Noel Gallagher: Kettles, Space Jazz & Armageddon

The former Oasis mastermind explains all about his new projects, and what happened in Paris.



We’ve known it’s been coming a while, but finally the cat is out of the bag; Noel Gallagher’s solo career is officially on. With details of the first of two records, ‘High Flying Birds’ unveiled, the former Oasis mastermind held a press conference in Notting Hill’s Electric Cinema. Harriet Jennings headed down, and heard about… well… kettles, mostly.

Noel Gallagher solo album’s are like buses. We wait ages for one then two come along at once. How long have you been tucking songs away for this?
Erm. Well, I’ve only been writing five songs on every Oasis album for the last decade so I’ve had lots of time to sort of fuck about but I haven’t really been stock piling them for anything. I’ve just been working on the five best ones and the way we worked then was that I’d do half the record and the other guys would do the other half but I’ve always had lots of songs. I keep busy when I’m on the road and when I’m at home. I’m always switched on.  

Obvious question but what do they sound like? Do they sound like Oasis? Do they sound like your Oasis songs that you just played on? What’s the record’s sound?
The first one, the ‘High Flying Birds One’, I guess that people who are fans of what I do will hear echoes of Oasis in there but there isn’t a guitar solo on the record until the sixth track. Someone pointed that out to me the other day and I kinda wish I could change that now but it’s not very guitar hero. The other one, it’s fucking far out man. I don’t know if you’re away of what the Amorphous Androgynous do. They worked on a remix for me on the last Oasis record where they managed to squeeze and stretch 23 minutes out of one song. And this has got like 18 tracks on it. Some of it’s Vaudeville, some of it’s actual space jazz, some of it’s crank rock, some of it’s soul, some of it’s funk. And that’s just the first song. It’s the furthest out I’ve ever been, let’s put it that way. 

Liam’s been on TV this week saying that he’s better off without you. What do you think about that and are you better off without him?
We had a sweepstake on how long this would take. I had eight minutes. How long did that take? Did I win? That’s not eight minutes, is it? Two and a half? Fucking hell. I’m sure he is, I’m sure he is. Am I better off, what financially? 

Musically?
I don’t know. Probably not really. I don’t want to make this sound a bit down on it but I never really see myself as being a frontman and I can see it being a major pain in the arse for me. Even a symbolic thing like standing in the middle of the stage, although I’ve done it before, I’ve done it in gigs for charity so always in my head I was like doing someone else a favour so fuck ‘em, do you know what I mean? Now it’s kind of like, I’ve got to stand in the middle of the stage and that’s going to be weird. He thinks he’s better off without me because he’s in charge and whether I’m better off remains to be seen. 

Looking at the list of players on your album, there’s a guy on there called Mark Neary who plays ‘wine glass and washboard and electric kettle’. Will that be going on the road with you?
The electric kettle? No. The guy Mark he wasn’t even supposed to play on the record. He was just one of the guys operating the ProTools thingumajig. We were in the studio and we were having a discussion about how we needed a double bassist. He just casually piped up - he’s a Geordie, right - and he says I can play the double bass. I was like, ‘what? Go and get it,’ and the next thing, we were on about a saw, and he just piped up that he could play that, ‘go and get that then, what else can you play?’. He brought the wine glasses and all that. The thing about the electric kettle is obviously a joke. Funnily enough, I’m off to buy a new kettle this afternoon. Our kettle’s fucked. The lid won’t open, it’s got too much - what do you call it? - limescale, innit. That’s how rock n’ roll I am.  

Last year at the Royal Albert Hall you said at the time that the album’s pretty much done. Have you been sitting on it for a while?
I started it - you’ve got to bear with me because it’s a really long tale - I started it on the night of the Brits when we won the best album in a fucking hundred years or whatever it was. I was in the studio that night. That wasn’t even this year, wasn’t even last year, I think it was the year before that. Also on that night, it was a momentous night because the wife phoned to tell me she was pregnant. On the first night of me recording an album. So I kind of worked on it for a few weeks and then, I dunno, I seem to have taken a lot of time off. We got married and moved house and had another kid so that kind of took priority over everything. But it was nice not to work to a deadline. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that since I can remember but it’s been going on for the best part of 18 months. And then we went out to LA and it was amazing there because in a world with Twitter and all that caper, we’d managed to keep quiet until today, which is quite incredible. I mean, it’s typical that none of us have mentioned anything for 18 months and then I walk into the studio in LA and an English band are in the next studio and within 15 minutes, one of them decides that he’s going to fucking tweet about it or whatever you do and then the next thing, my phone explodes and the cat’s out of the bag. But I’ve been writing for a while.

