Monday 15 August 2016

Lindisfarne "Roll On Ruby" (1973)

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Lindisfarne Mark II "Roll On Ruby" (1973)

Taking Care Of Business/North Country Boy/Steppenwolf/Nobody Loves You Anymore/When The War Is Over//Moonshine/Lazy/Roll On River/Toe The Line/Goodbye

Perhaps responding to the 'cardboard sleeve' of predecessor Dingly Dell, the first release by an all-new look Lindisfarne is rather, erm, colourful in more ways than one. Apparently we're looking out at the world from a church window, the stained glass perhaps significantly removed, as we gaze at the summer clouds passing by and even coming into the frame linking the inner world to the outer world. It's an idyllic cover, befitting a bright and breezy album of country-folk-rock standards from the early 1970s and reflects well the pastoral tranquillity of Lindisfarne in this period. But the cover - and the album as a whole - is hiding a vicious ugly secret of jealousy and bitterness. You might have to get a magnifying glass to see it (you certainly do if you only own this album on CD not vinyl!) but there, inscribed on the falling hacked-off branch of the tree at the bottom left hand corner are the tiny words: 'FUCK OFF!' For all this album's sweetness and light and carefree attitude and attempts to sound like the Lindisfarne of old (but with the pop and commercial elements turned up high), it's actually a wolf in sheep's clothing, a bitter album full of jibes at the music industry and the three-fifths of the band who've just left to form Jack The Lad, literally 'cut off' from the Lindisfarne family tree. It's a pretty album in many ways, but all that animosity also means that it's often not a pretty sight.

Lindisfarne Mark II were, as far as the makers of this album were concerned, the 'real' Lindisfarne and ready to take up things where they'd left off. They certainly had a lot going for them: the backing of Lindisfarne record label Charisma, chief writer Alan Hull and chief singer Ray 'Jacka' Jackson. The four members newly drafted into the band were all sensible choices known to the band's more passionate Geordie fanbase too: as the album's original inner sleeve demonstrates all of the new quartet are North East 'locals' who might as well have ended up in the original band from the first had luck and circumstances not got in the way. 'Roll On Ruby' even tells us which end of Newcastle the band 'belong' to, each with their own character: Drummer Paul Nichol and Bassist Tommy Duffy are both from Bensham, a district in Gateshead on the Tyne and Wear. Jacka comes from Wallsend (technically Wallsend-On-The-Tyne), part of Northumberland. Hully and Charlie Harcourt both derive from Benwell, part of the more poverty-hit west end of Newcastle town. Kenny Craddock comes from Gateshead, another part of the Tyne and Wear. For those who don't know their North East geography that well five members of this sextet grew up within ten minutes' drive from each other - even Jacka lives within half an hour's heavy motoring. Though nothing else is given with the 'Roll on Ruby' captions the fact that the band is using them at all seems to be saying 'See? This is the real band - we're all locals! Not like the old band! Or Jack The Lad!' The band also take that defensive line into the album which is crammed full of little references to past Lindisfarne classics, handled nonchalantly as if to say 'oh that mandolin solo? No that's not a rip-off from 'Fog On The Tyne'. We've always done that sort of thing in all our bands. It's a Geordie sound dontchaknow!'

Lindisfarne Mark II are, by nature, a loose-limbed affair big on expansive walking-pace ballads and with lots of thinking time and space for all the band to add their own signature sounds; they are in point of fact a lot more in tune with the early 1970s love of pretty but generally lifeless material than the feistier original Lindisfarne ever were. This experiment of half-new ingredients could have worked, perhaps had a right to work even better than the thrown-together mix of styles of the original band. But the problem is the band are trying just that little bit too hard to sound like the old band that they can't make the most of what they have to offer the world. The bitterness of the split scurries over this album like the clouds on the front cover, the elephant in the room that keeps coming back to spoil the mood. The 'dropped-in' references to old songs and styles, meanwhile, reminds you just what a completely different band this now is. Even the band's original members don't sound much like they used to: Jacka has been given a popstar makeover to sound like a safe early 70s pop star (think Elton John, Rod Stewart or Leo Sayer) while Alan Hull is reduced to writing simple songs for the lowest common denominator without his usual passion emotion or politics. Only 'Taking Care Of Business' let's slip any 'real' sense of what Lindisfarne are living through and that is a song far more bitter and angry than anything the purer and more idealistic Lindisfarne Mark I would ever have released. That's not to say this album is bad. Parts of 'Roll On Ruby' and especially the follow-up 'Happy Daze' show much promise and the new-look band are certainly tidier  and tighter than their old selves, even if they sell out much of the original band's loveable eccentricity in their search for professionalism. You can tell, though, that the band are friends and understand each other well: nothing here sounds it doesn't belong on a Lindisfarne album, it's just a Lindisfarne album made up of the straightforward pop stuff without the originality or quirkiness. One hit single to match 'Lady Eleanor' or 'Meet Me On The Corner' and the band would have been fine. However, there's one major flaw in how the band and record label went about making this album: they called the band 'Lindisfarne'. Not 'Lindisfarne Mark II' (as bands and fans have come to refer to this short era of record releases) or 'Sons of Lindisfarne' but as 'Lindisfarne', implying that there is no change between this record and the three earlier ones. 

That's blatantly a lie as even a cursory glance will provide and - together with the tales in the press about bad blood between the band members, most of it blamed on Hull for causing the row with Si Cowe that started it all and Jacka for jumping ship to where the money was likely to be - the public weren't in a forgiving mood. You need one hell of a strong record to fight back something the public has already decided it probably won't like and pretty as much of this album is, consistently listenable as it may be and interesting as the best bits of it are (especially 'North Country Boy' and 'When The War Is Over'), it's a feeling-your-way-back-in album rather than a knock-your-socks off one. Ruby might roll but she doesn't exactly rock and compared to this album even the almost-as-poorly-received third album 'Dingly Dell' starts looking like an eccentric masterpiece. Roll on Ruby plays things too safe - and things go wrong when Lindisfarne start trying to play things safe, across their whole career.
That is, after all, kind of how we ended up here. Few Lindisfans would have guessed at the end of a successful 1971, with their favourite band riding high in the singles and albums chart both with releases titled 'Fog On The Tyne', just how spectacularly the band would have imploded in 1972. It wasn't just that cardboard sleeve on 'Dingly Dell' and a curious choice of single ('All Fall Down') that did it: Lindisfarne were coming apart at the seams across the year, in part because they'd conquered the universe (or at least the parts of it that speak Geordie) relatively easily. If ever a band were built for adventure and rocky roads it was Lindisfarne, a group that enjoyed itself taunting politicians, judges and authority while speaking out for the simple pleasures of the common man. Success may have taken a couple of albums and multiple re-issues of 'Lady Eleanor', but it arrived in a much bigger and accepting way than anyone in the original band had expected. For the most part Lindisfarne was not a rich and privileged group who played as a hobby; instead music was an escape from the ghettos and slums, an impossible dream that everybody told them not to bother following. Most bands who have this start in life take a long time to breakthrough: The Beatles failed more auditions than most of this years' Apprentice candidates and it took several mistakes and flop releases before anyone took The Kinks, The Who and Simon and Garfunkel seriously. Lindisfarne went from zeros to heroes in a quicker time than Justin Bieber and this clearly had an effect on the band who went from the sweetest humblest and unlikeliest rockstars on the planet to greedy bickering egocentrics (give or take a rhythm section or two). A gruelling European tour with a foray in Japan directly after at just the point when the band wanted to have fun and enjoy spending their newfound money didn't help matters much either. After the release of a slightly under-performing third album Lindisfarne should have re-consolidated their position in the charts, re-doubled their efforts in all areas and proved  'Dingly Dell' was a blip not a career ending (and, heck, most bands would love to have a 'blip' half as good, even if most of them would have provided a better album sleeve for it). There's a telling four-page letter from manager Tony Stratton released to all five Lindisfarners in the dying days of the original band (re-printed in full on page 65 of Dave Ian Hill's 'Fog On The Tyne' book, still the only one out on Lindisfarne) that urges them to do just that: put their petty differences aside (and they were petty, the big fight coming between Alan and Si over whether you really needed to tune up for an hour in between songs on stage or not) and go back on tour, with or without Hull who clearly needed some cooling time to make a solo album. Had Lindisfarne taken this advice they might have had a very quiet 1973, but you can bet they'd have come back stronger in 1974 and the rest and a chance to adjust to all that fame would have been invaluable. That's what happened when the band came back together in 1978 after all (following a much longer rest than anyone in the group ever intended).

Instead Hull seems to have taken the advice personally, agreeing with the others to disband Lindisfarne and start again (with Jacka for a time a floating voter wanted by both sides) and writing 'Taking Care Of Business' as a sarcastic put-down of such advice. Used to pointing out the stupidity of  authority figures for a living, he was never going to take advice without a fight, but he seems in this period to have done everything he could to ignore what are actually pretty insightful suggestions for a manager of a rock group to make in 1972. Instead of building on the franchise and band loyalty, Hull destroys it by reforming a whole new band and then ignoring this fact on the cover so only the biggest Lindisfanatics actually knew. Rather than head into the hills and write song after song with the passion that he used to when he was hungry and unemployed, Hull writes most of his new material while the band set off on their first tour - and all too often it sounds like it too. Rather than maintain the 'charming amateurism' that Stratton rightly outlines as a strength, the new band are professional in the extreme and also slightly anonymous. The only advice Hull did take was to record his 'Pipedream' solo album - and glorious as the majority of that album is, in terms of band development it's suicide, leaving Hull little time to write new songs for his new band before a deadline (the 'other' established writer of Lindisfarne, Rod Clements, having left to form Jack The Lad with the rest). Had Hull been able to take his full 'Pipedream' band (all of them personally chosen and bonding quickly into a funky backing band) into the new Lindisfarne line-up things might still have been ok. But he couldn't: only Jacka and keyboardist Kenny Craddock were free to play (it's amazing Kenny was actually - an old rival from Newcastle pubs in the early days the two had become quite competitive and Hull took to calling him 'fish-face' in envy at his good looks in private, before the pair finally started chatting before a gig and found how much they had in common and their mutual respect for one another. Kenny's career never took off as expected though so Hull seems to have been making amends bringing him into the band). Other friends like Colin Gibson (who nevertheless wrote songs for the album with Kenny) and founding Lindisfarner Ray Laidlaw would have to wait for Alan's 'Radiator' band of 1977. Hull's original sparring partner in his first band 'The Chosen Few' Johnny Turnball turned his old friend down reluctantly after being head-hunted by an unknown singer named Ian Dury (Knowing Hull, he probably called him a 'Blockhead' for turning down his proposition). Band-mate Phil Collins, though interested in working with Charisma's biggest band, turned the chance down after tour receipts began to pick up for his group Genesis (with Hull even more adamant his old friend was throwing away his only chance at success!)

With session dates booked and publicity material ready, Alan and Jacka had to press on and formed an ad-hoc band who didn't really know each other. Tommy Duffy was hired on bass after the pair enjoyed his work as part of Gary Wright's Wonderwheel - exuberant, loud and soulful, he was as opposite to the departing Rod Clements as anyone could wish for. Si's guitar replacement, Charlie Harcourt (an acquaintance of Kenny's), was also about as different to Cowe's eccentricity as it was possible to be - he was the stable glue that held the new disparate band together. Paul Nichol, though, proved to be very like the departing Ray Laidlaw and was quiet and reliable, even behind a set of drums. The end result was a band that had the same pair of lead singers, mandolin and harmonica playing and writing 'voice' as the majority of the 'old' Lindisfarne material but who had room to add much much more: soul and rock (Duffy's speciality), country-rock (Kenny's genre of choice) and a curious MOR sound that ended up defining this album even though none of the six band members ever sounded like this separate to each other. What's curious about 'Roll On Ruby' isn't how different it sounds to the first three albums (it is, after all, made by a nearly entirely different band) but how uncomfortably their olds trademarks sound when dropped into this new environment. The folk sound, as evidenced by Jacka's harmonica and mandolin, have gone from being the default most comfortable band sound to being something shoved on top of something else to make the end result seem more 'Lindisfarny'. Anyone coming here expecting the polish of 'Meet Me On The Corner', the fun of 'Fog On The Tyne' or the perfection of 'Lady Eleanor' are in for a rude surprise: this is a new band who are too polished to be as original and yet too ramshackle to have a full sound of their own.

