The Apolitical Party: Noel Gallagher Interviewed
, February 16th, 2015 11:23
The always quotable High Flying Birds frontman on politics in music, Sleaford Mods and getting pissed with Morrissey. Interview by Jude Rogers
"I'm not a ranter. I'm not!" At precisely one minute to our allotted meeting time of noon, Noel Gallagher appears in his neat, white Marylebone management offices. He's clad in classic Gallagher attire: blouson leather jacket done up to the neck, dark jeans and Playmobil mod haircut, now with added white Miliband smudge. A minute later, he's off. He's never not on. Shove a Dictaphone under his Burnage nose at any random moment, and you'll get something.
He gives away plenty today: full details of his night on the tiles with a bunking-off Morrissey, people who shout at him on the Tube, and lots on his current bugbear, the blandness of modern music. But isn't he partly to blame for that? After all, Oasis' big arms-in-the-air sentiments begat Travis, begat Coldplay, begat the likes of Ed Sheeran, who Gallagher was sad to hear was selling out Wembley Arena while Kasabian and the Arctic Monkeys were not. "Well, yeah," he shrugs, before narrowing his eyes; he's not easy when challenged. "I know what you're saying – it's the same kind of thing but with an acoustic guitar, yeah. But that's the key thing. Ours were electric guitars, and we were from the streets. There you go." He leans forward, raises those eyebrows, case closed. "The point I was making was that rock bands weren't selling it out. Poor little Ed just got his name dragged into it and what stood us apart, other than those big emotional songs, were us as characters. It was the attitude in which it was delivered."
He's not happy about the attitude-heavy Sleaford Mods either, but we'll come to that later. Noel Gallagher And The High Flying Birds have also, you might have noticed, got a new album out, the rather Oasisly-titled Chasing Yesterday. It's an interesting mix: half of it your typical Noellian chord changes, half of it proper "Is this the right record?" moments like most of 'The Right Stuff', which unfurls like a trippy, smoky, late '90s after-the-club stormer, spruced up with a dash of prog and psych, and led by a bass clarinet (it's fantastic). Then there's the long, spacily ambient intro to 'While The Song Remains The Same', the garagey-glam intro of 'The Mexican', the saxophone in album opener, 'Riverman'. It's pretty good stuff. And you may have already heard the first single, 'The Ballad Of The Mighty I', with its Nile Rodgers disco guitar, as played by Johnny Marr.
Not that Noel wants to be quizzed much about how he wrote it, because that's "dull as fuck". Good old Noel. Less of me, more of him, and definitely no ranting...
Noel Gallgher: I don't what the world is actually coming to sometimes. I'd love to know what the over-riding thought is of editors of music sections, and music magazines... [raffish voice] present company excepted, of course. Surely nobody gives a shit about how Sam Smith recorded his new album. I don't think I could be less interested. Say something funny. Did you ever hear Morrissey talking about how he wrote a song? Never once, ever. Mark E. Smith – can he even play the fucking guitar? That's what I was brought up on: interesting people in the music business who weren't aimed at the mainstream. The mainstream came to them. Now it's different. All the major labels have bought out all the indie labels, and now they just get whoever they find, and they aim them at the mainstream.
But Creation was half-owned by Sony when you were signed.
NG: Yeah, but we were the last of the dying breed of those kinds of bands. I've said it before, but if Oasis were to have happened ten years later, there was no Creation Records. We would have been signed, but I'll tell you how it would have happened. Alan McGee wouldn't have been at that club, and wouldn't have come outside and said "I'll give you a record deal now". Some guy would have came, and then he would have said, "Oh, right, OK, hmm, I'll speak to another guy." And another guy comes down, and just goes, "I don't like the bald guy, I'm not sure about him." And then another guy comes down and says, "Yeah, they fucking do a lot of drugs, you know what I mean, can we trust these cunts? Let's get some song writers, he's got to wear a hat."
They wouldn't trust the audience to understand you as a group of normal human beings.
