Noel Gallagher on why Oasis won't reform, why he thinks Liam is not 'well', and why he could never live in Dublin
Part 2 of Barry Egan's interview with Noel Gallagher ahead of the release of Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' new album Who Built the Moon?, out on November 24.
Noel Gallagher talks about that fateful decision to leave Oasis and why the band will never reform, his relationship with his brother Liam, their upbringing, and their Irish roots.
Read Part 1 of the interview HERE.
Why did you walk out on one of the biggest bands in the world — Oasis — on the infamous night of August 28, 2009, in Paris?
“I had had it. I sat in the car for five minutes. There was silence until my security guard’s walkie-talkie was crackling and he said, ‘Are we staying or going?’ And I said, ‘We’re going.’ Once I had said those words, I thought , ‘That’s it’. But , you know, I felt I had done enough. I felt that I, personally, had done enough. I felt that this was just going to go around in circles, forever. It is easy to sit there and pick up the cheque, travel in separate aeroplanes, separate dressing rooms, go onstage at opposite sides of the venue, and do the gig. 90pc of those big bands do it. U2 don’t do it because they are big f***ing mates.”
With Oasis, he adds, it’s like, “You arrive and you leave separately. And you have written all these joyous f***ing songs.”
Did you fear your creativity was being killed by being in Oasis? Or did you fear that you and Liam would kill each other?
“I never fought with Liam at all. Liam was fighting with himself. Right now, he is picking a fight with himself somewhere. I don’t suffer fools in any f***ing sense at all, but I suffered him more than maybe I should have done. I felt maybe, looking back on it, that the stadium rock thing wasn’t me any more. At the time, it wasn’t a musical decision. It was literally a case of I can’t bear the fighting and the shouting and the firing people for no reason.”
Noel once said that he felt Liam’s anger came from the fact that he was doing interviews with the press about songs he hadn’t written (and Noel had written). Liam is now writing his own songs but Liam still seems just as angry.
“I don’t know where that comes from because we had exactly the same upbringing...”
So it is not, as Liam alleged in the recent documentary Supersonic, that their animosity is all about Liam as a teenager once urinating on Noel’s stereo in his bedroom growing up?
“Who knows what’s inside the mind of a village idiot!” he laughs.
Most of the things Liam has said about his brother has been pretty juvenile fare. What Liam said about Noel performing at the We Are Manchester benefit in September at Manchester Arena — in response to the 22 innocents murdered on May 22 — went beyond sibling rivalry. On Twitter, Liam dismissed it as a “PR stunt” and claimed his brother “doesn’t give a f***.”
“I will say this — and this is all I will say about it,” Noel says, “I don’t think that he [Liam] is well. I think it says more about him than it does about anything else. I honestly don’t think he is well.”
Does your mother ever get involved?
“I was out with her, in Manchester, a couple of weeks ago and she never said a word. You know what Irish mums are like.”
You strike me as someone with a thick skin and a long fuse until you haven’t. What was it with Liam that was the end?
“It was just an accumulation of things. You’re right. I have got a very thick skin and I have got a long fuse until I blow a gasket, but there have been a few times. Like with my ex wife. There is a straw that breaks the camel’s back and there is no going back. And that’s it. It’s like once I’ve said, ‘No more...then that’s …’ I’m a bit of a ... I respect single mindedness in people. I respect who have the courage of their convictions. I respect people with no regrets. I respect people who...not even forward thinking but I don’t like people who are backward thinking and who are looking to the past. It is better focusing on tomorrow really.”
Noel grew up in Burnage where, for most of the young men, life consisted of two things: football and beer. Noel used to venture into Manchester to go to gigs. Why does he think he was different? “I do not know because I do not come from a musical family at all.”
Your big brother Paul said you were a military genius as a kid because you had a lot of Action Men?
“I could well have been a military genius, if I had been born at the turn of the century!” he laughs, “or been in the Second World War! I had a lot of Action Men!”
Your mother once said about you that, as a boy, you were a good storyteller.
“A good bullshitter.”
The songs he has written, the ones that will be remembered for decades to come like Don’t Look Back in Anger, clearly illustrate that Mrs Gallagher was onto something about her son’s knack for telling a good story.
There was something in Noel he was trying to get out to the wider world. “Clearly. And I have been doing this since I’ve been 20-odd.”
