The Man­cu­nian mu­si­cian on bust-ups, beer and brotherhood

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -

AN un­wel­com­ing mi­asma of murk has de­scended on the streets of Lon­don. “You’ve brought the weather,” some­one says amid the chaos of a Kens­ing­ton of­fice swarm­ing with jour­nal­ists, staff and the oc­ca­sional rock star. I’m ush­ered into a room where Noel Gal­lagher, now 47, is sit­ting back cross-legged in a slim-fit brown leather bomber jacket and skinny black jeans. The shaggy brown mop-top from his Oa­sis prime has been traded for a sub­tly grey­ing, well-groomed crop. Mo­ments ear­lier it was an­nounced his group High Fly­ing Birds will head­line the Sun­day-night slot at this year’s T in the Park. Af­ter 25 years in the busi­ness he will be­come the first per­former to play the fes­ti­val’s three sites – Strath­clyde Coun­try Park, Kin­ross and now Strathallan Cas­tle in Perthshire.

It’s an event Gal­lagher is ea­ger to en­dorse. He re­cently made head­lines af­ter de­part­ing from a Burns Night party in Banff­shire with revellers in­clud­ing Kate Moss while hold­ing up the Scot­tish bev­er­age with a fla­grant red let­ter T on the glass. Be­yond a fond­ness for Scot­land’s big­gest-sell­ing lager his palate reg­u­larly en­joys other Scot­tish del­i­ca­cies in the form of “hag­gis or mince and tat­ties”. “I must have ironed out about 15 Ten­nents at that party; it’s f****** top gear,” he says. “I’m ex­pect­ing a bar­rel when I get up to Glas­gow.” The brewer wasn’t slow off the mark in iden­ti­fy­ing brand­ing prospects when it of­fered to in­stall a bar at his home in Maida Vale with a life­time sup­ply of their most fa­mous prod­uct.

Scot­land has long been a strong­hold for Gal­lagher, and there’s even been talk of him flit­ting here. His mar­riage to Ed­in­burgh­born pub­li­cist Sara MacDon­ald ap­pears to be a love story to ri­val that of Paul and Linda McCart­ney. They have two sons – Dono­van, seven, and Sonny, four – while Gal­lagher also has a daugh­ter, Anais, 14, to his first wife Meg Mathews. “My sons are half Scot­tish and Sara is very Scot­tish,” he says, “so I sup­pose that makes me an hon­orary Scots­man. The Old Firm game a cou­ple of weeks ago was a bit tricky.” The son of Ir­ish par­ents has pre­vi­ously made public his sup­port for Celtic (af­ter his first love, Manch­ester City) while his wife’s fam­ily sup­ports Rangers. “It was a bit of an anti-cli­max in the end be­cause it was kind of over in 15 min­utes but you know what Rangers fans are like. If it’s not go­ing their way they just leave the room.

“My mates who are Scot­tish want them to go com­pletely out of busi­ness. It’s dif­fi­cult for me to get into the pol­i­tics of it all. If it was Manch­ester United I’d be lov­ing it but if that was my club I would be dev­as­tated be­cause it’s not any old club – it’s not Brent­ford. This is a big in­sti­tu­tion. I feel for peo­ple like my fa­ther-in-law who are proper Rangers. He’s dis­gusted with it all.”

Gal­lagher has am­ple praise for Ed­in­burgh too, de­scrib­ing the cap­i­tal as one of his favourite places, but his deep thirst for Glas­gow is un­quench­able and next week he will make an un­com­mon ap­pear­ance at HMV on Ar­gyle Street for a few hun­dred staunch sup­port­ers prior to his sold-out con­cert at the SSE Hy­dro. “I would com­pare Glas­gow to Manch­ester and Ed­in­burgh to

My sons are half Scot­tish and Sara is very Scot­tish, so I sup­pose that makes me an hon­orary Scots­man

Lon­don,” he says. “Ed­in­burgh is more touristy with the cas­tle and I sup­pose a bit more glam­orous. Glas­gow is more real, gritty and industrial. It has bet­ter mu­sic in the way Manch­ester al­ways had a bet­ter scene than Lon­don.”

Glas­gow is the city that changed ev­ery­thing for Gal­lagher. The cir­cum­stances of his first record deal re­main ex­cep­tional. The Man­cu­nian holds a healthy re­spect for Cre­ation’s Alan McGee and the Scot’s role in the Bri­tish mu­sic in­dus­try at the time. Both men are of a sim­i­lar stock, pos­sess­ing old-school val­ues and a gift for sto­ry­telling while shrug­ging off vi­o­lent child­hood homes as a prod­uct of their time. The night in May 1993 when McGee signed Oa­sis at King Tut’s in Glas­gow has be­come part of the city’s mu­si­cal folk­lore; Gal­lagher be­lieves the chance en­counter couldn’t hap­pen to­day. “I’ll tell you what my the­ory about it is: let’s say we are go­ing to ap­pear at King Tut’s to­mor­row night and no­body has ever heard of us. Let’s imag­ine Cre­ation doesn’t ex­ist. In this cli­mate, if McGee walked in and seen us now and thought, ‘I’m hav­ing this band,’ he wouldn’t be au­tho­rised to give us a deal. He’d have a boss and that guy would then have to come and see us. He’d want to speak to our manager. But we’re just five s***-kick­ers from Manch­ester in a van, we don’t have a manager.

