Liam Gallagher - Daily Telegraph - 16th August 1997
Twenty-four-year-old Liam Gallagher is sitting on the roof of a pub overlooking Primrose Hill and musing on his success over a couple of lagers. This is not, he snorts derisively, an 'in at number 10, out at number 30' kind of success. This is a success that means that Oasis can wreck hotel rooms, spit on American MTV fans, boast about drug-taking, pull out of an American tour to go house-hunting, and yet launch a new album and know that 14 million people across the world will go out and buy it.
Downstairs the pub is noisy and packed with lunchtime drinkers, but we're the only three up here on the roof. Johnny Hopkins, Oasis's press officer, has hired it to avoid the inevitable gawpers. With fans still camped outside the North London home he lives in with Patsy Kensit, Liam can't even go to the shops without being mobbed. 'But if I fancy a curry, I f***ing fancy a curry.' So could you, say, walk to the top of Primrose Hill if you felt like it? Liam cocks his head at the park, sizing it up. 'I could if I wanted.' Do it then. 'Nah, can't be arsed.' Go on, prove it. 'All right then,' he says, straightening his designer sunglasses in the early afternoon sun. 'I will.'
One step out of the pub and a cream-suited middle aged woman mouths to her husband, 'Liam.' No surname, no prefix. Not Liam Gallagher, or Liam from Oasis, or Liam who just married that Patsy Kensit. Just Liam. She pokes her husband in the guts and he chokes on his Coke. I turn to my companion, who is walking in an exaggerated lollop, and ask if he couldn't make himself look a bit less conspicuous. 'Impossible.'
The trademark of the Oasis fan is the Manchester swagger, a wide-shouldered, flat-footed, bigger than life walk that demands attention. But there is no doubt that this is the real thing. Alan McGee, who signed Oasis to Creation records in 1993, claims he knew Liam was a star before he saw him take the tiny stage of the King Tut's club in Glasgow. 'I could see he was already a rock star in his head.'
Ten swaggering steps our of the pub and we pass a newsagent displaying the Mirror headline: 'Oasis bigger than God.' In a music paper interview Liam's older brother, 30-year-old Noel, had declared - not unreasonably, the Mirror editorial concluded - that music means more to young people than going to church. In a typically Gallagheresque flourish Noel added, 'Has God played Knebworth lately?'
Although he is inclined to contradict everything his big brother says, for once Liam is on Noel's side. 'If I was God, which I'm not, which maybe I might be, but I'm not saying I'm not, so there...if I had a big house in the sky and a load of sheep turning up to lick my feet, I'd tell 'em to f*** right off.'
But what about the sheep camped outside your big house in St John's Wood? 'That's what I mean. Spend all your days on your hands and knees worshipping someone you can't even see, if it makes you happy. I'd prefer to buy someone's record who IS there, who you CAN camp outside their house and say, "Can you sign this please", and get his autograph.'
William John Gallagher was born in 1972 in Burnage, Manchester, the youngest of three sons. He was raised a Catholic but turned his back on religion 'when religion turned it's back on my mam'. Along with Noel, Liam and her eldest son Paul (known as Bod), Peggy was regularly beaten by her husband, Tommy, a womaniser who DJ'd in Irish clubs. After years of abuse, Peggy secured herself a new council flat and, fleeing their home in the middle of the night, she and the boys started life over. Liam was 11 years old and escaped the worst of the violence. Still, he spits, one of his most vivid childhood memories is of seeing his father hit his mother on the head with a hammer.
'I stopped believing in God because of what happened to me mam. Her husband, which unfortunately is my dad, started knocking her about, but she stayed in the relationship because of us. She thought she couldn't get divorced because that meant she couldn't take the body of Christ, which she'd been brought up to believe in. If she'd stayed with him and got battered she'd still be allowed to take the body of Christ. And does it taste good? Does it make you put on weight? Is it good for a meal? Is it f***. It's a figment of the imagination.'
