Remembering the famous Oasis gig when champagne, tunes and tantrums changed the band forever
"About an hour before we were due to go on, he turned up and was absolutely shitfaced."
For those keeping score in the never-ending feud between Liam and Noel Gallagher, it appears that something of a truce has been called. Music to the ears of their permanently-patient and infallible mother Peggy.
Basically, Liam's getting married, he invited Noel to the wedding.
A detente could be on the cards. Definitely? Maybe? Who knows what the story is.
After all, this is the Gallaghers. Noel would probably turn up and bury the hatchet at the church, only for an argument to break out at the reception.
Both stubborn, both completely different personalities, both enjoying success as solo artists.
Their story continues to be absolutely box-office.
Earlier this month, Liam Gallagher was the first artist to kick-off MTV's reboot of their Unplugged format, 23 years after one of the key turning points in the history of Oasis.
Let's set the scene.
Clip via Liam Gallagher
23 August, 1996.
Oasis are riding high after the gargantuan success of Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? Their famous two-night stand at Knebworth has been and gone, but new challenges await.
Naturally, the MTV Unplugged series would like to have the biggest band in the world gracing their stage and having already featuring impressive sets from the likes of Nirvana, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, the format obviously appeals to Oasis.
The stage is set and despite a last-minute venue change from the London's Roundhouse to the Royal Festival Hall, an expectant crowd waits to see a stripped-back version of Oasis.
An hour before the band were due on stage, Liam decides that he's unable to perform due to a “sore throat."
Rather than cancel the show, the band and the production crew decided to press ahead with the unplugged gig and see what happens.
"Even before we got to the day of the show, there was a concern of what's going on with Liam," said Jac Benson, associate producer of Oasis Unplugged.
"We were told that he didn't want to rehearse too much because he wanted to save his voice but you get to a point where you're thinking 'what's up with this guy? Is he going to show up?'" he adds.
Noel Gallagher had a more direct take as to why his younger brother refused to get behind the mic that night.
"We rehearsed for two weeks beforehand and Liam only turned up once or twice. The day of the performance, he hand't turned up and there were rumours that he was out drinking for a couple of days and nobody knew where he was. About an hour before we were due to go on, he turned up and was absolutely shitfaced. I said to Liam 'let's see if you can sing a couple of songs?' and it was absolutely fucking dreadful," said the guitarist.
Even during the rehearsals for the acoustic gig, those close to the production said that Liam would frequently point to his throat and then walk off stage. During rehearsals, Noel continued to sing the vocals and the band would continue to play. The live performance was exactly the same.
On the night of the gig, despite the fact that the singer wasn't even on stage, Liam still stuck around to watch Oasis unplugged. Every once in a while, the camera would pan to the balcony as we got a glimpse of the singer sipping champagne with his then wife Patsy Kensit.
Liam proceeded to heckle the rest of the band during the set and at one point, Noel even tells him to shut up from behind the mic.
"I was like 'fucking hell, thanks, 'the least you could do is show a bit of support'," said Noel.
What unfolded during that performance, however, was a genuine turning point in the career of Noel Gallagher and Oasis. Without Liam, the band still delivered one of the best live shows the group ever played during their golden years.
It's clear that Noel loved the opportunity to sing his own lyrics and step to the front of the stage.
Aside from that, it's arguable that there's a stronger emotional resonance to the songs because they're being performed by the songwriter himself. Perhaps Noel's more connected to the songs, it's more intimate. If so, it's absolutely perfect for the unplugged and acoustic format.
Despite Liam’s absence—and MTV’s reluctance to release the session commercially—the show was one of MTV Unplugged’s best. Throughout the 12-song set, Noel added a level of depth and atmosphere to certain tunes that transformed them.
What's even more impressive is that the renditions of 'Hello', 'Some Might Say', and 'Listen Up' were the first time that those songs were ever sung by Noel.
Clip via TheRightEarOfNash
'Some Might Say' feels like a completely different song that has more brass and upbeat pop melodies than you'd ever expect from a track usually associated with the band's sense of Mancunian swagger and bravado.
Of Noel's acoustic version of 'Live Forever', you could say it was the first time that audiences ever sat up and realised what a talented singer he is.
Elsewhere, the level of anguish and strain on his voice during 'Morning Glory' makes the Saturday night anthem almost feel like a melancholic lament. Two different voices, two completely different interpretations on the same song.