There are, however, some things going for this album at least. When Hull forgets his bitterness and the deadline ticking away demanding material and instead writes from the heart the way he always did the album comes together nicely. 'When The War Is Over' may be a general rallying cry for peace written in the style of his beloved Lennon's 'Give Peace A Chance' and 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)' but it also serves as a much-needed olive branch to the band left behind and an admission that splitting up a band because the guitarist spent too long tuning before a song is a silly way to go. Jacka sounds as great as ever and gets far more to do, staying loyal to the old band sound while proving there's more in his repertoire than folk-rock. Tommy Duffy is the album's dark horse, spicing up the vocals with a sound much more emotional and OTT than the gentlemanly first line-up would ever have made, while contributing the lighter, sweeter, softer songs. Kenny Craddock and writing partner Colin Gibson come up with one near-classic (the near-title track 'Roll On River', whose polish and strings recall the last Lindisfarne title track 'Dingly Dell') and two more slabs of inoffensive filler. Charlie Harcourt shines on the swampy Creedence Clearwater Revival style 'Moonshine'. Paul Nichol finds new ways to drum on what are actually quite similar songs all round. Compared to some of the lesser Lindisfarne albums to come ('Dance Your Life Away' especially) this isn't actually that bad. It just doesn't have the fun, the depth or the originality of the old Lindisfarne and sounds as if it was made too often by committee.

Which in many ways it was. 'Dingly Dell' may have blemished Lindisfarne's star attraction, but the band were still very much Charisma's biggest sellers and the powers that be wanted the band to get things right. Roy T Baker was nominally in charge of this band of strangers. The band's longterm producer Mickey Sweeney was nominally in charge of the recordings. A disinterested and embittered Alan Hull was nominally in charge of the songs. The result was a deeply unhappy ship where every song got re-arranged, re-assessed, re-recorded and re-evaluated when all Lindisfarne Mark II really needed to do was jam with each other, learn what they could and couldn't play and experience the telepathy that all great bands have that allow them to go out on a limb. Though 'Roll On Ruby' is made by a band with a much bigger scope than the original band, their first album sounds all too often like the old Lindisfarne with the stabilisers still on. Though far from the worst album released under the Lindisfarne name 'Roll On Ruby' is by far the safest - and therefore the most forgettable. Thankfully the poor response to this album is in many ways the best thing that could ever have happened to Lindisfarne Mark II: the people in charge back off, the band switch labels and sequel 'Happy Daze' will give a much better idea of how good this band could have been.

There's a tale that Alan Hull turned up early to these album sessions, realised that because so many of his early choices for the new Lindisfarne line-up hadn't made it the new band wasn't gelling and so decided to keep his best material for himself and sit out the contract rather than waste money after bad. That's why 'Roll On Ruby' ends up turning out like a karaoke Lindisfarne at times, full of loose memories of what was rather than making the most of what could be. He should perhaps have listened a bit more carefully: though 'Roll On Ruby' is clearly no 'Dingly Dell' never mind another 'Nicely Out Of Tune' or 'Fog On The Tyne', it's still a good album made by some of Newcastle's 'other' finest musicians of the period. Had this been by a new band rather than under the new Lindisfarne banner they might well have made the AAA series in their own right the way that Jack The Lad would surely have done. As it is Lindisfarne have missed the mark again and will have to wait another five years to recapture any of the momentum they once had.  

'Take Good Care Of Business' reveals just how deep the rift between the original Lindisfarne was. Both Alan and Rod spent their first few songs post-split trying to work out what had gone wrong and feeling rather bitter, but 'Business' beats even 'Fast Lane Driver' for weary sighs and temper tantrums. Thankfully Hull saves his biggest wrath not for the band but the management, appearing to write this song in protest over the fact that if he wanted to recycle the Lindisfarne name he had to fulfil the contract at Charisma to make one last album. Hull didn't sign his soul away 'for another ten years' as he sings here, but it did effectively leave him (and Jacka) stuck where they'd always been and with the same management and producer, while Jack The Lad got to try out pastures new (though at the time most assumed the pair held the trump card after winning rights to the band name). We've long said in these reviews how cruel the music business can be and the sad fact that few bands ever end up using the same management for life - something always happens when money gets involved and several long-term friendships got broken for life. After all, asking a creative musician to understand how the music business works without allowing them to trust anyone else to have their best interests at heart is a little like expecting a manager to write a hit record and know instinctively what to do with it; the two sides don't often mix. However Hull is being a little unkind in his comments here: everything he was told by his bosses was arguably good common sense: if Hull had listened and simmered during time off and a solo album Lindisfarne might never have broken up at all. Even the record label weren't quite as nasty as some others can be when bands split (such as Mercury deciding 10cc still owed another album a decade after they broke up or David Geffen suing Neil Young for not sounding like Neil Young): Charisma simply said that if there was to be a new Lindisfarne album they wanted to be a part of it (and after all would the world have heard of Lindisfarne at all had they not taken a chance?) In other words 'Take Good Care Of Business' is one of Hull's rare cruel songs that misses its target: unlike similar diatribes against politicians, war-mongerers and slum architects who never have to see the ugly tiny boxes they create ever again, both manager and record label were relative supporters in this period. Hull's just having a hissy fit and throwing his toys out the pram because he already knows Lindisfarne Mark II won't match Lindisfarne Mark I whatever the band tell each other and/or local music journalists. That said, viewed in a more general world-weary light 'Business' is often a very funny song. Hull excelled at sarcasm and he was never more sarcastic than here: borrowing a standard 'blues-song-turned-into-a-pop song' lick, telling the 'story' of Lindisfarne complete with Jacka spoofing posh producer John Anthony's voice and singing a vocal that both doesn't care at all and cares all too much. The big worry of the song is the band's lack of control: the bigger the band get the less money they have ('You spent it you see, up and down the country!') and the more power they have to give away to other people, 'otherwise you'll end up on the shelf'. That's clearly how Hull feels after the 'Dingly Dell' debacle, complaining that the band weren't led properly ('We're not clever like you!') and that the only way to dig himself out of this hole is to 'sign for another ten years'. The country hoe-down style is unusual for early Lindisfarne but the Mark II band will use this style a lot, somewhere between genuine melancholy and jovial banter. The end result is a bitter, nasty and often unhinged composition rescued by a sparking band performance (perhaps the best on the album) and a sense of joyful abandon. Curiously released as the only single from the album, it was too un-Lindisfarne like and cruel for a public who hadn't heard 'All Fall Down' and thought the last band single was still 'Fog On The Tyne'. It works better as an album opener though.

Roll on's shiniest Ruby, however is surely next track 'North Country Boy', Tommy Duffy's first published song. And it's a cracker, putting together several of Lindisfarne's old strengths in a way we'd never heard them before (harmonies, politics, folk-rock and a mandolin solo). Jacka shines on a song that gives him an emotion to convey and it's an emotions he's used to singing from Hull songs past: hopelessness. The poor North Country Boy of the title is down-trodden and 'ordinary', moving down South to follow his 'dream' before finding that he's been left with nothing, having been stolen from by 'fine weather friends'. There are some good lines here: the narrator's dreams have 'faded edging' and sighs that he should have stayed at home because 'We have no choice except what we're born into'. It's almost a Thomas Hardy novel this, with the working class labourer hoping for big times in the city and discovering instead that he only understands the ways of the country, hence the chorus where he runs off to the water (the closest thing he can recognise to his old home) and tries to be re-born in the waters, rubbing his 'fake' self away ('Gotta get me clean!') For all that, though, this song still has a breezy optimism blowing through its veins and producer Mickey Sweeney sensibly leaves Jacka's delightful falsetto singing along with Craddock's chirpy organ sound which is a very home-made Lindisfarne touch. Well performed and driven along by the author's upright bass bubbling, like the North Country Boy himself this song has been overlooked for far too long and is rather better than reputation suggests.

Many fans prefer 'Steppenwolf' - nothing to do with the 'Born To Be Wild' band but a Hull original about where that group got their name from: a 1927 German novel by Hermann Hesse (the author, not the nazi). Meaning effectively 'werewolf', the novel is a very Hull-ian dystopian novel about the author's rise from rags to riches and the difference between how he's treated when he's homeless compared to when he's a millionaire. Clearly fitting the album's themes of fair-weather friends letting you down, Jacka takes the lead on a lyric that tries hard to find justice and happiness and also shows off Hull's kinder side as he offers to lend an ear to a friend whose hit rock bottom. 'Steppenwolf is stepping out' Jacka chortles as he then presumes to get drunk ('I can hardly see!' he complains), urges his friend to talk and even sings with him to keep him company, while ultimately trying to show his new friend how to 'step into the light'. Though Hull never mentioned why he wrote this song (indeed, he never really mentioned any of his Mark II era songs again), it's easy to imagine him using his new-found money to treat a beggar to the night of his life; after all, unlike many millionaires, Hull knew what it was like to be down and out and it would have been entirely in character. Sweet as this song is, though, it doesn't really go anywhere: the vaguely threatening and uncomfortable verse gives way to a major key chorus that sounds like the sun coming out - but then it hides behind a cloud again for a second verse that doesn't add anything and we simply keep going round and round in circles. Even the ending of the song could have been a lot shorter: Harcourt's sharp but rather basic guitar riff gets played a full eleven times over the final ninety second coda which is at least eight too many, even with a pretty (if rather lush) orchestra playing over the top, a first for Lindisfarne. The rest of the band don't nail this song any better either, with only Hull's nagging harmony vocal catching the ear. Steppenwolf is 'alright' indeed, but it's arguably no better than that.

Kenny and Colin's first collaboration 'Nobody Loves You Anymore' is clearly meant to fill the slightly wacky role of a Si Cowe track, although structurally this song recalls the Rab Noakes covers of old. Jacka, Kenny, Alan and Kenny again take the lead vocal (in that order) on a simple silly track that again spoofs miserable country songs and takes the mickey out of self-pity. Lyrically this is standard fare and a worrying move towards silliness without charm for Lindisfarne, with lines that make the narrator out to be a right twit, locking himself away in his room to cry only to find he can't remember what was making him sad and a mocking third verse where the narrator withdraws from everyone and only then wonders why no one is speaking to him, never mind 'loves him anymore'. A bit different to normal then (even 'Fog On The Tyne' didn't feel this flimsy and insubstantial), but at least Lindisfarne perform it straight. Musically this is easily the most Lindisfarne moment on the record (despite the fact that the old band never really did country), with plenty of harmonica and a 'bluesy' bass part plus a moment during the middle eight (right near the end of the song) where all four singers suddenly take off on brilliant sweet 'n' sour harmonies that sound remarkably like the old band. Duffy has really latched onto how to re-create Rod's walking bass lines too by now.

