The Full Story Behind Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’

Saturday, April 22, 1995, Sheffield Arena: a momentous Oasis date for two reasons. Sadly for Tony McCarroll, it was his last ever gig drumming for the band. But when one thing ends another begins, and it was in Noel Gallagher’s acoustic set that night that he played ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ for the first time, sandwiched between ‘take Me Away’ and ‘Talk Tonight. “I only wrote this on Tuesday,” he told the crowd, before sort-of dedicating it to The La’s frontman Lee Mavers: “You’ve not heard this one before, mate.” The original inspiration for the song came from Noel Gallagher visiting Paul Weller at The Manor studios in Oxford to play on the track ‘I Walk On Gilded Splinters’. While there, Weller played his song ‘Wings Of Speed’, and that was that.

Things were less simple in the recording studio. It began when Noel played both ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ to Liam, and asked him which one he wanted to sing. Liam chose ‘Wonderwall’, which was committed to tape without a hitch. When the time came to do ‘…Anger’, Liam wasn’t needed so went to the pub. Friendly man that he is, he proceeded to invite around 30 pissed Monmouth locals back to the studio from local boozers The Old Nag’s Head and The Bull. Noel turned up a few hours to find, according to Alan McGee, “half of fucking Monmouth” in his room, and “complete strangers playing with £30,000 worth of guitars”. He adds: “one of them asks him for the number of a cab and Noel kicks them out. A punch-up ensues, and Noel chases Liam out with a cricket bat.”

As Owen Morris tells it: “The next morning, Noel had left. The band was over. The album dead. No one knew if he was coming back. We were all gutted.”

A couple weeks later Noel did come back, and the band got back to business. But the question remains: do any versions of Liam singing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ exist? Opinions differ. When quizzed by David Huggins of the Oasis Recording Info website, Rockfields Studios engineer Nick Brine said in an email: “My understanding is that Liam did record a vocal on the album version, but I think it was just one run-through for a bit of fun really.” Owen Morris refutes this claim: “Liam absolutely did not sing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ at any point. Nick Brine’s memory is incorrect”.

But, intriguingly, Noel Gallagher said this to MOJO in 1997: “When I gave [Liam] ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ he’s singing ‘But don’t back in anger, not today’. I’m saying, It’s ‘don’t look back in anger’. ‘He’s saying, ‘Well, that’s not what’s fuckin’ written ‘ere, Chief.’” Whether anything was recorded, and whether it will ever be released, Noel only knows.

Three facts

1. In March 1996, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ was used to soundtrack the final scene of the last episode of the BBC series Our Friends In The North.

2. Pulp were the support act at the Sheffield Arena show. Both they and Oasis would headline Glastonbury in the summer.

3. In the same month that ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ came out, Oasis won Best Band, Best Album and Best Video (for ‘Wonderwall’) at the Brit Awards. it didn’t go unnoticed that they beat Blur in every category.

What We Said At The Time

‘It’s a bit like Newcastle United without [les] Ferdinand: full of Noel’s Beardsley-esque artistry, but lacking Liam’s free-scoring attack. It seems out of place with the rest of ‘…Morning Glory?’ Ted Kessler, Single Review, NME, February 17 1996

Story Behind The Sleeve

Brian Cannon: “This was based on the story of Ringo Starr leaving The Beatles and returning to recording sessions to see his drum-kit smothered in flowers. We had 10,000 carnations imported from Holland for the shoot then dyed 3,000 of them blue.”

Michael Spencer Jones: ”Ringo was persuaded to come back into the band, and on his return, George Martin, The Beatles’ producer, had decked his drum kit out in flowers as a statement of love and gratitude. Noel thought this would make an interesting idea for a cover, and so we had the band’s equipment covered in thousand of red, white and blue flowers, the colours of the union jack. It was going to be an overhead shot and I had a scaffolding tower erected but I decided to shoot it at eye-level so that the bass drum with its Union jack swirl could feature more prominently. The white piano was a reference to John Lennon.”

The Details

Songwriter: Noel Gallagher
Recorded: May 1995
Released February 19, 1996
Label Creation
Producer: Owen Morris
Studio: Rockfield, Monmouth
Length: 4:47