The former guitarist and chief songwriter for Oasis is unabashedly, unapologetically brash and outspoken. He has never hesitated to sing his own praises or those of his band, nor to insult any other musician he felt was overrated. His prime target: his younger brother, Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, with whom he has maintained a running feud that at times has bordered on the fratricidal.
”I’m just cursed with an absolutely endless stream of one-liners,” the 44-year-old Gallagher says wryly. ”People say it’s the way I talk in interviews that makes people interested. But they just mean that I’m honest – ‘Oh, he’s got a way with honesty, that lad.’ How depressing is that?” Even so, the man frequently described as cocksure and arrogant is a bit nervous, if not outright afraid, due to his new role as a solo artist. ”I’ve been gobsmacked up to this point,” says Gallagher, whose solo debut, ”Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds,” debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. charts in October. ”I don’t think it can possibly be more fun being a front man than it is being a guitarist and a backing vocalist. That’s the greatest (flaming) gig in rock … You don’t really have to do anything but play the guitar really (flaming) loud and sing harmony. That’s easy. That’s amazing. ”To be a front man is going to be a new experience for me,” Gallagher says. ”I mean, (performing) is always daunting even at the best of times. Even when you’ve been playing guitar in the same band for 20 years, it’s still slightly nerve-racking.”
The Manchester native had a rough childhood, growing up abused by an alcoholic father whose treatment left Noel and older brother Paul with stammers. Noel and Liam shared a room and, when their mother finally left their father and took her three teenage sons with her, they got into trouble together as well. After Noel was sentenced to six months’ probation for robbing a store, however, he began playing a guitar his father had given him. He found inspiration listening to the radio, particularly from songs such as the Smiths’ ”This Charming Man’’ and Stone Roses’ ”Sally Cinnamon.” ”It was one of their first singles,” Gallagher says, ”and I thought, ‘If they can do that, I can do it.’”It was at a Stone Roses concert that he met Graham Lambert, who played guitar for the band Inspiral Carpets. Gallagher auditioned to sing for the group, but instead was hired for a crew job. That turned out to be fortuitous, because it introduced him to stage-monitor mixer Mark Coyle, with whom Gallagher would endlessly discuss the Beatles songs that also were a major influence on him. Meanwhile Liam Gallagher had joined a Manchester band called The Rain, which he wanted Noel to manage. The elder Gallagher had a different idea, however, joining the group as a member but under the condition that he would be its primary songwriter. ”He told us he’d make us the biggest thing in the world,” former guitarist Paul ”Bonehead’’ Arthurs recalled early in Oasis’ career. ”He kind of just took it over, but … he made good on his promise, didn’t he?”
The newly renamed Oasis, with Gallagher firmly at the helm, signed with Britain’s Creation Records and became a near-immediate sensation, launching a new wave of Britpop around the world. The group’s domination included 70 million albums sold worldwide, with eight that went No. 1 in its homeland and three that hit the Top 5 in the United States. It scored hits with such songs as ”Wonderwall’’ (1995), ”Some Might Say’’ (1995), ”Roll with It’’ (1995), ”Don’t Look Back in Anger’’ (1996) and ”Champagne Supernova’’ (1996). Oasis’ run was also marked by feuds with other bands, however, particularly with Blur and Radiohead, and erratic behavior that – as the Gallaghers themselves have admitted – often was due to substance abuse. Their own rivalry was no secret, and matters finally came to a head on Aug. 28, 2009, when the brothers had a violent argument backstage at the Rock en Seine festival in Paris. The group canceled their show shortly before they were to go on, and bowed out of a subsequent European tour. Later that night Noel posted a message on the band’s Web site stating that ”with some sadness and great relief … I quit Oasis tonight … I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer.”
Noel Gallagher, who during his time in Oasis also had collaborated with Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown, the Chemical Brothers and Paul Weller, wasted little time before moving on. While the rest of Oasis regrouped to form Beady Eye, Gallagher played solo at the 2010 Teenage Cancer Trust benefit concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall, accompanied by Oasis’ Gem Archer. His primary goal, however, was to return to the studio. ”Recording is easy,” Gallagher says. ”There’s nobody there who has paid money to come and see you do it in front of an audience, you know? It’s your thing. You’re the only one putting pressure on yourself. So it’s nice to start again and shape things from the bottom up, as opposed to being stuck with whatever Oasis was and had been. ”I loved that, but this is new and it’s nice.” Gallagher hedged his bets a bit, however, so far as his solo career is concerned. The album is credited to Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, even though there is no formally established group lineup. ”It kind of serves two purposes,” Gallagher says. ”If I ever do get a settled lineup, I’ve already introduced ‘the band.’ And it’s also got my name, so it’s like a solo thing too. All sorts of options are on the table, really.”Working on his own didn’t really affect his writing, the guitarist reports, but it did influence the kinds of songs he wrote.
Two of the songs, ”(I Wanna Live in a Dream) In My Record Machine’’ and ”Stop the Clocks,” were demoed for Oasis but never recorded by the band. ”They were great songs,” Gallagher says, ”and I thought, ‘Well, if I don’t put them out now, I’ll never put them out, so now is the time.”’ Those enjoying Gallagherian family analysis will scour the ”High Flying Birds’’ songs in vain, he adds, for shots at his brother or his former bandmates. ”I’m not that kind of guy, really,” Gallagher says. ”My first instinct, when I write songs, is not a negative one. It’s something positive … Everything I’ve ever done has some form of hope in it, I think. So I wouldn’t write a song about my feelings toward anyone in, let’s call them Beady Eye, because I actually like those people, except for the singer.” Gallagher has hit the road with the High Flying Birds, albeit with a different lineup of musicians than recorded the album. He plans to ”play and tour endlessly,” he says, with the shows including both his solo material and Oasis songs.”I don’t think of them as Oasis songs anymore,” he says. ”They’re my songs. Every song that I play I wrote by myself … I won’t be doing anything that’s synonymous with Liam’s voice. I’ll only be doing songs that I’ve sung on records, so it should be OK.” He has a second album already in the can, a collaboration with the Future Sound of London spin-off Amorphous Androgynous that includes re-recorded versions of four of the ”High Flying Birds’’ songs.
The specter of Oasis remains, however. Liam Gallagher, who plans to make a film about the group, has predicted an inevitable reunion because, as he told British reporters, Noel is ”not that good’’ without him. He also has held out an olive branch of sorts, however, suggesting that Oasis get back together. ”I’ve never lost the sense of wonder of writing a song. When I finish a song, it’s like I’ve given birth and there’s a new child in the family. ”I don’t see it as a job, and fortunately for me I’ve got people all over the world that are interested in what I do and listen to it, and that’s comforting and nice to know.”