2017 A Space Odyssey
Making a late bid for Album of the Year, Who Built The Moon? finds NOEL GALLAGHER swapping rock ‘n’ roll orthodoxy for something altogether more interesting. Damon Albarn, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Brexit, Liam and his co-conspirator, David Holmes, feature
BASTARD! Great, I’ve got that out of my system. Whilst some of us pile on the pounds and suffer the incomparable agony of male pattern baldness - I hear childbirth can be quite painful too - Noel Gallagher actually looks in better nick than the first time I met him in 1995 backstage at Slane where Oasis had just comprehensively blown REM off stage. Unlikely due to a troublesome younger brother (more of whom anon) to ever fully achieve a Zen-like state of contentment, he’s nevertheless looking pretty damn chuffed with life as we settle down for a cuppa in the North London offices of his Ignition management company, which are liberally decorated with Oasis and Noel solo gold discs.
“On a scale of one to ten, how happy am
I?” Noel reflects. “A very smug, self-satisfied
9 ½, thank you for asking. Things are great at home, City are top of the table and I’ve made the record I’ve wanted to make for the past ten years, but didn’t know how to until I sat down in this very room, actually, with your friend and mine, David Holmes.”
That record is Who Built The Moon?, an almost Bowiesque reinvention which, egged on by the aforementioned Belfast DJ, producer and soundtrack man, finds Noel going off on more tangents than you’ll find in a Leaving Cert Honours Maths textbook.
My notes - in perfect cursive, naturally - from my first time hearing Who Built The Moon? include such phrases as: “Motown goes ’90s techno”, “Phil Spector on LSD”, “Betty Blue giving Giorgio Moroder a knee-trembler!" and “Noel gets the Memphis Horns.”
“There are Oasis records I’ll listen back to now and think, ‘If only we’d had the balls and/ or know how to do that differently…” he admits. “I’ve already written ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Live Forever’. For that matter, I’ve already written ‘If I Had A Gun…’ and ‘The Girl With X-Ray Eyes’. I don’t need to write ‘em again.”
The album gets off to a rip-roaring start with ‘Fort Knox’, an instrumental Chemical Brothersstyle call to action, and ‘Holy Mountain’, which includes The Faces, Bryan Ferry’s ‘Let’s Stick Together’, Iggy’s ‘Lust For Life’, Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’, Plastic Bertrand’s ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’ and Ricky Martin’s ‘She Bangs’ among its trace elements.
“I’ll take all of those,” Noel deadpans. “Somebody else said the Beach Boys but I’m as happy with the Ricky Martin comparison as I am the Brian Wilson one!
“‘Holy Mountain’ is probably the most instant thing on the album. I had a sort of tin whistle riff that I played to David and he instantly said, ‘Do you think you could turn that into a song?’ And I went, ‘If it fucking kills me I’m gonna…’ Which it very nearly did because he made me record about four hundred versions before he was satisfied with it.”
Holmes had previously been in the frame to produce Noel’s last album, Chasing Yesterday, but talked himself out of the £80,000 gig.
“I met him through Primal Scream who are part of the Ignition set-up too. We were in my dressing room at this festival me and Gillespie’s mob were doing in Jersey. I didn’t recognise David, who was hanging out with ‘em, but as soon as he introduced himself I was like, ‘Fuck, I’ve got all your records.’ I love his music and his vibe, so when I thought I needed a producer for Chasing Yesterday, I gave him a call. I played him the demos – he was sat literally where you are now – and Holmer said, ‘They sound finished to me… but if you ever want to make a different type of record, come to Belfast.’ So, I did.”
Day One of the Norn Iron sessions started with a shock, albeit a pleasant one.
“He lives next-door to (TV presenter) Eamonn Holmes – no relation! – which blew my mind. I spotted him one afternoon in his garden and was like, ‘Fucking hell!’ “Anyway, I arrive in Belfast to record in the studio Holmer’s got in his house in the fucking dead of winter; there’s brutal snow and the like. We spent the first night playing records, drinking red wine and getting stoned. He’d pull something out of his amazing record collection and say, ‘I think you should be doing something like this avant-garde French jazz rock from the early ‘60s.’ Being pissed and stoned, I’d go, ‘Avant-garde French jazz? Yeah, great!’ More often than not we’d start with a drum loop or a riff we’d created and build it from there. I’d never, ever worked like that before.”
