Noel & Liam Gallagher - GQ - February 1998
And so's my brother...but not for long. After four years of tours, scraps, hits and hedonism, Liam and Noel Gallagher are settling down,buying Alsatians and getting some planets on their bedroom ceilings. Shrugging off a music press backlash and rucking wrinklies alike, The Brothers Gram invite GQ into their world of Concorde and crisps, gold rings and toasted sarnies. Still sounds good to us.
"Whoof! I'll do the lot of them!"
We heard it there first - Liam's infamour rant in full
"All these old farts, slagging us off - they'll be dead and buried by the time we start getting senile and shitting in our pants. And we can remember all their shit tunes. 'I've Got My Mind Set On You', 'When We Was Fab'. The quicker they f*****g go, the better for everyone. Anyway, John and Ringo were The Beatles. Isn't It A Pity? It will be when I meet George Harrison. I'm gonna stand on his head and play golf. I'm gonna do me Roy Castle impersonation on his head [that is tap dancing, except he is dead now; cancer]. So who wants a fight? Any old fart who's allowed out of the rest home wants a fight with me, yeah? After I've had me steak and kidney pie, I'll be ready. Do you want it? Any of you senile bastards want a ruck? I'll meet you in the pub, six o'clock. Yeah, it's unlikely, you never know, they might turn up. Whoof! I'll do the lot of them. That should be the headline: 'I'll do the lot of you.' I had a dream where I drop-kicked him in the throat, George, and smashed McCartney from here to Jupiter and back. He didn't have his seatbelt on. My name is disturbance. I love the music. I played the game. Thought I wasn't bothered. Then I thought - I do want it. Keith, Mick and any other old bag who decides to get out of bed in the morning to slag us off. Dirty old nipple. Sweaty old mushroom. I wanna meet you in the middle of Primrose Hill. Thursday afternoon, 12 o'clock, on the green. They say they got misquoted. I won't be misquoted. The main thing we're talking about here is this: any dick who wants it, regardless of what time or day or what shoes I've got on. Anyone who wants a rumble will get it because the man is mad for it and that's the end of it. I don't like fighting but you've not been slagged off like me. And there'll be no big chaps around, man. Just me and me dick, man. And I'll hit him with me knob. I've said I wanted to chill, but I've got loads of knobs picking on me anyway, so I might as well say - 'Let's have it!"
It's half past two on a beautiful autumn day and the people in this pub are the rich and the idle. Jacks and gins are spread around, the noise level is deafening and Liam Gallagher is standing on top of the table and offering out the world. He's giving the performance of his life: finger flipping, come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you're-hard-enough, the lot. "My name is disturbance," he shouts. He's not wrong there. You've seen him in magnificent spate on stage, but you've never seen him like this.
The day will end in mayhem and a full on display of punctured ego bravado as Liam and Noel take over Steve Lamacq's Evening Session on Radio One, open the box marke controversy and offer out every old legend who ever go on their case. Right now, the man who has spent a small fortune on Beatles memorabilia and turned photo opportunities with Paul McCartney into a way of life wants to fight Paul, George, Mick, Keith and any other "sweaty old mushroom allowed out of the rest home". Liam'll get to this, assures the entire pub, as soon as he's had his steak and kidney pie. But before he's talked down from the table, this bawled litany of violence has taken an almost surreal twist as Liam says of the former Beatles lead guitarist: "I'll hit him with me knob."
It all started off very low key. Two hours ago, this big Edwardian pub on Primrose Hill was Thursday lunchtime quiet. Through the door and there was Liam. Up at the bar, too handsome to live. Squeaky clean hair, those eyebrows, the face of a Celtic god - the full Liam John Paul Gallagher experience. He offers a warm handshake that feels like a brick. Let's have another look at him because he's gorgeous. His clobber is super mod - the kind of brown, beige and camel coloured gear that doesn't need a price tag; the sort of gear that makes Paul Weller look casual. There is barely time to clock the presence of brother Noel at another table, or manager Marcus Russell, or the 300 kilos of smiling minder muscle looming from the shadows like a heavy in 'Performance'.
Liam's sound: "Y'Alright? What you drinking? Seat over there be OK?"
