“I’m not taking this off – this is trending,” Liam Gallagher tells NME’s photographer upon entering the swanky north London studio where today’s cover story is being shot. He’s wearing the quilted deerstalker he donned onstage at the BRIT Awards a few days prior, and which quickly became a hot topic on Twitter. Of his partially obscured appearance today, Liam insists, in typically DGAF style, “Everyone knows what I look like – and if they don’t, they can Google me.”
He has a point – Liam Gallagher has been one of the UK’s most iconic rock stars for nearly three decades now, his relevance spanning generations. His traditional look – parka, dark sunglasses and mop of hair – is so instantly recognisable that it’s long been an easy gag; one that BRITs host Mo Gilligan resurrected when he delivered a cartoonish Liam impression at this year’s ceremony.
By now, Liam is used to being reduced to caricature. “It’s a good job I’m not a snowflake,” he says, settling into a charcoal velvet chair and pinning back the ears of his favourite new accessory so that he can hear NME’s questions. “But I don’t give a fuck – it was funny, I thought.” There was one bit that rubbed him the wrong way, though: “He turned round and said, ‘It was better in my day’. I’ve never fucking said it was better. It was good in our day – but we just did what we did and now it’s time for someone else to do what they do. I’ve never said that, so he needs to fucking sort that out.”
The rock’n’roll national treasure’s day is far from over yet. In May, he’ll release his third solo album ‘C’mon You Know’, a record he has described as “80 per cent odd, 20 per cent classic” and which contains enough sizeable bangers and rousing anthems to kickstart the much-heralded post-pandemic Third Summer Of Love. This will be tested in June when Liam gets 160,000 people in the mood for a very big one across two sold-out nights at Knebworth Park, the site of Oasis’ crowning moment in 1996.
While the new album is coloured with moments of compassion, as on the string-laden ‘Too Good For Giving Up’ or the lysergic pomp of ‘Oh Sweet Children’, it largely feels purpose-built for soundtracking long, free-spirited days of getting off your nut.
Liam isn’t a man who often veers from what he knows works – and works well. For proof, you need only look at his consistent fashion throughout his career, or the welcome similarities between his first two solo albums, 2017’s ‘As You Were’ and its 2019 sequel, ‘Why Me? Why Not’. “I’m quite happy with the formula,” he shrugs. “All these people that go out and do something different – good for them and all that, but if I like something, I just stick with it.”
“I don’t want to fucking hear about [the pandemic] ever again, do you know what I mean?”
‘C’mon You Know’, though, finds him pushing on into new territory. This is not something he went searching for; it arrived in the form of songs sent to him by the album’s co-producer Andrew Wyatt, such as the aforementioned ‘Oh Sweet Children’ and the theatrical semi-waltz of ‘Moscow Rules’. “I thought, ‘That’s a bit odd’,” he says of the latter, “but as long as I’m not yodelling on it – as long as I’m still fucking singing the song, it’s cool.”.
A product of lockdown, the album started life as something quite different – and something even more unexpected from Liam. During that time, he predicted that the rest of the music world would come back with records where artists were “trying to be Mr Fucking Politically Correct, talking about the Government and the world and all that shit”. He recalls: “I just thought, ‘Fuck that shit – I don’t want to fucking hear about [the pandemic] ever again’, do you know what I mean? ‘Maybe we’ll come out and make a love album – really lovely; not a rock’n’roll record.’”
Work originally began on a batch of songs that he describes in a spaced-out hippie voice: “‘Wow, the world’s fucking amazing and haven’t we ruined it? There’s dolphins in the sea…’ Maybe I got caught up in all the bollocks as well,” he admits, his voice returning to its usual tone. “After a bit, I thought, ‘Nah, fuck that. Let’s not get caught up in the COVID thing as well, ’cause God knows what that was about.”
Despite that change of heart, he’d still like to go back to that idea and complete a trippier record one day: “There’s plenty of time for that.”
Liam might not be going full peace-and-love on us just yet, but ‘C’mon You Know’ still packs in plenty of surprises. It opens with ‘More Power’, a song that features a children’s choir singing cherubically over acoustic guitar, their chorus of gentle “oohs” later underpinning the singer’s own vocals. It is, as he acknowledges, very much in the same vein as the Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, but also reminded him of a lesser-referenced ‘00s band, The Polyphonic Spree.
