Louder Than War Interview: Tony McCarroll – Oasis’s founder member and original drummer talks to us.
My first ever gig was actually Tony McCarroll’s last ever Oasis show, at Sheffield Arena in 1995. Twenty years on I get the chance to ask Tony about subjects such as the so-called Oasis reunion, his book, British rock ‘n’ roll today and what he’s listening too himself these days.
Laid back, open-minded and coming across as a man at total peace with himself, the world and the fact that he drummed on the only Oasis album that ever mattered (that’s not maybe, that’s definitely), read on for how the conversation went.
Louder Than War: Hi Tony … how are things?
Tony McCarroll: Everything is good at the moment, at a nice level. Life is very normal.
Your biography, Oasis: The Truth, was the first time one of the original members of the band told their own story. For me, it really felt like I was reading about five lads from Manchester trying to make it rather than another take on “the Oasis legend”. It was lapped up by reviewers and fans alike as the ultimate Oasis story; funny, personal and a real eye opener … a top read in fact. But what was it like for you putting it together? Did you need help in recalling it all? Did it give you a different perspective on your own story?
The book caused quite a stir amongst Oasis fans and to be honest I was overwhelmed by the reaction. It was a most enjoyable experience to sit and recollect the good times and although I spoke of the friction between me and certain members, it was mainly those good times that filled the book. And I guess the reason it felt like five lads from Manchester trying to make it is because that is exactly what it was! We were a marauding mob of Mancunia! We’re twenty years gone and the perspective I have now is certainly much different from that of the mop haired kid from back then.
Were you happy at the reviews and reactions the book got?
The reaction and reviews to the book were unbelievable. It’s been translated and sold all over the World. The reviews were terrific! As always in life it’s the smallest things!
In the book you look back on the early days and all your mates who made up the groups growing entourage, and also how it all got a bit out of hand. Like breaking into the shop on the Coronation Street set after playing a show on the set of the ‘street’ for instance, something which was very funny to read! But in the end Noel nipped all that in all the bud and banished your good mate Big Un and others from the shows. So how crazy were those early days of the group? In the book you detail a few close calls and scrapes, but do you feel Noel thought all the chaos would have perhaps scuppered the bands progress?
I suppose with hindsight I can see the rationale in Noel’s decision. There was probably more chance of us ending up in Strangeways than in the charts if it had carried on! The high jinks and gang mentality made Oasis what they were at that precise moment in time. It really was a right carry on.
How do you feel about the resurgence and return of many of the 90s Manchester groups today? In the last three years we’ve seen The Mondays and The Roses regroup as well as many others from the 80s and 90s. But how and why do you think this mass nostalgia trip actually started?
I guess it’s a damning statement on the British music scene that we are having to go retrospective to enjoy live music. I sometimes wonder where the angry young men of today are. After all, Oasis and The Mondays / Stone Roses were born from a background of social inequality which they fed off and it’s not as if there isn’t enough injustice and inequality around at the moment to be angry at is it? We need a new Johnny Rotten!
Today Oasis are cited by many as Britain’s last great rock ‘n’ roll group, the last band who came through with the original format that bands like The Stones and Fabs did. Fans all bought vinyl, record shops were important, the music press was influential, there were buzzing club scenes and nightlife and social drugs scenes), groups were selling massive numbers of albums … but more specifically this was all before the internet had its mass effect on the music industry. It seems to be all about touring and merchandise these days – there’s not as much money to be made releasing records. Do you think Oasis were the last of the classic British guitar groups, Tony, and has the music industry changed for the better or worse since the days of Definitely Maybe?
With a nod to The Arctic Monkeys I certainly believe that we were the last band who caught the imagination of the nation. I suppose we had it all, five working class kids from the inner city, bags of aggression and rebelliousness, fronted by Liam with the sheer quality of Noel’s songwriting and we seemed to tap into a generation’s frustration and angst.
The Music Industry is in a crazy place at present. It has seen the number of records sold and revenues from such decrease and this has had a direct impact on the smaller labels, which in turn affects all up and coming artists. It’s certainly more difficult than the early nineties to operate as a band or artist and I really don’t believe the current situation encourages creativity. I sometimes think the industry has lost it’s grip on what is important, which to me is the music rather than the dollar.
It seems that the nation’s attitude towards music has had a seismic shift. Rather than kids saving up to buy a seven inch single they now simply go online and listen for free. Now although this may benefit those who listen, it has a serious and detrimental effect on those musicians scrambling around trying to provide something new, and inevitably new talent will struggle and I believe that it what we have seen in the UK over the last decade or so.