He adds of his father, 'If he died tomorrow I wouldn't go to his funeral - and I want you to put that in. That's why I left him off me marriage certificate. Because as far as I'm concerned I don't have a dad.' Later, he tells me, 'I didn't need a dad, because me mam was a mother and a dad to me.'
Liam's hatred of his father is implacable and he was outraged at press suggestions that he should accept his father's apologies. The News of the World booked Tommy into the same Dublin hotel as the band in March of last year and Liam was only prevented from physically attacking him by Oasis's security guard. 'He kicked our Bod's head in too. He hasn't tried to make up with him because he's not famous. He hasn't got the money. If he was a dad he'd have been a dad. Not some slag who happened to have a shag with me ma.'
Although he speaks quietly, the conviction in his voice is unsettling. As we sit on Primrose Hill, Liam becomes so angry that he tears clumps of grass out of the ground. A string unravels from the sleeve of his indigo Kangol T-shirt and he seems, before my eyes, to develop a cold sore under his nose. Hopkins tries to calm him. 'Yeah, if he wanted to make up, why did he wait until you were famous to contact you?'
He finally grows quiet, and I ask if he sees a small Liam that he can treat in Patsy's five-year-old son, James. He nods vigorously. 'James isn't mine [his father is Patsy's second husband, the Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr], but I love him and I'm going to be there for him. I'm proud. I'm privileged to be his stepdad. It gives me a buzz. He runs in when I've been on tour and he gives me a hug. I take him to school and he wants me to come to his sports day. But people can't believe that a 24-year-old in a big band would want to tie himself down.'
At the apex of their fame, both he and Noel have chosen to marry - Liam to Kensit, five years his senior, Noel to 30-year-old Meg Matthews, artist liaison manager at Creation Records. It's as if there is something about being able to have any woman in the world that seems to repel them. 'Going out with some girl who wanted to talk about Oasis all day would do me head in,' he says. 'If I didn't have Pats I'd be a wreck. I needed someone big time or I'd have gone under.'
How about the press's portrayal of Patsy as a serial rock wife? He violently pulls out more clumps of grass. 'I love her to bits. Me mam loves her. Patsy's got a heart and a soul. She cares about people she doesn't have to care about, like me aunties, sending them things when they're ill.'
We make it through 10 minutes of conversation on Primrose Hill before a group of four girls of about 14, dressed in cord trousers and vests, spot him and start whispering excitedly. They pull exercise books out of their school bags for him to sign, and he sits down on the grass with them, scratching a Biro into life. After a few minutes chat about the new Oasis single he says,
'Goodbye, nice to meet you,' and then he starts up the hill, turning, now and then, to wave. It's not a tight, royal wave, but a big, two-armed wave, as if he is directing an airplane on to the runway. Does he never see his fans as a drooling, clawing, many-headed monster? Does he never feel contempt for them, when they're camped outside his house, ringing his doorbell all night?
'Never.' You never think, 'Just leave me alone and make your own music'? 'Yeah, but that will happen in time because it happened to me. Stone Roses 1989. I was in the crowd and I thought f*** this, I'm off to do it myself.' And he did.
The early Oasis, formed in 1991 when they were known as The Rain, were a decidedly average band. Paul Gallagher, 31, recalls that they had a song about the Strangeways riot called We're Having a Rave on the Roof. On August 18, 1991, Noel, who had just finished a stint as a roadie for the Manchester group Inspiral Carpets, watched The Rain at The Manchester Boardwalk. He thought they were rubbish, but agreed to join as long as it became his band. Eighteen months later they played the half-empty King Tut's club. A year after that they released the album Definitely Maybe.
Definitely Maybe was the fastest selling debut album in British history. It stayed in the charts for more than a year, and the follow-up, What's The Story (Morning Glory)? sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. The new album Be Here Now (released on August 21) is expected to shift more than 14 million copies. The are the biggest British rock band since the Beatles and their earnings reflect it: Liam is estimated to earn £10 million annually, Noel, with similar earnings, also holds the publishing royalties; with his catalogue wealth and accumulated assets he is worth £30 million.
