FOOTBALL fans are, by and large, optimists – and none more so than Noel Gallagher, the one-time guitarist and songwriter with Oasis.
At the time we spoke, the 44-year-old – now a chart-topping solo artist – was full of hope that his beloved Manchester City would win a clean sweep of trophies in 2012.
Fate – and Manchester United – intervened in the FA Cup, nevertheless the rest of his dream – that City win the Premier league, the Carling Cup and the Europa league – is very much alive.
“I hope the world doesn’t end – because they say it might,” he added. “It would be nice if they could delay the end until City have won the league.”
2011 was certainly a year in which Gallagher himself surpassed many expectations. Two years after abruptly quitting his own band moments before a concert in Paris, the 44-year-old emerged with a new musical guise, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, and an album which garnered his best reviews since Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, at the highpoint of Britpop.
After 18 years consumed in band politics, Gallagher enjoyed the freedom of being his own boss. “In the studio, yes [it was creatively liberating],” he recalled, “because I could work at my own pace, which is important for me.” If he wanted to work three days in a row, he could; if he wanted a break he could take one. With Oasis, he had to be ever-present.
If he wanted a brass section, he did not have to “sell” the idea to anybody. “I found it easy,” he said, carefully considering the phrase again. “I’m not sure liberating is the right word.”
If that sounds diplomatic, it’s a tone he maintained whenever relations with Liam, his brother, and their former band were mentioned. (Impending legal action over comments each brother made to the Press may have be weighing on his mind.)
When I asked whether he thought people appreciate him more as a songwriter now there are fewer distractions, Gallagher answered bluntly: “I don’t know. You’d have to speak to people individually. I think if you were to show a person a picture of me and say, ‘Who is that?’, they would say, ‘It’s not Rod Stewart’. If you were to say, ‘Do you know what he does?’ They would say, ‘He’s the songwriter in Oasis’.”
Was there perhaps a difference in tone when you’re writing songs for yourself? “I know when I write a song now how it’s going to sound when I finish it in the studio,” he said. “If I Had a Gun is obviously a love song but I know what it’s about. When I’m singing I know what it means, I know who the person is, I can deliver its sentiment a little bit better. All the other songs I can deliver the lines with the story. I wrote it so I know what it means.
“I often thought Liam’s role in Oasis must have been difficult, singing somebody else’s songs. You can read the words and understand [literally] what they mean but you don’t instinctively understand them.”
The disparity in UK record sales between ...High Flying Birds and Different Gear, Still Speeding, the debut album by Liam’s band Beady Eye, was apparently no cause for triumphalism. “There’s nothing ironic about it; more people bought it,” Gallagher said simply. Having been away for several weeks on promotional trips, the fact that his own album had done so well had only just registered. “It’s great that I’ve sold nearly half a million records,” he said. “It’s not great that I’ve sold half a million more than anybody else.
“Record sales don’t make it a better record than anybody else’s. You look at some of the best albums of all time and they’ve sold s***. Some of the biggest albums are appalling.
“It’s great to sell records but I don’t have a rivalry with anyone else.”
What will perhaps be more intriguing will be seeing how this album fares compared to its already recorded follow-up, a collaboration with the proggy electronic duo Amorphous Androgynous. Gallagher wouldn’t divulge its title but did reveal: “I would give them a three-minute Kinks-esque song and the next time I would hear it it would be 11 and a half minutes long. I’d say, ‘Where’s the second verse gone?’ and they’d say, ‘We got rid of it, it was boring’. It was an eye-opener. Next time I will have a better understanding of what they do. The next record will be truly incredible.”
A tour of UK arenas awaits Gallagher next month. Having played a handful of shows last autumn, he’s gradually finding his feet as a frontman. “Six weeks before the tour started what I thought it was going to be was making me trepidatious – if that’s a word,” he laughed. “When I finally got to do it, I was, ‘F***ing hell, that was quite easy’.
“The only thing that’s really suffered is my partying. I’ve got to look after my voice. The days of drinking champagne from chandeliers at 4am have sadly gone. Other than that I don’t mind it at all.
“I don’t think I’m the greatest frontman of all time, I don’t think I’m the greatest singer of all time, I don’t think I’m the greatest guitarist of all time, but whatever that album is I can pull that off on stage.”
On the subject of that hard-partying past, Gallagher sounded sage. Having tired of drugs in 1998, he “regretfully” gave them up. “The giving up of gear itself was just, ‘Do you want to be a junkie any more?’ ‘No, I don’t, let’s stop taking drugs’,” he said. “What was more difficult was leaving a circle of friends. The next part of the war is you can’t be surrounded by people who do [drugs] any more – initially, at least.
“I had to go for a long walk in the woods. It was easy, but then I was not doing smack and I was not alcoholic. They are the tricky ones. With anything else a bit of willpower will do it.
“Alcoholism and heroin are so powerful. You’re never fully freed from that. I’ve got friends who are still in [counselling] meetings who have been off heroin for 20 years.”
In hindsight, he rued how Oasis ended. “I only regret the night in Paris not playing the show. I should have done the gig then let everything simmer down. Things would have looked a little less apocalyptic six months down the line.
“Saying that, where we’ve all ended up...Liam thinks he’s in the best band in the world – good for him; I’m comfortable doing what I’m doing – good for me; the fans, instead of getting one Oasis album every three years, they get two...everyone’s a winner.”
Despite the wealth generated from 55 million album sales with Oasis, father-of-three Gallagher was not inclined to follow John Lennon’s example and become a house husband. “I did sit around the house for 10 months,” he said, “but the way women are these days they don’t want you there.
“I enjoyed it – it was nice to be there for the young ’uns [Gallagher and his wife Sara MacDonald have two sons, aged four and one; he also has an 11-year-old daughter from his previous marriage to Meg Matthews] but eventually you’ve got to get back to work because it’s what you do. While I’m still young enough and have got it in me I should make music because I’m going to be too old soon enough.”
Fatherhood had changed him, he admitted. “It’s little things. It changes your existence on a day-to-day basis. Most of it is for the good. It would be nice to pick up the wife and go on holiday at the drop of a hat but there are school holidays to think about.”
Anais, his daughter, was aggrieved that he didn’t take up Simon Cowell’s offer to become a judge on The X Factor. “If you had an 11-year-old daughter you would know what it was all about,” he said paternalistically. “They love that s***. The equivalent for us was we would’ve given anything for our dads to be on Top of the Pops. You were a millionaire if you were. There’s no leveling with that. But Little Mix has won, she’s pleased and that’s done with. She’s going to move on and be a well-rounded person.”
As for groups that had recently caught his ear, Gallagher said: “There’s a band from Northern Ireland called Cashier No.9, I like them. Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian – but they’re not new bands. I liked the Foster the People track Pumped Up Kicks...and Tame Impala, they’re an Australian psychedelic pop band who made an album called Innerspeaker. It’s very good.”
As we were winding up, I asked if he was the kind of person who made New Year’s resolutions. “Yes and no,” he considered. “The last one that I made I stuck to. I got into the habit of not shaving every day, I could not be a**ed. Women have periods but they don’t understand if you have to shave every day. Then I thought, ‘F*** it, I’m going to do it every day’ and I have done it every day for the last two years.
“The next one,” he said wryly, perhaps remembering that legal dispute with his brother, “will be not to discuss certain things in interviews for a whole year.”
Looking ahead, Gallagher hoped “to have another album out by the end of next year and I hope to still enjoy it”.
It’ll be all the sweeter if Manchester City do win the Premier League.
February 19, Motorpoint Arena, Broughton Lane, Sheffield, 7pm, from £35. Tel: 0114 256 5656. www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk