Staring At The Shoes Of Giants

Back in 1991 Damon Albarn claimed that Leisure, blur’s début album, as going to ‘kill…baggy‘, the genre popularised by the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays which had also spawned Northside. As it turned out Nirvana killed grunge but blur were right about one thing – baggy wasn’t the major influence on Leisure, shoegazing was.

I was reminded of this fact after hearing a recently re-discovered demo version of Setting Sun by Oasis. The track was released as a single by The Chemical Brothers, with Noel Gallagher on vocals but it now seems that, rather than writing them specifically for that track Noel must have done an Aphex Twin*.

Whereas the version released by The Chemical Brothers sounded like a modern reworking of The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows this demo has more in common with Oasis’ with the tracks on Leisure. It is, basically, a shoegazing track. Washed out but amped up guitars, a slightly hazy feeling and a nasally vocal. It’s shoegazing 101. The scene may have been almost universally maligned but its impact was felt far and wide.

As mentioned, the debuts of both blur and Oasis owed massive debts to the likes of Ride, My Bloody Valentine and pretty much everyone else on Creation Records which was basically the official label for the shoegazing scene. And whilst many of the bands who briefly shone during the late 80s & early 90s, such as Slowdive, Chapterhouse and Revolver rarely made a dent on the charts, others fared better.

A bunch of lads from Wigan called Verve** took the washed out guitar sounds made popular by shoegazing bands and added a dollop of Doors’ style mysticism; having refined this mix over three albums with a twist of northern attitude, they went on to outsell Oasis with Urban Hymns.

Ride, another Creation signing, were one of the first bands from this scene to properly crack the mainstream; two of their first three EPs broke the Top 40 (the first Creation releases to do so, 7 years after its formation). Their debut album, Nowhere, fell just short of the top ten but Leave Them All Behind, the first single off of their second album hit number ten.

As with The Verve, Going Blank Again saw the band building on their roots, with traces of The Who and even The Byrds to be found, alongside samples from Withnail & I. Highlighting the connections, bassist Andy Bell went on to join Oasis.

Of course Ride’s efforts in the charts would pale in comparison to Oasis after they too had been signed to Creation. But whilst they were often compared to the likes of The Beatles or the Sex Pistols, in their early (and best) work, Oasis had, as I’ve said, clear links to the (generally Southern) bands who were often mocked as being ‘The Scene That Celebrates Itself‘. Adorable, one of the last signings to Creation before Oasis, have often struck me as being a prototype for the latter with a good looking, cocky front-man and songs that melded melody and razor-sharp guitars brilliantly.

Looking back at Oasis now, I can’t help thinking that if they had stayed truer to these roots their later releases would have been less like a successful Bootleg Beatles than they were.

*Aphex Twin once handed in one of his own tracks having been paid to remix a Lemonheads song because he had forgotten to do the remix.
** They added the ‘The’ after being sued by American jazz label Verve; the band’s initial offer to change their name to Verv, thereby ‘dropping an e for America’ was rebuffed.

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