Noel Gallagher - The Observer - 19th June 2005
As we were waiting for our subjects, Bailey recalled the previous time he photographed Oasis - for Rolling Stone magazine in late 1994. 'We were waiting for them to arrive and they had a strop and someone rang and said they're not coming. I said: "Fine, another Rolling Stone cover is not going to change my life." When they did turn up, they just argued all the time.'
Bailey had never met Walliams before. 'So he's a comedian?' he asked. 'They're always the fucking worst. They're almost always miserable bastards. The only ones that I've ever photographed that I got on with were Morecambe and Wise.' As it happens, Walliams was charm personified, asking politely: 'Are we doing make-up?' 'Make-up?!' snorted Bailey, half-mocking, half-serious, as he grasped Walliams's arm. 'Don't be such a queen! Make-up!'
He was similarly frank and touchy-feely with the Oasis guitarist when he arrived. 'Are you still arguing with your brother?' was his opening gambit, as if it was only the other day that he last saw the Gallaghers. 'God, he was a miserable so and so.'
'He still is,' said Noel. 'I remember when we came here. You made us stand over there and said: "So you're supposed to be the new Beatles, are you? Well, you don't look much like the Beatles." And I was a bit like, 'Who is this guy?' And then you said: "So which one is supposed to be the genius?" and I said: "I am." And you said: "You don't look like a fucking genius."'
In the event, the shoot passed with much laughter. Then Noel and David left in a big black car for the Coronet in south London, where Oasis were playing a warm-up gig that night. Their interview began in the car and continued in the dressing-room as the band prepared for the show. They talked about Bailey - 'You have to say it's an honour,' said Walliams - and the new Oasis album, Don't Believe the Truth; and laughed about Robbie Williams, Viagra, and much, much more...
Literature; liberal guilt
In the car:
David Walliams: The first time I ever saw you, you were getting into a taxi in Camden. This was probably about 1995. I sort of bowed down and you waved out the window like the Queen, and from that moment I've always loved you.
Noel Gallagher: I don't remember that.
DW: Of course you don't remember that.
NG: It is the kind of thing I fucking do.
DW: Now, recently I was at the Bafta awards and I saw Johnny Marr and I got his autograph. I was so excited. Who would you get an autograph from? Who would impress you still?
NG: Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
DW: Have you ever met Bob Dylan?
NG: I've never met Bob Dylan but I know Neil Young. We've played with him about four or five times in South America, in Canada and in Paris. He's a top geezer. But Dylan? I don't know whether I'd ever ask him for his autograph or not. I'd definitely go and shake his hand.
DW: Do you know if he knows about you? He probably does, doesn't he?
NG: I'd have thought he'd have heard of the name. Whether he's aware of any of the songs or not, I don't know.
DW: There's absolutely nothing known about the real him, is there?
NG: Well, he's just put out his book. What's it called? Chronicles.
DW: Have you read it? You once said you'd never read a book. Have you still not?
NG: I'm reading a book at the minute.
DW: What book are you reading?
NG: I'm not saying.
DW: Why not? It's not that embarrassing, surely. Is it the Bible?
NG: No, it's not the Bible.
DW: Is it something like The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole or Harry Potter?
DW: What is it? Is it something that won't make you sound cool?
NG: No. It's just my missus, Sara... She's got a very superior attitude to books and...
DW: [sternly]: Tell us what book it is.
NG: [exasperated]: Noo. I'm not telling you what book it is.
DW: Is it a children's book?
NG: No, it's not a children's book. Someone I know was reading this book and I read the back of it and I thought: 'That sounds quite interesting, I'll go and buy that.' And of course I got it back and my fucking superior Scottish girlfriend went: 'That's fucking rubbish, what are you reading that shit for?'
DW: Who wrote it?
NG: It's a guy called ... It's a guy called Dan Brown, I do believe. It's called Angels and Demons.
DW: OK! Well that's all right. What does Sara read then?
NG: Fucking Proust. I don't know.
DW: So hang on. You're supposed to have never read a novel but you know who Proust is.
NG: I know who Proust is but I've never read a book! This is my first ever book. Believe it or not, it is.
DW: What about the Dylan book?
NG: I don't know if I can be bothered.
DW: You'd like it.
