The First Noel

Noel in 2006

For the very first time, I publish the full unedited version of an incredibly entertaining interview I did with Noel Gallagher in the Electric House, Portobello Road, West London in 2006. Enjoy.

Noel Gallagher is in a reflective mood. Rather than championing the latest Oasis release as the best thing since sliced bread and butter, Gallagher is here to talk about a best off compilation entitled Stop the Clocks.

“Well, we’re changing record labels because we’re not going to re-sign with Sony,” Noel explains over a lunchtime coffee in the Electric House member’s club. “To be honest, I don’t think they’ve got anything of note left on their label anymore. Our management told us that if we wanted to do a best of, right now is definitely the time to do it.  Stopping Sony from doing one would have been the ideal situation, but we can’t. I think it’s a little bit of a damned if we do or damned if we don’t situation, because we always said that we didn’t want to know about a best of until we’d split up or retired. But I can assure you that won’t happen yet. We’ve enough material for two or three new albums already written.”

Speaking of retirement, surely Noel has been tempted over the years to pack his trunk, say goodbye to the Oasis circus and  watch the royalty dosh pile up in his bank account? “I definitely was thinking along those lines when we had the first big chunk of time off at the end of Be Here Now,” he admits. “But say if I got the inclination to do something else – I’d be six months writing a record, six months finding a band, six months recording an album and six months on the road. That’s two years out of my life. By the time the first six month period was over, I’d be itching to get back with Oasis. I’ve considered the whole solo thing, but I don’t think the missus would be too happy about it.”

Given that they’ve released six studio albums, a double live disc, a b-sides compilation and over twenty singles, Noel wasn’t exactly stuck for material for Stop the Clocks. “Actually, I rather enjoyed doing it,” he says. “I chose the songs over a few days in South America. I did it all without listening to any of the tracks. I’m the biggest fan of the band in the world, but I’m not that close to Oasis that I can’t see the wood from the fucking trees and I know what’s shite. We’ve been putting together set lists for the last fifteen years, so I know what’s what when it comes to our own music.”

Noel has never been afraid to borrow from the past, the riff he cogged from T-Rex Get it On for their early hit Cigarettes and Alcohol being the best known example. The elder Gallagher also looked to his musical heroes when approaching his own compilation conundrum.

“I always hated the two CD thing apart from the Beatles’ red and blue albums,” he states. “With any Who compilation, you always got the second CD, and you just flung it out the window, and it’s exactly the same thing with the Rolling Stones. I always said that if we ever did one, there would be twelve tracks on it and that’ll be the end of it. I had thirty three on the first list, but I managed to get it down to twelve. Then, I realised that you can’t fit twelve Oasis songs on a single CD because the songs are too bloody long. So I thought I’d give in and do two CDs with ten tracks on each, but even that wouldn’t fucking fit so it turned into two discs of nine tracks each. The way I whittled it down was that first off I went for the eight songs that we always play live  – the really, really obvious ones.  Funny thing is, it’s starting to get difficult now. Anytime I give a copy of it to someone, they say something like, ‘Fade Away isn’t on it. You’re having a fucking laugh.’ The guys from Kasabian reeled off eight that should have made it right on the spot.”

Another interesting feature of Stop the Clocks is that a few b-sides made the final cut. During their dizzy heyday in the mid to late nineties, Oasis were renowned as one of the last great b-side bands, penning a few classics in songs like The Masterplan and Half a World Away, better known as the theme tune to The Royle Family.

“We were off on tour and somebody rings us up and says, “The Royal family would like to use a song of yours,” Noel recalls. “I’m like, what the fuck!?! “The Royal family want to use one of your songs for some programme they’re making.” Are you taking the fucking piss? Of course, then it transpired that it was for The Royle Family. Anytime I hear it now, I think of it as that theme tune rather than an Oasis song.”

