Liam Gallagher - The Observer - 16th June 2002
'My perfect day would be not being me. I'd have someone else's face and I'd go down the West End and check out the places I can never go in. I've only been down Oxford Street once. It was three in the morning. And I got arrested'
Liam Gallagher is trapped inside the most famous British male face of his generation. Sometimes, he'd like out.
Once, he held the key to his place in the world. In April 1994 he was just 22 years old and still a few weeks off the release of Oasis's debut single, 'Supersonic'. So he used the occasion of his first major music-press interview to introduce himself to the general public. Straddling his bemused elder brother Noel during a confrontation of such venomous fraternal loathing that the NME journalist conducting the interview later released it as a single, Liam shouted: 'I'm an average lad who was born in Burnage who played conkers. Conkers, mate. Conkers. The lot. And now I'm in a band and nothing's changed.'
But they did change, and unusually quickly for a British rock group. 'Supersonic' was an immediate Top 40 hit, propelling the Gallagher brothers on a rock'n'roll journey of such glorious, sky-scraping success, excess, notoriety and lunacy that it seemed as if it had been beamed back from a different, distant era altogether. The merry ship Oasis lit up the musical universe so brightly that for a few years back there in the mid-90s it was pretty much the only light anyone could see.
Even now, eight years after that first single, they remain the most bankable working rock group in Britain, even if their oft-repeated aim of being the biggest band in the world foundered on the jagged rocks of US burn-out. They still out-perform all of their British rivals in the US bar Radiohead, but that window of opportunity was only open for a short period after their (What's The Story) Morning Glory album in 1995, and Oasis missed their chance. They blew out too many American tours, disgraced themselves at one too many MTV Awards (ie, one) ever to repeat their UK impact in the US.
That failure to become the biggest rock group in the world is a tangible disappointment. But, domestically, their records still stick to the Top 10 longer than any of those of other Brit groups, they sell-out bigger gigs than the likes of Coldplay and do so very quickly and to a far younger audience - despite themselves being older.
Their new album, Heathen Chemistry, is better than the last two and nowhere near as good as the first two, but it will still chug its way into the number-one spot because fans will not be betrayed by weird new sounds or pretension. While many knock and mock Oasis for a lack of artistic adventure, it's actually what's kept them at the top while so many of their Britpop rivals withered. Oasis don't try anything fancy and that's just how many, many people like it.
But the reason why so many new young fans buy their records actually has little to do with the music. Noel has stoked the Oasis engine over the years by writing the hits, but he's no longer writing hits that keep teenage lads in Wigan tuned in. If it was just down to Noel, their audience would have aged with them. No, Liam's the reason why kids still dress like his band, still copy his walk and still nick > < his slang. Because it's been Liam, the average conker-playing lad from Burnage, who's spent eight intensely mad years leading the charge from the front. It's Liam who enables the band to be more than just Status Quo.
Liam: a man so illustrious he's known by his first name only. Also without question the most distinctive, forceful, pan-sexually attractive rock singer of the last 10 years. Flicker of v-signs, puncher of paparazzi. Snappy dresser. Fond of blonde beer and a party, walks like a frisky baboon and delivers even the most basic communication with withering Mancunian menace. Lives in a Hampstead mansion with his pop-star girlfriend Nicole Appleton, mother to his son Gene and his first significant partner since his marriage to Patsy Kensit (which produced a boy called Lennon) ended in 2000. Hero-worshipped by a generation of young males across the nation, especially in the north, who regard him as a kind of freedom fighter for the right to be a good-looking scoundrel and nutjob. To these devotees he stands for a simple principle: be who you are and take no shit. The first line of Oasis's first single ran: 'I need to be myself/I can't be no one else,' and nothing's changed.
'A perfect day for me would be not being me,' he says, sucking on a cigarette in the downstairs bar of a Baker Street pub that's been opened at 11am especially for him. 'I'd have someone else's face and I'd go down the shops in the West End and check out all the places I can never go in. I've only been down Oxford Street once. It was a few years ago after an awards ceremony. It was three in the morning. And I got arrested. The only time I ever see the street is from a car. I spend my whole life being driven around.'
When he does venture out for walks he rarely gets much beyond Hampstead Heath or the cinema in the O2 Centre on Finchley Road, because he gets too stressed out with people trying to have a pop or photographers chasing after him. He'd wear a disguise, he says, but, really, how do you disguise that walk?
'Wherever I go, there's always someone trying to do your head in. I just jump in a taxi, slide down the back seat and get driven home. I'm not here to moan but it would be nice to be able to go for a walk.'
The problem, he thinks, is a basic misunderstanding. Yeah, he agrees grudgingly, he is famous. Yeah, he's made the front page of every tabloid newspaper many times over and been one of the lead items on national television news on several occasions. He's definitely a superstar singer. But he's not, repeat not, a celebrity.
