Oasis versus the ice sculpture: inside the chaotic launch of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory

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On a chilly Sunday 25 years ago, the UK’s biggest-selling album of the 1990s was being readied for release amid a rolling 12 hours of partying. All the advance intelligence pointed towards Oasis’s (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? taking the band to heights of popularity not enjoyed by a rock band since the late Seventies. Such was the confidence in their camp that, to inaugurate the campaign, a day of hard-drinking entertainment was lined up from midday on Sunday October 1 1995 – quaintly messy by the standards of today’s relentless social-media strategizing, but then, this was the mid-Nineties.

Part of Oasis’s whole mission was to reignite the fast-moving thrills of pop in the Sixties, and already people were joking about their various manoeuvres with the famous line from that earlier decade – if you could remember them, you probably weren’t there. But I was there.

As a staffer at indie-rock mag Select, I’d first interviewed the Gallagher brothers the previous year at Top Of The Pops, where they were performing Live Forever, the breakthrough track from ’94’s first LP, Definitely Maybe. With an arrogance which always had a tinge of entertainer’s generosity about it, songwriter Noel concluded our conversation about their whirlwind success by saying, “Well, the beauty of it is, that I’ve already written the bulk of the next album – which I think you’ll agree is pretty f___ing ludicrous for a band who’ve only just got their first album out”.

It seemed an implausible brag, but it was largely true, and Oasis duly superseded all reasonable targets for their achievements: Definitely Maybe became the fastest-selling debut album of all time (at that point), and their moves on the live circuit saw them conquering ever bigger and bolder venues. 

These were days when the music press was perceived to be all-powerful in paving the way to radio airplay, and chart success. Thus, in the days before the robotic marketing of streams, deals were struck in the shadiest circumstances. For instance, I vaguely remember being slipped an advance cassette of Oasis’ Christmas single for ’94, Whatever, in the bleary wee hours midweek at a Soho transvestite bar otherwise empty of customers.

By the following September, they may have lost the media-hyped tussle with Blur to get to Number One with the single Some Might Say, but everyone knew that, even if they’d lost that battle, they’d certainly win the war in the long run.

In August ’95, following a mega-show at Sheffield Arena and a Friday-headlining set at Glastonbury, the same publicist from the bar had played me and a few mutual friends some tracks from the album round at his place. These didn’t include Wonderwall, which was one of the last songs Noel wrote for the record, as it documented his newfound romance with Meg Mathews (soon to become his first wife), and was obviously still being scrubbed up above-and-beyond, as the potential world-beater up their sleeve. 

Even without Wonderwall, the step up from the punkier strains of Definitely Maybe beggared belief: the PR warned that Champagne Supernova in particular was going to blow everyone’s minds, and after its succession of exhilarating choruses and then its blissful, water-lapping coda, there was a disbelieving silence in the room for half a minute, as the handful present pondered its epically scaled ambitions – like The Who’s Quadrophenia on steroids. 

Don’t Look Back In Anger, meanwhile, prompted everyone to laugh out loud at the sheer nonchalance of its catchiness and devil-may-care lyrics. It instantly sounded like the biggest hit of the next five years. Suddenly, you thought: could these swaggering, permanently bickering Mancunian nutcases really go all the way?

Come the big launch day, I was on an early train back from a heavy Saturday night out in Liverpool, where I’d been reviewing an exhausting three-hour live show by Julian Cope, and rather foolishly followed up with a late shift at the local superclub Cream – it really was the mid-Nineties. I felt so ghastly, that I secretly hoped I’d get a call saying that the guest list was too tight, and I wouldn’t be able to attend.

All but collapsed in my shower at home, like Martin Sheen at the beginning of Apocalypse Now, I soon heard the phone ring, summoning me to a posh private-members club just off Knightsbridge behind Harrods, known only by its street address, 30 Pavilion Road. 

I arrived just after midday at this high-brow establishment, which was preposterously extravagant by indie-rock standards (after all, Blur had hired Mile End dog track for Parklife). Inside, the two adjoining sitting rooms were furnished with modest antique opulence, and filled with at most 50 people. The five band members, friends and family, some music biz reps and two or three journalists were all dutifully suited and booted, and already cracking into the free champagne. Amid oil paintings of eighteenth-century hunting scenes, the vibe was very much ‘northern lads take Kensington’.

“Top whistle,” said Liam, bounding over to admire my cheap, midnight-blue Carnaby Street mod suit, which cost all of £35. He, by contrast, looked like a million dollars, in a sandy-coloured, five-button Gucci macintosh, and circular sunglasses. “You stink of booze,” he remarked helpfully, before adding with a maître d’s flourish, “Breakfast is served”.

A five-star, silver-service fry-up was getting dished up in a corner of one room while in the other, Noel and Liam’s mother, Peggy, sipped bubbly on spindly antique chairs with Oasis’s manager, Marcus Russell, a charming, gently spoken Welshman, who had obviously been detailed to “watch our mam”, while the lads got smashed.

That room was otherwise dominated by a vast ice sculpture, six or eight feet across, of Oasis’s plughole-swirling logo. Because it was cold outside, the heating was on full blast, however, so everyone was sweating as the revelry warmed up, and of course the sculpture rapidly melted to a watery stump.

