25 years after Oasis announced its arrival to the world, Noel and Liam Gallagher, Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, Tony McCarroll, plus Creation Records head Alan McGee, DJ Gary Crowley and the Oasis Podcast host James Corcoran, tell the origin story of the band’s groundbreaking debut album.
The Oasis formula — adding a large dash of the Sex Pistols and T. Rex to the obvious Beatles/Stones/Kinks influences — created a turbo-charged sound that’s as urgent today as it was in 1994, twenty-five years ago, when Definitely Maybe, Oasis’ debut album, hit record store shelves.
Rock Cellar gathered together interviews with lead singer Liam Gallagher, guitarist and principal songwriter Noel Gallagher, guitarist and Oasis founder Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, original drummer Tony McCarroll, plus the man who signed Oasis, Creation Records head Alan McGee, the legendary DJ Gary Crowley, and host of The Oasis Podcast James Corcoran, and the end result is the story about the greatest debut album ever made, and what it still means, all these years later, a key part of Oasis’ impact on the world.
Liam Gallagher: It was the beginning, and all that, that was obviously exciting.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: It doesn’t feel like twenty-five years ago. That’s the scary fucking thing. Twenty-five years in anyone’s life is a long time!
Liam Gallagher: Yeah, our goal was getting a record deal. Then having the fucking brains to go into a studio and put my fucking life on hold to go and make some music. Not getting into a silly 9 to 5 job like all the other dickheads there. And not be caught wearing leather trousers.
If I get out of this life without turning into a knob head and being photographed with leather trousers on I think that would have been a bit of a success.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: We started off as the Rain, but that was just a bit of fun. I’d always played guitar. I had a drum machine. I had a bass guitar. And it was just a case of not having much mood to go out and drink every night. I was friends with Guigs, and it was just a case of us chatting and me saying, “You know what, Guigs, why don’t we start a band?” And Guigs was like, “Well, I can’t play an instrument.” And I said, “Well, you know what, I’ve got a bass guitar, and a bass guitar, all you’ve got to do is hit one note. I’ll show you.” So that was it, really.
Then we had a drum machine, and Chris Hutton, who’d sing, but he wasn’t the best singer in the world. And we didn’t have the best songs in the world. But it was a bit of fun, playing and making noise with the drum machine in the garage. That’s how that started.
Tony McCarroll: We were well aware of each other from 10, 11 upwards. I was invited down to watch them one night, he they a drum machine in the corner. They were good. Bonehead was always impressive on an instrument, whatever it was, whatever he played. I joined Rain that night, probably early nineties; 1991.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: The Stone Roses were the big influence. That was in the late eighties. We used to go to Hacienda. On a Tuesday night, they used to have what was called the “local band night.” I think it was a one-pound in then. There’d be eight bands. So we used to rehearse and then after rehearsals we’d go to Hacienda for local band night. It was fucking brilliant, because you’d see these bands and it was cool and retro. We saw Nico playing there, she was living in Manchester at the time.
Tony McCarroll: We definitely had a Manchester vibe. But we had aspirations from that point on. Yes, we want to be famous. Yes, we want to be successful in the music business. We put our hearts into it from that point. I do credit Bonehead. That big wall of sound? That beefy, big, dangerous wall of sound? That carried over to Oasis.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: Liam was always that kid that you’d see on the street. He always had the coolest clothes. He always had the coolest haircut. He always had the coolest walk. If you didn’t know him, you’d take one look at him and think, “That guy’s got to be in a band. He’s definitely in a band. I’ve just got to find out what band he’s in.”
He just looked the part. He didn’t look like a footballer. He didn’t look like a guy who worked in an office. He looked like a guy who was made to be in a band. He just had that whole charisma about him, which he still does. So Liam had never sung before, but he was inspired by the Roses, and that’s what he wanted to do. He came over to mine and sat on the floor and played along to a couple of demos I’d made. His voice came out and it was like, wow. It’s nothing like the Liam we know now. He was a lot more angelic. Melodic. I don’t know how to describe his voice. Upbeat. But he certainly had “that” voice.