“The first thing his boss would do is want to get rid of the bald guy [gui­tarist Paul ‘Bone­head’ Arthurs]. Then he’d go up a level to his boss who would take one look at me and Liam and say, ‘Not a f****** chance. I’m not hav­ing those head-cases on my record la­bel. How many drugs are they tak­ing?’” There’s a com­monly-held view of that evening – Oa­sis bul­lied their way into the venue and on to the stage – which Gal­lagher hap­pily refutes. “Lis­ten, you don’t threaten any­one on the door from Glas­gow, par­tic­u­larly com­ing from Manch­ester. Skinny white kids against a Glas­gow door­man? They’d be like, ‘Not tonight son, I don’t think so,’ but the rest of the story is true. Back then it was all down to Alan, he ran on in­stinct – he just said, ‘You’re great, I’m great. You’re get­ting a record deal. How can we fail?’”

SEVENTY mil­lion al­bum sales and seven stu­dio long-play­ers down the line, the band im­ploded back­stage be­fore a con­cert near Paris in 2009. It’s point­less ask­ing about an Oa­sis ref­or­ma­tion but surely he misses his younger brother? “Liam? No. He tried to sue me [the li­bel ac­tion was dropped] and peo­ple for­get that; I don’t take that kind of s*** lightly. We still ex­change texts reg­u­larly but Liam is a very an­gry man and I don’t like be­ing around an­gry peo­ple. [Oa­sis] was great but it had run its course.”

Liam re­cently dis­banded Beady Eye, es­sen­tially Oa­sis with­out their chief song­writer, the force that charged his for­mer group hav­ing seem­ingly dis­solved. “Maybe that’s why he called it a day,” agrees Gal­lagher. “Any­one can play gui­tar and be in a band but not any­one can write great songs and that goes to prove it. They were a bril­liant band but they weren’t great song­writ­ers. I re­mem­ber hear­ing Flick of the Fin­ger. Bril­liant, but where’s the cho­rus? If some­one brought me that I would’ve made it

top 10 be­cause I’d have writ­ten a cho­rus. It’s dif­fi­cult to write hit sin­gles. I should know be­cause I’ve writ­ten enough of them.”

Gal­lagher’s solo out­put con­tin­ues to re­ceive heavy ro­ta­tion on UK ra­dio waves but he sees his job now as mak­ing con­sis­tent long-play­ers since a size­able chunk of his au­di­ence are now in the on­set of mid­dle age. Af­ter launch­ing the alias Noel Gal­lagher’s High Fly­ing Birds, he de­liv­ered an epony­mous UK chart-top­ping al­bum, the sec­ond high­est-sell­ing LP of 2011. It was a con­fi­dent col­lec­tion which kept the ball on the deck and el­e­vated his live show from the­atres to are­nas. Gal­lagher had sug­gested his next move would be a col­lab­o­ra­tion with psy­che­delic duo Amor­phous An­drog­y­nous but the project was shelved with only two tracks sur­fac­ing as B-sides. Gal­lagher con­tin­ues to de­liver some of his best songs on the flip­side. “I’ve writ­ten B-sides that bands would build their ca­reer on,” he quips.

The work was un­doubt­edly a cre­ative de­par­ture, with one mem­ber of the duo, Garry Cobain, sug­gest­ing Gal­lagher missed the op­por­tu­nity to make “the most ex­cit­ing mo­ment in mod­ern mu­sic his­tory”.

Per­haps Chas­ing Yes­ter­day, his sec­ond solo al­bum, is enough of a shift for both Gal­lagher and his au­di­ence. Those aborted ses­sions mo­ti­vated The Mex­i­can and The Right Stuff, the lat­ter fea­tur­ing some­time Pri­mal Scream sax­o­phon­ist Jim Hunt on a cut that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on one the Scream’s more ex­per­i­men­tal ef­forts. Lock All The Doors is a four-to-the­floor an­them of Def­i­nitely Maybe vin­tage. He de­moed the track in 1992 but it re­mained un­fin­ished un­til a re­cent ar­range­ment ar­rived like an epiphany, he says, af­ter shop­ping in Tesco. “Where do the songs come from? I don’t know. I don’t even re­mem­ber writ­ing some songs. Oth­ers I can tell you ex­actly where I was but most of the time I’ve got ab­so­lutely no rec­ol­lec­tion. They come in all shapes and sizes and I refuse to break it down; I can’t af­ford to do that be­cause it would take all the magic out of it for me.” Else­where the glam strut of The Girl with the X-ray Eyes sounds like he’s dis­cov­ered a lost back­ing track from Ziggy Star­dust and the Spi­ders from Mars.