It won't last. Less than an hour later, Liam intercepts a phone call from GQ to Oasis' press officer. Only Liam being Liam, he cuts the call off by mistake. He doesn't see it that way, though. "Fooker's put the phone down on me! Right, that's it." He grabs my bag. "Give us the tape. Give us the film." No. "Come on, I want that tape." No. Liam's minder gets up: "Sorry, if he says he wants the tape you'll have to give it to him." No. The phone rings again. Liam answers again. The moment passes and the minder sits down. It never happened.
What's the subtext here? After three years of nonstop adulation and horrendous overexposure, Oasis are feeling the draught as the temperature at street level hits chill factor. Be Here Now sales are huge (so that's the fan base sorted) but the brothers are hurt by their heroes disdain. They may even be secretly rattled at the competition offered by their old friends The Verve. Whatever, they will react like wounded animals; they will not go down without a fight. Not now, not ever.
Liam is pacing around between tables and doing his mental shadow boxing. An interview? Can he be arsed? He says he's not nervous, doesn't get nervous. But maybe he does. "What's GQ stand for? Good questions?" He puts a fistful of coins into the record machine: Rod Steart's 'Angel', 'Band On The Run', 'All The Young Dudes'. He sits down with a pint of Lowenbrau and a toasted cheese sarnie, idly rolling a B&H between his chunky fingers. He gives the Liam locks a quick once-over, adjusting a newly acquired pineapple tuft. Here we go.
"You can say what you want about me. As long as I know who I am, I'm cool. I am mad for it, yeah. It's only the slags who get on me case, who don't wanna talk about muuu-sic. I am the most spiritual person in the world. I have feelings no-one else has, but I'm not gonna tell some 15-year old kid who just wants a tune. I can't spin their heads on that. I can spin me own head but it's only the music that changes people."
Somewhere along the road Noel had shown up, proudly clutching his latest acquisition - a cherry red 1966 Epiphone Sheraton guitar. "American. Only 53 ever made. As rare as a song written by Liam Gallagher, as they say," was his description. In fact, Liam ("Our kid", they are both "Our Kid") had just had his first non-Oasis hit, having written the words to 'Love Me And Leave Me' by the Seahorses. A pretty good song too, if you like John Lennon. "John Squire come round me house one night for some aspirin and we ended up having a rant - a bit of this, a bit of that - and the paracetamol was a bit too strong for him, so we wrote that song. I've had this thing in me head for ages - I don't believe in Jesus, I don't believe in Jah - I don't believe in religion basically. I was brought up going to church and after circumstances in my life changed, I thought - f*** Jesus, f*** 'em all. It was because of me Mam and her divorce, how she couldn't take the Body of Christ anymore. They're telling her it's a big sin, she can't go to heaven and all that bollocks. She's put her whole faith in the church, but where's their faith in her?"
Some people think that there is less to this man than meets the eye, but in reality there is far more. He has multiple personalities, and eventually we witness the way Liam's mood can swing - like a Newton's cradle made out of loose cannonballs. One on one, however, Liam is an alluring, mixed-up vibe merchant for whom the term "charismatic" is an insult. At one point he says that he's sorting out the demons because he's tired of his life, tired of fame: "I'm bored with it to be honest. That's why I've stayed in for so long. I haven't been out for a year and a half. I like going out, but it's become shit. Been there, done it, seen it. I'd rather stay at home with the curtains closed, put the candles on. I've got music: me own, Beatles, Stooges, Sex Pistols, Burt Bacharach. Got me wife and me stepson, James. We do what we do."
It's been a struggle sometimes, ignoring the voices that whisper in your ear, yet Liam acknowledges that home life with Patsy Kensit and five-year old James has mellowed him out: "Course it has. I've got a bit of responsibility, something which I choose. I'm into having a family. I can't be out every night getting off me head. My trouble is I'm easily led - I don't know when to say no. But now I've got Pats, I'm happiest with her. It makes me grow up. I could go out tomorrow, but it'd just be doing the same things - snorting lines in bogs. That's not for me. I've just bought a massive f*****g house for £1,250,000, and it's already worth £2,000,000. It's wicked, man, seven bedrooms, all old English oak. I wanna do it up the way I want it 'cos it's top. It's a palace, man."
