Music

Noel Gallagher: 'I met David Bowie and have no recollection of it'

Noel Gallagher looks back (not in anger) on the upbringing that shaped him. And he has a thing or two to say about living in Britain today

Noel Gallagher

Image: Matt Crockett

Noel Gallagher was born in Manchester in 1967. He began playing the guitar in his early teens, and was after finding himself expelled from school he worked in various jobs in construction before he became a roadie and guitar tech for Inspiral Carpets at 21.

In 1991, he returned from a tour with Inspiral Carpets to discover his brother Liam had put a band together called The Rain. He eventually joined the band, and they were renamed Oasis. After they were discovered and signed by Creation record boss Alan McGee in 1993, superstardom was quickly achieved. Their second album, 1995’s (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, is one of the biggest-selling UK albums of all time.

However, Noel and Liam’s relationship was a tempestuous one, and a row between them led to Oasis finally breaking up in 2009. Noel has gone on to solo success (as Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds), although rumours of an Oasis reunion persist.

Speaking exclusively to The Big Issue for the iconic Letter to my Younger Self feature, Gallagher reflects on what was a difficult but ultimately happy childhood in Manchester – and has plenty to say on the state of contemporary rock’n’roll.

I left school at 15 and my outlook on life was the same as it is now. I was always a hopeful child if not always a happy one. I was outgoing, sociable, funny, and I was accepted by my peers. All I was interested in was music and escapism. I don’t think I’ve changed much. Obviously circumstances have changed along the way, but I think my core values are still the same. I’ve never been the kind of person that thinks negative thoughts about myself. If my upbringing taught me anything, it was resilience. I got that from my mum. She also gave me the notion that no one’s gonna give you anything. The only way you’re going to get what you want is through hard work. Unless you become a master criminal, of course. But I was very lucky in my short-lived life of petty crime – I got caught very early on and I was like, fuck this. This isn’t for me.  

To this day my mum personifies the word resilience. Her bark was fucking ferocious. Her bite was non-existent. She had very, very bad language. That’s where I learned to swear, from my mum. We weren’t always having the best time, but I never really worried about the future or felt insecure because we come from such a big Irish family, there’s always someone who’ll look after you. My mum had 10 siblings. They all married. They all had at least three kids. So you’re never going to fall through the cracks.  

The Gallaghers in the 70s
MID-70S: (l-r) Noel, Paul, Liam and Peggy Gallagher. Image: Dan Callister/Liaison

When I was a teenager I romanticised everything. Top of the Pops, football, going to gigs, records, girls, everything. I didn’t know it at the time but I was already laying the groundwork for what I would become – an artist, a romantic. Because even if you’re not a romantic in the truest sense of the word, you’re elevating something, you’re glorifying it when you write and sing about it.  

The first music I was ever exposed to was Irish folk music. It didn’t strike me then, but what is interesting about Irish music is, they can be singing about the saddest and hardest things, rebellion and oppression, but they’re the most uplifting singalong songs you’ll ever hear. They can make the most miserable subjects sound amazing and almost spiritual. I loved that and I love it to this day.  

Noel Gallagher in 1989
1989: An evening at legendary Manchester club The Haçienda. Image: Peter J Walsh/Pymca/Shutterstock

The first modern music that came along at the right time for me was The Smiths Although I’m not what you would deem a stereotypical Morrissey fan – I mean, I’m not the kind of brooding poet, I was more of a football hooligan then – Morrissey, if he didn’t speak to me as a whole, certainly spoke to a certain side of me. And of course The Smiths were very Mancunian and Johnny Marr was extremely cool and a great composer, and Morrissey was just fearless, funny, brutal. I just loved The Smiths; I was there, they were my band and I fucking loved them and I still do. 

Man City was a big part of my life growing up. We didn’t go to see Man City because they were going to win anything, we went because they were our local team. I could see the floodlights of Maine Road from my house. When we were growing up, going to the football was one of only about three or four exciting things that you could do in your life. There was going to a football match, watching Top of the Pops, playing football in the park and getting pissed on cider. That was it. It wasn’t like now where you’ve got rolling TV coverage and the internet and fucking TikTok. You had to find your own amusement. Football was a massive, massive thing and it still is for me. When you hear 40,000 people singing in a stadium for the first time, it is staggering. Singing is good for the soul. It releases endorphins in the brain, you get high from singing. It’s why people sing at church. Football stadiums are the working man’s cathedrals. And if your actual family life is becoming a bit fractured, you do take solace from the family on the terraces. 