There’s still some Beatles worshipping going on - ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ is a barely disguised ‘Come Together’ remake - but otherwise Who Built The Moon? puts clear blue water between Noel and Oasis tribute acts like Courteeners, Blossoms, Kasabian and Liam Gallagher who really ought to have called his solo album, Heathen Chemistry: The Outtakes.
“Have you spent an hour with Tom from Kasabian?”
“More than enough… Look, it’s flattering when someone like him says, ‘Without Oasis, there’d be no Kasabian’. Without Stone Roses, there’d be no Oasis. Without The Smiths, there’d be no Stone Roses. It’s a real fan thing for me to have Johnny Marr and Paul Weller on Who Built The Moon? Pity they weren’t in the studio at the same time. That’d be a picture to cherish!”
Did the voodoo shrine that Holmer had in his bachelor mad move with him to his posh new abode?
“Not that I saw. He’s got a kid and a missus and an annoying little shitty dog now, so he’s probably knocked the voodoo on the head. You can imagine his wife when they moved in together going: ‘A hundred thousand records? I suppose we could stick ‘em in the garage. 10,000 DVDs? There’s probably room under the stairs. A severed goat’s head? Fuck right off!’”
Nights out in The Crown and other quality Belfast drinking emporia were at a premium as Holmer not only cracked the Who Built The Moon? whip but also involved Noel in a couple of his other projects.
“I’m on the Logan Lucky soundtrack he did for his mate, Stephen Soderbergh, playing guitar. I’m also on the tribute track to Henry McCullough that he did with BP Fallon who’s been hassling me to be in his documentary.”
The former U2 vibemaster not being a man who takes “no” for an answer…
“I’ve come to realise that so, yeah, I’ll be doing that soon. It’s not a tribute per se, but Lou Reed died the very first day I was in Holmer’s and we did a sort of ‘Heroin’ kind of thing – slow and a bit trippy – which I’ve recently finished off. I don’t know if B-Sides exist anymore but, if they do, it’ll probably be one.”
The hard studio graft was offset by some glamorous getaways with his celebrity pals. Needless to say, there are stories to be told…
“Six of us were in this restaurant in Fuerteventura in Spain,” Noel fondly reminisces. “One of those happened to be Jade Jagger who’s a mate of ours. After taking a phone call, she said, ‘That was my godfather; he’s just arrived in by boat and wants to know if he can bring a friend of his to lunch?’ We asked, ‘Who’s your godfather?’ She went, ‘Calvin Klein’.
‘Who’s his friend?’ ‘Bruce Springsteen’. I was like, ‘Wow’, and 20 minutes later there Bruce was. Fucking hell, he’s a dude!
“You know what we talked about over our starters - the Stone Roses! I said, ‘One of the first gigs I ever did in America was besides a fairground in Asbury Park’. Bruce goes, ‘But Oasis never played there…’ I went, ‘That’s fucking impressive because, no, we didn’t but I was a guitar tech for a band called Inspiral Carpets from Manchester who did.’ He says, ‘Manchester? Ain’t that first Stone Roses record something? What happened to those guys?’ Which was my cue to go, ‘Let’s have another
"HAVING GOTTEN TO KNOW DAMON, WE HAVE SO MUCH IN COMMON IT’S FUCKING
drink, and I’ll tell you the whole fucking sorry saga!’”
Bruce’s bass player, Garry Tallent, told us how E Street Band minds were blown in 1978 when Southside Johnny came home from London with a bag of Clash, Sex Pistols and The Damned records, the latter’s ‘New Rose’ being a particular fave.
“I asked Bruce about the punk thing and he said, ‘I loved it because it made me write differently. America in the ‘70s had all been denim flares and fucking country twang, and suddenly there was this urgency coming from London.’ It gets a bit hazy after that – a second jug of Sangria was had! – but I also remember talking to Bruce about Joe Strummer who he loves, the Dave Clarke Five and the British Invasion in general. I was too polite to tell him that 90% of it was shit. There’s the big four – The Beatles, the Stones, The Kinks and The Who – but the rest of it was bollocks. I’ll probably get twatted now by a member of The Searchers for saying that!”
