This week sees the 20th anniversary of Oasis achieving their first number one single ‘Some Might Say’. Not only was it the bands first number one, it was also the first number one under the banner known as Britpop.
Here Louder Than War take an in depth look at what was going on around the band at the time. Sacked drummers, Brit Awards, drink and drug fuelled arguments in the studio, writing classic pop songs, playing arena gigs and the beginnings of their rivalry with Blur.
February 1995. Oasis have just picked the Brit Award for Best Newcomer. Noel Gallagher doesn’t give the typical acceptance speech thanking the band’s manager, record label, stylist and life guru. Instead, he thanks the band’s mothers, the award presenter Ray Davies for influencing him and George Martin for producing The Beatles. This may not seem like a big deal in the first instance but considering the youth had, for years, been exposed to saccharin, lifeless speeches from artists they were unable to relate to, it seemed like a breath of fresh air.
Although Oasis were on amicable terms with Blur at this point, as the Brit Awards drew on during that February, members of the Oasis party began heckling Blur every time they returned to their table with yet another award (four awards in total over the course of the evening comprising of Best Album, Best Single, Best Band and Best Video). Liam Gallagher’s challenge would be thus, “Look me in the eye and tell me you deserve that award” according to Paolo Hewitt’s 1997 publication, ‘Getting High: The Story of Oasis’.
Former Oasis Press Officer at Creation Records Johnny Hopkins told Louder Than War recently, “There was banter both ways. With bands there’s always some rivalry. Neither band really had that much to do with each other. It wasn’t like they were good mates and all of a sudden they weren’t. They weren’t particularly in each others orbit.”
Liam’s challenge however need not have been so quarrelsome as elder brother Noel already had a plan put together that would gain Oasis their first number one single. A feat which, despite the accolades, Blur were yet to achieve. Indeed, before the Brit Awards had even taken place, Loco Studios in South Wales was booked for Oasis to record their next single. A single that Noel Gallagher was certain would reach the top spot in the UK charts.
Noel Gallagher told Q magazine in 2011 that ‘Some Might Say’ was planned as the follow up to their ‘Whatever’ single as early as June 1994. The idea for the song coming just as Noel made the move from Manchester to London. Noel leaving his long-term girlfriend Louise Jones behind after she had decided that she would prefer to stay in Manchester working for successful PR company, Red Alert, rather than moving southwards with Noel.
It was in a Chiswick bedsit, occupied by the MTV Europe VJ Rebecca Du Ruvo, that Noel began writing the song.
“The verses are quite deep” Noel continued to tell Q. “Some of them are about homeless people, and people who can’t always get what they want that’s why it’s, ‘Tell it to the man who lives in hell.’ So then I wanted something as deep and meaningful for the chorus but in the end I just gave up and thought, ‘F–it, I might as well just go with stupid stuff about fishes and dishes and dogs itching….As soon as I’d written ‘Some Might Say’ I was certain it would be a number one and I was right. I never had even the slightest doubt.”
Johnny Hopkins told Louder Than War about the first time he heard the song, “I’m pretty sure Noel played me a demo of it on cassette in a car somewhere. It sounded wicked and certainly stood out. It’s one of their greatest songs – the guitars, Liam’s vocals, the tune, the energy to it. It’s a great exciting rock ‘n’ roll tune.
“The quality of his song writing was unbelievable. Noel was incredibly prolific. Not only was there Definitely Maybe but there was stuff like Acquiesce, Talk Tonight and Half The World Away. Those kind of quality tunes. Perhaps some of Noel’s finest song writing. It was extraordinary.”
Following Noel’s completion of the song, a demo was recorded at Maison Rouge studios in Fulham with the bands producer Owen Morris. Morris picks up the story on his website owenmorris.net, “We’d demoed ‘Some Might Say’ in Maison Rouge…the version from there was slow and heavy and dark…really quite cool in a Rolling Stones way.”
Then, in late February 1995, the band convened in Loco Studios, South Wales to record the master.
One would expect all to be well in the Oasis camp at this point yet issues regarding drummer Tony McCarroll’s playing abilities were a hot topic of conversation, mainly behind the scenes although occasionally also in public.
As far back August 1994, Liam was quoted as saying at a press conference leading up to Creation: Undrugged, an evening of acoustic performances played by those signed to Creation Records., “Our sets going to be great cos’ our drummers not doing it.”
Conversations had taken place over the following months between Owen Morris and Oasis manager Marcus Russell regarding the drumming issue. “The answer to the problem was uncomplicated. Tony needed some drumming lessons.”
