It's been ten years that's shaken a fair bit of the world and now, suddenly, Oasis are back. What better time for a reflective, confessional, candid and scandalous one-on-one with a man who always gives great quote, Noel Gallagher? Interview with Stuart Clark
I'm bored and can't be bothered writing music anymore. The bigger the monster becomes, the harder it is to manoeuvre. I've started thinking that maybe it's time to scale it down - y'know, shed some of the weight or perhaps try new things altogether. "To be honest, I don't know if I can be arsed putting out another rock 'n' roll record. I deserve a fucking break."
If you'd asked on December 3rd 1997 whether I thought Oasis would be around to celebrate their 10th birthday, I'd have laughed ever so politely in your face and said, "No fucking way, mate."
Noel Gallagher had just been told by a third party that his brother, Liam, wouldn't be performing that night at The Point because he had "a bad throat". Coupled with a sulking (now ex) missus, it meant that festive cheer was in decidedly short supply. Rather than marking an improvement in their fortunes, the New Year of 1998 saw founder members Bonehead and Guigsy becoming estranged from the band to the point where most of their tracks were wiped off Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants - a record which the British press wouldn't have liked any less if it had come wrapped in a pair of Johnny Vegas' week-old Y-fronts.
"It was a complete disaster, but you know what?" Noel reflects. "We still managed to sell Wembley Stadium out last year in a morning. I don't want to slag Guigs and Bonehead off, but them leaving and Gem and Andy coming in has been the saving of Oasis. I know what you're thinking - 'Gallagher's talking through his arse again', but wait till you hear the new album!"
When HotPress contacted Sony to see if we could have an anniversary chat with Oasis, the answer was a firm - if scrupulously polite - "No, they're not doing any Irish press." Forty-eight hours later it's "to the airport and make it snappy!" as we're told that, seeing as it's us, Noel will make an exception.
"I like HotPress because, firstly, you don't make stuff up and, secondly, all me Mam's family in Ireland read it," he enthuses as we settle down for our natter in an Ober-posh London hotel. "Actually, you've probably printed loads of lies about us, but I've never seen 'em!"
As if! Casting my mind back to our previous four meetings, I don't remember Noel Gallagher ever looking this relaxed or healthy before. The result, methinks, of knocking the Class 'A's on the head and embarking on a new romance with PR woman-around-town Sara MacDonald. We've ten years of Oasis history to go through today, so let's not beat about the proverbial.
Stuart Clark: Tell us about this shit cool rock 'n' roll record you're making?
Noel Gallagher: The backing-tracks are pretty much done and we're going to add strings and things next week. Liam, being a law unto himself, turns up at four o'clock in the morning and Alan, whose twin loves are cars and drinking, buggers off as soon as his drum parts are done. Which used to leave me in the studio with Bonehead and Guigsy, who I didn't have more than an hour's worth of conversation with in seven years. Now that Andy and Gem are there getting all enthusiastic about stuff, it's a far more pleasurable experience. Song-wise, Liam's got three, Andy and Gem have two each and I've come up with the rest. I'm artistically, morally, contractually and everything else obliged to say this, but I honestly think it'll be as good as Morning Glory and Definitely Maybe.
Any early contenders for the lead single?
Yeah, there's a Northern flat-cap anthem that we're going to finish off with a proper Salvation Army band.
Have you given up on America?
The question actually is "have they given up on us?" No offence, but to be as big as U2 are in the States, you've got to be prepared to sell your arse a little bit. You get to the point where you don't want to make another video, or meet the owner of Sam Goody's Records in Cincinnati. Bono wants to be the biggest rock star in the world, which is why he is.
How comes you were the only A-List celebrity not to make it to Slane?
U2 had been on at us to come over, but we thought, "No, we'll go and check out that Eminem fellow." Wrong decision! Basically, it was a load of fat geezers on stage shouting into a microphone. There was a guy playing records who you couldn't hear and Eminem - who you'd expect to be at least a bit charismatic-standing around looking bored.
I understand you had a close encounter of the Marilyn Manson kind.
I was watching Eminem from the side of the stage when one of Manson's guitarists came over and went, "Hey dude, it's really great to meet you, man." Ten minutes later, I get this tap on the shoulder and there's Brian in his full staff sergeant's regalia. I was like, "Ooo'er, I'm going to be beheaded", but, no, he ever so politely shook my hand and said "Hello." I hadn't believed this journalist bloke a couple of years ago when he told me that, "Be Here Now is one of Marilyn Manson's favourite records", but, yeah, it's true.
