Was There Then

Was There Then: Even In Chapel Hill

Better late than never. Peter Saville's mantra, after all.

It was ten years ago today that Be Here Now was released (that'll sound more apt in 2017, I imagine). Thursday 21th August, 1997. It was only available for three days that week, yet it sold 696,000 copies, the fastest-selling album in the UK even to this day. The music press fawned over it. The mainstream press fawned over it. It was the pop music event of the year.

And yet, barely a year later, it was the album most likely to be found in charity shops. It was a joke, a bloated, cocaine-fueled mess of a record; the point where Oasis lost it and the Britpop bubble finally burst, destroying countless indie record labels in its wake, including Creation Records itself.

Was it really that bad? Ten years on, it's time to have another listen to Be Here Now, to see if the last decade has wiped away some of its sins. But first...

I was an eight-year-old who read Smash Hits every week and could tell you anything you wanted to know about Stock, Aitken, and Waterman or Tiffany, yet in the early 1990s, I had become somebody who only listened to the chart because it was was on. Oasis were my way back in. Or perhaps that's not quite true. It might have been My So-Called Life.

Anyway, it was the Sixth Form. 1995 to 1997. The stereo in the corner, jealously guarded by the Upper Sixth. Of course, when we were the Upper Sixth, we did exactly the same thing. Boethius's wheel and all that. Rave tapes mixed with The Bluetones. We all listened to The Evening Session during the week, with a bit of Mark Radcliffe in the evening and Peel on the weekend. Guitar bands ruled all, with Oasis ruling the roost. It's only later, looking back, that I realise how much that I missed during that period because of that focus. Disco Inferno, Bis, and countless others, though my real love of the era turned out to be Kenickie. And thus I went back to find out what I'd been missing.

I would also like to point out that I always hated Shed Seven and Ocean Colour Scene. Even I had limits.

I went to Knebworth in 1996. It was called 'Our Woodstock' in silly circles. If Woodstock had the Bootleg Beatles and the aforementioned Ocean Colour Scene, of course. *shudder*. Still, the Manics, Prodigy, and Oasis's triumphant performances made it a night to remember. Perhaps not Woodstock, but maybe Spike Island.

Then it all fell apart. Liam's no-show at the MTV Unplugged concert, another disastrous American tour (which broke up in North Carolina of all places), Noel's interviews explaining how difficult he was finding it writing new songs, the arrests over cocaine possession; all in all, it's rather clear to see why Be Here Now ended up sounding like it did.

I can remember when D'You Know What I Mean was finally released to Radio 1. It was the day of our Leaver's Ball. As one of the two organisers of the night, I sold tickets to students while Jo Whilely played Angel Child and Kevin Greening played Stay Young. It sounded massive; a huge, Stone Roses-circa-Second Coming epic with backwards guitar and an apocalyptic vibe. The Evening Session got into trouble when Steve Lamacq didn't talk over the album tracks he was playing to stop home taping. As if we weren't going to buy it anyway.

The music press was eager to make up for its lukewarm reviews of (What's The Story) Morning Glory?, an eagerness that was partly down to Oasis's PR company twisting arms over interviews, access and advertising. Top marks all round then. A BBC documentary was filmed to go out on the day of release. It was a media circus, everybody trying to out-do each other in terms of praise.

A year later, even Noel Gallagher was slagging the album off.

That was then. This is now.

D'You Know What I Mean?

I still feel that this song is unfairly tarnished by what comes after. It's a sprawling mess, obviously, but it's the only point on the album where there's a reference to anything other the 60s (that reference being the drumloop stolen from NWA's 'Straight Outta Compton'). And there's a point as the song hits the chorus for the second time that sticks out as knowing self-deprecation; Liam sings "I met my maker / I made him cry". In the background, you can hear Noel saying "It must have been love". Which amuses.

Yes, it's seven minutes long. And they played every damn minute on Top of The Pops. It ends in a feedback loop that threatens to never end. And I still, after all this time, love it. But, like many Oasis albums to follow, the first track is no indication of what is to follow

My Big Mouth

YAH! Wall of GUITAR! MORE GUITAR! Has anybody seen Guigsy? He was supposed to be playing the bass, but, well, he appears to be missing. For most of the album, in fact.

There's nothing except for a constant wail of guitar, every available space on the mixing desk filled with one guitar part after another, a recurring problem with the record. The lyrics, with assassins and the NME, allude to Lennon (yes, I know, it's a surprise). But you can hardly hear them. It's a shock, actually. I haven't listened to it for so long, but it sounds like as if it's an episode of Doctor Who. An extra minute tacked on for another go around on the chorus, taking the song up to five minutes when it could have been over and done with in three.

Magic Pie

I have always hated this song. Even back then. I think about skipping forward, but that would be cheating. Today, we're doing things By The Book. All 71 minutes. No exceptions.

At least it sounds quieter than My Big Mouth. Ah. Forgot that the processed vocal was just the intro. And all of a sudden, we're back into the Big Sound.

"Can you see me I've got my magic pie"

Forget about cannonballs and halls; that there is the worst lyric ever penned by Noel Gallagher. Without question.