NG: Hmm. I might ask for it for my birthday.
DW: You're 38 on Sunday, aren't you?
NG: I am 38 on Sunday. [29 May]
DW: And you're going to be on holiday. Is that right?
NG: I'm going to be in Ibiza.
DW: Is your life so much better than it was 10 years ago?
NG: Yes, because 10 years ago we were broke.
DW: Yeah, but that's not the only thing...
NG: Believe you me, it fucking helps a lot.
DW: Do you feel any guilt about being wealthy?
NG: No. Not at all. None. I was signing on 13 years ago. Absolutely no guilt whatsoever.
Charity and a caravan in Rhyl; Eminem and hoodiesIn the dressing room:
DW: Noel, you didn't feature on the Band Aid 20 record, did you?
NG: We were in LA recording the new album. You kind of get forced into those things, don't you? But there were lots of people in there that we have a problem with.
NG: The Darkness. Keane. I like Bono. He's a friend of mine. I like Chris Martin. He's a friend of mine. Probably everyone else... I could pick an argument with them.
DW: Were you asked to do Live8?
NG: We can't do it. We've got a gig in Manchester that night.
DW: Would you do it otherwise?
NG: I'm not sure about this Live 8 thing. Correct me if I am wrong, but are they hoping that one of these guys from the G8 is on a quick 15-minute break at Gleneagles and sees Annie Lennox singing 'Sweet Dreams' and thinks, 'Fuck me, she might have a point there, you know.' It's not going to fucking happen, is it? Keane doing 'Somewhere Only We Know' and some Japanese businessman going: 'Aw, look at him ... we should really fuckin' drop that debt, you know.' It's not going to happen, is it?
DW: I suppose it's about raising public awareness. Matt [Lucas] and I got involved with Comic Relief this year and it does teach kids that there are people in the world that are less fortunate than us. I don't think you do engage with those sort of issues unless something like music or comedy brings you to them.
NG: Yeah, I understand. If we didn't have 60,000 people in a stadium waiting for us to come and play already... It just can't happen.
DW: Did you watch the first Live Aid on telly?
NG: Yes. I watched it in a caravan in Wales - in Rhyl. And we watched it again on DVD recently, just to see [Paul] Weller really ... with fuckin' no socks on, dancing with no guitar. What struck me was that the boy bands of the day such as Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran could all play their instruments. It's so far removed from the bands of today like Westlife and Boyzone, who are utter shit. I am not a fan of Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet, but now there is pop music and alternative music and there is nothing in between the two. I enjoyed Live Aid more the second time around, I think.
DW: When I worked with George Michael on Comic Relief, he said that when they were in Wham! they used to listen to Joy Division all the time. When I asked them if there was a part of them that really wanted to make that type of music he said no. He just accepted that they did one thing and Joy Division did another. Are you always looking out for new influences, or can you listen to another type of music and just leave it where it is? What about hip hop?
NG: I fucking despise hip hop. Loathe it. Eminem is a fucking idiot and I find 50 Cent the most distasteful character I have ever crossed in my life. It's so negative. Eminem's new song about his kid - isn't it the most ridiculous piece of music you have ever heard in your life? I just don't like the dragging women around on dog leads and all that stuff. I'm not fucking having that.
DW: I don't really get it either. I suppose it's a fantasy that some people have...
NG: I'm not saying they're directly responsible but that's how you end up with these fuckin' gangs of youths with hoods stabbing people. I'm not saying they need to sit around listening to 'All You Need is Love'. But kids are so fuckin' thick these days that they are very easily influenced, aren't they?
DW: What do you put that down to?
NG: I think it's a sign of parents being idiots.
DW: How old is your daughter?
NG: She's five ... going on 16. I'm kind of like most dads. I love kids, but I struggle with the responsibility.
NG: Women have nine months more experience than you do - nine months to prepare for being a parent. A geezer literally gets five minutes: when the doctor comes out and says it's on the way now. Up to that point, I thought: 'There's something going to go wrong ... ', and then all of a sudden you're like, 'You fucking bastard!' So I don't give a shit what time my daughter goes to bed or what time she gets up at. As long as it's not before me, she's laughing. I think broken families do breed broken families, though. I do think my old fella wasn't much of a ... I don't remember him ever being a dad dad. He was too busy working. It was a hard life, man. And I haven't seen him in 18 years.