How did you go about recruiting the other musicians for the record, your High Flying Birds?
The High Flying Birds are six air hostesses, hence the name. One’s from Cafe Pacific, one’s from British Airways, obviously, keeping it in England, so to speak. They’re just guys who called up and asked, to be honest. Two of the guys, the keyboard player and drummer, the keyboard player, Mikey Rowe, played with Oasis on the Be Here Now Tour. Jeremy, who plays the drums, plays the drums on the album and he wasn’t doing anything so he offered his services. The bass player is Russell Pritchard, who used to be in The Zutons, he was last to come on board. He called me one afternoon and said,’have you got a bass player?’ I said, ‘I haven’t’. He said, ‘Well, I’ll do it’. So that was that. And then the guitarist is from a band called The Sand Band and he’s playing the guitar. His name is Macca but he’s from Liverpool. And the guys that played on the other record is a completely different set of people and to be completely honest, I haven’t got the faintest idea who half of them are because Androgynous were getting people in and I’d walk in the studio some days and people in the next one were playing my songs. It was pretty mad but it’s all turned out good in the end. 

Emotionally, what was the difference between making this album and making an Oasis album? Were you more confident because you’d done it so many times before or were you nervous because it was your solo record?
You don’t get nervous making records. You get nervous before gigs. It’s different because there’s different musicians on it and it’s all my songs and I was singing them so I didn’t have to explain to anybody how it went or what it was about or what the delivery should be or any of that. The box of teabags lasted longer. There was no fighting over the spare chair. You know the spare chair. Whenever you go into a studio, there’s always a guy with a beard and long hair who twiddles the knobs and there’s always a spare chair. There was no fighting over that. There was no debating about the psychedelic benefits of an electric kettle or a washboard it was just let’s do it and see what it sounds like. But mostly, I don’t have to deal with that until the first gig. Or maybe when we’re in rehearsals. I’ve been playing with Liam, Gem & Andy for over ten years, you know. Even when I’ve done solo stuff, it’s with Gem so I guess I’m going to miss Gem the most but let’s just see how it goes. I’m hoping people will get the record and I’ll be able to pull it off. 

Which track are you most looking forward to performing live and why?
I dunno. There’s no point me telling you because you’ve not heard it yet. I guess ‘If I Had A Gun…’ because it sounds great when I’m playing it on acoustic guitar and there’s already a version of it hanging around on the internet when I was playing it at a soundcheck a couple of years ago. I’d be amazed if initially the ten tracks on the album sound great. It doesn’t work like that. It’s usually about six and, if you’re lucky, eight so we’ll see how we go but I could be wrong. I’m dreading to play a song called ‘What A Life!’ because it’s kind of, for want of a better term, dance music. And I’m 44 and I can’t fucking dance so I don’t know what I’m gonna do with that. I’m kind of nervous about that but I’m sure it’ll all take shape in rehearsals or something like that.  

How important is it for you for the record to be a commercial success? Also, if you were to go head to head in the singles chart with Beady Eye, how do you think you would fare and why?
Commercial success, I’ve got no control over that. It depends how much this kettle costs this afternoon. I don’t know how many people are going to buy it or how many people will borrow it or rob it off the internet. I’ve no idea. It’s important, in the sense that it kind of validates what you’re doing. If six million people buy it then you think, ‘wow, the point that I was trying to get across has obviously hit home somewhere.’ But other than that, commercial success is a weird thing, isn’t it? Because it usually implies that you’re shit. If you sell like 18 million albums…I’m going to back track on that because we’ve sold a lot of records but do you know what I mean? In the singles charts, I don’t know. They’re being very careful to keep all that apart because we have the same manager, you see. 

We’ve heard Liam talking a lot about that night in Paris and the split that came out of that but we’ve not really heard your side of things. Looking back now that you’ve had some time to reflect, what do you think was the reason that eventually meant you’d had enough of Oasis?
Well, I’d never had enough of Oasis. I’d had enough of him. Our own relationship was never as bad as people made out but we weren’t like Milli Vanilli, do you know what I mean? It sort of all started to go downhill, if I’m being honest, when he started his company and he demanded that in the Oasis tour programme, he would be allowed to advertise in, which I was against. I didn’t think it was right for him to be flogging his gear to our fans and there was a massive row about that. In the end, I said ‘Alright, if you want to advertise in the programme, how much?’ And he couldn’t get his head around that. And I was like ‘well, if Electrolux kettles wanted to advertise in the tour programme, they’d pay us money so how much are you going to pay me?’ It slowly went downhill from there.  