The closest in terms of quality to the old Lindisfarne though is 'When The War Is Over', a Hull song that's clearly in part a song of healing to his old band. Like many of Hull's political songs it's profound in its simplicity: surely peace is better than war? Few people ever came out of a war wishing that it was still going and the few that did (Hitler mainly) were mad. Instead Hull looks forward to a time when people can pick up their old lives, when people can 'be kind again' and can worry about things much more important than 'victory'. Hull pours his heart and soul into the lyric which is one of his best, imagining a world where children have all seen first-hand what war is like an vow never to fall into the same traps again ('The children will be the teachers, their lessons will be so clear, to see with open eyes, to hear with open ears...', a line that Lennon would have proud of). Hull then turns to his critics, imploring them to give peace a chance to 'understand reach with open arms and speak with open minds'. Of course he also knows it's a utopian ideal that will probably never happen with the 'wrong' people in charge so he includes a verse about passing dry ginger to passing tramps like some idealistic nursery rhyme. But that's ok: like this song's close cousin 'Imagine' (both songs are based around wide open major chords which try to make sense out of chaos) it's more about uniting with fellow dreamers than the detail of the dream itself. In many ways as a song this is superior to 'Imagine' - it's more universal, less clichéd and doesn't have a multi-millionaire with a whole room for his wife to keep fur coats in telling us to do away with possessions. However as a performance 'When The War Is Over' is sadly lacking. Lindisfarne get precious little to do as a band, with Hull's voice and piano the only thing heard up until the halfway point when Nichol's awkward drum part kicks in. The OTT string arrangement that fills up much of the last minute or so of the recording also sounds false and overly pretty - after all, this is not a pretty song and is more about picking up the pieces after a struggle than living in peace forever more. The final full-on chorus when everybody turns up 'Hey Jude' style just falls flat: this sounds like take 107 and there's no passion for this song in the room anymore. Even Hull's vocal sounds slightly off-kilter, as if he was intending this as a demo that got lucky rather than a fully focussed take. The result is a great song that should have a lot more impact than it does and should by rights be the song from this album that everyone knows. It's a song that worked better in concert and should have been performed more often (Hull's BBC Sessions set is arguably the best way to hear it, although it's slightly undone by Alan's jovial switch of words from 'when the war is over' to 'when the bar is open' because it was the last song before a drinking break!)

'Moonshine' is, as we've discussed so often on this site by now, a slang term for home-made booze - usually of the strong variety. This album's chief drinker is Tommy Duffy, with Jacka singing a soulful lead behind a mass of Lindisfarny folky harmonies and again he proves that he's grasped the band's 'old' sound rather better than the people who were actually in the old joke (there's even space for a mandolin solo!) Though the song sounds slightly drab and dreary, returning to the chorus over and over like any boring obsessive drunk, it's a more interesting song when you scratch below the surface in a Kinks-style 'warning about the evils of alcohol even though the band are way drunker than you have ever been in your life' kind of a way. 'This is the life and times of a man who almost made it' is the song's expressive opening line, before outlining a man who seemed to have everything but was so unconfident about what he had that he took to the drink to make him feel better - and lost what he didn't know he had in the first place. He gets so upset at what he's lost he goes back home to brew up three more barrels 'just because...' sputters Jacka, without any explanation why anymore, 'Just because!' Oddly enough, despite Lindisfarne's reputation as a drinking band bar none, it's the first real reference to any form of booze in any of the band's songs and it's a critical song at that ('Moonshine' clearly unleashes the floodgates - almost everything Hull writes for sequel 'Happy Daze' will be based around the demon drink). A fiery Harcourt solo, perhaps his best during his short two-album period with the band, really lets fly near the end of the song, but the track arguably needs something more - some form of conclusion or understanding - before the narrator collapses off his bar-stool in a stupor (or the track suddenly fades, depending on your interpretation). A slightly wonky production with lots of things coming and going but none of them that clear makes the listener want to reach for something strong, but whether that's by choice or coincidence is unknown!

Alan Hull's laziest song, certainly in his first decade as a known professional writer, is undoubtedly 'Lazy'. Yet another flimsy re-write of 'Fog On The Tyne' this song finds him feeling lazy and enjoying a nothing day even though there's so much he should be doing. It's the sort of thing we've heard other bands do lots and usually better down the years without his usual distinctive style and perhaps fittingly even the chord changes sound familiar, as if Hull was too 'lazy' to come up with anything particularly inventive. This isn't a terrible song though, just a largely uninspired one, raised to a higher level by a middle eight that again complains of a hangover (though probably emotionally caused this time) and reaches up wearily from the song's lowest to its highest note as if stretching and trying to pull itself together to do what the narrator should be doing. The second verse too is of passing interest: turning the song from a general first verse everyone must have agreed with at one time or another (having so much to do you don't want to do any of it) to Hull's current predicament as a songwriter fading from view. 'You get by singing songs to the crowd' Hull sings to himself, 'But in the back of your mind you can see there's only one place you want to be' - and that's back at home, fooling around and enjoying the money, not tramping around the country plugging an album that isn't selling. Hull is ashamed of feeling lazy and quite possibly depressed about the direction his life is going in, but he doesn't know quite how to put himself back on track just yet and, well, hasn't he worked hard enough to enjoy this moment? Like a lot of Ruby's diamonds, this track could have benefitted from a tighter band performance and feels slightly unfinished without any conclusion or realisation to send us on our way. Even Hull's laziest songwriting has its charms, though, if you aren't expecting a masterpiece like in years gone by.

Kenny and Colin's 'Roll On River' takes the old folk-rock Lindisfarne sound and nudges it towards prog-rock, with an atmospheric five minute track that uses lots of nature and love metaphors and comes in multiple sections. Lindisfarne have clearly been listening to too much Pink Floyd or Moody Blues and unlike those two bands their biggest problem is that although each part is good they don't necessarily hang together that well. Still, it's good to hear someone involved in this album have some ambition and both Kenny and Jacka's alternating lead vocals tap into the emotion hiding somewhere in this sombre track. In a twist on 'The Long and Winding Road', Craddock sees love as like a river - it has potential estuaries, deltas and breakaway streams that could all spell disappointment as 'day by day we fade away' and the currents are too strong for either partner to control. The song certainly sounds like a sea-storm at parts, with Jacka's simple harmonica sound set against the majesty of one of the better orchestral arrangements on the album. However like 'War Is Over' this song lacks the big finale it deserves and is actually at its most convincing at the start when Kenny is noodling away at his piano by himself before falling, almost by accident, into the song's main haunting riff. Though this song does indeed have a nice roll, it could do with rocking a bit more - the band sound a shade too relaxed on what should by rights be an intense song about making the most of every day in a relationship with each wave another crescendo - like many a song on this LP it sounds like a promising demo that didn't get the attention it deserved. Poor 'River' (there's no clue where Ruby fits in by the way) feels a little like the title track to 'Dingly Dell' with it's same sense of nature and destiny and love and has similar peaks and troughs across the song. However the song's pair of writers don't quite have Hull's grasp of melding intellect with emotion and the song still comes across sounding slightly hollow despite its often intriguing lyrics and one of the more memorable melodies on the album.

The same writers came up with the unfortunate 'Toe The Line' which, poor spelling and all (it should of course be 'tow') is easily the weakest song on the album. Jacka sound deeply uncomfortable being turned into a country star on the thigh-slapping pantomime vocal, even if the combined effects of his mandolin, Hull's acoustic and Charlie's electric guitars are actually quite convincing. Like many a Rolling Stones comedy spoof, this song tries to square the idea of 'country music' meaning 'conservatism', using this song as a chance to remind everyone that life is better when you behave and do as you're told. Though the song reads like it's meant at face value (and many fans probably took it as such), the sarcastic massed vocals make it clear the band are joking - it's hard to think of a band less likely to deliver these sentiments for real than the one who came up with 'We Can Swing Together' or 'Peter Brophy Does Not Care'; Lindisfarne have always been about standing up and speaking out for yourself, even against the fat cats who carry way more weight than you. Unfortunately Lindisfarne have never really been about comedy country songs and their sarcasm seems out of place despite a lively backing track that features some great Jacka harmonica work. Still, though, this song is more likely to have you crying 'yee-hah - it's over at last!' than 'yabbadabbadoo my favourite song's on!'

Ruby rolls away, rather fittingly, with 'Goodbye' - the final track the band recorded for Charisma so it's a farewell in more ways than one. Tommy wrote this sad song which sounds more like a Jack The Lad number with its full-on folk and deeply depressing words about the music business (actually, together with Charlie's particularly guitar squeal, it sounds most like Badfinger who also wrote songs about being at the wrong end of the charts). Tommy's narrator (sung at first by Kenny) is in need of a rest before he has a complete breakdown, fed up of playing court jester to a room of people who don't laugh anymore. Jacka then takes over for a slightly happier chorus where he sings 'See you next time', implying there's going to be one, and promises that he'll be back 'after one thing I do alone'. We never find out what that is though - the narrator is too busy saying goodbye to tell us what he's actually leaving behind, with some nicely vari-speeded vocals recalling 'Nicely Out Of Tune' and sounding as if phantoms are flying across the track. However, the band clearly have too much to say and even after a longish gap (which makes me get up to turn the record over every single blooming time!) suddenly pitch back in again with a final end in which they all cry 'Goodbye' like some big Medieval round. All this waving goodbye to themselves for five minutes soon becomes hard work, but the melody is strong and arguably Duffy's best tune for the Mark II band. Even the slightly over-written lyrics that don't really go anywhere sound mighty fine when handled by Jacka at his most emotive. If Lindisfarne had ended here then it would have been a pretty fine way to go out and the song's in-yer-face coda leading into slow end also makes rather a neat mirror to the start of the band's opening song for Charisma 'Lady Eleanor'.

Overall, then, 'Roll On Ruby' isn't bad. There's only one song that's truly poor and even that's not diabolical. At the same time, though, it isn't always that good: the songs are there (half of them anyway), the performances too (half again - though frustratingly not usually the same half!) and there are some good ideas being thrown around here. It just sounds as if the Mark II band don't have the confidence, the telepathy or the knowhow yet to make the most of this record and, as has so often been said, it was designed by committee so all the bits that in the olden days would have been mad, bad an exciting to know come out sad, trad and excruciating waiting for it to go. The old band's ramshackle amateurism was, perhaps, the greatest thing about them: every track sounded 'real', lived in and was tremendously exciting (at least in their Charisma days - the reunion era is effectively another band style again), impossible to be background music. 'Roll On Ruby' is more professionally played, given more overdubs and is at least meant to sound like there's more going on (even though, compositionally, this would still be the weakest of the first four Lindisfarne albums had it been made by the original band still) - if you were a record company or a listener who preferred professional emptiness to an amateur's hills and valleys you'd have picked the Mark II band to be the winners, but no one who ever heard the Mark I band first could ever claim to love this album more: there's just less about it to get involved with and feel for emotionally. In a parallel universe though, where Rome never fell (hail!), The Spice Girls were never born (yippee!) and Lindisfarne never split the best of this combined with the best of their rivals debut album 'It's Jack The Lad' would have made for a phenomenal LP, perhaps the band's very best. I mean: 'Fast Lane Driver' 'Why Can't I Be Satisfied?' 'Song Without A Band' and 'When The War Is Over' all on the same album - what's not to love? (Especially if Lindisfarne had 'contracted' 'North Country Boy' 'Goodbye' 'Turning Into Winter' and 'Lying On The Water' from 'outside' members too). Ruby could have shone like no Lindisfarne album before it and would surely have allowed the band to recover after the poor reception of 'Dingly Dell' but it was not to be - instead 'Ruby' just rolled on, without anything like the impact an all-new singing and dancing Lindisfarne needed to bring the public back on to their side. Both sides of the argument paid an awfully high price for that one small broken branch off the family tree depicted on the album sleeve - though the Mark II band tried to pretend their fruits were juicier, they were simply kept too high up the tree for anyone to be interested. Better is to come for the Mark II band at least - 'Happy Daze' in fact. 


'Nicely Out Of Tune' (L) (1970)

'Fog On The Tyne' (L) (1971)

'Dingly Dell' (L) (1972)

'Roll ON Ruby' (L) (1973) 

'The Squire' (AH) (1975)

'The Old Straight Track' (JTL) (1975)

‘Jackpot’ (JTL) (1976)

'Magic In The Air' (L) (1978)

'Back and Fourth' (L) (1978)

‘The News’(L) (1979)

'Sleepless Nights' (L) (1982)

'Dance Your Life Away' (L) (1986)

‘Amigos’ (1989)

'Elvis Lives On The Moon' (L) (1993)

'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' (1998)

'Promenade' (2002)

Si Cowe Obituary and Tribute (2015)

Surviving TV Clips

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1970-1987

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1988-2015

Essay: Keepin’ The Rage On Behalf Of The Working Classes

Oasis: Compilation/Live/B-Sides Albums 1994-2010

You can now buy 'Little By Little - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Oasis' in e-book form by clicking here!

