Noel & Liam Gallagher - GQ - February 2000
Free champagne and Air Miles. That's what Noel Gallagher calls the spoils of rock'n'roll glory. And although Oasis have had more than their share, it was never about just the free champagne and Air Miles. There was always a lot at stake for the Gallagher boys.
It is self-evident by now that if it weren't for Oasis, rock music would have been left to its memories years ago. If it weren't for Oasis, rock music would be a 20TH-century art form, all Stone Roses compilation albums and boxed sets by The Clash. If it weren't for Oasis, Bono's self-satisfied face would be the final nail in rock'n'roll's coffin.
But Oasis saved the music from becoming the stuff of museums. And in return the music saved them - from a background of unimaginable domestic violence; from a living death of soul-numbing jobs and petty crime and signing-on and bad drugs.
It's a long and winding road from a council house in south Manchester to a football stadium in north London. Mistakes have been made along the way. But spend some time in his company and you will believe that Noel Gallagher has stopped taking himself seriously as a rock star. And started taking himself seriously as a songwriter, a musician, a man.
The bad stuff has mainly gone Noel's cocaine habit, Liam's beard, the rivers of booze - and been replaced by marriage, fatherhood and something resembling stability. Oh, and the best set of songs that Noel Gallagher has ever written.
There was a time when Oasis could have disappeared faster than a line of Bolivian marching powder. But at the very last moment, the Gallagher’s took their fingers off the self-destruct button.
This shouldn't be overstated neither of the Gallagher brothers are the type to check into the Priory but they have certainly pulled back from the brink of becoming rock’n'roll cliches. The distinguishing characteristics of Oasis have been well-documented - the arrogance, the lippy hedonism - but they are also the most class-conscious of bands, and there's a stubborn, working-class pride that has prevented them from throwing it all away. Oasis have decided they are not content to be the world's forgotten oiks. There comes a point when some things matter more than being mad for it. And maybe that's when the boy becomes the man.
It's a misty morning in the Buckinghamshire countryside. At the end of a private road is a farmhouse that has been converted into a recording studio. We are out in the wilds. When you go to the loo, a cow is looking at you through the window. This is Noel's neighbourhood now. That's probably Noel's cow.
He has sold Supernova Heights, his London home - the biggest tourist attraction in Belsize Park and moved to a house in the country. The fans at the door were not the problem. It was more the coked-out strangers crying in the kitchen when Noel got up at three in the afternoon. It was having a house full of people when he was trying to find his way out of a life-threatening blizzard of white powder and nights plagued by panic attacks.
You see him in silhouette through a window. Wearing an overcoat buttoned up to the chin. Holding a guitar as if it were a baby. The rock star who famously compared taking drugs to drinking a cup of tea sticks his head around the door and pops the inevitable question. 'You want a cup of tea?"
A nice guy, Noel. Intelligent, articulate, brutally honest - a long way from e creature of Oasis mythology, the leering yob sticking up two fingers to the world. But this 32-year-old man is also the head of a multimillion-dollar band, and you can see in his dealings with those who surround him that he is V aware of the power he holds.,
From his haircut to the posters on the wall - you are encouraged to check them out while he makes the tea - it's clear who his heroes are. These are the standards that I set myself, say the lovingly framed shots of John and Paul in all their Beatle-fringed pomp. This is what I measure myself by.
But listen to the cracking, new record, ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’, and it's clear that what has always stopped Oasis from being a nostalgia act is exactly what made their heroes so good in the first place. It's those perfect moments. It's that spark. It's that glazing of something that feels like magic.
You said the first album was made when you were young and hungry, and the last one was made when you were fat and drunk. Where does the new one fit into the canon?
It's a lot more personal. I'm more proud of it than any of the last three. The first album was like sticking on your helmet, getting out of the trench and taking on the world. The last two...I listen to the words now and it just sounds like I'm winging it. I like some of the tunes but I listen to the words and think, "Well, that's just tucking shit." I used words like music - for the way they sounded.
For me, the big song on the new record is "Gas Panic" which sounds like your 'Midnight Rambler'.
It's about when the demons come to visit you in the middle of the night. I had a spate of six months when I couldn't sleep. I was trying to get off the drugs. The house where we lived in London was constantly full of people. And I would wake up at four or five in the morning having these wild, wild panic attacks. Anxiety attacks. Sweating. On the verge of tears. Constant racing 0. Heartbeat. Cold sweats then hot sweats. Couldn't sleep. Getting the shakes. "Gas Panic", if I can get pretentious for a minute, was the chosen name for the ghosts that came knocking on my window at five in the morning when my panic attacks were coming on.
