Oasis: The Truth: My Life as Oasis's Drummer
by Tony McCarroll
(Review and interview written by Sara Habein)
The way in which we recall history comes down to two things: vantage point and loyalty. If you've known me for any amount of time, you know that I am wholeheartedly and irreparably enamored with Noel Gallagher's music, and I am a hopeless apologist for the sometimes insensitive and exaggerated things he has said throughout the years. My indulgence threshold is very high in the presence of great talent, and I do not apologize for this. I have loved Oasis since 1996, around the time of their second album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory, which is to say, I came in after drummer Tony McCarroll's departure.
If one asks Noel Gallagher why he sacked Tony McCarroll, he will often answer with an insult to his playing ability or make a joke about his appearance. If one asks Tony McCarroll? "My demise came in stages. Firstly and most importantly came my clash with Noel fronted to us by Alan McGee and Creation [Records]. […] Plus, the contract I had signed gave him the power to sack me."
Their months of arguments and personality differences only hastened the process. "I had strived to achieve everything I had aimed for all those years ago, but I didn't get to enjoy it for long," McCarroll says near The Truth's end. "It was a sorry situation that led to end of friendships that should have lasted a lifetime."
This is not an objective review. The Truth is not an objective book. It is disingenuous to claim otherwise. Everyone has their stories which cultivate our personal legend. And truth, as anyone who has ended a relationship knows, has little to do with facts.
"This isn't going to be a vicious swipe from a rejected band member," McCarroll says in the book's intro, and I would agree. Vicious is the wrong word. Angry? Yes. Proud? In more ways than one.
A quick Oasis primer, for those uninitiated: In 1990, originally formed as The Rain, the band consisted of guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, bassist Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan and drummer Tony McCarroll. Their original singer, Chris Hutton, departed not long after their inception, and Liam Gallagher joined in the summer of 1991 at the insistence of a longtime friend, BigUn. After changing the name to Oasis, the band invited Liam's brother Noel to come on as lead guitarist. Noel had just returned from a roadie job with the Inspiral Carpets and had been writing songs on his own.
Quickly adopting a more focused rehearsal schedule, the group began blagging their way into opening gigs with more successful bands, as well as cultivating a following of their own throughout 1992. In May 1993, they hired a van to get themselves to Glasgow for a gig at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. Creation boss Alan McGee was in the audience that night, and his approval led to their becoming one of the biggest bands of the 90s, helping to cement a new period in British rock.
McGee's influence over Noel Gallagher should never be underestimated. [...][H]e would stir the imagination of Noel Gallagher, at whose feet he would lay the glory. This acclaim certainly matched Noel's own ideas about himself and his ambitions, and so the new Noel was born. The introduction of a record contract and the financial allure was just all too intoxicating. The Noel of old had left us and a new one had arrived. I found out that I didn't really like the new Noel, and I know now that he didn't much like me. In fact, he didn't like many people.
McCarroll is quick to disparage Noel's change, but ever-embracing of the new opportunities brought by being in a signed band. The perks and drugs and travel are all just an adventure for him, supposedly with no ill effect.
I had a chance to interview McCarroll through email, and I wanted to know how he viewed the concept of "truth," and how it related to his book.
SH: Would it be fair to say that everyone has their own truth? Your perspective on Oasis' history, the 'Truth' in your title, I imagine, would be different from Bonehead's or Liam's, etc. Would it be fair to say that one's emotions and thoughts inevitably color that history?
TM: Although I have tried to be as objective as possible with the book it is also fair to say that all my decisions and perspectives are slightly bias[ed] towards me. I think it's called human nature.
SH: Going off that idea a bit, some of Noel's exaggerations — for instance, that he arrived with a bag of songs and all the authority — he's later recanted (there's a Q interview I'm thinking of, but I don't have it immediately available), saying that he only said those things "for effect." Again, from an outside perspective, it seems like when Oasis was first entering the public consciousness, a lot of effort was put into crafting an official 'story,' and in later years, that story didn't seem so important to maintain. Or rather, it has evolved. I realize I've just rambled at you, but any thoughts?