Noel may be the songwriter, the guitarist and the mastermind. But it is Liam who Alan McGee describes as 'a cross between John Lennon and Johnny Rotten'. Rock stars don't come much rougher or more charismatic, than young Liam Gallagher. 'The press has always needed a bad boy, dirty, druggy, rock'n'roll band,' said Noel at the start of Oasis's unstoppable rise through 1995 and 1996. In the uncontrollable, belligerent, unpredictable figure of Liam, British rock has found its definitive frontman. He has become both a symbol of the new lad culture - Loaded, lager, Vespas and V-signs - as well as a style icon. Thousands of young men now wear feathered haircuts and oversized anoraks, and his oft-professed claim to be 'mad for it' has become a national catchphrase.
But Liam is only now getting the kudos he deserves as a vocalist. In concert he stands motionless in front of the microphone, but he fills the stage - attitude personified. The same goes for his voice, the very opposite of Mariah Carey vocal acrobatics. When he sang I Am The Walrus, it was the first time the vocals matched the menace of the lyrics. During Vietnam, US air pilots used to have the Stone's Gimme Shelter blasted through their headphones to encourage them to be without mercy. The new Oasis album, Be Here Now has that force, especially on Fade In-Out. Buoyed by Liam's fearsome vocals, it is darker and more powerful than anything Oasis have done before.
I ask him where the darkness comes from. 'It's to do with the press. It's the only way of me getting back at them. I'm an angry c***, me. It's me release. It gets the bad side of me out.'
He's right. At times the anger manifests itself as sullen one-word replies. At others, it's a 10-minute rant. Get him on to a subject that really stirs the anger, and you wonder if he will ever stop. Tommy Gallagher is one of those subjects, the press is another. Indeed, so volatile is his relationship with journalists that, until now, Creation preferred to let Noel do all the talking.
He is scathing about the books that have come out in the wake of their fame, and insists that the only book that should exist is Bod's From Childhood to Oasis - The Real Story. Otherwise, he is sickened by the sycophancy of the biographers who claim an insider's knowledge of the band. 'Those writers would never dare to criticise us because they live off us.'
It seems that just about the only person who can criticise him is Noel and vice-versa. For example, Liam loathes the recent cover the band did of David Bowie's Heroes. 'I said we shouldn't have done it. I said to him, "I haven't got an ounce of Bowie in me and you don't either." He did it anyway and it's shit and I hate it and I'm glad I'm not singing on it.'
Liam Gallagher is impressed by very little, which is a strength that has probably saved him from burning out. And he is nothing if not cheeky. When he met Mick Jagger at a party, Liam tapped the elder statesman of rock on the shoulder and did an impression of him. 'He'll respect me more for that.' After much prompting he confesses that the only person in the world who does impress him is 'Noel Gallagher... the rotter!'
As he says it, a teenage boy walks down the hill, strumming a guitar. When he spots Liam his jaw drops and he spontaneously breaks into the opening chords of Wonderwall. Liam is thrilled, grabs my tape recorder and insists that the startled boy sing the words too. 'Top,' grins Liam, patting the boy on the back. 'I'll tell our Noel he'd better watch out for you.'
The boy stumbles off, blinking in disbelief, and Liam stretches out on the grass, kicking his desert boots towards the sun. Three feet away someone is reading the Mirror. 'That headline's not as good at the one about my four grand a week coke habit,' he giggles. 'That would be a gram of coke an hour and another two while I was asleep. You wouldn't see me. I'd be over there sniffing that tree. I'd sniff the f***ing world up. This park would be gone in a minute.'
But you can see why people might believe it. What about the time at the MTV European Music Awards when you threatened Michael Hutchence with a fire extinguisher, and later with a fist fight? You are pretty hyper. 'It was all the Weetabix I ate as a kid.'
And you do have a short attention span. He gets up, walks across the park, then looks up. 'What's that word again? Short what?' Attention span. 'Attention span. Look I've got GCSEs in music and in life and you don't get them from school. You get them from eating your porridge.'