In Paolo Hewitt’s ‘Getting High’ Owen Morris states, “Tony’s biggest problem was that he only had two beats. He’d shuffle on some songs or stomp on others and it wound the band up chronically because they couldn’t do anything other than that.”
Tony McCarroll’s drum tutor, Dave Larken told Paolo Hewitt that Tony McCarroll had ‘the ability to be a great drummer’ but on the eve of the ‘Some Might Say’ recording session, when Morris asked Tony McCarroll how the lessons were going, Tony’s response was, “I haven’t done any of them. I haven’t had time.” Morris recalls thinking, “Oh fuck, here we go.”
Morris continues, “The band set up, we spend the day doing lots of really good, slightly faster than the demo versions of the track. Noel is all hyped up. I edit the best bits together and we are happy. Then the rest of the band go to bed, but me and Noel stay up, have a few drinks.
“At some stage in the early hours we listen to the demo and decide that the new version we’d spent the whole day on is too fast. Noel wakes the band up, insists they get out of bed and come and re-record ‘Some Might Say’, but everyone better be fucking careful not to play it too fast.”
“We do ONE take and decide we’re all fucking geniuses and that we’ve definitely nailed the backing track. Next day, I wake up, hungover and hazy. Liam wants to sing. So Liam sings his lead vocal in two takes. Fucking on fire singing.”
Again Morris had reservations over the drumming, “The drums were all over the place, proper tragic bit of drumming on that track because it just loses it on the first chorus. So on the mix we had to try and hide the drums which, for a rocking track is very unfortunate.”
Noel, with Morris’s assistance, worked on the tracks overdubs and once they believed they were finished, played what they thought was the final mix to the rest of the band and a selection of hangers-on.
“On the demo we had this weird backwards guitar bit that we thought was a bit naff.” Morris told Paolo Hewitt, “Later on, when the track was played Liam completely exploded with rage, “You fuckin dickhead, you don’t know what you’re doing! Where’s the guitar bit?!”
“Get him out of here or I’ll fuckin’ kill him. I know what I’m doing!” Noel replied.
The younger Gallagher stormed off and the hangers on quickly followed. Noel then let off a bit of steam, threatened to sack Owen Morris if he sided with Liam and then a few hours later, decided that Liam may actually have had a point.
Noel then sat down to record a slightly different guitar part and both brothers had their honour restored. Liam thought that Noel had listened to his point of view, while Noel records something that he believed was even better that what Liam wanted in the first place. With that, the song was finally ready for release.
On 3 March, Oasis set out on a 3-week tour of the US. The cramped bus and overall cabin fever meant that the hostility towards Tony McCarroll intensified.
In Ian Robertson’s 1996 publication ‘Oasis: What’s The Story?’ the former Oasis Road Manager wrote of how the bands live sound engineer, original ‘Definitely Maybe’ producer (and old friend of Noel’s), Mark Coyle, often chatted late into the night about how McCarroll’s drumming was hindering the bands live performance. “The consensus was always the same,” said Robertson, “he had to go.”
McCarroll possibly furthered his unpopular position within the group by distancing himself from the band on tour. According to Robertson he would knock on Tony’s hotel room door ‘time and again’ with an extended invite from band members asking Tony if he wanted to join them in whatever they were doing that evening. Tony however filled the distance between him and the rest of the band by enthusiastically getting himself involved with a highly sexualized groupie called Elle from Florida.
“She did not exactly enjoy the respect of the rest of the gang,” wrote Robertson. “Given that her first meeting with Tony was consummated with great passion and she seemed to be totally crazy about him, you could see their point.”
Ironically, as Robertson tells, “a drum clinic that Tony had attended to try and improve his technical act was of the opinion that his problem stemmed from a lack of fitness!”
Although McCarroll now gained ridicule on the tour bus for his drumming abilities, his groupie-girlfriend, his hair and his clothes, he once confided in Robertson, ““I can hack it because I’m in the band. I am the drummer with this fuckin’ group. The rest of it is incidental’ He genuinely believed that that would always be the case. He never saw the hammer drop.”
Upon the band’s return to the UK a video shoot for ‘Some Might Say’ was arranged to take place in Chatley Heath, Surrey. The budget was set at £40,000 but on the morning of the shoot, Liam failed to show. After numerous calls to his hotel room Liam finally picked up and informed the band’s management, “The idea’s shit. I’m not having it”, Paolo Hewitt tells. Liam then hung up the phone. As a result, footage was cobbled together from the bands previous videos for ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’, ‘Whatever’, and the American video for ‘Supersonic’.
