Anyone living in the UK over the past few weeks and not trapped under something heavy cannot fail to have noticed it is the twentieth anniversary of Brit Pop this year. Polls, documentaries, radio shows and news articles have all been reflecting / wringing hands / celebrating What It All Means, What Brit Pop’s Lasting Legacy Really Is, and Whether All This Nostalgia Is A Bad Thing, At The End Of The Day, I Mean There’s Plenty Of Good Music Now Isn’t There – Why Go On About The Past?
Spearheaded by Oasis, Suede, Pulp and Blur, the Brit-pop movement was notable for the reclamation of guitar pop from America, which was saturating the world with the shower of gloom that was Grunge. As Blur’s Damon Albarn said at the time “If punk was about getting rid of hippies, then I’m getting rid of grunge.”Embed from Getty Images
Like many people, I remember clearly the first time I saw Oasis on TV. I had been lamenting the lack of good rock bands just as the video to Shakermaker, Oasis’ second single played on TV. I stopped, looked at these mop-topped dudes looking sour-faced and moody and said, “I guess if there were more bands like this…”
After years of dance music dominating the airwaves (it felt like guitar music was banned from the BBC’s airwaves before Matthew Bannister arrived at the BBC and chucked out the Smashy and Nicey old guard) it felt good to be able to listen to guitars on the radio and for that reason alone, Britpop was A Good Thing.
The fact it is the twentieth anniversary of their first single, Supersonic, has not passed Oasis by either, and the debut album is being reissued on vinyl. This is also A Good Thing, as an original copy of Definitely Maybe on Creation Records now regularly fetches around £80-100, something which, as the owner of a (inexpensively purchased) copy makes me very happy indeed, but also means I don’t have a copy of What’s The Story (Morning Glory) which is a similar price. Further reissues will hopefully help address that problem.
The remastered albums promise a good slew of bonus tracks, but perhaps the most interesting release to come from the Oasis archives is a replica of their original demo cassette. Only eight were ever made, and all have been lost, albeit plenty of the originals were copied.
This cassette was what Noel Gallagher handed to Alan McGee, head of Creation Records after McGee stumbled upon Oasis playing a four-song support slot (for 18 Wheeler – a band that had signed to a Creation Records offshoot) at Glasgow’s King Tut’s rock venue in May 1993. McGee saw the band take the stage, clocked Liam Gallagher, who reminded him of a young Paul Weller, and was blown away by their four-song set, which concluded with “I Am The Walrus”. He grabbed the demo cassette and a phone number from Noel Gallagher after the show.The rest is history.
Listening to the cassette now therefore gives the listener the opportunity to hear what Alan McGee heard. With the benefit of hindsight, you have the chance to consider whether you would have signed the band based on this demo. Are you an Alan McGee, or a Dick Rowe? * Alex James recalled his reaction to being played Supersonic at EMI’s offices in John Harris’ brilliant story of Brit-Pop “The Last Party”. “We went to…EMI, me and Graham and Damon. He played us Supersonic, a really rough thing, and we said “No, don’t sign them – they’re s—.”
Justine Frischmann of Elastica was even more emphatic. “We…said this is pathetic s— baggy rubbish. They looked crap, sounded really uninteresting. One of them was bald. It was “How could anyone think this is good?” It didn’t seem like a threat.”
Hindsight is a wonderful thing…
The cassette also gives the listener the chance to realise why cassettes went out of fashion, as playing the cassette on my old Walkman was quite an experience. After five minutes wondering why Liam’s singing was so low pitched, I realised it wasn’t. It was the cassette player. New batteries and some WD40 didn’t help. So I decamped to the only other place I knew that had a cassette player. My car. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t chew the thing and pressed “play”. Luckily it all worked…
Of the eight tracks on the cassette, half made it (in more polished versions) onto the debut album, namely “Columbia”, “Bring It On Down”, “Married With Children” and “Rock n Roll Star”.
Of the rest, “Cloudburst” is a straight ahead rocker, whilst “D’yer Wanna be a Spaceman” is a Noel Gallagher-sung song of the kind he later perfected. “Strange Thing” and (another familiar tune) “Fade Away” complete the track listing.
It’s a strange thing indeed to hear the primordial soup that made what became, for a time, the biggest band in Britain and elsewhere. In truth, this isn’t one of those “lost” demos where the originals beat the versions that end up on the record. These are rough mixes of songs that needed (just a little) tweaking to turn them into the classics they have become.
Enjoy the deluxe reissue and bonus tracks on the new CD. The Definitely Maybe reissue has been done very well. But for my money, this humble cassette is the real highlight. Take a listen. Would you have signed them as Alan McGee did? Or, like Blur and Elastica might you have just thought it was pathetic baggy rubbish?
* Dick Rowe: The man who turned down the chance to sign the Beatles at Decca Records. It’s okay, he made up for this by signing the Rolling Stones.
Definitely Maybe is re-released on 19 May on standard CD, special 3CD Edition, Vinyl LP with digital downloads of bonus CD and a Deluxe Box Set. The cassette was limited and has sold out, but copies are on eBay at a reasonable price (roughly face value).
John Harris’ book The Last Party tells an excellent story of the times and features prominently in my top 50 music books feature elsewhere on Every Record Tells A Story