TM: Couldn't agree with you more. The 'official' Oasis story was the sole creation of Noel. I guess it's not important to maintain after it becomes embedded in people's minds. All my book does is offer a different angle. I guess it's up to the reader who they'll believe. Funny how Noel's legal camp have been very quiet though, eh?
SH: In the book, you mentioned that you were asked to write it. Who approached you, and had you thought about writing a book before?
TM: My publisher approached me. After listening to what they had to say I realised I had simply had enough of Noel's constant put downs and derogatory remarks. Noel has been busy recreating his own Oasis history for the last ten years, much to the detriment of all the original members, and in particular, me. I'm not sure if Noel can actually distinguish between reality and a press release.
Listen, I want to maintain some air of professional journalistic distance, and I am absolutely for everyone telling their side of the story, but I cannot support the notion that McCarroll tried to remain all that objective. The original title of the book, after all, was Oasis: The Truth, The Noel Truth, Is Nothing Like The Truth — a title that some editor down the line was kind enough to nix. And I know it is my loyalty to Noel talking, but I recognize the need to craft an official story in order to stick in the public consciousness. The idea of swooping in and knowing a band is on the cusp of great things, if only they had focus and leadership, plays right into the story of Oasis' eventual massive success. I get why the story existed in the first place — that doesn't make it fact, but apart from Tony, the rest of the band went along with it for the most part. Forgive me, but I don't think Liam, Guigsy and Bonehead operated as mindless drones, and they wanted success as much as Noel did.
However, I also concede McCarroll's point that a fabricated story is annoying and personally offensive to him because he felt that he was not allowed to speak his mind to the contrary. According to him, his independent nature would not let him stand by, and it became a source of tension between him and Noel. There is always more than one point of view in regards to leadership style.
Still, Tony devotes a lot of words comparing his authenticity to Noel's — everything from upbringing to musical influence to fighting words are fair game. 1970s and 80s Manchester saw its fair share of economic struggles, and the children of the working class (particularly those of Irish immigrants) bore the brunt of their parents' stresses. Much was made in the press about Liam and Noel's abusive father, Tommy, and the struggles their mother Peggy endured in order to raise the children on her own. Though their experience was not unique to the times, it provided some context to Liam and Noel's ambitions, and perhaps to their personalities as well.
Noel has mentioned in recent interviews that his upbringing was "virtually no different" from that of the people he knew as a kid, so it surprised me to read Tony's initial assessment of growing up during this time:
I had a very loving and happy upbringing – though if we stepped out of line, there would be the whoosh of the brush to dodge. I guess it's easy to look back on bygone days in a misty, wistful kind of way, which can be misleading, but I can honestly say I enjoyed every challenge or dare that came my way. I was that type of kid.
SH: You speak favorably about your childhood, but acknowledge the difficulties in growing up in 1970s Manchester. Compared to your former bandmates, who have not typically characterized their childhoods as favorable, how do you think your upbringing played a role in the band? Were you able to relate to your bandmates' difficulties?
TM: My upbringing was extremely tough but I guess it's how you react that matters. I guess when Noel highlighted his problematic upbringing it didn't raise any eyebrows within the band. Certainly raised a few in the media though.
All right, sure. Life is never wholly wonderful or terrible — it is what it is. However, nothing in either the book or subsequent interviews elaborates one way or another. Perhaps I've been spoiled by reading more literary memoirs, but I suppose I expected more in-depth reflection. If McCarroll is willing to theorize on the motivations of Noel Gallagher, then why not offer more clarification to his own story? Apart from having to move between Manchester and County Offlay, Ireland, due to his father's construction job, there is little in the book to indicate a similar childhood. While I respect the desire to not speak ill of any living family and to also maintain some level of privacy, one does not usually write a memoir and also guard their privacy so closely. I don't need a sob story or great tale of tragedy — just better context.
