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Tell ya, something’s happening ’round here.

April 10, 2009

With the return of the Friday Five this month, we look into (or I guess, more appropriately outside of) one of my all time favorite bands, Oasis.

I’ve been obsessed with the band since I first saw the “Live Forever” video in 1994, and have followed, researched and loved the band ever since. 

Ultimately, it is Noel and Liam’s band, but arguably since 2000, the band’s been more of a band than it ever previously was with the addition of formidable songwriters in their own right, Gem Archer and Andy Bell, both of whom played in bands on Oasis’ former label, Creation Records.

However, the stories of musicians that have come and gone from Oasis is like an unending web that keeps falling in on itself. For instance, when Alan White was only 15, he tried out to be in Gem Archer’s band at the time. Though the audition went well, the older boys figured a 15-year-old would be too much trouble to have along on the road, so they told him no. Several years later, Alan was the one welcoming Gem into Oasis. 

Johnny Marr basically helped Oasis from their start — from supplying Noel guitars and a manager at the very beginning of the career to adding guitar tracks on Heathen Chemistry and helping Liam Gallagher find his legs as a songwriter. For several years of selfless help, how did the Gallaghers repay him? By taking the Healers’ drummer Zak Starkey away and employing him on two of their own albums. 

There are several inward folding examples which only grow more obtuse when you include all the dudes who’ve helped them out on tours. But we’ll save those stories for another time. Today, let’s look at the auspicious pre-Oasis work of members who enjoyed an extended stint with the band on record and stage.

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The Friday Five
The Oasis Family Tree, Vol. 1 

Deborah Bonham & the Houseband – Black Coffee (live)
Although I admit to being very impressed by Chris Sharrock’s stickswork with Oasis (was at the Chicago show in December and have to concede, he’s by far the most entertaining Oasis has had just in terms of watchability), I still say the decision to show Zak Starkey the door was a big mistake. Listen to some of the drumming on Don’t Believe the Truth and Dig Out Your Soul. It’s heavy, but it’s tight as hell too. It’s hard to pick one pre-Oasis Zak drummed song to serve as a good tie to his work with Oasis. Certainly any Johnny Marr + the Healers track would’ve been sufficient, and the live version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” that Noel performed with the Who in 2000 marked the first time Noel and Zak shared the same stage. But I think this pull from the Steve Marriott tribute gig is a bit more apropos, since even though they didn’t play together, Noel, Gem and Zak all shared the same stage that night. Zak backed the houseband, and I think his work behind Debbie Bonham on the rendition of “Black Coffee” is his best performance on drums that night. Can now be found on the recorded memento of the night, Mustn’t Grumble – The Steve Marriott Memorial Concert 2001.

Heavy Stereo – Smiler
By far the best move Oasis ever made was taking on Gem Archer to replace Bonehead in 1999. Gem brought an amazing set of skills to Oasis as well as a dead cool look. The one drag of his involvement is that he’s not singing nor writing the same caliber songs as he was when he fronted Heavy Stereo in the preceding years. Of course, his voice has a Liam-esque tinge to it anyway, so I suppose the difference is not completely vast, but even as good as songs like “Eyeball Tickler,” “The Quiet Ones” and “To Be Where There’s Life” are, I still don’t think he’s bested the best Heavy Stereo stuff. This was a standalone single from the band in 1995. Listen to the sheer glam rock glory in here and tell me an Oasis album wouldn’t have benefitted from this track. Funnily enough, Noel Gallagher once deadpanned that on second thought, he should have called their 2005 hit single “Lyla” “Smiler” instead. 

Hurricane #1 – Step Into My World
Following the demise of Ride, whose final album Tarantula was an Andy Bell-driven and still underrated affair, Bell formed Hurricane #1 and moved himself away from the microphone, relegating himself to guitar player/songwriter, a la Noel Gallagher. Perhaps a little too conscious of what he was doing, the band’s first single, “Step Into My World” overtly sounded like an Oasis album track or B-side of the era (which is no diss), and Alex Lowe sounded like one of the many Liam-copycats being spawned in Britain in the mid-1990s. The press wrote them off as a ridiculous carbon copy of Oasis, which Lowe took exception with and then brilliantly decided to start insulting his world-conquering labelmates in the press in a vain hope at some kind of separation. Didn’t have the intended effect, and Hurricane #1 limped on until 1999, when Bell left to join Gay Dad but was intercepted by Oasis to take over bass duties. Obvious influence aside, this is still a brilliant song, and it  ended up on the band’s self-titled debut
Interesting pull from a 1997 NME interview with Noel an Liam:
“I see Hurricane #1 went in at Number 35,” notes Noel, chomping his BLT and nodding at his press officer. This is not a congratulation, but an opening jab at labelmates who recently and foolishly lashed out at Liam in NME. “That’s 35 places too high in my book.”
“Hurricane #1?” queries Liam, sauntering over. “He copies my haircut and then slags me off! What’s that about? But I ain’t into this bickering between bands now. I’m a married man. I’ll just blank the c—!”
“No you won’t, you’ll batter the c—!”
“Who’ll I batter? Hurricane #1? Never heard of them. Isn’t that some indie band with the guy from Erasure in them?”

Idha – Still Alive
Nevermind that Swedish import Idha was married to Andy Bell and got a deal on Creation herself, her 1997 album Troublemaker was notable for another Oasis-related album. The album comprised several recording sessions since 1994 and three of the album’s tracks, including this one, featured Alan White banging the drums prior to taking over the sticks from Tony McCarroll in Oasis. These sessions were the first where Noel actually took note of Whitey’s drumming abilities, even though the younger brother of Paul Weller’s magnificent drummer Steve White had already been suggested to Gallagher by Weller himself. When Whitey joined in on sessions for  (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Noel raved about the drumming on “Roll With It” being comparable to Keith Moon. This wonderfully moody track from Idha also features Bell on guitar and backing vocals. 

Ride – Crown of Creation
Caramba, another Andy Bell entry? Well this has to get a mention because it actually features Bell on lead vocals and marks the beginning of his journey down the retro path that would eventually plant him in Oasis. Although Ride’s first two albums were renowned as trailblazing records that set the stage for the shoegazing movement, the band tossed all that aside to mimic their idols on 1994’s Carnival of Light, a move which had many fans screaming bloody murder. The press slated it, essentially calling it a backwards-looking load of hogwash, but ironically would praise Oasis for the same moves just a year later. But there’s a big charm to this song, and it’s something Andy needs to find again, because nothing he’s written for Oasis has been this pure. Just let him sing one like this on a B-side at least, Noel? I mean, surely it’s better than another f*cking remix?

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