How often do you get told by Oasis fans that Definitely Maybe was their favourite Oasis album ever? It sounded like The Beatles, The Sex Pistols and The Stone Roses all twisted into a sound you all built up together, it was more raw compared to the melody driven tunes that came next like ‘Whatever’. What do you think would have happened if the band had stayed together a bit longer and you had all carried on with that wall of sound which sounded so great on Definitely Maybe?
I think like most defining albums it’s the spontaneous way the album was created that is important. Noel was writing from the heart, from experiences with real anger, and although sometimes in a self-deprecating mode he will class his lyrics as non-nonsensical, you can’t apply that to Rock ‘n’Roll Star or Live Forever can you? The album screamed frustration and anarchy, yet also love and longing. It appealed to the young and the old, the romantic and the revolutionary. I know that it was a moment in time never to be repeated, but what a moment it was! And I know I had my little part to play in that.
In The Definitely Maybe documentary a comment was made suggesting you would have maybe struggled to have played on the following albums, but it wasn’t down to ability why you left the group was it? What do you feel about that and do you feel you’d have progressed just like the rest of the band did and held your own on the later recordings?
When Noel released statements saying I wasn’t up for the next album due a lack of ability I was proper disappointed. Who wouldn’t be? It wasn’t the truth, as I state in the book, and it was a criticism of the thing I most enjoyed in my life. On the plus side though it did give Mark and Lard material to work with.
I had already worked on many tracks from What’s the Story so I was fully aware that I could handle them. Alan White brought his own style and signature to them though and did a tremendous job, although I do believe the production lacked the drum assault of our debut album.
You seem quite happy and quite relaxed these days talking about Oasis, the glory days as well as the darker ones, like your contribution on the Oasis book ‘Supersonic personal situations with Oasis, 92-96’. Do you feel the success around the book and the fun you had putting it out has encouraged you to get involved in more Oasis related projects in the future?
Most definitely. I struggled a lot after leaving the band, it was difficult. We had all worked so hard to bring Oasis to life and to be thrown off the bus just as it hit overdrive was pretty hard to take. Then after the legal wranglings, which I might add were not instigated by myself, it all became a bit of a battle. What should have been a defining moment of my life had turned into what could have been the most destructive. I guess that the book released a lot of my demons and I’m not the type of fella that spends much time in a negative mode anyway. Working with Ian Snowball and Stuart Deakins on Supersonic was a real pleasure. They are both intense music lovers and had a real interest and passion in their book. I thought it was a great read as the fan’s perspective has often more clarity than the bands and probably gives more definition to what we were trying to achieve and I think they captured that. It was also great to attend the press conferences. For the last two decades I can honestly say I never met an Oasis fan who hasn’t been anything but spot on with me. I hope there isn’t one that can say I haven’t given the same back.
You’ve actually said that at one point you thought there was a chance of getting that call to get the original line up back together for some reunion shows though Noel showed no interest in a reunion. Do you think everyone else would … would you be up for it?
Ha. I think I said that you would have to ask Noel and Liam rather than me. With or without me they should reform for the fans. Seeing The Stone Roses reform a few years back was one of the musical highlights in my life. I’m sure Oasis will have the same impact if not more. It’s got to happen!!!
Do you still keep your hand in on the drums, do you ever go over those Definitely Maybe tunes at home?
I drum every day still. I also keep my hand in with tutoring, although it’s very rare I go over any Definitely Maybe tunes nowadays. But your question has me considering going through the whole set this evening! Might be a nice tribute considering!
I guess it’s quite common even now to walk into a pub or venue and hear Definitely Maybe blasting out on the jukebox, but for you personally what are your favourite moments and best performances on that album?
Always loved ‘Bring it on Down’ mainly because the drumming powers the rest of the song. The intro to Supersonic, our first ever offering to the world. It seems like only yesterday that it was nothing more than a jam between me, Bonehead and Noel. I also love the intro to Live Forever, nice one Owen! I think the fact it makes the song instantly recognisable is brilliant, but the fact that the song is Live Forever even more so.
And lastly Tony … what music do you listen too today. Do you go to many gigs and are there any new groups you like out there at the moment?
My taste in music has gotten more and more diverse with time. At present, I’m listening along to the Liars and Cheaters EP from Trio Valore which is proper funky. Always been a fan of Steve White’s drumming and I reckon Damon Minchella is one of the greatest bassists this country has ever produced, although I shouldn’t forget Mani who seems to have been very quiet for the last season and there’s a reason … I say season, ha! I can’t remember the last gig I ventured to although I do the V Festival annually. Think it’s gonna be my last year. The line ups are getting quite unrecognisable!
You can purchase a copy of Tony’s biography from Amazon here: Oasis: The Truth. Tony also has a Facebook account and is on twitter as @TonyMcCarrolls. There is also a Twitter for his book, @OasisTheTruth, run by his mate Big Un.
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by Carl on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.