Two weeks later, on April 14 Oasis recorded an appearance on Channel 4’s ‘The White Room’ hosted by Mark Radcliffe. Strangely, the band did not play the soon to be released ‘Some Might Say’. Rumours of the band not being happy with their performance of the song surfaced at the time and the band opted instead for two of the EP’s other tracks, ‘Acquiesce’ and a wonderful ‘Talk Tonight’ featuring Paul Weller on both electric piano and backing vocals. The third number they played was ‘It’s Good To Be Free’ from the ‘Whatever’ EP.
Johnny Hopkins on the Talk Tonight performance: “That was a surreal beautiful moment and again it showed the quality of Noel’s song writing and the sophistication of it because every one had them down as just a rock ‘n’ roll band, making noise and partying but here was something that was beautiful, sophisticated, intimate, heartbreaking…heartbreakingly beautiful AND…to have Weller on there, Weller’s stamp of approval…It was a brilliant occasion.”
The atmosphere within the band was strained during the filming and according to Tony McCarroll’s, ‘Oasis: The Truth’ the abuse Tony had been receiving in the US carried on; “The shoot didn’t go as planned. The microphone that sat over my cymbal kept falling from its perch and halting the filming. Noel started to berate me as if I worked for Channel 4’s sound department. I told him to ram it.”
On the 22 April, the band were due to play their biggest gig to date, the 12,000 capacity Sheffield Arena. In the lead up to the show, two warm up gigs were planned. On April 17, they were due to play Southend Cliffs Pavilion and on the 20 April Le Bataclan in Paris.
A storming set at the Southend Cliffs Pavilion was filmed for posterity and released as concert video ‘Live By The Sea’ four months later. Paris, however, kicked up a storm of a very different kind.
The evening before the Le Bataclan gig in Paris, the band were out on the town. At one point during the evening, Tony and Elle ended up having a fight with each other in public, causing something of a scene. At a later date Liam told Paolo Hewitt how he spent much of his time dealing with incident in his own inimitable way.
“I was standing at the bar when this mad bird he (Tony) was seeing walked in and started fighting with him. He was down on the ground so I started eating these cherries and spitting the stones on him as he was rolling around.”
While Noel was in his hotel room putting the finishing touches to his latest composition, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, Tony and Elle’s argument took itself back to the hotel.
Tony McCarroll picks up the story, “You kept me awake last night. I don’t like you or your bird. Don’t make me sack you.” Is how the ex-drummer recalls a conversation that took place between him and Noel the following day.
“Noel had threatened to sack the entire band at some point over the previous 18 months” McCarroll tells. Sometimes behind closed doors, sometimes publicly via the press. As this was the case, McCarroll said that the threat had ‘lost its potency.’ “This time (though) there was real intent in his voice.”
During the sound check for the evenings gig Noel and Tony clashed again. “As I passed (Noel) he gave me one of his ‘don’t even talk to me’ looks and I thought ‘fuck that’. I moved in front of him before he could start his sound check. He looked at me and said ‘What the fuck do you want?’ The look that came with the question was one of absolute dismissal. I moved within an inch of his face. I had finally lost it. ‘If you ever talk to me like that again, Noel, I’ll snap you in fucking two and throw you away. Do you understand?
“I stared at him without breaking eye contact. Silence. He looked back at me with his hooded cobra eyes cold. He then finally looked down at his finger tips and started to pick away. In the ensuing silence, I kicked the fire door open and strode out onto a cool Parisian boulevard.”
As Oasis left the stage that night after playing their set, their Parisian audience began chanting ‘Encore! Encore!’
Oasis weren’t ones for going back onstage at this point but as the band gathered backstage, Noel told Tony, ‘We’re doing an encore,’ “Bit fuckin’ odd” McCarroll recalls thinking. “It was a good night, but not worthy of an encore.”
Noel nodded Tony onstage. ‘“Supersonic”,’ he said. “He knew it was my favourite song to drum on. I started the intro and looked to the side stage. Noel stood tapping his foot to the beat. Three minutes is a long time in drumming. But that was the time I had before the band would eventually join me. It was my moment in the sun and would normally be a memory to cherish. For me, it was to prove bitter sweet…by the time the band joined in I realized that Noel was saying goodbye. He led the rest of the band onstage, staring directly at me. He took a long last pull of his cigarette and then flicked it over towards me. I watched as the cigarette landed and its glowing embers scattered and died by my bass drum. His confidence stemmed from the fact that he knew he had the power to eject me from the band.”