Am I right in thinking that divorce agrees with you?
When did you start working for the News Of The World? My private life is good at the moment partly because of Sara, and partly because I've got out of that celebrity thing. Having spent far too long worrying about what fucking party I was going to attend, I'm now concentrating on the day-to-day living of life.
I don't know if you read our Bob Geldof interview recently, but in it he accused courts of discriminating against fathers in custody battles. Fair comment?
Yeah, it's a fucking disgrace. The automatic assumption that mothers are better parents than fathers is blatantly anti-male. As was my mate, Paul Weller, being splashed all over the front-pages for something he patently didn't do. Innocent until proven guilty? Not if you're a bloke, and a famous one at that.
How has separating from Meg impacted on the relationship with your daughter?
There's so much stigma attached to being estranged from your kid that, for a while, I beat myself up over it. I'd see Anais and want it to be so special that... well, you forget that all kids of that age are interested in is drawing on walls and throwing cakes around the fucking room. When it comes to the point when I can communicate with my daughter properly, I'll sit her down and say, "This is what happened. These were the reasons. For better or for worse, I thought it was the best thing to do. What do you think? How has it affected you? Can we talk about it?" Until then, I'll continue to chase her round the room with a funny mask on!
What visitation rights do you have?
I see her every other weekend, and every Thursday and Friday on the alternate weeks.
Getting back to Oasis, did you really issue Liam with '10 Commandments' ahead of your last US tour with The Black Crowes?
"Thou shalt not drink or piss Noel off?" No, that was something which Dominic Mohan made up for his Sun column. I wouldn't mind, but it made me sound a right cunt! There were one or two - how shall we put it? -instances when Liam got out of hand, but generally he was quite well behaved.
Another of The Sun's recent exclusives is that you're skint.
(Laughs) Yeah, it's true, I'm down to me last eight or nine million. Because it takes over an hour to get to the studio from where I live by car, we sometimes take the train. Ignoring the fact that there's no First Class between London and Wycombe, they concocted a story which says. Noel Gallagher's so broke he's travelling economy on British Rail."
Are there any really juicy stories about you that the tabloids have missed?
Yeah, but I'm not gonna tell you 'em 'cause they're the ones we actively tried to repress! I've had to put a few people in taxis the afternoon of the night before and go, "I don't think you should take drugs anymore, and if anybody asks, you weren't in my house!" Some you'll be able to guess, and others have somehow managed to whore it through life with their characters unblemished.
Have you ever met a hero who's turned out to be a cunt?
I'm lucky in that all the heroes I've met have been pretty fucking cool to me. Someone who was a right cunt to Liam, God bless him, was Johnny Lydon. We met him and his brother in LA and as the ale flowed he got more and more lippy. Liam - or "the singer" as Lydon insisted on calling him - said something about being a Smiths fan and he goes, "How can you like them? He's fucking gay, Morrissey." Then he looked at me and went, "Are you wearing make-up?" To which I replied, "Piss off, you fat little bastard!" I knew that him having a pop at Morrissey was a wind-up, but our kid was ready to twat him!
Did you ever kiss and make up?
A rather sweet thing happened when I met him again at the Pistols gig in Shepherd's Bush Empire. I saw him walking across the room to me and thought, "This is either going to start with a headbutt or a drink in the face." What actually happened was that he put his arms around me and whispered into my ear: "I haven't got many friends in this game, but I'd like to think you're one." I'm telling you, man, I nearly burst into tears!
I say this in a complimentary way, but have you ever met a bigger yob than Steve Jones?
(Laughs) In his leopard-skin kecks and his big beer belly! He's a fucking slag, yeah, but what a guitar player!
What about villains who turned out to be heroes?
Ian McCulloch. I met him at a gig and thought, "Aye, aye, here's a right mouthy bollocks," but then we clicked and spent six hours together in the bogs. Not having sex, I hasten to add.
Would he rate as one of the most full-on characters you've met?
He's in and around the top 10, but nowhere near as mad-for-it as, say, Weller. What was really scary was a session I had with him, Liam and Messrs. Craddock and Fowler from Ocean Colour Scene. Apart from anything else, they're completely fascist about their musical taste. Liam'd say he liked such-and-such band and Weller'd go, "Yeah, but look at the fucking shoes they're wearing." Our kid's big thing at the moment is that The Strokes are crap 'cause their singer's called Julian. Sure, it is a shit name, but musically they're fucking spot on.
Is it true that you tried to sign Jules and his mates to your Sour Mash label?