DW: What did he do?
NG: You'll love this: he used to put concrete floors in buildings, but in his spare time he was a country and western DJ.
DW: So you listened to that music when you were growing up?
NG: I know everything there is to know about Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Crystal Gayle ... You remember 'Don't it Make my Brown Eyes Blue'?
DW: Beautiful, isn't it?
How to write a classic song
DW: When do you think you wrote you first great song?
NG: 'Live Forever', in 1993. That changed everything. Before that everything sounded indie.
DW: You've written standards and that's something not many people get to do. By that I mean that a busker could sing 'Wonderwall' and it would still sound great.
NG: We call them one of 'those' songs and I have been lucky enough to write a couple of 'those' songs.
DW: What would you say those ones were?
NG: 'Don't Look Back in Anger'. 'Wonderwall': that's virtually every bird between the ages of 30 and 36's favourite fucking song.
DW: Do those songs come really quickly? When Matt and I write sketches the best ones are the ones we write really quickly. The worst are the ones we labour over and re-write and re-write.
NG: I've played 'Live Forever' so many times, but when I get to the guitar solo I still think, 'Fucking hell, that's pretty good, that.'
DW: I think 'Let There Be Love' from the new album might be one of 'those' songs.
NG: I'm not too sure about that one. It took me seven years to write that song. I kind of didn't want to put it on to the album as it's a ballad.
DW: I prefer your ballads. I'm not so much into the rock thing.
NG: They're easy to write. I have got half a dozen great slow, huge songs, but I kind of get bored of playing them live.
DW: How easy was it to let other people in the band write songs? You've only written five for the new album.
NG: I never sat down and decreed that suddenly everyone else was allowed to write songs. The door was always open. But for the first 10 years, everyone else was completely uninterested. I do think it is important that everybody feels that they are contributing to the direction of the band. I used to get pissed off with people going 'what a fucking wanker!'
DW: You started working on this album with Death In Vegas as producers. Were you going to make a more experimental record?
NG: I didn't want to go into the studio without a producer. When I've co-produced I've got sick of being sat at a mixing desk and the rest of the band being sat on the couch behind you being half-pissed. I thought: 'I want to be in a band. I can't be arsed being a producer any more.' Liam hates producers but he had worked with Death In Vegas on one of their records. So it was like something out of Star Wars - we had to get Liam to think that asking them to produce the record was his idea.
DW: But you scrapped those sessions?
NG: We just didn't have the songs at the time. Richard [Fearless of Death In Vegas] said that 'It's all about the vibe', but I knew the vibe would only last us about six weeks. We called a meeting to tell him, and when he walked into the pub, Liam said: 'Oh, is that my phone?', and walked off. I had to tell Richard we were going to call it a day. Told him that we needed to write some new songs - and then we weren't able to re-convene. But there's something there for a box set or something.
DW: Are you the natural leader and decision maker?
NG: I always assume that role. I'm solutions provider for this band. Liam drives it. If we were in a car, Liam would be driving and I would be reading the map. Gem, the second guitarist in Oasis, pops into the dressing room, and brews Noel a cuppa.
DW: How does he take his tea?
GEM: Two bags.
DW: Two bags?! I bet there is a bit of sugar in there as well. You're so working class!
DW: You talk about your brother with more fondness than I imagined. I have only met him once and that was in the toilets at the NME awards. He came up to me talking in riddles. I couldn't work out whether he was being nice to me or horrible. At the end of it I was quite scared. Did he say anything to you?
NG: No. He's like that. He was out the other night going: 'This night is like the Passover.' He's going: 'I am you, you are me. This is like the last supper.' The other guy there was going afterwards: 'Fucking hell, this guy is a bit special, isn't he?' I thought: 'Yeah, he is, isn't he? There's another word I could use for him ... '
DW: He sounds like a holy fool. What about being the reincarnation of John Lennon, or is that just bollocks?
NG: He did once say that to me. In my mam's front room. He was talking in a Scouse accent for three days. He told me I should refer to him as John and I was like, 'I just prefer cunt, man.'
DW: Was he being genuine?
