Director: Mat Whitecross
Stars: Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher, Paul Arthurs, Paul McGuigan, Tony McCarroll, Alan McGhee
Supersonic is a highly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable trip back into the early to mid 1990s with Oasis. It heavily focuses on the bands rapid rise to success within a four year period, encompassing their two critically acclaimed debut studio albums and the historical Knebworth gigs which were played to a gargantuan 250,000 fans over two nights. It has everything you’d expect from the notoriously anarchic britpop band and more.
The documentary opens to the bands arrival at Knebworth, briefly showing them kicking giant footballs into the crowd and playing Columbia, before rather neatly and fairly seamlessly fading into the less spectacular, dingy surroundings of the Boardwalk in Manchester whilst they rehearse the very same song. This stark contrast in surroundings very effectively illustrates the cataclysmic rise the band had within a short period of time. And it’s this very theme which the documentary chooses to focus on throughout.
We’re then introduced to the Gallagher brothers, Noel and Liam, with their infamously contrasting personalities immediately highlighted. Noel in his early years is very much a loner, trying to shake of the brunt of the abuse he received at the hands of his father by smoking weed and turning to the guitar. “Once I discovered weed and guitars. What would you want to go out for? Everything I needed was coming out of the speakers”. Meanwhile the charismatic frontman Liam admits that he was “definitely a bit of a show off, but not to the point where it was Bonnie fucking Langford or one of those little brats with jazz hands”. The first half hour or so traces the bands origins, discussing the original lineup almost one by one and how they each met one another. Liam mentions a funny tale of being attacked with a hammer at school which led to a musical ‘epiphany’ and the eventual forming of the band. Noel, meanwhile, discusses his reluctance to leave the job he blagged his way into, describing himself as a “chancer” and Bonehead is cited as being a talented musician with a bit of a “mental side” and the glue which held the band together.
There’s a fantastic cover of All Around the World shown, which eventually would appear on Be Here Now, five years later, and was recorded prior to the band even signing a record deal. Noel now a fully fledged member of the band, talks of his awe at the songs he wrote alone in his room being played back at him. During this part and pretty much throughout the entire film really, there is various audio narrating done by the band and others, with lots of interesting interviews and stories helping to guide the film. Whilst on screen; neat, little animation pieces and montages help spark to life what would otherwise have been a visually dull interlude between the multitude of interesting clips on offer.
Obviously given the period of their emergence and the lack of social media or video coverage seen on the scale of what is the accepted norm today, it’s something of a miracle that Matt Whitecross managed to obtain so much footage of the bands early performances. I’ve watched various interviews with Matt describing the lengths he went to in order to get some of the footage he did. No more is this appreciated than when the King Tuts gig in Glasgow is discussed. The place where the band ultimately were offered a record deal by Creation records Alan McGhee, with discussion of the gig played to “seven people” being accompanied by some rough, but absolutely fascinating footage of the band.
The focus then switches to trials and tribulations the band faced as they attempted to record Definitely Maybe and also the ensuing reputation for bad boy behaviour. Initial problems with Tony McCarroll, the original drummer who apparently had timing issues led to Noel writing Supersonic as the first single in “the time it took six men to eat a Chinese meal”. The rock and roll lifestyle of drugs, alcohol and sporadic bouts of violent shenanigans was frankly and refreshingly openly discussed by all. With Bonehead, Noel and Liam reminiscing of hotel rooms being trashed and drunken brawls with West Ham fans on overnight ferries to Amsterdam.
The interesting dynamic between the brothers was also reflected upon in great depth, with Noel admitting the shambles of their first US tour almost ended the band. Heavily involving the snorting of crystal meth, umpteen sleepless nights and a hilariously shambolical opening gig at Whiskey Go Go, where a set list mix up caused half the band to play different songs, which culminated in a tambourine being thrown at Noel “out of time” by his brother. He made the decision to quit the band following this fracas, booking a flight to San Francisco, that ultimately inspired him to write the beautiful Talk Tonight. The volatility between the two really paralleled the Davies brothers for me and the often positive effects on creative output that brought to the Kinks.
As we later see though, the effects of their jostling for control and endless arguments also had a less than positive effect on their band mates. The one story in particular that had me in hysterics and perfectly summed this up, was when Noel admitted hitting Liam with a cricket bat, after a row erupted over drug dealers being brought back to the studio, before the latter tossed a dust bin at the escaping Noel’s car in retaliation. The craziness of this unhealthy working relationship eventually led to the bassist, Guigsy, having a nervous breakdown and quitting the band. “Bass players are like that” Noel quipped before later admitting “We must be the biggest bunch of cunts in the world” after the stand-in bassist quit just weeks later too because he “Missed his bird”. Noel once again, hilariously quipping in with, “This fucking clown here, who’s on the dole in England doesn’t want to be in the band”.
In amongst all the discussion of unintentionally hilarious violence and drugs, however, are some really poignant moments. Whether it be Bonehead discussing Noel’s sensitive side and letting his feelings out whilst singing in the studio, with a goosebumps inducing rendition of the aforementioned Talk Tonight or Liam pouring everything into an equally awe inducing vocal session for Champagne Supernova, or even the heartwarming narration from Peggy Gallagher, the brothers mother, who has a real bit of Irish character in her and talks about their rough upbringing with an abusive dad, and her pride at their success. Their dad makes a short appearance too, with his pathetic money grabbing attempts to shame the brothers, via the disgusting rag the News of the World, ending with Liam telling him over the phone that “If I catch you walking around the lobby of this hotel, you’re gonna get your legs fucking broken”.
There’s some time for a look at how the commercialisation of the band caused some resentment with the original guys who supported them and a quick explanation for how Noel started contributing to singing, with all the extra tension that placed on the relationship with Liam. This coming to pass when the latter began making a bad habit of walking off stage when his throat was causing him problems or he couldn’t be bothered, leaving Noel to cover the gigs himself. Which only had the effect of proving to Noel that he could it and inspiring him to pen some absolute classics. This once again echoing the earlier sentiments about the negative aspects of their relationship unintentionally leading to a positive outcome.
The film then enters its finale with a return to the Knebworth gigs. The sheer scale of the entire thing really hits home with the footage from the helicopter as the band arrive. Noel then mentions that this meant so much more in a pre-digital and reality TV era, with the spectacle unlikely to ever take place again in the modern era. There’s time for one more bit of banter between the brothers. Noel shouting “This is history. Right here, right now” and Liam replying with the witty “I thought it was Knebworth, what you on about?” retort, before the film plays out to the brilliant Masterplan.
If you’re an Oasis fan then this is compulsory viewing. If you aren’t then watch it and I can promise that you will be afterwards.