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Why British men never got over Oasis

Supersonic reminds us of a bygone era of masculinity

Why British men never got over Oasis
05 October 2016

Did you catch Oasis documentary Supersonic, telling the story of the band’s glory years? The anthems. The swearing. The punch-ups. And, of course, Knebworth – the incredible two-nighter in August 1996, attended by 250,000 fans and unmatched as the undisputed zenith of Britpop. 

We’ve been through the motions with them: the excitement of their first two albums; the disappointment of what came after, the 'bit years' when you realised they were still recording music; then hearing that they were back on form before the inevitable break-up, after Liam threw a plum at Noel backstage.

But those early days have left an indelible mark. At that time, Oasis weren’t just the biggest band in the world – they encapsulated British masculinity like no one before or since. And us men were never the same again.

Masculinity has always been at the heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s macho hedonism as an art form – loud, brash, and confrontational, full of burly rock gods swinging their axes around, or frontmen strutting around the stage like sexually-charged peacocks.

Between 1994-97, and further still, Oasis took it up a notch. During this heady era when the British zeitgeist was riding high on all things laddism, Britpop, and football coming home – they embodied what it meant to be a man. Oasis weren’t just the sound of a cultural moment, they led the cultural moment. It was the age of bolshie, sweary, boozed-up men, and the true personification of mid-Nineties manliness, they swaggered around like they owned the place, kitted out in football shirts and indie clobber, giving it the big I am.

Mad for it, you could say.

They had it nailed from Rock ‘N’ Roll Star, the opening track of their first album. It’s a raw, amped-up banger of a tune, which bashes out its chorus line – “Toniiiiii-ight, I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star”. It’s a sentiment that lies dormant in the hearts of most men (and occasionally becomes a reality when they've had too much to drink). 

Released in August 1994, Definitely Maybe set the tone for the revolution in all things bloke-ish. Their follow-up album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? took a step back from that raucous manliness with Noel’s softer, chorus-driven anthems, but they spoke to men on a different level.

Wonderwall, Don’t Look Back In Anger, and Champagne Supernova weren’t tracks to get you fired up; they were songs to belt out alongside your mates, songs that tapped straight into that kind of man-on-man camaraderie usually reserved for the football terraces. Largely gibberish, they could be about anything – but undoubtedly, they were love songs for men, conjuring up an emotional connection to a time, place, and sense of being.

Listening to them now - and you'll remember most of the words - they’re like a jolt of pure nostalgia. It must have been bloody magic at Knebworth, to be one of those quarter of a million voices singing along. And I’m not the only one who wishes they’d been there. One in 20 Brits applied for tickets – a testament to Oasis’ cultural impact at the time.  

On a personal note, they were the band that made me ditch the musical tastes inherited from my parents and get into music seriously. The first time I played in a band on stage was at a school music festival, singing Supersonic in an Oasis rip-off act. Like a scaled-down, crapper Knebworth, the gig caused serious controversy when our bassist played in his boxer shorts. As I say, pure rock ‘n’ roll.

Juvenile silliness aside, it was a genuine musical awakening. I wonder how many other grown-up guys would say the same. The significance of this, and how it shapes the men we become, can’t be understated. Particularly at that formative time in our lives when music is arguably the most important social classification we have. 

Oasis’ role as Nineties manliness personified wasn’t just about the music, but the off-stage antics of the Gallagher Brothers. It might be easy now to paint them as caricatures, remnants of a bygone time, but like that Kevin and Perry sketch, their coolness was infectious: a pair of rough-edged working class boys, their potty-mouthed tirades, brotherly spats, and rampant hedonism were easily relatable.

 Largely gibberish, they could be about anything – but undoubtedly, they were love songs for men

Admittedly, the Gallaghers were also a constant reminder of what utter berks men can be. Boozed-up, coked-up (once, memorably, in Downing Street) and way too big for their boots, it seemed like barely a week went by that one of them wasn’t in the papers, getting into fights or saying so. Berks, but still relatable as men.

The champagne supernova soon burnt out, though. In August 1997, a year after the band peaked with the monumental Knebworth gigs, they released their third album, Be Here Now. For all the hype that preceded it, the album felt like a disappointment.

Then, dragged down by in-fighting and waning interest, Oasis soon became just another band, no longer the driving force of the British zeitgeist. In truth, Be Here Now – which has stood the test of time to rank alongside Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? – wasn’t to blame, but a major cultural shift.

The month before Knebworth, the Spice Girls’ released their debut number one Wannabe, and the big platform boot of Girl Power stamped out the remaining embers of our mid-90s boom in all things bloke.

Laddism and the lads mags became outdated and sleazy, Britpop turned into weak generic indie, and while football did come home, it quickly sodded off back to Germany after England’s crushing defeat in the Euro ’96 semi finals. Much like Oasis, men’s moment was over – and no band has managed to capture that sense of masculinity so perfectly since.

Pete Doherty had a bash at being a proper rock star, but was too much of a poser to connect with the masses. Meanwhile, we’ve got the likes of Chris Martin, spinning around the stage with his windmill dance moves and taking his art too seriously to ever be proper rock ‘n’ roll. That no band or singer has spoken to and of men like Oasis says as much about us it does the music.

Mainstream rock has become softer – lost its edge, played by men seemingly more concerned with their haircuts that the true spirit of rock ‘n’ roll – but perhaps men have become softer too: we’re reflective, more self-aware, and much less bolshie. 

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just nostalgia. Maybe the flouncy dancing and self-important warbling of Chris Martin is the look and sound of modern masculinity, and I’m just too much of a curmudgeon to feel it. But it seems to me like ever since Oasis, there’s been something missing between men and rock music. 

I’m not saying we need a rock ‘n’ roll band to drag masculinity back to where it used to be, to resurrect the working class musical hero. Even the long-touted Oasis reunion couldn’t do that, and nor should it. The Nineties bloke is a pissed-up relic – better off left where he is. Masculinity has gained a great deal in the last 20 years, and for the better. It’s lost stuff too, though – and for British men, that includes significant parts of our identity.

So you’ll excuse if I raise a drink for the past with Rock ‘N’ Roll Star cranked all the way up. Us men might not have been the same since the glory days of Oasis, but the memory at least will live forever.

[Images: Getty]