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Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Stop the Clocks for Oasis Retrospective
IN 1994 Britain's rock fans were in the grip of a grunge invasion. American bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam dominated the charts with their heavy riffs and desolate lyrics.
Luckily Noel Gallagher was on hand to save the day. "I remember Nirvana had this two-chord song saying, 'I hate myself and I want to die'," says the Manchester-born Oasis songwriter. "And it was like, as much as I like Kurt Cobain, I'm not having that.
"I couldn't have people like that coming over here saying that they hate themselves and they want to die, that's rubbish. So I wrote early hit Live Forever at that time.
"I'm not saying it was written directly as a retort to that, but kids don't need to hear that kind of nonsense. It seemed like to me he was a guy that had everything and was miserable about it, and we had f*** all.
"I still thought that getting up in the morning was the greatest thing ever because you didn't know where you'd end up at night, you know? We didn't have a pot to piss in, but it was great, man."
This was Oasis at the beginning - champions of the people, champions of themselves - a group of men with a deep desire to make music that meant something.
Today, despite selling millions of records, they're still as down to earth, still as cocksure as ever - stomping along rather than treading the fine line between arrogance and self-belief, and still making music they believe in.
It's an impressive feat, not least because of all the line-up changes (only Noel and brother Liam Gallagher are left from the beginning, currently with Gem Archer on guitar and Andy Bell on bass while Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey is semi-official drummer), and the fall from grace as national heroes after some duff albums.
They're still an enticing live draw, holding on to a stadium-filling legion of core fans, and they've kept the less loyal interested with their entertaining interviews and the aggressive in-fighting between the Gallaghers.
But it's their insistence at doing things their own way, thank you very much, that has really kept them in favour with their fans.
Noel and Liam haven't changed at all. For a start, Noel still does his own shopping at the supermarket, and they've kept a 'can't-be-arsed' attitude to conquering the lucrative American market.
Even in bowing to record company pressure to do a best of, they've done it on their terms. The forthcoming Stop The Clocks compilation isn't the greatest hits collection fans may have expected, or even wanted - half the singles aren't there.
Instead it's a compilation of the songs that Oasis themselves think are their best, including some album tracks and b-sides.
"To me, the songs that are on it are the songs that we have generally played live over the last 14 years," says Noel. "Those are the songs that I feel is our best work. Five of us, four of us, can't sit in a room and pick a track listing.
"I always pick the set list and if anyone's got a problem with it they say to me they're not doing that. It's the same with the track list. I picked it, it went round, and I didn't get any of the usual phone calls at quarter to four in the morning," he laughs.
People now bow to Noel's obvious savvy because Oasis' longevity is mostly due to his dedication and undeniable songwriting talent.
Before Noel joined, Oasis were just a bunch of school mates gigging around Manchester. Liam then invited Noel on board, who made himself sole songwriter, simplified the band's playing technique and demanded they aim for nothing less than the top of the charts.
But it took some time for his peers to realise his potential.
"I remember writing Cigarettes And Alcohol in my flat in Manchester," he says, "in those days I used to write on the electric guitar with my amp on 10 in my room in this block of flats.
"One of the guys that lived above me, I remember him once passing me on the stairs going, 'You're not going to write a song with that riff, are you? That's rubbish'. I was going, 'Listen, fat arse, it's going to be amazing when it comes out'.
"And I remember going down to the rehearsal room and bringing the song in. Bonehead used to always be the tut-tutter. I told him I've got this tune called Cigarettes And Alcohol, and he goes, 'Cigarettes And Alcohol? You've got to change the title'.
"And then I did the riff and he's just going, 'Woah, you can't do that, that's T-Rex'. And I was like, 'I don't give a shit who it is, no one's ever going to hear it anyway'."
Both were wrong. Cigarettes And Alcohol was a massive hit, among many others. The Oasis hit-making machine shows no signs of stopping or even slowing down. After a few critically-panned albums, their last, 2005's Don't Believe The Truth, was lauded by many as a return to form.
And while Noel and Liam continue to put new, up-and-coming bands in their place (Arctic Monkeys and The Klaxons are their latest sore points), as well as happily sharing their political views ("New Labour have destroyed politics in this country," Noel said recently), they'll always have an audience.
"To me 1/8this album3/8 is like looking back at old photos of your kid and going, 'Look at that, you've got an ice-cream on your head'," says Noel. "It's just like looking back in time and going, 'There's the tune'.
"And if we don't do as many great tunes for the next best of, then we'll see. But who's going to tell us we're not going to do any more great tunes? I reckon we'll be rockin' 'til the cows come home."
The Clocks EP is out now. The album Stop The Clocks is out on Monday, November 20.
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