On the record’s stomping title track, meanwhile, he makes an admission that might blindside some: “I’m sick of acting like I’m tough.” Although there is a vulnerability in some of his solo work – the first album’s ‘For What It’s Worth’, for example – the overriding impression of Liam in 2022, for some people, is still that caricature of a gobby loudmouth flicking V’s at paparazzi and guzzling lager.
Sometimes, he says, he does feel boxed in by that perception of him. “But that’s only my own doing,” he accepts. “If you want to portray other things, it’s easy, but I guess this is who I am.” Still, he says, people are often surprised when they meet him and find he’s “actually alright”: “I’d like to think most of us are fucking decent people, but we all have our days when we can be a bit bratty, or ratty or cunty.”
Away from the new album’s more outlandish moments, lead single ‘Everything’s Electric’ is a rock’n’roll juggernaut that’s destined to add a bit of rocket fuel to Liam’s festival sets this summer (and beyond). No wonder he chose to air it with a swaggering performance at the BRITS.
Co-written by Foo Fighters’ leader Dave Grohl, the track has been a long time coming. Back in 2018, when we crowned Liam as Godlike Genius at the NME Awards, he revealed that the US band were very keen to work with him. Today he jokes: “This is the first song Dave’s sent, but Taylor [Hawkins, drummer] sends me a song every week. Every fucking week. He texted me the other day like” – Liam puts on an American accent – “‘Hey man – fuck, man… I feel like a bit of a dick, man, sending you all my songs when the head honcho was doing one.’”
Grohl’s contribution, brought to Liam himself by the album’s other producer Greg Kurstin, was chosen over any of his friend Hawkins’ offerings because “it’s an out-and-out rock’n’roll tune”. The drummer’s ideas, meanwhile, are “a fucking bit kinky, man,” he laughs, pulling a bemused face and holding up a hand as if to keep an invisible Taylor Hawkins at bay. “I’m like, ‘You don’t need me, man – you carry on doing that stuff’.”
‘Moscow Rules’ features another big name: Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig leant a hand in its writing and recording. He became involved through Wyatt; Liam admits that he doesn’t know much about the New York band, except for their hit ‘A-Punk’, which he sings a short snippet of. Koenig joined studio sessions at north London’s AIR and RAK studios and recorded saxophone lines for the track.
“I’m not really keen on sax, but I think this record needed it,” Liam says. “I always find it a bit creepy, but then you end up with that thing where you’re trying to get the guitar to sound like a sax. Fuck it, just get a sax to sound like a sax and be done with it.”
Like the rest of Liam’s solo work, ‘C’mon You Know’ features contributions from several songwriters. The youngest Gallagher brother has never been shy about his collaborative approach. Here, he seems to differ from his former Britpop rival Damon Albarn, who recently implied – in relation to Taylor Swift – that co-writing isn’t “real” songwriting. “Says who? All them fucking gorilla albums are co-writes aren’t they?” Liam observes. “I get it – Noel bangs on about it as well: ‘I’m more important than you because I write my fucking songs’.
“I think Taylor Swift’s fucking cool, man. She does write her songs”
Unlike his estranged older brother and Damon, Liam isn’t fussed about his name being the only one on the credits. He’d rather play to his strengths than than act like he’s something he’s not: “As much as you’ve had a decent life and a mad life, sometimes it can be hard to pin down what you want to fucking say and some people can bring it out of you a bit better.”
As he slumps down in his chair, putting his feet up on the table in front of him, his thoughts return to Albarn, who apologised to Swift after an outcry from her fans and collaborators: “Well, he won’t be saying that again in a hurry, though, will he? Did he not get ran out of fucking town by the Swifters? I think [Taylor’s] fucking cool, man. She does write her songs and I’m sure she’s co-wrote with people.” He says he’s not heard Taylor’s 2020 “indie” albums, ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’, but does “like that pop one, ‘Shake It Off’ – that’s a fucking tune”.
