Noel Gallagher - The Guardian - 17th September 1995
It used just to be about each other. They still like to do that, but they have bigger targets, like their record company and Blur. On the eve of the release oftheir much-anticipated second album, the band talk to Life about drugs, success and Jaffa Cakes
'Arrogant. Big-mouthed. Self-centred. Rude. Crude. Sexist. And sickeningly talented.' Speak of the devil. Noel Gallagher, soft-spoken, hard-headed uberfuhrer of Britain's foremost rock'n'roll band, Oasis, is slyly itemising what some see as his group's better points when his little brother Liam comes bowling into the bar, all mouth and trousers and slump-shouldered swagger. Everyone looks up. Liam, like all great lead singers, has a discernible notice-me aura `` a baleful, chaotic, surly hurly-burliness that makes you stare at him; but not straight in the eye. He is very beautiful, despite his Play-Doh hairdo (short, but long before the ears). He shoots Noel an unreadable look and sits down at a separate table.
It's three o'clock in the morning. Four hours ago, in a tent on a wind-battered beach in Irvine, Strathclyde, Oasis were drawing a 6,000-strong gig to a triumphant close. Now, the bar of their hotel a few miles away is doing brisk, convivial business. As well as the band entourage `` Noel and his contingent living large around one small table `` there's a well-laced stag party whose groom-to-be has just finished eating a cigarette. `For 1967,' he explains.
Noel is holding court. There are six music journalists here `` representatives from Smash Hits, NME and Melody Maker `` and there's nothing Mr Gallagher likes more than muso-chat. A genial, talkative 28-year-old, with terrible teeth, terrifying eyebrows and eyes that squidge into curved slits when he smiles, he is getting cheerfully worked up over Mojo magazine's `100 Greatest Albums Ever Made'.
`The Beach Boys at Number One? The fucking Beach Boys! Fucking hippy California surf beach bollocks,' reasons Noel, a man whose musical allegiances become clearer when he tells you that he can't end a day without uttering the words `The' and `Beatles'.
A joshing, train-spottery discussion follows until suddenly, at the other end of the room, Liam lurches savagely to his feet. He growls something incomprehensible, hurls a half-full beer bottle at the ceiling, and stalks out. As an exit, it makes Cantona's Crystal Palace two-footer eem underplayed. He silences the room. But Noel doesn't even turn his head, doesn't skip a beat. `And Stevie Wonder's only at Number 20,' he continues, as his fellow revellers goggle and gawp at the still-swinging foyer door.
When Oasis smashed their way into the nation's pop consciousness in April of last year with their cocksure debut single, Supersonic, much was made of Liam and Noel's brotherly unlove. The media portrayed them as constantly a-bicker; interviews would regularly end with the pair in hand-to-hand combat. Their differences? Noel thought Liam had some growing up to do; Liam viewed Noel as an overbearing know-all. The brothers' splutter and spleen kept the rest of the band `` rhythm guitarist Paul `Bonehead' Arthurs; bassist Paul `Guigsy' McGuigan; with Tony McCarroll on drums, now replaced by Alan White `` well back in the shadows, where they have stolidly remained.
After a platinum LP, Definitely Maybe, which sold three million worldwide, and seven Top 40 hits (including five Top 10s and one Number One, Some Might Say), the duo are keeping their fights private. The stereophonic media view of Oasis has gradually faded into one man yapping: Liam has been sidelined. Though the tabloids scream about who he supposedly spends his leisure hours with (Paula Yates; Helena Christensen), Liam doesn't get to talk about work these days. That's left to Noel. And the on-record squabblings are no longer in-house; instead, Oasis gripe about Blur.
Oasis versus Blur. Blur versus Oasis. You would have to have been living with your head in a bucket of custard for six months to have avoided such a Great Pop Tiff. Who do you support? Oasis: northern, no-nonsense rock blusterers with instant tunes and rent-a-lad demeanour? Or Blur: pouting southern art-ponces of crafted, crafty pop? The crucial colours-mast-nail interface occurred in the week beginning 7 August, with the simultaneous release of the singles Roll With It (Oasis) and Country House (Blur). After a week of breathless pan-media speculation, the 13 August chart revealed a fop-pop victory: Blur at Number One, Oasis Number Two. Country House sold 280,000 in its first week, rising to 400,000 in the second; Roll With It shifted 250,000 in its first week and about 350,000 overall.
