Noel & Liam Gallagher - MOJO - January 2001
On the afternoon of May 20, 2000, the Oasis tour bus edged into the car park of the Pavelló De La Vall D'Hedron, Barcelona. The Catalan sky was a deep, liquid blue and a light breeze was blowing in from the sea. With nearly 40 dates of their world tour under their belt, the band had long surrendered to the weird, parallel universe of life on the road. At the soundcheck, they swapped instruments and jammed some Beatles tunes.There was little to suggest that the day would become one of the darkest in their eight-year career.
"We were great that day," says Liam Gallagher. "I was playing drums, Noel was playing guitar, the kids were waiting outside and it was going to be a great fucking gig. Then Alan [White, drummer] got back on the kit and his arm seized up, and we had to pull the gig."
With six or seven hours to kill while the crew dismantled the stage-set, Oasis retreated to the dressing room and began to lay into the rider - crates of San Miguel, bottles of Rioja, Temprenillas, vodka, gin, Jack Daniel's. As the night wore on, the light-hearted banter between Liam and Noel descended into a slanging match. Then Liam went one insult too far. "I lost it with him," says Noel. "It was a proper fight - it wasn't just like, I'll scratch your eyes out, you bitch! It was a proper brawl, and I'm actually quite proud of the fact that it came to blows. He knows if he crosses me that far I'll leave him in the shit." With Liam left sprawled in the corner of the dressing room, Noel took a flight to Paris before returning home to London. Oasis's millennium white-knuckle ride was just beginning...
If rock 'n' roll is dead, then no one has told Noel and Liam Gallagher. In what's generally agreed to have been a quiet year for music, they've dominated headlines with on-the-road bust-ups, ructions in their personal lives and, it must be said, some of the most euphoric shows they've ever played. Yet after the fracas in Spain and the extraordinary scenes at Wembley Stadium in July - a cantankerous, pie-eyed Liam ("This is for all the knobheads out there, just fuck off!"); Noel, now back at the helm, looking on sourly - most observers were convinced that relations between the brothers were irreparable and the band was doomed. The tour ended with three inconclusive festival appearances in August. At the final date at Leeds, Liam insisted that "this isn't a fucking funeral". Few believed him. Since then, there have been rumours that Oasis are rehearsing in Buckinghamshire without their leader and that Noel and Liam still aren't getting on. On its release in mid-November, the live Familiar To Millions - a document of the first, peaceable night at Wembley Stadium - looked alarmingly like a farewell gesture, a thank you to fans who'd stuck by them to the bitter end, a requiem for the band who are destined to forever totemise the Britpop phenomenon of the '90s.
Yet Oasis are not splitting up. Noel Gallagher is adamant about that. We are sitting at a corner table of a Marylebone pub, unharrassed if not studiously ignored - by the lunchtime office crowd. The guitarist is sporting a green jacket, rakish silk scarf, bootcut Wranglers and a large, flashy ruby ring. His face is framed by an oversized George-in-'65 Beatle-mop, and he's holding a Marlboro Light in one hand,a pint of Guinness in the other. Noel tells me that he's just missed out on the flat in nearby Montagu Square where John and Yoko were busted in October '68. He enthuses about the "20 new songs" that the rest of the band has apparently written, and about the last Queens Of The Stone Age album. The only topic we seem to be avoiding is Liam. Today, it was he that MOJO was scheduled to meet. Gallagher senior is here as a matter of diplomacy. His brother has gone AWOL. Liam's no-show this afternoon is just the latest twist in a fraught week of delicate negotiations and minor traumas. Two days ago, the singer was meant to bave attended a photo-shoot at the Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street, but cancelled at the very last minute. The official line was that he "had flu". No one had cause to think there was a problem - until, that is, he was spotted that very same evening at one of Coldplay's London shows. And a few hours ago, with the photographer and her assistant on site, Liam's blown us out yet again. So what's going on? Have Noel and Liam bad another bust-up? "The truth is he's seeing his little boy," says the man they call `The Chief', lighting another ciggie, "Today is the first chance he's had to see him for a while, and that's what he's doing. Liam's a law to himself - he's actually got no concept of turning up on time and he wouldn't give a shit if you came from Mars to do an interview, because it would be, "I'm doing this and that's the end of it."
