LoadedMagazine - January 1997
Noel Gallagher is the man that the Student Grant music journos love to hate. In what seems like the blink of an eye, his band have gone from being contenders to the biggest thing in popular culture at the end of this millennium. These critics who dismissed Morning Glory, and there were quite a few, must be feeling a bit inept right now. The lesson which should be learned is not to write off anything by Oasis until you've played it a few times. The music has an insidious charge to it, insinuating itself, building up and getting better all the time. On the first play Morning Glory didn't seem as good as Definitely Maybe, on the second it certainly was, and by the third it was a massive leap forward. Played now, Morning Glory from Definitely Maybe seems as big a jump as Revolver was from Rubber Soul, where the opening bars of 'Taxman' signalled a beautiful, bouncy, confident and menacing progression for the Beatles as a band and a sea change in British pop music.
The reason Noel Gallagher is the most successful songwriter in Britain today is because he has the two most essential qualities any true artist needs: empathy and courage. In other words, he knows where the punters are coming from and he has the bottle to put his vision of it out there. If you listen to Morning Glory, every song is BIG. It takes real guts to go in with both feet every single time and come away with the ball as Mr Gallagher invariably does.
Oasis are the rock'n'roll band the rave kids love; their sound is as big and uplifting as the best house music, yet devoid of the flatulence and pomposity that traditionally affects bands who have the ability to produce a large, emotional sound. For all their undoubted talent, the posturing of U2 or Simple Minds, disguised as showmanship, too often produces that very effect. When the American media said that Liam Gallagher was "just standing there," they weren't getting it at all. He wasn't just standing there, he was getting on with it instead of poncing around like a daft twat. That's why the punters who've been through the house scene love the band, that's why Oasis concerts are such big, tribal collective experiences.
So how did Noel come so far so fast? Having a brother with a charismatic stage presence and a great voice helped, but so did being the most talented songwriter of popular music around. In person I've found Noel G to be a warm and easy-going man, who doesn't take himself too seriously, but who is passionate about his work. It may be surprising to a lot of people but I find him much in the same mould as the writer and Booker Prize winner James Kelman. The media-arrogant or distancing defence mechanism is a common position adopted by successful artists from working class backgrounds, wary of being condescended to by those of less talent but from more privileged homes. It's easier for Noel Gallagher to stick up two fingers at photographers and play up to posh cunts' stereotypes of the gruff northern lad: bunging that particular scarecrow in the field gives him space to get on with what he wants to do. Oasis are smart enough to know that they'll be patronised anyway, just because they're working class and successful, so what's the point of getting into all the bullshit with arseholes? Noel Gallagher is a very bright guy who's far too busy making his intelligence work for him to waste it on affectations, a true creator rather than a critic.
The media circus that followed the band across the States in the hope of a ghoulish Pistols' style self-destruction completely failed to understand the dynamics of the group. In the words of their biographer Paolo Hewitt: "The group are in a permanent state of splitting and reforming." Will they split? Of course. Will they get back together? Of course. They want to tour, they don't want to tour. They don't give a fuck. Why? Not because they can afford to but because they can't afford to. If you start taking a shit and let others control your destiny, you generally go on doing it, then everything goes. The question of being either U2 or The Sex Pistols is something that fans and critics and corporate people address regularly, but it's a redundant one for Oasis. They just get on with it and their career path will be radically different from others. That's what's so sound about the current UK pop icons Noel, Damon and Jarvis: they'll do it on their own terms and not with one eye on the American market. It's from here, it's our party. You're more than welcome, but if you start telling us what we should be doing, then you can fuck off.
My faith in human nature was revived at a party in Cannes where Noel and Damon Albarn avoided each other, standing at opposite ends of the same room. The festival was a celebration of false intimacy and smarm with the air-kiss and phoney handshake almost obligatory. Under these circumstances Noel and Damon's mutual antipathy injected some real humanity into the proceedings and they both rose further in my mind.