NG:Yeah. Nobody's allowed to make any mistakes. Everyone's put in with a team of songwriters and so they all sound the fucking same. And in the last ten years, here's not been a fucking single song that you can hang your hat on, and there has to be a reason for that. It can't be because the talent isn't there. It doesn't fucking dry up, does it? We live in crazy times where the music on the radio is so bland and safe, and you turn on the news and it's so horrific, like videos of people getting burned in cages and fucking shit like that. It used to be the other way round: the news was Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, whatever, and the radio was 'Bittersweet Symphony', 'Get Your Rocks Off', 'Supersonic'. Now it's turned on its fucking head almost. [sighs] Mental, innit? But talent can't just go away, can it? Surely not.
You always seem to dismiss politics, something that Sleaford Mods have criticised you for. You recently, and memorably, described them as like "Brown Bottle in Viz...shouting about fucking cider and fucking shit chicken". Did you hear about their Facebook post about your comments?
NG: [raises eyebrows] Facebook post?
Yes, did you read their response?
NG:[long pause] [sighs] That just sums it all up. They posted on their Facebook. Just exactly that. Post what on their Facebook? When will they meet me in the fucking street?
You didn't know what they said.
NG:Well, exactly, you know. Post it on my...fucking tweeted it. Go on, anyway.
The post is titled, "Norman Tebbit wrote Definitely Maybe."
NG: Right… well, it definitely was a reaction to the Tories, yes, for sure.
In an interview a few years ago, you said Margaret Thatcher had been good for music.
NG: Yeah, it was wonderful the way the Daily Mail twisted that. If you think of the golden age of modern pop music, we were under the rule of the Conservatives, and my point was, you knew where you stood with Thatcher. She was fucking you in the arse, and she was quite fucking brutal about it, so we were like, "OK, she's the fucking enemy". Art was better under Thatcher, not because of Thatcher but in spite of Margaret Thatcher. I just happened to say that to a Daily Mail journalist, who just fucking span it. Now politics is mirroring society: it's bland. There's nothing. Who are these two bozos that are standing for election in a couple of months? They're career politicians. They don't stand for anything.
The Sleaford Mods post continues [reads]: "These excessively rich or bought 'entertainers' currently on this compassion angle for the lower classes is beyond laughable but also concerning because you are gonna always get some poor cunt who lives in Rugby with a feather cut waving a Man City flag (no offence to city fans) and soaking it all in if ya know what I mean."
NG: [looks agog] What?
They go on to criticise people that believe "rock n Roll [sic] to be the instrument of social mobility"...and say the following about you: "Gallagher, who last night committed suicide on 5 live, his grasp on anything, let alone social inequality, is clearly not there and any attempt to discuss this by him and people like him is deeply, deeply offensive."
NG: [shakes head] And?
I think they're saying what you're saying doesn't solve anything.
NG: It doesn't solve anything? [leans forward] I'm not a politician. I'm a rock star. I think the working classes don't have a voice: that's a fact. That's a fact. You know where the working classes have a voice now? On [the] X-Factor. That's where it's ended up, and that's what the working classes aspire to now, is to be on X-Factor.
But that's the idea of social mobility through musical talent – something they say is bullshit.
NG: Yeah, and I'm not knocking it. It's a good TV show, my daughter enjoys watching it and we have a shared experience watching it, althougg it doesn't mean anything – and it won't mean anything to her when she's 23, I can assure you of that. My point is, there is a debate going on at the minute, which I was asked about, and I don't think there's too many posh people in the arts. I just think there's not enough working class people in the charts. I only look at music; I don't give a fuck about what's going on over there. That doesn't concern me. I was brought up reading Smash Hits and the NME and Melody Maker and Sounds, and what was in the charts, from the Smiths and the Jam and the Specials. When I listen to the radio now, I don't hear the voice of the working class. I don't hear a Richard Ashcroft or a Bobby Gillespie or a Liam.
But there are working-class kids. There are rappers, young kids making electronic music…
NG: Yeah, I'm not talking about that, because I'm not a hip hop urban dude as you might have worked out [touches jacket], although I do like some of that music. I'm not an expert on that field. To say "it doesn't solve anything" – of course it doesn't. It's an opinion. We're all entitled to opinions, I do believe.
