Noel Gallagher may have mellowed somewhat with his new band the High Flying Birds, which formed in 2011 and received broadly positive reviews for their self-titled debut album. But the former chief songwriter and lead guitarist for Oasis has always been one of the most opinionated (and foul-mouthed) men in music – and if you get to see Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at the Grand Prix this month, remember you’re looking at a man who was at one time one of the biggest rock stars on the planet. We asked him to look back on the heyday of Oasis.
On having it all...
‘When Be Here Now [Oasis’ 1997 album] came out, I’d only signed off [unemployment benefit] four years before. In that time, we recorded what would go on to be the two or three definitive albums of the decade, and went from being on the dole to, like, f**kin’... Well, no one’s ever been there. And that’s what it was like. And everyone’s like, “Oh, f**kin what?!”
‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? [their 1995 sophomore album] just blew up, we didn’t expect it. And it wasn’t just in the UK, it was all around the world. We had more money and drugs and all that kind of s**t that you could deal with – and for some people, that level of fame can hit you really f**kin’ hard. We couldn’t f**kin’ get enough of it. It was like, “Come on, man!” The days weren’t long enough! Every time we had to go to bed it was like, “I don’t wanna go to bed! This is f**king brilliant!”
‘And in the middle of it you’re trying to make music, so you’re not thinking what [critics] might think of it, you’re thinking: Let’s make a record, because that’s what we do. That’s it. There would be other times for sitting down and pondering what the f**k life is all about. That cycle was all about ’avin’ it. Just looking at the world and thinking: Right, you f**king b**tard, come on.’
...and then some
‘You’ve gotta go there. There’s no point living your life and getting f**king cancer at the age of 65, and thinking: I should’ve f**king ’ad it, y’know? When I go, I wanna know I’ve f**king lived, y’know? They were crazy, crazy times. That whole period [after 1994’s debut album Definitely Maybe] was the most enjoyable two and a half years of my whole life, because whatever you wanted, you could get two of, anywhere in the world. If you had a whim, somebody would fulfil it for you. F**king more drugs than you could f**king possibly begin to imagine your body could take, all there, all the time. Touring as the biggest band in the world, and the biggest f**king freakshow in the world. Staying up all night, doing gigs.’
On being in the world’s biggest band
‘[For the Be Here Now tour], instead of getting a f**king professional stage set designer, I done it myself, round a table,withaloadof f**kin’guys,doing loads of cocaine. We were just going, Right, let’s have a big red telephone box!” Nobody was going, “Er, hang on a minute...” Everyone was going, “Yeah man! F**king hell!” And it was at that point where everything I did turned to gold, and I could casually knock off a tune with The Chemical Brothers in under 50 minutes, and it go to number one selling 150,000 copies.
‘So nobody was in the position to tell me what not to do. And really, looking back on it, I could have done with somebody to say, “You might want to go and have a lie-down for half an hour.” But everyone was going, “Yeah, man!” And I was like, “We’ll have this and this, and you go away and design it,” and they’d come back with this thing and you’d go, “It’s f**king brilliant!” Until you get to the first gig and you just go, [adopts undertone] “It just looks f**king stupid, but we’ve paid for it now so we might as well go for it.”
‘We spent that year inside that telephone box listening to [Bob Dylan’s] “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, which was the tune they played before we came on. And we’d have to walk up these little steps into the back of the big telephone box, and it’s pitch black until someone opens the door, and there’s this sea of people, all over the world. That’s what I thought you had to do. That’s what I thought the biggest band in the world did. We should have just got a few more lights and effects pedals and been a bit mysterious, but we kind of embraced the lunacy of it all.
‘But for all our deficiencies as a group, we solved them all with volume. Because it got to the point where, [original bassist] Paul McGuigan was not meant to be in the biggest band in the world. Neither was [original rhythm guitarist] Bonehead. Mentally, they weren’t cut out for it. Musically, they weren’t cut out for it. So to hide a multitude of sins, we’d just turn it up so no one could hear us. It was great fun.’
On defining the 1990s
‘I think it was an excuse for a lot of people to go mad. Which was great, we were more than ready to facilitate that. But I feel very proud looking back on those days. On the odd occasion that I’m forced to sit and reminisce about these things I often think: If you think about the ’60s, who defined the ’60s? Well, The Beatles. Who defined the ’70s? Well, no one really defined the ’70s. You could say David Bowie, but if you say that, you’re gonna go, “Whoah, what about the Sex Pistols?” Who defined the ’80s? No one. But we definitely f**king defined the ’90s. It’s a real f**king great position – if you wanna know about ’90s music, that’s it.’
On no longer being a dictator
‘When you’re all in your twenties, you can all order each other around like Lord of the Flies, you know. But when you’re all grown men with kids, you can’t really go into a studio and say, “Here you are, you’re not f**kin’ playing it like that...” I was mad then! [Laughs.] Looking back on it, there’s a lot to be said for that kind of madness, ’cause those were what’s widely regarded as the f**king glory days.
‘But Bonehead and Guigs and [Noel’s brother, Oasis frontman] Liam facilitated that madness. They were very prepared for me to say, “This is what’s going to happen,” and they’d be like, “Right, you know best.” Whereas you grow up and have kids, and I wouldn’t speak to anybody like I used to speak to [original drummer] Tony McCarroll. F**king hell. I used to give him proper s**t, man.’
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds play at the F1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix on 22 & 23 Sep.