Noel & Liam Gallagher - The Sunday Times - 18th February 1996
Lead singer Liam Gallagher is on stage in three hours and his Ralph Lauren button-down needs attention. Bless him. His anxiety about his laundry provokes an angry outburst peppered with a volley of four-letter words. All I do is sit back, with the confidence of the man who thought to go drip-dry, and bleep out the swear words in this and many of the exchanges that follow. "I've asked her nice five bleeping times, and I've never ironed a bleeping shirt in my life, man.' The band don't seem too bothered, busily setting about a vegetable curry. A roadie - obviously new - tries to help. 'Don't poke your bleeping nose in.' It falls to Noel Gallagher to shut his younger brother up - "Anyone want to wipe my arse while they're at it?'
Noel irons his own shirts. He probably uses the hotel's trouser press. But I doubt a few creases would tip him over the edge. Strange to think, then, that he is the motor force behind the greatest outcasts in British rock. "The press have always needed a bad-boy, dirty, druggy rock'n'roll band. Before us, pop stars were becoming arty-farty, limp-wristed, fey bastards like Brett Anderson from Suede. We're not that wised-up on books in Oasis, but we know what's what. And the press will always need a band who speak their mind "
I was ready to listen. I had an empty notebook and three packs of B&H in case Noel needed inspiration. Then Liam walked in - uh-oh, shirt unironed.
Backstage he looks like the nerdy American comedian Emo Philips on a bad day, in an anorak that's very C&A. He's quick to point out that it's Diesel, actually, retailing at nearly £300. He is versed in all the body language psychology tell you to avoid - invading personal space and wagging threatening fingers in a "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough kind of way - and everyone wishes he'd just find his dressing room and lock himself in. He doesn't walk, he swaggers at you like you've nicked his pint.
Liam: "Is this your dressing room, or mine? Or is it ours? Dad?"
Noel: "You'd better bleep off, mate"
Noel: "You'd better bleep right off."
Liam: "I'm going to sit over here'
Noel: "Right. You sit over there' '
Liam: "You'd better bleep right off."
Noel: "No, you'd better bleep right off."
Liam: "You'd better bleep right off."
Noel: "No, you better had - sort your head out' (Like Sooty and Sweep, Liam hides round the corner making a wanker gesture as Noel chats.)
When Liam's public see him walk past the stage door at 7.10pm, that shirt is still eating away at him. "Not now - I've got to have my beans on toast or I'll hurl." It's no idle threat. I was starting to understand why Liam doesn't give interviews. Like any rock singer, Liam Gallagher demands attention. He'd be like that if he was an electrician - it's just that people are less tolerant of electricians who demand attention. Liam is Oasis. If you ask Liam, that is. To the rest of the world Oasis are Liam Gallagher (vocals), Noel Gallagher (guitar), Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs (rhythm guitar) and Paul "Guigs" McGuigan (bass). Bonehead, bards best mate, is the balding ex-plasterer, stage left. Noel is godfather to his daughter. Guigs, usually stage right, returned to the band only recently after a break for "nervous exhaustion". He only does interviews with football magazines. Drummer Alan White is too much of a new boy to merit a nickname. Then again, maybe it's because Whatever, he was on Top of the Pops within 12 hours of being hired. And played his second Oasis gig in front of 100,000 people at Glastonbury. Nonetheless he was "mad for it" ' And he's "mad for it" tonight.
Downstairs the ice rink is being boarded up, the ambient temperature is well below freezing, and the band are rehearsing and fooling around. When all the other members are finished Noel drags a stool across the stage and plays an acoustic song from the third album, due out in 1997. Like the student who sits and plays Stairway to Heaven whether or not anyone is listening, he looks blissed out. Like a man who lives to make music.
For those in Whitley Bay who find Oasis a little too much, there's an Evening with Bobby Crush and His Musicians at the Playhouse. Or the Great Whitley Bay Family Day Out, offering reduced admission to the area's three premier attractions. All you need know is that number one is mini-golf, which explains why Oasis tickets are changing hands for up to £125. It's not often the young folk of Whitley Bay get the chance to see a band as celebrated as Oasis. Or as outspoken. "We bleeping hate everybody else," says Noel. "We'll say, 'You - you're a cockney bleeping bleeder, 'You - you're a middle-class bleep.' We don't mean it half the time, but we're definitely more exciting than other bands"
And it's not all talk. Oasis have revived the rock tradition of wrecking hotel rooms, and now face bans from four British chains. Once the bar tab's sorted, they have ended up with bills of anything from £145 (a plywood table Bonehead tipped out a window) to £30,000 - but then hotel rooms do come more expensive in Sweden. The band have been thrown off a ferry to Amsterdam for starting a punch-up (apparently down to Liam's reaction to Noel saying he was prepared to sell their mother for fame). And when it comes to drugs, Oasis just don't know when to stop. Apart from when they run out. In a world of anaemic rock stars, Oasis are a publicist's dream.