And they always came at night?
After I came off the gear, I'd be walking around and there would be butterflies in my stomach and I'd think, "Right, I've got to go home now." But they usually came at night. One particularly bad night I had a doctor out. Quite a young doctor. He looked at me and said, "I'm not even going to ask you if you take drugs.' I asked him if there was anything he could give me. He said, "There's nothing we can give you. The longer you go on, the more intense they're going to get. just stop doing it." And I said, "No man, I can't! I want to keep partying! I can't just go out and drink water!" Then he left. And I thought, if that's the way it's going to be, that's the way it's going to be.
So you stopped taking cocaine?
I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult than it was. After a few months it was out of my system and it was gone. Now if people are round my house and whacking them out, I don't feel anything any more. But the panic attacks weren't just the gear. A lot was stress-induced.
Didn't you feel that a tough working-class lad shouldn't be having panic attacks? As men, we're not supposed to admit to these things, are we?
Totally. When I first told Liam, he was going, "You fucking what? Panic attacks? What are they? Bollocks, man. You lightweight." And I was thinking, 'I'm invincible. I'm Noel Gallagher. I can't be packing it in." But I think it comes to all of us in the end. Do I want to be Keith Richards or do I want to be me? Do I want to do the Sid Vicious thing? Live fast, die young, fucked-up. Slashing your wrists and all that stuff. Kurt Cobain. That's mad for it gone mad.
There have been times over the last few years when Oasis seemed on the verge of collapse.
When I walked off that American tour, I was just sick of it all. On that American tour, Bonehead and Liam were just fucking out of control, man. I thought, I just don't want to be around for this any more because it's just getting on my tits. People had just stopped talking about music, it was all about the behaviour of the band, and if it's not about music, then I'm leaving. Because I'm not busting my arse for 18 hours a day in the studio so that when we go on the road, every time we get to an airport, you two fucking act like knobheads. So I said, 'Right, I'm leaving. I quit."
You said of Be Here Now, 'We lost it down the drug dealers.'
I was pretty much whacked out all the time. Because I didn't like the band I was in, it had become too big for me. We should have split up when we came offstage at Knebworth because that would have been the logical conclusion of everything. We came off the dole five years before and played the biggest ever free-standing gig in England, 250,000 people. And that's never going to be topped by anyone. That rounded everything off and we should have ended it there. But nobody else wanted to do it because they haven't got the balls to do it.
How do you come to terms with that transition from signing-on to playing in front of 250,000 people? When you start off you're a young, working-class kid and nobody knows your name, and then suddenly you're a big rock star and everyone loves you.
The whole thing about Oasis is that we were supposed to be the ones who turned up at the awards ceremonies poking fun at the Establishment and getting pissed and getting on everyone's nerves. As it panned out we became the Establishment, and 1 didn't particularly like that.
Most of the great bands have had a songwriting partnership at their heart. Oasis are built around a different kind of partnership with you and your brother.
It's not a creative partnership. But Liam's the biggest fan of the band. He's got a good car for music. As long as you play it to Liam and he does his little dance behind the desk, then you know you're getting somewhere. Although Liam doesn't write the songs, if you spoke to him you'd think he wrote every word and every crotchet of music because he believes in it so much. Play something to the rest of them and they were like, "Well, when are we going on tour so I can pay my tucking tax bill?'
When did Liam become your equal rather than the annoying kid brother?
He always dodges between the two. There're days when he's just the most annoying twat that you could ever imagine being in the same room with. And then there're days when he's just like the rest of us, just normal, quite a funny geezer. I never talk down to him. I never tell him how to sing the songs. I'll sort of guide him through a song and say, "You might want to sing it a bit like that." And then he goes and does it different.'
He's a great frontman.
He's the best. He goes over the top. He's a bit like Prince Naseem. When something's good he gets really overexcited about it. He overreacts to every situation. He's really extreme. He's not a man for common sense and talking things through logically. He's either up there or down there. He's never in the middle.
The three little words that always come up are: 'Mad for it.'
When you're in your twenties, I'm all for a bit of madness and chaos. Because you're young. But you can't be mad for it forever. I'm 32 now. I think when you get into your thirties, it's time to rum it back over to the young people. I remember when I was 19 or 20, I used to look at pop stars who were over 3o and think, 'Oh, give it a rest, man." And there's probably someone out there thinking the same about me.
But you are acting your age, aren't you? Becoming a father, jacking in the gear...
I am now. But when I was 30, 31, we went to every single party every single night of the week and everyone had to come back to my house and have a party at seven in the morning. My house in London became a nightclub. We enjoyed it for a while. It was brilliant. I met so many great people. But there're only so many times you can wake up at three in the afternoon, go into the kitchen and there'll be four total strangers there from the night before, and you've forgotten who they are.
