Yorkshire Tea-loving Noel Gallagher is coming to the county on his latest solo tour – as well as revisiting his Oasis past for a documentary. He talks to Duncan Seaman.
It’s 20 years since Noel Gallagher stood on stage at Earls Court exhibition centre in London with his band Oasis, clutching Brit Awards for best British group, album of the year and best video.
The group were then at the peak of their powers, with their second LP (What’s the Story) Morning Glory selling more than 20 million copies worldwide, and firmly eclipsing their Britpop rivals Blur.
Two decades on, Gallagher, now solo, seems exasperated but not entirely surprised by the direction that mainstream British music has taken since his former gang of working-class Mancunians became world-beaters.
Considering this year’s Brit Awards, dominated by Adele, he says: “I guess music has become so middle class now. To make music it costs money now and only maybe the middle classes can afford it. I think the music business had it with working class, drug-addled idiots like us and just thought, ‘You know what? These guys are not good for the share price; that lad over there with the moustache and the banjo, he’s good’.
“It breaks my heart to think that 20 years ago, in 1996, the biggest phenomenon that England had seen since The Beatles in ’66 was a rock ’n’ roll band from Manchester who came from a council estate and wrote their own songs and created their own agenda, wrote their own headlines, didn’t give a f*** and took on the world and won and then we fast forward 20 years and what have we got? We’ve got Cilla Black with a team of 11 songwriters and a stylist and a hairdresser and a personal trainer and a yoga teacher, no doubt, and a media coach.
“It beggars belief where we’re going to be in 2026.”
Forty-eight-year-old Gallagher is currently writing his third album since leaving Oasis in 2009. He’s quick to deny one recent report that it’s inspired by David Bowie (“That was one journalist getting completely the wrong end of the stick”), but admits he is trying out new ways of working.
“A guy I’m working with came up with the idea. He said, ‘Don’t write any songs before we go in the studio, we’ll do it in the studio’ and I was like, ‘OK, I’m all up for trying new ways of working’. The process has been a bit frustrating but the end results are good. It hasn’t stopped me writing at home, I’ve written other songs and stuff like that, but is it a new phase? I don’t know, I’ll tell you when I’ve finished it and when it’s out and I’m on the road doing it. It could well be, I don’t know.”
What he definitely won’t be doing is airing any of the new songs in the set-list for his current tour, whose UK leg includes a show at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. “No,” he says, “ever since Glastonbury in 1995 when we came straight from the studio recording Morning Glory and went and played half of it to a field of people who’d never heard it before I vowed never to do that again, so I won’t play new songs until they’re released.”
Having once been described by the late Sir George Martin as the finest songwriter of his generation, Gallagher credits the importance of The Beatles’ producer, who died last month aged 90, on his own approach to arranging and recording.
“I write and record by instinct and that instinct has developed over the years by listening to other people’s records. George Martin, who could lay claim to being the fifth Beatle and the man who although he didn’t write any of the songs made them sound the way they did, and he’s responsible for Strawberry Fields Forever and I Am The Walrus and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to those songs and tried to emulate sounds on them so he’s a big influence.”
When I ask Gallagher what was the first record that made him think he wanted to make music, he ponders for a moment before opting for the 12-inch of Sally Cinnamon by the Stone Roses.
“I took it home and I played it and thought, ‘I can definitely write a song that’s better than that’ and that’s no diss to them because that’s one of my favourite songs but it was the kind of song that at the time I was writing, I was thinking that I can do that and they were such a big inspiration to me.”
During his time in Oasis Gallagher has admitted he aspired to be like another of his heroes Johnny Marr, playing his guitar loudly rather than being the centre of attention as a singer. Even today, he says, there’s still a part of him that’s a slightly reluctant frontman. “If I could think of anything better to do I probably wouldn’t do this,” he says, “but there’s nothing better than song writing and being on stage.
“It’s not my natural habitat but I’ve kind of grown into where I just don’t think about it, I just think if my songs are good then I don’t really have to be a good frontman if I’m being honest. Nobody gives a s***, they’re all singing, aren’t they?”
He strenuously avoids analysing how to relate to large arena audiences. “It’s all about the songs,” he says, “I don’t give a f*** about relating to anybody. I relate to them through the sound of the songs and the words and the melody and that’s it. I’ve never over-thought anything like that. I was never on stage with Oasis thinking, ‘What is all this about?’ because you’d drive yourself mad. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what it’s about, I don’t want to know what it’s about, I don’t ever want to know what the secret is of my success, I’m not interested, because if I find out what it is I’ll be bored with it then.
“All I know is I wrote a load of songs 20 years ago that changed the world by accident and I’ve written a couple of solo albums that, had I written them 20 years ago, would have changed the world as well but we live in different times.
“I don’t think about it. I get to the end of a gig and I sit in the dressing room and have a drink and I put on my iPod and listen to other people’s music. I don’t sit there thinking how fantastic I am. I’m in the moment on stage and then once the moment has passed I’m in a different moment.”
He seems, however, enthusiastic about the forthcoming documentary film on Oasis. After meeting the director, Mat Whitecross, Gallagher was able to pick the production team. “They’re all great people and everybody was coming at it from a fan’s point of view,” he says.
“The thing with the Oasis stuff, there’s no great revelation, it was all out there in the open. No one’s going to come out of the cinema and go, ‘Do you know what? I didn’t realise they took drugs, I am shocked to find out that they were all high’.
“I think the story is we were the last great band to come along before the internet and it’s the contrast of how at Knebworth [where Oasis performed to 500,000 people over two nights in 1996] you’ve never seen the footage unless you were there because there were no camera phones, there was no social media. You went and you bought a ticket – and you had to be there. That’s the story.
“Contrast to it now where people will send you an email going, ‘By the way, I’ve got a record out, would you like it? You can have it’ so you click a button and go, ‘Yeah, I’ll have it then, why not?’ whereas with Oasis it was dragging people from the sofa to the record store to queue up in the rain to buy the album so they could all go in a field and sing yourself drunk – that’s what it was.”
Gallagher says he still feels close to his working-class Northern roots. They taught him that “you don’t get anywhere without graft”, he says.
“I don’t feel that I particularly belong to any kind of gang like the Labour Party or anything like that. I don’t consider myself Communist or a man of the people or any of that nonsense but I tell my kids this – you can be whatever you want to be but if you’re not prepared to work for it you’ll end up with f*** all. It’s just work hard, play hard, be proud of who you are, and even be proud of who you’re not. Embrace your limitations and accept it.”
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds play at First Direct Arena, Leeds on April 27 and Scarborough Open Air Theatre on • August 3. For details visit www.noelgallagher.com