NOEL GALLAGHER: IN CONVERSATION WITH A BRITPOP ICON
The man who kicked British music into shape in the 90s discusses his approach to songwriting in this exclusive interview taken from new book Isle of Noises…
Words By Daniel Rachel
Read this exclusive extract from a classic interview with Noel Gallagher, one of the most iconic musicians to come out of the 90s Brit Pop era, from new book Isle of Noises by Daniel Rachel. Here Gallagher reminisces on his early career in Oasis and talks us through some of his most memorable lyrics.
Daniel Rachel: When the band needed a ﬁrst single you just went into a room and wrote ‘Supersonic’.
Noel Gallagher: We were doing ‘Bring It On Down’ because Creation wanted it as the ﬁrst single and it was just rubbish. Instead of scrapping the session somebody said, ‘Just go and write a song.’ I had the chords and that, it was just magic, and I’ve never done it since. It was amazing, that night. I wrote the whole song in less than half an hour, recorded it and mixed it that night, played it to Creation and that was it
Do you give value to the speed at which a song is written?
There are exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking the quicker they come the better they are.
Are you disciplined: do you write every day?
I’ve got to say I’m inherently, generically… It’s been proven that I’m a lazy b**tard.
You have written an enormous number of B-sides that could easily have been used for another two albums. Do you write differently if you know the song is to back a single?
When we ﬁrst started there was that thing of three B-sides on a single, which ruined a lot of bands. Now you’ve only got to write one track a year. I’d really like to be 22 tomorrow and starting off. All the B-sides for the ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘Morning Glory’ singles should have been the third album. That was when I was at my peak as a songwriter. I was young, single, living out of an Adidas holdall, just had two guitars, wasn’t rich, wasn’t really famous; I was really, really into it then.
How did you teach yourself guitar?
The ﬁrst musical notes was playing along to Joy Division bass lines on the top string, like ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and all those great songs. Then you get a few years older and you start smoking and then somebody knows a guy – you’re always round somebody’s house or flat – and he showed me a chord: ‘Wow, E,’ and he was going, ‘And you can move it anywhere on the neck,’ and that was mind-blowing. You just pick it up little by little.
How inﬂuential was Irish music for you? Did you have family sing-a-rounds?
I recall doing it when I was small. Your aunties and uncles used to always say, ‘Go up there and sing us a song.’ I’ve never done it publicly; it was always someone’s house. My dad was a country and western DJ. He had tons of Irish music. The rebel songs I used to like, because they’re really chest-beating but melancholy too.
You write very anthemic songs: did watching Manchester City at Maine Road as a kid play an influential part?
There’s two main things: one is being of Irish descent and the other is going to a lot of football matches from a very an early age and listening to those chants (sings): la la la lalala la ci-ty – that’s ‘Hey Jude’! Those songs that transferred themselves from the pop charts to the terraces, that’s where it’s at. I’m not going to bullshit you and think I was seven stood at Maine Road going, ‘That’s where it’s at.’ I’ve got to say U2 were a big inﬂuence on me when I was writing. They’re Irish and have got the ﬁst-punching thing with added religion. I’m not religious, mine is a bit more working-class euphoria than spiritual. They’re amazing. They’re the most loathed band in England; other musicians hate them, but secretly they all want to be in them… When that show comes to town. Achtung Baby, ‘Beautiful Day’ and stuff, it’s great.
Can I ask you for your thoughts about some lyrics and songs you’ve written? You found your God in a paperback / You get your history from the Union Jack, from ‘Mucky Fingers’.
The Gideon’s Bible, you see that a lot in American hotels in paper¬back. American culture and its history come from England. That song came directly out of ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’; it was on in the dressing room one night really loud. Gem’s not into The Velvet Underground and I said, ‘You mean you’re not into that?’ and he went, ‘That’s f**king brilliant,’ and I said, ‘The rest of it is amazing; what are you talking about?’ and he said, ‘No, I’m not having it.’ The very next thing that came on the iPod was Bob Dylan. We started having a drunken conversation about crossing Bob Dylan with The Velvet Underground, and he can play the harmonica. I said, ‘I’m going to write that tune tomorrow.’ Again I wrote the tune and then waited for the words to come along. The song’s not really about anything, but that line is speciﬁcally about American culture and how it’s very prevalent in our society at that moment, everything about it annoys me. But I like Americans, funnily enough, and I like America. I love going there, it’s a brilliant place, but the shit they export around the world is mind-numbingly awful. Hate it, can’t stand it.
‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’
I wrote it in Paris. The words I don’t remember. Liam came up with the word Sally. I was doing it at a soundcheck. I was singing so… didn’t have that word, I was saying something but I don’t know what. He came up and said, ‘Who’s Sally?’ and I went, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said, ‘Who’s so Sally can wait?’ and I went, ‘F**king genius.’ (Noel points at the tape recorder.) You’re not having any money for that, by the way. Somebody gave me really early on when I went to the States a cassette of John Lennon speaking into a tape recorder about his memoirs. He was going to write a book before he was shot, apparently, and one of his lines was the brains I had went to my head. I’ll have that, thank you very much. The opening was a bit like ‘Imagine’. It sounds like it’s about a girl who’s lost something, she’s leaving home, she’s going off to…
Stand up beside the ﬁreplace take that look from off your face.
My mam always used to say that to us. St Patrick’s Day, she would always take a picture of us and send it back home to my grandma in Ireland. It would always be by the ﬁreplace. It was just a council house with a little gas ﬁre. She would say, ‘Stand up there beside the ﬁreplace while I take a picture of you.’ A lot of that ﬁrst album, a lot of childhood stuff is in there, like nursery rhymes. (Sings.) I’ll be you and you’ll be me is from the programme Stop, Look and Listen. We used to be at school and you’d have a class when they’d play TV. It was like Sesame Street but an English version. That stayed with me for years until I wrote ‘She’s Electric’.
We’ll see things they’ll never see.
That’s about when you’ve got a best friend; it could be a girlfriend. I had a mate in Manchester called Rob Rodgers; he worked in a butcher’s. He used to have a scooter and we used to go on rallies. We’d drive to Skegness in the pouring rain just to sleep in a bus shelter and come back again. We were both seventeen at the time and just left school. He had a job and I didn’t and he bought a scooter on HP. We’d get dressed up in our mod gear and go on scooter rallies. I remember our mate saying, ‘What do you do when you get there?’ ‘Hang around outside chippies with about 10,000 other people, sleep in bus shelters, get pissed, go to a disco and come back again.’ He was like, ‘You f**kin’ pair of idiots.’ It was like a thing between me and him; they don’t get it, we get it.
Some might say they don’t believe in heaven / Go and tell it to the man who lives in hell.
Social comment, there. I’m not religious and I’m not spiritual, I don’t think. I guess it maybe was directed at myself. Poor people tend to be exploited by religion a lot. The poorest people in the world have got God – that’s all they’ve got. Fat Westerners like us: ‘What you talking about? Money’s where it’s at, man.’ I guess it’s the idea of heaven is what keeps the poor going. The rest of us don’t see God on a daily basis, do we?