'There are people in this country,' he spits with relish as he sloshes tea round a mug between thumb and forefinger, 'who would go to the opening of an envelope and are only arsed about getting their picture taken. You're 18 years of age and that's all you're after? Having your photo in The Sun ? Go down Kodak, get a photo done and stick it up in your window, you daft bastard! It's not all about having a knees-up and looking pretty in the papers. It should be about making something good and getting paid for it.'
Often in conversation Liam can be psychedelic and Pythonesque. For example, ask him if he still has dreams and he says, yes. He dreams regularly of robbing country houses of their golden candlesticks and riding off into the distance on horseback with his accomplice, Lee Mavers, song- writer with legendary Liverpudlian underachievers The Las in tow.
He can be poetically cosmic, too, such as when he says that he believes in reincarnation and that he is indeed reincarnated himself. Who was he before? 'John Lennon, of course. I don't think I am. I think I was. He's me now.'
Every now and then, however, a subject pricks Liam so forcefully that bile is unleashed for several minutes. The loss of his freedom of movement, this notion of celebrity (or 'celebricy', as he calls it) is one subject that provokes such a reaction. The sight of Liam in full-on indignant rage is a rare, terrifying thing to behold. His brother describes it as like watching bear-baiting ('I sometimes leave the room with a, "John Lennon was an idiot,"' sniggers Noel down the phone later, 'just to watch the explosion.').
'People call me a celebricy!' bellows Liam, jabbing his oddly bloated, but bejewelled finger towards the tape machine. 'Bollocks! I'm a singer! You never see me down film premieres even though I get invited to about a hundred a week. I hate standing there with all those knobs coming in in dresses they've borrowed. Fuck off!'
Instead, when his son Lennon asks to go to, say, the Monsters Inc premiere that he saw Dad was invited to, Liam tells him he'll have to wait until it hits the cinema. Then he, Nicole, Lennon and Liam's mum Peggy pop down to O2, buy a big bucket of popcorn and Liam gets a couple of hours' kip without 'getting stressed by photographers who I have to punch and without any rich-kid screaming brats. Everyone's so eager to wear that top first, see that first, hear that first. You losers.
'People want to know why I'm always miserable, why I'm always shouting at people or punching photographers and it's because I'm not like one of these celebrity dicks. I don't need my gob in the gossip pages. I make music and you either like it or don't. That's it. Don't follow me down the shop. People say it's all part of fame and I should have known it before. . . well, no. I wanted to make records and be in a great rock'n'roll band. The rest is you being nosey bastards and making up for not having a life by trying to ruin mine. Go and follow someone who really wants to be photographed shopping for toilet rolls - ie all of those idiots in Heat magazine. Because I DON'T WANT TO BE FOLLOWED!'
He leans back, his rage suddenly all blown out. 'And if we can sort all that out then maybe I can get round to getting out on me tod now and again.'
Liam knows he's no longer the average conker-playing lad from Burnage. That promise has long since been swallowed by the mists of jet-setting, drug-snorting, highfalutin rock'n'roll mayhem. He thinks it's a bit of a shame. 'I don't play conkers anymore,' he shrugs. 'No, I don't. And I'm not from Burnage anymore. . . well, I was born there but I'm not actually from there now. I've got two kids and a few quid in me pocket. I still go to the pub like I would in Burnage. And I still get in scrapes like I would in Burnage. But I can't play conkers now. I'm in a great rock'n'roll band.
'But I try,' he says, suddenly and very unusually sad. 'I try to keep it real.' For Liam, keeping it real means an early start. He's up at seven. Then he has his breakfast, watches the news on telly and runs himself a bath. He discounts the notion that exercise could help him keep it real.
'I don't do anything like that,' he snorts, loosening another Marlboro Light from the pack. 'Rock stars exercising? I don't think it's right. You either got it or you ain't. I drink too much but you won't catch me doing >
At which point his day can go one of two ways. Either he gets driven down to his management office in Baker Street, where he can wind the office up for a few hours before being driven to a pub to wind his friends up. Or he can sit in his room listening to the five new tunes he's written, staring at a blank piece of paper trying to think of lyrics to go with them. As a singer he needs the lyrics, and these five songs would double his songwriting tally. But words don't come easily to Liam Gallagher.
'People think I'm going to write songs that are like some monkey boy going, "Oo-oo." But I want to write deep songs that make the world a better place. I want to write 'Imagine'. Deep songs that mean something but are dead simple. Nothing mystic. I want anybody to be able to understand them, even me.