For all that, though, he’s not interested in featuring on someone else’s record. This will surely disappoint Manchester rapper Aitch, who has spent the last few months telling anyone who’ll listen that he wants Liam to feature on his upcoming debut album, even claiming he’d pay the singer seven million pounds to record a spoken-word piece for it.
“Is that all?” Liam responds. “He ain’t got seven million fucking quid – he ain’t got fucking seven fucking quid, never mind fucking seven million. And it quickly went down to his watch and his trainers the other day. Listen, I don’t do that – that’s not for me, man. He seems like a nice lad, but I don’t wanna be on anyone’s album.”
Aitch’s football allegiances also prevent his work with this noted Manchester City fan. “He’s a United fan, so it ain’t fucking happening,” Liam says firmly. “When I read that, I was like, ‘No mate’. He don’t need me on his album anyway, but I do appreciate the fact that he thinks I’m cool, I guess. Even if he did have seven million pounds, I wouldn’t do it because I can’t be fucking bought.” Because a Liam Gallagher feature is priceless? “Exactly.”
“Noel loves doing interviews. He could talk a glass eye to sleep”
The 22-year-old rapper’s enthusiasm for Liam is not unusual among his generation. Just look at the ‘C’mon You Know’ album cover, which depicts the frontman surrounded by a gaggle of young lads in bucket hats and was taken after his Reading Festival 2021 headline set. “I love it, man – I do exactly what it says on the tin,” Liam says of his timeless appeal. “I think [my] music’s still good. It’s not Oasis, but it’s still good music. I sound good. I look cool. I talk from the heart. I think they’re still gonna get off on what I do ’cause it’s attitude.” He certainly appreciates his young fans’ support: “It means a lot.”
Liam’s own kids are less fussed about his music. His sons, Lennon and Gene, both in their early 20s, are into Fat White Family and Black Midi. Liam, he says, is “like the Rolling Stones to them”. Lennon is the frontman in a band called Automotion, who cite John Cage and Neu! as influences and make more experimental songs than Liam. “It’s fucking mental – I don’t know about ‘experimental’,” he quips. “That’s a fucking word for it. Gene was telling me there’s some scene like mathematic rock or summat. I was like, ‘This is giving me a headache already and I haven’t even heard any of it’.”
Rather than offer up tips on being an era-defining frontman, Liam leaves his kids to it: “I don’t get involved – they like what I do to a certain extent, but they’re fucking somewhere else. They wouldn’t listen to me, man, but they’re doing their own thing. Gene’s got some tunes on the go as well. But I don’t know what the fuck they’re drinking or smoking… all that weird music, man. Or maybe they’re not doing any of that and that’s why the music’s so fucking weird.”
This summer, Liam will headline a series of massive gigs in Manchester, Dublin, Belfast and Glasgow. Perhaps most exciting of all, though, are those Knebworth shows. He sounds humble about the latter, admitting: “I still can’t get my head round it, really – I never thought I’d be doing that.” When Liam first embarked on his solo career in 2017, he was worried he wouldn’t sell out London’s 20,000-capacity O2 Arena. But he did, and the demand for his gigs hasn’t stopped growing since.
He hasn’t given much thought to the Knebworth gigs yet “because it spins you out a bit”, so he’s adopting Oasis’ approach to the shows in 1996. “I really didn’t think about it til the week before,” he explains. Last year, a new documentary, Oasis Knebworth 1996, captured the excitement and atmosphere of a moment in music history.
“When I watched that film the other week,” Liam says, “some of the versions were a bit ropey, man. Some of the antics were a bit fucking giddy, so I’m gonna hold it down this time a bit. But it’s gonna be mega having another go at it – it just goes to show that the people want it.”
The last time he was at the Stevenage site, Oasis flew into the gigs on a helicopter. Will he use the same mode of transport, given he was injured after falling out of a chopper after the Isle Of Wight festival last year?
“I did fall out of a helicopter, but it was on the ground,” he clarifies before getting up from his chair and reenacting the scene for NME. Thick fog meant that the helicopter couldn’t take off from the island; Liam and his entourage had to wait until the weather cleared. “Everyone’s drinking, and I’m like, ‘Alright, I’ll fucking drink this’, so I’ve hit the brandy – nothing too much.” He knocks back an imaginary glass. “And then about three in the morning, someone says, ‘Right – we’ve got to go now’. So we take off and I’m still thinking, ‘If we get back to our house in time, we can still have a drink’.”
