Life after Oasis: Beady Eye frontman Liam Gallagher continues to look back in anger
The singer mouths off about nut allergies, Justin Bieber, drugs and that feud with brother Noel...
Monday 10 June 2013
"Cheeky bastard." Liam Gallagher is glowering – I think so, anyway – behind his stay-put Ray-Bans. But who is the subject of his ire this time? Is it traitorous brother Noel? Is it Mumford & Sons, this mouth-almighty's current favourite whipping boys ("Looks like they've got fucking nits and eat lentil soup")? It it, perhaps, Sir Alex Ferguson, who, on the day of our meeting in a north London rehearsal facility, has announced his triumphant retirement as manager of Manchester United, enemies of Liam's cherished City? Or is Liam addressing me?
The answer: none of the above. Right now, Liam's goat is got by a sweet.
"It was a fucking blue M&M," tuts Beady Eye's frontman, and readers should presume from hereon that every other utterance out of the Gallagher gob contains a "fuck", "fucking" or "fucker". Or, rather, via a Manc accent undimmed by 20 years 'avin' it in London, a "fook", "fooking" or "fooker".
"I was out," continues this stoutly, proudly unreconstructed rock star, "had a peanut M&M, the next thing I know, me mouth went weird. Felt like I'd been stung. Go to the toilet to have some hot water – and my mouth had swelled up, breathing got all weird, head went… Went to the doctor and they gave me a blood test and they said, 'Peanut allergy.' Never had that, mate," Liam grumps in his staccato, blunt-weapon speaking style. "Got to go back this week [to see] if there's anything else, but it's proper pickled my head for over a week. So I've got a prescription for the needles. Not good, man."
Head-pickling upset aside, Liam Gallagher is today in great and fighting form. He should be 'n' all. The 40-year-old is in the happy thick of rehearsals for the first shows in support of the second album by Beady Eye, the band formed by the rump of Oasis left after Noel exited stage-right-angry in August 2009. (The reasons proffered by the elder Gallagher, in a peanutshell: one argument too many with his brother.)
Titled with quasi-cosmic simplicity BE (see what they did there?), it's a cracker. No, really. Following the meat'n'potatoes stodge of their hastily recorded debut Different Gear, Still Speeding, Beady Eyes's follow-up is an entirely tastier proposition.
Gallagher and his bandmates Andy Bell and Gem Archer have together written an album of songs that fly with sky-scraping electronic adventurism, rootle around with poppy psychedelia, and generally have a right old ding-dong with the four-square trad-rock that bogged down the past decade or so of the principals' musical day jobs.
Liam's voice vibrates with close-mic intimacy and bristles with ragged glory. In particular "Flick of the Finger" and "Second Bite of the Apple", the first songs released from the album, explode with a vigour not heard round these parts since… well, since (What's the Story) Morning Glory?. And that came out 18 years ago.
"I've always dreamed of using the studio in a free way," states Bell, the guitarist who joined Oasis on bass in 1999, "and this was freedom. And the key to that was Dave," he adds of the London recording sessions produced by Dave Sitek, the out-there American who plays guitar in the band TV on the Radio and who has previously worked his wayward studio magic for Scarlett Johansson and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
"He came in and just put the key in that door and opened it wide," adds Bell. "But what he brought to it worked because we came in like a crack commando team with 21 songs that we'd rehearsed like bastards for ages."
To the thumpingly pragmatic Liam, Sitek could be a little too out-there, however. "We'd have to sort of go, 'Earth to Dave, get back to making some noise.'"
"There's a lot of people out there who maybe we could have or should have worked with," adds Archer, the guitarist who joined Oasis shortly before Bell. "But this is where we're at. And the idea of throwing Dave into the situation may have been a disaster – or glorious."
There are, then, ebullience and forward-looking good vibes in the room when I talk, first to Liam, and then to Archer and Bell together. But there is, of course, a ghost at the table. Someone who will always haunt Liam Gallagher…
Liam, what if Dave Sitek had produced 'Be Here Now' (Oasis's huge-selling but cocaine-clouded and much-maligned third album). Would that have worked?
"Yeah. It would have, definitely. Why not?"
Was adventurousness lacking in Oasis?
"Without a doubt."
Why? Did size take over?
"Maybe. I don't know, mate. There was always a bit of stiffness about Oasis that pissed me right off. It was a bit like, 'No, we're not doing it that way. We're doing it this way.' It's like, come on man, we're better than that. That's not having a pop at Noel, that's the way it was."
You describe 'BE' song 'Don't Brother Me' ('Sick of all your lying, your scheming and your crying…') as containing 'a diss… but it's not a hatred song'. Has Noel heard it?
"Don't speak to him, so I don't know. Sure, he's been fishing about for it… but I don't think he cares. But who knows? I don't know where Our Kid's head is at the moment. You see him and he looks like he's had a make-over, doesn't he?"
Did 'The Death of You and Me' (as featured on Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' self-titled debut) bother you?
"Not one bit. The title's good, though – when I first heard it I thought, 'You cheeky…' But that's life, innit? 'Don't Brother Me' is not a dig – it's not slagging. There's a lot of love in there."
It's not a character assassination?
"No, I'll leave that to this [points to tape recorder]. I don't need to do it through music. Once I've got everything off my chest and people get it, then I'll be quiet. There are still a few things that, with Our Kid, people have just got blinkers on about…"
"He wanted the band split up. End of. And he was planning it for years. Cos I heard it, him and his manager [Marcus Russell, Oasis's manager, who quit as Beady Eye's manager during their last tour; he still manages Noel], I heard them planning it backstage at Bridlington Spa [the week before Noel left the band]. There was just bullshit going around. He'd been trying to get his little solo thing for ages." k
Did he have some of the tunes already written?
