Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (and Pep Guardiola!) at Portsmouth Guildhall on March 20, 2024. Picture by Paul WindsorNoel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (and Pep Guardiola!) at Portsmouth Guildhall on March 20, 2024. Picture by Paul Windsor
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (and Pep Guardiola!) at Portsmouth Guildhall on March 20, 2024. Picture by Paul Windsor

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds warm-up at Portsmouth Guildhall for Royal Albert Hall Teenage Cancer Trust show | Review

There can't be many performers who can stand on Portsmouth Guildhall's stage and tell the packed house after a bit of football-based banter: "You're not even as good as Southampton. And they're terrible."

And not only do they not get lynched, but the audience loves them regardless.

But when you've written a sizable clutch of songs which have become part of the country's musical DNA during your time in Oasis, you clearly get cut a lot of slack.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is Noel Gallagher for you.

The first time I saw the Gallagher brothers live was in a venue roughly the same size as this – Southampton Guildhall in 1994 – when Oasis were still very much in the ascendancy.

When arenas, stadiums and festival headline slots have been your regular domain for much of that last 30 years, this now counts as "intimate." The last time he played in Portsmouth was as Sunday night headliner at Victorious Festival in 2016.

A warm-up for a Teenage Cancer Trust show at The Royal Albert Hall the following night, this Portsmouth date sold out in under an hour when it was announced. As a result the audience is suitably up and ready for something special.

There's certainly no skimping in the musical front. There are up to 13 people (including backing singers, a brass section and up to three keys players) on stage for any given song - 14 if you count the life-size cardboard cutout of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola behind Gallagher's amp.

The opening salvo features a handful of songs from his most recent album, Council Skies, which the band rips through with nary a word to the crowd.

With those first five down, Gallagher informs us that we'll be going backwards in time - ending in the '90s - to a huge cheer. And that's roughly what the set does.

You know what you're getting by now with Gallagher Snr - big anthems designed to reach the back of the stadium, which his High Flying Birds material amply delivers. While he's tinkered sonically with his post-Oasis output, he's never thrown the baby out with the bath water.

However, when they step things up a notch for a fierce Lock All The Doors, it's pleasingly rousing, and it's nice to see guitarist Gem Archer get the chance to stretch out as well.

Likewise for early HFB single AKA... What a Life (dedicated "to all the Man City fans in here").

But two-thirds of the set in, following a comparatively delicate Dead in The Water where it's just him and Mike Rowe on keys, Gallagher announces: "We've made it."

He's not daft. While a good chunk of the crowd has been singing along to every word so far, he knows, and we know what most people really want to hear.

From here, with one notable exception, it's all Oasis songs. But it's not all the obvious stuff and understandably leans heavily on tracks Noel sang. First up is Going Nowhere – a Stand By Me B-side. It is worth bearing in mind though that this is from a period when even Gallagher's B-sides knocked most other things into a cocked hat commercially.

This is perfectly demonstrated three songs later with Half The World Away, another B-side which became far better known as the theme to the hit sitcom The Royle Family.

By now, the audience is routinely out-singing Gallagher.

The main set's penultimate track The Masterplan - a song Gallagher has hailed as one of his best - provides a lofty high point, before they ‘finish’ with a cover of Joy Division's all-time classic Love Will Tear Us Apart. A lack of confidence has never been a Gallagher trait, but it doesn't quite work for me - even if he does sing it better than New Order's Barney.

They return with a suitably epic Stand By Me, which leads into a nicely rearranged Live Forever – the drums are largely out, and there's some gorgeous vocalising from the backing singers while Archer plays a winding guitar line. It doesn't remove the song's core, but plays with it enough to make this familiar song sound new.

But there's no messing about for the finale - one of their Britpop defining album (What's The Story) Morning Glory's standouts - Don't Look Back in Anger.

After an hour and 45 minutes and 21 songs, it's everything a fan could hope for short of a full Oasis reunion, which looks as far away as ever.

What a life, indeed.