'I'm going straight to rehab, this is too much for me' - Noel Gallagher on partying at Bono's, his childhood, fatherhood, and the secrets of writing a classic
Barry Egan interviews Noel Gallagher in London ahead of the release of Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' new album Who Built the Moon?, out on November 24. He dishes the dirt on on everything from U2 to Oasis, Liam, De Niro, Seinfeld, family and fatherhood... Read part 2 on Independent.ie tomorrow, Tuesday November 21.
The caterpillar-on-cocaine eyebrows appear to move to the rhythm of his voice. This is just as well, as Noel Gallagher tells a pretty good story. There’s the one about his world tour with U2 this year, where the hangovers were monstrous. He has a foggy recollection of arriving at Bono’s house, where he was staying, at 5am after the after-show party for the Croke Park show on July 22.
The next thing Noel remembers is the phone going like something out of Hitchcock and being in a place that he doesn’t know. It’s the even-more-famous-than-Noel owner of the house on the phone, enquiring after his health: “Oh, you’re alive. Where are you?” Noel was, in fact, in a guest house at the bottom of Bono’s garden.
The U2 lead singer continued: “Everybody’s here waiting for you.” To which a bleary-eyed and slightly bemused Noel said: “What for?’ To which Bono, clearly used to this sort of home entertaining, said: “For the lunch I’m throwing in your honour. The 75 guests have arrived.”
When Noel insisted that he had only just got out of bed, Bono told him that “The President of Ireland’s just arrived and you’re sitting next to him. So hurry up.”
Noel quickly showered, got dressed and rocked up at the quasi-Presidential, quasi-State lunch in his honour at chez Bono. It started at 3pm. It finished at 4.10am.The next day, Noel stirred again in Bono’s palatial guest house at the end of the garden overlooking Killiney Bay. He was supporting U2 in Paris that night and so rang his tour manager to make the necessary arrangements. The conversation can be summed up thus: “Neil, you’ve got to get me out of this place. I can’t do it any more”; “Get your bags, I’ll pick you up at 11.45am.”
Not unlike The Eagles’ Hotel California, Bono’s gaff appears to have a similar aura: once you arrive you are never able to quite leave again. Or so it almost proved for Noel. “As I’m kind of walking,” he was met by Bono “in his dressing gown, with two beers under his arm, eating scrambled eggs, listening to opera...”
“Where you going?” he then asked his guest. Noel answered that he was, in fact, going to Paris to support U2 on The Joshua Tree tour that very night and he needed to catch his plane. Bono would hear none of commercial transport; “Stay here and come on a private jet.”
Later that afternoon, Noel and his host et al get on the private jet, where there was yet more liquid refreshment. Upon landing in the French capital, Bono tells Noel that he has an appointment and that he will see him later at the hotel. Noel thinks to himself that once he’s out of sight, “I’m going straight to rehab, this is too much for me.”
A somewhat worse-for-wear Noel is then driven to his suite at the hotel, whereupon he flops on the bed and orders a hangover-helping bacon sandwich, perhaps relieved that he has escaped Bono’s fiendish libertine clutches for the time being.
Twenty minutes later, Noel almost drops his bacon sandwich when he turns on the television and sees “Bono doing a live press conference with the Prime Minister of France about Africa. And I know what we’ve been up to the previous three days, and I’m going — ‘He’s not real!’”
A 50-year-old father of three, Noel Thomas David Gallagher is definitely maybe real. John Lennon’s quintessential working-class hero on the dole, he grew up in “the rough arse” part of Manchester, the middle child of Irish Catholic parents Peggy and Thomas Gallagher, to become a spokesperson for his generation with timeless classics like Don’t Look Back in Anger, Wonderwall, Champagne Supernova and Live Forever. His precious ma was one of 11. He has estimated that seven of that 11 all moved to Manchester from Ireland and that they “congregate around a five square-mile area.”
Despite having two fabulously wealthy sons (the other one being Noel’s younger brother, Liam), Noel says his mother still lives in the same small council house in the same rough part of Burnage he grew up in. Someone got shot in the face outside her house last year. “My mother doesn’t give a f***!” he laughs in his management’s office in London recently. “As long as Jeremy Kyle’s on, and she’s got tea in the pot! She goes swimming. She goes to the shops, she comes back. She puts her feet up and watches the telly.”
Is it true that all she got was a new gate from Noel?
“Yeah! And a new gold number five!”
Would you just not give her the publishing rights to Live Forever?
“I bought her the place in Ireland!” he laughs.
Noel lives in leafy Maida Vale with his wife Sara MacDonald (who he married in June, 2011) and their two young sons, Donovan and Sonny, and sometimes his grown-up daughter Anais, by ex-wife Meg Matthews (who he married in 1997, lived with in party central Supernova Heights in North London, before divorcing in 2001), in a well-appointed mansion fit for the king of cosmic pop.
What do you and Sara watch on TV?
