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What next for Britpop's most conspicuous under-achiever asks John Tatlock. Maybe Amorphous Androgynous point the way forward
It’s 1992, down a Manchester city centre back-street called Little Peter Street. You are leaving The Boardwalk, a combined rehearsal room and gig venue, where local bands play to small crowds alongside better known alternative acts from further afield – Sonic Youth, Husker Du and the like – while Fridays are given over to ex-Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam’s superb Yellow night, a no-rules mish-mash of soul, house and guitar bands. Maybe you’ll be up there later; you often drag the rest of the lads along too.
You turn left, then left again, then right onto Whitworth Street and observe the queue snaking along the opposite corner and into The Hacienda, perhaps past its peak, but still pumping out cutting edge dance and techno sounds to packed crowds. You walk straight ahead and pass The Venue on your left, a gnarly indie / punk club and The Brickhouse on your right, still hosting an assortment of cracking disco and soul nights.
Cross Oxford Road and arrive at the entrance of India House. You put down your guitar case and fumble in your pocket for your keys. You are Noel Gallagher and your walk home from rehearsal through the city centre has taken around four or five minutes, maximum. Maybe you could stay in tonight, or maybe head out for a drink a couple of minutes away in any of the venues you’ve just passed. Or head on out to the student boozers down Oxford Road for some indie sounds, or up to Legends (where the Mondays filmed the video to ‘Wrote For Luck’), or maybe even out to one of the new mixed gay / straight bars that appearing in Canal Street round the corner for a bit of cheesy Italo house.
You don’t mind a bit of that stuff, there are some great tunes; especially ‘Feel The Groove’ by Cartouche, brilliant. You’ve had the band rehearsing a cover version of that lately, just a repetition of the “Better let you know / it’s time for you to go” line over a mental wall of My Bloody Valentine feedback and Stooges riffing, but none of them like it, and it’s soon to be dropped from the set.
Anyway, whatever you decide to do, there’s pretty much any kind of music you can think of being played loud within a short walk, and you’re into it all.
Cartouche – 'Feel the Groove'
Oasis cover version – demo recording
Noel Gallagher has always been great at spinning a myth, and Oasis’s four-or-five-ordinary-lads-from-Burnage-who-shook-the-world back story has certainly played well in the papers over the years. The thing is, while that’s a roughly accurate description of the rest of the band, it barely describes Noel, who had got out of the (actually quite leafy and pleasant) suburb and right into the city centre music-biz action years previously.
India House was, and remains, something of a key institution for sharp youngsters on the make in Manchester. Adapted from an old warehouse into social housing flats, long before the current fad for city centre living, it provided a means of being right in the middle of the city action, but incredibly cheaply and with a landlord sympathetic to the fluctuating incomes of people struggling away in bands, promoting club nights and working in the theatre. (All of which could be supplemented with signing on the dole and a bit of low level drug dealing, if so desired.)
The flats themselves are not palatial, but are a much nicer proposition from the kind of high rise horror it’s all to easy to end up in in such circumstances. There are some nutters in there for sure, but the tenant list over the years has somewhat suspiciously favoured the city’s well-connected hipsters, including members of The Doves and Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown. The whisper around town has always been that if you know who to ask, and how to ask, you can get bumped up the waiting list.
Whether there’s any truth to that rumour or not, there was a certain cut-price boy-or-girl-about-town bohemian lifestyle to be had, and Gallagher grabbed it with both hands. By ‘91 he was well connected with many Manchester music scene movers and shakers (if not quite aristocracy). Having worked regularly as part of the Inspiral Carpets road crew, he’d travelled widely with them and befriended people like Johnny Marr – an important early champion of Oasis – and Mark Coyle, the Carpets’ sound man who later go on to produce Oasis’s first album.
The point of all this, of course, isn’t to suggest that Noel is hiding some kind of privileged past, as you can do all the above and still be horribly skint. It’s rather to point out that there’s always been something somewhat frustrating about Oasis’s self-imposed we-only-make-proper-songs-on-proper-instruments-for-the-milkman-to-whistle stance, especially when you know what broad musical exposure and taste the elder Gallagher actually has.
In an odd piece of serendipity, at more or less exactly the moment on Friday 28th of August that Noel Gallagher was announcing his departure from Oasis, the presses were rolling out the following day’s Guardian Guide, containing an interview with Jay Z, in which Gallagher’s musical broad-mindedness was discussed.
Referring to the storm in a tea cup surrounding Jay Z’s headlining performance at the 2008 Glastonbury festival, and Gallagher’s petulant complaint that “Sorry, but Jay-Z? Fucking no chance. Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music. . . I'm not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It's wrong.” Jay Z avoided a war of words with the Oasis man, simply electing to hand Gallagher’s ass to him by turning in an all-time festival highlight show, cheekily opening with Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’: