We’re invited by Noel Gallagher to interview him in his new HQ of his own Lone Star studios in north London – decorated with trinkets and memorabilia from his decorated career and eventful travels with Oasis and his High Flying Birds. Asked about his most treasured items, he shows us photos of his attendance at his beloved Man City’s “many Premier League triumphs”, some “rare as rocking horse shit” 12 inch singles, and a curious Russian doll containing ever-smaller versions of himself (and one Liam; “I don’t know who that fucker is,” he shrugs).
“The life-size cardboard cut-out of Pep Guardiola would be a personal favourite,” says Gallagher. “He’s coming on tour, just to oversee the tactical plan.
He’s just arrived from rehearsals for said tour, which, along with the football, kept him from the weekend’s celebrations of the coronation of King Charles. No, he wasn’t invited. “I’ve never met a royal,” shrugs Gallagher. “Morrissey? He counts as a royal, I suppose – and [Echo & The Bunnymen’s] Ian McCulloch, he’s royalty.”
Given the tens of millions albums sold and having helped to shape music for at least one generation, have any royal honours ever been offered his way?
“I wouldn’t have thought so,” he laughs at the idea of Sir Noel. “I’d have thought that if I get the gong, you can pretty much say that they’ve been devalued. I wouldn’t mind being the Duke of Manchester. If there’s any of that shit knocking about, that would be good. I went to a party at some fucking posh gaffe on New Year’s Eve, and it was at a stately home. This guy said to me, ‘Where do I recognise you from?’ And I said, ‘I’m the Duke of Manchester!’ His wife said, ‘He fucking wrote ‘Wonderwall’, you idiot’.”
He has questions, mind. “What would it give me the right to do? Without question, Johnny Marr is being fucking elevated alongside me. We would be The Dukes Of Manchester. Write that down – that’s a fucking premise for a TV series, that. Two Mancunians driving around Manchester, solving local crime in a fucking Gregg’s bakery van.”
It was Noel’s Manchester adventures and the mix of home comforts and memories that shaped his fourth album with the High Flying Birds, ‘Council Skies’ – his best work since the demise of Oasis. For the latest in NME’s In Conversation series, we sat down with Gallagher to talk about never really looking back, working with Marr and The Cure‘s Robert Smith, his thoughts on the AI-generated Oasis album, Britpop reunions, and The 1975. Watch it in full above, and read it below.
Hello Noel. A lot has been said about how this record deals in returning to your Manchester childhood and turning to music for escapism…
Noel: “Well, that was slightly misinterpreted by a journalist (it’s not like you lot to do that, of course). I was just talking about the track ‘Council Skies’, and the guy thought I was talking about the album.
“The song is about trying to find young love on a council estate, something of which I can speak with fairly heavy authority, but you’d have to take the album on a track-by-track basis, really. If there’s one overriding word to describe it, it’s ‘reflective’. All the dreams I had growing up underneath the council skies sparked off a lot of things for me, but it was written in that god-awful period in lockdown. In isolation in those nine months where there was nothing to do, nowhere to go and no one to see. Everybody dealt with it personally differently. I came on to my own personal life, asking ‘How have I got here?’ It’s reflective more than anything about childhood.”
You can be reflective without being nostalgic…
“I hate nostalgia. I don’t like steering people towards how they should listen to a record; it’s up to them. I never liked it when I was growing up when people would say, ‘This record is about this or that’. I’m not arsed if it’s about your mum – I don’t give a fuck. People should take from it what they will. It does flow as an album, which is a rarity. It would be nice if people listened to it as an album. I think proper fans will. You can download separate tracks if you have to be a c**t.”
This is your first full album since 2017’s ‘Who Built The Moon’. In the time between, you released three EPs (‘Black Star Dancing’, ‘This Is The Place’ and ‘Blue Moon Rising’) – were they about experimenting more with ‘cosmic pop’ with this record always intended for the end of that road?
“I was in that headspace of going into the studio with nothing and seeing what happened. David Holmes [producer] unlocked that particular door for me and it was fucking great. With this album, if I hadn’t been isolated for all that time then maybe I’d have carried on with David. We always spoke of how we were going to do another record, the lockdown thing happened, he went off and did something else and I started writing at home.”
‘Council Skies’ is a very full-bodied and varied album. ‘Love Is A Rich Man’ has a widescreen Phil Spector vibe and ‘Think Of A Number’ feels like David Bowie’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’. How would you describe the sonic palette you were dipping in?