If you want to focus on Noel Gallagher's faults, concentrate on the real issues; as Bob Morris of Nice Records points out, he calls a scooter a moped and it's difficult to imagine punters as sage and sussed as the Wellers, Ryders and Cockers of this world getting as hot about Tony Blair as Noel (and Damon for that matter) are reputed to. This could be a generational thing (or perhaps not, because Louise Wener's got our Tone well sussed) and I'm sure such clued up gadges will (unfortunately) tipple to that fucker's bullshit. Blair would have gone down a storm in Cannes; Peter Mandelson take note (NB: Never trust any cunt who refers to rock'n'roll as 'rock'. Hip test failed with Bachman Turner Overdrive colours. Do your fuckin'job Mr Mandelson!) Oh aye, and Noel's also had Paul Reekie and Gary McCornlack [Scottish writer and former Exploited member respectively] ejected from backstage parties on separate occasions. But those are bad boys.
The tabloid hysteria about Liam Gallagher and cocaine busts in Oxford Street provides an illustration about how far removed from social reality the mainstream media has become. I don't know the boy, but as far as I can see he does nothing any 23 year old guy who has a life in Britain doesn't do or wouldn't do if they had the opportunity. It's quite an ugly thought that he is treated as badly or worse than the abuser Paul Gascoigne.
When Noel Gallagher writes about wanting to "be himself, I can't be no one else," it's wrongly construed by some critics as a limiting philosophy, a celebration of slovenly laddism. To me that's a fundamental misunderstanding of what Oasis are about. It's about being proud of who you are, what you like and where you come from, but it's also about reaching for the stars. It's all in you, it just means getting in touch with the infinite possibilities of the self, and one of the ways we do that is through art, or, as Brian Eno would say, through pretension. Before Jimmy Reid of the Clydeside Shipyard workers lost the plot completely he observed that there was a guy on his yard who was a Wimbledon champion but who had never held a tennis racket in his hand. That's what real socialism should be about - opportunity and the maximisation of individual human potential. The Gallagher boys are going for it and are a brilliant example to every kid from every council estate who's had to listen to people telling them for the last 20 years: you're fucking shite, we've got McJobs down for you and that's only if you behave yourself. As Paolo Hewitt observed on the Morning Glory, sleeve notes, the people always know.
Finally, if this seems like an unduly overstated appreciation, I've got my personal reasons for liking Oasis. Before I knew any of them, the Oasis/Creation camp did me a very big favour on behalf of a friend who needed it and to whom it meant more than they could ever know. It was done with the kind of understated self-effacing grace and generosity of spirit which made the media-arrogant image a mockery. That to me is the real measure of the people we're talking about. Did I ever say thanks? If I didn't, I'm saying it now. Yes, keep the faith.
"See, what people have got to understand is that we are lads. We have burgled houses and nicked car stereos, and we like girls and we swear and go to the football and take the piss. But we have got half a brain and even if it's just half a brain, it's still half more than a lot of people have got. We can be quite sensitive to the world around us no matter what people might say. OK, so sometimes we get carried away. Like that night at the Brits we just got a little carried away. People draw certain conclusions, you know, think we're a bunch of hooligans or whatever, and that's fine. But there's more to us than just that. The only consolation is that they won't invite us back next year."
I had been in Noel Gallagher's company for little more than a quarter of an hour and he had just delivered his coup de grace. Even within that short time I had become so accustomed to his sardonic style that it didn't occur to me for a second he had said anything of nation-shaking proportions. For me, the really provocative stuff had come a few minutes earlier.
Sprawled out in a deliberately photographer-baiting pose on a Philadelphia bar-room couch, Noel had set about trashing his rock forebears and contemporaries with cheerful, freebooting cruelty. Michael Hutchence: "Fucking tosser. He's being saying stuff about me so I thought I should say a couple of things about him. At the Brats he said his next album would piss all over anything that Noel Gallagher could do. He said I couldn't even touch the stuff that he was writing. Well in my opinion anyone that wants to pick a fight with me is gonna fucking get a fight. Everybody knows that. I don't make a secret of it, know what I mean?"
