John Robb was the first person to hear one of the most iconic and era defining albums in a wild night out at Rockfield Studios…
As the plate of pasta flew across the room Liam’s face finally started to explode.
Contrary to the public personae and the 2D tabloid version that goes in front of him Liam is laid back and very smart kid with the kind of explosive undertow that anyone brought up in the north and told they are going to be nothing has. Sometimes the fists do the talking, sometimes attitude does the walking, most of the time the smartness gets missed out as the 2D cardboard cutout of fame takes over people’s perceptions. Tonight he had remarkably and patiently taken the banter from the young band that I was producing up the road, the excellent and long lost Cable whose critically acclaimed and loved by John Peel album Up Life The Down Trodden had come together very quickly in the studio. By chance we were visiting Oasis recoding their classic Whats The Story Morning Glory album and, initially, things had been going swimmingly.
Liam had invited us around to Rockfield studios after I had bumped into him in the local village near the studios. He given the band free drinks and was the congenial rock n roll party host. A few drinks in and Cable were starting to get a bit, er, giddy as the good vibes kicked in whilst we were listening to the new Oasis album. It was first time anyone outside the tight coterie of band and producer had heard the album and it sounded great.
This was a pop moment- kinda like a 1990’s equivalent of a brilliant left field young band like, lets say, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band and their punk rock warlord producer being invited to listen to the first playback of Sgt Peppers in 1967 but ending up throwing pasta around and bitching about the record before scrapping with Lennon himself whilst the producer tried to play peacemaker.
The new Oasis album was getting cranked out full blast across the accommodation quarters of the studio and sounded enormous and generational. The songs capturing the thrill of youth and the swagger of turning up at the party uninvited and owning it. This was sheer, unapologetic rock n roll at its best and as Liam turned to Cable he looked amazed at the record himself and modestly asked what they thought of it. There was none of the tabloid arrogance about him and like his older brother Noel there was that brash yet loveable northern outer shell hiding an artistic sensitivity that was kept well hidden on the tough Manchester streets and in the tough media glare of their current position.
“It sounds like Beatles’ uncharacteristically quipped Cable’s guitar player Darius as he waited for Liam to explode but he just laughed and put another track on and it wasn’t until the flying pasta that things started to get messy in a lot of ways with kangaroo courts, fists flying and shotguns getting locked into an upstairs room and your humble narrator having to play dad and take his band back to the nearby by Monnow Valley where they were recording.
How did we get to this point of madness? Well it’s a long an interesting story of the long lost nineties and long forgotten gigs and mouldy rehearsal rooms and the dying days of rock n roll when it really mattered to people.
I had already knew Noel Gallagher for a long time. Years later we would occasionally reminisce about this and Noel would talk of the ’50’, the 50 people that would go to every gig in town. He was one of them and I was another.
We were music fanatics who checked stuff out.
We didn’t do ‘genre’ we did ‘music’. Noel was younger than everyone else in this strange crowd of fanatics- music heads who all knew each other to nod to eachother in the high decibel small venues that made up Manchester then like the boardwalk and the Internationals and sometimes the Hacienda. He would turn up sometimes with his red tinted Lennon glasses and street style and lurk in the corner intensely observing. I can’t remember how we got talking but he was always a pleasure to hang out out with and his knowledge of music was quite stunning and we had many conversations about Beatles bootlegs and far deeper and more obscure scraps of musical knowledge.
When music heads meet the minutiae of music gets tooth combed. I would be reviewing gigs in the Boardwalk, International and sometimes bigger venues for long lost music paper Sounds and he would be there observing and thinking and learning. He was a cool motherfucker even then and even at that age but there was no sense that he was going to be big time.
He then started working for the Inspirals and the joke amongst the ’50’ was ‘what does Noel actually do for the Inspiral Carpets’ as you would see the great Oldham band lugging their gear into the venue and Noel sat on an amp somewhere not doing too much- perhaps it was for show because he was a cool kid and certainly not anyone’s rock n roll butler- at the same time he had a respect for the band whose lynchpin Clint Boon already had the air of an indie guru about him.
Sometimes, deep into the night, I would bump into Noel in New Mount Street – the studio and office complex in town where I had a mini recording studio at the time and he was looking after the Inspiral Carpets T shirts which would flood out of their lock up and into the corridor as the band had oddly became the modern mill owners and were dressing the world in northern cotton- albeit with the word ‘fuck’ on it.
Not long after Noel told me he had joined his brother’s band and after that he had given me their first demo when I bumped into him on Whitworth Street in city centre Manchester. I felt a bit sorry for him at that point in time- not because of the demo- even the first demo leapt out with great songs. Noel was a kid lost in the rock n roll dream- the only escape from the grey skies of reality but despite the great songs it seemed like it was going to be tough.