Privately, Blur's people admit it was they who altered the release date of Country House to coincide with the Oasis single, though publicly they intimated exactly the opposite. But there was no way that the two bands' LPs would come out at the same time `` far too much money at stake. So Blur's fourth album, The Great Escape, is already in the shops and universally lauded. Will the Oasis offering (What's The Story) Morning Glory do as well when it arrives in just over a week's time? Definitely Maybe earned them a Brit (for Best Newcomers) and a Mercury Prize nomination.
Noel calls Morning Glory `Definitely Maybe's big brother' `` as he would. If you press him further, he reveals that it sounds like `half of it is sat in a hammock smoking a massive spliff and the other half is walking round the streets of England with a petrol bomb in its hand'.
More precisely, it's another supremely assured, rapid-fire, tune-packed rock album for boys, recorded in 15 days (Roll With It was laid down in one take). So far, Oasis songs are of two types: the elbows-out, balls-out R&B anthem of Friday-night urban masculinity (Rock N Roll Star, Cigarettes And Alcohol; Hello and Roll With It on the new album), and the slower, sleepily wistful, not-quite-love-song (Slide Away and now Don't Look Back In Anger). This time around, though, Noel's Beatles obsession has made things a touch more psychedelic: strings and swirls, songs occasionally extending into twiddly fuzz-guitar workouts.
Once again, his big tunes nestle immediately in the sing-along section of your memory; and his words are as vague, as hit and miss, as ever (`roll with it', `feel no shame'; erm, `caught beneath the landslide in a champagne supernova in the sky'). Oasis lyrics revolve around an unspecified `me' and `you', though `you' occasionally has a girl's name. They're slack, occasionally ridiculous, often rabble-rousing, and sometimes `` as in Don't Look Back In Anger `` they can be gorgeous.
This last is the stand-out track on the LP, not least because of the vocals. It's Noel, not Liam, who's flexing his tonsils. The songwriter likes to warble a bit at gigs during his acoustic set, but Don't Look Back comes with full band backing, and when Oasis play it live Liam walks off stage.
`Yeah, well, that's his fault,' claims Noel, post performance, pre hotel, in a chilly little Portakabin set up outside the gig marquee. Noel pulls on a Benson and Hedges, hacks like Steptoe the Elder, and continues.
`I'd written these two songs for the LP, right?' he drawls in his Mancunian whine. `One was Don't Look Back In Anger, and one was called Wonderwall. I wanted to sing Wonderwall because the guitars are acoustic, but our kid insisted that he wanted to sing it. So I said, all right, but I'm gonna do Don't Look Back In Anger then, and I have to play that with the band, and it's going to be a single at Christmas, and you won't be singing on it. . . I think,' grins Noel, a little nastily, `he thought I was bluffing.' Poor muddle-headed Liam. At a time when attention is being focused more and more on Noel, not only is the baby of the family missing out on interviews, he's also talked himself out of vocal glory. Don't you feel sorry for him? `No, I do not,' sniffs his elder brother. `He made his choice, simple as that. I'm 28, he's 23. I don't want to argue with him no more. I don't feel sorry for anyone. No. Why should I? It's not as though he's got a bad life, is it?' Liam's life would surely have been very different if it hadn't begun five years after Noel's, in a small house in Burnage, south Manchester. The two shared a room: the root of all their problems, according to Noel. He can get on perfectly well with his older brother Paul (an unemployed labourer, easily recognisable at Oasis gigs from his Gallagher hedgerow eyebrows and his habit of wearing a Manchester City FC top with the club sponsor, `Brother', emblazoned across it), but, he says, he will never forgive Liam for invading his space `` ie, for being born `` and also `'cos he wasn't a bird. At least then I could have gone out with his mates'.
By the time Noel and Liam were in their teens, their room was jammed with musical equipment: stereo, guitars, amps, microphones, bits of four-track recording machines `` all Noel's. The posters `` of the Jam, the Smiths, the Beatles, the Who `` were his too. What did Liam have? Noel looks at me blankly.
`Nothing,' he says, eventually. `Himself. And that was enough. Oh, and a Bananarama poster.' Mrs Margaret `Peggy' Gallagher, now a `hardcore gardener' according to her middle son, then worked in the local McVitie's factory, pulling all the defective biscuits off the conveyor belt. `That's what you used to get fed,' remembers Noel, unfondly. `Come home from school and you'd have two ham sandwiches, a tiny little bottle of milk and about 60 Penguins and 70 Jaffa Cakes. Made you dead popular at school, though: `Here comes Gallagher The Biscuit.'' Mr Gallagher (`What's his name? Twat. No, Thomas') was, and still is, a Country & Western DJ who plays local Irish social clubs and weddings. Liam, reckons Noel, has his dad's temperament: `a short fuse, a bad temper'. Noel resembles open, happy-go-lucky Peggy `` though he doesn't sound too easygoing when he tells you that he hasn't seen his dad for 10 years, `and it's not a big deal, but I don't want to, either'.
