- 14 Aug 20
25 years ago today, Oasis and Blur kicked off the highly publicised Battle of Britpop, with the release of their respective singles 'Roll With It' and 'Country House' on the same day. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting a classic interview with Noel Gallagher – in which he weighs in on the famous chart battle.
“I’M BORED and I’m pissed off. The bigger the monster becomes, the harder it is to manoeuvre. I’ve started thinking that maybe it’s time to scale it down – y’know, shed some of the weight or perhaps try new things altogether.”
“That was Noel Gallagher the last time Oasis passed through Dublin in December 1997. Already suffering the adverse effects of a year on the road, he’d just been told that brother Liam had contracted a mystery ailment, and wouldn’t be turning up for the second of their two nights at The Point.
“He’s got a sore throat, so the cunt’s going to be sat watching telly while us fucking four idiots have to go out there and get bottled off,” was the none-too-fraternal reaction to the news.
Suspicions that Gallagher Jr’s ills were self-inflicted grew when he arrived at The Point towards the end of the gig and, having watched his bandmates do their encore, ran across the stage flicking V-signs.
Things mightn’t have appeared so ominous if the album they’d released three months earlier hadn’t been such a turkey – Noel later admitting that Be Here Now was “a fucking waste of space.”
Throw in the further confession that “we lost it down the drug dealer’s”, and surely Oasis’ days were numbered?
Well, actually, no. Realising that he was in danger of becoming the worst sort of rock ‘n’ roll cliché, Noel Gallagher decided mid-way through 1998 that he’d snorted his last line of coke, and hasn’t been near a Class ‘A’ substance since.
This lifestyle-modification included him and the missus offloading their London gaff, and moving to a country pile in Buckinghamshire where partying’s limited by the fact that most people have to be up at 5 o’clock in the morning to milk the cows.
It proved to be just what the drug counsellor ordered – Gallagher cured himself of his writer’s block, and dashed out the songs that form the nucleus of Oasis’ new album, Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, in record time.
Meanwhile, an off-the-booze Liam was back with Patsy Kensit, and celebrating the birth of their first nipper, Lennon. Everything in the Oasis garden was rosy until Guigsy and Bonehead announced shortly after the completion of the ...Giants sessions that they were buggering off.
While 18 months earlier he’d probably have used it as an excuse to throw in the towel, Noel decided to turn their departure to the band’s advantage, and set about finding two replacements who weren’t quite so devoutly trad rock.
Search completed, the mk.2 Oasis are holed up in a neighbouring mansion to Gallagher’s, which is owned by ’70s rocker Alvin Lee, and just happens to have a 48-track studio and rehearsal room annexed to its kitchen. It’s the perfect place to escape the telephoto lenses and complete the induction of Ride/Hurricane #1 old boy, Andy Bell, and ex-Heavy Stereo man, Gem.
Before meeting Noel, I get a chance to do my Lloyd Grossman routine and nose through the contents of their rec room. In front of a surprisingly modest 18” TV, there’s a stack of videos which, along with the obligatory Beatles Anthology, yields such classics as Up In Smoke, Police Squad 2 and Don’t Blame Me: Tales Of Ozzy Osbourne. David Holmes will also be pleased to hear that underneath Elvis On Tour, there’s a dog-eared copy of his ‘My Mate Paul’ 12” with the word “keep” written on it peeks out.
I’m just about to see what they’ve got stashed in their bathroom-cabinet when Noel, wearing the tattiest pair of 501s in the history of jeandom, sticks his hungover head round the door.
“I ought to fucking know better at my age,” he grimaces before going off to find some plink-plink fizz.
We reconvene five minutes later in the main studio where Gallagher & Co. have very much made themselves at home. Along with what’s got to be at least 20 of his guitars, there are all sorts of curios like an outsized Benson & Hedges lighter and a fleet of yellow submarines on the wall. Kango-hammers going off in his head or not, the 32-year-old is as affable as ever. One of the great rock ‘n’ roll myths is that Oasis have turned being wankers to journalists into an art form. Noel, in particular, has always gone out of his way to give good quote. Today, the brotherly bust-ups of ’97 are forgotten, as he waxes lyrical about this being the best shape Oasis have been in since the Definitely Maybe days.
STUART CLARK: I’m sensing that Guigsy and Bonehead did you a favour by slinging their hooks.