'The most important things are right there on your doorstep. You don't need to take LSD to find yourself. You don't need to go to Africa to write songs [this is a dig at his arch rival Damon Albarn of Blur, who recently made an album in Mali]. The most important, delicate things are right beneath your nose. You've got to face them because you can't run from your soul, you can't hide from who you are.'
And after Liam has struggled with how truly to express his innermost feelings through his music for a while, he pops down the boozer for a few jars. But his quest for reality is hamstrung by the rumours that dog his life. For example, there are rumours of heroin use. 'Yeah I heard that, too. And it's made up. I've never done heroin in my entire life. If I did, I'd say, wouldn't I? I respect myself too much. I'm anti-heroin.'
What about the rumours of infi delity? 'I've got kids everywhere, apparently. But the only ones that I care to talk about are the two that were brought into loving relationships.'
Right. But is it hard to be the most desired 29-year-old in the country and monogamous? 'What's that?' Faithful. 'Not really. Not if you're in love.' And are you? 'I am. I totally buzz off Nic. She's the best woman I've ever come across and I should marry her. . . If I'd never been married she'd have a ring on her finger, granted that she'd take me. I'm not ready yet but she's the bollocks, she's my best mate, and I'm scared of changing that. I'm a better boyfriend than a husband, I think.'
The other rumour is perhaps the most surprising. It's that Liam's got God. Is he spiritual? 'If I am it ain't through reading big books and praying. I have a conversation with God every day and that's a conversation that I have with myself. I ask myself who I want to be because I've God and the devil in me, all right. I don't want to go left or right, I want to go straight and if God or the devil want to come with me, they can. If they don't, well, too bad.'
Do drugs bring the devil out in Liam?
'Drink and drugs. The devil can be in cocaine, it can be in booze, it can be in nagging people. The devil is everywhere but it depends how strong you are. In 1996 I was doing as much cocaine as anyone you've heard of, but I'm not addicted. I haven't done a line since Christmas. I had to leave it because I don't want to do a line every day. And that's to do with being a good person for your kids instead of being a lazy coke head.'
But does being a responsible father tally with being in a dangerous rock'n'roll band? Does the former detract from the latter? 'Our aim was to be the biggest band in the world and we're not. . . ' Liam stops and cocks his head to one side, as if surprised and disappointed. He rolls on, a little louder. 'We're the biggest band in Britain. We still are. We go in at number one and we stay around there unlike most groups, but it ain't even about that. We're still making the best rock'n'roll records in this country.'
He stubs out his cigarette and as he does so the second Liam Gallagher gale of the morning blows through the room. 'There ain't nobody touching us. Nobody in bands nowadays look like they're having any fun. Not saying that being thrown out of hotel bars or giving cameramen the v-sign is rock'n'roll, but I read people's inter views and they're idiots. Coldplay?' He's aghast. 'Radiohead? They don't want to have fun! It's all down to me to entertain. I'm the only one left.
'Name one rock star in Britain apart from a member of Oasis. Name one! Name one that looks cool and wears his heart on his sleeve. Name one, name one!'
The names and faces of a dozen big pop stars flash before our eyes, but given Liam's criteria he's quite right. None seems appropriate.
'Thom Yorke? I don't think so. Blur? I don't think so. For people like them, being in a band is all about having a mortgage. You see these bands today and they're all like, "I've got a mortgage." "Oh, I've got a mortgage, too." I don't know enough about the world to change it, but if you do something you should do it to the full. If you're a rock star, be one. I wanted to be a rock star; that's what I am, I'm madferrit and I will be until I die. There isn't one other rock star in the country.'
He slumps back against the leatherette. With the entire British music business destroyed, Liam starts to look to a time when he'll have nothing more to do with it; to his retirement. 'I'd like to be in a big house in the south of France,' he decides, staring wistfully up at the stairs that lead towards the pub's exit, 'with a deckchair. And the deckchair is outside and I'm in the deckchair just chilling right out. Forever.'
He says he's looking forward to being 60 in that deckchair in the south of France. Age is not a fear for him. If he's in that chair outside that house, he says, he won't even mind going bald. 'I'll moan about it, but I won't be getting a wig. I will not be getting an Elton John. I'll just get a skinhead and have it large with a goatee, get meself a part in EastEnders where I can shag the barmaid.'
Upstairs, having given his PR the slip in the other bar, Liam steps out into the courtyard, offers a handshake and a wink, and slopes off to watch a video of himself in his management's office round the corner.
Turning round in the street, it's a surprise to find Liam staring back from the other end of the mews. He breaks into a big, cheeky grin and throws a salute. It may only be a few hundred yards to his office but he's out on the street and he's alone. It doesn't get much better than that. OM
The new Oasis single 'Stop Crying Your Heart Out' is out on 17 June. The album Heathen Chemistry is released on 1 July