The night in Paris…you know, he didn’t turn up to the V Festival gig because he had an hangover. He claimed he had laryngitis but whatever. And there was a lot of bad press around that. And in his own head, he thinks I’m some sort of fucking puppet master who controls the media in England. So we get to Paris, and he’s reeling off journalists’ names, some are here in this room, and a whole manner of people I’ve never met. ‘You fucking tell Johnny Borrell’s moustache I’ll kick his fucking head in’

‘I don’t know what you’re going on about’

‘And that Elvis Costello an’ all.’ 

And he kind of went a bit…it was a bit like that. He was quite violent. At that point, there hadn’t been any physical violence but it was kind of…it’s a bit like WWE wrestling and he’s like Macho Man Randy Savage, do you know what I mean? I’ll never forget that there’s all this toing and froing going on and I’m looking at Andy and he’s sat there, constantly counting how many shoes he’s got on, not saying a word. I’m like, ‘fucking hell’ and he isn’t saying anything. Liam kinda does the ‘Fuck you and fuck you and fuck you’ thing and he storms out of the dressing room. I don’t know why but he picked up a plum and he threw it across the dressing room and it smashed against the wall. Now, part of me kind of wishes it did end like that because that would’ve been a fucking great headline: ‘Plum throws plum and finishes Oasis’. So then he goes out the dressing room and, for whatever reason, he goes to his own dressing room and comes back with a guitar and starts wielding it like an axe. And I make light of it because it’s kind of what I do, but it’s a real unnecessarily violent act and he’s swinging this guitar around. He nearly took my face off with it. And it ended up on the floor and I put it out of its misery. There were people in the band not saying anything. It wasn’t even a big dressing room. We were all involved in it, you can’t not say anything. So I was like, ‘You know what, I’m fucking out of here.’ And at that point, the tour manager came in and just went ‘five minutes!’ And I walked out. And I’ve got to apologise to Chas from Madness here because as I was walking out he came over and was all ‘Aye, you alright mate?’ and I might have told him to fuck off. So if he’s watching or listening, I’m really sorry about that, it was a kind of stressful afternoon.  

I got in the car and sat there for five minutes and I said ‘fuck it, I can’t do it anymore’. I regret it really because we only had two gigs left. If I had my time again, I’d go back and I’d have done the gigs. That gig would have been dreadful. I’d have done that gig and I’d have done the next gig and we’d have all gone away and we could have probably discussed what we were gonna do. We may never have split up; we may have just taken a hiatus and could’ve all gone and done our own thing but Liam always said he would bring down Armageddon at the end. That’s the way he likes things to be and there you go. It’s a shame because I was comfortable in that band, I did alright. I’d perfected the role of that guy who just stood on the right and played lead guitar and did backing vocals and sang the odd acoustic thing. I’d fucking mastered that. It took me 18 years. It took me 18 years to get that right and I was fucking brilliant at it. If anybody came to the last tour, I was fucking great. But at the end of the day, he doesn’t like me, but he doesn’t like me in a violent way. I don’t get on with him but he’s kind of taken it to a level where…for me, there’s no point in being in a band with people you fight with. What’s the point? It’s just nonsense. So I kind of did everybody a favour when I left. I’ve spoken to Gem since and Chris Sharrock, haven’t seen the other two and there we go. We’re moving on.

How important is feedback from new fans and old fans on your new material?
It’s weird with fans, isn’t it? You only ever meet ones with pens and fucking bits of paper so I don’t know. I’m just assuming that fans of Oasis will like it because I was the main songwriter. I wrote every song in that band that mattered. So I’m assuming that they’ll like some aspect of it. There’s going to be reviews where people say, ‘Oh well, if only Liam was singing ‘em.’ And for Beady Eye, ‘It’s great but if only Noel was writing the songs.’ We fucking did that already. So I don’t know. I guess it’s kind of important because it validates what you do but I guess if I go out on stage and nobody claps then I’ll be fucked. But surely the wife will clap because it’s in the marriage contract. I think it’ll be alright, I hope it’ll be alright.

Can you talk a bit about your plans to play live?
Well, we’re going to go out on tour the week after the album comes out, obviously. And it’s going to start off kind of small in small theatres and, if it’s deemed good enough to get bigger than that, it’ll get bigger than that. I don’t think that there will be any huge, great, big tour this year, I’ve got to do stuff around the rest of the world. I think this year, as I understand it, is a quick whizz around the world and I’ll do the major cities and probably a bigger tour next year. The first one is in Dublin, Ireland on 23rd, well, the week after the album comes out. And then we’ll play the obvious places: Manchester, London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Walsingham-On-Sea.