Obviously, this version of Liam and Noel has travelled a long way from Burnage, but in earning their full-frontal rewards they haven't lost the background picture. Liam doesn't balk when I ask him about the soft stuff. Yes, he wants kids, he says, undercutting the pathos with market stall cockney: "I'll 'ave a bash, I'll 'ave a bang. I'm the right age, 25, gotta house, still in a job." Yes, he likes animals: "I'm gonna buy an Alsatian next week and call him Hendrix. I want to be able to hold his head and stare into his eyes, see what he's thinking, 'cos I'm up for having an animal in my life."
Even during the mayhem that later ensues when he leaps atop the pub table and offers to meet Keith Richards, Paul McCartney and George Harrison at 12 o'clock on the top of Primrose Hill for fisticuffs - "and any other dribbling f***er who wants to have a go, I'll twat the lot of yer" - I'm more impressed at the way he breaks off to sign a boy's autograph book, tousle its owner's hair and sit down with the dad's lad.
"Well I missed out on all that," he says. "It was always me and me mam, which was fine, but I'd like to be a proper dad to James. I'm his mate, I make him laff. What does he call me? He calls me 'stinky arse' when I fart in his face. Sometimes I take him to school. I did it the other day 'cos he's changed schools and I met his new teacher - this old nun - and I nearly shit me pants. She didn't look freaked out to see me. I thought she was gonna kick me head in or keep me behind in detention: 'You haven't done your lines!'"
Liam enjoyed school for a mess-about, but was gutted when he left. Damn his ed-u-cay-shee-un. He's started regretting the fact: "I didn't learn f*** all. That's why I'm no good with words. And I do want to write songs, I want to learn the guitar. I don't think I'll write personal songs. I'm better with psychedelic words, painting pictures. I don't want to show people the inner words. They don't deserve to know what I'm about because they know that already."
Liam is not always the unreconstructed Mancunian his mythology suggests. "I've got loads of books; I buy books all the time - I just haven't got the time to read them. Or I haven't got the patience. The best book I ever read was 'The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe', when I was ten. I want to read that again now. I love the idea of opening a cupboard door, you step inside and there's a lion and you're being chased through the snow. James doesn't like me reading to him but his mam is top at that. She does all the voices, the Mr Men, all those. His room is great. It's painted sky blue with loads of little stars, and I've got him these mobiles - 20 planets hanging from the ceiling. He's mad on 'Star Wars'. There are half-planets coming out the walls and in the middle of the room is the Death Star. Sometimes I say to Pats: "'I'm sleeping with James tonight.' And she goes: 'Come to bed, Liam.' And I'm like: 'Well let's have our room done like this then.'"
Both Liam and Noel Gallagher wear the gold Claddagh ring, the old Irish symbol of eternal affection. Theirs are ruby red hearts studded with diamonds. I can see Noel's ring now because he's got his hands behind his head and he's lying down in a backstage chill-out room at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham. Noel is five years older than his brother and a few inches smaller. He's more worldly and a little less street, "I get the geezers who walk past me and say: 'Respect!' Whereas Liam gets the post office van geezers who pull the door open and shout: 'Oi! Wanker!'" Noel mimes the five-finger shuffle to illustrate the point and opens his third bag of crisps.
This is four weeks before the Radio 1 run-in and Noel is stone cold sober, even though the dressing room is tempting. What have they got? A bottle of champagne, a litre of Jacks, a bottle of white wine and a bin full of beer. A bottle of the Sheridan Double Licqueur that tastes like sick, cartons of Cranberry Classic and one of those baskets of cellophane-wrapped fruit you get at hotel conventions that never gets opened. A pic'n'mix selection, jelly babies, popcorn, playing cards, football, TV and nuts. Ten Bensons (just the ten) and The Verve's 'Urban Hymns' CD.
Noel reclines on the sofa in his Norwegian fleece. He's wearing a Verve T-shirt, combat trousers and average trainers. He is friendly enough, corteous and calm, even though I've asked him to consider the Oasis backlash. "Yeah, it's started. People are getting fed up with us or we're not trendy any more. The NME's got it in for us, the slags. They think we're shit and we play like c****s. I never believed in that 'build 'em up, knock 'em down' thing. Anyway, sales-wise, we're just too big to be knocked over. In America, the album only went to number two. Obviously that's considered a failure [Puff Daddy denied Oasis by 800 units]. I can look at it two ways: f*****g hell, we only got to number two; or, f*****g hell, we're number two in America!
