Oasis: bringing some swagger to Shoreditch

‘In 20 years’ time, people will buy Definitely Maybe and listen to it for what it was. That’s what is important.’

So declared Noel Gallagher, then the undisputed ‘chief’ of the ‘biggest band since The Beatles’, Oasis, in 1994. The confidence of this statement is classic Oasis: no ‘we’re making music for ourselves and if anyone else likes it it’s a bonus’, no postmodern claims about how taste is subjective, man. Rather, it is a bold statement: ‘we are producing music that is for the ages’.

This quote is plastered on the wall of the Chasing the Sun exhibition at the Londonewcastle gallery in Shoreditch, London. This, the first exhibition dedicated to Oasis, is taking place to commemorate 20 years since Oasis first swaggered on to the public stage with the release of their debut single, ‘Supersonic’.

Declaring a liking for Oasis has been far from trendy over the past few years, to put it mildly. Having worn an Oasis t-shirt to the Y Not? Festival last year, I was stopped several times and congratulated for my ‘bravery’. For closet Oasis fans, wearing Liam Gallagher’s brand of Pretty Green t-shirts is usually as far as it goes. As Brendan O’Neill has pointed out previously, after a decade of primarily posh, clean-living, bed-wetting folk-rockers, the confidence and world-beating swagger exuded by Oasis can make them seem like they come from another planet. The only band to have attempted to plough anything close to the same furrow in recent years has been the bolshie and brilliant Twang, who liberal music journos have desperately tried to nip in the bud with devastating reviews at every opportunity.

As a result, I had a horrid feeling Chasing the Sun could have been a depressing experience. I imagined Shoreditch hipsters strolling around a silent gallery plucking at their beards while musing at black-and-white photos of the Gallagher brothers swigging JD and Coke and smoking fags, as if the mouthy Mancunians were a long-extinct Neanderthal tribe.

Fears were allayed when, arriving at midday, there was a long queue of parka-clad Oasis fans, some swigging Red Stripe. A couple of bearded guys with stripey tops looked aghast from a local coffee shop, appearing as if they were poised either to run away or call the police.

When visitors successfully manage to enter the exhibition, they are confronted with a large picture of the band lounging around on sofas and drinking beers next to graffiti declaring ‘Friday Forever’ and ‘why don’t you get a proper job?’. Noel’s Union flag guitar is pinned triumphantly to a wall, lit up by swirling psychedelic lights.

Definitely Maybe was blaring on a loop, with songs such as ‘Columbia’ and ‘Bring It On Down’ still sounding crisp, sending shivers down the spine. There was a sense of celebration. A whole room is effectively dedicated to showcasing Noel’s sense of humour with a screening of his brilliantly sardonic voiceover to Oasis’s (pretty naff) music videos. And fans also have the chance to produce Definitely Maybe-style poses in a re-creation of Bonehead’s living room - with original windows and fireplace - which featured on the album cover.

The lyrics haven’t gained any additional depth or insight with age. A baffled toddler straddling a box with lyrics from the chorus of ‘D’ya know what I mean?’ painted on it - ‘all my people, right here right now’ - said to his parents, ‘but it doesn’t mean anything’. Well, quite. But to 50,000 people singing their hearts out to every word at Wembley Stadium in 1997, it meant everything. At their best, Oasis sang heartfelt lyrics loaded with unbridled ambition and meaning: escaping from dead-end towns, finding a better day, wanting to become a spaceman, and having it all.

While there are few new insights to be gleaned from seeing the edits on the original handwritten lyrics to Don’t Look Back In Anger, it’s still a treat to see where the last set of lyrics that perhaps the entire population of the UK know by heart were first scribbled down.

With this exhibition, forthcoming boxsets and remastered versions of Definitely Maybe, a totally revamped website, and Oasis’s Twitter and Facebook feeds going into hyperdrive, things are certainly happening. While Noel may claim a reunion will never take place ‘until it happens’, it does feel like the Oasis juggernaut is gearing up to go back on the road, perhaps in time for next year’s celebration of the twentieth anniversary of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?.

Noel’s continued ability to pen a decent tune suggests a reformed Oasis could be more than just a Rolling Stones-style reunion, designed to tour and trot out the classics. But even if that’s what they became, Oasis were never about breaking new ground - they were about inspiring 100,000 people to break out into a communal singalong in a stadium and feel like they were on top of the world. Twenty years on from the Gallaghers’ heyday, when there’s little swagger in the music scene, and moany guitar bands barely scratch the top 100, we could certainly do with their return today.

Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.

Chasing the Sun: Oasis 1993-1997 is at Londonewcastle in Shoreditch, London until 22 April.

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