Fran Healey explains how Travis 'lifted' Noel Gallagher's chords to Wonderwall

  AUGUST 25: LEEDS FESTIVAL Photo of Fran HEALY and TRAVIS, Fran Healy.
AUGUST 25: LEEDS FESTIVAL Photo of Fran HEALY and TRAVIS, Fran Healy.

The 1999 lead single from Travis's breakthrough second album The Man Who owes a direct debt to Noel Gallagher – so much so that its writer and band frontman Fran Healy even namechecked the Oasis song he lifted its verse chords from in the lyrics. But the Scottish musician has revealed he never believed at the time that Noel would ever hear his cheeky theft.

"The first song we had for The Man Who was Writing To Reach You," Healy tells Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess on his album podcast Tim's Listening Party about the song's genesis. "But we had that before we came to London in 1996. I wrote it in '95 – the day after Christmas, Boxing Day. There's a song on our first album called The Line Is Fine, which I wrote and then 20 minutes later I wrote Writing To Reach You straight after it."

The band had attempted to record Writing to Reach You for their first album Good Feeling but it didn't come together. The song got its second chance when they began work on the follow-up record in 1998. Healy still vividly remembers the heartbreak that had inspired it three years before.

"I'd just split up with my girlfriend, Katrina, and someone gave me this book of letters from Franz Kafka to this woman called Milena, called Letters To Milena, and it's all his letters to this woman," continues Healy. I don't think he ever even met her – the love of his life that he never met [they did actually meet twice – ed]. But they're all just one-way – there are no replies. It's just this one-way thing, and at the time I'd been writing lots of letters to Katrina because she'd just moved to St Andrews, the university and our relationship was starting to dissolve as she went on with her life and I was kind of stuck on the dole, going nowhere and feeling really crap. And then she chucked me, so I was just heartbroken.

"So the song spoke to that thing, and reading this book at the time of this guy writing to this person, and that's all I was doing at the time – writing all these letters and never quite being able to reach the person."

It set the scene for Travis's "breakup record" but it needed an added ingredient beyond the heartache – a familiar chord progression.

"When I wrote Writing To Reach You, that was '95, and we'd seen Oasis playing at [Scottish festival] T In The Park that year. That was a big big [moment] when that band cut through," remembers Healy. "We went to a bar afterwards and Noel Gallagher walked in looking like he was in the Velvet Underground. He had like a Ready Brek glow around him – it was like he's a rock star. So cut to six months later and I'm sitting in the coldest flat in Glasgow writing this song and I nicked his chords – the chords to Wonderwall in Writing To Reach You."

Em7 / G / Dsus4 / Dsus2 – not quite the same as Wonderwall which has an A7sus4 instead of the latter chord. But Healy even used a capo on the 2nd fret like Noel to enhance the similarities further. But it's not like Noel hasn't lifted his own fair share of song ideas.

Noel came up to me after we came offstage and he went, 'Nice f*****g chords mate'

"As we do, as he does," reasons Heale. Still, he never imagined he'd have to explain his Oasis lift. "I thought, 'I'm never going to meet Noel Gallagher in a million years because I'm on the dole, nothing's gonna happen'. But on the off chance, I should mention a little nod in case he hears it… a little doff of the cap to the originator. So I did that [with the line] 'What's a Wonderwall anyway' because I've nicked your chords, thanks Noel.

"Then we end up, a year and a half later, touring with them, and Noel came up to me after we came offstage and he went, 'Nice f*****g chords mate'. I thought he was gonna hook me."

No harm done then. But Noel was less generous regarding the Wonderwall similarities to the verses of Green Day's Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, from the California punk rock trio's 2004 album American Idiot.

“They consider themselves to be a kick-ass rock and roll band, that couldn’t be more kick-ass if they tried," Noel vented to Stuff in 2006. "They’re obviously a corporate punk band – and they ripped off one of my songs!

"If you listen you'll find it is exactly the same arrangement as Wonderwall," he added. "They should at least have the decency to wait until I’m dead.  I, at least pay the people I steal from that courtesy."

Ouch. Check out the full podcast with Tim Burgess and Travis.