There, for cultural commentators in years to come, was a fitting metaphor for the ephemeral nature of chart success, of Britpop and the wider Cool Britannia phenomenon that Tony Blair’s Labour Party would soon strenuously propagate. At that point, though, it was just Spinal Tap, an hilarious folly, and once everyone had cried with laughter at the absurdity, the party soon moved to the other room, where the Pure Strings quartet were seated, playing an orchestral arrangement of the entirety of Morning Glory.

“Even She’s Electric sounds good on a violin,” quipped Noel of the album’s most knockabout number, while a bunch of his pals, led by their ever-hearty sleeve designer, Brian Cannon, bayed along, mock-conducting the players while struggling to stay on their feet.

It was only 3pm, and everyone was well away. In typical Oasis bender fashion, in a flash it went from the rarefied to the shabby, as cars were laid on to take the majority of those in attendance across town to The Parkway pub in Camden, to watch live coverage of Manchester United vs Liverpool – Eric Cantona’s first match back after his nine-month suspension for ninja-kicking a fan at a match at Crystal Palace. 

Noel and Peggy stopped off at Noel’s flat on Arlington Road but were ensconced at a table out of trouble to one side, once our car unloaded into the pub. It hadn’t been privately hired, but it was next to empty, and though the Gallaghers were already front-page news, there was no intrusion whatsoever – again, different days, pre-mobile phones.

As avowed Man City fans, they and their mates constantly badmouthed United, but were soon punching the air when Robbie Fowler, who later became a regular backstage at Oasis gigs, stuck away two goals in quick succession to put Liverpool 2-1 up. The euphoria was short-lived though, as Cantona sliced open the ’Pool defence, and the ensuing penalty levelled the scores.

After that minor blip, the drinking continued into early evening. With Liam, Noel and drummer Alan White due to give a stripped-down live performance at the Virgin Megastore at midnight in front of several hundred ticket-holders, to announce the album’s actual release, the vacant few hours in between were whiled away at the Heavenly Sunday Social in Farringdon, where Noel led the charge to get introduced to The Clash’s legendary frontman, Joe Strummer, and bar orders escalated accordingly. 

After that, it gets sketchy. There was confusion outside the Megastore, as lots of drunk people tried to bluff their way in through the trade entrance on Hanway Street. Inside, security struggled to keep shoplifting in check, but there was a bigger problem onstage because Liam and Noel were having difficulties staying upright. After only one or two songs, Noel quipped to his younger brother, “You’re not gonna remember the words to any of the new songs, are you?” Liam responded by lurching down from the makeshift stage to mill around amongst the front rows, refusing to sing.

All over by 12.20 or so, this in-store was far from an auspicious start to Morning Glory’s public life, but the LP nevertheless went on to outstrip all rational predictions, becoming the UK’s fifth bestselling album of all time, and clocking up in excess of 22 million sales – five of those Stateside, where, despite some catastrophic mid-tour ructions/cancellations, it peaked at Number Four.

Through that narrative of perpetual over-achievement, Oasis’s rolling party remained a remarkably open affair: the public had voted them in by a landslide, as a people’s band, accessible to all; if you found yourself in the right place at the right time, you could drink with them all night, as long as you weren’t a pain. That all ended, however, in Dublin in March ’96, when the News Of The World flew in the Gallagher brothers’ estranged father to stir up trouble, whereafter the drawbridge was necessarily pulled up and security tightened.

By that summer, Oasis were the world’s biggest rock band – they really had gone all the way – and their third album, Be Here Now, would contain further selections from Noel Gallagher’s stockpile. 

Their crowning moment arrived at Knebworth in August, where they played to a staggering audience of a quarter of a million, across two memorable shows (plus another 80,000 at Loch Lomond the week before). It was there in Hertfordshire, in a portacabin separated from the second day’s 125,000 throng by a rather flimsy looking fence, that I chatted to Noel again for a Select cover story. 

He manfully attempted to shrug off the magnitude of their audience, and their success (“But that’s big!” he noted, hoisting a thumb over his shoulder at the mind-boggling assembly awaiting him beyond the fence). 

In 2016’s Supersonic, he and his band mates recalled their far-fetched climb to that summit, with undimmed cockiness, and yet an inescapable modicum of disbelief. I remember it as breath-takingly exciting, and such a fabulous laugh. However, it doesn’t “feel like it was only yesterday”, as people often nostalgically say – it feels like it was an age ago. Rock itself has been out of fashion for ten years or more, its last consensus success being Arctic Monkeys – and even they’re getting old now.

Would a pop act of any stripe have hired 30 Pavilion Road, immediately pre-COVID? Probably, but its deployment would’ve been anything but heedless: in a cost-cutting measure, the ice sculpture would’ve been supplanted by a sponsored backdrop, and everyone would’ve been too scared to have a second drink for fear of looking rubbish in all the snaps spraying out on Instagram. So, nobody would’ve gone to the pub afterwards, which would’ve been overfilled anyway, and a nightmare for the ‘stars’. The Virgin Megastore appearance would’ve all gone according to plan, with footage viewed many millions of times, but exciting no-one. 

Maybe the pandemic, after all its tragedies and limitations of freedom, might have a positive cultural effect in this regard, reversing this deadening trend. If we ever manage to get the other side of the virus, might the ensuing euphoria prompt a shift towards a more life-embracing, tactile experience in music – accessible artists engaging with people in the real world, and, perish the thought, having fun? We can but dream.

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