When I was a student, a lovely friend of mine called Gareth was an aspiring musician (he is now apparently a Lecturer in Sociology, well done G-Man). At least once a week he went to the local toilet venues – the Hop and Grape, Band on the Wall – to check out up and coming bands.
Early in 1993 I bumped into him at college and he was full of enthusiasm for a group he had recently seen. They had played to the proverbial one man (presumably Gareth) and his dog, which had enabled G to talk to the guitarist and apparent bandleader, who sounded like he was a decent guy.
Much to the envy of our group of friends, G knocked about with said guitarist for a few weeks and spent time at his flat on Sackville Street. Time which, allegedly, was spent drinking tea and watching Countdown rather than indulging in coke fuelled orgies. He also was given a copy of the band’s debut album demos.
Anyway, his enthusiasm impressed me because we shared musical tastes – classic British rock/ pop of the Beatles/ Stones/ Who/ Bowie/ Smiths/ Stone Roses type, plus a smattering of dance, soul, funk and reggae.
A week or so later, he mentioned that his band were making their first TV appearance that Friday, on The Word. I now realise that was 19 years ago this month. The band, obviously, was Oasis, and my friend had been hanging out with a pre-fame Noel Gallagher.
All of which is a lengthy preamble to my point. Why did I, Gareth and so many other people fall under the spell of a band that were, in the harsh light of retrospect, pretty ordinary?
I think the answer lies more in a combination of factors related to their timing, rather than the quality of their music.
I got into what was termed ‘indie’ music just a little too late to catch the Stone Roses first time around, but had grown to love them in their absence. Their first album was on constant rotation throughout my late teens, as it was for a good number of my contemporaries.
Before the Roses, indie bands had hoped to top the ‘indie’ chart and sell out the Kilburn National/ King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut/ Rayleigh Pink Toothbrush every now and again.
“You want to sell 5,000 limited-edition red vinyl seven-inches, that’s fine. Make music for a closet full of people in Bradford somewhere … but it doesn’t mean anything to anyone.” – Noel Gallagher.
The Stone Roses wanted to be as big as U2 and were not afraid to let everyone know. This changed the rules for bands of their ilk. Ambition was no longer a dirty word.
However they may have made the initial breakthrough, but they did not follow it up. Disappearing from the scene for 4 years did wonders for their myth but left a generation of fans wanting more.
No-one really jumped in to the gap left by their enforced absence. The Happy Mondays imploded under the weight of Shaun’s drug habit, the insanity of recording Yes Please! and their own idiocy in a famous NME interview. Most of the other ‘baggy’ bands were simply not good enough (except Blur, but they soon realized they were not baggy anyway).
The other ‘scenes’ – shoegazing and the T Shirt bands like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – were never going to trouble the charts for long, due to lack of ambition or lack of talent.
John Robb claims in ‘The Nineties’ that the world was hardly demanding another Manchester band. I beg to differ. We were dying for the Stone Roses to come back.
Oasis looked and talked right, and had the same cocksure strut. A legion of Roses fans were looking for someone to follow; in the absence of the real thing, Oasis would do.
There is an argument that they were part of the Britpop thing, that there was somehow a link from Suede to Blur to Oasis. At the time it really didn’t feel like that for me. Suede were effeminate Smiths copyists, Blur seemed all over the place with no definable identity. It is important to remember that Girls and Boys, their breakthrough single that heralded the ‘Britpop’ phenomenon, was released exactly 11 days before Oasis’ first TV appearance and a month before ‘Supersonic’. Hardly time to ‘lay the groundwork’.
No, to me, the Britpop thing was a portmanteau term to lasso a disparate bunch of artists together by the simple fact that they were British. Oasis did not really owe their success to Blur but to the lack of anything to follow the Stone Roses.
Furthermore, something else changed in British music around that time.
Many indie fans had moved their interest to the growing dance culture, myself included. Some motivated by the Roses and the Mondays, others out of curiosity and a desire for something new.
The so-called ‘Second Summer of Love’ of 1988 was a recent memory but many clubbers of the early ‘90s had missed it. I was not alone in hoping for something similar to come along for the new generation of clubbers and ravers – the desire to belong to a something bigger.
However by this point dance music was splintering rather than unifying – techno, hardcore, jungle, and a million other variants all had their disciples.
Oasis spoke the same language as clubbers – their music celebrated the hedonism of the club world and their conspicuous consumption of chemicals was familiar to millions.
Not for nothing was their first album reviewed by Mixmag, which had replaced NME as my reading of choice by 1994. The editors recognized a familiar spirit, and a populace prepared by dance culture found a scene to belong to.
Another stroke of fortune was coinciding with the launch of Loaded magazine in May 1994.
The band’s various hi-jinks from very early days, such as the infamous ferry incident, were the exact antics celebrated in Loaded magazine.
Before descending into sub-page 3 hell, Loaded was an amusing and well written magazine that indulged in gonzo-style tall tales and a delight in the debauched. A regular feature was a list of celebrities who had made the news for various reasons in the past month, their misdemeanors categorized as booze, women, drugs, or insane behaviour related.
All that was missing was a poster band to match their heroes of the 60s and 70s. For years indie music was associated with self-denying vegetarianism and earnest left wing moralizing. Oasis came along at the right time to ride the wave of so-called laddism.
Finally, the social context. The Taylor report, Premiership football and Sky’s massive investment in the above meant that the black sheep of the British cultural family was now acceptable again. The same lads that read Loaded went to the match and were lauded as working class heroes rather than ‘the enemy within’ (Ken Clarke’s take on Thatcher’s opinion of football fans). The City-supporting Oasis were again in the right place at the right time.
More importantly, there had been a changing of the guard at Radio 1, the first place most young people heard new music. Out went DLT, Simon Bates and the sub-Smashie and Nicey awfulness and in came Chris Evans, Steve Lamcq et al. Again, a poster band was needed to reflect Matthew Bannister’s brave new broadcasting world.
Hackneyed as it all now seems, that brief period in 1994 was genuinely exciting. We had a band to follow, a band that came from literally nowhere and would take over the world in 18 months, a band that who referenced so many touchstones of Britain’s youth culture past – played mod-inspired guitars, had Beatles haircuts, were mates with Johnny Marr and Paul Weller, dressed like football casuals.
To return to my original argument, it was, though, far more about appearance and timing than about musical quality. The gap left by the Stone Roses, the change in culture due to dance music, and the availability of a print and a radio medium looking for someone to hitch their wagons to all helped make the mouthy Mancunians go supersonic.
They of course had to play their hand correctly to make it big, and they duly rode the zeitgeist so that it seemed, as Noel once said, all he had to do was fart and it would get into the top 10.
Their early work did have an urgency that was far more akin to punk or the glitter stomp of Slade than their professed Beatles obsession. Sadly their subsequent work sounds as though they took Noel’s words far too literally.
As a coda, that tape that Gareth owned, which contained Oasis’s demos of their first album: it was a first hand copy off the masters, given him directly by Noel Gallagher and contained rarities which didn’t make it onto Definitely Maybe. After one gin and tonic too many, he dropped it down the toilet. It’s just rock’n’roll…