On Saturday 22 April, the day came for Oasis to play their first arena gig. Support came from Pulp and Ocean Colour Scene.
Johnny Hopkins described it as ‘a whirlwind week.’ “They started the week in Southend at the Pavillion, playing to about 1000, 2000 tops, whizzed to France, played at the Bataclan which is quite a legendary small venue in Paris, which half of England seemed to turn up to as well as half of Paris.
“They played two small shows and then about 10,000 people in Sheffield. It was a quite a weird week. One of rapid progression. In a way kind of an important period in that bands experience. Shifting gears again from being a big indie band to being an arena band. This was their first big headline show.”
The atmosphere in the Oasis camp should have been upbeat but as Tony McCarroll climbed onto the bands tour bus, he felt a more conspiratory mood in the air, “I walked onto our bus and made for the lounge area. As I arrived, I found Noel sitting there with Guigs and Marcus. They were huddled round the table and looked up, shocked at my sudden arrival. The atmosphere was strange, to say the least. Their muffled hello’s and sheepish looks gave a conspiratorial feel to it all. I took my seat upstairs and warmed myself for the biggest gig we had performed to date.”
The gig was a triumph. Liam, bizarrely, two songs into the set, tried talking to Noel during a guitar solo to ask why there is a massive gap between the stage and the audience. A few songs later Liam and Noel beckon the audience forward, telling fans to jump the barrier than had caused Liam so much confusion. Noel in later interviews likens it to the ‘scene of a revolution’.
Noel debuted ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ during his acoustic solo spot that night. The future was looking more that a little bright for the majority of the bands members.
Johnny Hopkins went on to tell Louder Than War how the move to large arena territory felt like a natural progression for the band rather than a giant leap;
“I think it was inevitable, in a lot off ways it was natural. They had such momentum at that time and their live shows were brilliant and there was so much love out there for the band amongst the public and the media. It was a natural progression but it was weird that in that particular week they did Southend and Paris in much much smaller venues but in the arc of their career, it made total sense.”
The following Monday (24 April) ‘Some Might Say’ was released. The NME named it single of the week. Terry Staunton stating, “OK so it’s no ‘Whatever’ but what is? Anybody would have difficulty following a record like that, but don’t let the recent brilliance of Oasis blind you to the charms of their new stuff. ‘Some Might Say’ is still one of the finest examples of pop music you’ll hear this year.
“What’s strangest about this song is that on the first couple of hearings you convince yourself there’s no hook, nothing go on at all. Then, a few hours later, you find yourself humming a tune that you genuinely can’t remember hearing before. It’s certainly a deceptive little fucker.”
On the Wednesday of that week Tony McCarroll, although he was not to know it yet, recorded his last public appearance with Oasis. It was on Top of The Pops which was due to be broadcast the following day. The show being presented by Chris Evans who was set to take over the Radio 1 breakfast show the follow week.
According to McCarroll, Noel was in a buoyant mood, “We’ve got a No.1 single. Add that to a No.1 album, a Brit Award, all-round critical acclaim and I suppose you could say we are doing all right”.
As the band sat backstage in their Top of The Pops dressing room waiting to record, McCarroll states that Noel was looking directly at him as he made this statement. “I wondered why he was being so friendly and positive. Liam was surprisingly quiet and subdued, as were the rest of the band.”
Following the Top of The Pops recording, Tony and Liam returned to Manchester. Driven by their ever-faithful friend known as ‘Big Un’, Tony tells how Liam, sat in the back seat of the car appeared to feel the need to tell Tony something. “I looked directly over my right shoulder at him as he stared silently out the window. Big Un’ maintained a steady speed. Suddenly, Liam said, ‘Tony.’‘What?’ I replied. He stared at me, his eyes alight, and made to open his mouth. He paused, though, and the light quickly died. ‘Nothing, it doesn’t matter,’ he mumbled and returned to focus on the English countryside flashing by. Something was definitely not right. I had a horrible feeling in my stomach.”
On Sunday the 30 April, BBC Radio 1 announced that ‘Some Might Say’ had entered the UK Singles chart at number one, knocking Take That’s ‘Back For Good’ from the top spot. On a week when Supergrass had entered the chart at number nine with ‘Lenny’ and Paul Weller had gone straight in the chart at number seven with ‘The Changingman’, it should have been a celebratory day all round for the country’s Britpop contingent.
