Sky News speaks to Brian Cannon, the man who designed the famous Oasis artwork and worked with the band throughout the 1990s.
If you were a fan of Britpop and indie in the 1990s, chances are you’ll have a record in your collection bearing the “a Microdot design” accreditation.
Those words adorn millions of instantly recognisable music sleeves around the world – including one that would go on to become the best-selling album of that era in the UK.
Released on 2 October 1995, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? transformed Oasis from huge indie stars to the biggest band on the planet.
Twenty-five years on, and people are still fascinated with the band and the Gallagher brothers – the myths, the fallouts, the drugs, the backstage antics; the inevitable/impossible reunion, depending which camp you fall into.
Brian Cannon, the man who set up Microdot in 1990, worked closely with the band and designed the artwork for all of their output in that decade – as well as for other artists including The Verve, Suede, Cast, Ash and Super Furry Animals – after a chance meeting with Noel in a lift led to them bonding over trainers.Advertisement
Here, he takes Sky News back to what it was like working with Oasis at the height of their fame, and what it means to have played a part in their history.
You worked with Oasis from the start – how did you get the gig?
It’s a bit of an urban myth, but there is a grounding of truth in it. I had a tiny little office in a building in Manchester, a converted cotton mill made into business units, and the Inspiral Carpets had their office in there. At the time, Noel Gallagher was their roadie and guitar tech and I had a tiny office – I say office, it was more like a dungeon, really; there was no windows and it was in the basement and it was 25 quid a week as it was all I could afford.
Around that time, I’d taken my mother to Rome for her 60th birthday and whilst there I’d bought some Adidas trainers. I was wearing these trainers, which you couldn’t get in England at the time, in the lift, and this guy gets in. I’d never seen him before in my life, didn’t know who he was, but I could see him eyeballing my shoes. After a while [he said] ‘I put my hands up, where the f*** did you get them trainers from?’ And that’s how we got talking.
I’d done a couple of early Verve singles at that time, and he said, ‘oh, I’ve seen those, those are great’. As he was getting out of the lift, he said, ‘I’ve got a band, when’ – not if – ‘when we get signed, I’d like you to do the artwork’.
Sounds like the famous Gallagher confidence was there from the beginning…
There’s loads of myths [about Oasis] that seem to be getting stronger; you’d have thought with the advent of the internet all these myths would have been put to bed, you know, but they’re not. But that’s definitely true.
There’s plenty of bands – you see it all the time, especially these days when young bands are trying to pretend to be Oasis: ‘Oh, we don’t give a f***’. But of course, they do. Oasis genuinely didn’t. They just knew how good they were and they were not bothered one way or another if you liked them or not. That’s a really attractive trait if you can truly pull it off, I think. And they did.
So what are the biggest Oasis myths out there?
The one that annoys me the most, and the one that is the furthest off the mark, is that it was all bust-ups and fighting and chaos and everybody’s hammered, and the drugs, you know, because none of that – well, there was drug-taking going on, granted, and there was a bit of fighting going on – but none of that… they’re brothers, you know. People fall out, it just doesn’t make the papers ’cause you’re not super famous.
In that period, sort of ’93 to ’97, they were probably the most prolific band of all time, bar The Beatles back in the ’60s. They put out three massive selling albums, a dozen massive selling singles and continually toured the world. It’d be impossible to do that if you were off your head all the time.
My enduring memory from that time is it was just a laugh. [They were] very confident, very together, unified. The antithesis, actually, of falling out and chaos. It would be impossible to create such a canon of work if you were at each other’s throats or at the drugs all the time.
Were they not happy to perpetuate that image, though?
That’s another one I profoundly disagree with. They didn’t care what the media said, there was no hype going on. Liam Gallagher, he doesn’t play up for the cameras, that’s him, that’s how he is. It’s not an act, it never was an act.
And, you know, this perpetuating the myth – they couldn’t care less one way or another, they were just getting on with it.
If it wasn’t all fighting back then, how do you feel about the way it’s turned out?
It certainly makes me sad. It is what it is though, isn’t it? It’s just all over the show at the minute. I mean, it’s not the Oasis I know and love.
On to What’s The Story… what was the idea for the cover?
The Morning Glory sleeve was based on a quote from Noel. I spent the whole time of the recording session in the studio with the band… the idea was I was doing research.
One thing that kept cropping up was this quote [Noel] had at the time, which was, ‘there aren’t any answers to all this’. Every time you think you’ve got an answer it just throws up more questions. So that’s what the sleeve is all about. It’s quite obtuse, I suppose.
Basically, the point is, what does it all mean? Not as arty as that, but these two guys: who are they? Who’s that fella walking away? We never actually see who he is. What’s he saying? What is going on here? It’s an unsolvable conundrum, if you like. Nobody knows the answers, that’s the vibe.
We did it in Berwick Street, London. I love that linear perspective. I think the most incredible thing is, I had never seen Berwick Street with no cars in it. That’s a miracle. I’ve never seen it in my entire life, apart from that one morning.
And you’re the guy in the image, aren’t you? The one walking away?
It was initially going to be Liam and Noel doing it. Another urban myth is – probably started by me, actually – that they got hammered the night before and couldn’t be bothered, but they were actually in Dublin playing at Slane Castle, I think it was. They weren’t even in the country. We tested a few people, we went to this model agency… looking for quirky looking people.