Tony McCarroll: The sound was always getting better and crisper. Everyone bang on the notes. We free-formed band songs.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: As soon as Liam came in, we got really going with the singing. We were like, “We’ve got to change the mood of the tunes. We can’t stay as the Rain.”
Tony McCarroll: I was unaware of what he could do. Obviously, his voice has had a battering since then, but he had very clean-cut, high notes, and he was hitting those high notes. You’d never believe Liam Gallagher could do it like that, but yeah, he was there. And I do remember, because I worked with him when he was 16, 17, and he was always saying, “I am going to be famous. I am going to be famous.”
Lo and behold, he kept to his word and made it happen.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: Noel came back off tour with Inspiral Carpets, and asked, “What’s new?” We said, “Liam’s in the band.” He said, “What? Liam’s what? Doing what?” We said, “We’ve got a band, we’re playing down at the boardwalk.” Noel went, “I’ve got to come down to see this.”
Noel came down to see us. And I think he thought, yeah, there’s something there. You look like a band. The songs aren’t there, but you look like a band doing it on the stage. And he was like, “What about if I come down to the rehearsal room where you rehearse? I’ll come down and bring my guitar and bring my amp and we can have a jam.” And we were like, “Yeah, cool.” Which he did. He came down and that extra guitar,
Noel’s guitar, lead guitar, just jamming, had an immediate effect. We knew we had to bring Noel in. But then of course, Noel being Noel, while he was on tour with the Inspiral Carpets, he’d been writing songs. We all knew he wrote songs, but he started playing these songs that he’d written, and it was just like, wow, fucking hell. We were like, this guy’s got to be in the band. “Noel, you’ve got to be in the band and write the songs.” And he joined.
Tony McCarroll: Noel came down to check out what was going on. And I asked him to join, in front of Liam. At first, I believe he wanted to play bass. Or I think Liam wanted him to play bass. That was uncomfortable.
Alan McGee (Creation Records): They played four songs the night I saw them for the first time, and signed them: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” “Up In The Sky,” “Bring It On Down” and a Beatles cover. They played great. Liam sang great. Noel played great guitar.
Liam Gallagher: I just remember just being, like, alright, cool we got a deal. It’s our chance to fucking make it happen and sort it out, you know what I mean? You know, let’s not fucking blow it. Fuck Knebworth. Fuck Maine Road. Fuck all that. The best part of it was getting a deal, getting in the studio, and getting out of shitty little venues.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: When McGee signed us, then we got a manager. We didn’t have a manager at the time. We found Marcus Russell, because Johnny Marr recommended him. And we just went out. We gigged and gigged and gigged. Every night. I was driving the van, and the band were in the back of the van, and we just went out and we gigged, and we gigged. We were so fucking tight.
Liam Gallagher: That, to me, is what it’s about: Getting a record deal is where it’s fucking at. It’s up to you, then, to fuck it up.
Noel Gallagher: I was a songwriter before I joined Oasis. Oasis didn’t invent that sound. I invented that fucking sound. That just comes from my soul. It’s the most difficult thing in the world to write a memorable chorus. It doesn’t happen by luck. You have either fucking got it or you haven’t.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: Noel was actually a writer.
Alan McGee: I heard more songs and it became apparent this wasn’t a normal indie rock band.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: “Rock and Roll Star,” that was really good. I remember Noel coming in with “Shakermaker.” I was just like, fucking hell. We used to rehearse every night religiously. Seven nights a week we’d be in the rehearsal room, and every night we’d turn up and Noel would have a new song. Not necessarily a song that ever made it onto an Oasis album in the future, but he always had something new. And that something new he had was always mind-blowing. It was like, fucking hell.
Noel Gallagher: You’re only in that position once. You’ve had your whole life to get to that point, and the only expectation people have is that you’re going to have a good time and maybe make a single. But by the time I’d written “Live Forever” and “Cigarettes and Alcohol” and “Supersonic,” I did feel a bit unstoppable.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: They booked us in the Monnow Valley studios in South Wales. We weren’t familiar with the recording process. We weren’t, like, yeah, we know what to do in a recording studio. We were relying on the guy who was producing us, which was Dave Batchelor. Just totally the wrong guy. It was a fucking nightmare.