Damon Albarn: "I don't think there's anything that cunt could say that would redeem him in my eyes."
David Bowie: "Bowie's the cunt who waltzed into London dressed as a Nazi and doing the Hitler salute. The fucker wants sorting out for that, know what I mean? Everyone seems to have forgotten about that, well I haven't. I haven't fucking forgotten about that. I'm never gonna forget about that' "
Eric Clapton: "I haven't forgotten about Erie fucking Clapton either, saying Enoch Powell was right. Like we was at the Q Awards, and Clapton got this award and he gave the most miserable fucking speech I've ever heard in my entire life. So I happen to be standing right behind him, and we're going to him, 'You're a right fucking miserable bastard, aren't you, Clapton?"'
Michael Jackson: "Jarvis should've fucking head-butted the cunt."
When I asked if he wasn't worried about slagging off so many people, he was bound to come into contact with, he made it abundantly clear that he didn't give a toss. "I promised myself that when I got there Id smack a few people in the mouth. I mean I've mellowed a bit, but I still give 'em all some stick ' "
All these quotes would soon be ripped out of context from my piece in Melody Maker by the tabloids and used as literal examples of Noel's inveterate yobbery. Never mind that in the same interview he also came out with things like this: "When I was going to school, people smoking pot in classes was just about starting, but now kids are like chopping fucking lines out in classes, and selling skag in playtime. I definitely wish I'd never started on any of it. It's not big and it's not clever. I mean, I'm alright, me. I've got a fuck of a lot of money to fuck about with, if I get into something I can afford to do it without it affecting me too much.
"But you get these kids, right, who are earning £150 a week, if they're lucky enough to have a job, and they've gotta eat and they've gotta buy clothes and they gotta pay the rent, and they're probably blowing half of what they get on fucking drugs. It's fucked, it definitely contributes to the crime problem. I mean, I know it's easy for me to say, having all the money I got and that, but I haven't forgotten what it's like to be poor. Drugs may look like a fucking way out, but at the end of the day all they do is make the problem worse. It's the fucking truth, man." Hardly the words of a scurrilous, dimwitted sociopath. If anything, they were disappointingly considered and responsible for rock'n'roll's most famous and contentious mouthpiece.
Within a month, I would spend several surreal hours being interviewed by the Manchester CID as a direct result of what Noel told me that weekend. I was about to become a bit player in a rock 'n' roll scandal. I would not until then have believed that a pop star's unsubstantiated confession of thieving could have been a cause for such public and parliamentary outcry.
A week after my piece was published however, a little known Tory, Doctor Adrian Rodgers, who heads an obscure, not to say weird, far-right pressure group called The Conservative Family Institute, appeared on GMTV to denounce Oasis as evil and demand a boycott of their records.
Not that surprising, given that the likes of Dr Rodgers are on 24 hour call to provide preposterous opinions on subjects they know nothing about. What was astonishing, though, was the ensuing media hoo-hah. By Good Friday all sorts of pecker-headed parasites had crawled out of the Westminster woodwork to attack a band they had probably never heard of a week earlier.
As writer of the offending article, I was much in demand. Every TV network and radio station wanted to know what I thought of Noel and his alleged criminal past. I was in the bizarre position of having to talk about the youth and background of a man I'd met once, and for less than an hour.
I was interviewed by The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, and on the radio front by GMR, GLR and BBC Radio Scotland. All of the journalists I spoke to seemed as surprised by the outrage as I was. However, in what was doubtless a spirit of professionalism, the moment we went on the record each adopted the same high-handed moral tone. Their questions were all but identical to the ones the police asked me a week later, with one exception: why did Noel swear so much? I pointed out that as journalists they could probably give the Devil himself a lesson in invective, and besides, hadn't Roddy Doyle won a Booker Prize for swearing a lot? The only other difference was that the police seemed embarrassed by what they clearly regarded as a waste of their time.