Was he as miserable as he appeared after the Be Here Now album in 1997?
“Very far from it!” he laughs. “I was having the time of my life!”
But he was in a band that he no longer seemed to be happy in. Presumably he was unhappy with the Oasis songs from that period? “Some of it. Go Let it Out is pretty good. But I had nothing left to write about. I had this ability, in the early days, before I became a rock star, to articulate the universal truths. Like love and loss. So, once you become an extremely famous and successful songwriter you have nothing left to write about. So I spent quite a few years making shit up for the sake of it, to go on tour, and then it came back.”
How often do you get asked when are Oasis going to reform?
“Every day. By everyone.”
And it’s not going to happen?
“No. A wise man once said….or it is a truism in life that you can never predict the future. And the future will make a fool of you.”
Are you almost frightened of sullying the legacy of Oasis by recording another album?
“No. If I ever... which I’m not, because Oasis is not going to get back together, I can predict with a 1000 per cent certainty that it is not going to happen. But I am not afraid of the legacy because it is [secured] with the first two Oasis albums. Listen, I read in the papers that ‘Oasis has got unfinished business’ And I’m thinking, 'Well – whoever thinks that, I really f***ing pity them’, because I left it all in the studio, I left it all on the stage. I had nothing more to give. That was it. And if there is unfinished business, I have finished all my business there. I have no more business with him [Liam.] I play the [Oasis] songs because it is what people want to hear when I play live. And why wouldn’t I? I f***ing wrote all of them!”
The songs are sung differently to Liam, because you knew what you were thinking when you wrote them…
“Yeah. I know who the girl is in Don’t Look Back In Anger. She is not an actual f***ing girl. But I know where she is coming from. It’s like anything, you know? Bob Dylan sings Bob Dylan better than anyone else.”
Do you ever sit and think that you have written all these songs that resonate with so many people across the world?
“You can’t think about it too much. Let’s take Don’t Look Back In Anger, because it is kind of quite relevant at the moment. So when I was onstage at Manchester,” Noel says referring to performing at the We Are Manchester concert in front of 14,000 people on September 9, 110 days after Salman Abedi detonated a homemade nail bomb as fans left the arena after the Ariana Grande concert on May 22.
“I felt extremely proud when the song [Don't Look Back In Anger] was sung after the minute’s silence” Noel says referring to the crowd in Manchester’s St Ann’s Square on May 25 who spontaneously sang along with Lydia Bernsmeier-Rullow after she started the impromptu singalong of Don’t Look Back In Anger after a worldwide minute’s silence was observed for the victims of the terrorist attack.
“On the other hand,” Noel says, “I was thinking, I wish this wasn’t taking place at all because of the people who died. You know, people say to me about Don’t Look Back In Anger, did you realise with that song [how timeless and powerful it is]? If I had thought what would happen to Don’t Look Back In anger that night I wrote it in Paris, I’d never have finished it. Because what you’d written would never be good enough for the gravitas of the song. So there was something happening that rainy night in Paris, where the girl in question in the song is, you know, watching her life pass by her, but she is raising a glass and thinking: ‘F**k it, I have no regrets it.’ Then, as time moves on, it is now a relevant song of defiance where people are saying, ‘We are not going to hate. We will not look back in anger.’ I’m kind of thinking: ‘F**king hell.’”
How did you know when you wrote Live Forever (about the invincibility of youth, according to The Guardian) in your carpet-less Manchester bedsit that you had written a great song?
“I just knew enough about music to know. It was an instinctive feeling that I had. I remember when I finished writing it, putting the guitar down and walking around the room and thinking: ‘I think I’ve written a great song.’ I knew it was great when I took to rehearsals that night and played to everyone and Bonehead said; ’You haven’t just written that.’ Then I knew it was good.”
What did your inner voice tell your about the new album?
“I knew it is great. I knew as I was making it. To make this record, there are 11 tracks on the album but to make that we had to do 25 pieces of music. So there is another album’s worth of material that never came to anything. So you are not just going in and writing songs and they’re all great. There are days when you are coming to a dead end with a track and you f*** it off and that’s it. It’s dead. But you have to do enough music to get to the good ones, but I knew the minute that we started to do Holy Mountain that it was something special and I f***ing swear to you,” he says indeed swearing, “that it was in the first ten minutes of that riff that I was thinking, ‘Is this going to f**king destroy people?’ David [Holmes] was like; ‘Wow. F***ing hell.’”