You can't stay up all night when you've got a kid, can you?
I remember a lot from when I was younger. I remember pretty much everything from the age of five. And I am determined that my kids are not going to wake up at three in the morning and find mum and dad still up talking shire on the couch, cans of Guinness everywhere. I've had my time as a young person. I've had my time as a rock'n'roll star. I've had my time as a hellraiser. And now it's time to rucking settle down, man. Just get into the music more, be totally into it for the music. I'm even considering stopping touring. After we do the big shows next summer, it's going to take a good reason for me to go back on the road again.
It's difficult to imagine what rock music would be like without Oasis.
Before we came along, the greatest hope for British music was Suede. They don't write songs that mean anything to people living in council blocks in Glasgow. We were not into chin-stroking. We were very naive. We were quite pure in a way. It was just all about rock'n'roll. After that came the rock'n'roll behaviour, and that was tab for a bit as well. We were a wake-up call to a lot of kids who maybe thought, "Well I'm a little bit of an obnoxious twat too.'
The whole dust-up with Blur was class war the Northern working class against the Southern middle class.
But they were the ones going down the dog track. With Blur, people from London were going, "What's all this rucking pie and mash shit, man? That was the Forties." And I'm like, "Well, don't ask me mate, I'm from up North."
The title of the album, ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’, sounds quite humble - as though you are just putting the finishing touches to the work of great men.
We shift a lot of records. But I think that the greats in music - the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Sex Pistols are unassailable. I don't think anyone's ever going to top that, either musically or the way they affected culture. If the top four bands of all time go into the Champions'League, then I see us in the UEFA Cup. Eternally.
Where's the point at which you part company with the Beatles? I can't see you getting in a bag for peace or showing your bum on an album cover.
No! No! It's purely musical with the Beatles, you understand. All that screaming and shouting in bags that's not me. John Lennon was probably clinically insane. I don't like much of his solo stuff, but I think musically he did it with the Beatles. And some of the clothes he wore were quite cool. The only reason people revere John Lennon is because he's not around to be shit. I don't separate the two of them. To me they're Lennon and McCartney. And that's it. I don't think one was ever the same without the other. If Liam was a songwriter, we would have fallen out a long time ago. Because we wouldn't have needed each other. But I can't sing and he can't play.
Are you and Liam at peace now?
At the moment, yeah. We haven't had a proper fight since Morning Glory.
Your father's violence when you were growing up has been well documented. Was that violence booze-related?
Totally. And that's why I don't drink so much myself Because every time I'm getting a bit drunk and a bit lippy, i always have this picture of my dad. That's when i think, "The bar's shut and it's time to go home.'
Do you have any relationship with your father now?
I haven't seen him since I was 18.
Absent parents often try to make contact if their child becomes famous.
Because they want some money. The News Of The World did bring him over to a gig in Ireland once. They were going to have this big family reunion in the foyer of the hotel. We got to hear about this and had the News Of The World thrown out. And him as well. I thought it was pathetic. For a man who spent ten years in a boxing match with me to then want to tucking shake hands and put it all under the table, it's just a joke. I'm not even going to go to his tucking funeral. I don't give a tuck about him or his family. My old fella was always a bit of a jack-the-lad. I think he resented the fact that he had kids because we got in the way of his lifestyle. And we got hammered for it. I would always question things. But you couldn't have a decent conversation with him because it would always end with someone getting a black eye.
But all that must have strengthened the bond with your mum?
Yeah, but I think Liam's on my mum a bit too much. She's always down in London looking after him when he steps out of line. She's always down there wiping his arse. She lets me just get on with it. As soon as we got a load of money, Liam was like, "Mum, you're leaving your council house where you've lived all your life and we're going to buy you a huge rucking castle in Cheshire.' And me mum's phoning me up going, 'But 1 don't want to move." And I said, "Stay where you are mum, nobody says you've got to move. Fuck Liam. It's all right for him living in a big mansion in London, but you've lived in that house for 30 years. Why do you want to live behind a big wall?' I said to her, 'If there's anything you ever need, just give us a ring." And she phoned me up and said, "I could do with a new garden gate because the old one's just falling off." So that's what I bought her - a garden gate.
Was it difficuit for you to leave London?
