Is this the luckiest man in rock?

Paul `Bonehead' Arthurs may not have been overly talented - but, boy, his timing was good

An Oasis spokes-man is keen to emphasise that Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs was not just the group's rhythm guitarist. Lest we forget, Arthurs was lead vocalist on "Bonehead's Bank Holiday", an uproarious drinking song available on the vinyl edition of (What's the Story) Morning Glory? Besides, he played keyboards on several Oasis tracks and accordion on an early B-side. He was, says the spokesman, "a flexible musician". So anyone who thinks he was a chancer who just strummed along while the Gallagher brothers did all the work and attracted all the attention couldn't be more wrong.

Arthurs, 34, announced on Monday that it was time to "call it a day". Having been in the band for eight years, and following weeks of rumours, he has made an "amicable" exit after "a lot of consideration". "I've had a fantastic eight years in one of the best bands ever to come out of Britain," he said in yesterday's statement, "and now I feel I have come to the stage where I'd like to concentrate on other things in my life, outside of the demands of being in a successful rock'n'roll band. I've made some great friends along the way and wish everyone in the band every success for the next album, and intend to enjoy watching the band go on to further success in the coming years."

You could say that watching the band go on to further success is what he's done for years. At Oasis concerts he and Paul McGuigan, the bassist, would stand at the back of the stage looking like two weather figurines on a town hall clock. They would barely move until the end of each song, when they would turn their backs on the audience, in unison, and tune their guitars. In one review I wrote of an Oasis gig, I made a remark about McGuigan and Bonehead being "not overly talented" and "the luckiest men in pop". Hunter Davies then quoted this when he was interviewing McGuigan. McGuigan replied that it was a fair appraisal.

But to concentrate on the music is to miss half the point of Oasis. Their blistering fusion of The Beatles and the Sex Pistols is all very well, but much of their appeal comes from the personalities of the group's members. From a tabloid point of view, Noel Gallagher handled the jet-setting with film stars, and his brother Liam's cocaine-fuelled violence made him perfect for the Wild Man of Rock role. Bonehead was the light relief - the Ringo. If none of the non-Gallagher members of Oasis seemed essential to the group's fortunes, Bonehead at least had a memorable nickname, and his bald pate made him easy to spot in photographs. Like Bez in the Happy Mondays, he was the mascot. When the band sent out Christmas cards to fans in 1994, the image on the front was Bonehead in a Santa Claus cap.

The legends of Bonehead are as entertaining in their way as those about the Gallaghers. Best of all is the one about the night a fan tried to steal the knocker from his front door. Arthurs flung on the first thing that came to hand before chasing the thief down the street. The first piece of clothing to hand happened to be one of his wife's dresses. That was his story, anyway.

In retrospect, though, you have to wonder if Bonehead is as boneheaded as his public image suggests. Maybe - definitely maybe - Arthurs is the smart one. It was he who formed The Band Who Would Be Oasis, called Rain, in Burnage in 1991. He taught his friend Paul McGuigan to play bass (not very well). He appointed Tony McCarroll as drummer and Criss Hutton as singer. Hutton was replaced by another local boy, Liam Gallagher, who changed their name to Oasis, and Bonehead and Liam wrote songs together until the latter's big brother muscled in and said that he'd be in charge from then on.

For a would-be songwriter to step back when a superior one comes along shows a lack of egotism rare among musicians. And Arthurs, says Oasis's spokesman, has often been the "peacemaker" between the two Gallagher brothers, another sign that he knew which side his bread was buttered. He was the multi-instrumentalist who recorded his parts for Definitely Maybe easily, while the rest of the band struggled over theirs. But he didn't boast. "I tell [the fans] it takes years of practice to get this good," Arthurs said in 1994. "I've got a chair in my house that I practise throwing out of the window."

Arthurs is a true pop hero; he may not have much ability, but he knows how to make it pay. There have been numerous newspaper reports of his paying pounds 600,000 for a mansion in Cheshire and pounds 750,000 for a second mansion near Manchester, with 12 acres of gardens and a gold-plated Jacuzzi. He has bought a Rolls-Royce and an Aston Martin DB7, we are told, and paid pounds 31,000 for a personalised number plate: OAS15. He's done well for a barely average rhythm guitarist.

But his greatest achievement has been to quit while he's ahead, something few rock musicians know how to do. He's eight years older than Liam Gallagher, and his taste for a rock'n'roll lifestyle may not be what it was. It was reported last October that he was attacked by four men outside a pub in Manchester. And in February he was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct outside the launch party of a Tommy Hilfiger store in Bond Street.

You can only applaud his timing. He has finished his work on the fourth Oasis album, so he can watch the royalties mount up without resorting to the legal battles that Tony McCarroll fought when he was pushed off the group's drum stool in 1995. While Arthurs' former colleagues pack their bags for a nine-month world tour, Arthurs can stay in one of his mansions with his wife, Kate, and their two children. He can retire with an estimated pounds 10m in the bank, rather than being shuttled round the world to stand at the back of the stage and strum half a dozen chords for two hours a night. There's nothing boneheaded about that.

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