On Sunday evening (July 26), Liam Gallagher surprised punters at JJ Finan’s pub in Charlestown, Co Mayo, by turning up to perform an unknown song during an impromptu set. The song, which appears to reference the title of his brother Noel’s most recent album ‘Chasing Yesterday’, has sparked speculation about whether the former Oasis frontman is writing his own solo album. At the end of last year, NME’s Tom Howard spoke to friends and experts to ask – what next for rock’n’roll’s dormant volcano?
Onstage with Oasis at Wembley Stadium on July 21, 2000, Liam Gallagher introduced ‘Live Forever’ to the 90,000 people in the crowd by saying that he and his band were experiencing “a bit of a topsy fucking weird year”. He was, most likely, referring to his brother Noel walking out of the band’s world tour back in May, sick of Liam, and leaving them to carry on without him. The following night at Wembley, Liam turned up shitfaced. It was a miracle Noel didn’t walk out of that too, given Liam’s tuneless vocals, inability to recall the lyrics to any of the songs and insistence on telling everyone that Wembley was a “fucking shithole”, that “I dig all you, man, I dig all your offsprings, I dig all your pets” and “if you’re gonna do Wembley, might as well do it pissed out your arse, yeah?” For fans of songs being sung to a technically high standard, the gig was a horror show. For fans of the whirlwind Liam conducts around himself, it was dreamy.
Fast-forward 14 years, and Liam’s having another “topsy fucking weird year”. In brief: the second Beady Eye album, ‘BE’, came out in summer 2013 and sold OK, but everything that came next (including guitarist Gem Archer fracturing his skull and leg a couple of months later, and the sacking of the band’s manager in February 2014) was overshadowed by the news that Liam had fathered a child with the American journalist Liza Ghorbani, and was having an affair with Debbie Gwyther, a member of his management team, and would, therefore, be getting a divorce from Nicole Appleton and going through a messy child-support court case with Ghorbani. It’s been, without doubt, the worst 18 months of his career. Understandably (but frustratingly), until he emerged to break the news of Beady Eye’s demise, Liam has kept a low profile throughout this period. Avoiding doing any press, he has only been accessible via chance encounter or social media. But if anything the disengagement from traditional media activity has increased his popularity, as proved by the Twitter frenzy that followed his tweeting of the letters O, A, S, I and S on April 24.
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More on Twitter later, but both these stories are quintessential examples of the way Liam lives his life. As PR expert Mark Borkowski, who’s worked with Led Zeppelin, Joan Rivers and Macaulay Culkin, puts it: “You never get the feeling that Liam’s run by the media. He’s had his problems recently, obviously, but after The Sun exposed the love child business there were no desperate interviews, no mea culpas; there was no rushing around trying to appease the media; it was ‘that’s how it is, fucking like it or loathe it’. Liam’s had dalliances, but at the heart of it you wonder whether or not he really gives a fuck, and I don’t think he really gives a fuck.” No-one’s saying it’s a good thing Liam was unfaithful to his wife and has had four kids with four different women, but it’s a consequence of the nature of the man. It’s like Owen Morris – who worked with Oasis on ‘Definitely Maybe’, ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ and ‘Be Here Now’ – once said about his singing style in the studio: “Liam doesn’t need to practise: Liam just lives.”
Even as a 42-year-old, he doesn’t seem to think, he just does. He lives recklessly, permanently on the edge of triumph or catastrophe. As it always was with Oasis, the highs are intense, the lows even more so. And the lows have always been a big part of the Gallaghers’ story. After the giant Knebworth shows in the summer of 1996 they could have conquered America, but instead they imploded: first when Liam refused to go on tour because he needed to buy a house; second when Noel quit the tour because he couldn’t deal with Liam once he’d rejoined. After ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘…Morning Glory’ they could’ve taken their time to make a third classic album, but ended up buying all the cocaine in the world and making ‘Be Here Now’. And even though the music they made for the next 12 years wasn’t always amazing, they were never boring. And so it is today.