"The Eight-Track Demo" aka "Live Demonstration Tape"

(Unreleased Acetate 1993)

Cloudburst/Columbia/D'Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?/Strange Thing//Bring It On Down/Married With Children/Fade Away/Rock 'n' Roll Star

"What would you give me for the songs I've been singing?"

Of all the recordings Oasis ever made, it's this humble home-made cassette that will prove to be the most important - even though most Oasis fans have only ever heard less than half of the actual recordings on it and more casual fans might only recognise three or four songs at most. The cassette, whose songs are proudly written out by hand by Noel on the old TDK 'inserts' you used to get (I used to buy TDK tapes for all my recordings too - they were the cheapest brand that didn't compromise on sound) might not look much from the outside, but inside it marks the moment when Oasis (or 'The Rain' as they were still usually called back then) stopped being a hobby and became a career. By now The Rain have been playing for somewhere around 18 months to two years, at first very much as Liam and his school-mates until brother Noel comes back from his work as a roadie with Inspiral Carpets and starts casting round for a band of his own to play his own songs before discovering his brother has 'kindly' organised a ready-made one for him. By this time Noel is a hardened veteran of twenty-four while Liam, Bonehead, Guigsy and McCaroll are all still in their teens, using music as a means of keeping the band sane in between dead-end jobs and signing on at the Manchester dole office to be told there's now work again, like last week. Noel is viewed with a mixture of scepticism (especially from Liam) and hero-worship (also especially from Liam), treated with the special kind of disdain only a younger brother and his mates have for their elders. Noel is kind of limbo at the time. He's currently as unemployed and unemployable as the rest of them and met and at five years older is an example of what might happen to them too. And yet - he's actually toured America with a band that Liam and his friends have heard of, at a time when a day trip outside Manchester/Salford was a thing to be savoured. Noel may only have been the 'roadie', the traditional whipping boys of rock and roll, but it was a step further up the ladder than the rest of the group had ever managed - or in truth probably expected (Oasis were always said later to be a 'good' act to be roadies for, despite their reputations for arguments and violence, with Noel remembering well what his early days were like). Even so, do those extra five years and a stint turning on amplifiers really constitute a band takeover?

It's in this light that this 'demonstration disc' was made sometime in late 1992. Eight songs are recorded, all of them Noel's, by a band who aren't yet comfortable with them and who are still largely stuck in that early 90s inertia where everybody tried to sound like The Stone Roses' (the big act at the beginning of the decade, who were long gone by 1992 without hanging around long enough to pass their crown down to anyone waiting in the wings): the first 'Ocean Colour Scene' and 'Pulp' recordings sound curiously like this record too (OCS beating Oasis to their debut album by a couple of years, although their sound won't take shape until Oasis get going and show the way; all of this is curiously like the early 60s music scene 'abandoned' after Buddy Holly died, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry were arrested and Elvis joined the army until The Beatles came along). Though Noel is the songwriter and so de facto the 'leader', this is still Liam's band to some extent and the influences are far more 80s/90s than his brother's 60s/70s tastes. For the first and almost last time in their careers, Oasis sound like a mixture of other ingredients here, rather than their own unique tasting brew so strong no record company would dare dilute it. By now, though, Oasis/Rain have moved up one from being just a 'wannabe' band and the pieces are beginning to come together: though Noel's and Bonehead's twin guitars aren't the wall of sound yet, they're at least a 'foundation' layer of noise; Liam is to some extent singing like Mani from the Stones Roses with a bit of John Lennon and John Lydon thrown in for free - he's not singing like the Liam we'll come to know and love yet with a softer sneer than the later records but already sounds deeply impressive for an untried nineteen year old; the rhythm section is for now the weakest link but Guigsy and Tony are already better than their detractors have long suggested and do all that they need to keep this juggernaut rolling. The band are tight but no polished, confident but not yet arrogant, 90-95% of the way to discovering their sound - which makes this tape fascinating for those of us fans fascinated by the 'missing 5%' and how that changes the band sound. Oasis seemed to arrive ready formed with 'Supersonic' in the Spring of 1994: this tape is the closest we have to Oasis' 'Hamburg' sessions or Tony Sheridan tapes, the band when they're still being moulded and shaped.

The band have been ambivalent at best about their demo tape, but at the time it was a 'big deal'. Noel pulled in some favours with Tony Griffiths, a member of Liverpudlian band The Real People he'd met while on his travels (they were the Carpet's warm-up act so Noel roadied for them too) and the band piled down to London to make use of his home studio for a reduced fee. Tony didn't expect much to come from the sessions - he was doing a favour to a mate he'd probably never even heard play (Noel seems reluctant to have played any of the bands he roadied with any of his songs) but was supportive enough to give the band a 'crash course' in recording technique with the help of his brother Chris. One of the things they may have picked up on is Liam's already  developed technique of singing right into the microphone complete with distortion - the biggest difference in band sound across the cassette is that Liam remains in the 'distance', behind his brother and friends rather than as the focal-point of all the chaos around him as per later. Some six of the eight songs that made the tape came from these sessions although around a dozen were reputedly recorded (the others, which the band never returned to, were most likely the songs doing the round on bootlegs: 'I Will Believe' 'Alive' 'Strange Thing' (the only three songs released - the first on the 'Supersonic' single, the second on the 'Shakermaker' single, the third on the 'deluxe' Definitely Maybe' re-issue of 2014) plus 'See The Sun' Snakebite' and 'Colour My Life' which the band never returned to. Still not happy, Noel booked another set of more informal recording gear (sometime either later still in 1992 or in early 1993) and went to the house of another old friend Mark Coyle, who will late become key to Oasis' management, which is where the versions of 'D'Yer Want To Be A Spaceman?' and 'Married With Children' were recorded, in a more 'unplugged' format. It's fascinating that even this early on Noel was keen to play with expectations, revealing that oasis had a 'rounded' sound and could offer something more than just 'Stone Roses' cloning techniques.

Noel was finally happy with the cassette and, with the band's agreement, had ten copies of it made, writing handwritten notes for some copies and getting another band friend, Tony French, to make a photocopied 'Oasis' logo, the band having now finally settled on their 'true' name (though the font of the band's name will be used on the next few years' worth of Oasis releases, the 'Union Jack' behind will be dropped before the first single). Noel sent many of the cassettes out to people in the music business he thought might be interested - but few even bothered to reply. Luckily he saved a couple back in case he ever needed them for a major event - which took place in May 1993. Oasis had by now become a big live draw in Manchester and were playing the prestigious King Tut's bar in Manchester when Alan McGee, then the boss of a brand new label named Creation, walked into the bar looking for talent (he was actually after one of the support acts, whose name has been lost to history - he'd never heard of Oasis but luckily hung around for the main act instead of going home). In a neat replay of the moment Brian Epstein walked into the Cavern Club, he found exactly what he was looking for and, to keep him interested, Noel agreed to send him one of his last copies of this 'demonstration cassette'. Though only the boss from Creation had made the trip to Manchester, this allowed everyone in the office to give their feedback and most were adamant that Oasis could be something really special.

However by then Oasis had already felt their sound had moved on and were more keen on recording their newer material, written by Noel over the past year, than these tracks - many of which the band had stopped playing in their setlists by now already. Of the eight tracks here only two will be released in exactly this early demo form: 'Cloudburst' will find a home on the back of the band's third single 'Live Forever' (where, despite being only a year old, it sounds like it belongs in a different era altogether), while the 'demo' version of 'Columbia'  was released on the back of debut single 'Supersonic' (where it sounds like a dress rehearsal for the re-recording on the first album - everything in the right place but all still slightly unsure of itself). Two songs will be re-recorded as B-sides over the next year or two: 'D'Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?' ended up as the B-side to second single 'Shakermaker' (appearing here in a slightly different mix) and 'Fade Away' turned up on the fourth single 'Cigarettes and Alcohol' (appearing here in a very different mix - it also became the 'earliest' song to make the 'Masterplan' compilation). Three songs will be re-recorded for 'Definitely Maybe': 'Rock and Roll Star' 'Bring It On Down' and 'Married With Children' (the album mix with extra backing vocals). That leaves 'Strange Thing' as the only initially unheard song, although this track was finally released on the 20th anniversary set of 'Definitely Maybe' in 2014 where it proved to be the biggest talking point of the set: a very Stones Roses' style song purred rather than growled by Liam in a very Mancunian accent over a very late 80s guitar riff, full of lyrics that, like the period composition 'Goin' Nowhere' (sadly not recorded for this set) deal with how great the future's gonna be when the band become legends, in true humble Oasis fashion! Alas the songs cast aside from the demo tape have yet to see the light of day officially, although we'll return to as many as we can find on our 'best unreleased recordings' article at the end of the book. The entire cassette was reprinted again - in a slightly less limited edition than the 1993 one - as a promotional tool for the deluxe edition of 'Definitely Maybe'; a marvellous replica of both contents and packaging, complete with handmade labels, it's a shame this fascinating historical document wasn't given a wider release. Perhaps for the 30th issue them eh, guys? 

"Definitely Maybe - The Singles Box"

(Helter Skelter, '1996')

CD One: Interview Disc

CD Two: Supersonic/Take Me Away/I Will Believe/Columbia (Demo)

CD Three: Shakermaker/D'Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?/Alive/Bring It On Down

CD Four: Live Forever/Up In The Sky (Acoustic Version)/Cloudburst/Supersonic (Live)

CD Five: Cigarettes and Alcohol/I Am The Walrus/Listen Up/Fade Away

"Wake up! There's a new day dawning...The wind that brings on the change is making me older, the wind that brings on the rain is taking me over!"

Proof of how big Oasis were in 1996 comes with the knowledge that this relatively pricey box set, containing four short-running discs of previously released material and a so-so interview disc, sold enough copies to make #27 on the UK charts. Al that despite looking distinctly unappetising from the outside (the box is in a 'White Album' shade of white, with a lid that lifts up like a cigarette packet with the witty warning that 'rock and roll can seriously damage your health!') The sales are impressive given that 'Definitely Maybe' is to some extent yesterday's news released at a time when the world had already moved on to digesting 'Morning Glory'. A handy way of getting the comparatively rare flipsides (certainly from the first two singles before 'Live Forever' cracked the top ten), many of these songs have never been re-issued in any form since.  Songs like 'Take Me Away'  'I Will Believe' 'Cloudburst'  'Alive' 'D'yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?' and the demo for 'Columbia' are of interest primarily as historical artefacts, tracks recorded for the eight-track demo that put Oasis on the road to stardom. Others like live recordings of 'Supersonic' and an acoustic 'Up In The Sky offer a fascinating alternate look at tracks from the first album in very different form, with 'Supersonic' as loud and obnoxious and 'Sky' as simple as sweet as Oasis ever got. What this set lacks, though, are the truly special B-sides of the 'Morning Glory' era when the songs were as good as the 'A' sides: the paranoid 'Listen Up' and the punkish 'Fade Away' come close but there are no singles tracks here as good as 'Acquiesce' 'Talk Tonight' 'Rockin' Chair' 'Headshrinker' or 'The Masterplan', which all turn up on box two. In other words, get this set (if you can - it's relatively rare now despite the strong sales) for the history lesson; get the 'Morning Glory' box for pleasure.