“It was great for him to throw me ideas all the time. Every day we would go in the studio and I would have written something in the hotel . He would go, ‘You know? It’s great...but it’s like Oasis!’ And then he would say, ‘And that’s great. But people would really like to hear you do something different.’ Now, you have to kind of open yourself up to that and just go: ‘OK, I can do it.’”
“It was a case of him pointing me in a different direction virtually every day. I would be working on a track and bits of it would be good, and he would say, ‘When you get to that bit, stop that and lets move on to the next track.’ You’d think he doesn’t like where it’s going and then you come back to it and your outlook on it would be different. He would do a bit of work on it when you weren’t there and you would come back and think, ‘God. This is cool. It sounds like Blondie now. I’m going to have to rethink this.’
“She Taught Me How To Fly came out of a conversation about Blondie,” he explains. “Fort Knox came out of a conversation about Kanye West.”
Where did Be Careful What You Wish For come from?
“The funny thing is, right? I was in between takes of a vocal for either Keep On Reaching or Holy Mountain, in Belfast, and I was doing a warm-up with the guitar and I just played those two chords and I wasn’t thinking about what I was singing or anything. By the time I’d got back up stairs he [David Holmes] had taped it and put a drum loop on it, and there it was. I was like, ‘You clever bastard!’ He said to, ‘You should do something like this,’ and it kind of evolved.”
What albums do you remember getting into first when you were young? Setting Sons by The Jam? Never Mind The Bollocks by The Sex Pistols?
“The Jam’s Setting Sons and Never Mind The Bollocks, yeah. But the first band that I was into from the ground up was The Smiths. I can’t begin to you to tell you what a buzz it is to have Johnny and Paul on the same record.” (Weller plays the organ on Holy Mountain while Mr Marr provides guitar and harmonica on If Love Is The Law.)
Noel is a Manchester City fanatic. We spend 10 minutes when the interview ends discussing his precious team’s mercurial manager Pep Guardiola. Do Noel’s two sons have to be Man City fans? “They didn’t have to be, but it was in their interests if they were. I said to both of them: ‘I genuinely would love you to support City but there are two teams you are not supporting. And that’s f***ing Man United and Arsenal. Liverpool would have been a close third.”
Other than Man City, does Noel have any other religion? God has popped up in his songs over the years.
“Logic leads me to think otherwise. I just can’t get my head around God. I definitely believe in destiny. But religious people say, this is God guiding you. When really in the modern age you are looking at the religious Armageddon that we have in the world and you think: ‘Well, if God is a real f***ing thing, wouldn’t now be the right time for you to show yourself... not through f***ing nonsense like a banana shaped like the Hail Mary?’ On the other hand, I absolutely kind of envy people who have the faith.”
Does your mother still have the faith?
“No. But my in-laws have it a great deal,” he says, “and I envy them because it makes them feel better about things. I don’t have that. I respect them more because they are just hoping for the best. Whereas the nut-cases, the f***ing extremists will f***ing kill you if you don’t believe in God.”
Love over hate is almost the theme of Who Built The Moon?, I say....
“If you listen to Holy Mountain, I don’t care who you are, when you play that to a suicide bomber on the way to the train, he won’t detonate his bomb. Because it is so f***ing joyous and it is about beautiful things in life. Women. Drinking. Life. All the great things in life, you can crystallise it down into that one song. It is the same with Definitely Maybe. It is a joyous album about melancholic things. I think it is an Irish thing.”
How does your Irish side come out?
“It comes out more when I’m around Irish people. You know, when I was on tour with U2, Sara [his wife] was kind of thinking: ‘Let’s just f***ing move there!’ You feel so comfortable with U2, with Irish people. Because they remind you of your upbringing.”
Dubliners are like Mancunians in a way, I say.
“Yeah. You feel comfortable with the sense of humour. You know the reference points that all the young ’uns that followed the tour [The Joshua Tree], they remind you of your cousins growing up. And all the other people are like your aunties or your uncles. So I feel very comfortable with it. Sara and I go over there, where Bono lives in Killiney. When I’m driving there, I go: ‘I could see myself living here’.”
“And then,” Noel Gallagher laughs, “you think: ‘I would literally become an alcoholic!’”
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.