Still, it was his dad's guitar that Noel Thomas David Gallagher first plucked at the age of eight. A tiddler as a child (both he and Liam are slight now, a pocket-sized 5ft 7in), little Noel couldn't see over the top of the instrument, so he played it flat, on his knee, like a slide guitar. Left-handed, he taught himself to strum right-handedly. Then `someone showed me The House Of The Rising Sun and I never looked back.' He wrote his first song at 13. It was called Badge and it was about people wearing badges. `The best line,' recalls the man now heralded as a living, in-one Lennon-and-McCartney, `was: `And on your badge it says, Wear A Badge.' Heheh.' Soon after, two other incidents occurred which were to radically alter the course of his young life. He went to see his first gig `` the Damned at Manchester Apollo: `it blew me head off' `` and he lost his virginity. The latter sounds like quite an event.
`We were at the girl's house `` she was bunking off school. And as we were upstairs, having it, we heard this almighty commotion and there's this knocking on the front door,' Noel recalls. `So we thought, sod that, and carried on. When we finished, we looked out of the window and there was an ambulance. It turns out the dustman had had a heart attack and dropped down dead on the front doorstep! He'd been knocking to try and get us to call a doctor. . .' In eerie synchronicity, there's a banging at the Portakabin door. It's Robbo, the tour manager, wanting Noel to sign autographs for the marrow-chilled fans waiting outside. Noel's good about things like that, possibly because Oasis is his first band. He writes his name quickly and easily on the proffered photographs.
Noel and Liam attract different types of appreciators. `He gets all these sex-starved young girls with big breasts, right. I get the psychopaths.' One thinks she has written every Oasis song before Noel did, in her dreams. And after Supersonic, which includes the memorable couplet `I know a girl named Elsa/She's into Alka Seltzer', it seems to Noel as though every Elsa in the land has claimed the right to his innermosts. `I'd just like to clear that one up. Elsa was a dog, right. A rottweiler.' Noel finds lyric-writing tricky at best. Usually he just sings nonsense until he arrives at the first line and takes it from there. He steals phrases from all over. For instance, `Stand up by the fireplace/Take that look from off your face', from Don't Look Back, is what his mum used to say to him as a kid, when she lined up the three boys for their annual Christmas photo to send to their granny in Ireland.
She must be very proud of you and Liam.
`She is. She's funny, though. When she sees you on the telly all she's arsed about is, do you think you could bloody smile? And, do you have to always go on about drugs?' It could be argued that it was drugs that brought the band together (`Mind you, if we hadn't been tripping all the time maybe we'd have had that music conversation 10 years earlier,' comments Noel, dryly). He, Bonehead, Guigsy and Tony all met in the local park at Urwood Road, where a gang of about 40 kids would play football and gobble down the abundant magic mushrooms. Parklife indeed.
They would come back after a night's clubbing, nick a fleet of milk-floats from the local dairy and take them for a drive across the golf course: `We were out of it. We'd think we were Robin Hood. You know, `Forsooth, you brigand, I shall take your truncheon for the people of Nottingham. . .' OK Sarge, I think we've got a live one here.' It wasn't long before Noel was on first-name terms with the local constabulary. He advanced from shoplifting to swiping car stereos to burglary. So he turned his light fingers to more legitimate ways of making a living: bakery, sign-painting, fish-tank-making. Then, at 20, he wangled his way into a roadying job for bowlheaded Mancunian then-contenders the Inspiral Carpets. Noel was a guitar technician for five years, touring the world, showing it the crack of his bottom, learning about the business.
What did you learn? `I learnt that you don't make money unless you're as big as U2. I learnt that you'll get ripped off unless you're very careful. And I learnt that all record company people are twats, bar none.' In 1992, he returned to find his kid brother Liam had set up Oasis. Noel said he'd join, but only if they all did exactly as he said, `'cos if you do, we'll be on Top Of The Pops in a matter of months. And we were. . . `All I ever wanted to do was make a record. Here's what you do: you pick up your guitar, you rip a few people's tunes off, you swap them round a bit, get your brother in the band, punch his head in every now and again and it sells. I'm a lucky bastard. I'm probably the single most lucky man in the world `` apart from our Liam.' The band hierarchy remains unaltered from its original despottery. When Creation Records supremo Alan McGhee offered Oasis a deal on the strength of one performance (in Glasgow's King Tut's on Noel's 26th birthday, 29 May 1993: the band had bullied, blagged and bundled their way on to the bill), it was Noel who got them a manager.
