Western Mail - 25 May 1996
Marcus Russel is Oasis's manager - He was born an still lives around 40 miles from me. This is a local newspaper interview with him.
By Matthew Beard
Marcus Russel rolls with it :
In many ways, Marcus Russel is quite normal. The softly-spoken ex-teacher loves cricket and supports his local rugby club.
However, Russel, son of a former steelworker from Ebbw Vale has done something quite extraordinary with his life.
When he split from his wife and quit a steady job in an Essex school, he moved to London to take his chances in the music industry.
One fateful evening, Russel went to see five working class lads play a gig in a Manchester pub. He immediately liked their music and style, and shook on a deal with a mop-haired singer/songwriter by the name of Noel Gallagher to become the manager of Oasis.
Now, three years on, Russel is in charge of arguably the biggest band on the planet.
And it would appear he has made all the difference to Oasis, who have conquered both Britain (amidst intense competition from Pulp and arch rivals Blur) and America.
Making it big in the States has been his biggest achievement, and has been the focus of his ambition. He has achieved it by staging nine tours comprising hundreds of concerts.
Today, Russel boards a plane for a distant destination almost as frequently as Liam and Noel Gallagher (the combustible Mancunian brothers who eclipse the rest of the band) drop a swear word in public.
Despite his globetrotting, he still has a strong sense of loyalty to Wales, and takes any opportunity to get back to his family and friends in Ebbw Vale.
Taking a short break after Oasis finished their UK tour in Manchester, Russel, who has never before consented to a lengthy interview, spoke to the Western Mail from his office in London.
He immediately shatters the illusion of a music industry executive. You almost have to provoke him into talking about his strengths.
"You've got to have the ability to see things through," he says "A lot of people fall by the wayside because they haven't got the ability."
The band's latest UK tour, which took in two sell-out concerts in Cardiff, climaxed in two final concerts at Maine Road, the home of their beloved Manchester City. In just two hours, 80,000 tickets were sold out and radio 1 DJs were talking about a 90's version of Woodstock.
Russel is very matter-of-fact about how far he and the rest of the band have come: "I do recognise how fortunate I am, but it's just a case of seeing the opportunity and seizing it."
He says he's loved pop music since his early childhood, when he remembers his brother bringing home Rolling Stone singles.
"Music has always been a part of my life from before my teens. I've always been fascinated by it and if anything has helped me it's been that." He says, "I've got a great understanding of what makes a band successful and I've been able to use that as a career."
He first left Ebbw Vale in 1975. While studying education at Middlesex Polytechnic, he was a promoter for a number of punk bands and scored his biggest coup by staging a show for the Sex Pistols.
When he finished college he settled with his wife in Essex, where he took up a teaching job. After she had a long illness, she left him and, disillusioned with teaching, he drifted into management with Eighties hopefuls Latin Quarter.
When the Smiths split in 1987, he managed guitarist Johnny Marr. And then he saw Oasis.
He signed the band to Creation Records but, intent on promoting Oasis as an international band, he flew to the States to negociate a separate distribution deal.
Russel had already formulated a plan for America: Tour as much as possible and release very little.
By the time the anthemic Wonderwall was released, the band had played hundreds of shows. Both the single and the album Morning Glory were hugely successful.
"It's a long time since a British band has become big in the States and I was determined Oasis were going to do that," he says. "It was a two-year plan that didn't come to fruition until the beginning of the year. We've been working in the US since July 1994, and a lot of the strategy was not to release a single.
"We didn't release a single until this year, so we just kept making the radio play the record or people had to go and see the shows.
"The US is the biggest market in the world - we sell more there than in the UK, and we sell a lot of records here - so once you've cracked that, it really does help."
Russel's success has also provided a fillip to the cottage music industry of South Wales.
Blackwood band, the Manic Street Preachers, still missing their nihlilstic front man Richey James, have benefited from playing the support slot at recent Oasis shows.
