Former Oasis drummer Tony McCarroll tells Richard Purden about the mad times when five Manc-Irish lads became one of the biggest rock bands in the world
TWENTY-FIVE years ago the much-anticipated release of Definitely Maybe by Oasis shifted the tectonic plates of popular culture around the globe, selling an eventual eight million copies.
Noel Gallagher once told this writer that the band’s debut was the sound of “five second-generation Irish lads from a council estate”. It is now widely regarded as one of the greatest albums in rock history. With the resurgence of vinyl, the record-breaking debut has been re-issued on coloured wax and picture disc.
Original drummer Tony McCarroll, who will appear in Mayo for a Q&A about his time with the band in December, reflects on the ragged glory of the band’s early frenetic years as a founding member. It would end badly, with Noel Gallagher regularly sniping about his drumming, and an unpleasant parting of the ways occurred in 1995, when he was replaced by Alan White. A court case in 1999 saw McCarroll accepting a settlement of £550,000 in exchange for giving up any future royalties.
Now 48, he spent plenty of time in Ireland as a child. “We were always sent over for six-week holidays and I stayed very close to those roots,” he says. “My dad came from Tyrone and my mother was from Offaly — they met in Manchester at an Irish club.”
McCarroll suggests the years preceding the album’s release were vital. “During the early ’90s the band would all be out on a Saturday night when the Manchester scene was still very much alive, we’d be coming down the next day at rehearsals. It was more jamming and finding our feet but even those jams were very powerful. There was a wide vocabulary of musical tastes and skills.
“Guigs (bass player, Paul McGuigan) was into Joy Division and New Order. It wasn’t complicated but that simplicity allowed space for everything to help create this massive sound that was tough music but easy to listen to. Noel is a wonderful rhythm player and writer but I think Bonehead was another very important member in creating that wall of sound with his playing. The whole Oasis thing was bigger than any of us.”
Bonehead also suggests McCarroll’s drumming was an indispensable part of the album’s sound. “No matter what people say, there was only one person who could have played the drums on ‘Definitely Maybe’ and that was Tony, it really was. If you strip away Noel’s guitars and listen to the rhythm section, its pure punk attitude in that record.”
Not since the Sex Pistols had a guitar band created such a brouhaha in the media before their album was even released. A booze-soaked, drug-fuelled ferry ride to Amsterdam kick-started the band’s ability to create a new lineage of rock’n’roll mythology.
“We were travelling to this event where leaders of the music industry were gathering from around the world,” explains McCarroll, “It was a major opportunity for any new band … we never saw it like that. It was our first time out of the country and to us it was a holiday. We couldn’t see the importance of it, our first thoughts were to stop off at the off-licence and visit the local drug dealer. We were leathered before we got on the boat and the madness escalated from there.”
The band were blamed for passing dodgy £20-pound notes over the bar and for stealing champagne.
“We were being watched and this just encouraged Liam, he up-ended a poker table. Security started chasing him around the boat, which was full of football fans. Noel was in his cabin and the four of us got arrested. In the morning Noel walked by with his acoustic guitar as we were just looking at the floor, thinking ‘what have we done’. It was like the headmaster had come to give us a roasting.”
It was another away-day to Glasgow’s King Tuts that sealed the band’s fate the previous year. “That was the first place outside of Manchester we played and it nearly didn’t happen.”
After some robust negotiations, Oasis were allowed on stage. “We were excited to be doing our first gig outside of England, again it was an away-day and we were in high spirits. We all wanted to see the reaction of people outside of Manchester — could they see it, hear it and appreciate what we were doing.
“Unknown to us Alan McGee [Creation Records head] was there, the man’s ears are magical and he instantly felt that no matter what, he was signing this band just four songs in. We had been in the hands of a couple of record companies in Manchester, the scene was exhausted but he could see beyond that.”
McCarroll, in his soft-spoken Mancunian accent, describes various moments as ‘magic’ or a ‘miracle’. One day, as the band warmed up to record Bring It On Down, the drummer was tapping on the snare, bass-drum and high-hat.
In 2016 McCarroll was reunited with Liam Gallagher and Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs for the first time in 20 years while attending the premiere of the Oasis documentary Supersonic. “It was like yesterday and very natural, there was a bit of banter — right back to how it was. There’s a sensitive side to Liam.”
McCarroll refers to the singer watching his brother play Live Forever at ‘Undrugged — Creation Records 10th Anniversary Special’ in the summer of 1994. “He wears his heart on his sleeve good, bad and ugly — there’s no filter. I’ve seen a deeper side, I remember at the Albert Hall, Noel was sitting there singing and playing to a full crowd. We were all up in the boxes and a tear rolled down Liam’s face, he was very proud and there was a sense of ‘how did this happen’. He’s not got as tough an exterior as Noel who is very much in control of his emotions. With Liam there’s a bit of bravado; he doesn’t let strangers in.”
McCarroll hasn’t seen Noel or bass player Paul McGuigan since his sacking from Oasis. He says of his subsequent lawsuit against the band: “I would love to sit down with them all now. In hindsight I was 24 years of age; I’m no lawyer or academic solicitor, I had to approach a solicitor to find out what was going on. All I could feel was that I was being stitched up and was hurting, it had been the biggest thing in my life. I was thrown off a moving bus, just at the moment the band had our first No 1 single (Some Might Say). I respect Noel’s success but I would say ‘Couldn’t you have ended it a little better for me?’, it was a massive milestone in my life.
McCarroll hopes one day all the original members will sit down together ‘over a beer’ but doubts it will ever happen.
In the public imagination and for McCarroll there’s only one Oasis.
“It’s the core five people, that will never change. Noel and Liam are performers and they are happiest on that stage.