- 04 Mar 15
Stunning new solo album? Check. Acerbic Liam put-downs? Check. Expletive-ridden stories about his superstar pals? Check. Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts and prepare for take-off, it’s the Noel Gallagher interview!
The lady on the door of an exclusive London W1 celebrity hangout looks decidedly unimpressed when yours truly rocks up in his non-designer clobber, but manages a watery smile when I say, “I’m here to see a Mr. Noel Gallagher.” Suggs from Madness is outside having a pint and a fag with a mate while somebody who I think was in EastEnders a few years ago is pawing a pneumatic blonde half his age.
No one’s told me I can’t, but this being a regular of Noel’s where he gets to meet the likes of Paul Weller, I shall refrain from naming the establishment in question.
“It’s not as regular as it used to be, but that’s domestic bliss for you,” Noel laughs as we settle down for a natter in a private room that comes equipped with its own bar and pool table. “Which reminds me; the wife’s not well so I’ve got to pick dinner up on the way home from Tesco Express. As for Weller, I’m not sure if he’s talking to me after that U2 thing.”
What U2 thing would that be?
“The album. He’s never liked U2, mainly because of the haircuts. And the clothes. And the shoes. The day Songs Of Innocence miraculously appeared I got a disgusted text from Paul saying, ‘Why do I have their fucking album on my computer? You’re a mate of Bono’s; you must have known, you cunt!’ I was like, ‘Why would they keep it secret from everyone else in the world except me?’ It didn’t change anything; Weller still thought I was a cunt!
“It’s not something I’d do myself, but U2’s people obviously crunched the numbers and, with all that money from Apple, releasing it that way made sense. I can’t get worked up about it too much either way.”
Sartorial elegance isn’t the only thing that The Modfather feels strongly about.
“Main reason for never reforming Oasis – Weller would fucking kill me!” his young disciple laughs. “He’s one for looking forward not back, which is why there never has been and never will be a Jam reunion.”
Imagine what sort of business a joint Jam/Oasis lap of honour would do...
“Seriously, I think you’d fill Wembley – or Slane – for a month, but don’t be giving people ideas!”
The ‘Oasis to reform’ machine went into stellar overdrive before Christmas when Liam Gallagher tweeted that Beady Eye were no more.
“Great band, shame about the singer,” Noel zings. “I was genuinely sad and shocked because I’d been out not two weeks beforehand with Gem and he’d said, ‘We’re busy writing.’ Anyway, they split up and it’s my phone that goes ballistic with people asking, ‘What’s going on?’ It was literally a case of, ‘Look, I’m not my brother’s keeper!’”
There was also tabloid talk last year of an Oasis biopic with Michael Fassbender playing the handsomer of the Gallagher brothers, ie. Noel.
“That story was bollocks,” he insists. “We met last year at Glastonbury and, seeing this, people thought, ‘Aha, they’re discussing a film!’ The actual story was me leaving him in a Winnebago at six in the morning doing quite comedic impressions of Mick Jagger for all the girls!”
The Killarney actor being, I’m lead to believe, quite the ladies man.
“Oh yeah, he’s got that smile where if he came into the room and told you he’d just slept with your wife, you’d go, ‘You know what? You’re alright!’”
Gawping at ska legends and minor soap stars with their squeezes isn’t the only reason I’m in London today. There’s also the rather large matter of Chasing Yesterday, Noel’s second High Flying Birds album, which is a lot more assured and less, well, Oasis-y than its self-titled predecessor.
“What’s different this time is that I’ve not made the same fucking record twice, which is what we used to do with Oasis,” he admits. “I thought, ‘Let’s fucking throw it all out the window and get a saxophone player in!’ I was just serving the songs. As it’s turned out, this album is more interesting.”
Chasing Yesterday is also noteworthy for being the first time Noel has decided to cut out the middle-man and handle production chores himself.