I just thought, "I'm not going to end up in the Priory.' A sad, miserable tucker who is either getting high or coming down and always inoaning about something. So it came to the point where I thought - 'This is it. We are going to the countryside. I'm getting off the fucking gear and that's it.' At first, Meg was a bit, "Hang on a minute, all my friends live in London.' And I'm going, "Get in the car." The relationship with the missus started to deteriorate. I said, "If you want to come, come." She said, "Well, I can't. All my friends are here." I said, "I'll get you a rucking chauffeur.'
Were you ever bothered by the media image of Oasis as foul-mouthed yobs?
We were the token oiks for about four or five years (adopts poncey Southern accent), 'Let's invite the scruffy Northerners down and have a laugh at them.'
But when you were invited to Downing Street, it wasn't just so they could have a laugh at you, was it? It was because you represented a large constituency.
All the press expected me to turn up in jeans and trainers with a can of fucking Stella and a fag and stick my fingers up on the steps of No 10. But I thought, for once I'll try to make me mam proud of me. I said to the Prime Minister, 'It was the greatest thing when you won the election and you turned up at the big party at seven in the morning. How did you manage to stay up all night?' Tony Blair said, "Probably not by the same means as you do.' And 1 thought, "He's a smart cunt, him.' The press didn't get what they wanted from me that night. I wasn't going to be the working-class kid from Manchester who was, "Fuck off, I'm just here for the beer.' It was more important than that to me. I didn't get an education. I didn't go to university. I didn't get any qualifications. I've been in trouble with the police. I've been through the drugs thing. But I'm not just some thug.
Manc of the people. Liam Gallagher is still Oasis' centre of attention but, as GQ found out when it spent a day with him, he’s far from the V-sign-flicking creature of media mythology
Liam can’t remember whether he’s been photographed by Mathew Donaldson before - "I’ve been so off my head over the last seven, eight years, I couldn’t say," he admits. "I’ll be in focus for this one." Odds are then, that he won’t remember a ten-minute chat five years ago which had me grinning for an hour afterwards. After the pub one night, a girlfriend and I found ourselves at the Roof Gardens in Kensington for a record industry do in honour of Celine Dion. The event was predictably flashy - wedged-up and tanned suits blowing cigar smoke over towering good-time girls, with La Dion at a roped-off table, gushing away in a gold lame dress. We did what we came to do - guzzle pink champagne, pick at sushi and laugh a lot - then made to go.
Now I’m not sure, but I like to think I suggested having one last look around, so we went to the back bar. Astonishingly, there among the froth and gilded tack was young Gallagher the biggest star there, behaving very unstarrishly. Thick as thieves, we settled down at the bar for one last drink and played it cool. Soon, the girl Gallagher was talking to left and he looked round, extended his hand to us and said, "Eh, I’m Liam. Youse two having a good time?" I made some lame remark about being a huge fan of Dion’s and very excited to be there, but he was too dignified to slag off his hostess, so we shot the breeze about clothes (he’d bought his trainers at Woolworths), magazines (didn’t like them on the whole) and music (he liked my then boyfriend’s new single - he was in Kinky Machine), until some other people turned up and we wandered off.
Half an hour later we really did have to go, but I was determined to kiss Gallagher goodbye. After all, we’d bonded, hadn’t we? We looked around and found him sitting outside between two blondes. Hunched over in his simian way with a bottle in both hands and legs wide apart, he definitely filled up his space. I tried to catch his eye, but he didn’t recognise us. It didn’t matter. He’d charmed us silly.
Because of this meeting, the image of Liam Gallagher as unreconstructed lout has never made sense to me. For the GQ shoot he shows up on time, alone, and self-styled like his brother, in Hush Puppies, jeans and a brown corduroy Fake Of London parka decorated with a target that he’s keen to show off in the pics. "I bought a change of clothes," he offers, before adding, "Oh fuck. I forgot the jacket." When someone offers to go and get it, he tells her his address and doorcode in front of a roomful of strangers.
Without any advance warning, he agrees to an outside shoot, for the sake of variety. Four of us walk, minder-less, across Parkway in the heart of Camden. Liam even has his hood down. A few pedestrians do double takes, but that’s it. He must just be one of his many clones, doing that flat-footed scally step that looks like a thin person walking like a fat one. He’s quiet and, say the others later, unapproachable with his stolid, leaden, po-faced presence - but to me he seems to be deflecting attention from himself, happy to listen rather than join in. Not loud, not brash. This must be a nightmare for him, mustn’t it? Naah, I go anywhere I want to, "he replies." The only thing I don’t like is walking past old drunks who just want to have a pop at you." In a seedy car park, he stares impassively into the camera, hands forever in pockets, stance proud, directions quietly obeyed. A couple of old workmen peek out from behind a shack. "Is he modelling that coat then?" asks one. "It’s "G" something, isn’t it?" Supermodel G doesn’t flinch.