"What's The Story Morning Glory? - The Singles Box"

(Helter Skelter, '1996')

CD One: Interview Disc

CD Two: Some Might Say/Talk Tonight/Acquiesce/Headshrinker

CD Three: Roll With It/It's Getting Better!! (People!)/Rockin' Chair/Live Forever (Glastonbury)

CD Four: Wonderwall/Round Are Way/The Swamp Song/The Masterplan

CD Five: Don't Look Back In Anger/Step Out/Underneath The Sky/Cum On Feel The Noize

"We need each other, we believe in one another, and I know we're going to uncover what's sleeping inside our soul"

Much more interesting if you don't already know the singles is the contents of this second and final singles box, again designed to look like an over-large cigarette packet. The band light up with three career highlights tucked away on 'Some Might Say' ('Talk Tonight' 'Acquiesce' and 'Headshrinker') which would all surely have been big hits in their own right and all of which are fan favourites: 'Tonight' for its slow, sad, weary debate whether being a star is worth it with a reminder from a fan that oh yes it is baby, 'Acquiesce' with its traded vocals between Liam's sneer and Noel's plea for all kinds of brotherly love set to one of the all-time great Oasis riffs and the overlooked 'Headshrinker', the loudest and most high octane energy rocker in the band's career. 'Roll With It' doesn't come close but the A side is still bettered by the B sides, especially the last of Noel's pre-fame ballads 'Rockin' Chair' (a rare favourite of his brother's) and the funky, unusual rhythm-based 'It's Getting Better (People)' 'Wonderwall' is rightly championed as a career highlight in terms of A-sides, with the cheery town-description 'Round Are Way' (Manchester has never seemed like a prettier place to live however 'real' many of the descriptions!), the heavyweight instrumental with Paul Weller guesting already heard in part on the 'Morning Glory' album and the towering achievement that is the philosophical 'Masterplan'. Only 'Don't Look Back In Anger' lets the side down, with the B-sides made in a hurry when it became clear that the band's second album would indeed have an unlikely fourth single released from it. 'Step Out' and 'Underneath The Sky' ought to sound happy but sound bitter and twisted here, perhaps pointing at the difficulties the band were now facing and which blow up big time while making 'Be Here Now'. The band are also reduced to noisy silly Slade covers to get their kicks - though an improvement on the original 'Cum On Feel The Noize' isn't one of the band's more distinguished flipsides. Once again, the 'bonus' interview disc is a bit of a rum ordeal too, lasting not quote twenty minutes and revealing less even than the 'Wibbling Rivalry' interview disc. No matter though: this is still a collection of songs many bands would kill to have as a collection of A-sides, never mind flipsides taken from one short year of a band's history.


(MTV, August 1996)

Hello/Some Might Say/Live Forever/The Masterplan/Don't Look Back In Anger/Talk Tonight/Morning Glory/Round Are Way-Up In The Sky/Cast No Shadow/Wonderwall/Listen Up/It's Gettin' Better!!! (People!)/Whatever-Octopuses' Garden/Day Tripper/Roll With It/Take Me

"Some might say you get what you've been given - if you don't get yours I won't get mine as well"

Now, before you get excited you can't buy this one in the shops sadly and in fact you can't buy this show in any form - unlike many of their peers Oasis never released an official version of their 'Unplugged' performance. That is, however, a shame because it's a key moment in Oasis history and one that deserves its own entry whether you can buy it or not (hopefully one day, perhaps when the band run out of money, we'll get it all the same). Oasis were the biggest band on the planet when they agreed to this performance which really enhanced their reputation, stripping the band of their wall of noise and proving to more sensitive ears in a Beatles-style way that there was more to their music than just shouting. Though the mass sea of orchestras are often hard to take and guest harmonica player Mark Feltham distracting, the songs all sound good in their new settings with a much calmer, thoughtful tone more in keeping with the Noel-performed acoustic B-sides from the last couple of years (many of which are here too).

That is, more than likely, because Noel performs all the songs here, going back to basics and singing these tracks as if he was still making demos in his living room (albeit with noisy neighbours who happen to be in a string quartet, with a harmonica player in the basement). Liam was due to sing right up until the moment of recording before revealing he had a sore throat and pulling out. Rather than go home he went to one of the boxes on the MTV soundstage and heckled his brother for most of the night, which made for an entertaining evening of banter even if much of it went sadly unheard as the younger brother wasn't miked up. Noel said later he was furious at having this workload dumped on him for such a prestigious event, but inwardly must have been secretly pleased. This is the moment when most casual fans caught up and realised that there was more to Oasis than just the leery-eyed singer and began to pay Noel more attention - sadly for Liam it's also the moment when most people started saying things like how much better the songs sounded without him there (not strictly true - Noel lacks the power and charisma his brother brought to the songs, although as a one-off gig this was fun to hear). Noel had always planned a lengthy solo spot in the middle anyway and this is easily the highlight of the gig: a far more basic version of 'Masterplan', a singalong 'Don't Look Back In Anger' and a lovely version of 'Talk Tonight'. However Noel sounds pretty good on songs that, till this point, we'd only ever heard Liam sing: a glorious acoustic 'Morning Glory', a brave stab at the rhythm-heavy 'It's Getting Better (People)' and a very pretty 'Cast No Shadow' which suits the more black and white feel of the acoustic arrangement. Not everything works and the set goes badly downhill at the end: 'Whatever' (complete with a minute long tag from 'Octopuses' Garden' - this was always seen as the 'Ringo novelty' of Oasis singles) is a struggle for Noel's voice,  'Roll With It' sounded daft played with the power of a band and sounds terrible here, while the attempt to cover The Beatles' 'Day Tripper' is the wrong setting (even McCartney didn't dare attempt this song at his own 'Unplugged' set the year before, instead going for the more fitting companion piece 'We Can Work It Out'). However the set was more than good enough given the trying circumstances, however self-inflicted (debate had raged about just how ill/hungover/fed up Liam was that day - he's certainly morose, though cheers up when he sees how well the gig is going down) and definitely helped rather than hindered Oasis' reputation. 

"The Masterplan"

(Creation, November 1998)

(First reviewed as part of the Alan's Album Archives 'Core' 101 Reviews #99 in July 2008)

Acquiesce/Underneath The Sky/Talk Tonight/Going Nowhere/Fade Away/The Swamp Song/I Am The Walrus//Listen Up/Rockin’ Chair/ Half The World Away/(It’s Good) To Be Free/Stay Young/ Headshrinker/The Masterplan

"I hope you don't regret today for the rest of your llllllives!"

ROCK historians, go back to school (is that them on Oasis’ set-in-the-classroom cover perhaps?) While the world at large fell in love with the Mancunian’s breath-of-fresh-air singles and critics fell over themselves thinking up new adjectives to describe the brilliance of Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory, the true heart of Oasis exists on their B-sides, with many of the best ones from the first half of their career handily rounded up on this album Masterplan. All of the Oasis LPs have had at least somebody banging on about how good each individual one is at some point in their lifespan and on the whole they’re right – Oasis are rightly proclaimed as one of the more important bands of the 1990s, but I would stake a claim at them being one of the most consistent bands too (yep, even the much-maligned Be Here Now has its moments!) Yet for me, this understated compilation of B-sides and obscurities is the most consistently brilliant of the lot – and it’s the one Oasis album that almost nobody seems to mention nowadays (perhaps because it's not an album per se).

In essence, Masterplan is a ‘filler’ record to help the band’s first record label Creation patch up the holes in their finances and to let the band fill in time after the harrowing sessions for Be Here Now, when Oasis nearly split up for good. As such it should be terrible, full of songs that weren’t good enough to make the grade as singles the first time round and released as an after-thought to give the band time to lick their wounds. But Noel was on such a good strong run of writing form in the years 1992-96 that instead your jaw just drops, hearing the songs that Oasis originally intended to be simply a group of added bonus tracks for dedicated fans who bought all the singles. Most people think the band’s first two albums are good and they are - but the fact that oasis still had all this great stuff as leftovers shows just what a prolific and nowadays under-rated run of form the band had in their heyday. As a result, Masterplan is the last true ‘britpop’ album, the last effortless gasp among the run of groups that owned the charts between them for the middle period of the 1990s. People who didn’t live through the decade (gulp, I feel old suddenly) assume that in the 1990s the Spice Girls were king, with Take That and Boyzone their only real source of competition. No way my young whipper-snappers, the only reason there was such a heavy record-buying market back then was because of this band who suddenly made collecting music made by ‘proper’ (ie not synthesised bands) made up of a guitar, bass and drums cool again. Here, as on their first two records, Oasis manage a Beatlesy balance of abrasive noisy rock as confrontational as you can get and songs your mother could hum, without either side diluting the impact of the other, appealing to as big an audience as a single band can comfortably manage.
Better still, it's not just that so many of these flipsides are as good as the better known singles but that they're all so different. To some extent Oasis lucked on their signature sound early and kept to it, with a few variations from song to song but lots of that instantly recognisable Oasis wall of noise. These B-sides are more what Noel would have written had the band not become so big so fast and if the band had never quite discovered their sound and all these parallel universe Oasises are pretty darn interesting too. Noel's folky ballad 'Talk Tonight' and his earnest song of what fame will be like 'Goin' Nowhere' (the perfect fit for the single 'Stand By Me', the point where life before fame now seems like a distant memory), the singalong classic 'Acquiesce', the mournful weighty title track and the overlooked storming rocker 'Headshrinker' where Oasis now sound the Sex Pistols crossed with Nirvana if either band could actually play rock are all career highlights and all five areas are places the band really should have gone back to, a much more interesting place to visit than the 'Supersonic' sound ad infinitum. Many of my favourite Oasis moments are the B-sides, not so much because they're the best Oasis sings (although these five come close - and none of the fourteen here are bad) but because they sound more like the 'real' Oasis, a band who weren't afraid of anything, including surprising their audience from time to time.

As the sleevenotes tell us, ‘a B-side is no excuse not to care’ and the quality of these seemingly ‘throwaway’ songs would be impressive enough for a 60s band when the exclusiveness of your flip-sides got you extra star ratings from your fans. Hardly anybody was doing B-sides in the 1990s, at least not like this – so far Oasis have yet to rip off their fans with instrumental/ extended/ scrambled/ remixed versions of their A-sides and instead of just putting one barely-sketched song on the back of their latest magnum opus, they often go to the lengths of specially recording two or three. Even this set had its track selection chosen by band or committee but by fans, who voted in their thousands which flipsides to include  and (more or less) got the track selection right, although it is perhaps a bit heavier on the 'Morning Glory' period in deference to the 'Definitely Maybe' one. The consistency of these seemingly off-handedly recorded B-sides is terribly impressive, with many of them fan favourites to this day, with a love and respect from fans that often outlasts the A-sides they came with (eg Acquiesce, a song still included in Oasis set lists long after the band stopped playing A-side Some Might Say). Noel Gallagher for one seems to think of these B-sides very fondly – perhaps because he plays a much bigger part in their recording than the A-sides, which are normally handed to younger brother Liam – and its no surprise to fans in the know that the elder brother selected no less than four of these Masterplan tracks for last year’s 2 CD Stop All The Clocks best-of (to put this in context the bands’ two celebrated classics Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory only get five apiece).

But it’s the throwaway-ness of these recordings that often makes them special, with the Gallagher brothers’ typical swagger sounding better than ever on some of these rough-hewn gems. Many of the Masterplan tracks sound like rawer versions of Oasis’ impressive wall-of-noise technique, with Liam’s snarling vocals even better suited to the rough, punkier recordings than he is their better known and glossily-produced A-sides. Yet there’s also a lot of one-off experiments too, with Noel especially prepared to expand and stretch the Oasis formula safe in the knowledge that the group’s core fans will understand what he’s doing – because its only them that were meant to hear these tracks the first time around. Noticeably, there’s plenty of deeper, more lyrical tracks – often featuring just Noel and an acoustic guitar in stark contrast to Oasis’ usual ear-crunching sound - which allow Noel G to be less self-conscious about getting preachy and philosophical, allowing him to think ‘hey its only a B-side, who’s going to hear it and where did I put the number of that French horn player?!’ If the band had recorded this kind of thing as an A-side for the world at large, more vocal members of their fan-base might have lynched them, but for a buy-one-song-get-one-track-free  B-side it shows a care and devotion that is only ever found in that most special of creative bands. Despite sounding very different to the usual Oasis fare, many of these songs are now some of the best-loved Oasis songs of all, tracks like Talk Tonight and Acquiesce being the first tentative steps to allowing Noel to step out on his own, a move which he seems to be doing more and more these days as he seems to be saving his best material for himself (luckily Liam’s writing is just as good these days, with the younger brother coming up with two of the biggest highlights of the last two albums: Born On A Different Cloud and Guess God Thinks I’m Abel).

