The Mancunian musician on bust-ups, beer and brotherhood
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