NOEL GALLAGHER: Yeah, they did. We never really had musical conversations because we were pissed all the time, know what I mean? We’d sit in a room and the five of us would have nothing to say to each other because we’d grown up together and knew each other so well. The only way to have a decent conversation was to get fucking hammered and talk bullshit. As you know yourself, being of Irish descent we were great at talking bullshit at 4 o’clock in the morning. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything, and it’s no good for the music, because we weren’t talking about how we’d approach a song. We’d just get up with hangovers.
Is it fair to say that they were meat and two veg guitar men?
Two veg! I was more shocked when Guigs left because none of us had seen it coming. With Bonehead, he made noises. He didn’t seem that interested when we were down in France. Marcus (the Oasis manager) got the vibe that he didn’t want to do it anymore, so we said, “Fine, we’ll fucking ask him, ‘cos we need to know one way or the other.”
What reasons did they give?
The reasons that fucking politicians give when they get sacked – I wanna spend more time with my family. You’ve just had two years off. Nobody loves their wife and kids that fucking much!
If they hadn’t quit, would they eventually have been sacked?
No, it’s not anybody’s position to sack anybody in the band, not even mine. I don’t know if it was a musical thing or not, I haven’t spoken to them personally. It’s a problem that night when you go to bed – fucking hell, we’re down to a three-piece! – but then you wake up the next morning and go, “right, let’s sort this out.” Liam would over-react to every situation: “Oh, what are we gonna do?” Relax, man. It’s not as though you’re asking somebody to join Echobelly. We’re the biggest band in fucking England, for Chrissakes!
Are you musically better off without them?
We were always a very guitar heavy band and Alan (White) would sit there because he never had a decent bass player to play with. It was quite frustrating for him. Now, since we’ve got the new guys in the band, it’s almost like we’ve got a brand new drummer because all of a sudden he’s turned into Keith Moon. We’re looking at him going, “Do you wanna fucking calm down a bit?”
Any pangs of guilt about stealing Andy Bell from Gay Dad?
(laughs) We saved his career, didn’t we? When we found out that Andy was gonna join Gay Dad, we were sat in the car coming up here and Liam said, “Look, shall we fucking bell him?” So we got Marcus to ‘phone him and within two days he was stood in there playing bass and that was that.
Have you written any songs with him or Gem yet?
No. I’ve got another five left over from this album, so my work’s done for a while. I suppose this is the last Oasis record of its kind because it’s the last one I’ll write 99% of. The next one will be more of a band effort. Six months ago, there was only one songwriter in Oasis – now there’s fucking four!
Looking back, was Be Here Now a blip in the band’s trajectory?
It was a big fucking full-stop. It was just a lack of inspiration. We got off the Morning Glory tour at the end of ’95 and I wanted to leave the group because I hated how big it had all become. It was constant touring, and all the bullshit that goes with that was getting on me tits. I got talked out of leaving the band by Liam. He said, “Look, let’s just go and do one more album and we’ll call it a day ‘cos none of us are happy.” When you’ve got no sense of purpose or direction you tend to think, “Well, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing”, and you’re straddled with a big fucking cash cow on your back. I listen back to it now and the lyrics are fucking embarrassing. It was a case of bringing in a load of melodies and music and thinking, “Right, what rhymes with fucking bus?” It was shit, really.
There was a vicious rumour last year that Oasis had “gone dance”.
When I first started writing this record I wanted a massive, radical fucking change in direction for the band because I was more excited about listening to The Chemical Brothers and Death In Vegas and The Prodigy. I thought what we were doing was all a bit naff. But I had to accept certain things about me as a songwriter - that I write songs on an acoustic guitar in a bedroom and that’s just the way it fucking is. I can’t play the keyboards. I don’t know about samplers, they’re just alien to me. What I’m good at is strumming a guitar and writing melodies over that.
The question then is, “What can we do to make it more interesting for both ourselves and the listener?” We decided we were going to change all the production staff and brought Spike Trent (U2, Madonna, Massive Attack man) in. We had a meeting and I said, “You know who I am. You know what it is I do. What do you think Oasis should sound like in fucking 1999?” He came up with the same thing. He said, “You’re a rock ‘n’ roll band. Don’t ever fucking lose the fact that you play electric guitars, and you all sing backing-vocals and you’ve got The Beatles and the Stones going on. But you can definitely move it forward two or three decades.”
A lot of people will be surprised that . . . Giants kicks off with a big beat instrumental. Was ‘Fucking In The Bushes’ something that Spike encouraged?