Unlike the studio version, 'Cast No Shadow' is sang from Noel's perspective and the notes that he hits on that track, when coupled with the piano and strings, are absolutely stunning.
However, two lesser-knowns tracks are the real standout moments.
The band's version of 'Listen Up' is the strongest one to date and the melody of 'Round Our Way' mixed with 'Up In The Sky' - with the added layers of harmonica and brass - is genuinely one of the happiest, most hopeful and joyous Oasis performances that you'll ever hear.
Here's the setlist in full.
"I think I did a fucking great job, to be honest with you. Afterwards, the director said we just want to do the first song again. Of course, Liam comes on stage and says that he wants to sing, right after we've played for an hour and a half! So we just told him to piss off, and he went home sulking," said Noel.
As the band stuck around to record an alternate version of 'Hello,' Liam did come on stage. He banged the piano a few times with his hand, waved to the crowd and then strolled off.
In terms of a confidence boost, Noel's ability to deliver an exceptional performance is immeasurable. Aside from his strong vocals and guitar work, it's clear to see the origins of the High Flying birds frontman that we know so well.
“I’d like to carry on with one I wrote,” said Noel cheekily whenever Liam interrupted him during one of his heckles. You could see Noel growing more comfortable in the spotlight as he engaged in a back-and-forth with fans.
When one lady asks to hear 'Talk Tonight,' Noel duly obliges with a song steeped in resonance and significance for the band - the finest lyrics that Noel has written in this author's opinion.
As the gig draws to a close, someone shouts "Wonderwall" and Noel immediately responds by saying, “you clever bastard”.
After that gig, his confidence must have been sky high. In comparison, Liam's erratic behaviour continued.
A week later, he decided he’d rather house hunt with Patsy Kensit than take part in the band’s 13-day US tour.
Noel was again forced to fill in for Liam on the first show of their American tour. Liam was back on stage with Oasis for their next show three days later in Detroit, but tension between Noel and the rest of the band mounted.
Here's Liam explaining why he missed miss the opening night of the US tour.
Clip via AP Archive
After hearing Oasis perform without Liam, George Harrison stated at the time that he thought they were better off without him.
"He's, like, a bit out of date. It's silly, it's silly. I feel a bit sorry for him because I think he has totally missed the bus and that was proven when you see the band without him singing. They're more in tune and he's just excess baggage," said The Beatles icon.
Despite the fact this gig took place 23 years ago, it's still in the mind of Liam. Before he took to the stage in Hull for his recent appearance on MTV Unplugged, he spoke candidly about his failure to show up and play with Oasis on MTV Unplugged.
"We got asked a while ago. I did one with Oasis years ago and I didn’t turn up cos I think I put something in the wash that turned out terrible," he said.
Delivered with typical Liam swagger, that line does appear to be in jest but it also hints at a core problem which contributed to the demise of Oasis; Liam's dislike of Noel singing more and more lead vocals.
Clip via Alt Zapping
During Mat Whitecross' superb documentary Supersonic, there's a segment dedicated to Liam's hatred of being sidelined as the lead singer.
"He's a great fucking songwriter and always will be. But singing is my gig, if you're (Noel) gonna start singing the fucking songs as well as writing them, what am I doing? Making the fucking tea? All this coming off stage and 'I'm doing this tune'," Liam said.
"I was walking on stage like a fucking yo-yo. Here he comes, here he goes, here he comes. Leave it out, you're taking the piss. Therefore, there will be a bit of frustration and the wheels might come off tonight."
This whole segment is compelling and it could be argued that Noel's burgeoning confidence as a singer after MTV Unplugged was a significant factor in his desire to sing more during Oasis' live shows.
Clip via sngao vn
A year later, Oasis would play Dublin's Point Theatre where Liam would also be absent.
Liam misses The Point, Noel gets a bigger look into where his career is going.
I was there on that night and while Oasis without Liam isn't the full Oasis experience, in hindsight, Noel Gallagher in his pomp was a sight to behold.
If Noel does take Liam up on his offer to attend the wedding, here's hoping that the evening will be less eventful than the one that went down on 23 August, 1996.
Here, meanwhile, is a behind-the-scenes look at how it all went down.
Clip via familiar to billions