Noel’s prolific streak for writing top dollar b-sides created its own problems. “The people in Creation got a bit worried about it,” he reveals. “For instance, when I wrote The Masterplan, it was for the b-side for Wonderwall. We were booked into a studio for a day, so I wrote a song the night before. It never dawned on me that it was too good for a b-side. Nobody in the band batted an eyelid when I played it, not even our producer, Owen Morris. Then when Alan McGee and the powers that fucking be showed up, we played it back to them and they went apeshit. ‘Whoah! What are you fucking doing? That’s not a b-side. You can’t give that away!’ I remember getting into this argument with some guy where I had to say, “Look, I just don’t write shit songs.” But I’d kill for it now. In retrospect, they were kind of right. If we kept that song for Be Here Now, then that album may have been a very different story.”

Ah, Be Here Now – Oasis’ infamous difficult third album that is still regarded as their career low. “Whether it’s a good or bad album is irrelevant because I believe that it’s the absolute defining statement of that time,” Noel claims. “The only problem I really have with it is that I know I tossed those lyrics off. It’s sixth form rubbish really. But I can’t stress to people enough how much fucking drugs we were doing. And not good psychedelic drugs were you went off and made Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band or Electric Ladyland. We were on shit fucking drugs –  loads of coke and Jack Daniel’s and all that carry on.”

Noel now admits that they rushed into their third album far too quickly. “The whole thing taught me a lesson,” he admits. “U2 played it smart. They didn’t follow up The Joshua Tree for four or five years. They went off and did Rattle and Hum which is really an album full of blues covers and live tracks. Incidentally, I love that album. We made the mistake of going straight back into the studio, when we really should have just waited for the royalties to come in. Instead, we took our year out after Be Here Now. But even though it was perceived as a failure, it still sold nine million fucking copies. I’d kill for nine million copies of any record now.”

Stop the Clocks serves as a timely reminder of just how great Oasis were in their prime. To be fair, recent singles such as The Importance of Being Idle also really stand up with their best work. But Noel isn’t convinced that this double album will convert non-Oasis fans. “With the advent of iPods and iTunes, I’d imagine some kids will look at the track list and think they’ve got a better playlist already,” he muses. “Kids have too much information now, so I’m not sure if its going to turn any new fans on.”

Noel has been notorious for blowing his own trumpet with ballsy quips such as, “We’re not arrogant, we just believe we’re the best band in the world.” However, he isn’t under any illusions of grandeur at this moment in time.

“Oasis are like when you struck a match,” he reflects. “The explosion is exciting, but eventually the flame burns out. I’d be the first to admit that we’re slow burning at the minute, but you simply can’t have the same level of intensity at 39 that you have when you’re 19. When you start off, you’ve got no kids or any other baggage. All you’ve got is your guitar case and a load of fucking lyrics and you’re just having it. You get to 39 and you’ve got an ex-wife and kids to look after. Things are a lot different now. But I think it’s an achievement in itself to get this far.”

When one thinks of Oasis, usually the songs Live Forever or Wonderwall are the first to spring to mind. If one song had to be put in a time capsule, which one would Noel pick? “For the sentiment alone, Live Forever because it’s still the one song that stands up for me,” Noel says without hesitation. “It’s not a great recording by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s just one of those songs that’s got a timeless quality to it and everyone can relate to the sentiment – that whole arms around your best mate going, “We’re going to fucking live forever.” We’ve all been there. But Wonderwall is always up there because it’s the housewife’s choice. Who hasn’t sang that to their missus at seven o’clock in the morning?”

As the second-born son of Thomas Gallagher and Peggy Sweeney – and we’re definitely distantly related as my late Dad also hailed from the Sligo/Mayo border –  Noel is staunchly proud of his Irish roots. Indeed, he  once said, “I know I’ve got Irish blood because I wake up every day with a hangover.