Finally, lots of these Masterplan songs are early recordings (or at least early compositions) and show that Oasis’ brilliance were unquestionably there at the start. The effect is a bit like the intimacy of looking at someone’s baby photos—and then realising that they haven’t actually changed that much and wondering how to say so without insulting them. The best thing about these early tracks compared to some late and (especially) mid period tracks is that Oasis also sound like a true certified band here, one capable of improvising and backing each other up – even much maligned first drummer Tony McCarroll sounds far more at home on these B-sides where presumably Noel G is leaving him to get on with things instead of nagging him to play a complicated drum pattern slightly out of his reach. The biggest revelation is the work of the rhythm guitarist affectionately known to one and all as Bonehead and neglected bassist Guigsy, both of whom are at their best on these early songs, driving the band through their most outré swampy rockers like Headshrinker and adding such winsomely touches as the accordion on It’s Good To Be Free and the moody, eccentric bass rolls on The Masterplan respectively. The only negative point about the whole album to make is how many classic Oasis B-sides are still missing from this set (after all, the band still give their fans two or three per single to this day  – and there’s an awful lot of Oasis singles around). For instance, it’s incredible to think that the band had so much material to choose from they actually left off fan favourites like the delicate acoustic D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?, the loud and proud Alive and the intriguingly original Cloudburst from this album, songs even their biggest and most deadly rivals wouldn’t have though twice about issuing as singles.

 The Masterplan makes for a suitably crafted and mature end to an album which shows that even Oasis’ hidden treasures are, well, treasured and takes us back to a time when world domination rather than critical sneers were part of the ‘masterplan’. Not every song is a gem, but then most bands nowadays seem to go out of their way to offer ‘bad’ B-sides so as not to drown out their masterpieces at the start. The fact that Oasis released such a consistent run of fine songs and continue to release two or three per single when money or career-wise they no longer need to is admirable and the adventurousness and range of the material makes that achievement doubly impressive. Even more than Stop All The Clocks, this little compilation allows you to turn back time to the last point when music seemed like it had something new and exciting to offer. If only we could get back there again.  Sadly there never has been another volume of 'Masterplan' even though there's at least another two volumes of classics that could follow, filled with classics like 'Flashbax' 'Idler's Dream' 'Just Getting Older' and 'Swollen Hand Blues'. Even at the time a second volume seemed the sensible thing to do, tidying up many of the even rarer B-sides from the 'Definitely Maybe' singles including the fascinating early period covered by songs like 'Take Me' 'I'm Alive' and 'Cloudburst'. Sadly it was not to be - maybe (definitely?!) soon?

"Familiar To Millions"

(Big Brother, November 2000)

Fuckin' In The Bushes/Go Let It Out/Who Feels Love?/Supersonic/Shakermaker/Acquiesce/ Step Out/Gas Panic!/Roll With It/Stand By Me//Wonderwall/Cigarettes and Alcohol/Don't Look Back In Anger/Live Forever/Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)/Champagne Supernova/Rock 'n' Roll Star/Helter Skelter

"Maybe I will never be all the things I like to be, but now is not the time to cry - now's the time to find out why!"

You would have thought that Oasis would have released a whole slew of live albums. They were, after all, a band who relied more than most on interaction with 'their' people and whose tours were always well received by critics - far more so than the albums. 'Familiar To Millions', released in the gap between albums four and five, however remains their sole official live recording. What's really head-scratch-inducing about this record, though, is the timing: by their own admission Oasis didn't enjoy this tour very much: Gem and Andy had only been in the band a matter of months when it was recorded and due to the timing and the fall-out from 'Be Here Now' the crowd aren't as blindly supportive as they were on earlier and later tours. Strangely enough that becomes a plus: instead of one long singalong, this gig feels like something more, commemorating a shifting point in Oasis' history.

Sensibly Oasis don't try to hide this new wave of antipathy from the crowds or the history books and is as close to warts-and-all as live albums get. 'I'm not having any of that!' snarls Liam to a booing portion to the crowd during the solo in 'Go Let It Out'; 'take that silly thing down man - it's not worthy of you - and tell us something we don't know!' growls Liam over the start of the punkish version ever of the glossy 'Who Feels Love?';  'This is a great fooking tune this man, come on!' Liam sighs when the audience go all quiet after the announcement of concert highlight 'Gas Panic!'; 'Tweety Pie - he's alright!' quips Liam to the audience during a toturous 'Shakermaker', followed at the song's choatic end by Noel telling the band to stop chanting the Gallagher's name and gets a chant going based around 'oo the fuck is Andy Bell?' in deference to the fact that nobody knows who the new bass player is yet; 'That's for all the pot heads who could even reach their arms up' dismisses Liam after a hold-on-toy-our-seats 'Acquiesce'; on Wonderwall Liam seems to be getting a migraine: 'All the lights that light the way are blinding - come on man, they're doing me fooking head in!'; 'You know what I think of you!' laughs Noel during 'Don't Look Back In Anger'.  Most Oasis concerts seem like a meeting of minds in solidarity and a refusal to be crushed by the wheels of whoever happens to be in charge that day, but this gig - recorded just as the world was changing in the year before 9/11 and Noel's old supporter Tony Blair's fall from hero to zero - sounds more like a war. Together with the large quantity of songs from 'Giants' that won't stay in the set lists past the year but sound surprisingly punchy live ('Gas Panic!' 'Who Feels Love' and the one song that will last live 'Go Let It Out', plus a tape of 'F!ckin' In The Bushes') and a few surprise choices from yesterday (such as B-side 'Step Out' and a couple of covers of songs by The Beatles and Neil Young) and 'Familiar To Millions' is a much more interesting life artefact than simply releasing the massive gigs like Knebworth or Glastonbury would have been. For a band who till now have always prided themselves on being upbeat and hopeful, seeing them reveal just how hard a slog this band lark is becoming is impressive, if slightly worrying, stuff. After all, imagine if The Beatles had released live tapes of their 1966 tours where the band swore and laughed at the crowd, hidden by a sea of screams, or if Bob Dylan had released his first electric gig complete with cries of 'Judas' the first time round (instead of as a historical document). Even the title of the album sounds defensive: 'we were big once y'know - we didn't just play to millions our songs were 'familiar' to millions' it seems to be saying, while the band include the impressive vast seating plan for London's Wembley Stadium on the actual CD as if to say 'have a load of this!' (forget the guff on the back sleeve about these being the 'most anticipated shows of the summer' and 'Britains' finest rock and roll band on peak form'...what they don't mention is that this one of the few gigs in Oasis history not to sell out and fans were slightly disappointed with the performance at the time).

However, now that we know that the Oasis story is over and done with - the 'part one' stage anyway if the constant rumours of a reunion ever turn out to be true - this rather changes the role the album serves in the Oasis catalogue, as the only audio souvenir of a great live band, rather than an insight into a troubled time. There are at least a dozen other gigs out there on bootleg played better than this one and the official live DVDs released in 1995, 1996 and 2005 offer much more of what casual fans will come to expect from an Oasis live recording. It's not that the band play badly so much as that they're still learning, with this gig sounding more like a dress rehearsal for the next three tours to come. Gem and Andy are very new to all this and, un-noticed, Noel's role in the band has changed too, going from being the obvious lead guitarist to someone more content to stuck to rhythm while Gem gets all the groovy solos; all three play well, but compared to future gigs sound a little tentative. That leaves Liam's vocals and Alan's drumming as the main links to the 'old' sound people would have been used to at the time - thankfully both are on top form, but both sound a little bit different too. White's playing has long been an undervalued source of the band's fuel and fire - it's no coincidence that the band unravels about the tie he leaves, even if Oasis technically lasts another five years - and he's on monster form across the gig, punching each song like a heavyweight boxer, instead of dancing like he does on the record. Liam, meanwhile, forsakes the emotion and passion in his voice on the records for one long snarl, something which suits many of the old songs ('Rock 'n' Roll Star', for instance has never sounded less joyous and so furious, as if he's challenging just how great it is to be a rock and roll star after all; 'Supersonic' has gone from the most sober and up-for-it song in the Oasis canon to a hangover with drums; a rare 'Shakermaker' has gone from the thrill of youth into a self-mocking parody) but is a long way from the young and hungry sound of Oasis' days of old. In short, the album title is actually a sarcastic rejoinder: these are the songs familiar to millions, but not like this, with a new band line-up and a sense of fighting spirit making these songs sound strangely alien and outrageous at a time when fans were still getting used to the sudden change in oasis' sound. This isn't an Oasis album for just everybody and if you're only here for live recordings of the hits then you're better off staying well away. However if you're a mad passionate fan then this might well be one of the most fascinating albums the band ever released: loud, unbowed and with all songs pushed to the point where they sound brittle, fragile and desperate. It's a reminder of just how much hard work it was to stay loyal to a band suddenly out of fashion and stuck forever in the public's minds in the mid-90s, still desperate to prove their worth in the new millennium.

There are five reasons to own this album in particular. 'Gas Panic!' has a real threat and chills only sketched in on the 'Giants' studio version, while the juxtaposition of this song between two of the jolliest songs in the Oasis canon ('Step Out' and 'Roll With It') only demonstrates how out of place this song's style sounds compared to the band's upbeat sounds. 'Who Feels Love?', a masterclass  in the art of polish and overdubbing on the record, sounds like a monster live track,. with Liam singing alone for much of the song and the riff played on twin guitars making the tale of searching for something sound like a desperate quest rather than a sweet song about love. The two new covers, one of them exclusive to this set, rock hard and well, with a blistering attack on The Beatles' 'Helter Skelter' which isn't quite as gloriously messy as the 'White Album' original but remains the best of the officially released Oasis fab four covers (why did they never cover 'Rain', which is tailor made for them?!); Noel is twelve years out when he jokes that he wasn't born when Neil Young's 'Hey Hey My My' came out but 'gets' the song anyway, turning it into half-lament and half-anthem, a vow that good rock and roll will outlast us all no matter how bands burnout on the road to keeping it going (the song must have had real resonance for a band that had split in two and become the nations' whipping boys in the space of three years). Best of all, though, is a stunning 'Champagne Supernova' that floats like a butterfly and stings like the nastiest wasp in the kingdom, six and a half minutes of aggressive floating, with Liam's lived-in vocals tearing at the prettiest song in the Oasis canon while Noel plays one of his greatest solos ever with a nihilism that puts in a far different bag to the joyful exuberance of the 'Morning Glory' version. Sadly 'Hey Hey My My' is missing from the pointless single disc 'highlights' set which, perhaps taking a lead from Paul McCartney's book with 'Tripping The Live Fantastic Highlights' in 1990, skips the interesting songs and snippets of conversation that gives this set character and simply turns it into a sometimes poorly played greatest hits set instead. This gig deserved better and the two-disc album is a welcome reminder of a troubled period, even if the band are backed into a corner and are fighting for their lives rather than playing with their hearts and souls.

