Noel Gallagher: 'I never thought I'd be doing this at 50'
Noel Gallagher is back with his second solo album. He talks to Eamon Sweeney about an Oasis reunion, Liam's personal problems, and the legacy that he would like to leave behind
Noel Gallagher breezes into his management company's offices in central London and announces with a sigh of relief: "I've just cancelled rehearsals, because if I sang today, I'd have a stroke."
Gallagher is tired but happy, enthusing about a pal's 40th birthday party in Edinburgh the previous night. "I don't hit it as hard as I used to," he says. "I physically can't anyway. If I stay up to four in the morning shouting, it will f*** my voice up. Liam did a lot of damage by not curtailing his after-hours activity."
Ah, the famous little brother. The Gallaghers have entertained us for years with their hilarious spats and very public rows. While Noel is poised to release his second album, Liam hasn't had such a rosy time of it lately.
His own post-Oasis group Beady Eye disbanded last year following two poorly received albums. It is reported that Liam could be liable to pay millions in a child support case in New York, after allegedly having a love child with journalist Liza Ghorbani. Gallagher was married to singer Nicole Appleton when he had an affair with Ghorbani, and divorce proceedings with the former All Saints singer have begun.
Describing his younger brother's personal life as "a mess," he sees Liam pulling through. "I went through a divorce," Gallagher says, referring to the collapse of his marriage to Meg Mathews.
"Even when I was going through all that, I was still focused on the light at the end of the tunnel.
"I've always been a bit of loner, but I've never been frightened of being able to get out of whatever shit I might be in. I think if you're able to accept that, it gives you strength, or at least it did for me. I've always made the best out of what I have. Sure look at me, I'm not the greatest singer, guitarist, front man or lyricist, but I've always made the most of what I was given to get me to where I am today."
Today, Gallagher is happily married to publicist Sara MacDonald and has three children, a daughter Anais with Meg, and two boys, Sonny and Donovan, with Sara. Noel also has his second album Chasing Yesterday and an arena tour to promote, which calls to Dublin in early March. However, last year the rumour mill had it Oasis were very much in the frame to reform for this year's Glastonbury.
"We're supposedly playing Glastonbury every f*cking year," Gallagher says. "I know [Glastonbury organiser] Emily Eavis quite well. I only saw her a few weeks ago and she never mentioned it. As for Glastonbury, forget it. They wouldn't have enough money."
Noel is clearly busy with a world tour for the new album, but would an Oasis reunion ever be a likely possibility? "I would never say never, because I could well end up with egg on my face, but to this day we've never had a serious offer," he says. "I was out with the biggest promoter in England for dinner last Tuesday. Again, he never even mentioned it."
"A ridiculous amount of money would make it worthwhile and I make no bones about saying that whatsoever," he says. "If you saw us, great. If we were before your time, then tough shit. It would require a massive change of heart from me.
"What would make it great is the hour and half onstage. That would be amazing. I always enjoyed that part. It was all the bits either side of it that used to cause problems. The gig would clearly be amazing and I'd love it, but hypothetically, we'd need to reform for a few gigs. A few gigs means going on tour, and going on tour means travelling on an airplane. The last time I did that with Liam, it was not pretty."
Lots of things between Noel and Liam over the years have been far from pretty. Liam himself once told me that Noel needed to "grow up and stop hanging around with Russell Brand", who was Noel's best man at his wedding to Sara in 2011. The comedian has been everywhere in recent months, espousing the need and inevitability of a "revolution." What does Noel make of his friend's political activism?
"I say to Russell, 'You need to get some kids under your belt, then you wouldn't have time to write books about revolution,'" Noel says. "Trust me, I've got three kids. I can just about squeeze in a career. I just about manage to spin all the plates and keep my missus happy and kids happy and make records. I've no room for anything else. Kids take it all up I'm afraid.
"Russell is my mate. He's great and he's completely got his heart in the right place. Poor Russ, he is only trying to get some rent frozen for some single mums, who he is probably trying to get off with, so good luck to him."
Expelled from school at 15 for reportedly throwing a bag of flour over a teacher, Noel seriously got into music after seeing The Smiths on Top of the Pops in 1983, while his brother Liam was more preoccupied with football. Liam called his big brother "the weirdo of the family" while growing up, even though the younger Gallagher had his own rock n' roll epiphany watching the Stone Roses play live in Manchester.