"Without a doubt. Loads of 'em. We recorded loads for the last [Oasis] album and he whipped 'em off – he went, 'Oh no, we're gonna keep that back.' I can't remember which ones but there was a few [on High Flying Birds]. He's just a sneaky little… I was hard work to work with, cos, whatever… But you don't just wake up in the morning and go, 'Oh, this is all a bit too rock'n'roll for me now.' That's what we built our career on, what you on about? So, yeah, once I've got everything off me chest – which I'm coming to a point [of doing] – I'll crack on and shut me mouth. But he is a conniving little bastard. He's always wanted to be a solo star. It was always in his head. He loved his little moment in the spotlight when he did his little thing [in the middle of Oasis sets]."
Why didn't he come out and split the band earlier?
"Cos he's a shitbag. He sacked Bonehead [Paul Arthurs, original Oasis bass player, pushed out in 1999], he sacked Guigsy [bass player Paul McGuigan, also out the door in 1999], he sacked Whitey [drummer Alan White, out on his ear as of 2004]. Next thing is, 'Oh, I'm gonna get rid of the fucking singer… Well, I'm not gonna get rid of him cos he's gonna knock me clean out. So what do I do? I just… conjure shit up.' That's in my head anyway."
Gem Archer was out socially with Noel Gallagher the other week. They went to see a band, Temples. They've maintained a friendship in the teeth of the brothers' mutual hostility. Bell, too, retains "enormous love and respect" for the man who led Oasis from their formation in 1991. Both guitarists miss Noel, and would love to see a fraternal reunion. What about an Oasis reunion? "I'm not hanging on for it," says Bell. "If it happened, I'd damn well enjoy it," nods Archer. "But if it didn't, I wouldn't be gutted." Liam, meanwhile, insists he doesn't miss Noel – not as a musical foil, not even as a brother. "I don't miss all the bullshit."
Do your kids miss him as an uncle, Liam?
"Never really knew him, mate. I don't know his kids either."
Would you recommend life in a band to your sons (Lennon, aged 13, and Gene, 11)?
"Without a doubt. I'd recommend it to anyone. It's the best gig in the world, man. Gene is up in his room drumming every day. Oh, mate, he loves it. Lennon does guitar lessons in school, and fancies himself as a bit of a singer."
Does he have your vocal skills?
"I don't know, mate. His life's a bit easier than mine – he's got to wait for something to piss him off. I've still got the arse. And that's what comes out in the voice."
Where did your teenage anger come from?
"Fuck knows, man. But I can do both – I can sing beautiful at home, but when it comes to guitars and live, when you're in a rock'n'roll band, you've got to be belting it out. I just sing every song like it's the last time I'm ever gonna sing it."
What music do your boys like?
"Lennon's a massive Who fan. It's got nothing to do with me, he's just obsessed with Quadrophenia."
No Justin Bieber?
"No. They have their moments, though – a lot of their mates are into Rizzle Kicks, shit like that."
What if Gene comes in and says, 'Dad, I love Mumford & Sons'?
"Right, well, you've got to let kids do what they gotta do. Obviously I'd have a laugh and go, 'Fuck that!' But Mumford & Sons write some good songs, man. They just look like gyppos."
Are they a good choice for a Glastonbury headline slot?
"Is that where they're playing? Headlining? About time. They've done well, man."
What about the Rolling Stones?
"Never seen them, ever. Am I interested? Not at £500 a pop. Tried to get on the guest list [for the O2], couldn't. I was not having it. Fuck that, mate, it's not rock'n'roll paying all that money for a ticket. I wouldn't pay £500 to see anyone."
Right now, Beady Eye are in training for a tour that all concerned hope will be a long one. Liam Gallagher is even up for having another crack at America – "Yep, but with the right stab," he qualifies, "without getting caught up in licking arse" – even though his antics (missing planes, spitting on stage) helped sabotage Oasis's attempts at "breaking" the US.
At the studio, Bell and Archer have been putting new bass player Jay Mehler, formerly of Kasabian, through his paces (Oasis's final drummer Chris Sharrock completes the line-up), and working out how to translate the imaginative textures of BE into a live show. The core trio ring with the raring-to-go enthusiasm of a band who have, rather against the odds, proved themselves.
Liam has been working on his match fitness by maintaining his near-daily running routine: one hour, 6am to 7am, Hampstead Heath, before heading home to make breakfast and do the school run. Interspersed, it must be noted, with the occasional appearance of the traditional Liam dust-up: some argy-bargy with actor Idris Elba after February's NME Awards and, the following month, being ejected from Crouch End pub The Queens for drunkenness – twice in one week. He is, in vintage Liam Gallagher style, living it large in every corner of his life. But now, at last, he's once again punting music that's equally entertaining.
Given Beady Eye's dietary requirements (Bell is also allergic to nuts), have you been giving your rider the once over?
"It's just the usual: vodka, tequila. I like tequila – there's no hangover. After a gig I can drink a whole bottle on me jack. Then at 12 o'clock the next day, I'm on it again. It's red wine and Guinness that make you feel crap the next day."
Do you still do drugs?
"Every now and again, mate. Don't want to be going on about it. Not as much as I used to. It's shit, isn't it – there's no good stuff out there. I will when a new batch comes in. But it takes me three days to recover. I try not to anyway. A good night for me is going out and coming home pissed, and knowing I haven't touched the gear."
Will Beady Eye still be touring this time next year?
"It's [down to] whether people dig BE. I've got a feeling that a lot of people are just like, 'Fuck off, whatever.' They're just not into it. They just want Oasis back together."
Do you want Oasis back together?
"No. Not yet. But I don't think about it, man. I want Beady Eye to be successful so we don't have to go down that road ever again. But if… you know… we'll see how it goes."
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