 "Stop The Clocks"
(Big Brother/Columbia, November 2006)

Rock 'n' Roll Star/Some Might Say/Talk Tonight/Lyla/The Importance Of Being Idle/ Wonderwall/Slide Away/Cigarettes and Alcohol/The Masterplan//Live Forever/Acquiesce/Supersonic/Half The World Away/Go Let It Out//Songbird/Morning Glory/Champagne Supernova/Don't Look Back In Anger

"Don't look back in anger she heard you say - at least not today"

The Gallagher brothers were always dismissive of 'compilation' albums - something Creation also agreed with despite the fact that a cheaply made, high-selling set would have made the lives of record company and band a lot easier by the 'split' years of 1999/2000. No one seems quite sure why the band relented in the gap between their last two albums - perhaps the band were just worn down by being nagged or had lost just that last bit of sales and reputation that allowed them to do what they wanted while still being a viable financial investment, or perhaps after twelve years of music-making the band were in a nostalgic mood. Chances are by now the band's new label Sony had more clout than the band and Noel has hinted that he stepped in when he heard the label were making a compilation come what may 'in order to stop it being bad' and 'deliberately made for future generations' (with Noel telling the world's press that he discovered The Beatles through their 'red' and 'blue' sets and wanted this compilation to do the same for all the mini-Oasisers of the future). 'Stop The Clocks' was much debated between fans, who feared that it would just be a boring vanilla single disc best of, heavy on the hits but low on character (which is kind of what we got with the later 'Time Flies...', though across two discs rather than one thank goodness). 'Stop The Clocks' was made with a lot more affection than that, hand-picked by Noel who passed his running order over to the rest of the band for approval - typically, it was getting Liam's that took the longest (he wanted 'Rockin' Chair' and 'D'Yer Know What I Mean?' included too - and refused to allow Noel to include his personal favourite 'Whatever'), although he 'acquiesced' on the condition that his personal favourite own of his own compositions 'Songbird' was on there. The band also brought in another Beatles connection by hiring Peter Blake (co-designer, with Paul McCartney' of the 'Sgt peppers' sleeve) to design the curious collage, made up of objects that may or may not have special significance (a similar jumble to the 'Be Here Now' props cupboard sleeve, it's a fan's cupboard being 'opened', which is nicely nostalgic but a little weird; this isn't Slade or The Jam - Oasis fans don't own that many pairs of shoes, or at least I don't!)

You can tell that this track selection was picked by an 'insider' rather than just a record company man because of both what's here and what's missing. In place of heavy sellers like 'Roll With It' 'D'Yer Know What I Mean?' 'All Around The World' and 'Stand By Me' (technically four of the top six selling Oasis singles along with 'Wonderwall' and 'Don't Look Back In Anger') are forgotten B-sides like 'Acquiesce' 'Goin' Nowhere' 'Talk Tonight' and 'The Masterplan' (re-issued as a tie-in 'single' to promote the album, complete with a new and rather good L S Lowry-style video that finally won the song a lot of the kudos with the general public and reviewers it had deserved down the years). There is of course an emphasis on the early years, with maybe a few songs too many from the first two albums which most self-respecting curious music collector would own already (five from both 'Definitely Maybe' and 'Morning Glory'), although as these include such career highlights as 'Rock and Roll Star' 'Slide Away' and 'Champagne Supernova' it's hard to really quibble (though I will asks what happened to the band's real greatest moment 'Cast No Shadow'). Ironically, though, B-sides compilation 'The Masterplan' ends up being nearly as well represented with four, while 'Be Her Now' - technically the band's best-selling album whatever the people who bought it thought of it - doesn't get any!

The tracks from the later years are a bit more ordinary and a bit depressing: 'Lyla' 'The Importance Of Being Idle' 'Go Let It Out' and 'Songbird'. 'Real' fans know that the strength of the band's last few years lies in the more daring, depressed works like 'Fade In-Out' 'Gas Panic' 'Where Did It All Go Wrong?' 'Little By Little' and 'Born On A Different Cloud', while the absence of big-selling and well loved tracks like 'Who Feels Love?' 'Hindu Times' 'Stop Crying Your Eyes Out' and 'Let There Be Love' is a shame when, despite a generous hour playing time, both discs could easily have squeezed all these tracks on and more. The title track, an Oasis outtake considered for release somewhere around the 'Be Here Now' sessions, was also mooted as a 'rarity' to entice fans to buy this album, but Noel changed his mind at the last minute (late enough not to change the name): he'll re-record this song for the first 'High Flying Birds' album where it will be hailed as a masterpiece better than anything Oasis had released in years - few people realised it was already over a decade old by then! Though I'm not a fan of 'greatest hits' sets that include 'new' and untested work to fool collectors into buying songs all over again, in this case it's Oasis' loss - the superior original take still hasn't been officially released yet and the world needs to hear a recording this strong and powerful. Still, Oasis continued their career tradition of never giving us the obvious and 'Stop The Clocks' is a pretty decent entry for fans not old enough to remember the band the first time around who want to know what all the fuss is all about. If they aren't a fan by the end of this and eager to look out the full records anyway, then there's something wrong with them. I'd consider adoption if I were you.

The album also sold well despite containing nothing new, becoming the 7th highest selling record of the year in Britain, just like the old days - stop the clocks indeed. As with so many things Oasis, the album was also released in a 'special edition' set with a DVD that featured a 40 minute interview with Noel and Liam separately is mashed up together, a recording of 'Champagne Supernova' at Knebworth, a live 'Fade Away' recorded in Chicago in 1994 and a 'picture gallery' that mainly consists of Liam glaring and Noel frowning. A special special edition released via HMV included additional videos of 'Half The World Away' live in Glasgow in 2001 and 'Morning Glory' from a V Festival gig in 2005.

"Time Flies...1994-2009"

(Big Brother, June 2010)

Supersonic/Roll With It/Live Forever/Wonderwall/Stop Crying Your Heart Out/Cigarettes and Alcohol/Songbird/Don't Look Back In Anger/The Hindu Times/Stand By Me/Lord Don't Slow Me Down/Shakermaker/All Around The World//Some Might Say/The Importance Of Being Idle/D'Yer Know What I Mean?/Lyla/Let There Be Love/Go Let It Out/Who Feels Love?/Little By Little/The Shock Of The Lightning/She Is Love/Whatever/I'm Outta Time/Falling Down (Hidden Bonus Track: Sunday Morning Call)

"Time to kiss the world goodbye..."

It took the band eleven years to release their first compilation - and only another four to release their second. 'Time Flies...' feels more final somehow, released after the band's official split and an attempt to be more 'complete' and less 'personal' than 'Stop The Clocks'. The good news is that all the band's singles are here, oblivious of how well remembered or well received they were and they're as good a run of singles as any band ever made, with a welcome chance to hear hidden gems like 'Whatever' (making its first 'album' appearance) 'Who Feels Love?'  'Stop Crying Your Heart Out' 'Lord Don't Slow Me Down' and 'Shock Of The Lightning' again. Even the hated 'Sunday Morning Call', a song Noel dislikes so much he only agreed to its release as an un-credited 'bonus' track hidden at the end of the second disc and not mentioned at all on the packaging, sounds excellent. The bad news is that this double disc set doesn't even come close to chronological order, the way all decent best-ofs should, and the running order really jars as the band flit between pure 90s to pure 00s sounds and back again (this was presumably done to avoid the usual criticisms of 'loved the first disc, but hated the later years' comments, but even so including the songs in a random, jumbled up order robs the band of one of the greatest one-two-three-four-five punches in rock and roll: 'Supersonic' into 'Shakermaker' into 'Live Forever' into 'Cigarettes and Alcohol' into 'Some Might Say' is just superb: try it sometime if you haven't already). Personally, if you're after a 'best of' I would stick to 'Stop The Clocks' which gives you a much more 'rounded' sense of what Oasis were all about you can't get from just their arena-pleasing hit singles - and if you're not then I'd skip this CD and go straight to the DVD of the same name, which includes all the promo videos, with the option of watching them in the 'proper' order, and some hilarious 'nonsense' commentary from Noel. This CD lacks all of those things and the retina-damaging packaging is nothing to write home about either, all those glorious years of colour and noise and purpose reduced to a wonky view of the crowd taken from stage, with none of the band present. In proof of how big a draw the Oasis sound still is and was, however, the album hit #1 in the UK and remains one of the biggest selling albums ever in Japan. Go figure.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds "Songs From The Great White North"

(Sour Mash, April 2012)

The Good Rebel/Let The Lord Shine A Light On Me/I'd Pick You Every Time/Shoot A Hole Into The Sun

"The voices in the distance try to sing my soul to sleep, but I'm drifting into the silence...".

One of the more inventive moments of Noel's career so far comes not from a recording, an album or a tour but the rather nifty idea of re-releasing all the blink-and-you'll-miss-them B-sides from his first album as a standalone EP. If only Oasis had done this with their flipsides down the years we could have had at least another three classic albums and seven very good ones, with twelve-sixteen tracks on most of them even up towards the end, many of which match with the originals (great as 'Masterplan' is, that compilation is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Oasis' fan-pleasing B-sides).  Alas Noel's hit on his brilliant idea a little too ;late, meaning that all we have this time round is an EP not an LP of four songs not considered good enough to make even one of his lesser moments in the sun. However, not for the first time, Noel seems freer to write what he really wants to write on the B-sides, which offer a far more varies and rounded sound than anything on the first High Flying Birds album, a record that suffered far too strongly from giving audiences what they wanted and expected. Though none of the four songs here are out and out classics, most are better than any of the 'new' (as opposed to 'Oasis outtakes') moments that made the record: 'The Good Rebel' is the most sixties Oasisy song since the band covered 'I Am The Walrus' which won't be to every fans' tastes but as a writer of books predominantly set in that decade sounds great to me, a cross between 'Good Day Sunshine' and 'Rain' that creates a gorgeous multi-coloured musical rainbow; 'Let The Lord Shine A Light On Me' is moodier Noel, more in style with the B-sides he wrote for Oasis in the second half of their career and almost as good; 'I'd Pick You Up Anytime' is a curious jazz/folk hybrid shuffle that sounds like the folk song 'Girl From The North Country' with shades of Beady Eye's 'The World Outside My Room'; finally 'Shoot A Hole In The Sun' has a very similar feel to the first 'High Flying Birds' album, with a sense of the epic and atmosphere but without the strong song to sustain it all, 'loosely' based by mixer Armorphous Androgynous around album song 'If I Had A Gun' but not quite as good. You're not really missing anything if you don't own these tracks either as singles or as part of this EP, but do offer additional insight to the album and in two out of four cases the 'B' sides beat the 'A' sides hands down - just like the olden days. 

"Definitely Maybe - Deluxe Edition"

(Ignition, May 2014)

CD One: Rock 'n' Roll Star/Shakermaker/Live Forever/Up In The Sky/Columbia/Supersonic/Bring It On Down/Cigarettes And Alcohol/Digsy's Dinner/Slide Away/Married With Children

CD Two: Columbia (White Label Demo)/Cigarettes And Alcohol (Demo)/Sad Song/I Will Believe/Take Me Away/Alive//D'Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?/Supersonic (Live 'B' Side Version)/Up In The Sky (Acoustic 'B' Side Version)/Cloudburst/Fade Away/Listen Up/I Am The Walrus/Whatever/It's Good To Be Free/Half The World Away

CD Three: Supersonic (Live At Glasgow)/Rock 'n' Roll Star (Demo)/Shakermaker (Live In Paris Record Shop)/Columbia (Early Version)/Cloudburst (Demo)/Strange Thing (Demo)/Live Forever (Live In Paris Record Shop)/Cigarettes And Alcohol (Live In Manchester)/D'Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman? (Live In Manchester)/Fade Away (Demo)/Take Me Away (Live At Manchester)/Shakermaker ('Slides Up Mix')/Sad Song (Live At Manchester Academy)/Half The World Away (Live In A Tokyo Hotel Room)/Digsy's Dinner (Live In Paris Record Shop)/Married With Children (Demo)/Up In The Sky (Live In Paris Record Shop)/Whatever (Strings Overdub)

"I'd liiiiike ter teach the wuuuurld to sinnnngaaa in perfect aarrrrmoneeee!"

It was twenty years ago that day that Alan McGee told the band to play - and eventually, after a lot of false starts and aborted sessions, the fastest selling British debut of all time was born. Following on from the rather good tenth anniversary present (the 'Definitely Maybe' DVD, complete with new documentary), Oasis saw fit to sanction this next obvious step: a 'deluxe' album that rounded up all the band's period B-sides and had a quick look through the Creation attic for a handful of rarities that hadn't been released yet. A (sadly very) limited edition even included a replica of the famous eight track demo tape made in 1993 as an extra special 'bonus', which are all no doubt being kept in a shrine by proud Oasis collectors right at this moment. When fans first heard about this project hopes were high that the entire aborted versions of 'Definitely Maybe', kept under wraps for twenty years, might be on their way out of hiding at last. Sadly that wasn't the case, but even so this three-disc set was remarkably generous (back to the good ol' days when Oasis fans got lots of extra goodies instead of single B-sides and remixes for their pocket money) and remains the definitive way to hear what's still arguably Oasis' definitive album.