Noel spent a goodly part of the summer touring round Europe with U2, which must have prompted some giving out from Paul Weller who hates them and thoroughly disapproves of Noel being best mates with Bono.
“I’ll tell you a funny story,” he says gleefully. “We were out in the south of France with Bono and Elton John who’s also on Weller’s hate list. We were having the craic – please note the correct use of an Irish colloquialism – and I said to them, ‘Let me get a picture of you two sat with me and send it to Weller ‘cause he’ll fucking explode in his boots.’ So, I send him the photo with the message, ‘E and B both send their regards.’ Almost immediately I get a text back saying, ‘You’ve gone too far this time!’” While Weller considers him to be the devil incarnate, Noel would happily hang with Elton again on the Cote d’Azur…
“Not only was ‘Rocket Man’ a fucking tune, but he was there in the ‘70s in New York with John Lennon. You’ve got to put your hands up to that, haven’t you? Actually, I saw him again the other day in the directors’ box at Vicarage Road. City were in the process of thrashing Watford 6-0, so I was giving Elton these ‘Bad luck, not your day’ looks, while inside going, ‘Fucking yesssssss !!!! ’”
Would Bono still give Noel fatherly advice or does he reckon that he knows enough about the industry at this stage?
“I don’t ever recall having ‘the Bono chat’ but, then again, I’m frequently paralytic in his company and might have forgotten it,” he laughs. “To be honest, having survived Oasis, there’s a thing or two I could tell him about band dynamics!”
Noel is amazed - a magic trick, he calls it that U2 have gone 41 years without ever kicking the crap out of each other. Well, not that we know of…
“Most bands have that in-built ticking time-bomb thing of growing up and getting their own friends and family,” Noel proffers. “You’re one person when you’re 22 and another person when you’re 42. How they’ve managed to keep it altogether – well, Adam went off the rails a little bit – is a real fucking testament to their character.”
The absence of blood relatives in the band must be a factor.
“Probably,” he nods. “Anoter reason they’re still relatively sane is the people they’ve surrounded themselves with. Most of U2’s crew are Irish and have been with them for years, which gives you a bit of stability.”
Professing to be “bored senseless” by most of today’s meat-and-two-veg guitar rock, Noel is a big admirer of what Skepta, Stormzy and their grime pals have been getting up to.
“I recognise the spirit of the people that make it because of the council estates where I was born,” he notes. “Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ was phenomenal. I said ‘isn’t it great?’ to his manager, Grace, at a birthday party one night, and she was like, ‘Well, this is our language; the music doesn’t belong to anyone else. It’s not come from the States, it’s come from drum ‘n’ bass and the council estates.’ Grime is their punk rock.
“I was at The Brits and Skepta and all those guys were having the time of their lives, which is what we used to do. It’s a working-class thing. The middle-classes are sat there thinking, ‘I really, really want to win!’ whereas they’re having a competition to see who can get the most free champagne into them. Proper fucking order!”
“Still a cunt... but one who’s said and done things recently that even I didn’t think he’d stoop to. I’m not so much angry as bored with it at this stage.”
“WHEN BREXIT HAPPENED, I GOT ON THE PHONE AND ALL MY KIDS QUALIFY FOR
For those of you who haven't been following Spudgate - Liam has taken to describing Noel as a 'potato' - fraternal hostilities intensified in September when Little Bro accused Big Bro of faking his tears at the We Are Manchester fundraising concert for survivors of the Ariana Granda bomb attack.
“C’mon, you ain’t seriously buying that?”
Liam fumed. “Don’t buy into his PR stunt. He doesn’t give a fuck. If the same thing had gone off in Edinburgh he’d have been up there like a shot.”
That was still sinking in when Liam slagged off Noel’s wife, Sara, on Twitter - “Your’re just a shit Meg (Matthews)!” he messaged - and didn’t offer any public admonishment when his son, Gene, jibed that Noel’s daughter, Anais, looked like her Dad in drag.
Retaliation came in the form of the withering put down included in Noel’s new press biography, which is credited to Sir Rupert Bashford-Tillermouth, a man who as far as we know has never been in the same room as Russell Brand.
