About to embark on a tour with his new band, Beady Eye, the rocker Liam Gallagher is finally where he always wanted to be.
The rock star Liam Gallagher tells us why he's 'just a regular fella'
'I'm not going to get all sentimental," says Liam Gallagher. "I've got too much still to do. You get your hanky out if you want to. Not me. I'm a busy man."
Liam Gallagher - still sporting the round bowl haircut that his estranged brother, Noel, memorably dubbed "the Ann Widdecombe" - is sitting in the boardroom of his management company in Marylebone, central London. We are looking at the framed photographs, which have lately been removed from the walls, of Noel and him in their Oasis heyday. Boxes of merchandise promoting his new band, Beady Eye, have arrived to be unpacked. It feels odd, spooky even. Like the sad day after a rancorous divorce when one member of the embittered couple moves out and the other tries to move on.
"It don't feel strange at all," he insists. "It's people like you that need to get over it. Don't need pictures and gold discs and what have you. It's all in here." He taps his head. "I've got the greatest rock 'n' roll movie playing in me 'ead. All the time."
When a partnership as seminal as that of the Gallagher brothers splits, you might expect the one who brought the looks, charisma and singing but little meaningful songwriting to the equation to approach a new band with some trepidation. But Liam Gallagher is positively beaming today. Here is a man at last in full control of his destiny. He is dressed in items from his own Pretty Green clothing company. He has come hot foot from tour rehearsals at a studio down the road.
In fact, Beady Eye is Oasis minus his brother and the fulfilment of an old dream. Oasis played their first show 20 years ago this year. It was famously Liam Gallagher's band until his elder brother stepped in. Once Noel assumed songwriting duties he propelled them to a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most successful UK band of the 1995-2005 decade after selling over 70 million albums.
Now, though, after two decades of often pantomime sibling rivalry culminating in a catastrophic falling-out in Paris in 2009, Liam Gallagher has got his band back.
"People go on about there being a power struggle but I don't really see it that way," he says. "We didn't get on. We never have. And in the end it became unbearable. And whatever was written about me being the c*** I know what happened and what it was like.
"People can believe what they want to believe about me but you know what? I'm all right. I'm OK to be around and I do my job. The band (Andy Bell, Gem Archer and drummer Chris Sharrock) followed me out the door, remember. Not the little fella. That tells you all you need to know."
In August 2009 Oasis were still one of the biggest live acts in the world when their tour reached Paris's Rock en Seine festival. Backstage before the show, there was a row - hardly a new occurrence; Liam is known to have attacked his brother with a tambourine as far back as 1993 - but Noel issued a statement claiming "verbal and violent intimidation" from his brother towards himself and his family had reached intolerable levels. He didn't sound like a rock star. He sounded like a man reporting a serious domestic violence incident. Liam scoffs at the suggestion that he was the cause of the split. As he tells it, in fits and starts:
"It all kicks off backstage just before the gig in Paris... Our kid f***s off. We others went back to the hotel and had a couple of beers. No tears, mind. We kind of seen that coming. I ask them... 'What do you want to do? Stay a band?' Agreed... We'll meet in a couple of months and book a little studio and do some tunes. That was August. We were meant to meet in November but... We couldn't wait that long. That says a lot, doesn't it? We met the following week... That's it... We started a new band and it was all nice and easy and it happened like that because there was no aggro and there was no f***ing tantrums and there was no boss throwing his f***ing weight around."
He paints a rosy picture of the working practices of Beady Eye. He could almost be an idealistic youngster celebrating the fall of a dictator. There is no leader as such, he says. They all pitch in ideas and it becomes obvious when they are not heading in a productive direction. But one thing they agreed on is the fact that the 1960s, when The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and The Who held sway in UK rock culture, were the greatest days there have ever been. It is the spirit of these times that underpins everything Beady Eye does, whether it be the haircuts, the moody photo shoots in leather jackets or indeed the music; that spirit was the underpinning of a lot of Oasis music, too.
"Just 'cause it's a new band don't mean we've changed our tastes in music," says Gallagher. "We know what's great."
It's hard to overstate how important the preservation of the Beatles/Sixties sensibility is to Gallagher. One of the formative moments in his songwriting career came after he was invited to visit Yoko Ono's apartment in New York's Dakota apartment building a few years ago. The visit was arranged by a manager, and Ono greeted him at the door.
"It were dead spooky the feeling I got in that place," he says. "She was top. She made the tea. But I was a bit weirded out by being in there. In a good way though. I felt his [John Lennon's] presence. And afterwards I was writing loads of tunes. It was inspiring. They just came out of me 'cause of being in that apartment."
The new album, Different Gear, Still Speeding, features a track called Beatles & Stones, which pretty much formalises a manifesto that has riled critics but delighted fans for years: the Sixties were the greatest music decade ever, and there's no point trying to improve on it.