The band played well. But he put us in a room and recorded us, and we’d go back in the control room, and we were like, “That is not how it sounds in the room. That does not sound like us.” It was so restrained. We couldn’t understand why it wasn’t sounding like us. We didn’t know it was Dave Batchelor’s fault. We just thought, “He pressed record, why doesn’t it sound like us?” It was really fucking frustrating, to the point that we thought, we’re never going to capture this. We’re never going to get it. It was hard.
Tony McCarroll: Dave, credit to him, he’s worked with massive names; the Kinks being one, for example. We recorded the album, and I wouldn’t say there was any problem with the way we recorded it, but the sound — when we were playing everything back — we said, “We’ve lost something here.” It was real crisp and clean and not the dirty sound we had in Oasis. So he didn’t quite nail it in that respect. I wouldn’t say that was anything to do with us, or our recording skills. The sound just wasn’t right. Plus, we were used to eyeballing each other in a small rehearsal room, and in that first serious recording session, we were all in separate rooms. I was surrounded by 20, 30 mics. It was quite nerve-wracking. There wasn’t the eye contact. So it just didn’t turn out right.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: We were trying to get the drums down for “Bring it On Down.” We were trying to get it done for the first single, and it just wasn’t happening. We weren’t getting the drums right. Noel went in when we were having a break and wrote “Supersonic,” and he came out to the live room and said, “Look, I’ve just wrote a song with lyrics. Here’s the chords.” He played it to us once. We wrote the chords down. And we went for a take. And fucking hell. That was just immediate; in your face.
The following day or two days afterwards, we were down at Maida Vale studios for the BBC doing a special live session. And we brought the take of “Supersonic” down. McGee was there, and we brought it down for him to listen to. He was expecting to listen to “Bring It on Down.” He just said, “Let’s have a listen to the track.” Noel put the take in and pressed play really loudly and played “Supersonic.” I’ll never forget it. McGee just went, “What the fucking hell is this? That’s not ‘Bring It on Down.’” And Noel said, “No, it’s called ‘Supersonic.’ I just wrote it the other day. We recorded it. This is our new single.” And for me, that was the moment when it was just like, fucking wow. Listening to it blast through the speakers at Maida Vale Studios in London, where we were doing this Radio 1 session. And watching McGee’s face and reaction to it was the one for me. It was just like, yeah. We’ve got it!
Liam Gallagher: There’s a fucking song there. And there’s our guitars right there. Let’s get it down, you know what I mean? We’re gonna be fucking great, cause we’re great live. And so, once we get inside these big posh fucking studios, or whatever it is, we’re gonna be great.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: Alarm bells started ringing. I think Noel ran to McGee and he said, “Look. This isn’t fucking happening, man. It’s just not sounding right.”
Alan McGee: My belief in Oasis never wavered. I always thought they were brilliant.
James Corcoran (The Oasis Podcast): I think Alan McGee needs to take a lot of credit for having the confidence to scrap the sessions and make them start again.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: What we decided was that we should get to a different studio, which was Sawmills Studio down in Cornwall, South of England. And let’s get the guy who knows us. The guy who works with us. Who was Mark Coyle, who did our live sound. He knew how we worked. And we went down to Sawmill Studio, and they just put us in a room together, and on the count of four, the band played, and they just captured it immediately.
Tony McCarroll: It was Alan McGee’s idea then to use our live engineer Mark Coyle to see if we could recreate that sound through the amps, if you like, on the recording session. Mark, you know, had the opposite style to getting it right, if you like. Mark captured the energy, which was definitely missing with Dave’s work. Maybe he didn’t know the band too well. Maybe that was what the problem was. You probably needed to see us live before going in to record us.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: We knew the songs backwards. We’d played them every night. We only did, like, two takes of the songs, and it was there. We’d got it. We captured it. All we needed was the right person to mix them. It was all down on tape. It was all sounding good, it was played well. We just needed somebody to mix it. That was Owen Morris.
Tony McCarroll: I don’t think Mark could mix brilliantly. His mix wasn’t brilliant. So it was handed to Owen Morris, who had some piece of gear that could make it louder than anybody else when it came on jukeboxes. Owen then brought the album to life and completed it.
Alan McGee: “Slide Away” blew my mind.
James Corcoran: It’s much maligned, but “Digsy’s Dinner” really stands out to me. On an album with a lot of moody atmospheric songs, it is a joyous brash slice of fun with an incredibly heartfelt message at the center: “These could be the best days of our lives.”
Alan McGee: “Slide Away” and “Live Forever” are standout moments.
Noel Gallagher: Liam is afraid. He’s afraid to try anything. He has fear of failure. He has a phobia of being laughed at, whereas I really couldn’t give a fuck one way or the other. When I played him ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ for the first time in 1994 he freaked out. It was just, “We can’t do a song like that! People will laugh at us!” And I was like, “Sit down, son, I know what I’m doing.”
Alan McGee: In the immediate aftermath of the album’s release people were in shock that the album was that good.
Gary Crowley: In the late eighties, early nineties, I was presenting a Sunday afternoon program on the BBC London station. Our remit was playing the best new and emerging mainly guitar pop stuff. It was kind of essentially guitar pop, like The Wonder Stuff, plus the Manchester bands were all beginning to come through in the wake of the Stone Roses. We used to have a lot of bands coming in and doing interviews and the most of them, it always felt for me, that they weren’t really enjoying being interviewed.
So I’ll always remember interviewing Noel and Liam for the first time. I’d already read about them a little bit, as far as the music papers were concerned, and I wasn’t really sort of sure what to expect. But they really were an absolute breath of fresh air. There was an edge to them, but there was also a charm about them. To some people they came off as a pair of show-offs, kind of egotistical to the point where you’d want to turn off the radio or TV. But there was a charm. They were endearing. I quickly sort of realized that even before we started doing the interview, and that was really different at the time, because 90% of bands, I always felt they really would rather have been somewhere else.
But with these two guys — and it was always Noel and Liam that you interviewed at the beginning — they were enjoying being in the limelight, and they were going to grab it. That’s what really, really set them apart, as far as I’m concerned.
James Corcoran: The first time I heard them I wasn’t really that bothered by them! It was watching The Chart Show on Channel 4 on a Saturday morning and the “Live Forever” video came on. I just remember thinking, “Oh, it’s another one of those whiny indie bands.”
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: I didn’t really stop to think what was going on or how it was happening. When we were doing gigs, but we were doing the tiny little gigs. But every week we’d come through these gigs to a packed house. People were there. Then overnight, more people were coming to see us. It was this whole buzz; this whole vibe was happening. And it was happening so fast, and we were so busy, that I really didn’t have time to sit down and take stock and think what was going on. It was incredible.
Liam Gallagher: It hadn’t changed yet. After gigs, I went back to my mum’s house, was in bed by 11 o’ clock at night with my ears just fucking ringing.
Gary Crowley: There was an edge to them. I always remember The Face magazine put this fantastic picture of Liam on the front of the cover. It was something along the lines of Never Mind the Bollocks, but here comes the Sex Beatles. It’s become a little bit of a cliché, with the passing of time, but as people and as a band, musically, they had that sort of edge — that swagger — that the Pistols had.
Liam Gallagher: A lot of things went into it. It was songs, it was the voice, it was the attitude, it was the look, it was the fans, and it was the people who fucking opened their ears and opened their minds.
Gary Crowley: Noel is this very talented songwriter. You could hear other bits and pieces in there, as well, little bits of Suede or T. Rex or whatever, but Noel’s got this intuitive, instinctive, amazing ability to write great pop songs, and that was there, certainly, as far as I’m concerned, playing records on the radio. That was there right from the off. I was sent a copy of “Columbia,” right at the beginning, which was like an almost like a taster record, and even that set them apart, as far as I was concerned.
But it was everything, as well. It was the press that was surrounding them, and sex, the drugs; I mean, it was the whole thing, really. Then it snowballed, so quickly.
I think things like Oasis, they do come along once every generation or something. Listen, Blur are an amazing band, and also a talented band. But I never felt they really enjoyed doing the interviews. Whereas Noel and Liam, you literally just had to put them in front of the camera, or the microphone, and they were absolutely happy as Larry. That was very different at the time.