“You know who that’s down to, don’t you? David Holmes. With the greatest respect to all the producer friends of mine, I think they’re given too much reverence these days. You hear people talking about them like they come with a briefcase full of great songs for you. Who put Rick Rubin in fucking charge? I got turned down by three producers. Turned down! First of all, I flew to LA to see this guy I’ve made records with for the past ten years (Dave Sardy). I played him the stuff and he kind of went, ‘Eh, okay, alright, when do you want to do it?’ I’m thinking, ‘He doesn’t seem blown away to me.’ Not that I expect people to just go, ‘Wow, it’s great!’ Lo and behold six weeks later he says, ‘You know, I’m going to fucking pass on this.’ He was trying to get into the Hollywood film game and I was like, ‘Fine, fair enough.’ Then there were two blokes – I won’t name ‘em – who effectively said, ‘Yeah, but you’ve already written it.’ They see themselves as performers and want co-writes in order to get more of the royalties.
“The last I guy I contacted was David Holmes. He’s sat there in my office smoking rolls-up and says, ‘This is fucking great! What do you want me to do?’ I went, ‘What do I want you to do? Do what every other producer does – stand at the back, take a quarter of a million pounds off me, order food all day and then take the fucking credit!’ This is how great Holmer is – he said, ‘Man, I could do that for you but I’d be a fraud because you’re 90% of the way there. I’m not going to come in and press ‘play’ and record because that’s just taking the piss.’ And I went, ‘You know what? I fucking respect that.’ So I went back and finished it myself.”
I’m halfway through asking another question when Noel, obviously not sated yet, resumes: “Superstar producers – I don’t buy their fucking shit. I’m constantly saying to Bono, ‘What are you working with that fucking idiot for?’ but actually with bands it’s different. The producer is generally the referee trying to stop you twatting each other. I write all the songs and all the words and play all the parts, really. It’s fucking incredible that I’ve not produced my own records before. I’ve got to say I really enjoy it.”
Has Noel been in contact with Bono since his arm-shattering bike accident?
“That’ll teach him to try and stay fit!” he grins. “I said to him the other day, ‘Remind me not to get in a car with you anytime fucking soon! Doors of jets falling off, fucking flying off bikes… the guy’s a one-man disaster magnet. Stay away!
“He’s actually been very sweet with my two lads who’ve become huge U2 fans and are having a kind of love-in across the Irish Sea with him at the minute. Bono’s sent Donovan some of his glasses and pictures and all that. Top man!’
What are the boys’ favourite U2 records?
“Donovan loves Songs Of Innocence. Sonny’s favourite was ‘Vertigo’, now it’s ‘Desire’. Funny story – I put War on one day in the car going to school, it gets to ‘New Year’s Day’ and Donovan, who’s never heard it before, goes, ‘Woooooooargh… well, that’s going straight into my top 10!’”
Ever the mistress of understatement, Sinéad O’Connor described Songs Of Innocence popping into people’s iTunes as "something almost terrorist."
“She’s a happy soul, isn’t she?” Noel deadpans. “I’ve met her a couple of times at festivals. She’s quite a sweet girl, but…”
Chasing Yesterday’s numerous standouts include ‘The Ballad Of The Mighty I’, a six-minute epic, which boasts the combined might of Johnny Marr and his 1983 Rickenbacker 330.
“I tried to get him for the first record, but he couldn’t do it because he was in Hollywood, darling. This time I called and said, ‘I’ve got this track I really want you to play on; it’s made for you’ and he was, ‘Alright, cool.’ We’ve yet to agree on a date for the session when I’m in the Manchester City directors’ box for a league game, and Marr, who hadn't said he was going, sits down beside me. I say, ‘Do you want me to send you this fucking track?’ and he goes, ‘No, no. no, I don’t want to know anything about it.’ I say, ‘Not even the vibe?’ and he goes, ‘Not even the title. I’ll just react to it on the day.’ So Johnny comes down, I play him the track and he’s like, ‘Fucking hell, why didn’t you say it’s A Flat Minor? It’s the worst key of all to play in!’ I was like, ‘I did fucking offer!’
“That kind of threw him for a bit, but he tried different things and then, boom, he fucking nailed it. I hadn’t been in the studio with Johnny for ages. We had a good day, man, it was great.”
When was the first time he met Johnny as a fellow musician rather than as a starstruck punter?