"We're not doing anything new," says Gallagher. "We are the first to admit that. I haven't got time to be experimenting. I just want to f***ing rock 'n' roll. We do the Beatles-y, Stones-y, Kinks-y sound better than anyone and I'm not pretending it's anything that it isn't. We are still a band that are going to get a lot of kids off their arses. I'm proud of that."
He shifts in his seat and rubs his knuckles. This is familiar territory. Oasis has been one of the most bankable British band for 20 years and yet save for the flowering of Britpop they have been critical kicking boys for much of that time, too. "Music for van drivers", "pub rock" - the plaudits saved for peers such as Radiohead and Damon Albarn's Blur have rarely come their way.
"I don't want to break new ground," Gallagher snarls. "I don't. I've heard what goes on on the new ground and it sounds like **** to me. F***ing Radiohead. I mean I really truly don't get it. A band goes out of its way to make things hard for the f***ing listener and the critics are stroking their chins and loving it. But... I've grown up. I'm not getting into knocking anyone. To me music is all about the feeling it gives you. You can't beat where The Beatles took us and I like to think that we can bring some of that back to the kids today. End of."
Gallagher says he is getting to do things he did not have a chance to do when his brother was in charge. For one, they can make decent videos (he says his brother didn't care enough about them). Secondly, they can take charge of photo shoots. And finally, he says he is not being forced to scream his vocals over the dense sound his brother preferred. Beady Eye is a softer proposition. More light and shade. Lyrics that you can understand (these are in part the contribution of Bell and Archer.) In short, he has been released from the tyranny of "the little fella".
"People have said that they can hear me singing properly for the first time since... right back at the start of Oasis," says Gallagher. "With Oasis I'd be shouting and screaming to be heard over the top. With this album Andy and Gem encouraged me to sing first over acoustic guitar and drums, and a lot of them were keepers. I got in there first and it gave me a bit more room to breathe and so yeah... I hope it shines through. I'm working with people now as opposed to being wheeled on to sing over something. There's more of me in it."
Gallagher feels he has been a rock star for 20 years now. You would have expected him to have been a casualty given his past appetite for drink and drugs. When several of his teeth were knocked out in a Munich bar fight 10 years ago it seemed par for the course. And yet here he is, nearing 40 and the picture of contentment.
"I am a rock star. Born a rock star," he says. "But that don't mean I act like a ****. I don't do premieres or hang out with young bands trying to be the big man. That's pathetic."
Each morning he wakes up at 5:59. He likes to beat the alarm, which is set for 6am. He dons his running gear and canters onto Hampstead Heath near where he lives with his wife, the Canadian pop singer and actress Nicole Appleton, and their nine-year-old son, Gene. Gallagher will then run for around 90 minutes. No headphones, no music. When he gets home he might make breakfast and then he takes Gene to school. He gives a detailed and convincing description of the little plastic school chairs he has to cram into on parents' evening to review his children's work.
"I do it all. I'm just a regular fella... who happens to be a rock star," he says.
As well as his clothing line and his new band he is about to launch a career as a film producer. It doesn't come as any great surprise to discover it is a Beatles-related project. His production company has begun work on the adaptation of The Longest Cocktail Party: An Insider's Diary of The Beatles, Their Million-Dollar Apple Empire and Its Wild Rise & Fall written by the Apple records insider Richard DiLello in 1972.
Perhaps change the rather quaint reference to a mere million dollars and there are irresistible echoes in that title. Will Oasis ever re-form?
"What for? What would be the point? Me and our kids ain't going to change," Gallagher says. "I'll miss them songs but they are in me 'ead. They are in my life deeply already. In my DNA. But Beady Eye can't start banging out f***ing Live Forever, can they? It would be like Simon Cowell going on holiday with all his ex-wives. It's f***ing wrong, man. Leave it alone. It's not right."
The Gallagher file
BORN William John Paul Gallagher, September 21, 1972, Burnage, England
CHILDHOOD NICKNAME Breshnev, after the late Soviet leader who was known for his bushy eyebrows
SCHOOLING St Bernard's Roman Catholic Primary School, Burnage; Barlow Roman Catholic High School, Didsbury
BAD BOY Expelled from school at the age of 15 for fighting, and would often steal bicycles from local shops
FAMILY Wife, Nicole Appleton; sons, Lennon Francis (with ex-wife Patsy Kensit) and Gene Appleton; daughter, Molly (with the musician Lisa Moorish)
LIFE-THREATENING EXPERIENCE Nearly drowned in a river when he was a child
PETS Two stray cats he adopted named Benson and Hedges (after his favourite brand of cigarettes) and five dogs
FAVOURITE SONGS Hound Dog by Elvis Presley, We Love You by the Rolling Stones, Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan, Strange Town by The Jam, I Am the Walrus by The Beatles, Hand in Glove by The Smiths, Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks and Looking Glass by The La's
FAVOURITE FILMS Quadrophenia, Trainspotting, Seven and Scarface