Behind the rehearsals of Oasis’ infamous MTV Unplugged show
Oasis’ MTV Unplugged show was an infamous event that saw the band perform an iconic set that is still revered today for two things. Firstly, it saw Noel Gallagher become a star in his own right. Secondly, the reason he was in the spotlight was because of the absence of frontman Liam Gallagher who no-showed and left his brother Noel completely in the lurch.
The Manchester legends had delivered those two famous shows at Knebworth to over a quarter of a million people the week before and confirmed their names in the history books. The ecstasy of playing to so many people had sent Liam well and truly into party mode. However, Oasis still had their session at MTV studio’s to conquer before they could put their feet up.
The band had locked themselves in rehearsals for two weeks to gear themselves up for the Unplugged performance, which by 1996 had a ferocious reputation for cementing artists careers. That said, warning signs had already started when Liam only turned up for three of these practices, which suggested his mind was elsewhere.
“Even before we got to the day of the show, there was a ‘concern’, a concern with Liam,” Jac Benson, the associate producer of the show recalled in a documentary on the legendary MTV series. This sentiment was echoed by fellow producer Claire Wool added: “Liam was in the paper a lot leading up to the Oasis Unplugged, he was portrayed as a bad boy.”
Liam turned up for three days of the rehearsals according to one producer who claimed that the singer wore the same outfit on each of the days he appeared. A tell-tale sign that something was up. The producer remembered that on the first day of rehearsals during one of the songs that Liam pointed to his throat and indicate ‘I can’t go on any more’ which left Noel singing after the frontman decided to walk off and leave.
On the second day, he allegedly sang even less than on the previous effort, then on the final day of rehearsals, he sang on just three songs before walking off and not returning on stage. For the meticulously run event, it set alarm bells ringing in the heads of production staff as well as his bandmates.
Jac Benson recalled that Liam had said that he didn’t want to rehearse too much in case it damaged his voice which made him think “what’s up with this guy, is he even going to show up?” It was a scenario that the production staff couldn’t quite believe as the unplugged session was the holy grail that all bands dreamt of appearing on and here was Liam not caring about the opportunity.
It then got to the day of the performance which Noel remembered all too well: “The day of the performance, he hadn’t turned up and there were rumours that he’d been out drinking for a couple of days… and nobody knew where he was. About an hour before we were due to go on, he turned up, absolutely shitfaced. We said, well look, let’s see if you can sing a couple of songs, and it was fucking dreadful.”
Producers then made the call that the recording should go ahead and they would decide later whether to air it or not. Noel then recalled what happened next: “As they said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Oasis’, we walked out and he wasn’t there,” Noel remembered. “He said, ‘I’m not doing it’. I thought, thanks a lot!”
Oasis then provided a stunning 12-song set that featured the likes of ‘Some Might Say’, ‘Live Forever’, ‘Whatever’ and ‘Wonderwall’ all without Liam who was on the balcony heckling his brother whilst drinking and smoking throughout the performance which left Noel thinking: “The least you could do is show a bit of support!” he revealed.
Following the show, Noel then remembered that the producers asked if they could record their opening track ‘Hello’ once more which the band obliged to do then “Liam comes on and he wants to sing. After we’d played for an hour and a half or something! So we just told him to fuck off. And he went off, sulking.”
The show, despite being an incredible performance, has become for well known for being an earlier signifier of the cracks that had started to form between the two brothers which would build up even further over the course of the next 13 years before their eventual split.