Their faddishness has been used by the media to promote a battle of the bands with Blur, their nearest rivals for the teenage audience, even though Oasis actually outsell Blur by roughly three to one. This piece of hype is a time-honoured technique favoured by record labels ever since Rolling Stones fans first punched out Beatles fans in the playground. Blur are clever (they rhyme Prozac with Balzac) and cockney (if Colchester has ever fallen within the sound of Bow Bells). "A bunch of middle-class bleepers trying bunch of working-class heroes," Noel called them. It's a war of words which culminated in a clumsy gibe from Noel, who wished Aids upon two Blur members. He apologised, but record buyers didn't seem too offended.
Tonight the band have other, more pressing things than puerile pop rivalry on their minds. It's showtime! Liam swaggers onstage. "All right? mad for it? We're mad for it." Banter is kept to a strict minimum - nobody understands him anyway. The story goes that in America, after one lengthy bit of babble, one member of the crowd turned to another and said, "I thought they were English?"
In his ironed shirt, Liam is a photographer's dream no need for motor drive because he doesn't actually do anything. All right, he crouches like he's going through a small doorway and bends into the mike. But choreographed he's not. Just disgustingly handsome. He rattles a tambourine - such a lead singer's instrument for something to do. The light show is reminiscent of a village hall disco. As the venues they play get bigger, Oasis will need to present more of a show, but for the moment all they offer is raw, dirty rock'n'roll.
Noel Gallagher has lifted riffs and melodies from the works of T. Rex, Stevie Wonder, Paul Weller, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Gary Glitter - and he's the first to admit it. But as Paolo Hewitt, journalist and the author of next year's Oasis biography, says, "In Noel's hands it sounds fresh. It's like you've never heard it all before. He can take the most common three-chord progression, that you've heard a million times before, and make it his own. The Oasis sound is unique. It reminds you of Phil Spector in some places - that big wall of sound - but it's still unique."
The references (such as Marc Bolan's Get It On in Cigarettes & Alcohol) mean that Oasis songs work on first listen. "The one that really pisses me off," says Noel, "is Shakermaker sounding like I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing - do me a favour. That's got bleep all to do with the New Seekers. Critics still argue about how innovative Noel really is. "I say to them, 'What does innovative mean? You know the words you're using, they're 80,000 years old them words. So are you any more innovative than I am? I don't think so."
Oasis don't do encores. After a bottle of Evian each, the band pile onto the coach. The two Oasis tour buses owe little to National Express. Spilling over two floors (sofa downstairs, bunks and chill-out space upstairs), they are carpeted wall-to-wall. Engines running, the stereo is pumping everything from the Beatles to Portishead, Sly and the Family Stone to the Rolling Stones. Some seminal football match is playing on the video, even though Bonehead wants to watch Brief Encounter. Talk is of everything and nothing, from the merits of the Beatles' White Album to who played full-back for Manchester City in 1954. Paolo Hewitt is last on the bus - with the ubiquitous bottle of Jack Daniel's. "I just thought someone on the bus might want it." The tabloids follow the bus all the way to Scotland. Shame they choose the wrong one.
In two years, Oasis have gone from five-up in a Ford Transit, with Bonehead behind the wheel, to a touring party of 45, transported around the world in four articulated lorries and two tour buses. Bonehead wasn't a bad tour manager - he would say "9am in the lobby or else". The job just got too big. Liam and Noel met Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs and Paul "Guigs" McGuigan in the council estates of Burnage, a grey suburb of Manchester.
"Crack-heads live in Burnage, man, and burn down all your houses;' says Noel. He learnt to play the guitar by listening to the red and blue Beatles albums, and started to dream of escape. He decided he didn't want to end up picking out misshaped Jaffa Cakes for McVitie's like his mum. By the time he knew his third chord, Noel was writing songs.
