Michael Spencer Jones on the Definitely Maybe sleeve photography

In this interview, originally published in 2010 by the renowned Oasis site Stop Crying Your Heart Out, the photographer Michael Spencer Jones recalls his work on the Definitely Maybe-era sleeve art. It is republished on Oasis Recording Info by kind permission of Michael Spencer Jones and Louise of Stop Crying Your Heart Out. For more on Michael’s work with Oasis, please visit his website and check out the Spellbound Publications page for his Oasis artwork portfolio and book collection Out of the Blue: The Oasis Photographs.

The shot was taken at Monnow Valley studios in Wales, where they had started recording Definitely Maybe. The idea was to have a cluttered studio environment with amps and cables strewn everywhere. Liam was only 21 at the time and already looked like a fully-formed rock star, so I decided to have him at the front of the shot. I thought it would be a nice twist if I had my tungsten lights in view, the idea being to put Oasis firmly in the ‘spotlight’ for their debut single. I cross-processed the film, which gives the shot its bluey tint.

The cover was a Dalí-esque type concept. I’ve always really been into surrealists such as Magritte and Dalí and I liked the idea that hard objects can take the form of soft ones. The idea was that if you played Oasis’s music loud enough the contents of your room would melt. The shot was taken in the corner of my apartment in Manchester, which had become an improvised studio. I went around all the junk shops in Manchester buying various plastic objects, which I then melted on my front porch with an industrial blow torch not too dissimilar from a World War 2 flame thrower! It was really funny seeing the reaction of my neighbours; they just couldn’t figure out what was going off.

Live Forever
When it came to do the photography for Live Forever nobody had any ideas on what was to go on the cover. My first thoughts were that it should feature a scene from everyday life: people walking in a street, or a group of people standing at a bus shelter in the rain maybe; something ordinary. This process of ‘writer’s block’ went on for several weeks until the band asked me if I had anything in my archive which would be appropriate.

I remembered a photograph that I’d taken a few years earlier of John Lennon’s childhood home in Liverpool that had an ethereal and mysterious quality. The photograph seemed to work on two levels: first it was a picture of an ordinary suburban semi which reflected some of the song’s lyrical content and secondly when you considered that the greatest artist of the 20th century had grown up in the house, the picture took on a far more powerful quality. Noel loved the picture and the sentiment behind it as soon as he saw it. So in many ways it was one of the easiest covers I worked on because the picture had already been taken.

Definitely Maybe
The initial idea for Definitely Maybe came from the back cover to A Collection of Beatles Oldies, which was a group photograph of the Beatles gathered round a small table in a Japanese hotel room. Oasis had decided that a similar group photograph should be taken in Bonehead’s front living room. I’d already heard the album many times and knew that it was a great challenge to create an image suitable for the cover. I was therefore horrified when I went to recce the room and saw how small and uninspiring it was.

The band had assumed that I would take the photograph looking into the room with the bay window as a source of illumination – in other words, the opposite direction to how it finally appeared on the cover. To me, the bay window was the most interesting feature of the room and so I decided to take the unusual step of shooting into the light of the bay window. I then lit the room accordingly to avoid the band appearing as silhouettes. The room was made to look bigger by using a wide-angle lens but this created a problem with the floor. The stripped flooring (which I believe Bonehead had done himself) had been transformed into this huge ‘desert’ expanse which overwhelmed and dominated the shot. The empty space and what to do with it became a real problem. A week before the shoot I had visited the Egyptology section at the Manchester Science Museum and, as a result, the whole notion of lying in a preserved state and the way the Egyptians honoured and represented their past kings was very much fresh in my mind. The idea then occurred to me to have Liam lying outstretched and motionless on the floor, with his head towards the camera and with his eyes closed: a rock icon ‘lying in a state’ or indeed some other transcendental state, but not of this world.

This would create a first for an album cover but, more importantly, would solve my problem of what to do with the empty space and stripped flooring. On the face of it, asking the lead singer to adopt this pose for his debut album cover was a bizarre request and so I was releived when Liam agreed to do it. I know many other singers who would have refused. This, along with the spinning globe, was the catalyst to the whole shot. Definitely Maybe has to be one of the best covers I did for Oasis and I know the band themselves were really pleased with it.

Cigarettes & Alcohol
I shot the sleeve to Cigarettes & Alcohol at the Halcyon Hotel in London, which was a favourite haunt of actors and musicians. The band just returned from a controversial visit to Sweden, where they had been given a ‘free lift’ back to the airport by the Swedish authorities after a number of reported incidents. When they arrived at the hotel they were in very high spirits. The idea was basically to do a rock ‘n’ roll type scene which mirrored the elements in the song. It was a great and memorable evening. Noel did an impromptu acoustic set for those of us still left in the room in the early hours. There were numerous complaints from the other residents and a four-figure room service bill! Tim Abbott is the guy at the front of the shot, who had been one of the directors at Creation Records. I shot it on fast grainy b/w film and later hand-toned the image blue.

The original plan was to shoot the sleeve in the vast open spaces of the Arizona desert. Noel had wanted a vast landscape to evoke a sense of freedom. It was a very simple brief and was to be a relatively straightforward shot. I flew out to the States to photograph the band but after only a few days in Los Angeles the band had the infamous fall-out at the Whisky-a-Go-Go and Noel disappeared.

At the time it was very serious because the US tour had to be called off and for a while Noel was on the missing persons list. I went back to the UK feeling really disappointed but after two weeks news came through that Oasis had patched things up and the release was still to go ahead. Noel suggested doing the shot in Salisbury Plain but in the end I took the photograph on the Derbyshire moors, close to where I had grown up in Sheffield.

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(Interview © Michael Spencer Jones and Stop Crying Your Heart Out, 2010. Republished on Oasis Recording Info, 2012).