Manchester was over according to the music business and it was going to be hard for anyone to get a break. This kind of thinking has always baffled me anyway- the good shit should always leak out but then I’ve got racks of demos of other great mad eyed dreamers that everyone ignored and I hoped Noel was not going to end up being one of them.
Of course the band would go on to storm it- the classic people’s band where the people voted with the their feet and ignored the hype for other bands. Years later Noel told me that ‘ the music business had set the stage for Britpop and Blur were going to be the main guests and then we turned up and they never forgave us for it…’
Before all the madness Oasis had started rehearsing in the Boardwalk- the key Manchester city centre rehearsal room where everyone at the time used to spend hours in the damp encrusted cellars. They moved in next door to the room that my band Goldblade were using and in a weird mirror image moment of ten years before when the Stone Roses rehearsed next door to my former band the Membranes they would spend hours rehearsing.
Oasis were even more detailed than the Roses and would spend hours on the same riff- endlessly working on the grinding slab of rock n roll noise at the beginning of their unlikely cover of the Beatles I Am The Walrus, a song that I loved but couldn’t imagine anyone every doing a version of until I heard the great, prowling, menacing thing next door that sounded like Lennon’s Lewis Carroll acid freak show grinding through a neo Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks crank.
Just like with the Roses I had to go and borrow a guitar string after one had snapped in one of our rehearsal sessions and popped in to see the band who were really friendly and gave us a string and blasted through a couple of songs for me. You could tell at that point that they were going to make some sort of impact despite the music biz – they didn’t sound like a local band or a hobby band- this was a serious noise and if it was out of sync with the times that was going to matter little. Like the Roses a few years before they had the attitude and self belief to make this happen.
The rehearsal room looked really lived in. The band had painted a mural on the wall- a union jack collage affair and there was football banter inked in everywhere- all Man City versus Man United stuff which had spread down the corridor and was engaged with another rehearsing band New Fast Automatic Daffodils in a jocular felt tipped war of words.
Years later the rehearsal rooms were getting turned into offices and the new bosses proudly showed me the sandblasted walls where they had scrubbed all the graffiti off and turned it into one of those fake polished brickwork spaces beloved by yuppie types and had missed a trick of keeping, what would now, be a genuine wall of Manc street art- the wonky Union Jack and footy graffiti- a high decibel Banksy painted by the most famous minstrels in the land
I saw Oasis play a few of their early shows as well, like at In The City when they played to a near empty bar on Whitworth Street. The bar is long gone now and the gig is a foggy memory but they sounded massive and Liam had the thing down. I even wrote about them early on, their first or second mention, I can’t remember now, when I tipped them for one of the bands who were going to make it in a list of bands for the Melody Maker. I remember Noel being chuffed at this mention which seems ridiculous now considering what was about to happen.
One of the fascinating things about Noel has always been his connection to the local band scene- just after they broke I bumped into him a big festival somewhere and there was a crowd of local musicians. Ever affable he chatted to members of the great Dub Sex asking how things were going for them- ironically when he left they looked baffled not knowing who he was! Years later he booked the great Twisted Wheel to support Oasis after seeing them on a local Manchester TV show on his computer at home.
When Alan McGee signed them we all knew they would make it and Noel would leave the ’50’ . It was the perfect combination- McGee was crazy and brilliant enough to handle the band and was soaked in music – he was no fake and combined this with a smart business mind and a brilliant eye for trouble. Instead of panicking in Oasis’s trouble he would revel in it. It was pretty exciting to hear about the hook up and at that point you kinda knew that this was not going to be a normal indie band thing.
McGee was maverick enough and Creation was independent enough and conversely major enough to make the whole thing fall into place and with the songs that Noel had and Liam’s charisma they had everything and the avalanche was about to start.
I only bumped into them intermittently after that. There was a small club gig in Amsterdam just before they broke supa nova and we hung out and there was a gig in a park in Preston when Noel asked his press officer why I had not written about them much – by then they were on the fast track and the London press wanted them and us mere northern types who knew the story were all brushed aside when the mainstream media had their brief love affair with the band.
It had been sone time then when we finally ran into eachother agin…
As well as writing I was now producing bands- getting pulled into create a raw and live sound for bands that wanted it. Cable were this really great young band from Derby and they made this powerful yet dislocated rock. Label boss Korda Marshall had already tried to get me to work with Sleeper but that hadn’t come together as the band wanted to go more pop route but he came back with Cable and we went to Monnow Valley studio which was about a mile away from Rockfield studios where the Stone Roses had disappeared to and Oasis were now parked in recording the follow up to the generation landslide debut.