No, I was doing a remix for UNKLE. We had a spare day when we’d finished the session, so we just started messing about with drum loops. Gradually I put a bassline and some guitar on it, and we realised it might be pretty good. We’d been watching a film about the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, and we used to laugh at some of the characters in the film, so we sampled them. The beginning bit is the promoter, moaning at all the hippies who were kicking down the perimeter fencing. The second line – “kids running around naked, fucking in the bushes!” – is an old colonel who lived on the island. All the hippies were trespassing on his land. The little old lady you hear at the end is some eccentric toff who just gets right into the weekend and wears a big flowered bandanna, flares and beads and smokes pot, so she obviously loses the plot. It’s the most radical track. I imagine when people hear it for the first time, they’ll go, “What the fucking hell have these lot been up to the last three years?”
You seem to be warming to life as a country squire.
Yeah, it’s fucking brilliant. Moving out of London was something I had to do because it was just getting fucking too much – fans and press and all that shit. It was great to get away. We’d come out at weekends and then go back to London for the week, but then the weekends turned into four or five days, so we said, “Fuck it, let’s just sell the house in London.”
Who bought your old gaff?
One of the girls from Hollyoaks.
Is it true that you took the Supernova Heights sign with you?
No, they’ve probably sold it. I didn’t bother. I couldn’t be arsed with all that. The house was like a bad advert for drugs if you went inside it. Fucking hell, man. There was a seventeen foot fishtank in one wall with one fish in it.
I get the impression that there’s been a complete about-turn in your social life.
You find that all the relationships you have with people are based on the complete and utter bullshit you speak at 7am in the morning. “I wonder who built the pyramids?” Who fucking cares!
It wasn’t really me friends. It was the friends who became friends because they were mates of your mates, and it was like, “Hang on a minute, what do you do again?” And they’d say, “Oh, I know such and such a person”, and I’d think “what are you doing in my kitchen?”
Do you still see your showbiz chums, or were they kicked into touch along with the coke?
I see Goldie all the time. He just lives around the corner from me. I see Kate quite a lot. I think it’s good to keep in contact but I never talk shop with ’em. What the fuck are you gonna talk to Kate Moss about? There’s nothing more boring than meeting famous people and talking about being famous. I’d rather talk to Johnny Depp about what I’ve seen on television that night, it’s far more fucking interesting. He doesn’t want to talk about his new movie and I hate when people ask me what the new album’s like – you’ll hear it when you hear it, y’know?
You said of the last album that “you lost it down the drug dealers.” Now that you’ve removed yourself from that scene, can we expect you to get progressively more mellow?
I was born in a big city and then I moved to London, so I’ve never really lived in the countryside. It makes you more relaxed and it makes you have a different outlook on life because you get a lot of time to yourself – time to walk around the garden and think about shit, as opposed to just going down the pub all day and talking nonsense to total strangers. You get to know yourself a bit better which probably comes through in the lyrics. Some of the songs on this album are a little more personal.
Talk us through the one that sounds the most autobiographical, ‘Gas Panic’.
About two years ago, I used to get really bad anxiety attacks. About 4 o’clock one morning, I couldn’t get to sleep. Usually I’d wake Meg up, and she’d have to sit and talk to me all night. But this particular night, she couldn’t wake up, or she couldn’t be arsed, so I decided to get a guitar out and write a song about what I was feeling. In the studio, it was almost everybody’s favourite. I like it because it’s dark. It’s a catchy little number without being pop.
Have you listened to 13 by Blur?
I’ve never listened to one of their albums all the way through. I only ever hear what I hear on the radio. I enjoyed the whole Battle of Britpop thing for a while, and then it became so fucking all-consuming. It’s like, “I’ve sold 15 million albums and no one’s asked about that. I’m still talking about this chimney-sweep from Colchester. What the fuck is that all about?” It’s just a pity that the two songs in question – ‘Country House’ and ‘Roll With It’ – were fucking rubbish. If it was ‘Beetlebum’ going up against ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’, yeah, fair enough. At the end of the day fucking Supergrass put out the best song of that summer.
Now that he’s cleaned up his act, are you expecting Liam to be a paragon of reliability?
We had a bit of a mad one round our house at Christmas. He got pissed and was giving it the old Liam – you could actually see the beard growing – so I got him into the office and said, “Look, before we go out on the fucking road, I wanna know who’s coming on tour? If it’s the idiot who turned up in 1997, I wanna know what weapons to pack, but if it’s the actual singer in the band, the one that comes to rehearsals, then it’s gonna be cool. Touring is fucking hard enough as it is, plus we’ve got a bunch of new geezers in the band. Y’know, let’s make it easy on ourselves. This is gonna be the last tour that we ever do, or the greatest tour that we ever do. It’s entirely up to you, mate, because I don’t give a shit one way or the other. If everything that surrounds the gig is an absolute piss-up fucking nightmare, I don’t want to be part of it. I’ll gladly sit in this recording studio and put out an album once every six months, and not even have to go on the road.”