Fair enough. But you could hardly blame us for being suspicious. When MOJO last spoke to Noel, in January, he was looking forward to touring the band's fourth studio album, Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, with new members Gem Archer and Andy Bell. Conceived in a new atmosphere of sobriety, and overseen by 'dance' producer Mark Stent, Giants was meant to be the big post-Britpop comeback, the record that would prove Oasis had an artistic life beyond the decade they defined. Now we're sitting here trying to work out where it all went wrong.
"Look," says Noel, sipping on his pint. "We've never said we're breaking up, though I grant you it did come very close at one point. It's just... this year's been such a fucking weird one, what with the collapse of the label [Creation], all the shit that went on with the tour, then Liam and his missus breaking up, then me and my missus, not to mention all the shit behind the scenes that never gets out. Like, I got a phone call today saying my house in Ibiza has virtually fallen into the fucking sea... "
And what about the rehearsals without you?
"Yeah, it's true, but that's because I'd just split up with the missus. They phoned up and said, `Look we're going into the studio, are you coming?' I said I couldn't because it wasn't the right time for me. We're all going through bits of shit, and at this particular moment in time we've got family problems and there are kids involved and shit like that. So how could you possibly have your head into working out whether you should go into a double chorus or not? But, as a band, we're demoing as much stuff as we can. It's pretty exciting for me because before it was always 'me, me, me'. Now Andy and Gem and Liam are writing I don't have that same sort of pressure. It's just a question of getting this year out of the way and getting enough songs together to make another record."
"Yeah, it's been a fucking mad year," says Liam when he eventually materialises, unapologetic and looking as cool as fuck, at the re-scheduled shoot the following Monday (more of which later). "It's probably the worst year Oasis have ever had, but shit like this is a challenge. The point is we're a fuckin rock'n'roll band, not some poof band who play guitar and do what they're fucking told. It's never going to be easy with us, but it's exciting, it gives people something to talk about."
The next day a fax comes through officially confirming a clutch of Oasis festival appearances in South America in January and a possible tour with The Black Crowes next summer. It's true, then: having been knocked for six, given up for dead and read their last rites, Oasis are on their feet again and ready to fight back. What follows is the exclusive inside story of one of the most extraordinary years in rock'n'roll.
JANUARY 2000: Oasis begin rehearsals for a world tour. New recruits Gem Archer (ex-Heavy Stereo, rhythm guitar) and Andy Bell (ex-Ride/Hurricane #1, bass) replace founder members Bonehead and Guigsy who'd unexpectedly left the previous autumn to "spend more time with their families". Noel is excited about having two 'professional' musicians on board and, as if to celebrate their new-found musicality, the band record a version of The Who's tricky-to-play My Generation for a Radio 1 session. A new single, Go Let It Out- all grooving bass line, Mellotron chorus and Beatles-go-psychedelic guitars-begins to get heavy airplay.
What was it like playing with two new members?
Noel: Gem was in the band about three weeks before Andy so they didn't come in together. We'd known Gem for years from him being on Creation. We had about three weeks where three or four bass players came in - that was like a week before we had to go to America and do these radio shows, which would have been last November.Then Liam was reading Melody Maker on the way to rehearsals one day and he said, "Fucking Andy Bell's joining Gay Dad!" and I was like, Oh, right, and he said, "Why don't we get him to play bass?" And I said, I don't think he plays bass. So Liam said, "Fucking hell, if he can play guitar he can play bass." I thought it was a good idea, and a couple of days later he came over. Once the five of us got in the room and played the tunes it was just fucking spot on. He looked the part too.
Liam: We went for a curry with Gem and asked him to join the band. That was it. It wasn't like a fucking job interview - he knew what he had to do and he enjoys it. And that's how it should have been in the beginning, that's what bands should be like - we should have had him in the beginning but we didn't. That's what our band needs, good fucking players instead of just having good songs and good front men or whatever. We just jammed and did loads of fucking covers. We didn't really talk much. We woz happy. Andy Bell's a wicked musician, too, man, they both are.
Noel: When we did those radio shows it was great because it was the first time we'd got to that drunken five o'clock in the morning situation, talking about music and all that. Andy's "Stones, Stones, Stones" all the time and Liam's "Beatles, Beatles, Beatles". There was like a fucking Mexican stand-off one night in a bar. After we got past that one we knew it was going to be fine. When we started rehearsing for the tour it was just amazing.
Did it feel weird without Bonehead and Guigsy? They'd been playing with you since 1992.