That’s because Liam isn’t capable of being average. As he told The Face in 1994: “I’m on fire inside. I’m just getting to know myself, and there’s things I don’t like. Parts of me are evil, parts of me are good, but I’m locked up in chains so I can’t get it all out. But I opened the doors in my head, threw the key away and let it all in: madness, badness, evilness, goodness, beautifulness… a universe in a glass.” Afterwards, he stared at the interviewer and simply said: “I’m ageless.” Wrinkles have started appearing on his face and the voice isn’t quite what it was, but the untamed, youthful energy is still potent.
Nicky Wire has, on two occasions, offered another way to look at Liam. In 2008, the Manic Street Preachers bassist gave one of the best ever quotes about him to Q magazine: “It’s one of my theories that there’s a certain working-class rage that cannot be controlled. You can trace it from Mark E Smith and John Lydon to Ian McCulloch and Morrissey to Liam Gallagher and, of course, me. That ability to be totally in love with your art, but also realise the stupidity and hypocrisy of the situation. I think it’s a good thing. It keeps everything in check.” It’s a theory he first discussed in 1996, when talking about missing bandmate Richey Edwards: “Richey’s fuck-ups were not on public display. There was a working-class disgust – cover it up and get on with it. I have a concept of a working-class rage, which is in some people. It’s in us. It’s in Liam Gallagher, Linford Christie, Nigel Benn and Paul Gascoigne. The desire to prove yourself.”
With these words, Wire nails another reason why Liam is such a vital presence, in music and beyond. Without the working-class rage and desire to prove themselves he talks about, Oasis would never have been as big as they were. It’s what made them so entertaining, and it’s what people are addicted to. Borkowski again: “Liam is a cult. Funnily enough, the more reclusive he gets – because of the way social media works and because of the fanbase that Oasis has – the better it is for him.” And the one place Liam has been all over this year is Twitter: venting that working-class rage; proving himself.
Liam himself is a sporadic tweeter, but everywhere he goes there are people taking selfies with him and sticking them on the internet. There were pictures of him eating a parmo, drinking lager and wearing a purple suit at a wedding in Middlesbrough in July. That same month there were snaps of him in various pubs with various people, as well as backstage at the Neil Young show in Hyde Park, sporting a bushy beard (a tonsorial decision worthy of five pages of debate on Oasis fansite live4ever.com). There were shots of him leaving a hotel in Manchester in September, looking slim and clean-shaven, on his way to see a Manchester City match. Again: forum debate about how much healthier he looked than he did two months ago. Fans took all of the photos, and in almost all of them he’s flicking the Vs at the camera. Classic Liam. All this off-grid exposure is working in his favour, according to Borkowski: “The more of an enigma he can be, the greater value he’ll have when ultimately Oasis get back together.”
But this isn’t about Oasis reforming. As Johnny Marr puts it: “It’s a shame things have to be viewed as moves, and oh-so-political.” He’s right. This is about the fact that now Noel’s back – new album, new tour, a desire to headline Glastonbury, should Michael Eavis be keen – we need Liam back too. He’s the only person with better quotes, funnier jokes, more wit in his wisdom and more scorn to pour than his brother. It’s about two giants of music, who make up one of rock’n’roll’s great antagonistic partnerships – alongside Ray and Dave Davies, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, Pete and Carl, Morrissey and Marr – being in the public eye at the same time. They make each other bigger, better, more headline-worthy, and spar with each other in front of everyone. Noel loves playing music, Liam loves attention. They’re charisma machines. They stir things up.
That said, it’s not essential for them to work together for the tension that naturally exists between them to reveal itself. It appears sporadically. It was there on February 28 this year, when Liam had a seemingly unprovoked pop at Noel by tweeting: “It’ll be me as in LG that throws in the towel not some roadie from the 80s x”. And again on June 15, when he tweeted: “Listen up there’s only 1 high flying bird and that’s the incredible magpie band LG x”. And once more, on August 22, when Liam took to the seat of his scooter to take on the Ice Bucket Challenge, before nominating his brother like so: “I accept this challenge and nominate Spongebob Squarepants, Ivor The Engine, and while we’re on cartoon characters, Noel Gallagher.” Noel’s complete lack of response – in public, anyway – only tightened the string and added to the intrigue. It’s like Liam is goading his brother into making up with him, but his brother’s not into it. Shadow boxing.
