FEATURE: A Supersonic performance that catapulted Oasis into the mainstream
Oasis' debut record was a rocket up the a** of a sleepy music industry. This week, we look at how the fascinating journey began.
“Let’s just ****in’ have it!” is what one imagines Liam Gallagher saying backstage on the evening of March 18, 1994. Oasis had been performing in large pubs and small clubs up and down the UK for the previous three years, but this was no ordinary night.
Just a few months prior the band had showed up, via van, in Scotland unannounced and convinced the club’s promoters to let them do a set. In the crowd that night just happened to be one Alan McGee – Creation Records owner – and Oasis, embracing the hedonism of youth, returned to Manchester with the offer of a record deal on the table. Now they had their chance to shine and on March 18 The Word would be the platform to launch Britain’s next great band.
The Word was a cult British popular culture TV show which screened in the 1990s. It perfectly encapsulated the era – anti-establishment and utterly irreverent, but yet relevant enough to pander to a widespread audience. It helped catapult music careers in Britain – always a key marketplace.
The style and production of the show defined the first half of the 90s; the trippy, psychedelic background. The haphazard organisation. The cool aloofness, yet relevance and empathy of co-presenter, Mark Lamarr. The fact that the crowd appears slightly too close to the stage for comfort. The fashion, my God, the fashion. And the haircuts, just look at those mops. It would all be branded and dismissed as ‘hipster’ nowadays, but this was a time before the ‘hipster’ movement came to power. This was just the times, really. And in 1994 The Word was the show to be on.
Lamarr introduces Oasis in a seemingly sincere, yet clearly sarcastic manner. And before we can acknowledge his delivery, here’s Liam telling us, ‘I need to be myself, I can’t be no one else…’ There is a thumping drum/electric riff intro that we all came to associate with ‘Supersonic’. Oasis are straight down to business, no messing about. This was a band in a rush to superstardom.
Clip via - stockholmparkas
What’s striking, when one watches their TV debut now, was their look. They sounded like a rock band but they looked like five guys on a night out who stopped off at the studio because they got a tip-off that there was a good time to be had. Liam is so raw he’s even touching the mic, yet to incorporate his famous stance. They looked so normal but they had an aura. They were just like us but slightly out of reach. Perhaps the words at the time of music journalist Paul Mathur best summed up what the viewer was feeling toward this new band, “It was like everything and nothing I’d ever heard before”.
Reportedly, on the day of this performance, Bonehead (to Liam’s immediate right in the video) was a bag of nerves. But apparently Liam was raring to go, even taking the time in between the afternoon’s rehearsals to chat up the show’s live dancers. And at no point throughout the song does he look uncomfortable. This was a man born to be a star and a guy who was clearly revelling in the position of front man.
What makes it even more remarkable is that up until this point the boys behind Oasis had nothing in particular to be cheerful about.
The Gallagher’s working-class background was, on the insistence of Noel, no different from their counterparts in Manchester. Unemployment and drug abuse was rife and domestic violence was prevalent. However, Tommy Gallagher, the boys’ father, was particularly accustomed to subjecting his family to the latter social injustice. So much so, that Noel developed a stutter and needed to see a specialist in order to correct the problem. Drugs were a common theme around the boys’ neighbourhood and the brothers were no exception to that temptation. However, unlike most of his peers, Noel chose an additional escape – music. Soon Liam was to follow.
While Oasis landed their recording contract in coincidental circumstances, they were no overnight success. Liam was the founding member of the band when it was originally called The Rain. They had songs, the problem was the songs were no good. Meanwhile, big brother Noel was touring the world with another Manchester band – Inspiral Carpets, who have enjoyed relative success – as a roadie.
The elder Gallagher failed in his audition as lead singer, but was offered the above position as back-up. The move leant itself to what was a common theme in Noel’s life – time, and copious amounts of it. Whether it was fulfilling a role of minimal responsibility with the 'Carpets or in and out of work back in Manchester, Noel had all the time in the world to ‘noodle’ on his acoustic guitar. It was during this period that he would write the songs that would come to define a generation - and absolutely nobody knew about it, certainly not anyone in Inspiral Carpets. That would all change when younger sibling Liam virtually begged Noel to join his struggling band – as their manager.
After countless requests Noel eventually relented, on two conditions; they change the name ‘The Rain’ and that he join as lead guitarist and creative controller. Knowing his older brother’s greater talent for music, Liam agreed and immediately the newly named Oasis (Liam’s choice) were the beneficiaries of Noel’s inspired song writing.
It turned out that Noel wasn’t just a great composer of music who left the rest of the band incredulous of his talent, he was prolific, too. He demonstrated a countless number of self-penned tunes to his band mates, often writing songs in the time it took to play them (including ‘Supersonic’, hence the bizarre lyrics). With their set list ever expanding, it was now time to hit the road.
It took about two-and-a-half years for the new look Oasis to gain significant traction, but that time was well spent. When not living their own budget version of the rock’n’roll lifestyle, the band was extremely hard-working. Seven days a week Oasis would be practising, usually at The Boardwalk in Manchester. This discipline was installed by the now confirmed leader Noel, and it was paying off. By the summer of 1993 Oasis were being played on local and regional radio stations. It was during this time that their future manager Marcus Russell would hear them and by the end of the year the band were in a meeting with Creation Records in London to follow-up Alan McGee’s offer from Scotland.
The rise in Oasis’ stature was now rapid, with Creation winning the race to sign the Mancunians. The partnership was a match made in heaven, with McGee himself rivalling the band’s love of all the good things in life. Creation, backed by Sony, was famous for signing Primal Scream but were actually haemorrhaging money by late ’93, unbeknownst to anyone.
Oasis would be a crucial signing but also the ideal platform for the band. It wasn’t just their great sound, Oasis’ attitude was striking in that they made absolutely no bones about wanting as much success as possible. In an era dominated by Grunge; where negativity, suspicion, victimisation and anti-consumerism prevailed, this was an alien perspective – but one that was actually craved by an unmotivated public. Creation reflected this confidence.
Oasis’ influences were clear to those that saw them in the early days – they were obsessed with The Beatles, admired The Jam and looked up to hometown heroes The Stone Roses (whose TV debut is also worth watching on Youtube for comedy purposes alone), but they still maintained a unique quality. Now it was a case of sending the message to the nation. This is where Terry Christian – co-presenter of The Word and Manchester born-and-bred – would come into play.
Noel and Terry often frequented the same nightclubs in Manchester, where Gallagher would pester Christian about getting Oasis on the hit show. The March 18 episode was the last in the series and Christian demonstrated faith in Oasis by pushing them to appear. The problem was convincing his northern-hating bosses.
There was already another Manchester band scheduled on the show that night and the editor and music producer were loath to have two bands from Manchester play the same night on the London-based show. The other snag was that ‘Supersonic’ wasn’t set to be released until April 11 – some three weeks after the show aired – a date too far away in the eyes of the decision-makers on The Word. But, for the second time in their fledging career, Lady Luck was to favour the band. One of the other acts that night bailed and so Oasis, on first reserve, were booked.
The rest is history.
Oasis’ debut single would enter the charts at number 31 and this would be the performance to set everything in motion. At a time when the music scene desperately needed a wake-up call, this was its piercing Monday morning alarm. Nobody went to bed that night (or didn’t, in the case of the band) thinking that everything would now change. However, March 18, 1994 was the unofficial beginning of a new dawn in not just British music, but also British culture.
“Cool Britannia” had just been conceived.