Noel writes all the songs, Noel owns all the equipment, Noel makes all the decisions as to how the record sounds, what the artwork looks like, who does what, when, how and in which pair of trousers. Though Noel says that if anyone left, Oasis would no longer exist, this is not Liam's band, nor is it any of the others'. Nothing gets done here without Noel's say-so.
Doesn't that irritate the other members? `They throw their toys out their prams sometimes, yeah.' And wouldn't you? It must be unbelievably frustrating, especially when your boss is such a hard task master. Especially when he's just your mate `` or even worse, your elder brother. Especially when he's always right.
`The thing is, it's been two years now, and I'm still on a roll. And you have to keep busy when it's like that, because one day you're not going to be able to write anything,' Noel points out. `But while it's happening, then these records are coming out whether anybody likes it or not.' In those two years, Noel has met and made friends with the posters on his wall `` Paul Weller, Johnny Marr, even Paul McCartney. He's not met and made enemies with the New Seekers (they sued him for nicking `I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing' in Shakermaker) and Neil Innes from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (over Whatever). He's split up with his long-term girlfriend Louise Jones, moving to London with just his guitar: `People say I'll never find a girl like that again, but I'd rather be lonely and live like this.' Also in those two years, Oasis have toured Britain four times, plus Japan, the United States, Canada and Europe, been deported from Sweden and Holland and banned from two hotel chains `` giving hope, in the process, to a generation of unreconstructed, unironic lads who'd always had a suspicion that they were just the butt of Blur's joke. Two years ago, Noel Gallagher only wanted to release a record. Now he'd like to play Maine Road, and he's the star attraction on the Warchild charity record Help, released earlier this month to raise funds for Bosnian children.
The only bleak moments in their careers have been their failure to win the Mercury Music Prize this week and not beating Blur to the chart top slot. `Look, they knew that if they put their single out the same day as us they'd go in at Number One. We're only concerned about being the best in our own eyes and we are and we always will be.' And can you remain friendly with them? `The guitarist I've got a lot of time for. The drummer I've never met `` I hear he's a nice guy. The bass player and the singer `` I hope the pair of them catch Aids and die beacuse I fucking hate them two.' Oasis are at a strange and crucial point in their career. Morning Glory will establish their superstardom in this country and could well break the unbreakable America. But will the group shatter first? Noel's ruthless work ethic and unrelenting restlessness `` `I'm bored all the time. And boredom's my greatest fear' `` plus the band's runaway success and capacious capacity for recreational delights `` `I'm on a line of coke every 40 minutes,' confesses their leader easily `` must eventually take their toll. As Oasis become more and more famous, more and more people want a piece of them. As a band they are slightly less reliable than previously (most of their UK tour has been cancelled because Guigsy is suffering from nervous exhaustion); slightly more paranoid. Noel has already started to make rumblings about their record company: `A bunch of indie kids, man. They're too narrow-minded. . . they are not in the big league,' he huffs. `It's not their job to be chaotic, that's my job.' Still, Gallagher is clearly happier than he's ever been: `To be acknowledged as a songwriter has definitely made me more content,' he beams. `I know I will leave my mark. Even if I never write another song I've written enough now.' And he remains ludicrously jovial about his future prospects: `I've been a punter, a roadie, a pop star. Next? Junkie and ex-pop star, I'd say.' Even then it should be all right for Noel. He's even got a ready-made fairy mod-godfather in Paul Weller, with whom he duetted for the Help LP.
`He told me: `When you get to the point where you have lost it and you think you are never going to get it back, then I will be there for you. Because I've been there and I know what it's like and I came out of it and I'll make sure you do too.' I was really touched. 'Cos he's right, I will lose it.' So while Noel is floundering, what will happen to his band? How will volatile, thwarted Liam keep his jut-chinned head above water? Noel has not come this far for his feet to get chilly: `Yeah, I stare at hotel walls and worry,' he grins, wolfishly, self-assuredly, unworriedly. `I stare at them and wonder: `Where did it all go right?''.
(What's The Story) Morning Glory is released on 2 October