Noasis backstage at the Bloomsbury Bowling Alley (Photo by James Bettney)
Noasis are mid-soundcheck for a gig at London’s Bloomsbury Bowling Alley, blasting out some early-70s T-Rex. The night they’re playing is called “Bowl With It”, which – as with many tribute bands – makes you wonder what came first: the idea or the name.
The gig, in late March, is the band’s 11th of the year, following a slot at Wembley Stadium in front of 80,000 people – as pre-match entertainment at a Harlequins vs Saracens rugby game. There’s a healthy rivalry between the UK’s various Oasis tribute acts – according to the internet, they’re all the world's best – but not many of them have managed to sludge through “Supersonic” at a venue the real Gallaghers played the year Noel decided he didn’t want to talk to his brother any more.
Happy with the levels, “Liam” – a young-ish Irish guy – walks over and introduces himself as Dan and “Noel” as James. The other three are all called Andy. I’m not sure whether this is a reference to the fact that nobody ever knew the names of Liam and Noel’s revolving backing band, or if they really are all called Andy.
Bassist "Andy" (Photo by James Bettney)
Liam is full of “the craic”, which mostly consists of jokes about the IRA. He takes me aside frequently to tell me that the band are “not cunts”, and reminds me to largely ignore what they say – it’s just an act. I'm fairly happy to do this, given that between songs they seem to be paying tribute to Jim Davidson.
Outside the act, Liam works in a care home, looking after elderly people. Bassist Andy (smiley, friendly, largely silent) runs his own window cleaning business in Grantham. The others are less willing to give me any insight into their non-Noasis lives. Noel, for example, tells me he's a "beautician and bikini waxing expert"; guitarist Andy claims to have invented the Cumberland sausage; and drummer Andy apparently has a regular role in Casualty.
Their backstage area, complete with a fully functioning table tennis table, is surprisingly grand. “It’s not always like this,” says Liam. “Sometimes we have to get changed in the toilets while stood in pools of piss.”
While drummer Andy and guitarist Andy crank up “Slide Away” on the karaoke machine, Liam puts on his shades and his Pretty Green outfit – a clothing label that has presumably made life incredibly straightforward for men like Dan. The two Andys slur along before Liam heckles them, grabs the microphone, sings for a bit, calls someone a cunt and throws the mic to the ground.
(Photo by James Bettney)
The band swagger through the crowd and up to the stage. Within a few songs Noel is screaming at the audio engineer about the sound quality, which – to be fair – is pretty awful; the kick-drum sounds like someone’s smacking a megaphone with a baking tray. Besides that, the band – and Dan’s raspy vocals – sound exactly like the real thing, which I suppose is the objective. Even the subplot is convincing; they fake arguments and swear at each other, and Liam’s mannerisms are just as braggy and simian as the Liam from Manchester.
The crowd is younger and more metropolitan than I’d expected. That said, I was expecting mostly shit-faced men in their forties, dressed in bright green Ben Sherman shirts and oozing Stella from every pore. It’s a fairly relaxed audience, with maybe only three or four guys who look like they’d abandon their families if it somehow led to Paul Weller getting The Jam back together.
I’m assured that this is just the warm-up for Bedford tomorrow, where 700 tickets have apparently already been sold.
James (Noel) and Dan (Liam) backstage in Bedford (Photo by Natasha Bright)
Tonight’s gig is the big one. Plus, Bez is showing up later to play after Noasis, and anything can fucking happen when Bez is about. At the moment, though, Noasis are knackered. They’ve been hanging around since midday with nothing to do but soundcheck and eat sausage rolls, and they’re still tired from last night.
While bassist Andy and guitarist Andy went home to Derby, Noel, Liam and drummer Andy stayed in a nearby Travelodge with a ball they’d nicked from Bloomsbury. “I was bowling it down the corridors at 3.30AM this morning, banging on all the doors,” Liam tells me, before the others plead their innocence. “Throwing a coffee cup out of a car window is about the worst thing we’ve ever done,” Noel tells me.
It seems that, true to form, Liam is the band's badboy. “I like to steal plants from service stations – anything that’s going, man,” he tells me. “I once stole a plant off a roundabout, carried it all the way back to the hotel, put it in the shower and watered it.”
I sit down with the band for an interview, which turns out to be mostly nonsense. About 20 minutes in, Noels asks that we stop and start again, taking a more “serious” approach to the interview. But nothing much changes and again it mostly revolves around tribute band beef and stuff that I think is true but could just be them taking the piss out of me.
Drummer Andy and Liam backstage in Bedford (Photo by Natasha Bright)
It turns out that, of all the UK tribute acts, Oasis UK are the group’s main rivals. Hours earlier, they left a post on their Facebook wall: “Here’s a quote from someone watching another Oasis Tribute band tonight - ‘They are just tramps playing Oasis songs.’ Classic quote ;)” The band also claim to be, “the only Oasis tribute band to have recognition from Liam Gallagher”, following a tweet from Liam’s (now estranged) wife Nicole Appleton that read: “Liam was very impressed,” in response to a promo video they sent her.
Noasis collectively groan when I remind them of that: “It’s fucking bollocks. Having Liam Gallagher’s missus say, ‘Yeah, you’re alright,’ is a load of bollocks.”
“I tell you what – there are two Oasis tribute bands that I actually quite admire,” says Noel. “One is Definitely Mightbe, and the other is Oasish, who we’ve helped out in the past. The others can suck my cock. They really can, because of the way they are: jealous, envious arseholes who will try and slate us at any chance possible, just because they want the attention we get. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about us as long as the people enjoy us. All those other Oasis tribute bands, as I said before – and you can quote me – can suck my dick.”