James Corcoran: At the time I was much more interested in American rock bands like Green Day and Nirvana, and dance acts like The Prodigy. It was only later, in 1994, hearing “Cigarettes & Alcohol,” and then “Whatever,” that they really turned my head. And a friend of mine lent me a cassette tape with Definitely Maybe on one side and the B-sides on the other, and that really blew my mind. I was all in.
Tony McCarroll: We knew we had something good. We knew we were good. But would the world listen? It was a nervous time, being from Manchester. How were we going to be accepted? There was a tinge of the Manchester sound in there, as well, which we worried might be a little dated. It turned out it’s held up really well, and people are still discovering it today for the first time!
Alan McGee: Definitely Maybe never went away, but about ten years later it got really popular with the next generation.
James Corcoran: The reputation of the album grew throughout late 1994 and into 1995, and then when “Some Might Say” hit Number One in March, they were a proper pop phenomenon. I’d be interested to track how it has performed in “best album ever” polls over time. I would hazard a guess that in the last few years it’s come back up again with the resurgence of the Gallagher brothers and the lack of new bands coming through.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs:
We totally believed in ourselves and we totally believed in what we were doing. We totally believed that people were going to get what we were doing. And I remember Noel saying that. “In 20 years’ time, people are still going to be talking about us.”
And I didn’t doubt it … but you don’t really believe it. That’s a massive statement. “In 20 years’ time, people are still going to be talking about Definitely Maybe.” And they are. And more. 25 years later, it’s still a huge deal, which is incredible.
Liam Gallagher: I don’t wanna call ‘em glory days. Life is fucking glorious. Every day is a glory day, you know what I mean? Whether you’re making music or picking flowers, you know what I mean?
But, yeah, I enjoy looking back at the band. It was great.
Gary Crowley: Great songs with an edge. The music, I think, it hasn’t dated. It still has that element of timelessness about it.
James Corcoran: It doesn’t sound dated in the way a lot of albums do from the time, primarily, I think, due to the instrumentation, lyrics and the production. Because they always had a throwback classic rock sound in the construction and recording of the songs, they were never contemporary sounding, unlike a lot of bands that used, say, drum machines or synth sounds that did then sound dated when the technology moved on. Ironically, being derivative at the time has effectively future-proofed them!
That is, unless we reach a point where the overall Beatles-focused classic rock style sound goes out of fashion, in which case Oasis will as well.
Liam Gallagher: We were great, you know what I mean? And we were stupid and we were daft and were funny and we looked cool. We had our flaws but it was emotional, man, ‘cause we didn’t give a fuck.
Gary Crowley: I loved Blur and Ride, but from my perspective, interviewing those bands on a radio show, a lot of them didn’t seem to enjoy it. Not all of them, but then all of a sudden you’ve got these two guys in the studio with you who were just giving you these amazing, funny, controversial quotes. It was just like, “Oh my God, this is absolutely amazing.” It really made for a difference. They were lively. We all want a bit of that every now and then.
Tony McCarroll: We were confident. We were not letting this moment go by. We’d given our best shot. Thank God it worked out brilliantly. We were smiling. We were happy. We were going to enjoy the ride as long as it lasted. Whatever went on, if the album wasn’t successful, it didn’t matter. The aim early on was just to do a single to get us out of our mundane lives in Manchester.
We weren’t the brainiest, we weren’t academics; job prospects were limited. Positions were limited. We were never going to walk into a role that paid us 50, 60 grand a year. Nothing like that. This was the only way out, whether it be short lived or what. It was just a temporary time out of our lives to do something different. That was the initial aim.
But, you know, we’re still here, twenty-five years later, talking about it.
Gary Crowley: The B-sides they were releasing around that time, too, were as good sometimes if not better.
James Corcoran: The B-sides from the period, and the fact they were B-sides, was just amazing to me, and really set them apart from other bands whose B-sides were rarely worth listening to.
Alan McGee: I wish I had made them save all those great B-sides, but we all thought the purple patch would go on forever.
Gary Crowley: It seemed to happen incredibly quickly, but I think the media, in a way, really wanted it. Oasis just seemed to capture the moment; the Zeitgeist. That whole “lad” thing in the UK; magazines like Loaded. Men behaving badly.