We sit on the top of Primrose hill in the late afternoon sun. Liam stretched full-length. He could just as well be an Oasis fan talking about Oasis, for no one seems to notice us. But even now Hopkins is on the alert. He goes to investigate a girl sitting behind a nearby bush with headphones on. He is worried she might be recording our conversation. This is how it is: Oasis are big business. The saved Creation Records from bankruptcy. Before Oasis, Creation's biggest-selling act was the psychedelic band Primal Scream, whose Screamadelica album sold just 250,000 copies. Since McGee signed Oasis, Creation's turnover has increased from £5 million in 1994 to £11 million last year and is projected to reach £30 million next year.
It turns out that the girl is not recording us, but is merely out of her head. Liam is enthralled. 'Are you on acid?' A smile creeps across her face, but she doesn't answer. 'Mushrooms?' her eyes wander. 'You want to join Primal Scream, mate.' He puts out his hand to shake, but she is too strung out to take it.
Liam takes off his glasses and rubs his baby blues. There was a time when he was so beautiful it was hard to look at him for too long. With his Paul Newman eyes, Brando nose and Burt Lancaster jaw, Liam had an epic face, a Pass Notes amalgamation of Hollywood's most celebrated icons. But it was a nervous, angry beauty, fizzing and popping and too shocking to go anywhere near. He is still handsome, but his hair, that once seemed a few shades off black, is now sandy, and his eyes that were cobalt are now just eye coloured. It is as if the events of the past 12 months have washed some of the colour out of him. The on-off-on marriage to Patsy, the fights with Noel, the episode in which he refused to appear on MTV Unplugged ('I was ill,' he says, 'I've got a note from the doctor.'), his arrest for possession of cocaine, the cancelled US tour, the speculation about his mental health... all have combined to make a difficult, at times unendurable year for a man not far out of his teens.
But today he appears calm and happy, happy enough to pass three hours lying talking on the grass, and more excited about his new house than he is about being a rock star. 'I'm going to tell the decorators exactly what to do, because I want it to be perfect.' He looks over at Regent's Park half a mile away in the distance. 'My house is beautiful, it's perfect - I love it.' Only this morning he leaned out of his bedroom window and admonished the fans, 'If you want to sit our there, sit out there but don't be leaving your rubbish in my garden because my cleaning lady has to pick it up and it's disrespectful to her.'
Finally, it is time to turn around. He gives me a bear hug - he hugs like he waves - and asks, 'Is that enough? I need to do a wee now.' Walking back down Primrose Hill, he tells me he is going home to listen to Blondie 'because Debbie Harry looks like Pats and because I'm all Beatled out at the moment.'
You're kidding. 'No, I'm not. Look, I don't worship John Lennon. I'm just intrigued by his life and how being a good person you can still come across like a c***. At the end of the day he was an insecure bastard' - and this part he says so quietly that, later, I have to check three times to make sure I hard it right - 'and so am I sometimes.'
I ask him what the biggest misconception about Patsy is, and he pauses, 'Don't ask me that 'cos you know I don't know what it means, and I'll only say the wrong thing.' He shakes his head sadly. He shakes his head and you can hear a drunken dad saying, 'Liam you're stupid, you're thick as f*** you are', and a tabloid press repeating it ad nauseum. He isn't dumb, although his thoughts and vocabulary are not what we expect from our greatest rock stars. They are less self-conscious, more immediately truthful. (Asked by journalists why he left he US tour, he replied indignantly, 'You lot have houses, you don't understand. I don't have a house, so the band isn't the most important thing.')
But I don't need to say anything because his short attention span takes care of that and in seconds he is enthusing about Patsy, James, Noel, his mam and the band. He is yelling about how great the album is and how much he loves Primrose Hill, like the character in The Fast Show who thinks everything is 'BRILLIANT!' As we walk back down the hill the druggy girl calls, almost out of earshot, 'Hey, are you in a band?'
'Was There Then', an exhibition of photographs of Oasis taken by Jill Furmanovsky over the past three years, starts a national tour on Friday September 19 at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1. [All the photos used in the article are found in Jill Furmanovsky's book].