I got hold of their demo, which became their first EP, and thought, "This is the fucking bollocks!" The sound, the songs... I knew straight away that those guys have it. I was prepared to get on a plane and talk business with them, but before we'd had a chance to make an approach, they signed to Rough Trade. The money for the label comes out of my pocket, so we probably wouldn't have been able to afford them anyway.
Leaving the ding-dongs aside, what's the nicest thing Liam's ever done for you?
(Pause that isn't so much pregnant as feet up in the stirrups waiting to be induced). That's a hard one. Being nice to my daughter, I suppose. He's crap with adults but give him a kid to play with, and he's a big softie. I'm not good at accepting people being nice to me. For instance, I'd go out of my way to hide my birthday. Sentimental family stuff tends to embarrass me, which is my failing not theirs.
Are there any unreleased Oasis gems lurking in the vaults, or songs that would've been classics if more time had been lavished on them?
If we'd kept it for Be Here Now, rather than releasing it as a B-side, I think 'The Masterplan' would be one of the all-time Oasis greats. Similarly, if 'Don't Go Away' had made it on to Morning Glory, as originally intended, it would've been hailed as one of the top 10 albums of all time. That aside, I wouldn't really change anything.
So there's not a triple box-set of outtakes waiting to be unleashed?
I remember being in the studio with Owen (Morris) at the back-end of Be Here Now, and him asking if I had any more tunes. Which was the cue for me making up lyrics to eight or nine songs that I'd only got the music for. One of these days I'm going to get the DAT off him and see if there's anything worth releasing.
It's a matter of taste I know but, personally, I was well miffed to see OK Computer atop the Q 100 Greatest Albums Of All Time'.
I'm a fan of records, not bands. There's even stuff that The Beatles did which I wouldn't bother replacing if they were robbed off me. The Bends is a great record, but OK Computer and Amnesiac... I really don't see what all the fuss is about. There's nothing on 'em that wasn't being done by Faust 25-years ago. As for the real 'Greatest Album Of All Time', it's got to be Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols. Partly because it sounds like nothing else, and partly because they split up immediately afterwards. The records we listened to non-stop when we were making Definitely Maybe, and used as our benchmark, were Never Mind The Bollocks and The Who Live At Leeds. Anything that lacked their intensity was thrown in the bin.
I don't want you thinking I'm a hippy dippy new age type, but have you ever had a paranormal experience?
No, but before going to see U2 in Manchester recently, me and me girlfriend were saying, "I wonder what it is with Bono and God?" Anyway, we're sat round a table after the gig and I go, "Explain it to me 'cause I was brought up Catholic and it means fuck all to me." We had a good three-hour conversation about his religious philosophy, which is basically, "Go to God, tell him what all your flaws are and say, 'Can you work with me?'" Which is completely different to the "Don't drink, don't screw, don't take drugs and always go to church" bollocks you get taught at school. I didn't think a whole lot more about it until two days later when there's a knock on the door and the recorded delivery guy hands me two books that have been sent by Bono. There's also a little note, which reads, "I don't know if you were serious the other night, but here's something that might give you a bit more of an understanding." What a fucking top geezer! His Dad's on his death bed, yet he still takes the time to go out, buy two books and send 'em to me! I'm on holiday next month and, I tell you, I'm going to read 'em from cover to cover.
You told me the last time we met that the only thing preventing you from moving to Ireland was Meg's refusal to go cutting turf in her Prada gear. Now that she's history, would you consider joining Eddie, Lisa and Damon out in Dalkey?
If I was moving to Ireland, I'd go all the way and get myself a place in Charlestown. I was there last week for my gran's memorial, and needless to say was drinking till half-four in the morning with all me aunts and uncles. Never mind that I had a plane to catch at 10.30, it was, "Ah sure, why don't you stay for another?" What's brilliant- besides all the jokes and the stories - is that you're a nephew, not a rock star.
Any downside to Ireland?
The one thing that'd put me off living in Ireland is the health service. I went to see my uncle, who's suffering from cancer, in Galway Hospital and it was an absolute disgrace. I wanted to take him with me on the fucking plane, but, y'know, he's an old geezer and he wants to be around his family. Everything else about the country though, I love.
What are your thoughts on the "War Against Terrorism"?
You mean the biggest waste of $50 billion in the world... ever? Inevitably, they will make a fucking balls of it. Do they know where Bin Laden is? What happens if he ends up in China? Are they going to send the SEALS and the Marines into Belfast to take out the IRA and the Loyalists?
I was thinking, will there be a tactical strike on Primal Scream for writing a song called 'Bomb The Pentagon'?