Gallagher is about to embark on yet another round of promotion and touring, but it all feels "brand new" to him. Whether this is because he’s on still mineral water nowadays or because ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants", the new album, has been a long time coming, isn’t clear, but he’s got no idea what his schedule is and prefers it that way. I wonder how his voice is these days. Is it up to scratch? "Oh, it’s higher than scratch, yeah! Better than ever," he smiles, holding the door open. The number he wrote, "Little James", is "the best song on the album", of course. Although it’s plain this famous braggadocio of his is playful when he then says that little James himself "thinks it’s ridiculous. He’s my harshest critic, worse than the NME."
Back at the studio, Liam’s aura is almost tangible, although he contributes so little to general conversation someone later says it was as if he wasn’t there. As equipment is set up, he sits patiently in his buttoned-up parka, but there’s a watchful nervousness about him and he welcomes banter. He loved Fight Club, which is about "how fucked-up America is", thought Meatloaf was "top" and is enthusiastic about a catalogue of the photographer’s father’s "top" paintings. His stepson is "top" with Lennon. He really looks after him". Lennon has blue eyes and blonde hair just like he and Noel did as babies.
Did he see the paparazzi shots of him and Lennon in the Sun?
"Yes," he says with expected bile. "He’d been hiding outside our house for days. I said, "Can’t you do your job properly? How come it takes you days to take a simple fucking shot?" I nearly grabbed the camera off him and showed him how to do it." Lennon will be christened after the tour as they don’t want to go through another wedding-type fiasco when, hours before the ceremony they had to cancel after seeing on The Big Breakfast the amount of cameras parked outside the registry office. In the end, they married at 7.30am on April 7,1997.Did he get the words out properly? "Just about," he says.
"I should have pre-recorded it though, taken along a Dictaphone."
"The christening is very much Patsy’s thing," he says. "All that Catholic stuff, it doesn’t mean anything to me." As a godparent myself, I ask him what’s expected. He sweetly asks how often I see the kid, and then advises me to remember birthdays. "I lucked out with my godfather," he says. "He was the richest one, so I used to get loads of Tonka toys and that."
Liam wants the photographs to look great. He has dispensed with hair and make-up, choosing instead to occasionally re-adjust his shiny mop, but has gone to the effort of embellishing a beige military-style jacket he found in New York: "I found that gold Scouts badge and sewed it on myself," he says boyishly.
Clothes and music are obviously of paramount importance to Gallagher, a secret dandy. He checks out what people are wearing ("I like your boots. Where did you get them from?") and is happy to play DJ. First he plays a new album by American band Cotton Mathur (he has also brought Reef and Groove Armada CDs along) and becomes very animated when people like it (pretty much the only time he breaks from his self-contained demeanour). "Is this your CD?" I ask. "No," he replies, thinking I thought it was by Oasis. "But I fucking wish it was." He goes to adjust the sound levels. "This is pure Beatles. It was recorded on a four-track but it sounds unbelievable. I play it all day at home. We’re trying to get them to tour with us in the States, and then maybe back here as well. "Later on, after I’ve played the Clash and the Beach Boys, I ask for requests. He looks at me cheekily as if to say,"I’ll take care of it this time, if you don’t mind", and leaps up to stick on Counting Crows.
Looking at the initial Polaroids, he teases the photographer: "is that the best you can do? I’ll give you £50 to do better than that." Subsequently, he is all praise: "It looks fucking top. Really Sixties and old. Cool." Noel, who will be shot later on, is in a meeting: "He’s always in a fucking meeting. Never stops talking." We suggest Noel’s delay is just a ploy so that they won’t be photographed together."I don’t know why. He’s better off with me in the picture - he’s bound to spoil it with his Adidas trainers and Prada jacket."
All this is said for entertainment, and he’s not too cool not to smile when people laugh. When I marvel at his ability to hold his expression, unblinking, for long exposures, he can’t hide his pleasure. Liam is really a big kid with a soft heart who’s on his best behaviour because, for the time being, he’s bored with the alternative. When I comment that the Polaroids look romantic he looks disgusted, as a ten year-old boy would, then decides to have fun, grabbing me for a comedy waltz and saying, "We’d better tear them up then, otherwise all the boys will be running down the street after me." After two hours of Liam looking mysterious and re-arranging himself without objection for the camera, his PR asks him whether he’s finished. "It’s up to Mathew," he replies, gesturing towards the photographer. On his way out, he says goodbye to everyone, looking each of us in the eye. Hate to disappoint you folks, but Liam Gallagher is a gentleman.