It was far from celebratory though for the much maligned McCarroll, “The phone rang in my mother’s hallway. I answered. ‘Hiya, Tony, it’s Marcus,’in a soft Welsh accent. ‘Hiya, Marcus,’I said, as dread started to fill me. He continued. ‘Look, it’s not easy, this, but there is no other way to say it…You’re out of the band.’They were the words I had been waiting for.
“I suppose I managed to contain my immediate reaction. Marcus went on, ‘You know I tried to stop this. I tried to help. I’m sorry.’ Not as fuckin’ sorry as me. It would have been easy to have blown off at Marcus, but he was merely the messenger. And he had tried to help. I suppose I never really expected it to come from Noel anyway. I thanked Marcus for his time and understanding and asked what would happen next. ‘We’ll meet to discuss how the future should work out for all of us,’ he told me. ‘OK. No worries. Take care. Bye. Bye.’ I replied. There you go. It was that simple. Nice and clean, like we had agreed to meet for a pint and a sandwich. It had finally ended.”
In the ensuing weeks the only band members to contact Tony were Liam and Bonehead. “I didn’t know, Tony” said Bonehead during a nervous phone call ‘It’s a shock to me…If there’s anything I can do…”’ he awkwardly told Tony. “I couldn’t dislike him (Bonehead), as he was a good fella. And to be honest, there were occasions when he had tried to guide me about how to handle Noel. I wasn’t surprised to be the first.”
Newspaper reports initially stated that Tony and Liam had been involved in a fight with each other before the Paris gig, although the band did release a statement confirming that Tony McCarroll’s sacking was due to his drumming not being up to standard. As Liam Gallagher had already stated to Paolo Hewitt, the alleged fight had never actually taken place.
Noel Gallagher had first heard Tony McCarroll’s replacement Alan White playing drums whilst Oasis were camped in a London rehearsal room. White was working with a Creation records artist called Idha during this period when Noel over heard White’s playing and was apparently impressed by the clarity of his sound. According to Paolo Hewitt’s ‘Getting High’ Noel asked, “Who’s that drummer?” Noel then made a note of his name, later found out he was the brother of Steve White, Paul Weller’s long-serving percussionist, and kept him in mind for the day when Tony McCarroll was to eventually be sacked.
Following the departure of McCarroll, Noel Gallagher made the phone call to Alan White. Whether or not White was already lined up to replace McCarroll before he was even made aware that his drumming services were no longer required is a moot point mainly due to Alan White’s connections.
With barely any gigs and an album to work on over the next six weeks, it can be argued that there was a now-or-never feeling in the Oasis camp and had Alan White not been drafted in when he was, the quality of ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ may have suffered as a consequence.
On the 3 May Oasis recorded another Top of The Pops appearance, this time celebrating ‘Some Might Say’s’ number one status. With Alan White on drums, this was his first public appearance with the band. As the cameras rolled Bonehead stood encouraging White with a northern Soul style clenched fist as the song was about to kick in. This was evidently a triumphant moment for the band as Noel, guitar held aloft, celebrated at the end of the song like Oasis had just won the FA Cup.
To celebrate the single reaching number one Meg Matthews, Noel’s girlfriend and sometime social event organizer, arranged a party in an establishment called the Mars Bar in London’s Covent Garden. Blur who were coming to the end of recording their ‘Parklife’ follow up, ‘The Great Escape’, went along to congratulate Oasis with their producer Stephen Street. Liam however, shocked both Stephen Street and Damon Albarn by, on several occasions during the evening, pointing his fingers into Albarn’s face and boasting, “Fuckin number one, fuckin number one.”
According to Stephen Street on the BBC’s ‘7 Ages Of Rock’ documentary, Damon Albarn was ‘quite taken aback’ by these gestures from Liam and the ever competitive Albarn told journalist John Harris in ‘The Last Party’ how he recalls thinking, “Ok…we’ll see”
“A few people wound them (Blur) up that night. Tells Johnny Hopkins. “It was inevitable. People were surprised when Damon and Alex walked in. Them and Oasis weren’t exactly mates. It appeared like they were trying to steal a bit of Oasis’ thunder. If you crash another band’s number one party and you’ve been mouthing off a little bit…you gonna get it aren’t you?”
Hopkins concludes, “The fact that Oasis beat Blur to getting a number one was more of a spur to Damon than anything Liam or anyone else said.”
That spur lead to the fuse being lit for the Roll With It Vs. Country House battle. That however, is very much another story.
Thanks to David Huggins www.oasis-recordinginfo.co.uk for invaluable information.
By Michael Halpin.