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Sunday, June 26, 2005
Older? Wiser? More mature? Meet Oasis in their middle youth, back on form with a cracking new album and playing stadium Scotland for the first time in three years. Craig McLean talks to Noel Gallagher about growing up, growing old and wishing Liam would keep his gob shut
FOR many months over the last year, there was a communication breakdown between Liam and Noel Gallagher. Nothing as dramatic as the time in Spain when Noel headbutted Liam for talking disparagingly about Noel’s family, then walked out on Oasis mid-tour… Or the time in Holland when Noel had refused to get on a ferry; the leaderless band promptly got arrested at sea (something about raiding the bar, or passing dodgy money)… Then there was the occasion Liam got as far as Heathrow before deciding that, rather than go on an American tour, he’d rather look for a house for him and (then-wife) Patsy Kensit… Or how about when Liam forced the last-minute cancellation a German gig because he was in a Munich jail, leaving Noel to face an arena full of expectant middle Europeans…
We could go on. They are the Grapplin’ Gallagher Brothers and tales of their spats are legion. In the Oasis pantomime scheme of things, the latest confusion is tiny. But, in its way, it’s the biggest one they’ve ever had.
Liam Gallagher has written a song for Oasis’s new album, Don’t Believe The Truth. Actually, he’s written three and they’re all good – a remarkable development in itself, given Noel’s hitherto iron grip on Oasis’s creative engine, and considering Liam’s long-standing and convincing impression of being, well, a total numpty. But this song is the best of the three. For a long time – through the marathon, year-plus recording sessions for Oasis’s sixth album – Noel thought Liam’s song was called Guess God Thinks I’m Able.
Then a couple of months ago, Noel heard Liam tell a foreign journalist that his song was about the Biblical parable of ill-starred brothers Cain and Abel.
“Eh?” said Noel, his face screwing into a familiar mask of bewildered incomprehension. “Yeah,” said Liam, leaning over to his elder brother and muttering that it was actually called Guess God Thinks I’m Abel.
Noel to Liam [bushy eyebrow a-waggling]: “Doesn’t Cain kill Abel in the end?”
Liam to Noel [grunting]: “Yeah.”
Noel to Liam [getting more confused]: “Isn’t the first line of your song, “I could be your lover…”’
Liam to Noel [blithely unconcerned]: “Yeah.”
Noel to me: “Now, if that’s not banned in this country, it’s certainly frowned upon. Brother-on-brother sex: it’s not right is it? So I’m kinda looking at Liam a bit differently lately. Strange kid…”
There are many interesting things about the new-model Oasis. Paramount among these is the fact that, 10 years after their last brilliant album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? and after a dispiriting run of three duff ones (Be Here Now, Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, Heathen Chemistry), they’ve got their mojo back.
Don’t Believe The Truth is a great Oasis album: a tuneful, energetic, let’s-all-sing argy-bargy. Also of note is the fact that Noel has only written five of the 11 songs. Such is this new esprit de corps that Oasis’s bass player Andy Bell and guitarist Gem Archer – alumni of middling bands that were junior labelmates of Oasis at Creation Records – have also weighed in with songs, and decent ones at that.
Is Oasis more of a democracy now? Or is it a benign dictatorship?
“It is a democracy to the point where everybody contributes to everything,” says Noel Gallagher, “but I get the final say on everything. And it’s a democracy till it comes to things like this and I get lumbered with all the interviews. I suppose I do most of the legwork. But all the artistic ideas, everybody’s free to do whatever they want. Which actually was always the case, even in the early days. But nobody ever bothered. Liam couldn’t be fecking arsed. Bonehead [Paul Arthurs, ousted original guitarist] couldn’t be bothered. With Guigs [Paul McGuigan, expelled original bass player], you’d rarely get a sentence out of him let alone a fecking chord progression. But now,” Noel declares, gazing ruminatively at the burning end of his Marlboro Light, “it’s great. I’m loving it.”
NOEL Gallagher, 37, is sitting in the control room of Wheeler End Studios in rural Buckinghamshire, Oasis’s base camp these past seven years. Always a good interview – the raging self-belief, the prime anecdotage, the full-force honesty, the excellent cursing – he’s particularly entertaining company this sunny evening.
He points to the mixing desk he had installed. Paul Weller fell into it one time. The Modfather, one of Noel’s best mates and a key confidante, had been telling Oasis they should liven up their infamously staid – well, static – onstage personas.
