Originally published in City Life magazine, issue 293, Nov 22–Dec 7, 1995
It just wouldn’t happen with any other band, let alone one of the stature of Oasis. Half an hour after speaking to their record company about organising an interview, Noel Gallagher is on the phone. It is early October and the band are in the middle of a mini UK tour, rescheduled after the temporary departure of bass player Paul McGuigan (now back in the band). Having played Stoke the night before, the rest of the band are in Bournemouth, enjoying a rare day off. But Noel is back in London in his manager’s office: there’s work to be done.
“I get bored, you know what I mean?” he says, explaining why he’s opted to talk to a journalist rather than rest up for the day. “I just got back to London from Stoke last night and a phone call came through from the record company about this interview, and it was like, ‘but it’s your day off isn’t i?’ But if I’d gone home I’d just be bored anyway, I’d just sit around the house and start writing songs again and watch the telly , and probably end up going to the pub. So I might as well do some work: it’s what I’m good at.”
Noel has a reputation for being one of the hardest working musicians around, and his band – and it still is very much his band, despite the fact that brother Liam has been rather more forthcoming with the press of late – are equally hard working. No wonder McGuigan bowed out for a few months due to that music-biz catch-all, ‘nervous exhaustion’: sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are all well and good, but too much fun can wear a man down.
“The reason why we never stop is because we don’t want to,” is Noel’s simple explanation for the band’s constant touring and record releases (eight four-track singles and two albums in just over a year and a half). “There’s no-one saying ‘you must do this’ or ‘you must do that’, we’re all in charge of our own destinies. But everyone’s having too good a time to be bothered going on holiday for six months, that’s boring man. Sit on a beach with your girlfriend rubbing suntan on you, how boring’s that?”
The Oasis rollercoaster is unstoppable at the moment, and no wonder; Noel and his cohort have no time for the aloofness of band like The Stone Roses or the petulant tantrums of less successful British prima donnas ‘suffering’ for their art. Oasis don’t suffer, they endure and enjoy. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll after all.
“For a long time bands have got to a certain level and taken two years off, and then think they can waltz back in again and pick up where they started,” says Noel. “But music moves so fast these days you can’t afford to even have six months off, because you come back and someone’s invented another scene, and suddenly you’re old hat. So I think while you’re on a roll you’ve gotta keep doing it, you’ll only regret it in the end if you don’t.”
Noel is surprisingly candid and matter-of-fact about the vagaries of being in a band, about the whims of fashion, about the transient nature of pop culture. It’s the voice of a fan talking, a 28-year-old who has consumed with a passion pop music’s ebbs and flows, highs and lows. Despite accusations from Liam that his brother is something of a muso bore, the truth is rather different.
I remember interviewing Noel backstage at a gig in June ’94, just before the band’s second single, ‘Shakermaker’, was due out. Oasis had sold out the 700 capacity Manchester University Students’ Union (small beer compared to the 17,000 capacity NYNEX Arena) and then, as now, Noel was eager to talk. We got on to the subject of The Beatles – it was impossible to avoid it – and I rather coyly admitted that my impression of the Fab Four was almost entirely based on listening to their famous (and recently reissued) red and blue compilation LPs, the only Beatles’ records my parents had. I expected Noel to point out what I was missing out on, but he didn’t. “That’s all you need to have heard, man,” he blurted. “That’s what I was brought up on – it’s all the best stuff all together.”
Of course since then Noel’s met Paul McCartney – played on a record with him, no less – yet despite also becoming pals with Paul Weller, jamming with Crazy Horse and being lauded by just about every hoary old rocker and music biz old-timer going, he still displays a startlingly practical attitude. It’s the kind of thing you just don’t associate with the cocaine breakfasts, champagne suppers and non-stop backslapping that is the cosseted, unreal world of a successful, touring band. And unlike guitarist Bonehead and Liam, he moved to London as soon as Oasis began to make waves.
“People have got this thing about me being anti-Manchester,” says Noel defensively. “But I don’t know where that one came from. I go back to Manchester a lot, it’s just that I don’t go to Dry Bar or the Haçienda or try to get into clubs on the guest list. I go and see my mom, stay at some hotel and then go back to London.”
Noel’s passion for Manchester City is also undiminished, putting his ambition to “play at Maine Road” on equal footing with “to write the perfect song and make the perfect LP”. He also jokes about his own designs on the struggling club. “I hope they get relegated to the third division and I can buy the club for 25 quid. I’ll install myself as a centre forward and I’ll also be the manager, so I can pick myself even though I’ll be shit. It’ll be great.”
Such ambitions aside, Noel says he’s content with being in Oasis but also well aware of the fickle nature of the pop world. “It’s good at the moment because everything we touch turns to gold. Like we put a gig on and it’s sold out before you can say ‘what time’s the box office open?’ But if there’s one reason why we carry on doing these things it’s because one day everything we touch is going to turn to dog shite, and we’re not going to be able to do these massive gigs, so we might as well enjoy it while it’s here. Look at bands like the Inspirals: they play G-Mex twice, thought that was it, and where are they now? It can all change very quickly. It can’t last forever.”
This no-messing honesty goes some way to explaining the success of Oasis. Upfront and uncomplicated, both the music and the message is an irony-free, take it or leave it celebration of ordinariness, of our everyday fumbling inadequacies. A line from the current single, ‘Wonderwall’, seems to sum up the band’s simplistic agenda: ‘There are many things I would like to say to you,’ croons Liam, ‘but I don’t know how.’
“It’s just simple music with simple words delivered simply so people can understand it,” says Noel. “I’m not saying it’s music for simple people or anything , but obviously people understand what we do.”
Of course the only possible thing to understand with Oasis is that life is pretty un-understandable. Noel describe’s Blur’s music, with fake Cockney Damon Albarn’s ironic references to Balzac, Prozac and the like, as “spotty student music”. “They don’t really speak to people or say anything. It’s all about people living in big houses in the country, which none of us do.”
Such a literal interpretation from the man who penned the line ‘Walking slowly down the hall, faster than a cannon ball’ (‘Champagne Supernova’) may seem a bit rich. But for better or worse, the gloves are still off in the Blur/Oasis prize fight, a fight which quite clearly draws a cultural and ideological line across Britain: are you on the side of the cynical voyeurs and chroniclers of British life, Blur, or the mad-for-it doers, Oasis, who philosophise on their feet?
The Oasis conclusion? That the riddle of life is a tough one to crack, so you may as well just make the best of it. “I’m still trying to find out what it is people are into us for,” says Noel. “But who wouldn’t want to do this, go play in front of 20,000 people, it’s just the best buzz in the world. And then on top of all that you do it in different countries, and on top of all that you do it with your best mates. It’s a dream come true. Well it is for me, anyway.”