NG: No, he was just winding me up. But you say that he could have been possessed. I don't know. We kind of get on. We are the only two original members left in the band since it started. To go back to the car thing: he is always trying to drive the car above the speed limit and I'm trying to get us to where we want to be without getting killed. That's where the friction comes from.
DW: Was there a low point in your communication with each other?
NG: We were never really big communicators anyway. We're northerners. You know what they're like. They suffer in silence.
DW: Do you open up to each other emotionally?
NG: This is the closest I ever got. Over lunch in Paris two days ago. There's about 20 of us there, including people from the record company. I'm eating my French onion soup and out of the fuckin' blue, he's shouting: 'Noel! Noel! Have you ever had Viagra?' I said: 'No, I'm only 38, have you? 'Yeah.' 'When?' 'I fucking snorted a line once.' All the crew have stopped eating and are going ...
DW: 'Fucking hell.'
NG: What a weird thing to say. He's tucking in to his steak. How does the brain send a message to the mouth and go: 'I am going to ask our kid if he has ever had Viagra'?
DW: Ricky Gervais told me there's a story that Liam thinks Spinal Tap are a real band. Is that true?
NG: Yeah, he thought they were real people. We went to see them play in Carnegie Hall. Before they played, they came on as three folk singers from the film A Mighty Wind. We were laughing and he said: 'This is shit'. We said: 'No, those three are in Spinal Tap. You do know they are American actors?' 'They're not even a real band?' 'They're not even English! One of them is married to Jamie Lee Curtis.' 'I'm not fuckin' 'avin that,' he says, and walks off right up the middle of Carnegie Hall. He's never watched Spinal Tap since. He'd seen the film and loved it and thought they were a real band.
DW: I bumped into Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys the other day and told him I'd be interviewing Noel Gallagher. He said I should ask you some Smash Hits-type questions. Like, where do you buy your clothes ... what did you have for breakfast?
NG: OK, well, what did I have for breakfast? A bowl of All Bran with raisins in it, that I put in myself.
DW: Are you on a kind of health kick now? No drink and drugs?
NG: I drink. I haven't done cocaine - any hard drugs - since 1998.
DW: When was the last occasion?
NG: It was half-time in a game in the World Cup in '98. My house in the sticks had became like a fucking Rolling Stone's house - just full of people for days on end. I woke up in the afternoon from the night before and instead of having anything to eat, I had a can of Red Stripe and a line of charlie. And I had a massive freak-out and went 'That's it'.
DW: And you gave up completely at that point? You weren't going to get hypnotised by Paul McKenna [to cure your addiction] or anything like that?
DW: What do you make of Pete Doherty? At the NME awards Matt and I were asked: 'Pete Doherty: hero or zero'? I said: 'Let's just say hero - it's less controversial.' But then I thought I should just say: 'hero if he kicks drugs.' Would you like to see him kick drugs or do you think people would be less interested in him if he stopped taking drugs?
NG: I'd like to see him make a great record. If he makes a good record, he could sprout fucking wings ...
DW: Did you like the Libertines?
NG: I bought the Libertines albums and I thought they were a good band - but not one of the new crop have made a bona fide great fucking record. Razorlight, Franz Ferdinand ... I've seen them all and they blow me away, but not one of them has made a record that not only gets the cool kids in Camden going but also the fucking squares in Ipswich. When Definitely Maybe came out, it was right across the board ...
DW: When was the last time a new British band made a great album?
NG: I think that [Coldplay's] Parachutes is a masterpiece, although I didn't at the time.
DW: What changed?
NG: I listened to it more. And The Last Broadcast by the Doves is beyond 11 out of 10. I was obsessed by those two records for a while. But I only buy something new if a friend's recommended it.
DW: When was the last time that happened?
NG: Some bloke was trying to force me to fucking get the Robert Plant album today. He was going: 'It's really, really great', and I was going ... [laughter].
DW: When was the last time someone brought something into your life that you thought was amazing?
NG: There's a guy called Edgar Jones. He used to be in a band called the Stairs back in the Eighties. A mate of mine recommended it. It fucking bent my head, man. It's probably one of the best records I have ever heard.
DW: What's his voice like?
NG: He sings like Fats Domino. He's a white soul singer.
DW: Oh really? Like Rick Astley!
NG: What about you?
DW: I buy a fair bit. Do you download music?
NG: No, I don't.