When the helicopter landed, he opened the door to climb out, but missed the step: “I’ve just gone whack, flat on my face on this fucking concrete.” His manager and partner Debbie Gwyther was on hand to help: “[She’s] got me up and I’ve got to go to me fucking doctor at three in the morning. He’s got a screaming baby upstairs and they’re fucking stitching me nose up and I’m fucking zapped. And that was that.”
Scheduled a week after ‘C’mon You Know’ is released, the Knebworth gigs also promise to ignite the sense of freedom we all need after the pandemic. “It looks like these things could be aligned,” Liam agrees. “These things don’t just happen. Fucking something else is going on a bigger fucking thing – whoever it is or whatever it is. Hopefully, we can all just have a good time and live fucking life and stop worrying about shit.”
Last summer, he provided respite from the anxieties of the time with a free gig for NHS workers at The O2. Next month, as a celebration of that show, he’ll receive the Music Moment Of The Year gong at the BandLab NME Awards 2022. “It’s a nice thing to do, but I don’t wanna be one of them Bob Geldofs, you know what I mean?” he says. “I’ll turn up cos it’s good craic and all that, but we should do something else with [the award].”
“I still can’t get my head round playing Knebworth again – I never thought I’d be doing that”
It was important to him to give back to the country’s health workers because “no one else was doing it”. He shrugs: “It was just a nice thing to do. My family, we’ve always relied on the NHS, so it was just a nice thing. I feel like a bit of a dick getting an award for it!”
At the very start of 2022, he hinted on Twitter there might be another award missing from his collection. “So I’ve missed out on the NYs honours list AGAIN ffs what more do I have to do to get myself 1 of those SIR things oh well onwards and sideways LG x,” the tongue-in-cheek missive read.
Liam mimes someone reading the tweet: “There’ll be some fucker there going” – he puts on posh accent – ‘Who does he think he is, scruffy little shit from Manchester thinking the Queen is gonna give him that?’” He grins: “If I can wind some cunt up [on the] first of January, start as I mean to go on.”
In fact, Liam says he wouldn’t even accept a fancy title from the Monarchy: “Unless they delivered it to my fucking door through the letterbox, like the Royal Mail fucking should do… I’m certainly not going there and bending down for no cunt. Not that I’m anti-Royals – I like the Queen. I think she’s like a little Jedi. She’s alright, man.”
‘Sir’ Liam would probably get a rise out of Noel, mind. The pair are still not on good terms, although eagle-eyed fans will note that Oasis Knebworth 1996 was produced by Kosmic Kyte, the production company both Gallagher brothers set up last year. Its formation doesn’t mean a reunion will be sparked in the editing suite, though: the pair don’t deal with one another directly, and Liam says his involvement is about ensuring his brother doesn’t have complete control to do “something ridiculous”.
He explains with an eyeroll: “I can’t remember the name, but he wanted to call the film something fucking ridiculous. I just went, ‘Fuck that – it should be just called Oasis Knebworth 1996’. Simple. He was calling it, ‘Ooh, The One With The Fucking Golden Ticket, Operation Fucking Gold’. Obviously he owns the key when it comes to the songs and that, but the image of it – I think I play an important part of [that].”
And so Liam duly launches into another reenactment: “You know why he does that, though, don’t ya? ’Cause then it’ll take him three hours to explain it and he loves doing interviews. He could talk a glass eye to sleep.” He stands up and paces the room, doing an impression of Noel calling a meeting to reveal the meaning behind Operation Gold. “He loves the sound of his own voice.”
Away from the sibling rivalry, Liam is optimistic about turning 50 in September and is content with his current lot in life. His main focus is now on maintaining that: “All it’s about is: keep making music, stay alive, stay out of trouble… ish. And just fucking live a nice, happy life. I just want to do the gigs, keep making music, look cool, try and sort me napper out and not turn into a cunt. That’s all I ever wanted to do.”
‘C’mon You Know’ is released on May 27 via Warner Music. Liam Gallagher plays two nights at Knebworth Park from June 3