Noel always remained positive, despite his tough Burnage upbringing in a one-parent family after his mum and dad separated. He once told talk-show host Michael Parkinson, "I was prolific in my youth because I had plenty of time on my hands. When I was 24, I had a guitar, a pair of Adidas trainers and 20 Bensons, and that was all I had, that was all I cared about, so I had time on my hands to write music.
"I've always written joyful songs, it is the Irish in me," Noel says. "Even if they are a bit melancholy or bleak, they come out sounding joyful. Some Might Say [Oasis's first UK number one in 1995] is a perfect example. I write and sing from an Irish perspective. We all sing the saddest songs with a tear in our eye, a drink in one hand, and a cig in the other."
"The best songs are ambiguous and you can attach any meaning to. When artists start attaching meaning to songs, I'm just not interested. I don't want to listen to someone sing a song about their cat dying. I don't give a shit about that. When I started writing songs when I was 16, I was trying to escape the dole and shit that was going on at home. The songs became my escapism. At one point, I seemed to be the only person in England not writing a song about Iraq or 9/11. Everybody was writing a song about the Middle East. That is not why I got into this game."
But he famously isn't a fan of contemporary popular music. "No because it is f***ing awful," he spits. "It is horrible and truly, truly awful. My mum summed it up the best. She is 70-odd from County Mayo and she comes to my house most Christmas Days. Every year after the Queen's Speech, we sit down to watch Top of the Pops. Halfway through it, she says, 'Is this a repeat of last year?' 'No Mum, these are the biggest hits of the last year.' 'But they're exactly the same as last year?!' I say: 'I know. It all sounds the same.'
'Sometimes, I wonder if it is just me being an old fart, but rock n' roll is essentially the same story told by a different generation, but there is no one even retelling the story," Noel says.
"I'm 48 this year, so by the time this cycle ends I'll be 50. I never thought I'd be doing it at 50. I thought somebody would have put me out of misery by now. Who knows? I'll probably end up having the same conversation with you at 58 saying, 'I never thought I'll be doing this at 60.'
If it all were to end tomorrow, what would Noel like to be remembered for? "I'd just like to be remembered," he says. "I don't care what for. Sh*t has been happening on this planet for millions of years. You're just a tiny little dirty speck, although some people will admittedly be bigger specks than others, such as Paul McCartney and John Lennon, but I'll be a tiny footnote somewhere.
"What I do is not rocket science. It belongs to the people. I'm not a genius and I have never considered myself to be one. I'm just a guy who writes these songs."
ORIGINAL RUDE BOY
Noel Gallagher is famously outspoken. Here are some of his worst insults:
Kylie Minogue is just a demonic little idiot as far as I'm concerned.
On LIAM: He's rude, arrogant, intimidating and lazy - the angriest man you'll ever meet. He's like a man with a fork in a world full of soup.
Jack White has just done a song for Coca-Cola. End of. He ceases to be in the club. And he looks like Zorro on doughnuts.
I particularly loathe Scissor Sisters. I like 'Laura' from the first record, but it's music for squares, man. They're huge in England, but there's no accounting for bad taste as far as the English are concerned.
What did I think of Jay Z doing 'Wonderwall'? It was pretty funny. But I'm not sure one should be seen in public with a white Stratocaster.
I f**king despise hip hop. Loathe it. Eminem is a f**king idiot and I find 50 Cent the most distasteful character I have ever crossed in my life.
If I were in the Beatles, I'd be a good George Harrison.
I did drugs for 18 years and I never got that bad as to say 'You know what? I think the Kaiser Chiefs are brilliant'.
I would rather drink petrol straight from the nozzle at a garage than listen to an interview with Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys. I mean, wouldn't you?
Take That's Howard Donald said in a documentary that he hears voices at night, willing him to fail. To fail at what? You don't do anything, Howard
On Tony Blair: I don't have a crystal ball. I didn't see that he was going to turn into a c**t.
Just because you sell lots of records doesn't mean to say you're any good. Look at Phil Collins.
'Chasing Yesterday' is out next week. Noel Gallagher plays the Odyssey, Belfast on March 3 and 3Arena, Dublin on March 4.