The middle child thing is definitely a thing. The thing about the middle child is you’re never the baby and you’re never the firstborn. So you’re kind of left to your own devices. I spent a lot of time on my own staring out the window. So out of all of us, it was me that was first into music, it was me that was first to learn to play an instrument. It was me that first left home. I know other middle children, female and male, and they all seem to be quite well rounded. I guess there’s always so much invested by the parents into the eldest, and then, of course, the baby is the baby. The one in the middle kind of cruises on unnoticed. 

Oasis in 1994
1994: (l-r) Oasis: Tony McCarroll, Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher, Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan. Image: Michel Linssen/Redferns)

I had no intention of joining [Oasis] but fate took over. I was part of the road crew for the Inspiral Carpets at the time, just back from Germany and going off to somewhere else. I had my own thing and it was amazing. It was only when Liam asked me to go and jam with the band, and I had nothing better to do, that I went along. For that initial month, I hadn’t really joined them, but I was jamming, playing their songs. And then one day Liam [Gallagher, brother and Oasis frontman] just said, you write songs, play us one of yours. So I played them some tune I’d written and I said, right, you play it like this, and you do this, and you do that. It was only when other people joined in on my music and Liam started singing that the light bulb went off. And it was like, wow, actually, this could be really fucking good. I can’t articulate what kind of emotion it was. It was not a massive eureka moment, but it wasn’t indifference either.  

In the initial months I didn’t really give a fuck about who would look after our future. That would come later when we started dealing with people in the business and everybody would defer to me because I was writing all the songs and I was the most articulate. When I signed a contract and it was like, right, we’re only going to get one chance to make something of ourselves and I’d rather you lads didn’t fuck it up for us.  

I remember the exact moment we were signed [by Alan McGee in Glasgow’s King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in 1993]. I can even remember what Alan McGee was wearing. We would do this version of [The Beatles’] I Am the Walrus and we could never work out how to end it. So Liam would walk offstage first. And then I would put my guitar onto some kind of ongoing delay pedal and I would walk offstage after him. Then we’d go out front and watch the band, and take the piss and see what they’d come up with to end it. That night I was stood at the mixing desk and Alan McGee walked up in a blue shirt and white jeans and he said, what’s your band called? And I said, Oasis. And he said, have you got a record deal? And I said, no. And he said, do you want one? And I went, who with, and he said Creation. And I was like, yeah, OK. And that was it, the night that changed everybody’s lives. 

Oasis in 2009
2009: Performing on German TV to promote final Oasis LP Dig Out Your Soul. Image: Rolf Vennenbernd

You never knew what mood Liam was going to turn up in and I found the whole thing really fucking stressful. My overriding feeling was this is just so fucking unnecessary. This is the dream that we’ve all lived for, and you’re still moaning about some shit that went on 18 hours ago. It’s just nonsense. You know what I mean? It’s all down to insecurity and fear on his behalf. Singers are the kings of blaming shit on everybody else. I had the anchor of the work, I was writing the songs, so I was directing it. I knew what I was doing. I often wondered what it would feel like if I was in a band and I had no control over the direction of it because the guy who wrote all the songs was so fucking good. There would be no point in getting involved. So no wonder he went off the rails. But you can balance that by saying, well, Oasis wouldn’t be fucking anything if they hadn’t asked me to join them. 

I might step in to press pause on my younger self a few times, and say, hang on a minute. Can we just /go back a couple of months and fucking fix this? I used to say mad shit all the time. When you’re in the midst of drugs shit, and you’re thinking the next knock on the door is going to be the police, and everything you say is being wilfully misinterpreted by the press, and you’ve got journalists lying around outside your house and it’s affecting your family’s lives, you do wish you could go back in time and unsay or undo things. Now? Everyone’s come out the other side of it and it’s all part of the story. 

Noel Gallagher embracing nemesis-turned-pal Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz. Image: Dave M. Benett/Getty Images
2012: Embracing nemesis-turned-pal Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz. Image: Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

What would my younger self think of me working with Damon Albarn? [Gallagher sang backing vocals on Gorillaz’ We Got The Power in 2017 and has appeared with the band several times on stage.] It would depend entirely on what side of the bed I got out of that day. If you caught me on a good day I’d be like, yeah, I could see that happening. On a bad day, I’d fucking knife myself in the bollocks.  