The band clearly had a penchant for behaving badly, and everything that kind of went with that. That was a dream come true for the tabloids, because the band were very honest about how they lived their lives. There was no hiding it. And the whole sibling rivalry, between Noel and Liam, and the glamorous girlfriends that they had, as well, it was a dream come true for the Fleet Street editors. They were selling a lot of newspaper.
Liam Gallagher: If you’re gonna lose the plot, lose it properly, you know what I mean? I think we’d lost it properly.
Tony McCarroll: My final show, at Sheffield Arena, walking out onto that stage was like, “Oh, my god. This is getting seriously big.” But saying that, the band could have imploded at any point. Noel and Liam, they’re brothers, at the end of the day, and so they bickered from the word go. But it got to a certain point where we could ignore that and still feel the tenseness of it, if you like.
We’d come along to a gig, where obviously no one’s ever met us, and the next thing, them two are shouting and arguing on stage. I’m sure the engineers and everybody was going, “Oh, my god. Is this gig going to go ahead?” This is one step away from violence. But it gave us energy. The band got to a point of sort of, “Oh, yeah. Them two again. Leave them to it. Everything’s going to be alright.” And that kept us going.
So I’m disappointed the way things ended. But I wouldn’t call it bitter. With Definitely Maybe, you know what? I did that. I’m part of that. Five lads, who came from nothing, within a two-mile radius in Manchester, created a great album and a great band.
Alan McGee: The original line-up was the one. They weren’t great players, but they had a real Mancunian edge.
James Corcoran: The other three — Bonehead, Tony and Guigsy — built the backbone of the sound themselves without the involvement of Liam or Noel. Bonehead was the key factor in that band that drove everything. It was the combination of that overall punk-meets-Madchester sound, added to Noel’s great songs, that was key.
Would Noel / Liam have made it without them? It’s one of those questions that is impossible to answer, but overall it was the spirit of the gang mentality that was so special, and after Bonehead and Guigs left, it was never the same.
Gary Crowley: Oasis was the essence of great rock and roll, really. You had this incredibly good-looking, charismatic frontman, who had this intuitive street sense about him, in Liam. You kind of felt with Noel that he’d read the books and he knew what needed to be done to kind of get to that point. And those songs! They just had it. You can try and dissect it, but really, you enjoyed being around them. They were funny, but there was a bit of an edge to them. I always really looked forward to interviewing them. I knew that I had to be at the top of my game. Because if I wasn’t, they’d have me. They weren’t fools.
Liam Gallagher: Everyone’s a bit scared now, aren’t they, to open their mouths, in case, like, their little careers are over?
Noel Gallagher: It’s easy for singer-songwriters. It’s convenient. That’s why the music today sounds easy and convenient. A band is all about the struggle. It’s fucking hard work to be in the Rolling Stones because of the personality clash. It was tough to be in Oasis because of me and Liam. But out of it, you manage to somehow forge this fucking great music.
Gary Crowley: They’ve got to be right up there as probably the last great rock and roll band. I was talking about this to a friend the other day, and we were trying to think of a band over the last couple of years that had the same swagger and attitude and stage-itude, and we couldn’t come up with anybody. The best we could do was the Arctic Monkeys, which was how many years ago?
I don’t want to say we’re never, ever going to see a band like Oasis again, and end up with egg on my face, but the way that we are accessing music — listening to music — maybe it can’t have the same impact. Oasis was still that tried and tested way of being written about and then radio catching up. It’s obviously changed since those days.
Noel Gallagher: People always go on and on about the past being this magical, wonderful thing, but that early period really does seem like the last golden period for music.
Liam Gallagher: I don’t regret anything. The minute you start regretting, it’s like dominoes, ‘innit? You take one out, and, whoosh. So I don’t regret anything. It is what it is, because it you start taking one thing away, the whole thing falls to pieces. And I’m very proud of what I’ve done.
Noel Gallagher: We did all there was to do, creatively.
Liam Gallagher: I loved every fucking bit of it. Every bit, I’d do it all again. And we’re still the best, even if we’re not together.