“I take each song as it comes. ‘Pretty Boy’ was the first thing that was written and finished. When it came out, even fans were going, ‘There’s a drum machine on it… again’. It’s a bit of an anomaly on the record because there’s nothing else like it. ‘Think Of A Number’ has got a Bowie feel to it, and if I had my time again I’d have that as the opening track. Every album that I make tends to be flawed in some way. This is almost perfect, but the biggest flaw here is that the opening track ‘I’m Not Giving Up Tonight’ should be the closing track and ‘Think Of A Number’ should be the opener – but I didn’t think it was strong enough until it was too late. What a dick, but there you go – I’m allowed to be a dick when it’s my own music.
“I’ve written a lot of fucking songs. It’s just a fun thing to do. I’m really lucky to know so many great musicians where I can just say to them, ‘Can you play guitar like Robert Fripp?’ They’ll be like, ‘…no’ and I’ll say, ‘Well you fucking better learn’. I take each song as it comes. Oasis wasn’t like that – there was an overall sound, everybody had their own set role in the band and you did your thing, but with this it’s a little bit different.”
These flaws on previous records – are there any in particular that keep you awake at night?
“Well I don’t like the sound of ‘Morning Glory’ at all. The only album that is perfect would be ‘Definitely Maybe’. ‘Be Here Now’, the songs are too long. ‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’, not enough good songs and a lot of filler on that. ‘Heathen Chemistry’ had a couple of good tunes: ‘Little By Little’ and ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’, the rest of it is a bit ‘meh’. ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ is pretty good, ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ kind of tails off towards the end. They’re all flawed in some way.
“My solo records… The first one [self-titled] – ‘Stop The Clocks’, no chance, not having that. Second one [‘Chasing Yesterday’] – ‘The Mexican’, yeah, dreadful. ‘Who Built The Moon?’ – yeah, sonically it could do with a bit more work. With this one, yeah, the tracklisting is slightly skewed.
“There are great moments on them all, but they’re not perfect by any means. If you ever did make the fucking most perfect album and accepted that it was perfect, it’s over. What’s the point after that?”
Would you ever do a Taylor Swift and re-record your past albums?
“What’s the point? Could you imagine the outrage? I’d rather push on and try new things.”
Johnny Marr features on three songs on the album – what does he bring to the table?
“Sadly, we’ve never sat down to write a song. We’ve talked about it for a while. For the three tracks that he plays on, I had the idea that Johnny would be able to play something great on it – I could just hear it and knew it. With ‘Pretty Boy’, it’s so linear and gets to that point where it just motors along. I knew it needed something. I didn’t get loads of people to try it, I was going to ask Johnny to do it from the off.
“It’s a funny thing with Johnny. He doesn’t get you to send him the track, he turns up, plugs his gear in, puts his guitar on, stands in front of the speakers and says, ‘Right, let’s hear it’. As he’s hearing it for the first time, he plays it. I wouldn’t tell him what to play, I wouldn’t be so cheeky.”
Well, you are ‘The Duke’.
“Yeah, but he’s the G.O.A.T.! He elevates my songs. Sometimes it’s really subtle and sometimes it’s really great. I’m so privileged to have his phone number. I say, ‘If you keep picking up the phone then I’m going to keep phoning you’ – but he’s into it.”
And what can you tell us about getting Robert Smith to remix ‘Pretty Boy’?
“Because the song sounds like The Cure I was like, ‘Does Robert Smith do remixes?’ I got hold of his email, the first line was, ‘Hi Robert, it’s Noel Gallagher’. I thought at that point he’d go, ‘Fuck that c**t’. He emailed back with ‘Send me the track’, I did and fuck me – if I thought it sounded like The Cure when it went, it certainly did when it came back!
“It wasn’t until I played it to a few people when someone said, ‘That’s one of Oasis, one of The Smiths and one of The Cure on the same fucking track’ and I was like, ‘That’s far out! What a mad idea!’ I’d never met him but I’ve been such an admirer of his tunes since ‘Boys Don’t Cry’.
“When I eventually met him, I told him I remember buying their singles album ‘Standing On The Beach, Staring At The Sea’ at HMV in Manchester. When I told people they were like, ‘You like The Cure?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, just because you like The Cure doesn’t mean you have to fucking wear lipstick!’ Do you know what I mean? But I have subsequently met him and he’s a very funny man. He’s very funny on email too, actually.”