Liam: It wasn't weird at all. For me it's straight down the line: if they don't want to be in the band and don't want to play with you then fuck off, see you later. That's what it's about - you're not married to them, are you? It was their band as much as it was ours and if they're not giving fucking 100 per cent then see you later.
Eighteen months down the road, are you any wiser as to why they got out when they did?
Liam: No. I haven't got a clue, 'cos they're not doing anything, are they? If they left the band 'cos they wanted to stay at home, what are they doing? I feel sorry for them. Music is a big part of my life and if it wasn't for that I'd be fucking in the shit. I'd be a right cunt - I'd be banged up or something.
You honestly think that?
Liam: Yeah, I do. I mean, I love Oasis, I love my band, our band's fucking great, the best band in the world when we want to be. But when we want to be we can be fucking idiots. When we put our heads together we are the fucking bollocks and no one can come near us.
Are you still in contact with Bonehead or Guigsy?
Noel: No, but Liam's still in contact with them. They've never actually spoken to me since they left the band I don't know why. I suppose it was weird for Liam because those three were really close and I'd usually be doing my own thing, writing or doing interviews.
Liam: Have I spoken to them? No. Well, I rang them last Christmas. Every now and then Bonehead will ring me up and go, "Fucking hell, I'm fucking doing this, I'm fucking doing that." But I'm like, (disdainfully) Really, really? I've got nothing in common with them anymore. We never hung out with them anyway. The only time I saw them was when we were on tour. The only thing I had in common with them was the music and now they're not in the band any more. I wish them all the best.
Noel: As soon as we made the decision to carry on it was like, We've got a fucking album, we've got the tour and we've got to go and do it. It was just a case of getting the right people in, and we have. Now it's like we've never had anybody else in the band, y'know what I mean? On previous albums I would write the songs and that would be it. Now everybody chips in. Now I'm saying, What do you think of that? Is it the right arrangement?
FEBRUARY. Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants is released. Some critics regard it as a work of genius, many others (MOJO included) are disappointed by its lyrical shortcomings ("I can see a liar/Sitting by the fire", etc), familiar licks and lack of truly momentous songs. There are, though, some inspired guitar parts and memorable moments: Noel's prophetic Where Did It All Go Wrong?, the anthemic Gas Panic and Liam's first assay at songwriting, the simplistic, heartfelt Little James. The initial album sessions took in March 1998 at Chateau De La Colle Noire, designer Christian Dior's home in the south of France. The band-who were renting the gaff at £32,000 a month-had agreed upon a no-drinking policy for the six-week sojourn, in part to help Liam dry out after the excesses of their 1997 world tour.
However, after several weeks on the wagon, Bonehead went on a spectacular bender, which ended with him breaking down producer 'Spike' Stent's bedroom door at five o'clock in the morning. A band argument ensued and Bonehead flew home to Manchester. He never rejoined Oasis. Ironically most of the guitar and bass tracks laid down in France were scrapped (though not the drums) and new recordings made back in London. On its initial UK release, Shoulder shifts 500,000 copies - less than half as many as Be Here Now and about a quarter of (What's The Story) Morning Glory. It also misses the US Top 20 completely, a territory Oasis .were hoping to crack wide open. It will, though, sell around two million in total overseas within a few weeks.
So what did you think about the criticism of Giants?
Noel: The lyrics on, oh, what's it fucking called? - I Can See A Liar were fucking shit, but I knew that in the first place and for the life of me I couldn't come up with anything better. I should have written another verse for Put Yer Money Where Your Mouth Is, but other than that I would stand by all the fucking songs on that record. It's not very 'single heavy' which is also probably true of Be Here Now.
It wasn't what people were expecting. I think they were hoping for something similar to your collaborations with the Chemical Brothers.
Noel: I'm not sure what people were expecting. What it is, right, is you play Epic like Fuckin' In The Bushes and Go Let It Out, which are kind of groove based, and they go and tell someone from Rolling Stone that it's an "experimental dance album", when that's not really the case. You want to tell them to shut their fucking mouth until the record's finished. So everyone's going, They're working with fucking Goldie on the album and the Chemical Brothers are doing something, and it's like, fuck off! It's just the same old shit. We never actually said we were going to experiment at all. We write songs on guitars - that's what we do and at least within that framework we've got our own identity. We never said we were going to change the face of music anyway, we just said we were gonna have a laugh playing rock'n'roll, which is what we're trying to do.