It's also a little worrying to see that the lyric runs out at 3:00, but there's still four minutes to go. And not even a Mellotron can make that prospect appealing.

Oh God, there's still two minutes and another run-through of the chorus. Surely somebody should have realised that the song needed to be cut to at least half of its length (and relegated to a b-side, thus allowing Stay Young to appear)? Or was it "Well, we've suffered, so the British public have to as well"?

Stand By Me

"This will be be Oasis's first American number one."

The words of Alan McGee, after ingesting a coke mountain the size of Brazil. It's the only the sane explanation for his talk of this song. Even Noel seems to have given up at the point, throwing in the gag lyric of "So what's the matter with you / Sing me something new" as the song itself turns out to be their third retread of "All The Young Dudes". And diminishing returns have firmly set in.

Again, it's just shy of six minutes when it should be four at the very most; not entirely hateful to the ears, but it just feels like a lumpen mess, with orchestration desperately trying to cover the holes.

I Hope I Think I Know

Actually, of everything here so far, this is probably the song that improves most with age. Sure, it's Oasis-by-numbers (1, 4, and 5, in case you were wondering), but it's not trying to be anything else. It's a throwaway track that Noel probably penned in twenty minutes, and is the shorted track on the album. Perhaps that's the key; it never stays long enough to become annoying.

The Girl In The Dirty Shirt

Ha. I respectfully decline to answer this question on the grounds that my answer may incriminate me.

And nothing happened, anyhow.

Fade In / Out

It probably tells you a lot about Be Here Now that the appearance of Captain Jack Sparrow isn't the most overblown thing about the album. But more on that later. Yes, this song really does have Johnny Depp playing slide guitar (because Noel can't; on Champagne Supernova, it was handled by Paul Weller).

There is little to this song (despite it being seven minutes long. Obviously), but it's often singled out as a favourite by many. I think part of the appeal is that it's one of the few tracks that has any sense of space. The guitar, vocals, and percussion have all been given room to breathe. Liam might be singing gibberish about a rollercoasters and fairs (to get somewhat Carmody about it - a reference to That'll Be The Day seems appropriate here), but it's pleasant gibberish that doesn't have fifty different guitar parts wailing in the background. Even the solo in the middle is fairly restrained.

Don't Go Away

Slllllide Away! Sllllllide Away! Really, when you're cannibalising your old album tracks, something has gone horribly wrong. But I do like the line "Damn my education I can't find the words to say", as it sums up Noel's dilemma; struggling desperately to find something new to say, failing and retreating back to safety in the land of Definitely Maybe. Old haunts. Old times. They can never sound like Manchester ever again.

Be Here Now

It's only five minutes long. That's what I'm telling myself. A sluggish, sub-pub rock song that's a bit like Arab Strap's "The First Big Weekend" with all the humour sucked out of it and given a backing by Status Quo. Ugh.

And the worst use of "Yeah yeah yeah!" ever. Such a shame.

All Around The World

Well then. Is this still the longest song to have reached the top of the UK charts?

You have to listen to this to really understand the insanity. The Cocaine Heart of Be Here Now. A conscious attempt to create a 1990s version of All You Need Is Love. Drafting in all of the orchestras in Britain to make it sound more epic, all the needles firmly in the red...key change after key change after key change...did I mention it's nine minutes long? And Noel has only written two verses as usual?

"It's gonna be OK!" "Please don't cry / Never say die!"

It's like the song has got completely out of control; no matter what they do, the band can't end it. In the end, they have to fade it out…

It's Getting Better (Man!)

But it's really not.

All Around The World (Reprise)

They couldn't kill it. Even fading it out didn't stop it. For the album's real final moment is this, a two-minute instrumental reprise. Because nine minutes wasn't enough. This time, though, there is a proper ending; footsteps across the studio floor as the band leave and the door shuts behind them. Job done.

What have I learnt in the past 71 minutes? Time doesn't change much. Ten years on, Be Here Now is full of tedium, with few flashes of their previous albums. Part of their early appeal was down to the simple commonalty of songs like Live Forever and Supersonic; singalong anthems that were more inclusive than the more clever aspects of Blur or Pulp. By the time the third album came around, that commonalty was gone, and we felt we were being invited to look on as they lived in their new exclusive world. We came in droves, but after the initial euphoria, we didn't like what we were seeing. Never again would they be as popular, as important. They were once a vanguard for an entire movement. After 1997, they were just a band.

Which was probably the best for all concerned...

Mr. Manchester

And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the consternations of two hemispheres, stranded in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer setting out for the hacienda where the roots think of the child and where the wine is finished off with fables from an old almanac. That’s all over. You’ll never see the hacienda. It doesn’t exist.

The hacienda must be built.

currently playing: New Order – Video 5-8-6 (Edit)

Worst Terrorist Faction Name Ever?

