Chasing the Sun – Oasis Exhibition 1993-97Written by Chris Clark
As you’d expect, alongside the NME, Brit awards memorabilia, the Be Here Now cover and Definitely Maybe’s living room photo opportunity mock up, there’s a fair few pictures in the new Oasis, Chasing the Sun Exhibition that recently closed its doors in Manchester. There’s unseen backstage ones, rehearsal ones, triumphant ones, iconic ones and evidently Familiar to Millions ones. There was one in particular though, which made me stop and think how far, wide, and deep, the Gallagher brothers tentacles penetrated the conscious. How they had permanently brandished their attitude, appeal and love of Adidas onto a not insignificant percentage of the country.
It’s estimated that 4% of the population applied for tickets to the Oasis Knebworth gigs, that’s approximately 2.3 million people. Read that again 2.3 million people applied for tickets to see one band. That’s not Glastonbury, were there’s a hundred different acts and events catering for those who like everything from mainstream to extreme, thats 2.3 million people clambering to see one band. The current population of Northern Ireland is estimated to be 1.8 million people. So that’s everyone in Northern Ireland plus another 500,000 who all picked up the phone on what was, the 1996 FA Cup Final day, when Man Utd played Liverpool. A dig in the ribs from the blue half of Manchester?
The picture that made me stop and think was an ariel shot of the Knebworth crowd. From above you could see the sprawling mass, the sheer size of the crowd and amount of people all there to share their moment in history with likeminded souls and who had, despite being warned not to, ‘put their life in the hands of a rock and roll band’. And for what? How had this band, these brothers, for it is the brothers who create the dynamic, as good as the supporting cast was, and with all due respect, I can’t remember anyone nicking Guiggs or Boneheads look? How had they captured the hearts and minds of so many people? These five working class lads from Manchester, these Adidas clad siblings, these ‘Manc scallies with a Beatles songbook’ to paraphrase a line from the film ‘Kill Your Friends’ how had they ended up on Newsnight, News at Ten, in No10 and at No1?
I guess to answer that you need to look back. Projected onto one of the white washed walls in the old Granada Studios building where the exhibition was held, a flat capped Zoe Ball, the future Mrs Fatboy Slim, interviews the Brothers G in 1994. After her disappointment that the room is not redolent of a scene from Caligula, and provocatively inquiring if they were the best band in world; Noel points out that while people in media think this is an overnight success, ‘three and half years of ‘scumming it around, being on the dole trying to keep the band together’ is no overnight success. The band played in excess of 300 gigs between the years the exhibition focuses on 93-97, an average one gig every four days. This working class work ethic, the constant desire to prove, to achieve, to not conform, to do things your own way, to have it; which for a generation too young for punks ground zero, too young to be loved up during the ecstatic late 80’s early 90’s rave scene, found that while the Roses were wilting, salvation lie in Oasis, and their snarling, anthemic escapism.
By the early 90’s Thatcher’s iron grip was corroding and her government awash with sleaze and in fighting. The Criminal Justice Act of 1994 stopped you standing in field with 20,000 of your best mates, sowing the seeds for the birth of the super club, and all that greasy hair and dirty clobber of Grunge had somehow screamed its way onto the airwaves. But what about the disengaged, disaffected mass, working jobs they hated, living week to week, who was making the music they wanted to hear?
Pete Townsend once said that Roger Dalerty’s stutter in My Generation wasn’t due to the song being record in a cold studio, but that it represented the inability of youth to articulate their anger and frustration. While Noel Gallagher also captured that very same repressed anger and frustration ‘you might as well do the white line’ he countered it with positivity, hope and a plea to believe in yourself and who you are with Supersonics opening lines, ‘I need to be myself, I can’t be no one else’ or Live Forever’s ode to immortality and sense of shared belonging ‘we see thing they’ll never see, you and I we’re gonna live forever’
The exhibition’s earliest pictures capture the essence of the band as a gang. Before they realised the drummer wasn’t a drummer, when Bonehead clung to his hair and when Guiggs wasn’t wearing the weight of the world as an overcoat. There’s a lightness and innocence to those early pictures, one of optimism, positivity and confidence. The swagger is there, but not as pronounced. Listen to the lightness of Liam’s’ voice on the early demos, before the elongated sunshine made its appearance. It’s in these pictures that you see where the band came from and how they connected with so many of us.
These lads were us, they were the lads we knew, we played football with, we drank with, we fought with, and we laughed with. The band was us. It was the working class holy trinity, Music, Football and Clothes that created and maintained the bond between Oasis and the fans. Liam was the lad every lad wanted to be and the lad every girl wanted to be with. We lived our weekend dreams through their songs and antics. When Definitely Maybe sent Oasis straight to the top of the album chart, as the fastest selling debut of all time in the UK upon its release; the stars aligned, Morning Glory was waiting to rise, and as the hyperdrive button was pushed, all the band had to do was hold on!
The Oasis course has been well plotted and documented by better writers than me, but what astounded me when looking and thinking back to those times was how normal, how expected and almost taken for granted it all seemed. Maybe it’s because I was caught up in the Cool Britannia euphoria and lost any sense of perspective or surprise, seeing Oasis on News at Ten because Liam didn’t go on the US tour, reading an interview in which Noel proclaimed everyone’s on drugs, didn’t seem unnatural. In fact if Oasis weren’t in the headlines there was something amiss. The brothers G were, are, the last of the famous internationally recognisable rock and roll stars, to come from the same streets as their fans. Is that the enduring nature of their appeal?
Think what has followed on from them? Yes, there have been other more successful groups in terms of critical and commercial success, there have been bands that surpassed them in terms of musicality, definitely, and there have been bands whose legions of fans are just as devoted, maybe. But has there been one band, or more pertinently two brothers who have been responsible for a capturing the hearts, hopes and dreams of so many people? On the first day of its release Be Here Now sold over 420,000 copies, actual physical copies, which people had to make the effort to go out and buy. Not sat in the chair downloading it, but getting of their arses and going down the record shop.
The album may, and has by some, in hindsight be classed as pure folly, a line too long. You could say, that as Altamont was said to have killed the 60’s dream, so too, Be Here Now burst the Britpop bubble. However, for those four years the exhibition covers, the band were undisputed kings of the musical landscape they surveyed. Responsible for engaging and energising a number of people so large, that fewer people have been needed to start revolutions, overthrow governments and even conquer countries. Oasis didn’t just Chase the Sun, they caught it on their chest, watched as it dropped, and then volleyed it into the top right hand corner.
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