“I’m still a starstruck punter but, yeah, it was the night before we infamously went to King Tut’s in Glasgow and signed to Creation,” Noel fondly reminisces. “There was this bloke I vaguely knew from Tony Wilson’s Haçienda club as just Ian. We bump into each other in town one day after I’ve been into HMV and bought Dusk by The The. He says, ‘Oh, my brother plays on that.’
“I go, ‘Who’s your fucking brother?’ and, of course, he says, ‘Johnny Marr.’ I’m like, ‘Whaaaaaaat?’ and give him a demo, which he promises to pass on to Johnny. Within an hour the phone rings and it’s Marr going, ‘Got your tape off Ian; fucking hell, it’s really great. Let’s go for a drink.’
“I meet this guy whose poster I’ve got on my wall and he says, ‘Where do you buy your guitars?’ ‘Guitars? I’ve got a guitar from this place in Doncaster.’ He goes, ‘What are you doing tomorrow? Take me to this place in Doncaster.’ So, we get into the car, me and him, and it’s (future Definitely Maybe producer) Owen Morris driving! Johnny buys a load of guitars and then we go back to his house and I tell him about this gig in Glasgow which Alan McGee is coming to, but I’m not sure will lead to anything. The day after Glasgow it was my birthday so, all in all, not a bad week.”
Talking recently about getting to grips with being a frontman, Marr said, “I have lots more respect now for my old lead singer.” Can Noel relate to that?
“Absolutely, yeah,” he nods. “It’s a very lonely place. The musicians around me are great, but they’re session guys so you don’t have the armour of a band. I thought I’d be a bit like fucking Van Morrison – you know, standing there in the middle scowling. I’ve embraced it, though. I did feel a bit dwarfed by the big arenas, but once people started reacting to the new songs the way they did to the old Oasis ones, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m not some sad old bastard living on former glories.’”
At what point in the Chasing Yesterday recording process did Noel think, “This is a good ‘un!”
“When I’d nailed the two songs with the saxophone on them – ‘The Dying Of The Light’, which is one of the best things I’ve ever done, and ‘Riverman’, which isn’t too far behind it. From there on in I was able to relax a bit knowing that at the very least I had a couple of decent singles.”
The money tune for me is ‘The Girl With X-Ray Eyes’, which sounds like David Bowie reimagining ‘Hotel California’.
“I’m not sure about The Eagles, but, yeah, it’s got a very Bowie-esque feel to it.”
Tough question but desert island, only one Bowie album, what would it be?
“No word of a lie, until The Next Day came out in 2013 I didn’t think he’d made a great album. Like The Who and The Jam, I’d listen to the singles but not the LPs. Bowie did have 15 years to make it, I suppose, but it’s a masterpiece,”
Has he ever met the Jones boy?
“Once, and then again virtually. He won a Brit Award for, I dunno, being the Best David Bowie of Alltime, couldn’t be there and asked me and Kate Moss to say something on his behalf, which we did. The next day I'm recovering on the sofa going, 'Owwwwwwwwww, me head!' - I hadn't got back 'til nine in the morning - and get an email saying, ‘Hi, it’s David. Thanks for the shout out the other night.’ I reply going, ‘Fucking nice one, man, blah blah blah’ and we have a kind of 15-minute real-time conversation. I’m thinking, ‘Wow, David Bowie’s in a coffee shop in New York somewhere talking to me. I can live with this!’
“I came downstairs one day and my missus, Sara, said, ‘David Bowie’s got a new single out.’ I’m like, ‘Are you sure it wasn’t ‘Heroes’?’ She shoots back: ‘I know what fucking ‘Heroes’ sounds like and it isn’t that!’ Nothing will match the jaw-dropping moment of going online and playing ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ for the first time. I’m lying on my bed listening to it, get to the end and think, ‘Hang on, it can’t be that good, I’ve got to listen to it again!’ I must have played the album 20 days in a row when it came out. I obsessed over it.”
I’d thought Noel might have been a digital refusenik, but he’s obviously down with the internet kids.
“I don’t have a record player,” he confesses. “I’ve got a vinyl collection, but also three kids who if they see anything they can spin around will fucking launch it through the window. Ghetto-blasters, computers and iPods are much safer!”
So they’re a bit of a handful, then?
