Noel Gallagher: I never fought with Liam at all, he was fighting with himself
Ahead of his Belfast gig next May, Noel Gallagher talks about writing his latest album here with Northern Ireland DJ/producer David Holmes, fatherhood and why he thinks his brother is 'not well'
Noel Gallagher tells a pretty good story. There's the one about his world tour with U2 this year, where the hangovers were monstrous. He has a foggy recollection of arriving at Bono's house, where he was staying, at 5am after the after-show party for the Croke Park show on July 22. The next thing Noel remembers is the phone going like something out of Hitchcock and being in a place that he doesn't know. It's the even-more-famous-than-Noel owner of the house on the phone, inquiring after his health: "Oh, you're alive. Where are you?" Noel was, in fact, in a guest house at the bottom of Bono's garden.
The U2 lead singer continued: "Everybody's here waiting for you." To which a bleary-eyed and slightly bemused Noel said: "What for?' To which Bono, clearly used to this sort of home entertaining, said: "For the lunch I'm throwing in your honour. The 75 guests have arrived."
When Noel insisted that he had only just got out of bed, Bono told him that: "The President of Ireland's just arrived and you're sitting next to him. So hurry up."
The 50-year-old father of three, Noel Thomas David Gallagher, has many such rock 'n' roll stories, undoubtedly. But it wasn't always that way, he grew up in "the rough a***" part of Manchester, the middle child of Irish Catholic parents Peggy and Thomas Gallagher, to become a spokesperson for his generation with timeless classics like Don't Look Back in Anger, Wonderwall, Champagne Supernova and Live Forever. His precious ma was one of 11. Despite having two fabulously wealthy sons (the other one being Noel's younger brother, Liam), Noel says his mother still lives in the same small council house in the same part of Burnage he grew up in. "My mother doesn't give a f***," he laughs. "As long as Jeremy Kyle's on and she's got tea in the pot. She goes swimming. She goes to the shops, she comes back. She puts her feet up and watches the telly."
Noel lives in leafy Maida Vale with his wife Sara MacDonald and their two young sons, Donovan and Sonny, and sometimes his grown-up daughter Anais, by ex-wife Meg Matthews, in a well-appointed mansion fit for the king of existential Brit rock.
"I live on the same street as Adam Clayton. Five doors away from him. He came to my house recently, and our cat Boots came walking in. Adam went: 'So, that's your cat?' I asked him, 'How do you know that cat?' He said, 'That cat is always at my house'.
"My youngest lad Sonny is seven and he is very funny," adds Noel. "His birthday is coming up and he loves Top Gear. I think he is aware that he is a funny lad. I asked him what he wants for his birthday and he went: 'Dad, can I have a Lamborghini?'
"I said to him: 'A Lamborghini? You're seven.' He said, 'We could keep it for a while'."
Noel can remember when he first moved out of his parents' house not being able to afford carpet and the abject social humiliation of bringing lucky ladies backing to his flat - only for them to muse aloud: "You've got no carpet?"
It's impossible not to warm to Noel Gallagher, or his brilliant new album with his band High Flying Birds, Who Built the Moon? Its arrival was given due status with Noel on the cover of the new Q magazine with the headline: The Emperor Strikes Back. He started writing Who Built the Moon? in Belfast in the studio with his co-conspirator, Northern Ireland DJ and producer David Holmes, in 2014. Is it more difficult to write songs when he is no longer in a carpet-less bedsit and instead is flying in private jets - with Bono - with a settled marriage and kids?
"The way my songwriting works, it all depends on the tune. The lyrics were always, always, the last. It's always about the melody and the tune," he says.
"Well, I am first generation Irish. We have the music in us. I find the most difficult thing about songwriting is the first line," says Noel. "If me and David (Holmes) are in the studio and we hit a wall, we go: 'What would Bowie do here?'"
Noel once said that his passion had gone with Oasis. How did he get that passion back after he eventually left Oasis in 2009? "I was thinking about this recently. People think, or they might think, that it was the first time that I had hit a creative wall.
