A Definite Maybe: The Monnow Valley Recordings

You remember The Sensational Alex Harvey Band? David Batchelor, yeah him. I met him and we had the same record collection. We spoke about how [Definitely Maybe] should sound and I thought, fine. But he’s so old – he’s in his 50s, does front-of-house for Ray Davies and stuff – and I’m like 27; and when it came to sitting at the mixing-desk and I’m like pissed and saying, “Let’s get a bit mad here, let’s really let go and be young and compress the shit out of this so that the speakers blow up”, he’d go, (stubborn old-timer) “Nope, ’cos this is the way we done it in our day, son.” I’d say I wanted it to sound like an aeroplane taking off and he’d say, “Oh you mean you want a Yamaha 9-60 Backwards Fucking Flange-Loop-Snubble with a Dirk on it?” I thought we either go with his saneness or my madness and I’m in charge so, sorry mate (laughs), you’ve got to go. So I just set the band up in one room, no sound baffles, no headphones, Our Kid in a vocal booth ’cos you have to, played it live and I put guitar overdubs on the best takes. If you listen to the snare drum mike on the master-tape you can hear every instrument. Nothing is separated, volume right up. Must be the loudest album since The Who’s Live at Leeds.

(Noel Gallagher speaking to MOJO’s Mark Ellen in January 1995 about why he sacked Oasis’s first producer, Dave Batchelor)

In this new two-part interview for Oasis Recording Information, recording engineer Anjali Dutt gives a unique insight into the early recording sessions for Oasis’s debut album, Definitely Maybe. Part One covers the as-yet unreleased Monnow Valley recordings produced by Dave Batchelor, and the subsequent mixing sessions in Olympic Studios; in Part Two Anjali recalls in detail what it was like re-recording the album at Sawmills Studios, and then later mixing those recordings at Eden Studios.

David: Can you say how you became involved in recording Definitely Maybe?
Anjali: I had been involved in a few Creation projects; mainly long stretches on the My Bloody Valentine album Loveless where my endurance and longevity possibly mainly defined me, though I had a growing reputation of ‘allowing bands to realise their own sonic visions’ as opposed to imposing my will. A chance Christmas mixing session with Jason from the Spacemen 3 for his half of the Recurring album (which only happened because I was the only engineer available at Battery Studios that holiday) initially got my indie ball rolling.

Prior to that, I had worked on big rock and rap albums as a house engineer and really loved Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. But I had grown up with punk and loved the Byrds, Love, and sixties soul and garage. A big turning point for me was the Boo Radleys’ album Giant Steps where I did actually indulge in some of my own mixing visions and the positive critical reaction to its breadth and invention opened my name up to a wider audience.

It was whilst I was working for a couple of days with Adorable that I got the call to drop everything and go to Olympic Studios to give a decision about whether Definitely Maybe could be salvaged. I had not heard of the band and was unaware of any buzz. The tracks did not ‘leap off the tape’ as such but I had the feeling that the decision had already been made to start again and I just reinforced it with a ‘let’s be bold’ statement that everybody seemed to want to hear from me. A set of directions and a mysterious tide timetable was thrust into my hand. I was sent off up the motorway in my new white MR2 sports car to meet up with the band at Sawmills studio near Fowey Cornwall, armed with alarming facts about where to park and what to do if the tide was in and the clay railway track submerged (!) My gear would follow me by boat. Wow.

I had only met Mark Coyle and Noel so far. Since I had once recorded an album in the daytime hours of a studio share that yielded the epic Stone Roses album at night time (so had conversed with the Roses about tidying up mainly) and toured in America with the Clash as the ‘girlfriend of the photographer’, I could talk a bit of an interesting talk. Working forever with the Valentines meant I knew absolutely everything about vintage guitars and amps too; so I didn’t come across as too much of a ditsy girl I guess, (it did cross your mind that it was unlikely that they would work with an indie girl naturally). However since they were mad about Orange and Marshall amplification and Gibson guitars and I came from a world where Fender had been god, so we weren’t necessarily singing from exactly the same hymn sheet. I did remember my ChinniChap teen days though and smiled at the thought of Orange amps.