The third disc is the real treasure trove here, rounding up a couple of oddities previously released to promote the 'Stop The Clocks' album a decade earlier (a terrific early live version of 'Supersonic' that sounds, well, 'supersonic' aptly enough and a so-so demo of 'Rock 'n' Roll Star' that's somewhere around the quarter finals of X Factor) but is otherwise completely unheard. The set is divided into four, though sadly not all the goodies are heard in the 'right' order. First up the studio songs that were all at least outside candidates for making this debut album. An early aborted mix of 'Columbia' produced by Noel doesn't quite have the impact of the finished version (and you can see why they changed it - Liam in particular is far too low but then this was a session mixed by his brother after all!) but sees an especially good performance from Noel who turns his psychedelic opening salvo into a full forty seconds of bloops and whistles while the main riff features more of a 'Snakebite' kind of noisy guitar part. There's more tambourine in this mix too. The twin demos of two early songs released as B-sides, 'Cloudburst' and 'Strange Thing', don't match even the versions we know never mind the later Oasis classics that did make the set but remain a fascinating insight into Oasis' early not-quite-developed sound and 'Strange Thing' especially sounds like it could have been an Oasis classic with just a few tweaks here and there. The demo of 'Fade Away' is more interesting, sung by Liam with his 'first' Stone Roses voice and played by the whole band unlike most later demo recordings. It's nothing like as powerful as the tougher re-make but it's clearly a moment that's a stepping stone towards the 'finished' Oasis sound. Alas the demo for 'Married With Children' isn't all that, simply because it's so similar to the version that was released (and in comparison to the rest of the album sounded like a stripped-down demo anyway). There are differences though: Liam sounds almost cosy and settled rather than sarcastic, while Noel adds some nice electric guitar over the acoustic. Elsewhere, five minutes of the irritating string overdub for 'Whatever' is just silly and very out of place at the end of two hours of full-on rock and roll, but does at least prove what a jolly tune the original single had. Good show, what! However I'd sit through flipping hours of those strings if it meant I could hear the set's real highlight - a terrific alternate version of 'Shakermaker' billed here as the 'faders up' mix which means we get more of everything except the guitars: more Liam, more backing harmonies, more percussion and a much longer intro and fade. We even get the legendary cut verse where Liam reveals where the band purloined the riff from, telling us he'd like to 'buy the world a coke and keep it company!' which was a plagiarism too far even for Oasis and quietly got shelved. It sounds terrific though, especially with Liam's sneering and oddly cockney vocals ('I'd laaaarke ter taaaach vu woooorld tooo sinnnga!') now dead centre and like all the best remixes has changed the song from one of the weaker moments on the first album into one of the definitive Oasis performances, full of rebelliousness and realism - you can't ask for much more than that from a twenty-year-on bonus track really.

The live recordings are an equally mixed bag, taken from three separate locations in the months spent promoting the album. The best of the three is the strangest, an acoustic performance inside a Paris HMV (back when the retailers still had shops everywhere - sadly unthinkable nowadays) that features just Noel, Liam and an acoustic guitar. 'Shakermaker' sounds surprisingly tough and rock and roll considering there's just one guitar part and one vocal here but Liam especially is giving his all. 'Digsy's Dinner' sounds like a dog's dinner and must have confused the hell out of Paris record -buyers wondering who those weird English people are singing about lasagne rather than something nutritious like baguettes and croissants. However the killer blow that is 'Live Forever' is near-perfect, the brothers teasing each other as they keep announcing the title of the song (as if trying to stamp their control over the band) and though nothing can replace the majestic sea of noise of the record, this one is better than all the other variations and the lack of distractions shows what a truly spellbinding voice Liam had back in 1994 when he sings this song like he means it, not as a reminder of a mis-spent youth.

The four tracks recorded at a home-coming gig at Manchester Academy are more 'business as usual'. They even start with Liam squaring up to the crowd before starting up the most aggressive version of 'Cigarettes and Alcohol' going, with Liam barely containing his contempt for modern day life. The band were clearly having a good night that night, though the rest of the set selection is given over to Noel with pretty singalong versions of 'D'Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?' 'Take Me Away' and 'Sad Song'. The final show was a very odd show, taped in a hotel room in Tokyo - Japan having not quite yet taken Oasis to their hearts as they will years later. Noel again shines on this one with a pretty solo version of 'Half The World Away' a nice souvenir from the band's first trip to the land of the rising sun. Overall, a pretty credible selection of bonus tracks, especially given that so few of these recordings had even leaked out on bootlegs.

There are of course a few things that stop this set being the definitive (maybe?) version of this album. The packaging leaves a lot to be desired - though there are sleevenotes these aren't very long or illuminating for such a fancy and relatively pricey set. The album does sound slightly sharper but isn't quite the 'hold on to your seats this will blow your mind!' remix we were promised in the build-up to its release. The selection of B-sides is bizarrely missing the rather good live version of album track 'Bring It On Down' first included on the back of the 'Shakermaker' single, which means that we're about six minutes short of having a complete set (so don't throw that 'Definitely Maybe' singles box away just yet). Much like the album itself, this all 'feels' like a set that's trying to be 95% of the way to classic status, just so it can leave the band somewhere to go in the future to beating it (perhaps for the 30th anniversary, when at this rate of acceleration we'll have a green-ray DVDVDVD-30 version with quadrophonic sounds and a hologram version of one of the band members free with it as a sort of rock and roll tamagotchi  - hope I get Bonehead, he seems the easiest to live with).

"(What's The Story?) Morning Glory - Deluxe Edition"

(Big Brother, September 2014)

CD One: Hello/Roll With It/Wonderwall/Don't Look Back In Anger/Hey Now/[Untitled]/Some Might Say/Cast No Shadow/She's Electric/Morning Glory/[Untitled]/Champagne Supernova

CD Two: Talk Tonight/Acquiesce/Headshrinker/It's Getting Better!!! (People!!!)/Rockin' Chair/Step Out/Underneath The Sky/Cum On Feel The Noize/Round Are Way/The Swamp Song/The Masterplan/Bonehead's Bank Holiday/Champagne Supernova (Brendan Lynch Mix)/You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (BBC Session)

CD Three: Acquiesce (Live At Earl's Court)/Some Might Say (Demo)/Some Might Say (Live At Roskilde)/She's Electric (Demo)/Talk Tonight (Live In Bath)/Rockin' Chair (Demo)/Hello (Live At Roskilde)/Roll With It (Live At Roskilde)/Morning Glory (Live At Roskilde)/Hey Now (Demo)/Bonehead's Bank Holiday (Demo)/Round Are Way (MTV Unplugged)/Cast No Shadow (Live At Maine Road)/The Masterplan (Live At Knebworth)/

"Everything that's been has passed - the answer's in the looking glass"

Was it really twenty years ago that Oasis bid us 'Hello' and took us to a champagne supernova in the sky? Well, no actually - not on first release anyway - with this set released a little too eagerly (and a full nine months before the actual anniversary). Which is odd because, almost as much as the deluxe 'Morning Glory' this is a set that would have been more than worth waiting for. The pattern is much the same as for 'Definitely Maybe' with a first disc dedicated to just the album, a second just to B-sides (a complete set this time thank goodness) and various oddities (such as a rather polite reading of Beatles classic 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' from a radio session and vinyl-only bonkers classic 'Bonehead's Bank Holiday') and a third dedicated to previously unreleased stuff. Again much of it is in demo form, with Noel now rehearsing his songs solo with his own guitar rather than taking them to the band, which means that the five songs treated this way all sound very different. 'Some Might Say' sounds fragile and vulnerable, half a world away from the fiercely upbeat version of the finished product. 'She's Electric' sounds cute rather than funny, with a nice rhythm guitar jig sadly dropped when the band get a hold of it. 'Rockin' Chair' suits Noel's voice much more than his brother's and sounds good in acoustic form (did Liam insist on singing it? We've heard since that it's his 'favourite' Oasis song not to be a major hit). 'Hey Now' still sounds like a little bit of a slog and doesn't suit Noel as well as his brother. Finally, 'Bonehead's Bank Holiday' is cute but no match for the demented drunken-ness of the finished (I use the term loosely) version - this reading is too sober by half, but to be fair Noel seems to be making it as clear as he can for Bonehead to handle.
As before, the live versions are a mixed bag and taken from lots of different shows. By now Oasis were playing so many and so many were being recorded that there's a whole range to choose from, so the shows tend to featureless songs (apart from a rare set at Roskilde, Denmark). I'm not sure I agree that the Earl's Court version of 'Acquiesce' is the best, as Liam sounds a little unprepared for his opening vocal and Noel is finding it hard to sing and play on key at the same time (the Knebworth version, though, is smoking). Meanwhile. over in Bath, 'Talk Tonight' sounds rather good with Noel finding a nice psychedelic echo effect on his guitar, while the performance is noticeably faster than most versions of this beautiful song. The MTV Unplugged 'Round Are Way' is the best song from that set to choose, with a terrific guest spot from harmonica player Mark Feltham and Noel having fun reclaiming his B-side from his brother. A rare 'Cast No Shadow' (probably the least played song from the album) sounds good in London with a string quartet attached and Liam with a croak in his voice sounding even more vulnerable and fragile than on the record. The strings are back for a slightly ponderous 'Masterplan' played at Knebworth in front of a record gig - given the massed sea of people you can forgive Noel for sounding more nervous than normal although most of the songs from this great gig are much tighter than this one (why choose this one and not, say, the intense reading of 'Morning Glory' itself?) That leaves four songs from Denmark that are more here as a piece of history rather than for musical value. Liam proudly boasts that 'Some Might Say' is 'like, really big and that and got to number one - so thankyou all for, you know, that' but sounds a little out of tune and the extra echo on Liam's voice is more confusing than atmospheric (it's enough to cause Liam to swear 'sod it' at the sound crew at the end of the first verse - admittedly it didn't take much back then). 'Hello' is introduced as a 'new one' and comes with even more swampy effects than the record but still falls a little flat. 'Roll With It' rarely rocked live and this version is pretty poor by Oasis standards, getting stuck in cruise control early on. It's left to a slightly messy 'Morning Glory' to round off that section of the set and by now Liam is sounding fed up (he opens with a drawn out 'coooome onnn' though whether directed to himself, band or audience is sadly unknown). In other words, some nice things are here but nothing like as much as on the 'Definitely Maybe' set. Curious that there are no live versions of 'Wonderwall' 'Don't Look  Back In Anger' or 'Champagne Supernova' here by the way, songs that were all performed dozens of times across 1995.

Against all odds the best thing here might again be another remix. I'd heard for years that the limited edition 'Brendan Lynch' mix was awful, a travesty deserving, well, lynching at the very least but to my surprise it's the moment on the set that - like the mix of 'Shakermaker' on the first set - made me really re-evaluate everything I knew about the record. It's certainly very different to the finished version: instead of a drug trip that ebbs and flows this one builds up layer by layer, adding shakey effects over everything to sound as if the song is slowly materialising in front of you. With the guitars now stripped down to just the basics (well, four of them but by this song's standards that's pretty basic) you can hear everything else much more clearly: Liam's gorgeous lead, the rum-pum-pum bass part (played presumably by Noel), the steady drumming of Whitey and the organ note that, far from tying everything together as a constant throughout the mix, comes and goes. This is a Champagne Supernova' that doesn't pop it's cork in one great orgasmic climax but comes and goes several times across the song and the ending full of criss-crossing effects is especially powerful. Am I really the only fan who loves this mix? Oh well, there's enough here for every fan with every taste to discover and while again I'd have liked more in terms of actual packaging for the money this is a tastefully made re-issue that makes a great album sound even greater. Not a bad twentieth birthday present then - let's hope the 'Be Here Now' set arrives as planned next year!