“Well, it was nice enough of them to open up for Beyoncé, wasn’t it?” Noel Gallagher says, deadpan, in his distinct Mancunian accent. It’s a few days after the Super Bowl, and the former Oasis leader is poking fun at Coldplay, whose “headline” half-time show performance was overshadowed by Beyoncé (and Bruno Mars). Gallagher is talking with Tone Deaf over the phone from London but you can still detect a sly grin starting to form as he opens his mouth.
“I was saying to Chris [Martin], ‘you’re a very nice guy to do that (give up the limelight) for Beyoncé,” he says, dripping with sarcasm, “At the fucking Superbowl! You’re a lovely man.'”
You suspect the 48-year-old Noel Gallagher can’t help himself: he remains a man who rarely passes up a chance to mock friend (like Chris Martin) or foe. It’s the same Gallagher who recently accompanied an Instagram post of himself in the studio with the caption: “So Kanye thinks he’s made the best album of all time? You might sell more Mr.Kanye but NGHFB (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds) will be better..FACT!”
And it’s what made things all the more unusual when, as he announced he was going solo in 2011, the most outspoken British rockstar of his generation began showing signs of self-doubt.
Despite being armed with a set list that included anthems such as ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, and a debut solo record that would eventually go double platinum in the UK, Gallagher admits he was uneasy about embarking on his first tour as a frontman.
“I was apprehensive about what the crowd might think,” he recalls. “I knew that first record was great… that it was in the top three easily that I’ve ever done. I wasn’t really worried about that. [But] I’d never done it (been a solo artist) before. I’d done gigs before because Liam had fucked off backstage to look at himself in the mirror. You were trying to salvage something from the wreckage. This was like, ‘You’re asking people to pay to come and see you‘.”
Of course, he needn’t have worried. Now with two solo albums under his belt (his second, Chasing Yesterday, was released last year), he’s carved out a niche as a self-described “songwriter-singer” (It’s all about the songs, not the voice, he explains). And while his concerts are bereft of showmanship (though his sense of humour is often worth the price of admission alone), the audiences have kept coming, and they’ve kept growing. In Sydney, for example, he’ll play the Hordern Pavillion on March 26, a move up from his show at the Enmore Theatre back in 2012.
[include_post id=”470825″]He says his solo success re-affirmed a theory he’s long held: that “the songs are king”. “If they’re good, it doesn’t matter what’s going on onstage. As long as what comes out of the speakers is great, who gives a fuck who’s singing and in what kind of clothes.”
Gallagher is rarely out of the music news. Rolling Stone, among other publications, recently reported that The Monkees (of ‘Daydream Believer’ fame) were set to unveil an album with songs penned by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Gallagher. When this is brought up, Gallagher is quick to interject.
“OK, let me clear this up,” he says, somewhat bemused. “What has happened is that The Monkees are making a record after 104 years for some reason, fuck knows why. And the guy that’s producing it (Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne) got in touch with … a mutual friend, and said, ‘We’re asking fans of The Monkees if they’d be interested in writing a song.’
“This guy asked me, and I said ‘Well, funnily enough, I happen to have a song lying around that me and Paul Weller were working on, that we could never find out what to do with. It was sitting there and it’s not been finished off, so I said to Paul, ‘are you interested in doing this thing for The Monkees? We sent them the track, but it’s not completed in any way, shape or form. Before we heard anything, some fucker had gone and spoken to Rolling Stone about it. So the fact of the matter is: it’s a song, not written by me, it’s written by me and Paul Weller. We’ve yet to finish it, [but] we will give it to The Monkees. And they can jolly well count themselves lucky that they’ve got it.”
Relieved to have cleared all that up, Gallagher says he’s also started work on a follow up to Chasing Yesterday. He’s recorded “about seven songs” with a new producer in between tour dates. (Asked who it is, he simply says, “I can tell you who it’s not.”) Released to favourable reviews, Chasing Yesterday was varied in instrumentation and style, mostly a step further away from the retro-flavoured rock of Oasis. Asked if he’s continued moving in this direction, Gallagher is coy.
“I don’t analyse music like that, it’s just another batch of songs,” he says. “But I’m working with a producer for the first time. I’m not having any involvement in the production, which is very unlike me.”
“After taking what I do to its logical conclusion: which is to write and record, produce, arrange and mix an entire album of your stuff all by yourself, it seemed to be the next logical step, which is just to do the opposite. The results are good, but I’m finding the process a little frustrating.”
What’s been frustrating about it? “I’m a very impatient man,” he says. “Very. Put that in capital letters in red. I don’t like to fuck about when I’m working and the process of what we’re doing now actually requires a lot of fucking about.”
Gallagher arrives in Australia in March for a national tour and will also appear at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest. He looks forward to coming here these days, but that wasn’t always the case. He says the first time Oasis was scheduled to come to Australia, in 1994, the tour was called off.
“Bonehead (original guitarist Paul Arthurs) went and got his wife pregnant,” he says. “We’re still not sure how that happened. But there is a child, who is now like [in his 20s] or something, I often thought it was a lie, but it’s true. So we didn’t go.”“We managed to do the mythical Big Day Out, which was shite.”
“And then the second time Liam got arrested and it was a nightmare two weeks. We didn’t go for a long time and then we went back in  and it was great. I’ve loved it ever since, I had a great time going there. We managed to do the mythical Big Day Out, which was shite. We did the Livid Festival once, which was great, and I’ve had some great nights out in Melbourne at the Cherry Bar. It’s a pity Australia is so far away. If it was near here it would be great.”
While Gallagher will spend most of 2016 on tour and stealing time in the studio, there will also be a focus on legacy protection, in the form of an Oasis documentary that’s in the works. With the team behind the Amy Winehouse feature Amy at the helm, the film tracks the early rise of the Gallaghers, and is reportedly set for release towards the end of the year.
“What I can tell you is I’ve done about 16 hours’ worth of interviews for it,” Gallagher says in mock exasperation. “The people that are doing the research have been … there’s lots of things that I’ve forgotten about. I’ve seen lots of footage that I didn’t know existed. You never know what these things are going to turn out like. They’ve been talking to lots of people who were around at the time. As these things progress, everybody is going ‘oh, it’s great, it’s great’. Well, we’ll see when it comes out.”
Asked which bits he’d forgotten about, he says: “I’d forgotten how fucking good I was. I was fucking brilliant. But, you know, I’m not sure how successful it (the documentary) will be.”
What does he mean?
“One of us will have to die.”
We hope that’s not on the horizon.
“Well, fingers crossed it’s not me,” he responds, deadpan. You suspect that sly grin is forming again. “I’ve got a lot of shit going on next year.”
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds will be appearing as part of Bluesfest 2016
Thursday, 24th March – Monday, 28th March 2016
Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm NSW
Tickets: Byron Bay Bluesfest