It’s worth noting that Liam Gallagher is far from the first major star to go through a period of uncertainty. And after years of imitating his vocal tics, his glasses and his numerous haircuts, Liam has – accidentally, probably – begun to resemble John Lennon more than ever before. This is his Lost Weekend, a time of personal turmoil, self-destruction and controversy. Quick recap: in summer 1973, Lennon’s marriage to Yoko Ono wasn’t going so well, so the couple decided that he should go and live with their assistant May Pang for 18 months. It was a time when Lennon indulged in some of his most excessive behaviour – drinking a lot of brandy, shooting guns with Phil Spector, taking cocaine with Harry Nilsson, getting kicked out of recording studios (A&M in LA in December 1973) and clubs (the Troubador, also in LA, in March 1974), and recording the infamous ‘A Toot And A Snore’ extended jam bootleg album with Nilsson (guitar), Paul McCartney (drums) and Stevie Wonder (electric piano), at one point asking Stevie: “You wanna snort, Steve? A toot? It’s goin’ round.”
Crucially, it was also a productive time for Lennon. And by the time the Lost Weekend came to an end in early 1975, when Lennon and Ono reunited, he’d written and recorded the track ‘I’m The Greatest’ with Ringo Starr and the album ‘Pussy Cats’ with Harry Nilsson, and released his own solo albums ‘Mind Games’, ‘Walls And Bridges’ and ‘Rock’N’Roll’. Here, clearly, is where the similarities with Liam end – his creativity has been minimal since the last Beady Eye album. But he’s got time. An Oasis reunion, if it happens, won’t come until 2016 at the earliest. It will be as big as it gets: David Bowie, Kate Bush, The Stone Roses. There’s a giant fanbase waiting to be mobilised. That’s guaranteed, no matter what he does next.
So before then, what? Become a rock star for hire, like he did with The Who in November 2014? Go solo and make an album with a bunch of big-name guitarists – Johnny Marr, John Squire, Bernard Butler – and give them all one song each? Collaborate with an electronic producer, as he’s done previously with Death In Vegas (on ‘Scorpio Rising’ in 2002) and The Prodigy (on ‘Shoot Down’ in 2004)? Take a break from music and go into fashion full-time to build and build and build his already successful Pretty Green label? Just sit and wait and hope that Noel picks up the phone?
“Sometimes doing PR is about just sitting there and letting someone else play their card,” says Mark Borkowski. “And you have to ask: does he need to do anything? He’s up there with the biggest rock stars in the country, and he’s certainly one of the most interesting. I mean, look at what David Bowie did – how extraordinary is that? And Kate Bush. Did anyone spot that coming? It’s counter-intuitive. These are people who disengaged with the process, old school, who engender excitement. If Bowie went on tour they’d struggle to get a fast enough broadband speed to sell all the tickets. While we see the Cowell machine throwing up more and more TV-friendly Saturday-night one-hit wonders, it plays to people who’ve really got the stuff. Liam’s got the stuff.”
Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder has a different suggestion for Liam: “Apart from have another crew cut, I think he should get himself a TV chat show.” Johnny Marr thinks it’s all about the music: “Liam loves music and loves being in a band. People shouldn’t forget that. It’s a shame all this stuff kicks up, because his fame gets in the way of that love. It’s not a job, it’s a passion he’s had since he was a teenager, and he’s really good at it. I’d hate to see the consequences of his band breaking up and the soap opera that goes with it stop him making music. Oasis were together a long time; the fact they’re brothers might mean they have to go off and live their own lives more than people in a regular band, because they’ve been together since they were children.” He adds: “There is a human being in there, who brings people happiness, and people need to remember that.”
But maybe the man who sums up fans’ feelings about what Liam’s next move should be better than anyone is Alan McGee, whose known him since May 1993 when he signed Oasis to Creation Records. He says, simply: “I love Liam – whatever he wants to do is fine with me.”
Us too, but now is an opportunity for him. Noel’s back, Beady Eye are dead. And as Liam himself said onstage that drunken night at Wembley: “I ain’t no fuckin’ celebrity, I ain’t no dickhead, man. I’m a rock star and I don’t fuckin’ arse about.” Get busy, Liam.