SH: From an outside perspective, it seems like Noel and Guigsy's reactions to conflict were flight over fight. Bonehead and Guigs had a lot in common with avoidance and trying to align with the "winning" side. You and Liam had more of a fighting reaction to conflict. Do you think these different ways of dealing were at the root of the band's conflicts?
TM: I would say these different approaches were caused by the band's conflicts rather than them being the root. Noel was the root of all conflicts be it through his changing personality or his newly realised demands.
SH: Regarding the drink and drugs, you comment a lot on how substances changed the behavior of your friends and bandmates, but I'm curious to how you think they affected yours. How much have you changed since the 90s?
TM: Drink and drugs were an ever present in my life from a very early age. It was as natural as rain growing up in Manchester. Like all vices though the long term effects are most damaging. I am happy to report that the only vices in my life these days are coffee and the occasional glass of stout.
SH: Regarding Noel's claims of musical influence, particularly his authenticity, I'm only with to you to a certain extent. I'd agree that the timeline on which these influences appeared is likely exaggerated, but I'm wondering why that makes a difference? Surely one doesn't expect a musician to come out fully formed and articulate the sound that speaks to them. I don't say that to be harsh — I'm just wondering where you draw the line. Every music fan has their own set of "rules," I think, as arbitrary as they might be.
TM: I agree completely, every music fan has his own set of rules and should be influenced by such. My issue was the fact that Noel's (Oasis') musical influences were being provided by Creation Records rather than us. People will say 'all part of the business', but that just don't sit with me.
SH: That said, would you agree that it is common to at first dismiss a band and then come around to loving them? I'm thinking of your bit about Noel disliking The Smiths. I'll admit that when I first heard Oasis at 13, it wasn't immediate all-out love, for whatever (probably stupid) reason. Now, I could go on about more obscure B-sides and the like. Do you have any musicians that are like that for you --- ones you didn't necessarily love at first?
TM: Not really.
SH: While I would agree with you that Noel can be abrupt, dismissive and rarely admits any wrongdoing, the songs often tell a different story. "Don't Go Away," "Let's All Make Believe," and lines like "to say all the things I wish I'd said" — among others — demonstrate more vulnerability. Do you think he sometimes speaks through his songs instead?
His abruptness with those last two answers surprised me, especially given the genial and more outspoken stance he took when interviewed by the Oasis news site Stop Crying Your Heart Out, back in January of this year: "Noel has bared his soul for all to see for the last couple of decades or so where as Liam has shrouded himself in mystery."
So which is it, then?
Really, much of the book suffers from lacking context and insight. Moments that should be lingered upon are often brushed over in a way that either implies indifference or concedes to previous accounts made by other people. The narrative needed better direction. Two events stand out as prime examples: the recording of "Live Forever," and Noel's temporary disappearance following a tanked Los Angeles gig in 1994.
McCarroll's account of hearing one of the greatest contributions to rock n roll (and my all-time favorite song, so go on and call me out for bias again) is easy to miss among all the insults and tales of mischief:
When I say Noel could blow us out of the water with his compositions, I mean it. You know if a song has potential the first time you hear it. "Live Forever" was a simple piece of brilliance and the best offering to date from Noel, in my opinion. Liam had a look of pride in his eyes and kept glancing at each of us with a broad smile on his face. It was his 'I Told You So' face. And he had. He had shown faith in his brother. This was a completely different style of song to what Noel had come up with in the past.
This little bit of fairness and honesty extended Noel's direction is somewhat dimmed when, not five pages later, McCarroll is back to painting the picture of Noel as a coward searching for a father figure.
SH: Can you expand upon hearing "Live Forever" for the first time and then later recording it?