Life for the Gallagher brothers was punctuated by petty crime - shoplifting and car radios - and substance abuse. Glue for Liam, but Noel's drug of choice was "draw"' (marijuana). "I was getting halfway through writing a line of a song and I'd fall asleep because I was stoned. The day I stopped was the day my life began. I was suddenly clear-headed. I wrote 50 songs in two weeks. I could walk for miles. Before, I'd just been a total mong. People go on about smack and ecstasy - I think draw is the scourge of my generation. I know loads of talented artists and musicians who are still sitting in Manchester in their bedrooms, stoned, because they can't be bothered to get off their arses"
Moral - but weird, given that Noel and Liam are committed users of cocaine and ecstasy. The Oasis songbook is a testament to substance abuse. "When I'm drunk I get maudlin, which is where you get Don't Look Back In Anger, or Wonderwall," says Noel, referring to tracks off their second album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? "But when I'm out of it on drugs I get a seriously cocky bastard. Champagne Supernova - for Christ's sake, how big is that title? It's like I'm saying, 'I am Mr Noel Gallagher. Do you know who I am? I am the greatest.' I'm like Muhammad Ali. When I'm straight you get Roll With It - little pop ditties. Understand?"
Anti-drug pressure groups have called Oasis irresponsible. 'I won't deny drugs. Otherwise some bleep from the News of the World will pop out from under the toilet seat and snap me. I remember when we was on the cover of the Daily Star -'Oasis in Drugs Shock!' Our quote was, 'Shock to who?' But if I could turn the clock back I would never even have started smoking, let alone smoking pot. Or drinking lager, Jack Daniel's and gin and tonic. If I had my time again I wouldn't bother. It's starting to affect my memory."
Noel escaped Burnage by working as a roadie for indie band the Inspiral Carpets. He learnt the business, then came back to Manchester to hijack Liam's group. Big brother admired the band's attitude, but always figured if they didn't want to be bigger than the Beatles, it was just a hobby. So the gigging began. Once to less than three men and a dog. Not even a dog, actually, but they played a full set regardless - and an encore. On May 30, 1993, everything changed. The band and 10 friends piled into the Transit and headed for Glasgow. Their intention - to blag their way onto the bill and find the path to stardom. They did both.
Alan McGee, the founder of Creation Records, was in the audience - him and eight others. This is the man who has a history of fluking it. That's how he found Ride and the Jesus and Mary Chain. And Oasis. "One of my bands was playing, and my young sister got me there two hours early. These scally Mancs had threatened to smash the club up unless they could play. I just walked into the club at the right time. ' When they had the audacity to sing their wannabe anthem, Rock'n'roll Star, McGee decided to sign them.
Their debut single, Supersonic, struck a chord with a record-buyng public bored by the dominance of dance music. Their first album, Definitely Maybe, was the fastest-selling debut album of all time. Their second, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, has gone gold in nine countries and platinum in five. Creation expects it to sell more than 12m copies. After two albums they are hugely popular and universally lauded by the critics. "People think to be a massive successful group you automatically have to be a bleep like Phil Collins," says Noel. "But we're changing all that."
It's the morning after the night before - but then it always is with Oasis. The band won't be hanging out together today. Apart from a 3pm appointment with live football on Sky TV, because it's the nearest they can get to the stand at Manchester City. Noel has been going to see City since 1971, at the age of four, so when he heard Champagne Supernova rewritten on the terraces of Maine Road as Champagne Supercity, he was made up. Almost as much as the glorious afternoon the chorus of Wonderwall echoed round the ground as "And after all, you're my Alan Ball" (Man City's manager).
Devotion to City even shapes Noel's take on politics. "I was drunk at some awards and I met Tony Blair. I could probably walk into Buckingham Palace now and say, All right Liz, man,' but back then I was just some kid off the streets of Manchester who had been on Top of the Pops. I thought, 'I'm going to have a chat with Tony Blair'. I'm like, 'Tony!' He recognised who I was because he's a bit wised up. I said. 'You've got to win it for the people, man. I've never known a Labour government.' The whole theory of the conversation was that Man City have never been successful under a Tory government. If he gets elected, City are going to win the league."