Personally, I don't give a flying dogs bollock whether Prodigy got to number one or not. Doesn't concern me. I've done my years of competing with every other band and we've achieved what we set out to do." Which is? "Easy mate. To be the biggest band, sell out the largest gigs and sell the most records. It's all been done."
A story Noel told in the pub in Primrose Hill goes as far to illustrate his confidence and state of mind as regards his rivals or detrators. "George Harrison, right, I'll tell you about him. I met his son Dani in New York last week, waiting ti get on Concorde. He was already pissed, on the flight back we had about 25 Bloody Marys and he arrived at Heathrow rolling - I had to get his bag and stick it on the trolley. Guess who's waiting to meet him when the doors open? George Harrison, who's been slagging my brother off. I've got my arm around his son, and he's smoking four fags. He's as pissed as a f*****g arse. He goes: 'Hey dad, he's all right you know.' And I say: 'Hello George, here's your son. You have just been Gallaghered. Go and puke up in your Ashford home, while my stomach gently retches."
In retrospect, it isn't hard to see why Oasis '97 has taken a toll on all concerned. Perhaps as an actof defiance, the Be Here Now songs have swapped pop sun-shee-ine for a metallic infusion which even Creation boss Alan McGee has likened to AC/DC. The tunes are long, guitar soaked and last for 70 minutes, while the lyrics often dwell on the downside of life, as if Noel was getting in his excuses early. Noel had most of DM and WTSMG? in the bag long ago. They were written in grey and rainy Manchester, whereas now he had to go away and write to order. After a momentous three years, climaxing in a brace of Knebworths, Noel found himself with a pretty tough act to follow. His own.
Holing up in Mick Jagger's Mustique pad may not have been such a great idea. Next time, Noel says he'll go the jungle, or buy a place in Ireland. In any case, he's got between 15 and 30 new pieces to consider, all tucked away in plastic bags in his safe: "I'm very organised. I've got to be clear-headed. The days of the f***ed-up, half-pissed, half-stoned pop star with black leather kecks, winkle-picker boots and long black hair, staggering down the corridors of an arena clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels and thinking he's Keith Richards are over. It's not that I sit in an office with a fax machine, but I keep an eye on what's going on."
The presence of The Verve is never far away these days, what with everyone saying they've usurped Oasis (of course they haven't). But having accepted the glory, Noel now seems quite happy for someone else to relieve the pressure. In fact he's magnanimous: "I hope they sell more records than we do. Richard Ashcroft is such a brother of mine that it's not a competition with them. We've had it quite easy compared to the shit they've been through."
1997 was obviously a watershed year for Great Britain: New Labour, Blair, the death of Diana and the tabloid backlash. Noel was hardly immune: "I've been in that position myself, speeding in a car through the streets of London with Billy and Harry from the News Of The World after you on motorbikes because you're going back to your house with your missus and a couple of supermodels..." Like you do.
"Yeah, well, like I do," he laughs. "That's scary. I have to tap the driver on the shoulder and say, 'Would you like to slow down now please, there's a 40 mph speed limit round here and you'll get arrested, you c***.' Then I get home - Supernova Heights - they all know where I live; my street is really f*****g posh, tree-lined, all white houses with the big steps on the front. Except mine isn't white. Mine's covered in graffiti - the front wall, the pavement, the trees outside the front door and even over the gates which are permanently locked. It looks like Abbey Road. We have to paint the neighbours' walls every six weeks, 'cos when ours are full they write on their houses."
Noel says he's not complaining, he isn't whingeing. Once he's inside, with the doors closed and the curtains shut, he can do what he wants. "I can run around naked with a toothbrush stuck up me arse - it's my house. As long as they don't damage my scooters or the missus' car. Anyway, I don't mind signing autographs. I get kids outside the gates saying, 'Can I take a picture of your house?' And I say: 'You fooking paid for it, course you can.'"