“We can’t jump about like a lunatic like you,” Noel told him. Oasis asked Weller for a demonstration. “He started having a bit of a boogie, fell over and cracked two of his ribs on the mixing desk! Feckin’ funny, man,” laughs Noel. This leads to a story about the occasion at Supernova Heights – Noel’s house in posh north London, where he and former wife Meg Matthews hosted many a hedonistic party – when Friday night turned into Sunday afternoon. Primal Scream were there, and Weller. As they sat in Noel’s garden on the third day of their bender, Weller suddenly upped and disappeared up the end of the garden. As steam rose from behind a tree, Weller re-emerged, zipping himself up. Noel, for once, was speechless. “What?” asked Weller rhetorically, “haven’t all northerners got outside toilets?”
And, when you’ve lived the ten years in the rock’n’roll stratosphere, this has to lead to another, more colourful story. Seems that Noel and Liam recently bumped into Ray Winstone at the American Embassy in London as they queued to renew their work visas.
The actor grinned a hearty greeting to Noel, saying he hadn’t seen him since “that night we had a right tear up back at your house”.
“Yeah…” said Noel, non-committally.
“Weller, Robbie Carlyle, feckin’ pissed up,” a chuckling Winstone reminisced. “Wossisname fell down the stairs, broke his collarbone, we had to call an ambulance.”
Not that he let on to Winstone (who will always be The Daddy), but Noel couldn’t remember any of this. Of his high-times hoovering up cocaine and Cool Britannia-era celebrity fun, Noel acknowledges that “it was all great for two or three years, to be the centre of the universe. But it got to be a bit boring.” All the druggy daybreak chats about conspiracies and the secrets of life became tedious. Or, as he puts it, “I got sick of having the David Icke conversation about the lizards, the flying saucers and the pyramids with complete strangers. But, you know,” he concludes with a je-ne-regrette-rien shrug. “Such is life.”
Say hello to Oasis in their intriguing middle-youth. Yes, they’re cleaner: Noel says he hasn’t done cocaine since he had a drug-induced anxiety attack in 1998 (immortalised on the Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants song Gas Panic!). Supernova Heights is long sold, traded for a Buckinghamshire retreat, an Ibizan seaside home, and the small mews house in central London where he lives with his Scottish girlfriend, PR exec Sara MacDonald.
But everyone wises up, cleans up, settles down, eventually – even Liam, 32, is (relatively speaking) straighter these days, a doting dad. But not everyone can turn round a career that, having shot into the stratosphere trailing sparks and noise and excitement, was in danger of plummeting to earth, a damp squib.
Exactly one year ago, it looked like it was all over for Oasis. Work on their latest album, the final one due on their record company contract, was not going well. At the suggestion of Liam Gallagher they had been recording with producers Death In Vegas, the dark techno-goth duo for whom the younger Gallagher had once been guest singer. It was a bold move for a band not known for their sonic adventurism. It didn’t work, although not for the obvious reason. Simply, the songs Oasis had written were crap. Three weeks into the sessions in Cornwall, Noel Gallagher had to go for a drink with DIV’s Richard Fearless and tell him that they weren’t going to take the sessions any further.
“That was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” says Gallagher now, still wincing at the memory. “It’s really easy to into a room and tell someone, “you’re a c**t, you’re f**king doing a shit job, get out.”’ (Well, it is if you’re Noel Gallagher.)
They had already had a go at making the album themselves at Wheeler End. But having produced the two previous albums, Noel didn’t want the grief again. After splitting from Death In Vegas, they fiddled some more in Cornwall. Again, no joy. It was a long way – and many record sales, mega-gigs, fights, drugs, marriages and bust-ups – from the ten days it took them to record (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?.
By the time last summer rolled round, Oasis had been away for a while. Their headline appearance at Glastonbury 04 was the start of the comeback. Musically they may have been wanting of late, but cometh the hour, cometh the band – Oasis were made for big, madferrit events like Glasto. And it was a disaster.
When Liam monkey-swaggered on stage, arms tucked behind his back, bent into his microphone and said – by way of a hissing, sneering introduction – “Glaston-berrrrrry”, it sounded like he was wishing a tropical disease on 120,000 festival-goers. The set was lead-footed. The sound was awful. The two new songs, A Bell Will Ring and The Meaning Of Soul, were half-arsed. The only bright spot of the whole evening was Liam’s knee-length, blinding white parka. At least that was entertaining, insofar as you could laugh at it.
It’s hard to cast a shadow over the world’s greatest, feelgood festival, but Oasis managed it. So, Noel Gallagher – Glastonbury last year: what went wrong?