“Boxsets. We watched Ovark and Narcos on Netflix.” (Indeed Noel’s no-expense-spared 50th birthday party on May 27 had a Narcos-theme as well as guests like Michael Fassbender, Stella McCartney, Damon Albarn, Madonna…and his old mucker, Bono.)
“I live on the same street as Adam Clayton,” he reveals. “Five doors away from him. He came to my house recently, and our cat Boots came walking in. Adam went: ‘So, that’s your cat?’ I asked him, ‘How do you know that cat?’ He said, ‘That cat is always at my f***ing house!’” Noel then asked the U2 bassist: "Do you have a cat?’ ‘No. But Boots is always at my house!’” came Adam's reply.
I ask Noel is it true that he once said that his cat is more rock ‘n roll than Radiohead?
“Absolutely. Boots is a f***king demon.”
Are you starting to like Radiohead a bit more after seeing them perform at Glastonbury?
“Listen, they have done some great stuff.”
But they are not a party band.
“No. This is the one thing that I am always going to hold against them. My wife has a physical reaction to them, when she hears them. It’s like: ‘No – can’t do it. Once he [Thom Yorke] starts singing. Can’t do it.’ No, they’re not a party band. But I’ve got some of their tunes on my phone. But I’m never in the Radiohead moment where I’m thinking, ‘Oh, a bit of modern angst will do her!.’”
You met Robert de Niro during the summer in Bono’s house in the South of France. What was that like?
Did you get any words out of him?
“I was talking to him for four hours!”
“I didn’t know that he had toured Ireland in the 1950s. Do you know that? He went to Europe and he was looking for his ancestors and all that. So he has got a bit of Irish in him, like me. We talked about that, and all his films, and Donald Trump.”
Do you do any impersonations of De Niro to his face? ‘You talkin’ to me?’
“No!” Noel laughs. “But Bono done this thing where we had all been out until eight in the morning and then Ali [Hewson, Bono’s wife] is trying to corral us to go to bed. She is saying, ‘Come on, because we have a big lunch tomorrow with Bob.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Right. There’s three Bobs. Dylan. Geldof. Or De Niro.’ Bono’s going the next day, ‘You know, Bob’s coming to lunch?’ I said to Bono, ‘Is it Bob Dylan?’ ‘No, Bob De Niro.’ At this point, I nearly vomited and fell over.”
And if it had been Bob Geldof?
“I love Bob Geldof. He is a dude, man," he says.
Is it true you’re a big Jerry Seinfeld fan and your wife brought you over to meet him in New York for your 50th? How did you get on with him?
“Oh, great. He’s a great guy. And I didn’t even know I was going to meet him until the second I met him as my missus kept it a complete and utter secret. I thought she was taking me f***ing shopping. He was amazing, a f***ing dude. I couldn’t believe it. I was like a child! It has put the pressure on my missus’s 50th Luckily, I have got a few years to prepare for it!”
Nothing, it appears, could prepare him for his sons...
“My youngest lad [Sonny] is seven and he is very funny,” adds Noel, who is not unfunny himself. “His birthday is coming up and he loves Top Gear. I think he is aware that he is a funny lad. I asked him what he wants for his birthday and he went: ‘Dad, can I have a Lamborghini?’”
“I said to him: ‘A Lamborghini? You’re seven!’ He said, ‘We could keep it for a while’!”
Noel can remember when he first moved out of his parents’ house not being able to afford carpet, and the abject social humiliation of bringing lucky ladies backing to his flat — only for them to muse aloud: “You’ve got no carpet?”
Noel can also remember coming to London for the first time and people having no carpet on the floor and saying to his mother: “You know in London, they don’t have carpet on the floor? What they’ve done is polished the floorboards.”
It’s impossible not to warm to Noel Gallagher, or his brilliant new album with his band High Flying Birds, Who Built the Moon? Its imminent arrival next week was given due status with Noel on the cover of the new Q magazine with the headline: The Emperor Strikes Back. (They also stated, not inaccurately, that it is Noel’s best album in a decade.) He started writing Who Built the Moon? in Belfast in the studio with his co-conspirator David Holmes in 2014.
“This new album, Who Built The Moon?, is the most inspired I’ve ever been in the studio, for sure.”
Why is that?
“Because I usually write at home and I go in with sixteen songs. I know what they are and I know what I want with them and nobody is f***ing telling me any different. I become attached to them. I have been playing them at home for a year. They are like my children. And then if I go into the studio and people say, ‘Um, I don’t like the verse,’ I’d be like: ‘Really? Go and get a taxi because you’re going f***ing home.’”
Where did Noel get that self-belief from?
“I don’t know. It’s just an inner thing.”
Presumably you got into this to write great songs like your heroes rather than be rich and famous?
“I won’t lie to you. I did want the big telly and the big house. But I had this inner belief and once I had written Live Forever then I thought, ‘Now I’ve got to do it again!’ There were signposts along the way and the next great one was Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back In Anger and Champagne Supernova, and then it went away for a bit. And then Little By Little, Stop Crying Your Heart Out.”