Knowing Mani, it's him who'll be doing the taking out... to the pub! Them being so angry all the time gets on me tits, but what a fucking band! Oasis couldn't go from 'Kick Out The Jams' to 'Come Together' to 'Vanishing Point'- we're not electronically aware at all. At least they're not cynical cunts like Manic Street Preachers. Did you see that bit on the telly when they met Castro? Here they were face-to-face with one of the most influential leaders of the 20th Century, and all Nicky Wire could think to say was, "Noel Gallagher shook hands with Tony Blair and we're meeting Fidel." I was thinking, "in your crowning moment of glory, you student, you still mentioned my name. Thank you very much!" They're living out the university fantasy of Fidel Castro blah blah blah, which doesn't appeal to me one little bit. The next time I see Nicky, I'm going to say, "Why don't you put your nurse's uniform on and go back to college?"
Now that you're a record company mogul yourself, do you have a greater understanding of what Alan McGee went through with Creation?
"Went through"? Personally, I think he made seventeen million quid out of me, so I don't feel sorry for him at all. He said a lot of things after Creation collapsed - like how it had summat to do with Oasis - that were really cheeky. I can't remember exactly how he phrased it, but the inference was that our record sales had suffered because his creative input had been taken away. He never had any creative input! I wrote the fucking songs, I co-produced the record. That's where it finished. He actually said that 'Some Might Say' shouldn't be a single, and it's the greatest number one that ever was in the '90s.
Is it just me, or is McGee trying to set a new record for how quickly you can blow £20 million?
With Poptones, you mean? There was all this hoo-ha about how it was going to be a punk rock label and then he goes and signs the Cosmic Rough Riders who are as un-fucking-cosmic and un-fucking-punk rock as it gets. I saw 'em at 'T' In The Park and was convinced they were all roadies. Fair play to McGee, though, for bigging it up and getting all that investment from The City. Who probably shat themselves when they heard El Vez!
Talking of the noble art of roadying, did you effect the tour t-shirt and big dangly bunch of keys look when you were humping for Inspiral Carpets?
Did I fuck! The one time I did wear a t-shirt, they told me to take it off because it had the Stone Roses on it and they were jealous of their success. I was actually known in roadie circles for not getting my hands dirty. The Inspirals played a lot of universities, which meant there were always Student Union-types willing to lug speaker cabinets up five flights of stairs! "Come on Jeremy, get that up there!" Actually a funny story. I bumped into Tom Inspiral for the first time in five years at a Liverpool Dockers' benefit. I hadn't seen him since the day he sacked me and he came out with the immortal line, "So what have you been up to?" I just laughed at him and said, "Y'know, this and that."
Did you ever get any of their cast-off groupies?
You wouldn't have wanted them, to be honest. You've got to remember this was the arse-end of the '80s. The kids coming to the gigs were either dressed like Ned's Atomic Dustbin or had huge ridiculous flares on, which wasn't particularly sexy.
I often wonder what became of the Barry Mooncults of this world...
Dancing around with a flower on your head? The talented one from Flowered Up, Liam Maher, has got a new track out called 'Dark Side Of The Spoon', which is pretty good for a recovering smack addict!
Would you concur with Kelly Jones that instead of wasting money on expensive TV ad campaigns, we should get the anti-drugs message across to kids by introducing them to Shaun Ryder.
That'd work. Rather than the drugs themselves, it's the amount you drink while taking them that does the damage. I'm glad I stopped. You see people getting paranoid and ridiculously off their tits and think, "Let me go home now!"
To sporting matters, and one imagines that you're delighted to have the Ronaldo-esque talents of Richard Dunne at Maine Road.
Talking of drinking... I saw him play the opening game of the season and, actually, he looked okay. Kevin Keegan might be useless at organising defences, but he's a good man manager and will hopefully get the best out of him. The one who needs to be off-loaded immediately is Paolo Wanchope. He put another three million on his price tag by being the leading scorer in the Copa America, and then comes back to play Watford and is a proper donkey. He's got knees that go both ways!
Looking back at the past 10 years, is there a particular moment that sums up the madness?
Band-wise, driving across Knebworth one misty morning in me Roll's Royce. I got out, sat on the roof and thought, "Yeah, let's have it!" Two sellout shows there later, we're the biggest band in the world. Another mad one was walking through the doors at No. 10 Downing Street, notas a plumber but an invited guest. I'm glad I did it to have a look, but in terms of New Labour, I recognise now that we were conned. We thought he was John F. Kennedy, when in fact he was John Major with a better PR. team!