Noel continues: “I’m very bitter about it, because I started this band from fuck all, and we have taken it to big levels. I played to 82,000 people last weekend at Wembley; that’s not something you do every day. I’m very proud of what this band has achieved, and to get someone else slagging you off is hurtful, in a way. It should be all peace and love, not about snorting coke off some prostitute’s tits – as much as we’d love to do that.”
Liam onstage in Bedford (Photo by Natasha Bright)
I ask the group if they’ve ever met their heroes. “We met ‘Bonehead’ [Paul Arthurs, Oasis’ former guitarist] last year at the Isle of Wight festival – he drank all our beer,” Liam tells me. “And we actually heckled his band.”
“I met Noel before,” says Noel. “I knocked on his door. His missus answered the door and I said, ‘We’re Noasis – is Noel in?’ He was like, ‘What do you want?’ I told him about us and that we were playing in town, and he wasn’t bothered.”
The group started due to “a desire for money and fame – and the girls”, Noel confesses. If it’s true (it’s impossible to tell), I admire their frankness – there have been countless banal indie bands that may as well have just stuck to playing covers of whoever it was that united them in the first place. Just imagine, for instance, how uncontaminated the British musical landscape would be if the Kooks had formed a Kinks tribute act, or if the Twang realised they could probably still have landed the odd blowjob and free sandwich if they’d just stuck to playing Stone Roses covers at weddings in and around the Midlands.
Noel onstage in Bedford (Photo by Natasha Bright)
Noel’s entry to music wasn’t unlike most other British teenagers during the 90s. “I first picked up the guitar primarily to Nirvana, and then when Oasis came around in '94 and I first heard 'Cigarettes and Alcohol', I was like, ‘That sounds fucking amazing,’” he says. “I got a guitar and an amp, and just started practicing Oasis songs.”
Now, eight years after forming Noasis, it’s a bigger part of his life than he – or any of the other members – ever envisioned. “We’ve always taken any gigs we do very seriously,” he says. “You get people paying to come and see us, so you want them to feel like they’ve seen Oasis. The first time it really hit home was when we did Brixton Academy in 2010; it was like, ‘Fucking hell – this is massive.’ Over the past few years it’s just gone up and up.”
Noel is the only original Noasis member, with the others getting on board in the past five years. Liam, too, was a huge fan of the band before he started singing their songs onstage. “I went to go see them a few times and thought they were good, and I said, ‘That’s going to be me one day,’” he tells me. “The music of Oasis can be like a religion to you,” he adds. “You become obsessed with it.”
(Photo by Natasha Bright)
The crowd in Bedford is large (maybe not 700 large, but not far off), which is pretty impressive considering tickets are £20 a pop. The crowd tonight are more what I’d anticipated from an Oasis tribute audience: mostly male, mostly middle-aged, mostly wasted. At one point, Noel shouts: “How many birds we got here tonight?” Two hands go up, one of which is male.
One guy catches my eye all night. He’s at the very front of the barrier, shouting the words back at the stage with an urgency that borders on worrying. He stares at Liam adoringly, but when he walks off stage and Noel takes the lead on “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, the guy’s face sours and he stops singing completely. When Noel starts talking between songs, the man – who must be somewhere in his forties – starts screaming, “Who the fuck are you?” He is in genuine awe of a man called Dan from Ireland, to the extent that he’s willing to heckle his fake brother for momentarily stealing the mic from him.
(Photo by Natasha Bright)
At some point in the evening, a six-man brawl breaks out that nearly results in a smashed camera for our photographer. Walking through the crowd reminds me of the time I wandered down the Zante strip at 7AM: multiple men are passed out cold, some are dribbling, some are mumbling. Turning around, I catch Noel announce that, “Word has it Bez is in the house,” before the band piles off stage. Soon enough, out comes Bez, shouting, “We’ve got to challenge the fucking frackers, man – the fucking bankers!” No one in the crowd seems to give a shit about his political rhetoric, and as the Noasis guys continue to offload their amps as Bez shouts: “Fuck the French, man – they think they can come and frack our towns? They can stick their fucking baguettes up their arses!”
Photo by Natasha Bright
While Noasis are slightly cagey about allowing me too far into their personal lives, choosing instead to hide behind the swagger of their characters, there is a brief allusion to the reason they all spend their free time pretending to be somebody else on stage.
“Everyone’s got stuff they’d rather forget,” says Liam.
(Photo by Natasha Bright)
That attitude is as apparent (if not more so) in the crowd as it is among the band. People lose their shit in Bedford – grown men scream and literally bow down to the fake Gallagher brothers. It’s likely an escape for them, too – a respite from their jobs, transporting them back to a real Oasis show in the late-90s when everything was just that little bit less shit; the pills were good, the beer was cheap, Loaded was still funny and a pair of Adidas Sambas were all you needed to pull.
But maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s evidence of people in a state of cultural arrested development, clinging on to an era when the only music anybody listened to came from white men with guitars. Or perhaps it’s more simple – just an opportunity to scream along to Oasis records at something with a little more life than their stereo.
Whatever the psychology behind it, it’s difficult to ignore the sheer sense of adulation on some people’s faces. And you’d have to be pretty sour to deny anyone that level of pleasure if it’s hurting nobody in the process, other than a few unlucky middle-aged men who wind up on the wrong end of a stray punch.
See more of James' work at his website.