Were you asked to try and mix the Monnow Valley recordings at Olympic Studios?
I think I was, it may have been Live Forever or Slide Away. There was a definite lack of spark and cohesion on tape and lots bitter memories about clinical production techniques, parts being recorded separately to clicks, in booths, with screens and mufflers, but mainly in isolation from band and audience.

Of course when live engineers are involved, and Mark was their live guy, it is always a bone of contention about how the whole studio process can destroy the essence of an electric live band. To a live guy, the best is always raw and on the night, though sadly you had to also be there too – so how does it sound to those that weren’t? The studio is only able to deliver a clinical reproduction, but this is the version that has to endure and be meaningful to all, the skills are different naturally.

How many songs had the band recorded with Dave Batchelor before scrapping the sessions? Did it feature the complete track-listing of the released album?
I think they had recorded everything with Dave Batchelor as later, when the Sawmills recordings were being scrutinised, we did get out the old Monnow Valley tapes and try overdubbing on them in case they held the missing vibe and we went through all the songs then.

Did it include any songs not included on the finished album? Had they recorded a studio version of Shakermaker by this point?
Forgive me if I don’t remember so well but Shakermaker I think always came from a Liverpool session with The Real People and Married with Children from Mark Coyle’s bedroom. They were not done again at Sawmills.

In the 10th Anniversary documentary you mention that the old mix of Up in the Sky was very psychedelic, with backwards guitars. Was this from the Batchelor tapes?
I loved Up in the Sky; I think it was my favourite. We may have flown the backwards guitars in by ¼˝ tape and cross faded it with the Indian sample ‘Mother take me into your arms etc’ leading into Columbia. I liked the psychedelic aspects that crept in every now and then, it seemed to juxtapose with the laddish stuff and add colour.

Also, did the demo version of Live Forever come from the Batchelor tapes, or was another version attempted in those sessions? 
This is the first time that I have ever heard this version; it’s nice though.

Can you comment on any differences, musically and/or sonically, between Batchelor’s recordings and what was released? In Michael Krugman’s book Supersonic Supernova, engineer Dave Scott is quoted as saying that Batchelor’s first recording of Slide Away was a slower rendition, with a bombastic production reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. Did you hear this version? If so, what did you think?
There was a pompous version of Slide Away that just felt all wrong and just didn’t work at all. Echoes of faux Guns ’N’ Roses even come to mind, especially in the solos (Slash on the hill eh!)

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(Interview by David Huggins. Answers © Anjali Dutt. Oasis Recording Info, 2011). Click here for part 2 of the interview: It’s Getting Better: The Sawmills Sessions.

Reproduced below is a list of the contents of a unique set of 4 CDRs produced by the (now defunct) Whitfield Street recording studios. These unique discs contain multiple alternate versions of songs from Definitely Maybe sourced from the recording sessions at Monnow Valley and Sawmills recording studios, amongst others. Photos of the discs themselves can be found on the excellent Oasis Collectors website. My thanks to the Oasis collector BubbleDude for providing this information.

I recently asked BubbleDude if the sleeve indicated when these tracks were recorded and if he could say to what extent they differ from the released versions. He replied saying ‘that the sleeve doesn’t say when these were recorded. Some of the tracks are near-finished, just without the delay / reverb / wall of sound added. The version of Live Forever on disc 4 is completely stripped back, but the guitar solo is still like the record – it has the second half. This hints at when this was, because Owen Morris says in this interview that he cut the second half of the solo on his first mix, which isn’t cut here.’

