18 Wheeler: Still bigger than the Gallaghers

They were top band on the bill the night Alan McGee walked into Glasgow’s King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and discovered Oasis. And in our parallel pop universe they are still a bigger draw than the Gallaghers. As Tony Blair once said ‘Let’s hear it for Wheeler 18‘ (err, that’s actually 18 Wheeler Tone)and their indie dance swansong Year Zero.

Scotland’s 18 Wheeler were one of the unluckiest bands on the planet.
Formed by Sean Jackson (vocals, guitar), David Keenan (guitar, vocals), Alan Hake (bass) and Neil Halliday (drums) in the early ’90s, they shared Teenage Fanclub’s passion for Big Star and The Beachboys, but were dismissed by the UK music press as copyists.

After two albums of derivative guitar pop (Twin Action and Formanka), they decided to change tack and made 1997’s Year Zero, which saw then experimenting with dance rhythms and electronica. The result? Even more bashing at the hands of the press and the end of their recording contract with Creation Records. Nice work, fellas.

To cap it all, 18 Wheeler have gone down in pop history for two reasons – neither of which is particularly flattering. Firstly, they were the top band on the bill the night Alan McGee walked into Glasgow’s King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and discovered Oasis and, secondly, they were championed by Tony Blair at the 1996 Youth Experience Rally in Blackpool! Rock and roll, eh?
In what must rate as one of Britpop’s most cringe-worthy moments, the Prime Minister incorrectly introduced the band as "Wheeler 18…. one of Creation’s biggest acts." So much for Cool Britannia.

In retrospect, 18 Wheeler (pay attention, Tony) should be remembered for making one of 1997’s bravest indie rock albums, Year Zero.
While Noel Gallagher was crafting the tired and bloated, cocaine-addled opus that was Be Here Now, Sean Jackson was beavering away on a record that mixed the melodies and the harmonies of The Beachboys and The Byrds with the techno beats and drum loops of ’90s club culture. Oasis went on to superstardom and 18 Wheeler disappeared without trace. Honestly, there’s no justice in the world.
‘Going dance’ is usually one of the greatest crimes an indie band can commit ("Honestly, there’s always been a dance element to our music,"), but, in the case of 18 Wheeler, it actually made them sound more interesting.
Rather than simply sticking a tired club beat behind stodgy ‘meat and potatoes’ guitar rock, 18 Wheeler crafted an intricate, organic record that cocoons the listener in layers of sound, but never scrimps on tunes and gorgeous choruses.

Think Screamadelica scored by Brian Wilson.
Opener, The Hours and The Times is simply stunning – a heady cocktail of trippy, dub-heavy effects, dirty guitars, sweeping strings and angelic vocals. Crabs is a head-on collision of frantic rhythms , rock riffing and, er, church organ, while the beautiful ballad Stay has a melody worthy of inclusion on Pet Sounds. The latter also provided 18 Wheeler with their biggest hit single, winging its way into the Top 50 and gifting them with a performance on Top of The Pops 2.
18 Wheeler have long since split up, but, apparently, they made one more album after Year Zero. It’s yet to see the light of day, but I bet it’s better than anything Oasis have done since 1997.


One Response to “18 Wheeler: Still bigger than the Gallaghers”

  1. Iain Says:

    Where is Neil Halliday now? He once drummed for us, the Flaming Os, it would be nice to catch up with him. Iain

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