Half the World Away: Oasis at the Congress House

In this new article for Oasis Recording Information Marty Lester, the assistant studio engineer at The Congress House Studio in Austin, Texas, recalls the sessions in which the classic Oasis B-sides (It’s Good) To Be Free, Talk Tonight, and Half the World Away were recorded…

Marty Lester: Oasis came through Austin while on-tour. They were to play a show, and while in town they were to record a couple of b-sides for UK singles.

The band and crew arrived in a huge tour bus and began loading in. I don’t remember if this was before Owen Morris arrived (he flew in to Austin just for this project) or not, but at one point, I was putting some microphone stands in the very small guitar booth. The guitar tech was setting up two Marshall half-stacks with two heads in this very tiny room. While I was right by the amps, he kicked the rig on and hit a chord on the guitar…which, to this day, is literally the loudest sound I ever heard. I looked at him after recoiling in pain with a “What the **** were you thinking?” look on my face. He was totally unfazed…with a “well, what the hell were you doing in here anyway?” look on his face.

At some point Owen arrived with a plastic bag full of DAT tapes that he’d use to listen to the control room to get to know it. I showed him around the Amek Big console a bit, before we took a break. When I got back, he asked me a thing or two about the control room and console, then quite literally banned me from the control room for the rest of the session. Owen wasn’t bothered by the studio’s lack of “fancy” mics. The studio had a decent collection, but aside from a few higher-end vocal mics, it was just the usual suspects. He just had me throw SM57s on just about everything and that was that. The sessions were recorded on an Otari 2-inch 24-track recorder with Dolby SR.

As far as the band goes… it was very apparent that Noel was the talent. Liam was a loud-mouth asshole from moment one. I can remember him ranting like a maniac much of the first day… which I thought was pretty hilarious, even though I only understood about 10% of what he was saying due to his thick accent. I can recall tirades nearly as classic as the famous Troggs “Big Pranny” tapes. I recall Mark Hallman and I wishing we could have rolled a DAT but, as I said, we were banned from the control room. I believe most of his venom was spat in the direction of the obviously shoddy drummer. He was merciless on him.

The rest of the band was nice enough…even shy. Noel seemed quiet but was never rude to me. He spent most of the two day session in the studio with Owen in the control room while the rest of the band milled about after the basic tracks were done.

Much of my time was spent kicking a soccer ball around with the crew and band members, talking about their impressions of the USA, and generally hanging out. The studio had a BB gun, and I believe the drummer decided to take target practice on an old Plymouth Valiant Mark had parked in the lot by the studio. We found at least one BB hole in the rear window and billed the record company for damages. They (Sony?) didn’t protest. The only other memory I really have is that they ended up canceling their gig in Austin so that they could remain in the studio and keep working, which I thought was a pretty shitty thing to do.

(Lester, quoted from private correspondence with the author)

Owen Morris:
This session is when it really started to kick in with Tony McCarroll. Noel was in this booth by himself and he had a microphone shouting instructions to the rest of the band. Tony didn’t play [It’s Good to be Free] right the first time, second time, third time. He got it right in about six goes and Noel was really getting annoyed at him, saying things like, “If you don’t get this right I’m gonna come out of here and kick your head in.” Eventually, he got the rhythm down and the rest of the band played their parts with Noel playing some amazing lead guitar. He was on this demented coke trip from the week before.

The next day, at about ten in the morning, we did Talk Tonight. Noel was still writing it but we did it in about two hours. He just wrote it and sang it and that’s one of the best recordings. Amazing feel on it, totally brilliant. Then the rest of the band turned up and Noel was like “Ha ha, we’ve already recorded the track without you wankers”.

Then we did Half the World Away, which has got that shuffling drumbeat on it and Noel said to Tony, “You aren’t going near the drum kit on this one. Fuck off, right now”. So Noel played the drums on that. Then I flew back to Britain the next day to start on the Verve album*. The session was good, but very weird, very strange, that whole Tony vibe was very unpleasant.

(Owen Morris, quoted in Hewitt, p. 288 – 289)

Noel Gallagher:
We did [(It’s Good) To Be Free] in Texas as well. I’d been in Las Vegas, strung out for four or five days. I wrote that there. That’s one of my favourites. “Just the little things make me so happy/All I want to do is live by the sea”. I suppose I was thinking mentally I’d freed myself, me off my fucking tits on drugs, by the way. It was shit at that time on that American tour, I remember it being fucking horrible. ‘Cos we were in the position of blowing it big time. We were only playing little clubs at the time, 1500 people. The gig at The Whiskey was shit. Everyone was just going mad, me included. Somebody put out a set list for me from the previous British tour. So I was going into these songs and everyone else was going into a different one. The gigs were fucking buzzing and sold out, ‘cos we were this new, y’know, [adopts Artie Fufkin whine] ‘These dudes are like a cross between The Beatles and the Sex Pistols…’ And we were like The fucking Troggs, man. The bit at the end is off Captain Pugwash. ‘Cos Bonehead can play the accordion, he used to play it in some Irish band he was in, and we recorded it on a little Walkman. God knows why we put that on at the end, but it still makes me laugh when I hear it.

Talk Tonight
It’s a true story, really. Liam fucking hated it at first, and I remember him saying in an interview that I was singing it with an American accent. Which just shows you how strung out on drugs he was at the time. I went to San Francisco, ‘cos I’d left the band at that point and I was, well, I don’t know what I was doing. I was just off me fucking head. And I met this chick and she sorted me head out, really. Actually, she ended up grassing me up to the record company, ‘cos they were all looking for me, so she told them where I was and they came to get me!” “Then we recorded it in fucking Texas of all places. Two takes. The bits I like are where I take me watch off at the beginning and start coughing – it sounds really honest. It’s quite a sad song but it’s quite uplifting as well.

Half The World Away
Another one about leaving cities. Doesn’t mention telephones or rain, though, does it? It could do. We done that the same day as we did Talk Tonight in Texas. The drumming bit that comes in on the brushes, our ex-drummer had these two brushes which he was looking at and going, ‘What do they do?’ ‘Well you do that with that one and you play it like that…’ And after about two hours I got annoyed with him and threw him out of the studio.

(Gallagher, quoted from an NME article on The Masterplan b-sides album published in 1998)

Tony McCarroll: 
I had suggested adapting the drum shuffle from This Guy’s in Love With You […] I played it in front of [Noel] and everyone else. I had been practising since we spoke about it. Owen sang along, smiling. Noel pulled the sticks from my hands and told me to stop. It was time for a break […] by the time I had returned Noel had recorded the drum track himself.’
(McCarroll, p. 203).

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(Marty Lester Interview by David Huggins. Answers © Marty Lester. Published on Oasis Recording Info, 2012).

Cameron, Keith. 1998. ‘The Masterplan Revealed!’ in the edition of the NME published 31st October 1998.
Hewitt, Paolo. 1997. Getting High: The Adventures of Oasis. London: Boxtree.
McCarroll, Tony. 2009. Oasis – The Truth. London: John Blake Ltd.

*Owen Morris recalls working on The Verve’s classic album A Northern Soul in an article published in the July 1995 edition of The Guitar Magazine entitled Loco Motives: In the studio with The Verve and Owen Morris.