sun Ra (bonkers US space-jazz maverick), who Matt Deighton introduced me to. It’s always good to be exposed to new influences, I think.
So who would you cite as your biggest drum influence?
Without doubt, my brother Steve. He’s the one who got me into drums and, as far as I’m concerned, he’s the best in the world, there’s such personality in his playing. Keith Moon is another, I was fascinated by his whole character and the sporadic way he played. It was like a chaotic explosion, but he pulled it off. Then there was Ringo, Clyde Stubblefield, Tony Williams and Jack de Johnette to name but a few. I like checking out different drummers ? Oscar Harrison is a top lad and a top player. Another top geezer is Neil Primrose out of Travis, he has a really nice feel and it’s good to see him back with the band. Zak Starkey is a great drummer, as is Taylor Hawkins. He’s the spitting image of Copeland when he plays, and is well on the case.
How easy did you find the drums when you first sat down to play?
It came quite naturally for me, really, and Steve saw this and encouraged me to pursue it. He would show me stuff at home and then I started having drum lessons at school. The geezer who taught me there was crap, though, and it ended up with me showing him things. He’d ask me what I was doing and I’d go, ‘It’s the Moeller system ? my brother taught me this’.
So, you continued your drum education with Steve’s former teacher, Bob Armstrong, didn’t you?
I went to him when I was 15 to learn how to do it properly. Every day after school I used to come home and go straight up to the loft to practise. I’d just play along to anything I could get my hands on, The Police, James Brown, Prince, Martha And The Vandellas. A really diverse range of stuff.
Tell us a bit about your first drum kit.
I got it off Steve when I was 17 and he made me pay £500 for it, tight-arsed git! It was a white Marine Pearl kit and I had to save up for ages.
As a fellow drummer and a brother, what was the best piece of advice that Steve ever gave you?
To be myself, not to take any bullshit, to have my own opinions, to get my head down and work hard, to have a pint but not do drugs, and to keep focused on the job. And I’ve been able to do that really well. You can easily go sideways in this business, but I’m not going to be a casualty. It’s not worth it, it’s only rock ’n’ roll. Regardless of the fact that he’s a drummer as well, Steve is one of my best friends, and that’s the most important thing for me, brotherly love. I’ve got that with him and my other brother, Paul.
After setting your sights on a full-time career in music while you were still at school, how did you actually go about turning the dream into a reality?
I started out on the London circuit with a female singer called Tamara, I made my playing debut with her at the King’s Head in Fulham. It was great, and I just knew it was what I wanted to do. I was nervous before we played and I still get nervous now, but I see it as a good thing. The day I lose those nerves is the day that I lose the heart and soul needed to do the job. Steve then put me in touch with Galliano. It really was a great experience for me at the age of 17 to work with a proper band like that. I loved everything about the acid jazz scene and really looked up to those guys.
You then joined Star Club, a tuneful, hard-grooving powerpop outfit.
We toured America, and again it was a great learning curve for me. Steve (French), Owen (Veiss), and Julian (Taylor) were great musicians to work with, and I hope they’re all doing well now. I left Star Club when I had the opportunity to record with Dr. Robert, an ‘80s hero of mine, who was launching a solo career after The Blow Monkeys. I did two albums with him and we toured Japan. That was the gig that really opened my eyes to the bigger picture and having it large! After Robert I worked with Idha, who is married to Andy Bell. I did have some lean times over the years. I worked in a drum shop for a while and was actually on the dole for a year. Every day then was spent playing and practising because I knew that one day it would happen. I could only afford to see Bob Armstrong every other month instead of every two weeks because I was so skint. But then I got that call from Noel and that was it.
What did you think of Oasis before the opportunity to join them literally landed in your lap?
This is a true story (laughs). I actually went to see them at The Water Rats in Kings Cross and thought they were f***ing great, but I didn’t like the drummer. Three weeks later I was in the band. Someone up there was watching over me
I’m playing Drum Workshop, beautifully made drums that sound great. For this tour I’m using my new custom kit in Blue Boa finish, which is stunning. There’s a 22"x18" bass drum, two shallow rack toms, 12"x8" and 13"x8", that I can really get on top of when I play, and a 16"x16" floor tom. My snare is a Craviotto 14"x6", which packs a real punch. On the cymbal front I’m using Sabian, which really cut through and sound fantastic. From left to right I’ve got 14" HH hi-hats, 16" crash, my own 22" Signature ride, an 18" crash and 14" AA regular hi-hats. All my hardware is Drum Workshop as well, and my sticks are Vic Firth. Set-up wise there is nothing unusual, I have my toms quite low on the bass drum, and my ride is angled quite acutely, but that’s about it. Dodge (famed uber-drum tech) looks after my drums for me and he’s a top man. Everything is always spot on when I sit down to play.