DAILY life sug­gests an up­date of Stella Street, the BBC com­edy which fea­tured iconic rock stars and ac­tors in sub­ur­bia. Gal­lagher sum­mons some of the sur­re­al­ism of pot­ter­ing about with his neigh­bour Paul Weller. “I done my back in re­cently and had been to a sports ther­a­pist so I clearly looked like I was com­ing back from a gym­na­sium sit­u­a­tion,” he re­calls. “I had just got off the tube. Down the bot­tom of the street I see Weller’s car com­ing to­wards me, so he pulls up and goes: ‘You want to come down the gym with me, son.’ I’m like: ‘Re­ally? You and me on tread­mills – I don’t think that would be a good idea.’ He leans out and says: ‘Get a life, you f****** c***,’ and screeches off in his Mini.”

Less af­fec­tion­ately, the same in­sult was di­rected to­wards Gal­lagher from Ja­son Wil­liamson of Not­ting­hamshire duo Sleaford Mods who has won com­par­isons to Mark E Smith of The Fall when de­liv­er­ing his anti-aus­ter­ity, mod­ern-day blues rants. Wil­liamson’s anger has been aimed at the

It’s dif­fi­cult to write hit sin­gles. I should know be­cause I’ve writ­ten enough of them

likes of Weller, Kasabian, Miles Kane and the Arc­tic Mon­keys. “I heard about that. Fair enough. When I heard their name, I thought there was 100 of them – then I found out they were two tramps with a lap­top. I think what must annoy those two is that Weller and me were born in the same cir­cum­stances [as them]. But we got off our ar­ses. I never re­lied on the gov­ern­ment for any­thing. I don’t speak for the work­ing classes, mods, punks, rock­ers – I speak for my­self. I wish the Sleaford Mods all the best f****** luck in the world.”

He recog­nises that all at­tempts to fill the void left by Oa­sis have been un­sat­is­fac­tory. The cur­rent fas­ci­na­tion for all things mod, which found solo singer Kane and Alex Turner of Arc­tic Mon­keys pos­ing to­gether in red and black Span­dex at Paris fash­ion week, is more akin to the af­fec­ta­tions of poo­dle rock, the bloated mu­si­cal pos­tur­ing that Nir­vana oblit­er­ated, paving the way for the likes of Oa­sis.

“What set us apart from this cur­rent mob like Arc­tic Mon­keys is that they’re in­vis­i­ble, they don’t say any­thing,” says Gal­lagher. “Liam and me were up for get­ting in­volved, mov­ing to Lon­don and shak­ing things up. Now every­body is a bit too cool for school. Cool is not stand­ing in a cor­ner with sun­glasses, smok­ing a cig­a­rette, drink­ing cham­pagne and quot­ing Jack Ker­ouac.”

WHAT about his own longevity? Gal­lagher has sur­vived gen­er­a­tions of plod­ding bands and fleet­ing scenes; does it all boil down to his ca­pac­ity to write? “In the long run yes but it wouldn’t be the same if you had Snow Pa­trol singing those songs. You can get so far on charisma and look­ing good but when peo­ple keep com­ing back to see you they are com­ing back for the mu­sic. Hair­cuts don’t sell records. They might look good in pic­tures but where are you go­ing to be in three years with that hair­cut?

“When we played the Bar­row­lands in 1994 we were wear­ing the same clothes and drink­ing in the same pubs as our au­di­ence. That was a magic pe­riod. Af­ter Morn­ing Glory we be­came megas­tars; through cir­cum­stances you can’t write about your au­di­ence any more be­cause you’re fly­ing around in a Lear­jet with a su­per­model.” While the mu­sic in­spired what Gal­lagher de­scribes as “a joy” it also gave suc­cour to Liam clones dressed head to toe in Pretty Green. “We may have in­spired a load of dicks to look like mods but that’s just mod­ern cul­ture I’m afraid. Don’t hang that s*** on me – I just write the songs.”

With no sign of the well run­ning dry it’s worth the wa­ger he’ll still be do­ing it in an­other 25 years. Per­haps by that point he may have warmed to the idea of a re­u­nion with the old band.

In the mean­time a po­si­tion for the most danger­ous band in the world (with tunes) lies va­cant.

Chas­ing Yes­ter­day is re­leased on Mon­day.

Noel Gal­lagher’s High Fly­ing Birds will play the

SSE Hy­dro, Glas­gow on March 7.


From top: Gal­lagher per­form­ing at re­hearsals for the Brit Awards 2012 at the O2 Arena in Lon­don; the orig­i­nal line-up of Oa­sis, with whom the Gal­lagher broth­ers sold 70 mil­lion al­bums; and Gal­lagher along­side his wife, Sara MacDon­ald

Arc­tic Mon­keys and their peers do lit­tle to stir the 47-yearold mu­si­cian. ‘They’re in­vis­i­ble, they don’t say any­thing,’ he says

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