They think bands should make an impact politically because they're in a position to have a voice – you're saying that's the job for somebody else, are you? They say "we've made him look naff and lazy."
NG: What I'd say to that is, write a fucking decent chorus. The end.
Do you think musicians shouldn't talk about politics?
NG: I'm not interested.
So if musicians talk about politics, is that OK?
NG: Look – Billy Bragg never interested me in the slightest. It never interested me. Morrissey interested me more, because when you were listening to his music, he wasn't beating you over the head with his political views.
NG: [interrupts] OK, apart from Meat Is Murder.
Which isn't exactly their best song.
NG: I think it's their best album. But I'm not a vegetarian, if that's what you mean. They're not beating you over the head with their political views. You can make your own mind up, can't you?
Morrissey did talk about politics, though. The Queen Is Dead, the fact that it was going to be called Margaret On A Guillotine.
NG: Yes, but it wasn't spitting. It wasn't gobbing at you in the face. It wasn't … Stalinist. You know, The Queen Is Dead – is it about the Queen? Or could it be about something else, a queen? And I don't recall reading an interview where Morrissey was actually fucking preaching. He was hilarious in his interviews. And all the working class bands that came up in the '80s and the '90s, they had fucking great tunes, and that's the bottom line. You think of 'Labour Of Love' by Hue and Cry, a very deeply political fucking song, you'll never work out it's about politics, because of that great fucking chorus. It's only when you got older, you listen to it, and you think, "Wow, fucking hell, the dole, remember that?" Yeah, spitting's not good. Nothing will ever make a difference that way.
Could it before?
NG: It isn't something that inspires me greatly, protest music. I do like Bob Dylan, though. You know, [brushes hands] if Sleaford Mods ever ever ever get their headline slot at Glastonbury on the Saturday night, and it's going out live on the television, then maybe. Until then, not for me.
So it's all about bands being accessible to the masses for you, then? Even though your new album is a bit of departure on some fronts for the Noel Gallagher sound, there are enough familiar moments for the old fans to hang their coats on. For instance, it starts with 'Riverman', with an opening guitar figure that's a bit like 'Wonderwall', and its opening lyric "Something in the way she moves..." will ring large bells…
NG: You're the first person who's ever mentioned that!
Is that a helping hand for people who've liked you in the past? Or is that you wryly acknowledging your critics?
NG: I don't really over-think it that much to be honest. If I did that, I'd never release anything. I'd think, "Oh, this is a bit similar to 'Wonderwall'". To me, it's just a good song. The end. It's for other people to decide what it sounds like. I refuse to overthink it.
NG: I don't make art, I make pop music. I'm not saying pop music is not art: fundamentally, it is art, because you're creating something from nothing. I mean in the flowery sense. I wouldn't consider myself to be an artist like, fucking, I don't know, Kate Bush, Thom Yorke. Get it out. I get it out, and it's there. Anyway, I've accepted my limitations as a song writer fucking years ago. I never studied music in school. I was never given a lesson and I was never taught how to play anything. I play what I play. I'm influenced by what I'm influenced by, and that's it. I've accepted my limitations, and I work within those parameters.
Is that insecurity? You do bust out of those parameters on something like 'The Right Stuff'.
NG: But that came naturally to me. I know it's as far removed from 'Supersonic' as you can possibly fucking get … but it's the next logical step for me.
What influenced 'The Right Stuff'? My esteemed editor John Doran tells me you're a fan of Demis Roussos' crazy prog band, Aphrodite's Child.
NG: I fucking love them, yeah. But I like lots and lots of music. I'm fucking obsessed with dance music at the moment. It's in the middle of a renaissance. That firm Defected, that do those Defected In The House mixes, they're fucking amazing. I went to Ibiza last year, and had an amazing time.
Do you dance in nightclubs?
NG: I walk about rhythmically and try to avoid eye contact with people with feather cuts and City scarves in case I fucking ruin their lives. [narrows eyes] I find a dark corner, usually with a few people who might form a barrier. A human shield!