DW: I do and it's great in a lot of ways, but bad in others because you end up not listening to enough. When I was younger I used to save up, buy an album and listen to it for about two months - and I think that was a much better way to enjoy music.
NG: You have to go to the shop and physically hand over the cash and then get on the bus and you read the sleevenotes and the lyrics before you get home. I'm against people downloading music. It's a sign of the times, but it's not the way I feel ...
DW: Do you have any guilty pleasures? Do you like acts you shouldn't like? Do you like the Pet Shop Boys?
NG: I kind of like 'West End Girls'.
DW: Do you often find yourself dancing around to an Erasure song?
DW: What are your feelings about Abba?
NG: I love Abba. 'Waterloo', 'SOS'.
DW: You're not bothered about what's supposed to be cool, are you? What about the Bee Gees?
NG: I love the Bee Gees, but only the pre-disco stuff. From '64 to '69, I've got all their albums.
DW: [Suddenly] Do you have a Little Britain DVD?
NG: Yes, I do have a Little Britain DVD.
DW: So who do you prefer? Little Britain, The Office or Phoenix Nights?
NG: This is the great thing about British comedy, right. I'm sure this goes all the way back to Fawlty Towers, when you think: 'This can never be bettered.' Then there's The Fast Show. You think: 'That is the funniest thing ever, I cannot laugh any louder than that'; and then The Royle Family comes out and then you go 'fucking hell, man, that is the funniest thing I've ever seen'. And then comes The Office and then Little Britain.
DW: The Office is the last truly great thing. That'll take some beating. Do you and Liam go around [imitating the Little Britain characters] going 'I'm a lady!'
NG: Liam hasn't got a sense of humour, fucking full stop. Like with Peter Kay. If you're a northern guy about our age, all the reference points are spot on - you can't not like him. We were on the tour bus one night and somebody put [a] Peter Kay [DVD] on and I thought: 'This is going to be a fucking disaster.' There's a few Mancs in our crew and everyone was laughing their heads off. And Liam's just sat there going: 'He's a fucking fat cunt, fucking shit, fucking fat idiot.' So he gets up to go to the bog and someone goes: 'Why doesn't he like Peter Kay?' Because he'd been to the NME Awards when Liam won a trophy for being hero of the year - and Liam wouldn't go up and fucking collect it. He had on this big white fur coat. So Peter Kay brought his trophy over to him and went 'Ere you are lad'. And as he walks off, he goes: 'Me mam's been looking for that coat.' Fucking uproar! I was laughing like fuck.
DW: Do you have a stylist?
NG: No. Never. I remember once being in a shop in Camden and I bumped into a girl who said she was the stylist for Sleeper. And I was going: 'But they're scruffy cunts! Did they ask for that kind of look?' 'Oh yeah...' That's the lowest - if you cannot dress yourself.
DW: But today you had your picture taken by David Bailey. Did you not have a long think about what you were going to wear?
DW: You're that cool.
NG: It's not for me to say if I'm cool or not.
David Walliams: You're never afraid to slag other people off, but do you really hate them? Do you hate Robbie Williams, say, or just his music ?
Noel Gallagher: He's actually been involved with some good records, but he followed us around for a year. A full fucking year of shit jokes, bad clothes and no fucking crisps left in the dressing room when we came off stage. He was Liam's drinking buddy. It was like Chris Waddle and Glenn Hoddle. [Noel stands to imitate their dancing.] It was like [their song] 'Diamond Lights'. It got on my tits in the end. At the time of Morning Glory, he walked up to my manager and said: 'What are we doing after the gig?' We? Well, we might be going for a curry. You might be tagging along.
DW: He obviously likes you. There's nothing wrong with that.
David Walliams: Was it a proud moment when Liam was photographed with [the cartoon character] Spongebob Squarepants [at a recent film premiere]?
Noel Gallagher: I'd rather not comment on that. It'll cause absolute fucking bedlam.
DW: It's one of the best shots of the year ...
NG: He's always going on to me about his song [on the new album] 'The Meaning of Soul'. I said: 'I've seen the meaning of soul. If you holding Spongebob Squarepants' hand in a magazine isn't the meaning of fucking soul I don't know what is.'
· Oasis start their tour at Hampden Park, Glasgow on 29 June