In the end, I don’t know why, it just wasn’t right. And I thought sod it. So that was that.
Who did you work with on the ideas for the artwork? Did the band have any input?
Noel was the chief, you know, and everybody was happy with that. Most bands, when they get signed, know nothing – they might be great songwriters, they might be great playing live, they might know about the equipment they’re playing – but they know nothing about the workings of the music industry.
But Noel for years worked as a roadie, guitar tech, you know, on-tour bod with the Inspiral Carpets, so he had firsthand knowledge of every level of the industry. So his experience and knowledge of that, coupled with his songwriting capabilities, made him the undisputed chief of the operation.
Why did the Oasis sleeves at the time stand out?
I’ll say they were good, because I think they are good, and that’s because I really went the extra mile, over and above what was required. I hung out with the band – not just Oasis, all the other bands I worked with too, to ensure… I looked at it like I was a tailor cutting a bespoke suit for a client, and you can only do that by measuring them and working out the intricacies of that person to get the suit right. It’s the same process, basically.
I know sleeve designers who didn’t even listen to a record before doing the artwork. That’s just nonsense. I would immerse myself in the projects and the lyrics and the songs, I’d be in the studio while it was being recorded. So I knew it inside out.
What does What’s The Story… mean to you?
Well, that record was massive in as far as, when they went into record it, they were a big indie band [but] you could still go to the pub with Liam without complete anarchy breaking out.
By the time that record had come out, everything had changed. That was the tipping point, wasn’t it, particularly Wonderwall. That’s when you get into the realm of housewives who never buy records buying your record.
To become as massive as they did you’ve got to achieve that level whereby people who just don’t buy records, buy your records. And that’s what happened. It was a quantum leap from being a big indie band to the biggest thing in the world.
It must be nice, for want of a better word, to have played a part in that?
It’s wonderful, isn’t it? But do you know what? You might find this surprising for a sleeve designer to admit this, but I don’t think the record sleeves sell records, never have done. Because I was a fan – not just of Oasis, I was a record-buying fan, that’s how I got into [designing] in the first place – I’m of the opinion that a well-designed, well-created sleeve is a bonus for the fans.
No word of a lie, I get emails from all over the world on a weekly basis from people who say my artwork got them into graphics or it means so much to them and – from some people – it was as important as the music. I kind of disagree with that, but it’s wonderful to know I’ve touched so many people.
When did you stop working with Oasis?
Well, I did everything that they released in the 90s, which is quite cool. That’s arguably pretty much their best stuff. I don’t think anybody would ever in a million years argue that any albums thereafter could compete with the ones beforehand. The last thing I did was The Masterplan B-sides compilation, which is ’98.
Of all of those covers, which is your favourite?
Some Might Say, the single. There was a conversation after a gig in Southampton and Noel said to me, ‘right, we’re doing Some Might Say next and I want the sleeve to be all the lyrics of the song represented in one image’. Wow. If you know the song, the lyrics are, ‘Standing at the station… in need of education… sink is full of fishes’, all that. All those lyrics are in that picture, so I was made up with that.
It required getting extras involved and I would always use family and friends – nothing to do with budget, you know, we could afford to have anybody we wanted – but I just found it more comfortable working with people I knew rather than having some po-faced model on the shoot all day. That was my dad pushing the wheelbarrow at the station.
Are you still in touch with them?
There was never a fallout, that’s the first thing to mark. You know, last time I saw Liam, he dedicated Supersonic to me from the stage… in Washington DC last year. That was pretty nice of him. Noel, I haven’t seen since… actually, I did some shots of him for his first or second solo album.
Is Liam Gallagher misunderstood?
I don’t think the word is necessarily misunderstood, it’s misrepresented. The only reason people have formed this opinion of him is because of the misrepresentation of him by the media. Nobody who doesn’t know Liam Gallagher thinks, ‘oh he’s a right upstart, him’, without having first read it in The Sun or the News of the World or whatever it might be. You don’t form opinions like that without being influenced by somebody. So it’s a misrepresentation of him by the press that has led to him being misunderstood. And yes, course he is.
Everybody’s got their bad points, but he’s a lovely, lovely fella, he really is. He’s funny, he’s engaging. It’s bonkers being with him. Honestly, it’s like a one-man earthquake wherever you walk with him, just chaos breaks out.
I tell you what the most incredible point is: never once, ever in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, has the coolest guy in town been knocking on 50 years of age. Elvis Presley was 20 or whatever he was, Johnny Rotten was 21, John Lennon was 22. And on it goes. You know, Ian Brown was perhaps a bit older, but still in his 20s. But the coolest guy in town [now] is almost 50 and he’s still got all the kids on his side. It’s astonishing how he’s pulled this off.
Were Noel and Liam always very different?
Yes. But so what? That doesn’t make one of them wrong and one of them right, or one of them better, one of them worse. You often find siblings are totally different – you often find that twins are different.
And finally… the question anyone involved with Oasis ever officially has to be asked: thoughts on a reunion?
I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t write it off. I mean, it’s not looking likely at the minute and as far as I’m aware there’s nothing going on behind the scenes.
Another thing that cracks me up is people who still are convinced it’s all a big marketing ploy – ‘they haven’t really fell out at all, it’s all an act so they can get more money when they finally do get back together’. I mean, that really is bonkers.
Bottom line is, it’s all down to Noel, isn’t it? But never is a long time.