“People ask, ‘What’s your favourite Sunday morning record’, and I’m like, ‘Are you fucking taking the piss out of me? I’ve three kids, there’s no such thing as Sunday morning!’”
What ages are they?
“Sonny’s four, Donovan seven and my girl, Anaïs, is 14 going on 25 as they all are!” says their doting dad. “She’s a TV presenter now and loving it. But, yeah, fucking hell, you don’t have time to be listening to your Small Faces and Sex Pistols records on Sunday mornings.”
Apparently not being able to lie-in on the Sabbath is second only to superstar producers in Noel’s list of gripes. It’s not all bad though…
“I don’t know where Sonny gets it from – certainly not his father – but he’s a clever fucker. He was at a party where the kids’ entertainer was asking questions that he kept getting right. The guy goes, ‘Okay, here’s one for you. What came first, the chicken or the egg?’ Sonny replies, ‘The nest ‘cause you can’t have a chicken without one’ which, if you think about it, is the most profound thing ever.”
Like the rest of us, Noel was gutted when he heard the sad news about Peaches Geldof.
“Man, that was beyond sad. There’s no science to parenting; you just muddle through and hope for the best. You can’t plan any of that shit. You’ve just got to trust your instincts.”
A view of child-rearing that he shares with a member of the rock aristocracy.
“Ronnie Wood gave me the best advice ever when I had a child, which is, ‘You’ve just got to be there for them.’ When they’re about to fall over, if you’re a good parent they’ll come to you because they feel they can.”
In other words, “I don’t want you running round off your fucking face at 4.30 in the morning, but if you are and you need help, call me!”
“Me and Sara aren’t the kind of parents who go, ‘You can’t listen to this or you can’t eat that.’ Just let them get on with it and be there for them.
“A standard journalist’s question is, ‘What, as somebody who spent the entire ‘90s shit-faced, are you going to do when your kid comes to you and says, ‘I’m thinking of experimenting with this or that’? For starters, what sort of moronic child is going to tell their Dad, ‘We’re going out to a few pubs and I’m thinking of buying a gram of cocaine too. What do you reckon?’ What are they going to fucking tell you, you idiot? You’re not going to know!”
What were Noel’s entry level drugs?
“Being a tradtionalist, glue. Then, more or less in this order, magic mushrooms, weed, speed, acid and cocaine. You name it…”
Even though Noel has a new record and at least a year’s worth of gigs booked, the Oasis rumours still persist – not least the one that they’re joining Lionel Richie and the Dalai Lama at Glasto.
“We’ve discussed what’s good about the internet, what’s bad is that anybody can go on there and say, ‘I know Noel and he told me last night that they’re doing five Knebworths’ and it’ll catch fire. My every waking day is spent denying some kind of rumour. I don’t care anymore, know what I mean?”
As a fan, was Noel angry when Weller knocked The Jam on the head?
“Angry, no, but I didn’t understand it. I remember coming home from school on the bus, getting off at the stop outside the Kingsway Hotel and running into this Mod mate of ours who just went, ‘The fucking Jam have split up!’ We were like, ‘What, what, what, what?’ We didn’t believe it until it was on the regional TV news show, Granada Reports. There’s this great interview where Weller says, ‘I don’t want it to go on. Being a rocker at 25 doesn’t mean anything.’ Twenty-five? I didn’t have a record deal until I was 27.”
If ever there was an advert for a band you formerly worshipped not getting back together it was the Stone Roses whose first Phoenix Park show was, in my humble opinion, second only to Primal Scream’s infamous Red Box, Dublin meltdown in the Britpop carcrash stakes.
“I did five gigs with them – two were fucking great. The others were, er, okay. They should never have said they were going to make another record, though, because now I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Says a man who sounds like he has insider’s knowledge.
“I was out recently in Manchester with Mani and said, ‘So what’s happening?’ and he was like, ‘Fuck all, fuck all!’ Now, maybe they’ve a triple concept album about fucking robots ready to roll, but I don’t think so.”
Well, you don’t get any more insider than that! While not quite in the Richard Branson industry mogul league yet, Noel is the M.D. and sole bankroller of the Sour Mash record label.
