Noel Gallagher prepares his High Flying Birds for headlining Victorious
May 1994, a fresh-faced and gobby Mancunian indie band have just played a gig at The Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea.
After the gig – which would go down in local legend as one of those ‘were you there?’ moments – Oasis retired to their hotel, believed to be The Marriott at North Harbour, which they promptly trashed. Furniture ended up in the hotel swimming pool, punches were thrown by the famously fractious brothers who led the band – Noel and Liam Gallagher – and threats were made to the chart-topping boyband also staying at the hotel who had played at Portsmouth Guildhall the same night.
The whole episode was immortalised in an NME article – the music weekly had dispatched one of its writers to join the up-and-coming act for part of their UK tour.
It was an article that helped cement the reputation of the band as ones to watch.
‘That was the night we trashed some hotel. East 17 were staying in the same hotel,’ recalls Noel Gallagher, guitarist and main songwriter for much of the group’s career.
‘I don’t remember much of the gig if I’m honest, but closing my eyes now – I can remember being in the bar with the swimming pool there and thinking: “This is nuts”.’
The band were about to release their soon-to-be-classic debut Definitely Maybe, which contained the hits Live Forever, Cigarettes and Alcohol and Supersonic. It went on to sell more than 2m copies in the UK and turned them in to the Rock’n’Roll Stars they’d previously only sung about being.
But it was follow-up (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? that blasted them into genuine superstar status. It sold a staggering 22m copies worldwide and remains the fifth best-selling album of all time in this country (only recently overtaken by Adele’s 21).
Now 22 years on Oasis are no more – Noel walked out on the band in 2009 declaring that he could no longer work with Liam.
But he makes his return to Southsea with his new band High Flying Birds to headline the Sunday night of this year’s Victorious.
WOW247 spoke with Noel on the first day of his UK arena tour – he was getting ready to play at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow, having recently returned from a run of dates that had taken in South America, Australasia and Europe.
‘Tours are great, some days are brilliant. The others are just mega,’ he deadpans.
The man known to his fans as The Chief swears a lot – sometimes very inventively, so he has been edited for a family newspaper. Sprinkle some naughty language liberally through what follows and you’d probably be fairly accurate.
‘I’m in Glasgow tonight, which is pretty unique because the crowds here are absolutely mental. It’s usually a bit more mental up north.’
Noel’s fellow headliners at Victorious are Manic Street Preachers on Saturday. This year the Welsh act have been playing their 1996 album Everything Must Go in full, and two years ago they did the same with their dark classic The Holy Bible.
But the ‘play the whole album’ thing is a route neither Noel or Oasis have ever taken. Is it something he or the band ever considered?
‘I’ve never really sang a full album, apart from my solo stuff, which is a bit too early to be doing that,’ he explains. ‘Oasis never did it because you’d be picking one of two albums that people want to hear.
‘I’m not slagging people off for doing it, but it’s not something that appeals to me. I went to see Primal Scream doing Screamadelica, and that was brilliant. I think the albums have got to be quite iconic records though.
‘I’m not saying Oasis never had them, we did, of course, but it was never really our thing.’
Does he think some of the albums getting the treatment are a little less than ‘iconic’?
He hedges his answer: ‘Some poor rock stars are trying to make a living and pay the mortgage aren’t they? Listen, if it ever comes down to it for me, I’ll be doing it. Gladly I don’t have to do that sort of thing as I’m all right.’
Having sold some 70m records worldwide, it’s safe to say Noel’s not short of a bob or two, then?
‘One would hope,’ he laughs.
After Noel left Oasis it took a while for him to re-emerge with his High Flying Birds. He spent a year ‘doing nothing, not thinking about getting back into music or anything,’ and it was his partner who finally stirred him into action.
‘My missus, said, “So here we are, what are you going to do?”.
‘I hadn’t thought about it all. I could sense the frustration in her voice that I’d been around the house for a year. And what she was saying was that the answer you give to this question will probably affect the rest of your life.
‘I was like, “Well, I don’t know why...?” And it was: “Are you going to make a damn record or what?”. I was like, “I guess, seeing as you put it so romantically, how can I refuse?”.
Noel says that he never planned to come back as a solo artist – he always wanted whatever he did to be a band. ‘I’d never really seen my name in lights. I was coming home from the studio one night, past the Shepherds Bush Empire, someone was playing, I can’t remember who, and I thought, do I really see my name up there?
‘And I didn’t.’
The self-titled debut came out in 2011 spawning the hit singles The Death of You and Me and AKA... What a Life! and has gone double platinum. This was followed by last year’s Chasing Yesterday, which the band have been busy touring ever since.
Is Noel happy with how the new album has been doing?
‘It’s hard to say these days,’ he admits. ‘One can only judge your albums are doing by how many people come to your gigs.
‘If everybody who comes to see me on this world tour had bought the album I would have sold a hell of a lot of records and I haven’t sold a lot of records.
‘The streaming thing is killing record sales, but my gigs are all selling out, so there must be something to it.
‘The game has changed. When I put that first record out it sold 1m copies in England. The new one is scraping around the 300,000 mark and it’s no less successful, it’s just that the business is dying on its arse, you know what I mean?
‘You can’t sell records anymore, it’s all streaming.
‘To be honest, I’m not arsed about selling records, I’m arsed about all the money I’m losing. I don’t give a toss about the records.’
With physical sales declining, how does Noel feel about things like the annual Record Store Day?
‘I think it’s great. We must keep record shops open at all cost.
‘They’re a great meeting place for people. The big chains are gone, which is a huge bummer, man, but the independent record shops, we’ve got to keep them open.
‘Anything that you can do to help that kind of thing you should.
‘I spent my entire youth in record shops. To think they won’t exist any more is too much. They took Top of the Pops away from us, they took The Chart Show away, they’re not having the record shops n’all.
‘Youth culture is changing, you can’t make people buy records, you can only put them out there, but it is sad in a way.
‘The times are changing, you know what I mean? And we’re fast becoming grumpy old men.’
Does he feel like he’s losing touch with youth culture – has he still got his finger on the pulse?
‘Have I ever had it on the pulse?’ he chuckles dryly. ‘You find that if you’ve got your finger on the pulse, once it’s gone, you’re finished. You want to be just around it, you want to be in the vicinity.
‘All those bands that win the Mercury Prize, nine times out of 10, they disappear. I don’t think I’ve ever had my finger on the pulse. I can see it from where I am, but I’ve never got involved.’
Since the Oasis split, Liam has thrown occasional insults at his brother in interviews and via social media. But it hasn’t stopped rumours of a reunion periodically bubbling up. Does that band have a future?
‘What’s happened with Oasis is I left, they split up and then it’s no more,’ you can almost hear him underlining the words. ‘I know we live in an age of nostalgia and people looking back to better times when music now is so rubbish and times are so bad. People want to relive their youth and I understand why people want it, but it’s not something I particularly want.’ He pauses: ‘If I need the money, I’ll do it.’
So don’t hold your breath for that reunion, then. But with Liam currently off the road, there’s still a chance to hear Noel play some of those songs that are familiar to millions.
n Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds headline Victorious Festival on Sunday. Manic Street Preachers headline tomorrow with Travis, Annie Mac, Mark Ronson, Ash, Wolfmother and dozens more perform across the weekend. Day tickets cost £35. Go to victoriousfestival.co.uk