After Final Score, the plan is to pop down to the Royal Mint, where a pub blackboard is advertising "the Gallaghers". A tribute band who dance like Mancs, speak like Mancs, but come from Glasgow - and cover every song Oasis have ever written. At 8pm Noel decides to stay in and watch Match of the Day. But Liam's mad for it, and turns up early. He pushes his way past a couple of pool tables, through the atmosphere (courtesy of B&H) and introduces himself to the boys. Christ on earth, as far as they're concerned. Noel arrives late, but puts the band on the guest list for tomorrow. And them to play at his girlfriend's party.
The next day Liam is in the hotel lobby, wearing the same clothes as yesterday, reading the morning's revelations about his love life in the papers. "Look at this man," he says with a smile. "'Liam was crap in bed.' At least they got that bit right." Hewitt suggests a drink in the hotel bar. "A drink? A good strong drink? I'm mad for it." That's a yes, and the Guinness - as ever - is on the record label.
In the bar of The Mitre, opposite the hotel, friends and family are starting to arrive. The Jack Daniel's is in danger of running out. The artist liaison manager for Creation Records, Meg Mathews, is busily trying to drum up interest in aromatherapy massages from the woman who does Mck Hucknall. Everyone is too distracted by Tottenham vs Aston Villa on the Widescreen TV. Mathews is also the love of Noel's life, and the woman for whom he wrote Wonderwall.
"You can't go up to someone and say, 'Hi, I'm Wonderwall,"' says Meg. "It's a joke between me and all my friends, but the average Joe Bloggs doesn't know. George Harrison wrote the music to the film Wonderwall, so that's the reference, but to me it's about being his wall of strength. His solidity." She lives with Noel in his two-bedroom basement flat in Camden, north London - it's not all glamour. "In fact my life was loads more glamorous before. Now we stay in and watch Brookside and eat fish and chips'.
While Liam fair revels in the perks of the job, Noel is more ambivalent. "My record company just bought me a £60,000 Rolls for Christmas. But I can't drive. I just get in the back and laugh my bleep off." Maybe not ambivalent then, just occasionally embarrassed. The band arrive at the venue with an hour to spare - "swerved to get some photographers", says Liam - and head straight for the dressing room/chill-out space, a hastily erected sheet-tent in a back room somewhere. With no way through to the inner sanctum - "You need a band laminate, with a photograph, sir" - I decide to scribble three straightforward questions on a serviette to give to the PR. Who promises to give them to Liam. It's the only chance I've got of any kind of interview with the Sulky One.
On stage, infectious melodies mix with howling guitars and Liam's sneered vocals. He is buzzing. The small plywood stage is where he reaches his ultimate high. "No one else has got the same high as I've got on stage. That is the only things that belongs to me - the only thing except my trainers." The sheer optimism he conveys to the crowd in songs like Roll With It and Some Might Say shows on their smiling faces. It is like somebody understands their lives. By the end of the first line of Wonderwall, they are taking over, mouthing the lyrics all the way.
It happened back in the hotel lobby. One moment Liam was sat chatting to a young japanese boy and two adoring girls, the next he caught my eye and leant over. "You and me - now - one-on-one." Him, full of free jack Daniel's; me, nervous that it wasn't an interview he had in mind. As a short waiter ferried round tea trays with a selection of tartan shortbread, we settled on a corner table. "Make it right, and that, otherwise I'm off. If this is going in The Sunday Times I want it to be right. I'm not bleeping thick. I can't sit down and go [adopts highpitched voice], 'I am no one. I've got nothing to say.' It ain't going to be down to our kid who says which is this and which is that.' He seemed drunk. Or stoned. He would just call it "chilled" ' The manager was visibly nervous at the interview taking place at all. So was the PR. "Did our kid blow you away?" Liam was referring to the interview he interrupted two days before. "Did our kid blow you away? I thought you pinned him in a corner. I thought that was sad. You was deffo, deffo, in charge. I don't do interviews no more me, because I've been told I can't do them because it's not good for the band. So they've left it all to our kid. But it's not all his band. I think I'm totally on it. I'm mad for it because you were on our kid's back. So I want this interview proper, and if the interview comes out me more than our kid then I'm fed up for that. So carry on."
I wanted to know if the most famous man in Manchester was a fake - a 23-year-old adolescent with swagger but no substance. "There's no faking. I'm me. I sniffed cans of gas at the age of 12. Took mushrooms at the age of 12 - proper mushrooms. Not 20. More like 150. I've done all that. You walk out of a gaff with a bleeping bottle of Jack Daniel's and people reckon you're on that rock'n'roll myth thing. I do it because I'm onto it. I won't change - not unless the geezer with the big beard lands down in front of me and pulls a giraffe out of his qostril and goes, 'I'm God - you've got to be like this, you've got to be like that.' But until that happens, then they can bleep right off." You can understand why the press has labelled him loudmouthed and ignorant. Because he is.