I give you the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

currently playing: New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle

Movable Type 4: With a Whimper

I must say that I’m surprised that the web hasn’t been more enthusiastic about the new release of Movable Type this week. I read a fair few computer blogs, and they’re either trying to continue pointless format wars (Atom is simply better. Please, let’s move on) or talking about Erlang. Or explaining why Ron Paul is the man to lead America forward (fine if you really want a borderline racist and conspiracy theorist in the White House, I guess). But very little on Movable Type 4, a release that we’ve been waiting on for what seems like years.

I said a few months ago that I'd create a new design for the site when I upgrade to MT4. That's still the plan, but I'm waiting for the MT4 GPL release later in the year (so I can use the blog for commercial purposes without breaking the licence), but I have installed it on a test server so I can work on the new design there. So far, it looks much better than MT2/3; AJAX-y goodness all over the place in the web interface, a snapshot of the current site with imported without a hitch, and it all runs off a svelte SQLite database. Looking good so far.

currently playing: The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic

Radio 1: ARE YOU LAUGHING NOW, IRONY FANS?

The only way to stop this is to go back in time and assassinate Travis before they cover Baby One More Time. It’s for the good of the planet. For humanity.

If not, the future is this:

Kasabian — Too Much Too Young.

Imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever.

currently playing: Amerie – Gotta Work

Stewart vs. Hayes

Perhaps RTD can get 1994 Cheney to meet 2007 Cheney via the magic of the TARDIS…

My favourite part of the interview comes towards the end; of late, Stewart has just been throwing his hands up in air and laughing, because there’s nothing else he can do. Here, though, he shows, albeit briefly, just how angry he was with Gibson’s little tirade earlier this week.

currently playing: Miranda July – I Can-Japan

The American Right: Still Scum

Classy.

currently playing: Handsomeboy Technique – Your Blessings

Roaming Rove

Please, oh please, can we get him behind bars just after 2009? Just for humour value?

currently playing:

But You Should Probably Read More

From one point of view, Tony Wilson was a failure. His music show So It Goes… was cancelled after two series, the biggest hit from Factory made a loss on every single copy sold, the Haçienda spent five years sitting almost empty, Factory itself dissolved messily in the 90s. He attempted, unsuccessfully, to start new labels, embarked on a digital music venture that went nowhere, and was a prime mover behind a campaign for further independence for the north of Britain, a campaign that was ultimately rejected by the populace.

A failure, then. But what a failure.

Factory Records was a record label that we may never see the likes of again. It was born of the DIY attitude of punk era, but Wilson was thinking much, much bigger. For him, it was an attack on the stranglehold that London held on the British music scene, a way of re-establishing his beloved Manchester, and a movement rather than a mere company. It wasn’t like any label that had previously existed; royalty payments were extremely generous (approaching 50% for some acts), the acts themselves owned their master tapes, and anybody could walk away at any time. Now, it has to be said that the actual implementation of this plan often left a little to desired, as Factory had a tendency to be somewhat inept when it came to handling actual money, but there have been few record labels since that have come anywhere close to the Factory ideal, in either their values, their aesthetics, or that catalogue. Or their ability to use a spreadsheet.

NewOrderBlueMonday

In truth, Factory soon changed the cover of Blue Monday to a cheaper design over the original die-cut version, but the legend was set in stone. The biggest-selling 12” single of all time, losing them money on each copy. It was, arguably, one of the most important songs of the decade, bringing the Industrial Revolution to Pop. Punk meets Dance. Manchester meets New York. The ghost of Curtis finally laid to rest, and the beginning, properly, of music in the 1980s. Not bad for a song made so the band could leave early during their encores.

The Haçienda was a money pit, sucking money in vast quantities from both New Order and Factory, but it formed the bridge from the 1980s to the 1990s, bringing balearic beats from Ibiza, hosting Madonna’s first live UK show, creating acid house, Madchester and the rave scene. And The Queue, of course. It was the place to be, and now is no place at all; demolished for a block of apartments.

The Haçienda Was Built…

I went to Manchester in 1997, a few months after the club had lost its Entertainments licence. Was it the gun culture of Manchester that brought it down? The reluctance of its audience to purchase alcohol when they were high on Ecstasy? That, finally, the money just ran out? It was probably all of these, and more besides, but it had served its purpose. It created the 90s. Still, I wish I could have gone there, just once.

Factory itself died in 1992; Wilson attempted to revive the name twice in Factory Too and F4, but these labels didn’t last long. However, he started In The City, a music festival and industry conference, dabbled with digital downloads, but above all, his passion was Manchester. The city, despite its many problems, has turned into the vision that Tony Wilson had back in the 1970s. It’s a home for creatives and guns. Drugs and records. A truly great city with all the contradictions that entail. And even though the city’s great past-time was yelling abuse at Wilson as he walked past, it’s clear that they all loved him really. The insufferable prat.

Was Tony Wilson a failure? Perhaps, but if so, we should all try to strive and fail as much as he did.

God, of course, being short for Tony...

On the sixth day, God created Manchester. But even as he did, Tony was telling him that Albert Square would look better if it was closer to Castlefield. And you know what? He was right.

currently playing: New Order – Ceremony

FAC 0: Tony Wilson, RIP

currently playing: Joy Division – Atmosphere