When you get to your mid-50s you do come to some kind of crossroads in your life. It’s not uncommon for people who have been in long-term relationships to go their separate ways in their 50s. I know a lot of people in the same boat as me and Sara [Noel and Sara MacDonald announced this year that they were divorcing after 22 years together]. Particularly after the pandemic. The midlife crisis thing is true for men and women. But I’m certainly not getting nostalgic for the past, no way. Things are fucking great in the present. Man City are great, my life is great. I’m happy and healthy. I’m about to go on tour around the world. It’s happening now for me.  

I feel sorry for young people growing up in this country now, Brexit has been a fucking absolute unmitigated disaster. And it will be a living nightmare until some politician has the balls to put a referendum in a manifesto and run on it and go back into the EU. Nothing works in this country any more. Politics doesn’t work. Social services doesn’t work. People are on strike. There’s no fucking eggs in the supermarket. It’s all shit. Politics has come to a fucking dead end. I don’t understand what any of them stand for any more. The Tories are going to run this country into the ground and then pass it over to Labour and say fucking good luck with that. Sadiq Khan and all these other fucking idiots down here might want to get on a train once in a while and get outside the M25 and you’ll see how much of a fucking shithole this country is. In the outskirts of Manchester, where I was born, everything is boarded up. Everything has gone. And it’s not been knocked down to build shiny tower blocks for hedge funds and investors’ flats like in London. It’s just been boarded up and left to rot. This was supposed to be a modern world where nobody was gonna get left behind.  

Music of all forms is so fucking middle class now. Because working-class kids can’t afford to buy musical instruments or rehearse or do any of the things we could do. And we were poor. The working-class musician is at the bottom of the pile now. That’s why music now is shit, because youth culture, 99 times out of 100, comes from the working classes. That’s why so many kids now are loving Oasis. Because we were the real deal. And they know the real deal when they see it. A big part of me is really flattered and honoured that Oasis are so popular now. But part of me is a little bit sad that no one came to take our place. No one’s come along to speak for them about their lives and their culture and where they’re going next.  

I’ve got two young sons, 13 and 16, and I feel anxious for young guys. They don’t really know how to behave with all this woke shit that’s now foisted upon everybody. Angry white middle-aged women telling young guys how to behave and all this bollocks. I look at my sons and I have to put them in a headlock sometimes and say, don’t worry about these people, just be who you are. We were wild when we were growing up. We didn’t give a fuck. They’re not as carefree. They’re shackled by the internet and wokeism and by living in a country where fuck all works. 

Noel Gallagher onstage with his High Flying Birds, Tramlines festival, Sheffield.
2018: Onstage with his High Flying Birds, Tramlines festival, Sheffield. Image: Andy Gallagher / Alamy Stock Photo

If I could go back to re-live any time in my life, it would be hard to choose between two. One would be my 50th birthday party. It was amazing. It was a three-day affair, so obviously my recollections are a bit hazy on it. But I’d love to re-live that weekend. My 40s were the best decade of my life, they were incredible, amazing. But every day since I’ve turned 50 has been a fucking ballache. Literally every fucking day for the last five years has been a pain in the bollocks. But my 50th birthday party was one of the most insane parties ever.  

The other time would be the night I went to see David Bowie and Morrissey at Wembley Arena in the ’90s. I was high and pissed. Then before Bowie came on, somebody came up to me and said, would you like to come and meet David? I was taken to see David Bowie in his dressing room. And I have no recollection of it whatsoever. I remember walking in and he was putting on makeup in a mirror and that’s it. He’s up there with John Lennon for me and I have no idea what we said when I met him. If I could go back I would appreciate it so much more. I’d tell him what he meant to me growing up, and how much he means to me now, and I’d tell him, I’m gonna rip you off to fuck when you’re dead you know. 

If I could have one final conversation with anyone in my life maybe I’d talk to all of my ex-girlfriends and just say, “See? I fucking told you.” No, I’m joking. Obviously. No, maybe I’d talk to my ex-father-in-law, who passed away recently. I didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye. I’d like to tell him what a great man I thought he was. And I’d also like to talk to my old granny, my dad’s mum. I’d like just to say, you’ll never fucking guess what happened to me and the other fella. 

Council Skies by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ new album Council Skies is released on June 2 via Sour Mash Records. UK headline tour dates are on sale at noelgallagher.com/live 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income

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