“Yeah, it’s all coming out of my own back-pocket. For that honour I get to sit in fucking meetings and be told that the market’s declined by 12% since my last record, which sold around a million. The biggest Oasis album sold 20 odd million, which probably only Adele, fair fucks to her, has managed recently. You know what? I don’t fucking care. The only thing I want and know how to do is make music.”
They won't be joining us today for a Bellini or a best of seven frames of pool, but Noel is good friends with both Morrissey and Russell Brand – two men who can't pop out for milk without getting embroiled in some new, headline-hogging controversy. Is that naturally how they are or is there a degree of construct involved?
“Morrissey’s not a construct at all, he’s as real as fuck,” he proffers. “Russell kind of plays to the gallery a little bit because when he’s at my house with the kids he’s effortlessly normal. When they see him they just think he’s a massive wind-up toy – they love him because of the hair and the long gangly limbs.
“Of course, when you see him on the TV and he’s using massive, big long words you’re like, ‘He doesn’t even know what that means!’ But Russell is a beautiful guy… with a book to sell!”
I don’t mean this in a mean way, but having seen the Newsnight knee-fondling and subsequent Question Time debacle, I have to ask; is he well at the moment?
“Hahaha, is he well? Brilliant! Russell’s like a Jack Russell with a fucking bone; he won’t let it go. He takes most things to the extreme, like he took his radio show to the extreme of getting fired. He took his relationship with Katy Perry to the extreme, so this people’s revolution thing will be driven until it can’t be driven anymore. And there’ll be something else after that.”
Ripostes to one’s critics don’t come any more eloquent – or funny – than the ‘Parklife’ skit Brand did with the Rubberbandits.
“I went looking for The Red Elastic Band, who Mick from Shack’s in, on YouTube and found the Rubberbandits instead,” Noel recalls with glee. “No one had ever mentioned these two guys to me before and their guide to Limerick. That song, ‘Danny Dyer Pants On Fire’… funny as fuck! They’re obviously very intelligent. If you ever see them, tell them, ‘Noel Gallagher fucking loves you!’”
Never mind Michael Fassbender, I reckon Blindboy Boatclub is a shoo-in for Noel when that biopic does eventually happen. The Rubberbandits aren’t the only Irish culture Noel's been absorbing of late.
“I watched the hurling final that went to a replay. My mate said to me, baffled: ‘What is this?’ I’m like, ‘They play it with fucking sticks and helmets, that’s all you need to know. Oh, and that all the guys work as butchers and fucking coal men and farmers and just do it for the love of it.’ After that he was still baffled, but impressed!”
The sports photo of 2014 without any shadow of a doubt was Noel on the Etihad pitch celebrating City’s league win with Sergio Aguero, Sergio Aguero’s dad, and a photobombing Johnny Marr.
“His dad’s face is like, ‘What the fucking hell is this?’ It’s great, I’ve got that framed at home. Sergio’s such a dude. Honest to God, he’s always got a smile on his face.”
It’s great to have someone who’s that talented and not a wanker.
“Yeah, there’s not many of us about!”
Does Noel have an all-time favourite terrace chant?
“Pretty hard to beat, ‘You’re going to get your fucking head kicked in!’ Succinct and to the point.”
What about the Georgi Kinkladze “and all the runs he does are blinding” song sung in the ‘90s to the tune of ‘Wonderwall’?
“If I’m being honest, it was never really a full-on stadium filler,” he rues. “It was pre-internet days, so people didn’t know the words properly and it petered out half-way through. Still flattering as fuck, though.”
It’s obligatory for rock stars to say nice things about the places they’re about to visit – I mean, “I’m going to Reykjavik next week, fucking kip!” wouldn’t play well with the locals – but Noel really does seem up for his imminent trips to Belfast and Dublin.
“I haven’t been there since, er, last time!” he laughs again. “We did the Olympia, which was my first solo gig; brilliant. City had beaten Man U 6-1 that afternoon, so we were on a roll! Then we supported the Chili Peppers in Croke Park; okay. The crowd were over there and I didn’t really know what to say to them. And then we did the O2 or whatever it's called this week, which was another amazing night. I’m looking forward to me Full Irish breakfasts, me Silvermints and me Tayto!”