“I don’t know,” he sighs. “Glastonbury’s weird. The crowd are so far away. By the time you’re going on stage, you’ve been there all day and everybody but everybody is f**king c**ted off their heads. Apart from you lot. So you’re all sat there, looking at your missus and everybody else, absolutely twatted. And you’re kinda getting a bit more edgy…”
Noel gives a “buggered-if-I-know” shrug. “I wasn’t at the gig. I just done it. You’d have to tell me why it was shit.”
After Glastonbury, Oasis had a major rethink. This defiantly – some might say pig-headedly – British band went to America to work with an American producer and had a third crack at making the album. This was a bit like Bernard Manning playing Las Vegas. As Noel puts it, Oasis flying into America to save their professional lives “was like the scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker is going into the Death Star in his little spaceship.” But it worked.
Don’t Believe The Truth is an emphatic return to clanging-rock form, generating positive reviews and great sales. Their imminent tour of UK stadiums sold out in days. Even in America, where over the years Oasis have worked hard to piss off an entire continent, Don’t Believe The Truth thumped into the upper reaches of the album charts.
Oasis are in the US this week, playing famous (and sold-out) venues like Madison Square Gardens and the Hollywood Bowl. Before they flew out, new, sober-minded Noel Gallagher wasn’t counting his chickens. He knew there could be trouble ahead. On their last American tour, Noel was in a car crash in Indianapolis. “I remember being strapped to a stretcher and some ambulance driver standing me up in it, in my neckbrace, trying to get a picture! I’m going [faint whisper] ‘no!’”
Then they had to cancel some West Coast shows after Liam was arrested and (briefly) incarcerated in Munich, after a mental-sounding bar-room brawl that was heavily reported in the German and British press. Liam lost his two front teeth in the fight.
“Things like Madison Square Garden have a habit of turning into a disaster for us. So let’s not celebrate till we’re in the dressing rooms after. I’m well up for the gigs, but I just know that somewhere down the line there’s gonna be the equivalent of the car crash or the teeth-kicking. I mean, Liam lives his life on the edge, man, and I’ve got no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the equivalent will happen on this tour.”
How does he look with his new front teeth?
“Oh, gorgeous! I can’t tell the difference. I tell you what, I’d have given anything to be there that night.” Noel slaps his thigh at the thought. “Him swinging an ashtray like an axe? Kung fu kicks to the chest? Erm, it doesn’t sound like him to be honest. He’d probably have been pissed as an asshole in the corner, getting his head filled in.”
The only people Noel feels sorry for are the fans. In Germany he remembers walking through a crowd of 5000 kids “all dressed in their Liam outfits. Then someone makes an announcement and they have to leave. Kids are asking me, ‘What’s going on?’ and I have to lie to them and say I don’t know.
“It’s just really difficult being at the sharp end of that sometimes. Some of these kids are 18. People had travelled from Hungary into Germany for that gig. I met a girl and two guys who had driven for three days from somewhere where there was a war going on! I just think it’s really inconsiderate man, d’you know what I mean?”
Does Liam ever process the consequences of his actions, or regret anything?
‘No,” says Noel bluntly. “No. No. No. Not in the slightest. Never apologise to anyone. Never apologise to the kids. I don’t really need an apology off him – the fact that he got his teeth kicked in is enough for me.”
He might be writing better songs, and Oasis may be benefiting as a result. But Liam is still Liam, the greatest unknown quantity on the modern stage. Twin that rock’n’roll abandon with the suss and creativity of Noel Gallagher, and you have one of the most potent musical forces we have. Put the Gallaghers and their trusty lieutenants on a stage together and, no matter how big the arena, stadium or field, there’s magic in the air. When they put their minds to it, Oasis still rock.
Would Noel say his relationship with Liam was now good?
“Well, to me he seems to have matured. And I’ve got a lot more respect for him – he doesn’t contribute in terms of working man hours. But gone are the days of their being any more fillers on the albums, “cause the three songs that he gives are the best songs. His three best songs are better than my three fillers. And Andy’s two best songs are better than…”
Noel Gallagher stops, as if that might be praise too far. But yes, creatively, within themselves, Oasis are motoring along quite nicely. “So I can forgive Liam freak-outs about music; I can rise above those arguments. I didn’t really respect Liam before. He was just some buffoon who sings my songs.”
Is he jealous of you?
“You’d have to ask him.”
Are you jealous of him?
Noel Gallagher gives an uncharacteristic pause and thinks. “Jealous of his hairdo,” he decides. “Liam’s always had good hair.”
source: Sunday Herald
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