We have forgotten Demis Roussos in all this…
NG: We have. Well, [Aphrodite's Child's] 'Four Horsemen' was a staple Mancunian classic, and when I met the Amorphous Androgynous fellas, they played me some other stuff, like Funky Mary, and the It's Five O'Clock album, which is really brilliant. I do like a fucking touch of prog, I've got to say. When I've got time off these days, I scour iTunes for obscure shit. Don't ask me the names, I won't remember.
The album you were going to make with Amorphous Androgynous – the psychedelic alias of Future Sounds Of London – isn't happening now, which is a shame, because it promised a lot. Do you regret that?
NG: No. I don't regret meeting them and being fans of theirs, because they've turned me on to so much fucking great music. 'The Right Stuff' would never have been written without those guys. If I regret anything, it's spending the fucking 150 grand it cost me to record it and it's sitting there in the dustbin.
Would you put it out at some point?
NG: No – it's just not good enough. It's simple as that. I took one track and finished it off, which ended up as a B-side called 'Shoot A Hole Into The Sun', which was fucking great, I loved it. But I'm not that much of a cunt that I would take somebody's fucking work that they did, and then say, "Thank you very much, I'm now going to go and finish it off". I paid for it, they delivered it, and I said, "Well, thank you very much, but that's not good enough, because that has to be better than that album there".
[Three days after I interviewed Noel, Amorphous Androgynous gave their side of the story: they had spent two years working in isolation on what they thought was going to be Gallagher's debut album, before they found out he was releasing a more traditional debut album. "Noel gave us all the power and we conducted most of those two years in absolute isolation," said the group's Gaz Cobain. I don't think he wanted to fully interface with the craziness of our music."]
Are you happier working by yourself?
NG: Oh, fucking infinitely, yeah. I always have been a loner, man. When I was growing up, I never ran with a gang of lads, not for any other reason than I like the peace and quiet. The other side of that coin was Liam. He can't stand being by himself: he has to be surrounded by chaos, and I get that. Not everybody's the same. If everybody was, it'd be fucking boring.
Do you wish you'd called time on Oasis earlier now?
NG: No. If I'd have called time earlier, my first solo record wouldn't have been very fucking good. It happened at exactly the right time for me. I loved [being in Oasis] right up until the very fucking minute that I said to the driver, "I won't be doing it, we're pulling this gig." People that I know in bands were saying to me at the time, "That's fucking brave, isn't it?" but, it felt natural to me. I was thinking, "What have I got to be scared of, it's going to be great." And it's something that I felt needed to happen for Oasis, you know. Before I left, we were just another band. Now we'd split up: your shit just grows and grows and grows.
I keep thinking about Paul Weller, a good friend of yours now, who you've said is one of your heroes time and time again. He's made records in recent years that are experimental and far-reaching. Do you see him as a good template to follow for your solo career?
NG: But I can't really can I? He's fucking about six levels above me. On the outside, looking in, what we do is quite similar. He was in this seminal band of the '80s, Oasis were the Jam of the '90s, if you like, similar fans. But honestly? He's fucking touched by genius. I still consider myself in his presence to be a little bit shaky, and I'd hazard a guess, so does he. See, I don't take myself too seriously. I don't think I'm better than anybody else. All I say to anybody on the street is 'All I am is a better songwriter than you." That's it. But you're a better taxi driver than I am, and I can't drive, so I need you to drive me round the fucking streets of London, so thanks very much for that.
I thought you'd learned?
NG: No, I still get the Tube all over.
Do you get approached?
NG: I do! I went to the O2 last night to see Ennio Morricone on the Tube – he was good. There was a bus strike yesterday, so the Tubes were absolutely fucking mobbed...and one of three things happens when I'm on them. You'll get the person that kind of sits, then they'll look at you [mimes discretely peering up from a book], a bit perplexed.
Do you ever make efforts to disguise yourself?