Perhaps it's a peculiarly British irony that the whispering campaign against Oasis started when Noel accepted Blair's invitation to Number Ten. Liam wasn't invited ("cos I'd have got pissed, lost the plot and knocked things over"). So are they the New Establishment? Noel fights his corner with aplomb. "It was weird and it was embarrassing. I shouldn't be doing that apparently, because I'm rock'n'roll. I had to satisfy my curiosity. Everyone gave it the big 'un, but the thing is, I know what's behind those four walls now, and you don't. So shut it. We didn't sit in a back room and plot the downfall of England. The funniest thing was that the Queen's got her own bog at Number Ten, and I've had a shit in it," he says proudly. "One of Blair's schleppers let me in. So only me and the Queen have ever shat in that bog, ever. Which is great, innit? A big Gallagher turd next to a royal one, floating through the U-bend." What a charming image.
During the Birmingham Oasis concert, I wander into the box office to find Noel's wife Meg helping out at the VIP window. A steady stream of footballers and Page Three girls are queuing up for their tickets and for passes to an after-show party which none of the band will attend. A girl in a dirty shirt (Dries van Noten by the looks), clutches a can of Pils. She's rock-chick tanned, so you can see the blonde hairs on her legs. "You were at the party at the Roundhouse weren't you? We didn't go to bed for two days..."
That party, thrown by Creation as a kind of thanks-for-everything-guys, was where I caught my first glimpse of the craziness surrounding Oasis. Held in the Roundhouse, an old London & North Western Railway locomotive turning shed, now owned by Camden philanthropist Torquil Norman, this bash took place amidst Jill Furmanovsky's photographic exhibition, 'Was There Then'. Armed with a stream of Cape Cods I went on reconnaissance and found Jarvis Cocker studying the pictures intently. I bumped into Alan McGee, Mr Creation, eating a tub of Ben & Jerry's and desperately trying to leave. Where's the band, Alan? "Och, I dunno. In there mebbe. It's not worth it. It's a sweatbox." Richard Ashcroft wandered past telling Bernard Butler: "The fooking thing about Wigan is..."
Except this wasn't really the party. The party took place in an inner Roundhouse sanctum draped in white cloth, with a psychedelic light show and dub music drowning out the kind of inane chatter you get at 3am when everyone's leathered and the queues for the toilets are like those for the Ark: the animals going in two by two. I stumble into Kate, Helena and John Rocha but don't give it a second thought because I am now being formally introduced to Noel and Meg. We shout about the football results. That afternoon Manchester City have beaten Swindon 6-0 and Leeds have seen Manchester United off at Elland Road - double whammy. Noel is a happy man. He isn't going to bed yet. Liam Gallagher isn't there, Furmanovsky has already told me:
"You must be joking...he wouldn't fight through this scrum."
"When I do a gig, that's me going out. That's my vibe and my parties." Liam is explaining the live phenomenon from the singer's point of view. I tell him that I think he's confrontational in an entertaining way. "What's that mean?" Well, there aren't many performers who react to laser pen abuse by addressing the miscreant as "a f*****g cockney Darth Vader" and then tell him that if he does it again "I'll come down there and stab you in the throat with me credit card". Liam laughs. "He'd be lucky. Throat slit from here to here with my platinum."
Actually, Liam says he's calmed down. As a kid he was, "double loud, because I ate too much Weetabix. Six every morning. With all the sugar on top." According to Noel, Liam's intake of refined roughage accounts for his hyperactive personality. It's got to come out somewhere. "On stage I'm free. I've got no responsibilities. Nothing. Bang, I've been let out of the cage. I have me moments. Like at Earl's Court, which took it out of me completely. I was a completely goosed, so I did a runner afterwards. I had a bath, man. I couldn't move. Too much singing. But if I'm not singing right, I don't want to know."
The kid says he's got no nerves: "Never have been nervous about a crowd. If I don't do it, no-one else will. No, once in LA I was nervous. I hadn't played for ayear and I forgot all the words. Soon as I heard the guitars I got hold of it again. I was away."
By Liam's own admission Oasis have arrived at the crossroads of their turbulent career. Other bands have started playing catch-up, so he says it's time they broke away from the pack again. He doesn't want to play with the reserves. "Nah. People in groups come up to me and say, 'We could never say we are the best band in the world.' Well I do say it. The shit you get, the press camping outsdie, who cares. As long as you're at the forefront of anything, that's all that counts. I couldn't be in a group and pretend I wanted some other geezers to be top dogs."