Is it more difficult to write songs when he is no longer in a carpet-less bedsit and instead is flying in private jets — with Bono — with a settled marriage and kids?
“The way my song-writing works, it all depends on the tune. The lyrics were always, always, the last. It’s always about the melody and the tune.”
He seems to always find the melody easy enough, I say.
“It’s a piece of p*ss. Well, I am first generation Irish. We have the music in us. I find the most difficult thing about song-writing is the first line,” says Noel who was, of course, the principal songwriter with a band who sold 75million records and played to millions of fans around the world (Oasis’ two concerts in August 1996 at Knebworth were to over 250,000-plus people.) “If me and David [Holmes] are in the studio,” he adds, “and we hit a wall, we go: ‘What would Bowie do here?’ Sit and listen on speed to Bowie and go: ‘That’s what we are going to do’.”
Speed as in Amphetamines or speeded-up bits of Bowie?
“No as in 30 seconds of Bowie!” Noel qualifies with another cackling laugh.
Noel once said that his passion had gone with late-period Oasis. How did you get that passion back after you eventually left Oasis in 2009?
“I was thinking about this recently. People think, or they might think, that it was the first time that I had hit a creative wall. But I didn’t know what that was, because it had never happened before.”
“In the same way that I didn’t know that Definitely Maybe was a peak because it had never happened before. I started to chase it and when you start to chase it, you start forcing it, and when you start forcing it, it is not natural.”
“When I listen back to Be Here Now, not that I listen back to it, I just think, it’s trying too hard. I should have f***ing taken another five years off! It comes back by letting it find you. The one piece of advice [Paul] Weller ever gave me was, ‘Don’t f***ing chase it. If it comes back, great’.”
Did Noel ever think it wasn’t going to come back? He shakes his head. “No.”
Were you walking around the house racked with angst?
“No. No. I’m not that insanely f***ing driven," says Noel who uses the F word like a bad chef uses salt: to add flavour.
"I actually don’t take other people’s opinions at all, when I’m writing. Because you know what? I f***ing wrote Live Forever and Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back in Anger.”
Is that enough for you?
“It would have been back then. If I never wrote another song from this point onwards, I would genuinely, with my f***ing hand on heart, think: ‘Out of all the people, I f***ing smashed it more than 99pc of the people who write songs. I am up not there with the f***ing greats like Dylan, Springsteen, McCartney — but after that!”
Do you think the first two Oasis albums, Definitely Maybe in 1994 and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? in 1995, were your heyday?
“In terms of record sales, clearly, but I think now with this record,” he says, referring to Who Built the Moon?
“I’m at a peak. Some kind of peak. And peaks are only relevant to the troughs, right? So you’re down here one minute and up here the next. So I’m at some f***ing kind of peak. How high that peak is, I don’t know, but it is the first time in my life that I feel that I have come to that conclusion, and how I react to it from here on in is going to be fascinating,” he adds.
His childhood was scarred, owing to the alleged abusiveness of his father, from whom Noel is long since estranged. Did he channel that pain into song-writing?
“They do say there’s something in it, your upbringing. So it must be. But I’ve got to say it has never made it into my songs. Like ‘my abusive childhood’. I suppose, if anything, it made me when I got the chance and I met Alan McGee [Creation Records boss] and we were going to get this record deal [in 1993], if anything my upbringing led me to realise that you only get one chance, and nobody is going to f*** it up for me.”
“And,” he says, “I am going to do all that I can not to go back and live on the dole. So maybe that. But the parental thing, not really...”
Did Noel worry when he became a dad to Anais, Sonny and Donovan that he didn’t have a role model as a father growing up?
“Of course,” he says.
I say to Noel that he didn’t instinctively have the tools to be a father.
“Men don’t,” he replies. “Whatever people say about being a dad, women have nine months to get used to this thing growing inside them. So they have accepted it. You get 10 minutes as a guy because you think it is all going to go away and then you wake up and go, ‘No, it’s actually real’. Especially if it is your first one. You don’t know how you are going to react. For some people it is the making of them; for some people it can go f***ing off the rails. I was lucky in a way. I don’t really sit and analyse my role as a dad. My wife thinks I’m an appalling dad. And rightly so. Because I let my kids away with murder.”
(For the record, Noel did have plenty of happy childhood memories to draw on. In 2015, he told Kirsty Young on the BBC’s Desert Island Disc’s radio show of his happy childhood holidays in County Mayo: “[It was] as rural as you can imagine, for one time I didn't even have electricity and we loved it. Some uncle would always drive us there from Manchester in a car. He would drive from Manchester to Holyhead and this is true, when we got to the ferry, they used to put all the children on the floor and cover us up with a blanket, just so we didn't have to pay. Our summers seemed endless there, just brilliant.”)
Read part 2 of Barry Egan's interview with Noel Gallagher HERE
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds play The SSE Arena, Belfast on May 9th & 3Arena, Dublin on May 10th. Tickets are on sale now via www.ticketmaster.ie The new album Who Built the Moon? is out on November 24.