NG: No. [purses lips] I haven't got a face for a hat, I'm afraid. This first, they'll kind of look at you and not take any notice until you get off, and then they go, as the train's passing... [drops jaw and points]. The second kind of looks at you and then starts smiling to himself. This happened last night – this guy's looking at me, all conspiratorially – and then he comes up and he says, "I know who you are" . And I go, "But who am I?" "You're Noel Gallagher, aren't you?" And I say, "Yes" and they're like, "I knew it!" It's like you've been caught out. And the third one is the funniest one. Usually you're kind of sitting there, and it's usually a guy, at the other end of the carriage, he'll look at you like this [leans back, half-asleep, mouth open in a gurn] and shout over, "Liam!"
Do you think of yourself as a Londoner?
NG: No. I think I live in the best city in the world, but my favourite place in the world is Manchester. There's a different class of head-case up there. A night out there is like getting out of the van in a safari park, when they're telling you, "Don't fucking feed the animals," and you're like, "I'm going to go and fucking have it with the lions and the monkeys." Every time I go up there, I have great, stupidly ridiculous nights out with ridiculous people who I've never met, but will convince you they have. "No, mate, don't you remember, I lived next door to you," and you're just like, "I've never seen you before in my entire life." "No, no, I know your mam." "No you fucking, you've never met me, you've seen me on telly."
'While The Song Remains The Same' on the album sounds like you really miss Manchester. Lyrics like "Take me back to the town where I was born...'cos I'm tired of being a stranger and I'm miles from home." Would you ever move back?
NG: You know, we did think about it before our second son [Sonny] came along. I wouldn't mind, my mum's still there, still in the same house. But I feel sorry for her – some guy shot his wife in the face yesterday in the middle of the street as she begged for her life. My mam will tell you this very matter of fact. [genteel Irish accent] "Oh, someone's just been shot in the face". What did you say? My missus sometimes gets a little pissed off with London. I'm not really tied to London, I don't give a fuck, I can live anywhere.
[A label person gives me the five minutes sign from outside – we're already ten minutes over]
Before I go, I want to know more about your night out in LA with Morrissey that you've referred to in recent interviews – when he played you Brian Protheroe's Pinball, which influenced Riverman off the new record.
NG: Fucking hell, it was funny. I was in LA on holiday with Sara and the boys, and Russell [Brand] came to see us. And he goes, "What you doing tonight? I was with Morrissey last night, and he reckons we should go out for a drink." So Russell's texting him from my hotel room, saying, "It's on," and Morrissey's texting back, going [does pitch-perfect, drawling Morrissey impression] "Wonderful. Tell him to bring his credit card."
And we get to this gaff – this is like at seven in the evening – and I'm saying to Russell, "I'm up for it tonight, but I don't want to keep Sara up all night, we'll kick things in the head about two." And Russell snorts. "2 o'clock? We'll be out of here in 40 minutes! I can't handle Morrissey for more than 40 minutes: he's fucking mental!" So, we go in, and there he's sat, and I could write a book on that night.
Russell doesn't drink so me and Morrissey were roaring drunk. First thing, he got up and sort of shook my hand. I said, "Alright mate, how're you doing?" because I've met him at awards ceremonies, I've been on planes with him going to festivals. He'd just cancelled all the gigs in South America because he had whatever it was. So I go, "I thought you just cancelled a load of gigs, I thought you were at death's door." And he said [raises eyebrows, does the voice again] "Yet here I am".
So it just descended, and he was fucking hilarious. He doesn't have a good word to say about anyone, anyone, anything. At one point he was asking [the voice again] "Who do we find funny?" and I was like, "I don't know? Micky Flanagan?" and he'd just go [rolls eyes back in head, puts fingertips of stretched-out on table, shouts exasperatedly] "Micky Flanagan!!!!". And I'd say, "What about Jack Dee?" and he'd just go [leans forward and shout] "He! Is! Not! FUNN-Y!" Russell was just so nervous, and Morrissey was going, "Come on, come on, can't we drink champagne and get pissed." It just went on for quite a while, and he was brilliant.
And I have to tell you this story. I was saying to him, "So, when you were with The Smiths, the melodies that you wrote… well, you had all these words, but your way with melody is quite unique, it's not the blues and it's not pop, so did you have all these songs before you met Johnny?"