"I know we've been in people's faces too long. I knew it before, but I haven't acknowledged the glory yet. I haven't come down from Knebworth or from writing Morning Glory. I'm still on a trip 'cos I'm glad to be alive. I don't think we're great, I just know how good we are. We've not believed our press. We've made our own press. I've not heard anyone slagging us. I don't buy press, I don't read it."
Liam suddenly rubs his eyes like a distraught kid and squeals: "Oh leave us alone!" Then the defiance rushes back and he leans forward. "I'm going to take our music by the edges and turn it round, splash some paint on. Like The Beatles did after Revolver. We're gonna get psychedelic."
Although it seems unlikely that Oasis will now grow moustaches and dress up as comedy bandsmen (Bonehead in orange satin?), it must be galling for them to be branded as derivative upstarts by their Peppery heroes. For Noel, it's a sad case of "old men slagging off young groups". For Liam it's a gauntlet thrown down by fiftysomethings who haven't made a decent record since 1970 - hard to measure your length or your worth against that: "I love it. George Harrison slagging me off. I love The Beatles and I love him, as a Beatle. I always will do. But for him to get up in the morning and slag me off, to join the club like he's a journalist, that means he's woke up with me in his mind. Me! A Beatle's woke up with me on the mind, and he's gone, 'He pisses me off.' That shows they are jealous."
While the living Fab Three have all atken a pop at Oasis, that hasn't stopped the brothers becoming avid collectors of chic John Lennon memorabilia. Noel owns a rug that used to lie on the floor of Lennon's library at Tittinghurst, and for liam's 25th birthday present he bought him a necklace the Beatle had donned when he visited the Maharishi. "I've never worn it, 'cos it's framed in a box. One day I'll brick it and put it on. It's top, man. Big white thing, all darned. I might do a naked photo with it covering me balls." He leaps up for a demonstration. "And there'll be Patsy turned the other way, naked, showing her arse."
Liam also owns the watch Apple Records gave to Lennon in 1968 - "I've got Lennon time on me wrist" - and a rocking chair snaffled from Sotheby's. "Phone bid. I'm Beatles'd up. Well, you gotta bring it home. Better me than some Arab have it, spinning it round and selling it on for profit. I want that stuff, it ain't going nowhere. It's staying right...in...my... house."
He won't let on how much he paid to get close to Lennon's DNA, but he tells me the price of fame. "I can't go back to Manchester to see me mam because I get spotted coming off the plane and then her house is full of press - 'Can I have a word?'" he mimics a wheedling reporter. "All I want to do is see her and look at the graden, 'cos she's into her gardening. She's fantastic, me mam, but I have to get her down here instead. So if people up north think I sold out, then f*** 'em. There's just too many people on me case."
So Liam knows that fame is false, even if it's beter to be noticed than ignored: "Sometimes it's alright. I keep it behind me shoulder and when it does me head in, I give it the elbow. When I'm on stage it's different; I'm a rock'n'roll star tonight. That's what I came here for. Other times, it's not alright. Like the other day, I came in here and had me four pints of lager and didn't want to speak to anyone. I was on my own and the pub was full and people were coming over and saying: 'Can I join you?' No. 'Why not?' Cos I don't want you to. 'Why are you being like that?' Because I've come out for a drink and to be on me own and read the paper. Other times I'll come in here and sit down with all the old men - wahey! - no problem."
That's about it. Liam rejoins his brother and I can see why they aren't Cain and Abel. This pair is a mutual protectorate. The look of pride on Noel's face as Liam warms to the rant that will rattle the pots on tea-time radio says everything about this odd couple; the more pleased Noel looks with him, the more emotional Liam gets. They're laughing and hugging. They're two kids back in the playground, looking out for each other. Flesh and blood. Oasis. They won't give it up.
"I rate him," Liam says of Noel. "I don't hate him. How could I? Except for days when I could hate anyone, including meself. He doesn't hate me, either. He'd have nothing else to write about, would he? And he lets me sing his songs. The best songs. I love him. He gave me a ticket to ride."