Sometimes you just need to be yourself. You can’t be no one else. Like when you are flying faster than the speed of sound and you really want a gin and tonic.
It was Liam Gallagher of Oasis who first said those poetic words, or words to that effect, and I never really understood them, until I sang them, dressed up as Liam, as part of an Oasis cover band on my birthday last year. See it’s only when you are Liam, that you realize that the word “supersonic” rhymes with “gin and tonic”. And it all makes sense.
Farah has done some amazing things for my birthdays. When I turned 30, she rented out a movie theater and invited all of our friends to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off together, one of my favorite films. There have been poker parties, trivia nights, ziplining trips, and lots more. But in 2015, she took it to another level for my 40th. She somehow convinced my friends to be in a band with me.
Now, I played piano as a kid up until I was about 10, and I know a few chords on the guitar, but I had never been in a band. And I’d never sung in public outside of a karaoke bar or a soccer terrace. But I’ve always wanted to. When I sing along to songs in the car, I always visualize myself in the band. It doesn’t matter who the band is, it could be U2, Otis Redding, or The Bangles. In my head, I’m the singer.
At the same time, I can see myself mimicking all the singer’s moves and hitting all the right notes too. Unfortunately, I can’t really sing. And it’s that tiny technicality that hindered my musical career. Until, that is, August of 2015.
It was about six weeks before my birthday that Farah revealed the surprise to me. I don’t like surprises, but Farah does. She also knows that I don’t like surprises, so she will usually tell me in advance what the surprise is. But she will wait to reveal the surprise until it is too late, so that I can’t do anything about it. It’s a fair compromise.
So the surprise was that we were going to have a party at our house. And that there would be an Oasis cover band playing at the party. And that four of my friends would be in the band. And that I would also be in the band. I would be the singer. I would be Liam.
I was shocked at first, and then obviously worried that I would make a complete arse of myself. But then I thought ‘fuck it’. I need to be myself. I can’t be no one else. But at the same time, I do need to be Liam Gallagher.
Why Oasis? Well, for a couple of years in the nineties, they were my #1 band, when I, and most of the UK, listened to Definitely Maybe and What’s The Story on repeat. So I genuinely do have a love for the band. And when I learned guitar, I was able to figure out the Oasis songs pretty quickly. So basically I thought that an Oasis cover band would probably more doable than, say, a Radiohead cover band. Also Farah says that since she has known me, I’ve joked that I wanted to be in an Oasis cover band called Champagne Super Ugly C#%*$.
Farah recruited four of my best friends, Ernest, Chris, Jason and Nicky, who all happened to be extremely talented musicians, and who have all been in or around successful bands all their lives.
Ernest and Chris are both members of I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, the band that played the first Vortex party in 2003. Chris was also in Windsor for the Derby, and Ernest was in Glorium, a legendary Austin art-punk band. Jason is the drummer and co-founder of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead who have played the main stage at the Reading Festival and Letterman, and all over the world. Nicky was in a DC post-hardcore band Edsel and he was the sound guy for Fugazi. So they are legit.
None of them though would describe themselves as fans of the band Oasis. Actually Jason might. But I’m pretty sure they never expected to be in an Oasis cover band. So for them to agree to do it was a pretty special gift to me. I’ll never forget it. They gave up a lot of time to make it happen, and I have to thank their wives too for giving up their husbands.
Ernest and Chris played guitar, Nicky the drums, and Jason learned to play bass. And I tried to sing. We met up once a week in a practice room in South Austin to rehearse for about five weeks. I loved it. It was a blast. We’d all show up on a Tuesday or Wednesday night with a few beers and some whisky, and just play music all night. I knew songs and the lyrics, but the rest of them had to learn all the parts from scratch. It didn’t take them any time at all.
I think that for them, there was something quite relaxing about being in a cover band. I imagine that in a real band there are times when you might bring in an original idea and have it rejected, or altered, or that lyrics might be questioned or ridiculed. And I expect that can be hard work. With our Oasis band, we just went in, we hit play on spotify, we listened to an Oasis song, and then we tried to replicate the sound. There were no egos getting bruised, or power struggles. The practice room was a fun place to be.
I even took a singing lesson from Alice Spencer, a well known Austin singer. She gave me some really good breathing tips and also told me that apparently bourbon helps with lubricating the vocal chords. I’m not sure you’ll find that in many singing manuals, but I really took that advice to heart.