"My hands are tied' explained Chief Superintendent David James, the investigating officer. It had all become political, he explained and the police had to be seen to be doing something. I didn't have the gall to suggest that they could be seen to be catching real criminals. He sounded too exasperated already.
Did I believe the Gallaghers really had been robbers? Well only they know that. What is certain is that Noel's statement was couched in tones of mocking sarcasm. I don't know how many times I said that, but I said it one hell of a lot. I now wonder what would have happened if Id said "Yeah, absolutely, a right couple of tea-leaves, the pair of 'em." Would the Home Office have had them extradited from America?
Meanwhile, the tabloids wanted to know if I thought the police should have become involved, which was a bit rich, as it was only their own screaming frenzy which had pushed the police into reluctant action. Given that the plod barely have time to return a call about crimes that actually have happened, it seems ludicrous that they should be browbeaten into sending high-ranking coppers to investigate felonies with no known time, date, location or victim.
In all, I gave over a dozen interviews, doing my Rumpole Of the Bailey best to raise the spectre of reasonable doubt, and when that failed, to attack that defender of the family, Dr Rodgers. The fact is that no one, other than Noel, knows what the truth about his past is, and he's not telling.
The ironies are glaring. If Dr Rodgers and the tiny confederacy of dunces he leads had bothered to read my original piece, as opposed to just the quotes pulled out, they might have recognised Noel as an exemplary aspirationist, someone who had come from the toughest of backgrounds only to pull himself up by his bootstraps and succeed in classically Thatcherite fashion. It's not gangsterism that has made Oasis what they are today, but talent and hard work. Furthermore, now that the royalties are pouring in, Noel will find himself contributing hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Exchequer. Those MPs who complain that Noel sets a bad example, that in the words of the absurd Doctor he has "taken from society without giving back" forget that the music business provides more jobs, revenue and exports than the coal and steel industries combined, and that it is Noel and Oasis who have been largely responsible for its reversal of fortune.
What this whole ludicrous fiasco does reveal is that little has changed since William Rees Mogg wrote his famous "Butterfly On A Wheel" editorial in The Times. That was almost 30 years ago and concerned the alleged criminal activities of one Mick Jagger.
Oasis are replaying word for word the script Andrew Loog Oldham wrote for The Rolling Stones 33 years ago. The same tales of make-believe outrage and ersatz wickedness are spun around them. You can only marvel that this antiquated hype, later refined by The Sex Pistols, The Beastie Boys and Happy Mondays, can still promote flurries in the tabloid press, calls for bans by turnip-headed MPs, and denunciations from the pulpits of headline-hungry clergymen. Ironically, the greatest furores are always unplanned. The Stones pissing up against a garage wall after being refused use of the toilets. The Pistols responding to Bill Grundy's baiting on live TV with indifferent, half-hearted swear words. Shaun Ryder spouting garbage in the middle of his hellish and farcical junk odyssey. And now Noel's throwaway sarcasm.
In the long run, Oasis have probably benefited from all this. In the short term, they have been hounded by customs officer, coppers and MPs who fancy they have nothing better to do. I'm sure that the citizens of Manchester will find it comforting to know that petty crime, even of the fictitious variety, is treated with such seriousness that a Detective Chief Superintendent is entrusted with the task of solving it. I'd recommend that those residents of the town who have had a car stereo nicked will ensure that the Manchester Met afford them equally exalted attention.
The last word can go to Noel: "We say a lot of things before we think about I em. But every fucker does that, it just happens that when we do it there's some bloke there with a tape recorder. But it's all bollocks really. All that matters in 20 years rime is the fucking records.
There's only a few of us read the history books, but everyone hears the records. You know, everyone knows what 'Satisfaction' sounds like, but no one gives a toss about Mick meeting Keith and them going to jail and all that. Things are written about and forgotten about, no matter how great the story. But great songs is a different tucking matter. They will be remembered. In 10 years time Morning Glory will still be a great fucking album."
Loaded Jan 1997
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