A good point!
NG: And he says [preens] "I did". And I was like, "Did you?" He said, "I had them on cassette". And I said, "But you can't play the guitar" He said, "No, no, but I had a little drum kit". And I said, "What, a drum kit?" and he said, "Yes, yes, yes". And I said, "What did you have a drum kit for?" and he said, "Well, not many people know this, but Rice Crispies once asked me to do a jingle for them". So I said, "Really? Did you do it?" and he said, "No, no, no, I wouldn't play it." The he paused and leaned over, and said, "I wouldn't wear the leather." [erupts in laughter]
And you know what: he never asked me a single fucking question about why I was in LA, what I was doing, Oasis splitting up, nothing. When you're with Morrissey, you're in the court of Morrissey. But he's a fucking uber-legend. What a top man.
And you're still close to Russell, despite your bafflement about his revolutionary politics?
NG: Oh, yeah. I hadn't spoken to him for three weeks until this week, and I was like, "Have you been locked in the Tower?" I'm going to see him this weekend, actually. He's on good form, man. I fucking love that guy. We sit across my kitchen table and his whole thing is, "Come on mate, fucking hell, can't you see," and I'm just like, "You fucking idiot, go and write a fucking comedy sketch. Tell me a joke. I don't want to know about Trotsky". But bless him, his heart's in the right place, and I thought it was outrageous that The Sun had him on the front page with "hypocrite". For News International to call anybody a hypocrite might be the most ironic thing in the modern world. He's good.
Will he ever stand as an MP, do you think?
NG: I don't think he will.
If you want characters in politics as well as pop, there's definitely one in his Question Time adversary Nigel Farage…
NG: I don't really know a great deal about him, but I saw him on that with Russell. He doesn't look like he could be mentally capable of running a corner shop, far less a fucking country. I'm not into politics any more, I don't read about it. These days, my own view is that if they truly, truly wanted to fucking better the lives of the people, surely they must all realise that a little bit of conservatism married with a little bit of socialism, married with a little bit of fucking UKIP and a little bit of Green and a little bit of Lib Democrats would be kind of perfect. But they're all into power, they're not into politics. And they're all career politicians and populists. And you know, the next Prime Minister after this one will be Boris Johnson because of that.
Will you vote?
NG: There's nothing to vote for any more, but I will vote on the day. Yeah, I vote all the time. I'll pick the most ludicrous thing on the fucking ballot. Last time I voted for a little guy who was standing round here as a pirate. I can't not vote, because I think that's copping out, but my vote is to fucking vote for something ludicrous because the Labour Party are a fucking waste of time. I just don't trust – trust is not the right word – I don't believe in any of them. I really believed in Tony Blair, for right or wrong, and until Al Qaeda flew those planes into those towers. Everyone seems to forget that things before that were fucking alright. And now the Conservatives are just... I mean, what the fuck? David Cameron, he's trying to be your mate. "Oh, I really like The Jam." Thatcher was just like, "I'm fucking you in the arse, fuck what you say." You can kind of respect that.
And of course Dave loves The Smiths…
NG: Yeah, Johnny is not pleased about that.
[His colleague comes in at last – we're running twenty minutes over now, and another phone intterview awaits. You get the sense Gallagher's like one of those Duracell bunnies, and that if you didn't stop him, he'd go on forever. So I ask him quickly about something I'd noticed throughout 'Chasing Yesterday' – how he's left in the studio mumbles and scratchy instrument sounds at the beginnings of tracks, and ribs the approaches of video directors at the beginning of the video for The Ballad Of The Mighty I, telling him to look dangerous, to perform, while he raises an eyebrow irritatedly, buggers off on his own way.]
Is this about sounding authentic now, or something else?
NG: I like leaving the mistakes in. It gives things character, and I like listening to mistakes on Beatles records, and the Stones. Most of the singing on this record, I did three times, and refused to do it any more. Singing something 100 times a day until it means nothing to me any more – that's not right. I'll do it three times, if it's not good enough, fuck it.
Why do that?
NG: It's because it's real. It just has to be real.