"But I didn't know what that was, because it had never happened before. In the same way that I didn't know that Definitely Maybe was a peak because it had never happened before. I started to chase it and when you start to chase it, you start forcing it, and when you start forcing it, it is not natural.
"I listen back to Be Here Now, not that I listen back to it, I just think, it's trying too hard. I should have taken another five years off. It comes back by letting it find you."
Did Noel ever think it wasn't going to come back? He shakes his head. "No. I actually don't take other people's opinions at all, when I'm writing. Because you know what? I wrote Live Forever and Wonderwall and Don't Look Back in Anger."
I ask Noel is that enough for him. "It would have been back then. If I never wrote another song from this point onwards, I would genuinely, with my hand on heart, think: 'Out of all the people, I f****** smashed it more than 99% of the people who write songs. I am up not there with the greats like Dylan, Springsteen, McCartney - but after that."
Does he think the first two Oasis albums, Definitely Maybe in 1994 and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? in 1995, were his heyday? "In terms of record sales, clearly, but I think now with this record," he says, referring to Who Built the Moon?, "I'm at a peak. Some kind of peak. And peaks are only relevant to the troughs, right? So you're down here one minute and up here the next. How high that peak is, I don't know, but it is the first time in my life that I feel that I have come to that conclusion, and how I react to it from here on in is going to be fascinating," he adds.
His childhood was scarred, owing to the alleged abusiveness of his father, from whom Noel is long since estranged. Did he channel that pain into song-writing?
"They do say there's something in it, your upbringing. So it must be. But I've got to say it has never made it into my songs. Like 'my abusive childhood'. I suppose, if anything, it made me when I got the chance and I met Alan McGee (Creation Records boss) and we were going to get this record deal (in 1993), if anything my upbringing led me to realise that you only get one chance, and nobody is going to f*** it up for me."
"And," he says. "I am going to do all that I can not to go back and live on the dole. So maybe that. But the parental thing, not really ..."
Did Noel worry when he became a dad to Anais, Sunny and Donovan that he didn't have a role model as a father growing up?
"Whatever people say about being a dad, women have nine months to get used to this thing growing inside them. So they have accepted it. You get 10 minutes as a guy because you think it is all going to go away and then you wake up and go, 'No, it's actually real'. Especially if it is your first one. You don't know how you are going to react. For some people it is the making of them; for some people it can go off the rails. I was lucky in a way. I don't really sit and analyse my role as a dad. My wife thinks I'm an appalling dad. And rightly so. Because I let my kids away with murder."
I ask him why he walked out on one of the biggest bands in the world - Oasis - on the infamous night of August 28, 2009, in Paris?
"I had had it. I sat in the car for five minutes. There was silence until my security guard's walkie-talkie was crackling and he said, 'Are we staying or going?' And I said, 'We're going.' Once I had said those words, I thought, 'That's it'. But, you know, I felt I had done enough. I felt that I, personally, had done enough. I felt that this was just going to go around in circles, forever. It is easy to sit there and pick up the cheque, travel in separate aeroplanes, separate dressing rooms, go onstage at opposite sides of the venue, and do the gig. You arrive and you leave separately. And you have written all these joyous f****** songs.
"I never fought with Liam at all. Liam was fighting with himself. Right now, he is picking a fight with himself somewhere. I don't suffer fools in any sense at all, but I suffered him more than maybe I should have done. I felt maybe, looking back on it, that the stadium rock thing wasn't me any more. At the time, it wasn't a musical decision. It was literally a case of I can't bear the fighting and the shouting and the firing people for no reason."
What Liam said about Noel performing at the We Are Manchester benefit in September at Manchester Arena - in response to the 22 innocents murdered on May 22 - went beyond sibling rivalry. On Twitter, Liam dismissed it as a "PR stunt" and claiming his brother "doesn't give a f***."
"I will say this - and this is all I will say about it," Noel says, "I don't think that he (Liam) is well. I think it says more about him than it does about anything else. I honestly don't think he is well."
- Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds play The SSE Arena, Belfast on May 9 & 3Arena, Dublin on May 10. Tickets are on sale now via www.ticketmaster.ie. The new album Who Built the Moon? is out today