TM: The first time I heard Noel play "Live Forever" was an epic moment. After he had finished, we all sat and looked at each other in silence. Then we all roared laughing and eagerly set about our own parts. The drum pattern that was to eventually become the introduction to the song was a rhythm I had been working on for a different song. I love the way that people recognise the song from the drum pattern alone.
To be honest, when I asked him the question, I'd forgotten about the aforementioned excerpt where he praised the song and Noel's songwriting ability, and was trying to find a polite way to glean more information. It was one of only a few paragraphs that had anything positive to say about Noel, all of which are overshadowed by the criticisms.
With the failed L.A. gig, Liam, high on crystal meth, couldn't remember lyrics, Guigsy's amp blew, Noel sang out of tune, and Bonehead played the chords for different songs. McCarroll, naturally, "kept in time and drummed the right song," — of course, even though you were also methed-out, by your own admission — "yet most of Noel's glares were heading my way." Worst of all, Ringo Starr was in the audience.
Rightly mortified, Noel cut off the last song and left the stage. After an argument with Liam in a dressing room regarding his drug use, Noel convinced the tour manager, Maggie, to front him the remainder of the tour money. He disappeared for a week and eventually turned up in Las Vegas. When he returned to California, he agreed to have a clear-the-air meeting with the rest of the band.
It had been agreed that Bonehead should be our spokesperson and explain that the rest of us understood why he had been upset. When he started, though, Noel cut him short and said that he didn't ever want the event to be discussed again. He then started up a tirade that he must have stored up inside him since walking off the stage at the Whisky. We all sat and listened, as we had said we would.
He was back.
Given that it was one of the most noteable moments during that tour, and it's often cited as a contributing factor to Oasis insufficient popularity in the US, aren't specifics of Noel's tirade important? But no, McCarroll moves on to sitting in the bar with Noel later that night, debating the merits of Ringo Starr as a drummer. He spends just as much page space discussing Ringo's musicality as he does on Noel's return. I doubt that McCarroll has trouble remembering what was said during that moment. His co-author, Richard Dolan, should have insisted upon him telling us.
Yes, The Truth has a co-author. McCarroll is not a writer by trade, and as is the case with many celebrity memoirs, he required some assistance to bring his story to print.
SH: Can you talk about your writing process a bit? About how long did it take to finish the book?
TM: In total it took nearly a year of kitchen table meetings and at least 4000 cups of sweet tea. I would work with the co-author who would write up for me to review and sign off.
SH: How did you pair up with your co-author, Richard Dolan? Were you aware of his work prior?
TM: Richard is an incredibly funny man and was also present during the formative years of the band which gave him a unique insight. He's got a couple of more books due for release this year and is currently working on a screenplay for my story. The parts I have seen so far have had me crying with laughter.
I don't know anything about Richard Dolan as a writer. His bio on the book jacket is less than forthcoming about his prior work, and I am unsure if he is the same Richard M. Dolan who writes books primarily about UFOs and national security, so I cannot speak to his usual writing style. I am curious to know how much he really asked of McCarroll, and whether or not he tried to get more in-depth insight. To be fair, much of the criticism I have for the pacing of the book should be directed at him. If the overarching theme is how wronged Tony McCarroll was during his time in a massively successful band, then shouldn't we have a little more perspective and little less hijinks? A diligent co-author and a good editor could have given this book much more focus.
Ah, but hijinks do make up the really entertaining parts of the book, it's true. When placed at the right moments, they offer hilarious respite from the struggles of being a working band. McCarroll tells funny stories like an expert pub patron, and they are fantastic. One of my favorites takes place during the recording of Definitely Maybe, when he and Liam, along with friend BigUn, decide they are going to track down Ian Brown of the Stone Roses. Knowing that the Stone Roses were recording nearby, the three end up wandering around, high on acid, through the Welsh countryside. They end up stealing a tractor for transport and barge into the studio at 3 am. Sure enough, Ian Brown is sitting at the mixing desk, smoking an enormous spliff.