You’ve got two new albums’ worth of material to play on that tour. Will you be playing any Oasis stuff as well?
I don’t think that I’d be able to get out of the venue if I didn’t play the ones that you’d expect. The second album isn’t going to come out until, as I understand it, next summer anyway. I stress again, it is far out and I don’t really want to put the kids through it initially. This ten song album lasts for 46 minutes and 12 seconds; that ain’t long enough to charge people £75. Not that I’m going to charge people £75. So I’m going to play some Oasis songs but they’re my songs and I wrote them all by myself and I’m proud of them and I’m proud of what they mean to other people and I’m proud of where they sit with what I’ve done now, and you’ve really got to be on stage and see what the reaction is of the crowds when you play ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and ‘The Masterplan’ and stuff like that. Unfortunately, those songs are like drugs to me and I don’t think I’d be able to gig without playing them. It’d fucking crazy, it’d be like Paul McCartney doing the O2 and only playing Wings stuff, wouldn’t it? Not that I put myself up with Paul McCartney or The Beatles.

There’s a lot resting on this. Did you push yourself creatively? Was this a bigger challenge? Have you gone deeper? Is this just the same song writing approached in the same way or have you tried to push yourself?
The songs are not Oasis songs. Whatever that means, I don’t know. But it’s not stadium rock. There’s an electric kettle on there for crying out loud, and a double bass and a washboard and that’s just all in one song. When I write a song, I’m not thinking how it should be or how it should go or I have to do something different to what I’ve done in the past. We’re all there to serve whatever the song is. The first track that you’re going to hear, well it could be one of four at the minute, I’ve got to say, it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever done before. But that’s not a conscious thing, it’s just the way the songs were written. Some of the songs on the ‘High Flying Birds’ album were demoed during the last Oasis album, and I wasn’t planning on leaving then or anything like that, so subconsciously, I wasn’t thinking that I was going to do something different. But the main difference is, as someone pointed out to be a couple of days ago, there’s no guitar solos. There’s only a guitar solo on two tracks and one of them I didn’t play so it’s kind of…you’ll like it. You’ll think it’s brilliant.

Did you think you had something to prove as a writer?
No. I’m not being arrogant. I am a little bit. But you’ve only got to prove it to yourself. Prove to who? No disrespect to anybody in this room but if it comes out and journalists slate it, that doesn’t mean anything anymore with the internet. I don’t mean to demean your jobs or anything but everybody’s a fucking journalist now. Everybody’s a critic. Everybody reviews albums. So it’s how it’s perceived by the people, and I think they’ll like it or I wouldn’t be putting either of them out.

What would your album review of the Beady Eye album be then?
I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard it because I know most of the songs anyway - they’ve been going round for a few years, up for Oasis albums - but I’ve read a few of the reviews. I’ve got to say, it’s got better reviews than any of you fuckers ever gave an Oasis album over the last ten years. You can’t begin to imagine how annoying that is. I’ve heard what I’ve seen on the telly on Jools Holland and on Live From Abbey Road and I’ve heard a few things on the radio and, out of respect for the friends that I’ve still got in that band, Gem & Sharrock, I’d rather not…it’s alright, innit?

How do you feel emotionally about being back in front of audiences and in the public eye?
Emotionally, the level of fame that I’ve got, I enjoy it thoroughly, I’ve got to say. Not in the sense that I’m running around to film premieres every Saturday but because you might as well enjoy it. There’s no point in worrying about it all; worrying about people watching you buy underpants in Selfridges. I mean, it’s annoying. You can’t imagine how self-conscious you become when you’re buying knick-knacks and there’s two fat birds watching you in their Ocean Colour Scene t-shirts but you’ve got to buy underpants at the end of the day because you can’t send the wife out.

Have the authorities told you that your phone might have been hacked at some point in the last fifteen years and what do you think about what’s been learnt over the last couple of days?
I’ve got to say, I hope it has been hacked because there’s some fucking colossal messages on there because I’ve got a right bunch of friends, believe you me. And if it was hacked, some of your colleagues are in the shit. I’m not that interesting so why would people hack my phone? But on the question of what do I think about it, it’s probably as gross an infringement of people’s civil liberties as there’s ever likely to be, I would have thought, particularly in the case of that young girl that died. If that’s true. But it’s the dark side of the media. It’s the dark arts. I guess we all know that it happens but it’s pretty bad.

There’s a song on the album called ‘The Death Of You & Me’, are we to presume it’s about you and Liam splitting up?
You know the saying, ‘If I don’t leave this place, it’ll be the death of you and me’, it’s a bit more romantic that than. The wife said that when I played it to her. I said it was about us, you see. She said, ‘What the fuck are you going on about?’ I had to explain to her that it’s a romantic song about people escaping their surroundings together and running off to have a good time and live happily ever. But it’s not about Liam. You can say it’s about me and Liam, if you want. I’m not going to fucking stop you. It would have been called ‘The Death Of Me & The Singer Of Beady Eye’, if it was. But it’s not about me and Liam. It’s about being at this press conference.