Did you receive his infamous emails all in all-caps?
“He sends all his emails in shouty capitals and when I got the first one I was like, ‘Oh wow’. I didn’t have my glasses on at the time – sorry to break your hearts girls, but I do wear glasses – and I thought he was telling me to fuck off. I could just see shouty capitals and I was like, ‘Oh I didn’t realise he was that vehemently against the idea’.”
Does it feel odd to be on the road this summer at the same time as reunion tours from your old Britpop peers Blur and Pulp?
“I didn’t know that, but good luck to them! Blur never split up, did they? Pulp never split up, they just went and did other things, which is the adult way of doing it. Sadly my fucking band were very far from adult about it. It was a bit more crash and burn.”
Have you had ever had any offers to do a Britpop reunion package tour? Perhaps a big cruise together or something?
“Inevitably, it will happen. There’s never really been a serious offer about ‘The Big O’ getting back together, but there you go.”
You might not even have to try that hard yourself. Did you see the AI-generated Oasis album that came out recently?
“These fucking idiots have clearly got too much time on their hands and too much money that they can afford the technology to fucking piss around doing that for a laugh. I’m saving up for the technology myself, then I’m just gonna dial it in to some computer and fucking churn it out when I’m 73. I’ll have 140 albums to go after I’m fucking dead to keep my kids in choc ices and fucking weed. People kept sending my stuff like Ringo Starr singing ‘She’s Electric’. There’s not enough hours in the day. Do we need Freddie Mercury singing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’? Does anybody give a shit?
“People are like, ‘Yeah, but it’s interesting, isn’t it?’ Who the fuck is it interesting to?”
I think we’re all doomed, personally.
“Well you are – I’m not. Fucking hell. ‘Oasis: The Lost Tapes’. Really? Is that what you think it sounds like? You can AI the singer’s voice and his tambourine playing. Afraid you can’t AI what I do. As soon as you fucking can, I’m done, I’m finished, I’m retiring – I’ll just stick it into a fucking algorithm.”
Would you do a hologram show like ABBA?
“Mate, it’s the fucking future, and the past, all at the same time.”
Enough has been said and written about the amount of artists you inspired to pick up a guitar back in the ‘90s and ‘00s, but do you feel your mark much on contemporary bands today?
“In terms of musical notes, no, but in terms of musical spirit, yeah. Kasabian had the same spirit as Oasis. When we first met them, it was like meeting your younger sister’s crazy boyfriends. I recognised something in their spirit. Tom and Serge reminded us of us. I went to see Young Fathers recently at The Roundhouse, and it fucking blew me away, man. It was like T-Rex meets Frank Sidebottom – and that is a huge compliment. It was like being a young lad again. I love Young Fathers. They couldn’t be musically any further from Oasis but the vibe in the gig was fucking insane.
“Oasis’ influence, I think, was for people to fucking start a band in the first place. I do meet loads of guys who say that and that’s great. There are a lot of them around, it’s just a pity guitar music has become marginalised. You’ve either got to be rock, or that fucking [The] 1975. At the BRITs, The 1975 won Best Rock or some fucking shit.
“I was watching it with my kids, two teenage lads, thinking, ‘Is it me being a grumpy old man, or is this shit?’ They were both going, ‘Oh no, this is fucking shit’. The 1975, Best Rock Band? Someone needs to re-define that immediately, because that is… I don’t know what that is, but it’s certainly not fucking rock. Whatever rock is, that’s not it.”
So if ‘Council Skies’ was you asking ‘How did I get here?’, did you find any answers?
“No. I think the last line of ‘Think Of A Number’ is perfect for the ending of an album: ‘Let’s drink to the future, I hope it comes round again’. Did I find any answers? No, but I will find them, though. I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. Although the world is a shit place now and England in general is a fucking… What has happened to this country? I have no idea. Well I do have an idea: Brexit happened. A lot of people fell under some kind of mass hypnosis, but it’s shit England, now. It was going downhill for a bit, but actually fuck all works.”
But the truth will come?
“Eventually, I will find the answer. The answer is: the world is a great place, it’s just inhabited by cunts, and it’s the internet’s fault. That’s just the way it is.”
‘Council Skies’ is out now. Gallagher is currently on tour in the US with Garbage before returning for a run of UK and European dates and a headline tour in the winter. Visit here for tickets and more information.