"We've done everything we can to help them - they deserve everything they get. They're an inspiration to every other up and comping band in South Wales." says Russel.
It is also no coincidence that Oasis chose South Wales to make the majority of their records.
On the suggestion of Russel, they made their first recording at the tiny Loco studios in Caerleon.
And then they added their names to the list of famous bands that have recorded at Rockfield and sister studio Monnow, Noel Gallagher and Crickhowell producer Owen Morris, an old associate of Russel's, teamed up at the studios near Monmouth to record both their albums.
Russel has no intention of changing the formula. "We are all very happy with the Welsh connection and will be back to Rockfield."
Understandably, Russel is careful when giving answers about the band members, having seen Liam and Noel Gallagher's every utterance blown out of proportion.
He portrays them as street smart lads dedicated to making music and fanatical about Manchester City and clothes.
"Considering what's happened to them, they've changed very little," he says, "But any changes have happened in a very positive way."
"They've got a lot of qualities they had three years ago - confidence (not arrogance), a love of music and ambition, they also enjoy what they do and like it that people get off on their music and attitude. This is what drives them."
Their alleged hatred of Blur (Noel Gallagher once wished Aids on lead singer Damon Albarn) is to be taken with a pinch of salt.
"We all say things. Occasionally, they say things they regret and when they do, they publicly apologise."
"They make a lot of statements just to provoke a reaction, but they're also quite reflective - more so now than when they were carving a space for themselves a couple of years ago.
"I think they are wise in the way they've gone about building their career. They've never been part of Britpop - they've always disassociated themselves from it and they've eclipsed all the ambitions of the Britpop bands.
"I think you could call them street smart more than anything else. They're not a bunch of intellectuals and never purport to be, but they've got a built in wisdom which gets them by in any situation and any sort of company."
According to Russel, all five band members - Mancunian guitarists Paul McGuigan and 'bonehead', drummer Alan White and the Gallaghers - are in steady relationships. This may surprise those of you who have read about the turbulent relationship between Noel (sic) and actress Patsy Kensit.
"They're all very much in love," Russel says.
Russel's role is often a paternal one for the Gallaghers. They broke contact with their abusive father during childhood.
"Part of my job is to make sure they stay focused and the trappings don't distract them, to have a stabilising effect and say things they don't want to hear."
"If we've got to be out at eight in the morning, then I have to tell them to get to bed. But they do it - they're very professional."
But he admits they can also be disobedient.
"The worst situation is when they're fed up and walk off stage." On a recent US tour, Noel, suffering from 'tour fatigue', walked off stage, "He just snapped," says Russel. "I was running all round the place to find him. We searched everywhere from Manchester to San Francisco. But after five days and a few postponed gigs, we eventually found him gambling in Las Vegas."
Russel says that Noel, credited as the creative force behind the band, is remarkable in his normality.
"Considering a lot of songwriters are very introspective and angst-ridden, the most unusual thing about Noel is that he's not unusual. He's a regular guy who keeps himself to himself and is very comfortable with himself. He'll write away as we speak because he never stops."
As the business brain behind the band, Russel is trusted implicitly. "Everything to do with the business affairs of the band they leave to me. I don't have to go back to them every other day to check - I just get on with it."
And on the rare occasions when he's not working (Russel is a self confessed workaholic who routinely puts in 16-hour days), his playground is in Ebbw Vale.
He has happy memoriesof his childhood in the unemployment free coal and steel town.
To really wind down, he takes the trip back over the border to catch a Glamorgan game or support Ebbw Vale rugby club, where his brother is club president. While he has little problem paying the Severn Bridge toll, he can hardly be described as extravagant.
"The band are beginning to do very well out of it. But it takes a lot of time in the music industry collecting all your income from abroad.
"You don't do very well from being out on the road. People will look around a packed arena and do a quick summation of whats coming on, but you should see what goes on the other end.
"What wealth I have got is still trapped in the bank," says the man who has lived in the same council house for the last six years.
Western Mail - 25 May 1996
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