“We all know the story of the boy from Burnley, with his mop-topped swagger, tracksuit and eyebrows Moses himself couldn’t part,” the chucklesome missive reads. “The humble beginnings, touring the world with Allied Carpets and the younger brother now tolerated simply as a potential organ donor for his more talented sibling.”
Ouch and double ouch! Noel vs. Liam may show no signs of abating, but Blur vs. Oasis is officially over.
“Yeah, Damon called me up and said, ‘Fancy being on the new Gorillaz album?’ and I went, ‘Fuck, yeah, absolutely, every other cunt is!’ I spent the day in the studio with him. He was literally hammering out the same fucking three chords on the piano and scatting nonsense into a mic for ages until the ‘We got the power to be loving each other’ line appeared. Prior to this he’d showed me a photo of a monk underneath a fucking enormous bell and said, ‘The song’s going to be about this…’ It was great; we had a laugh and became proper fucking mates. It was like a dogfight in the ‘90s and the press loved it. We were too stupid and high at the time to realise what was going on, and some of the lines were too good not to say. Having gotten to know Damon, we have so much in common it’s fucking unbelievable.”
Unless Noel and Liam manage to bury those razor sharp hatchets of theirs, fans are going to have to content themselves with superior artefacts like 2016’s Oasis: Supersonic documentary. Was Noel pleased with how it turned out?
“Again, it all started off in this room when we had a meeting about the Knebworth footage we had that no one had seen. We’d really liked the Amy Winehouse film – they’d won an Oscar and were good – so we asked the producer guy to come in and, fair play to him, he sat us all down and said, ‘I’m going to be frank with you; a film about a gig’s going to get boring after ten minutes. But a film leading up to the gig, which focuses on the glory years, that’s box-office…’
“I remember going to this guy, ‘I totally get where you’re coming from but you won’t find any backstage footage from those early gigs because it was pre-mobile phone.’ Anyway, a couple of weeks later he starts sending me film of Oasis at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow the night McGee signed us to Creation. I was like, ‘How fucking arseholed were we that I don’t remember a guy with a massive camera on his back?’”
Unlike his brother who’s mad keen to work the red carpet again, Noel baulks at the idea a sequel.
“No, I think for future generations it should be left at that,” he reasons. “It’s an inspiring tale of self-belief, luck, timing, drive, ambition and not giving a fuck. The fallout is already there for all to see, whereas the glory days were all pre-internet and up till the film hadn’t been documented properly.”
With Theresa May & Co. devising ever more ingenious ways to fuck Britain up – the talk of ‘self-reliance’ is positively Kim II-sung-esque - Noel has been planning his pre-March 2019 escape.
“When the Brexit thing happened, I got on the phone and all my kids qualify for Irish passports,” he reveals. “I’ve got the forms. As soon as I’ve got the fucking time I’m going to do it. Honestly, this last few years in London has been fucking brutal. Every few weeks there’s some kind of terror threat. I live very close to Parsons Green tube station – you can virtually see it from my garden – where the last bombing took place. I spend a bit of time in Dublin and was saying to my missus the other day, ‘We could do a lot worse than moving over there.’ My one problem with Ireland is the health service. My uncle had cancer and the treatment he received in Galway was a disgrace.”
Before we let Noel go and sort out his family’s future, there are regards to be passed on from Celtic legend and Oasis diehard Neil Lennon who informed Hot Press in September that he’s a son called Gallagher.
“Has he? Gallagher Lennon as opposed to Lennon Gallagher. That’s very funny. Who’s he the manager of now? Hibs?”
Yep, where instead of Jim Kerr and Rod Stewart he gets to hang out after games in the VIP Lounge with The Proclaimers and Irvine Welsh who took him to the T2 Trainspotting soundtrack.
“Is it a fair swap?” Noel deadpans. “He’s a good guy, Irvine. We haven’t met for a while so I must email him. I imagine that between Brexit and Trump, he’s not very happy at the moment. I don’t want to jeopardise my 9 ½ out of 10, so I let most of that shit wash over me.”
Who Built The Moon? gets a live airing in SSE Arena, Belfast (May 9) and
3Arena, Dublin (10)