This was the man who had inspired most of the band to become musicians, and in particular Liam. Liam had a cartoon surprise face on. I suppose this was due both to his meeting an idol and the LSD that was still rocketing around his mind. We took seats either side of Ian Brown, who then started to talk like talking was about to be outlawed.
"I'm a fly in the ointment, you see. But I don't want to be no fly in the bottle. They ain't got anything to pin on me. It's not just the swings and roundabouts, there's also the slide to consider. The paling of the shadows are a sure sign of the morning light."
What the fuck?
Hilarious. I will give McCarroll the benefit here with his ability to recount what Ian said, as I imagine it was a story told over and over since it happened. It's too good of a story not to tell everyone. (Hell, I'm still telling people about the time I met Ryan Gosling, and it's not nearly as funny.)
"I guess I tend not too have much regret in my life," McCarroll said in his email reply, "so it was much easier to recall the humorous moments."
When McCarroll's time with the band came to an unceremonious end, the band had already begun work on (What's the Story) Morning Glory, which sold massively well upon its release. Having drummed on the single "Some Might Say," McCarroll had to sue for his share of royalties. He accepted an offer out of court after a long legal process, knowing that he'd signed a near-worthless contract that entitled him to little else. I'm firmly on McCarroll's side here — if he played on the album at all, then he deserved compensation, regardless of personal greivances. Still, let it be yet another lesson to upcoming artists out there — Always, always read your contract. Know your worth.
The band went on to have three more drummers: Alan White, Zak Starkey, and Chris Sharrock. What did Tony make of his successors?
SH: I remember reading a quote from Chris Sharrock saying that a drummer really has to know what they're doing in order to play in Oasis.
TM: I think Alan is a fantastic drummer but as always if you add a new drummer it creates a new band. The feel and sound can create a new direction. The way Zak approaches drumming often reminds me of his very so famous father [Ringo Starr]. It’s perfectly all over the place. Love it! For me, Chris did a great job of rolling everyone into one and getting everything absolutely bang on! Good on him! Great drummers all!
I know I've been critical with this review, as is my hardass editorial nature, but I really am glad I read the book. As a huge Oasis fan, I'm game for soaking up any new information and anecdotes, and yes, I appreciate hearing a new perspective. Despite its imperfections and contridictions, the book stayed on my mind long after I finished reading it, and it is an important piece in the assemblage of Oasis-related information in the world.
Oasis came to an end in 2009, following an argument between Liam and Noel Gallagher. The specifics of the argument, occurring before a Paris gig at the end of the Dig Out Your Soul tour, have yet to be specified other than it being "personal." Liam and the rest of the band — Gem Archer, Andy Bell and Chris Sharrock — have gone on to form Beady Eye. They released their first album, Different Gear, Still Speeding, earlier this year and continue to tour. Noel is currently working on his solo album, and is due to marry longtime girlfriend Sara MacDonald on June 18.
SH: How do you like Beady Eye? To me, it sounds like a natural progression of Liam's musical presence.
TM: Liam looks like he is really enjoying his music and his liberty at the moment. I think the longer he is out on his own the more progressive his music will become. Good to see him smiling again.
And on that, Mr. McCarroll, we agree.
Though he may not be a writer, Tony McCarroll is still an excellent drummer. Anyone looking for confirmation should look no further than "Bring It on Down:"
Oasis' history is a lengthy and complex one, and entire books could be written on the Gallagher relationship alone. The Truth represents one version of the band's early days that we longtime, big-picture fans could not have known previously. Though I would not recommend it as an introductory source for someone unfamiliar with Oasis, it is still one man's history. The least we can do, as fans, is listen.
Full Disclosure: John Blake Publishing in partnership with Trafalgar Square Publishing sent me this book at my request.
This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read III, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. In order to make up for last year’s 51 books, I’m aiming for 53. The challenge ends December 31, 2011.