Don’t Look Back In Anger: Is Noel Still The Voice Of The People?

Martyn Young takes a look at Gallagher’s most recent outburst.

Since the very earliest days of Rock n’ Roll, rock stars have been prone to making strange, and often controversial, statements akin to John Lennon’s now infamous assertion that the Beatles were “Bigger than Jesus.” Former Oasis guitarist and now successful solo artist Noel Gallagher is no stranger to controversial statements and his interview with last Sunday’s Mail On Sunday certainly raised a few eyebrows.

Under a headline of “It was all better under Thatcher,” Gallagher was quoted as saying: “Under Thatcher, who ruled us with an iron rod, great art was made. Amazing designers and musicians. Acid house was born. Very colourful and progressive.” It is important to stress that since the interview was published, Gallagher has clarified his statements on his own personal blog, stating that the headline is misleading and he is outraged by it, he says: “I’ve read the story and I must say it’s very misleading; any great working class art, fashion, youth culture etc came to be IN SPITE of that woman and her warped right wing views and NOT BECAUSE of them.” Despite Gallagher’s clarification that he was misunderstood, it nevertheless leaves a rather sour taste to read one of the nation’s richest and most successful rock stars lambasting contemporary youth culture in such a sanctimonious and clumsy fashion.

The reason why his comments are so strange, whether he meant them or not, is that the whole of Noel Gallagher’s image, and indeed the image of Oasis, was based on them being the band of the people. They were a working class group of normal “lads” from Burnage in Manchester who were unrefined and just like everyone else, battling against the barriers of class obsessed Britain. Oasis were the band that represented and fought for the youth of working class Britain, the antithesis, they believed, to Blur who Gallagher cast as “representing the establishment.”

Throughout Britpop’s imperial phase in the mid nineties when Oasis bestrode the country like an all-conquering behemoth, Noel Gallagher was intrinsically linked with the burgeoning New Labour movement under Tony Blair. It was believed that Blair and New Labour would lead Britain out of the dark days of Tory rule and Thatcherism, with Britpop and Oasis as the soundtrack. At the 1996 Brit Awards, where Oasis won three awards, Gallagher said in his acceptance speech: “There are seven people in this room who are giving a little bit of hope to young people in this country. That is me, our kid, Bonehead, Guigs, Alan White, Alan McGee and Tony Blair.” The next year, following Blair’s election in May 1997, Noel Gallagher and Alan McGee were invited to Downing Street and they, rather than Blur, were now firmly entrenched in the establishment.

The days of Britpop were perhaps the last when pop music was so closely linked to politics and political parties; both sides now view each other with a degree of suspicion. It is highly unlikely that Ed Milliband would hold talks with Ed Sheeran about youth culture or that David Cameron would invite Tinie Tempah to Downing Street. It is very difficult for mainstream musicians to talk openly and intelligently about politics in this apolitical age. Noel Gallagher, in my opinion, was on dodgy ground by even broaching the subject.

It is incredibly easy for rich rock stars like Gallagher to pontificate about the state of the nation as they sit in their comfortable ivory towers; Gallagher’s argument that because life was so bad under Thatcher everyone was inspired to create great art in a reactionary movement is weak at best. His comments carry an uncomfortable subtext that he believes that the youth of today should be making more progressive and colourful contributions to culture because although things are bad today, they are not as bad as in his day.

There is a rank hypocrisy at the heart of Gallagher’s statements, and although he may once have been an authentic voice of the people, those days have long gone. I firmly believe he would be best advised to steer clear from any future political debates.
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