Liam: People say it was shite and people say it was good, I think it's a great album. I think it's a great fourth album, and if that's not good enough then fine. People say it's amazing, it's not amazing, nothing's amazing, y'know what I mean? I think it's great, otherwise it wouldn't have come out. Just because you get a couple of bad reviews doesn't mean I'm going to go, Oh, you're right. I stand by everything we do, because we put it out and we are happy with it at the time.
Did you enjoy the working environment at Chateau De La Colle Noire?
Liam: I loved it. I was off the booze, man, so I just drank loads of water and was in the bog all the time pissing. I was chilling. I wrote a couple of songs out there, it was good. I learned a few bits that I'd been struggling with.
Were there arguments over which songs you would record?
Liam: No, and there never has been. Noel just writes them and that's it, we record them and we're happy with what he puts down.
I read somewhere that you didn't like Where Did It All Go Wrong?
Liam: No. It's like Be Here Now, all the songs that we recorded in that session just fitted, all the drum sounds, it all went the same way-it's more of a package. It wasn't an argument, I just had to say my bit because if you don't say your bit then you go home frustrated. And if there's anything on my mind, I say it. And if people tell me tofuck off then fine. It's my band as much as anyone else's. I've got the freedom of speech.
MARCH. Oasis embark on a monstrous 72-date world tour, taking in Japan, Europe, America, Mexico and Europe again. The setlist - which remains basically the same for the next four months - is solid, highly conservative, ignores Be Here Now almost completely and unashamedly pushes the new album, starting as it does with Fuckin'In The Bushes (on tape), Go Let It Out and second single from Giants, Who Feels Love? The rest of the set features various permutations of: Supersonic, Shakermaker, Acquiesce, Sunday Morning Call, I Can See A Liar, Gas Panic, Roll With It, Stand By Me, Wonderwall, Cigarettes & Alcohol, Don't Look Back In Anger, Live Forever, Champagne Supernova, plus a cover of The Beatles' Helter Skelter and Rock'n'Roll Star.
On the first night of the tour, at the Yokohama Arena, Tokyo, Noel and Liam are already in combative form. "If you'd turned up at the rehearsals you'd know the words," snaps Noel after his brother fluffs a line in Stand By Me. "Perhaps if we'd had the speakers plugged into the nearest pub we'd be all right." Liam, meanwhile, is concerned by other, more basic needs. "Has anyone got an biscuits?" he asks the 2,000-strong cowd.
It is, however, generally agreed that Oasis - augmented by touring keyboardist Zeb Jameson put on a powerful,bristling, no-frills performance. How did Gem and Andy's musicianship stand up in the heat of a real gig?
Noel: They were fantastic. It was good for me, too, because I always felt that, before, if I had an off-night playing guitar then the whole thing would fall apart because Bonehead and Guigs weren't the best musicians in the world. But now Gem plays more lead than I do, which is brilliant for me because I can concentrate on the singing. It just feels fucking really good, it gives you more confidence
Didn't you feel the setlist was a bit conservative, though - it had a lot of the old rockers on it.
Liam: There was loads more we could have done, but we were always planning on doing Shakermaker and all that stuff like Rock'n'Roll Star.
But you have these great album tracks and B-sides- Rockin' Chair, Slide Away, The Masterplan - why ignore them?
Liam: Because we were being fucking silly and arguing. We started off doing Masterplan and all that in rehearsals and it was a fucking great set but it didn't work, y'know what I mean?
Noel: I only got people saying the set was predictable when we came back to England. But what people don't understand is that we started to tour in February and the band had only fallen apart just before Christmas. So we had to have 16 songs ready to go out on a fucking world tour so it was basically, What fucking songs do we all know? There's a lot more that we could have done but we didn't have the time. It was only halfway through the tour that we looked at the setlist and thought this is very fucking 1994, 1995.
Do you ever get bored yourself playing the same old stuff?
Noel: Yeah. But it's like someone says, "Do we have to play Rock'n'Roll Star?" You think, Well no, and then Liam goes, "What d'ya mean we're not going to play Rock'n'Roll Star?" And I'm like, Well, of course we're going to play it! (Laughs) We just didn't have enough time in rehearsals and we'd already booked the gigs, so that was why we played it pretty safe. We didn't want to be stopping songs and going, No, it's fucking F-sharp, because that wouldn't have been fair on the guys that had just joined the band. I think they were nervous enough as it was already.