Both studios ooze rock n roll with the classic accommodation- provided- in- the- country piles atmosphere that you read about as a kid and can make for great art or intense madness as council estate kids get given the keys to establishment luxury and go crazy. The two studios were run by two fueding brothers Kingsley and Charles Ward who had known Joe Meek when he was growing up in nearby Newent and were quite possibly more eccentric than any of the bands they were booking in.
The Cable session went down fast and the live room in Monnow Valley (where Oasis had done their early recordings) was a gift for any band who wanted that live drum sound. To celebrate the fast progress we went up to the nearby village of Rockfield were Mani from the Roses was living to sit in a pub and chill out.
On the way back we got the pub to ring the only taxi in the village. A mini bus turned up with a couple of crazy girls in it and a figure slumped over the front seat who I couldn’t make out in the dark. I was sat behind the figure and I started messing about with Cable who were in high spirits as the two crazy girls shrieked at eachother.
The figure then turned round and from under his fringe grinned ‘fuck me it’s John Robb…what are you doing here..?’ It was Liam and we started chatting and he then invited us up to Rockfield to hang out with Oasis and we took the taxi there.
Noel was in the studio putting finishing touches to the album and Cable’s drummer wandered over to jam with him whilst we sat in Guigsy’s room for a bit with Liam. The bass player got stoned whilst playing monopoly- a situation that sort of sums up the reality of rock n roll life- a lot of hanging around.
After about an hour, Liam popped out to get a cassette of the album. It would be the first time anyone had heard the new songs outside the tight small circle of the band and producer and he stuck it on the stereo in the front room and turned it up to full.
It sounded great- full of explosive life and surged like the best of glam rock/Sex Pistols/punk rock and every other British street music cranked up to the max. In Liam’s vocal it really caught the 100 per cent confident swagger of the times as is poured into the room like liquid noise. Hello sounded monstrous- like all the good times rolled into one and was the sound of Britain’s then youth rushing with the confidence of the times with that world beating cool that Brit youth are always so good at.
The crazy girls were dancing around and Liam was nodding his head and I was glowing with the power of the music. It was at this point that Cable’s young guitar player, Darius- who had been swigging whisky from a bottle he had been given, decided to tell Liam that the album sounded like the Beatles and that he didn’t like it. The drink was talking louder than the normally timid Darius and everyone looked up.
Luckily Liam laughed off- he just wanted a good time listening to his brilliant new album with mates but Darius was now poisoned with the demon alcohol and was pushing the point. Staggering across the room he told Liam that the album was shit, oddly Liam still didn’t seem to care and was quite charming putting up with the out of character observations from the normally quiet bass player.
That was until the pasta flew across the room- not at Liam directly but just at random. The tray crashed on the floor and the pasta flew through the air. Too much whisky had gone down and the Cable band were getting a bit untogether.
As a non drinker I was suddenly in the odd position of having to play dad on a school trip gone wrong and tried to gather the band together to get them back to Monnow Valley but it was too late.
The tension had gone through the roof and Laim was going berserk ‘I will lay the whole lot of you out…’ he snapped, prowling the room at the rest of the band.
Oddly, I thought the whole thng was pretty funny. You don’t spend years in rock n roll without seeing this sort of stuff go on and to be honest I couldn’t really blame Liam for getting pissed off. Somewhere in the confusion, as we tried to leave, someone decided there was going to be a kangeroo court and a trial of the offending pasta thrower was going to take place outside in front of the studio building. I decided that this was not going to happen and shoved the Cable band down the drive after a couple of punches were swung at them.
As we got to the bottom of the drive we could hear these weary feet running down the driveway and Bonehead appeared shirtless and offered to fight us all. I told him it was late and time to get Cable back to Monnow Valley and he pottered back up the drive- when I bump into Bonehead these days we still laugh about this.
When we got back to Monnow Valley later on all hell broke loose. Someone said that Oasis were coming down the road on their scooters with shotguns that they had hired that day and Darius burst into tears – these were alcohol tears and we sent him to bed sobbing like a naughty child.
The next day the cleaners told us that it had kicked off down at Rockfield and that Noel had come out of the studio and has asked where I was to say hello before and him and Liam had ended up in a huge fight rolling around in the rose bushes and that Noel had quit the band and gone back to London and the Oasis album was put on hold. In the studio downtime Korda Marshall had got new signing Ash in at half price to record their first single and up the road we carried on with the Cable album which came out great and set them up to do really well until their career was paralysed when they fell out with their manager a couple of years later which was a shame as they were a truly great band.
In the meantime Oasis finished Whats The Story Morning Glory and became the biggest band in the UK with a classic record. I still bump into them now and then and we laugh about that night- a legendary and hilarious moment in their tumultuous career and a tale from the heart and the heat of the moment when they were at the top of their game.