Loudmouthed, anyway. And once he starts, there's no stopping him. "It's really important to be bigger than the Beatles. I think we're better than the Beatles. And we've only done two albums. It was different when they were around. We'd just come out of the war, and a bunch of Scousers could make us happy again. I reckon we've pissed all over the Beatles. Masterplan - as good as anything; Roll With It - as good as Paperback Writer, Hard Day's Night. We wrote half the third album in 1991 and it betters the Beatles. They ain't the best band in the world - we are."
Oasis are obsessed with the Beatles. Noel can't go a day without uttering their name - and both brothers refer to meetings they have imagined between the two bands. "McCartney was just a soft bleeping lad. A complete and utter soft bleep," says Liam. "Musically he was boss. But at the end of the day, right, he was always out to be nice. I could meet McCartney right now, go, 'Sound, boss to meet you, you knew John Lennon, you did some great tunes, you're a Beatle, I love you.' But I know for a fact I could not hold a conversation with him for more than 10 minutes. Not even that - maybe five, maybe three, maybe two, maybe 20 seconds.
"But I know for a fact if I met Lennon, which I never ever will do, right, I could find a bit of common ground with that chap. I could have a ruck with John Lennon, I could bottle the bleep, he could bottle me. I know for a fact that I'd never ever feel the need to have a ruck or a brawl with McCartney. He's not even worth it. Know what I'm saying?"
That sentiment - you always bottle the one you love most - says everything about the relationship between Liam and Noel. It's violent and loving - not a lie for the benefit of the media. "I love me brother," says Liam. "But I also hate him. Some days I despise him. And I know it's the same for him. That's life, mate."
Liam has his sensitive side. He gets depressed and cries. The bravado ("If a bird wants a shag, I'll do it. I'll do it wherever. I'm just a lad") exists alongside a genuine worry that press reports will upset his mother. She's probably delighted at stories of him settling down with the recently single Patsy Kensit - the woman Liam refers to as "his dove".
"I'm not in prison. I'm not a sad bleep who ain't got no money. Because I have got money. And I'm not a smack-head. Everyone goes out and gets off their brain. If they don't, it doesn't mean they're a great son. I'd rather have a proper son than a plastic son. I just hope me mam's thinking, I brought someone up who's making thousands and thousands of people happy."
Liam contradicts himself. He talks of leaving Oasis, then never leaving Oasis, within minutes. He has threatened to leave before now simply because Noel wouldn't go to the pub with him. "I've been up for leaving for the last couple of months. I reckon that it's coming to the end, right, for me." He bites the filter off a Silk Cut. "I reckon I can write better music, a lot better, about 100 times better, than what our kid can. But having said that, I can't do it now because I ain't got no time. I'm too busy getting off my head and being the Oasis singer. I'm not saying I'm not happy. I'm totally happy. But there is life after Oasis for me.
The PR rejoins us and Liam takes his leave. I'm told I have breached etiquette, but did I mind telling them what exactly Liam said? It's past 2am, and still the fans come - "Liam! Liam!" they scream when he reappears from the toilets. Through the hotel window he shouts, "Look, I'm a skinny little bleep, I've got a bit of a beer belly, I'm not worth the bother, man.' The hotel porter gives the fans advance warning that the police will be arriving in two minutes. The girls run off towards the station with a parting shot for the Gallaghers: "Your brother's on the dole and you give him nothing, you greedy bastard." Fame is a fickle mistress.
Oasis are more than the latest "future of rock'n'roll" sensation. In Noel Gallagher they have the most significant songwriter of the decade. In Liam, they have a rebel of the old school who is doing his growing-up in public - much to the delight of the press. But he has extraordinary presence, and a voice that is only just beginning to realise its potential. American success is starting to happen (What's the Story.. had charted at No 5 in the US at the time of writing) and tomorrow it's the Brits. Oasis are up for five awards, and they deserve the lot. If they remain hard-working, and relaxed about fame (as Noel says, "I only have to fart now and it gets in the Top 10"), then - definitely maybe - we will soon be talking about a band as great as the Beatles.