“I’ve got fond memories of all the Irish gigs we’ve done, especially the first time we ever played the Point,” Noel enthuses. “I was nearly moved to tears by how loud the fans were singing. Every time we’re on tour, me and Liam say to the new lads in the band, ‘Wait until you play the Point with Oasis. It’s something else.’ Irish gigs are always very, very, very euphoric when you’re onstage but very stressful backstage because you’ve got to meet every fucking relative that you’ve ever, ever known. If we come offstage and we haven’t dedicated a song to all the people from Charlestown in County Mayo who’ve all travelled up on the bus, our Mam has a fucking go at us. She’ll say, ‘You didn’t mention the boys from Charlestown.’ I’m like, “I’ve got other things on my fucking mind. I’m trying to play the fucking guitar and sing for a start.’ She’s going, “Oh, they’re very disappointed that you didn’t mention them.” I’m not on the fucking radio reading out fucking requests, d’you know what I mean?”

Even though Noel moved from his native Manchester a few years ago to live in London, he still makes it back to the West of Ireland as often as he can. “I just bought my Mam a house in Charlestown so I was over sorting out all that shit during the summer,” he reveals. “She brought all her grandkids over for the summer, while we all went off to Ibiza. Ireland has definitely changed a lot since I was a kid. I remember our village being very sleepy and quiet. Now, there are all these Chinese and Indian restaurants and all this other stuff you find in cities. It’s just the modern world I suppose. Back when we were going there in the sixties and seventies, it was still very much somewhere stuck in the forties and fifties. That’ll always be a magical time for me. When a car was going by you’d run out and have a look. It was even a big deal when the bus went past on its way into town for the Grannies to pick up their pensions before they’d get absolutely arse-holed in the pub all day. Now, with everywhere being in the EU and all that malarkey, even Charlestown has a rush hour. The last time I got off the plane, the taxi driver goes,’You’ve arrived at the wrong time. This is rush hour.’ Rush hour? Nobody fucking lives here!”

Noel also famously turned down the Football Association when they asked him to write the official England World Cup anthem in 1998, insisting that he was Irish rather than English. “Every time the World Cup is coming up I have to leave the phone off the hook,” he sighs. “England are always on the phone. I always say to the guy, ‘Look, you don’t understand. I can’t do it because when it comes to my Uncles, that would be the end of it.’ When England play Ireland I just hope for a nil all draw. But I always get my tickets for the World Cup to see England and I always end up going out there and braving all the right-wing skin-head idiots. We were dreadful (last summer) and added to all that, the fans were dreadful. You’re treated like shit because of all the Nazi-saluting fucking knob heads that follow England.”

In the heady, hedonistic summer of 1997, Noel Gallagher was invited to a reception in number 10 Downing Street to meet the newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair. To this day, Noel still gets stick about this infamous exercise in New Labour backslapping.

“We all got carried away when he first came in,” he reflects. “I thought it was the greatest thing ever because I’d been on the dole. Suddenly, I had this opportunity to go behind the door of number 10. I went from nothing to the top of the British establishment within five years. If anybody claims they didn’t get carried away during those first few years, then they’re lying. But what really annoys me now is that everyone in my circle of friends still winds me up about it.  Whenever he comes on the telly they all go, ‘There’s your mate.’ Listen, I met the guy once and it was a bit of a schmooze and it wasn’t the fucking coolest thing in the world, but he’s not my mate. Fucking hell man, it’ll be alright if he was! My girlfriend’s Dad is always teasing me on the phone, ‘I see your mate is in trouble again.’  I’m like, ‘Who the fuck are you talking about?’ ‘Oh, phoney Tony.’ For the last fucking time, how is he my fucking mate? I suppose it’s something I’ve just got to live with.”

A Noel Gallagher interview wouldn’t be complete without asking after the little brother. Did Liam help choose the tracks for Stop the Clocks? “No way fucking way, man,” Noel cackles. “Me and Liam can’t come to a decision about going for fucking lunch together, let alone the track listing for a fucking album.”

But given that Liam is now a father, surely the legendary wild man has mellowed and matured a little bit? “Nah, he’s got even more stupid,” Noel chuckles. “You would have thought that having two kids would force him to cop on at long last, but he has just got even more ridiculous. I’m here working all day from eleven in the morning until eleven at night, doing promo and fuck knows what else, while he is poncing around in stupid clothes getting pissed. I could go on, but I think we’ve ran out of time and you’ll end up missing your flight home if I went into all the details.”

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