‘At the first verse the acoustic guitar is clear and there is no electric arpeggio as can be faintly heard on the record version. Most interesting of all is that this version runs slightly slower than the record version, as it hasn’t been varispeeded. Owen Morris says in his interview that when mixing Definitely Maybe, in addition to compressing the overall mix very heavily, he would also ‘varispeed the tape (usually speeding the track up slightly) to a place [he] felt was exciting’.’

‘[By contrast] the version of Live Forever on track 16 of disc 1 is virtually the same as the record version, just a little less brick-walled. It has the whistle at the start, amongst other stuff. It’s literally the same.’ Below is an image, provided by BubbleDude, which shows the waveforms of the released version (top) and the ‘master version’ on the CDR safety copy:

Live Forever waveforms from the album (top) and track 16 of disc 1 (bottom)

(Going from BubbleDude’s description and the above waveforms I think that the above suggests that what is labelled as the ‘master version’ of Live Forever on track 16 of Disc 1 may be a flat transfer of the half-inch analogue master tape before Owen Morris transferred it to DAT via the Apogee A/D converter with Soft Limit on. You can read more about how the album was mastered on this page). Below is a list of the contents of the discs, in table form for quick reference.

Oasis – Safety Copy of Masters – CDR No. 1

Track No Title
1 Test track
2 Test track
3 Test track
4 Whatever (TV track)
5 Whatever (no ‘Young Dude’)
6 Supersonic (TV backing track)
7 Bring it on Down (Master backing track)
8 Cigarettes and Alcohol (Take one B/T)
9 Cigarettes and Alcohol (Final Master B/T)
10 Bring it on Down (Remix master B/T)
11 Fade Away (Take 1 w/ backing vox no lead vox)
12 Fade Away (Take 1 instrumental)
13 Fade Away (Final Master No Lead vox)
14 Fade Away (Final Master instrumental)
15 Slide Away (fade cut at end)
16 Live Forever (master version)
17 Live Forever (No lead vocals)
Total time = 71′ 17″


Oasis – Safety Copy of Masters – CDR No. 2

Track No Title
1 Test track
2 Cigarettes and Alcohol (Mix 2 – First to tape)
3 Cigarettes and Alcohol (Mix 3 – Louder vox)
4 Cigarettes and Alcohol (Mix 4 – quieter vox – Master)
5 Instrumental
6 Digsy’s Dinner (Mix 1 – First to tape)
7 Digsy’s Dinner (Mix 2 – Master)
8 Digsy’s Dinner (instrumental)
9 Bring it on Down (Mix 1)
10 Bring it on Down (Mix 2 – Bass Up)
11 Bring it on Down (Mix 3 – Thinner guitar)
12 Bring it on Down (Mix 4 – As mix 3 – guitar dry)
13 Instrumental
14 Feedback for intro
15 Up in the Sky (First to tape)
16 Up in the Sky (mix 2)
17 Up in the Sky (mix 3- vocal up)
18 Up in the Sky (as mix 3 / Louder vox)
Total time = 73′ 12″


Oasis – Safety Copy of Masters – CDR No. 3

Track No Title
1 Up in the Sky (mix 5-Still Louder Vox)
2 Up in the Sky (instrumental)
3 Slide Away (mix 1 – master)
4 Slide Away (backing track)
5 Slide Away (instrumental)
6 Slide Away (mix 2-bass up)
7 Rock n’ Roll Star (first to tape)
8 Rock n’ Roll Star (mix 2)
9 Rock n’ Roll Star (mix 3 – alternate guitar end)
10 Backing track
11 Instrumental (not complete – see CDR no. 4)
Total time = 74′ 05″


Oasis – Safety Copy of Masters – CDR No. 4

Track No Title
1 Test track
2 Test track
3 Rock n’ Roll Star (instrumental)
4 Columbia (mix1)
5 Columbia (mix 2 – more bass and rhythm guitar)
6 Edit Section
7 Edit Section
8 Edit Section
9 Backing track
10 Live Forever (mix 1)
Total time = 71′ 58″