To borrow the words of their heroes – and sometimes rather too obvious inspiration – it was, almost unbelievably, 20 years ago today that the world received their first dose of a Manchester band whose guitar-based anthems managed the unlikely trick of sounding utterly traditional while simultaneously shaking up the British music scene.
To coincide with the anniversary of Supersonic, the debut single from Oasis, released with initially modest sales – it peaked at No 31 in the charts – on 11 April 1994, fans of arguably the totemic band of the Britpop era can relive their obsession with an unprecedented and exhaustive exhibition chronicling the quintet's imperial phase, spanning their first three albums.
Chasing the Sun: Oasis 1993-97, which runs until 22 April at a gallery in Shoreditch, east London, includes rare photos and videos of the group's early days, as well as artefacts such as the suspiciously pristine white parka worn by singer Liam Gallagher when they played Glastonbury in 1994, and guitars belonging to his elder brother, regular co-combatant and chief Oasis songwriter, Noel. It also features Noel's original hand-written lyrics to some of the band's most famous songs, complete with discarded lines visible beneath crossings-out.
Most dramatic is a life-size re-creation of a sunlit living room which will look instantly familiar to anyone whose glory days coincided with the period, with its half-drunk glasses of wine, guitar and a poster of Burt Bacharach. It is, of course, the cover of Definitely Maybe, the band's debut album, released in August 1994. The items in the room are copied from the originals – rhythm guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, in whose south Manchester house the photo was taken, took the fireplace and stained glass windows with him when he moved – allowing fans to walk in and drape themselves and their greying shaggy haircuts about the exhibit in imitation of their heroes.
The cover was created by the band with Brian Cannon, who designed all Oasis's record covers during their peak period. Contrary to Oasis's media-dictated Britpop status as the knuckle-dragging counterparts to Blur's middle-class aesthetes, Cannon said the careful arrangement of images showing band heroes had a decidedly high-culture origin: "The main inspiration for that was Flemish Renaissance paintings, where there's a narrative going on with the objects. It's the same sort of thing as The Arnolfini Wedding by Jan van Eyck."
It could have been very different, he added: "There were other ideas floating around at the time. Liam suggested a lump of butter with a knife sticking out of it. It wouldn't have been the same, would it?"
The exhibition recalls a period of rapid and astonishing success for Oasis. Definitely Maybe was followed up by the all-conquering (What's the Story) Morning Glory? and the misfiring but still 8m-selling Be Here Now. All three albums are being rereleased to coincide with the Supersonic anniversary.
For all the acclaim at the time, the band have arguably suffered in posterity, often being condemned as derivative – Noel Gallagher cited the Beatles as an influence so often that even Paul McCartney eventually mocked him for it – and unimaginative. While Oasis greatly outsold Blur during their 1995 battle for Britpop supremacy, the latter band triumphed in the retrospective critical war.
Cannon hopes the exhibition will redress this. "People who have a go at them don't get it and are never going to get it. Some people are so vehemently anti-Oasis. I couldn't get that upset about someone unless they assaulted my parents. There's a hidden agenda with a lot of those people. They don't like the brothers, or they don't like the fact they're working class, or they're northern. I don't think anyone who's into the genre of guitar-based music can say they're no good. Because they're brilliant. And it's as simple as that."
One thing the exhibition has already achieved is to unite most members of a band so famously fractious that they eventually broke up due to a squabble that began with the throwing of a plum.
While the idea for the exhibition was primarily Noel's, said Lawrence Watson, a photographer who worked with the band in their later years and has curated the show, the others were keen to help: "They got on board pretty quickly and started raiding the attic. Everybody's contributed."
This included even Liam and Noel. "You could say they've found a sort of truce for the exhibition. I hope they'll come down at a quiet moment." At the same time? "Probably not."
Chasing the Sun: Oasis 1993-97 is at Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch Street, London E2, from 11-22 April
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