What’s this I hear about him being reluctant to put his songwriting debut, ‘Little James’ onto the album?
I’d always say to him, “If you’re writing a fucking song, sit there and play it to me. Stop going on about what a great songwriter you are because I haven’t heard anything yet.” And he’d go, “No, I’m not playing it because you’ll think it’s shit.” Eventually he plays it, and I should have gone “it’s fucking shit” just to do his head in, but I didn’t. I said, “That’s beautiful. Don’t fuck about with it, man, just leave it.” I suppose Liam thinks that you have to be some academically in-tune geezer to write music, which you don’t. You just gotta have passion, you just gotta feel it. It’s three chords and it’s a melody that’s not a million miles from a million other songs. But it’s his and he wrote it.
Underneath all the bravado, is Liam really a shy person who craves acceptance?
Well, anyone that wears sunglasses 24-hours a day has got something fucking wrong. That’s psychology that, man. When he heard his song coming back through the speakers, I turned down the volume and said, “Isn’t that the best feeling you’ve ever had in your life? That’s better than drugs or fucking booze. That’s what you should concentrate all your efforts on – not getting thrown out of hotels and smashing airplanes up. Every time you go into a pub, the place empties. I’ve seen it happen. You’ve got no mates because people think you’re a fucking nutcase. Songwriting is a better buzz.”
Are there any bands who’ve been around for a long time that you look at and think, “I want to be like them in 10 years time”?
U2, man. Totally. I’ve said that to people and they go, “Ugggh, fucking hell! U2.” Yeah, think about it. For them four to stay together that long, with the same management and people around them, is fucking staggering. America didn’t break them, they broke America. They smashed it all the way around the world. They’ve done some pretty fucking cutting edge music, and when you meet them they’re the nicest fucking guys in the world. They can drink any cunt in this room under the table. I don’t care what anybody says, they write brilliant fucking songs. I wish The Smiths would have gone on and become as big as U2, ’cos being from Manchester, I felt closer to them.
When things were getting really out of hand in London, did you ever consider moving to Ireland?
I can’t really see me missus mincing around the bogs of West Ireland in her Prada gear, can you? “Go and get some turf, Meg!” “Fucking what?”
You had a drug habit that needed kicking, but in terms of excess, you were never in the John Bonham or Keith Moon league, were you?
No, not really. Drugs ain’t no big thing. The real killer is when you get into drinking heavily, because that’s something that’s freely available. Drugs are illegal and hard enough to get hold of, but you can sit in the pub all day. When you do that seven days in a row and wake up thinking, “God, I could really do with a pint”, it’s getting into the realms of scary shit. I haven’t done anything for two years but I still go out to the pub – drinking and smoking is just the best, man. Three or four years ago I used to drink twice a week– Monday to Thursday and Friday to Saturday – whereas now I only go out when I feel like it. Guinness is my drink because you don’t have to eat, do you?
When City play United next season in the derby, are you going to give David Beckham the “you’re shit and your wife’s a tart” treatment?
I’ll possibly get drawn into that. I feel sorry for David Beckham, to be honest with you. He must have had his missus up against the kitchen wall saying, “What the fuck are you on about, you dozy twat?”
What embarrassing things could Meg say about you?
Nothing. I’m quite . . . I don’t wear women’s clothes or anything like that.
Are you looking forward to the tour?
Yeah. What we’ve been rehearsing sounds really good in here. I don’t think we’ve done ourselves justice in England over the past few years. This time we’re gonna finish the tour at Wembley Stadium or Lansdowne Road, so it’s gonna be big gigs instead of somewhere in front of 6,000 people. By the time we get back here, we’ll have been on the road for seven months, so we should be in pretty good shape.
So what can we expect from Oasis a year or two down the line?
The beauty of all this is that I haven’t got a fucking clue what the next Oasis album will sound like. If Andy has anything to do with it, it’s gonna sound like The Rolling Stones. If Gem’s got anything to do with it, it’s gonna sound like The Faces. And if I’ve got anything to do with it, it’ll sound like all them fucking bands plus my own thing.