Things were going well and Tuesday night practices became the highlight of my week. Then one afternoon, about two weeks before the party, I was just sitting in my office and the room started spinning. I waited a few minutes for it to pass and it didn’t. I tried to stand up, but I had no sense of balance and had to grab the wall. I thought I was having a stroke or something, so I had a colleague drive me to the ER. My heart rate dropped to 35bpm and I didn’t know what was going on. Then the Doc told me it was vertigo, which is a problem in the inner ear that messes with your equilibrium. I couldn’t move for a couple of days without feeling seasick.
After about a week I could stand and walk again, but even now, a year later, I still feel it. I can’t run or move my head quickly anymore, otherwise I get very dizzy and light headed. Anyway, I wasn’t going to let it stop the debut performance of the Champagne Super Uglies.
The night of the party was the Saturday after my 40th birthday. Farah wanted it to be like an old 90’s Austin house party, with a band in the garage, and a keg in the backyard. It was also hot as balls. There was no AC in the garage and it was still 95F by the time we went on.
I was definitely nervous about it. I think if it had been a bunch of strangers I wouldn’t have been as worried, but the crowd was all of our closest friends and family. And I’d just never done anything like it before. It helped though that I was playing a character. That I could be Liam. I’ve no clue what it would look like if I was being myself on stage, but I had a good idea what Liam does.
About five minutes before we were about to go on, we all went into the room behind the garage. My old friend Marc was in the crowd and, unable to resist messing around with an open microphone, he took on the role of stage announcer and tried to get everyone going. The band all had one more shot of bourbon backstage and then we went on. I waited behind while the guys launched into the opening bars of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’, then I went out.
All I was thinking was that I just wanted to nail the first line of the first song. But as I walked past the microphone, swaggering around and shaking my tambourine, the mic stand fell over behind me. I didn’t even notice. I turned around right on cue to sing the first line and there was no fucking microphone. Great start. Fortunately someone scrambled around and put it back together, and we were off.
I can’t really say much more about it, other than that it was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done. I still don’t think I can sing, but the rest of the lads enjoyed it too. Chris said it was one of the best gigs he’s ever played. The set list was Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, Supersonic, Cigarettes and Alcohol, Live Forever, Wonderwall, and Champagne Supernova.
After the show, I felt like a rock star. An actual rock star. I was “in the band”. I could use the words “my band”. I was on a high for a week.
The weekend after the show, we were all sitting around at Ernest’s house and someone said that our friend McNeely, who is an owner at the East Austin venue Hotel Vegas, had expressed a preference for Blur over Oasis. Immediately some arrogant and dismissive texts were exchanged, and before we knew it, a battle of the bands had been arranged. Halloween night at Hotel Vegas – McNeely’s Blur band versus our Oasis band.
So we were back in the practice room. We learned a couple of new songs – The Swamp Song as an intro and Don’t Look Back in Anger, which Chris sang and I played piano on. We actually got quite good at it too.
The night of the Hotel Vegas show I wasn’t nervous at all. I bought a new Liam jacket from his clothing store in the UK, and I went deep into character from the moment we arrived at the venue. I mean, I went deep. It was proper Daniel Day Lewis method acting all night. Manchester accent and attitude.
As we expected, the Blur band were shite. But it was almost 130am by the time we went on. It was Saturday night, it was Halloween, and the clocks were going back, which meant there was an extra hour of drinking, and so everyone was wasted. Everyone except us. And it was insane.
I think the fact that I told everyone in the crowd to ‘Fuck Off’ as soon as I came on stage didn’t help the atmosphere. I was just being Liam, but I don’t think everyone got the joke. People started throwing beer at us. A guy dressed as Spock was giving me the finger for the whole of Swamp Song. It got crazier. Every two minutes there was someone else, in a silly costume, invading the stage or trying to steal a microphone, and I know this sounds inevitable, but during Wonderwall, we actually got in a real fight with the singer from the Blur cover band. It was fooking amazing.
I think I enjoyed that show more, and I put on a better performance, but the birthday show will be the one I will always remember.
It’s hard to describe the rush I got being in a band. It was different from anything else I’ve done creatively, perhaps because it was the five of us creating something together. I get it now why people keep playing in bands for decades, even though they don’t get successful. It’s because it’s fun.
But I know my limitations. I’ve talked with the guys about being in a different cover band with them, or even an original band, but I’m never going to be a rock n roll star. Do I think I’ll ever be in an Oasis cover band again though? Definitely maybe.