You could read a lot into Noel Gallagher's choice to open his first solo show post-Oasis with "(It's Good) to Be Free". In a semi acoustic set for the Teenage Cancer Trust, the elder Gallagher brother, who was responsible for the majority of the band's song-writing, takes to his stool with less a swagger and more the quiet poise of a professional performer at his ease.
Discarding his rock-star leather jacket early on, in a casual shirt and jeans, the 42-year-old could not have looked more comfortably relaxed. It was apparent in his singing, too, softer and more tender tones than his brother's, and tonight often tinged with emotion, especially in "Half the World Away", which moved many a fan, as couples and thirtysomething male friends locked arms and swayed, wielding pints of beer as they sang along.
The opening song was not the only one to take on a more weighty meaning with the passage of time. The nostalgia of "Fade Away", which he played early on, seemed to strike a point deep within many of the crowd, as Gallagher sang "while we're living, the dreams we had as children fade away." In a stripped-down version of "Wonderwall", he seemed almost pensive in his laid-back, understated delivery.
"It's not rock'n'roll", he tells the crowd, smiling. Indeed, he's accompanied throughout by former Oasis member Gem Archer on lead guitar and Terry Kirkbride on minimal percussion, an all-female string orchestra – the Wired Strings – and the 50-strong Crouch End Choir. Not that for the most part you could hear the latter. With a backing choir of 5,200 people – the full capacity of the Royal Albert Hall – belting out the songs in a merry mass sing-a-long throughout the show, the choir was drowned out.
The strings section, however, made a wonderful addition, especially in their recreation of the unmistakable opening to "Whatever", and in the rapturously received final song of the night "Don't Look Back in Anger". Meanwhile, against Gallagher's gentle acoustic strumming, Archer's lead guitar parts shimmered.
Last week came the news that Gallagher is going to become a father for a third time, and tonight he is on his most reserved behaviour. By his very composure and mature, reserved performance, Noel seemed to – consciously or not – set himself apart from his brasher brother. But an evening with one of the Gallagher brothers – even the more sensible of the two – was never going to be complete without a bit of gentle crowd-baiting. In good humour Gallagher teased audience members, in particular the "Scousers" and "Geordies" in the crowd.
In a set heavy on B-sides, and with only one track from the latter part of their career, from the post-1990s, Gallagher chose not to perform any new material, joking, "No, we're not playing new songs. As brilliant as they are, now's not the right time or place." But with the best and most-loved Oasis songs from early on in their career, such as the brilliant "Slide Away", which tonight receives the most appreciative response, nobody could complain.
Two years ago Noel Gallagher played a similar solo acoustic set for the charity in the same venue. Back then, fans called out for his brother. Tonight, it's just Noel's name they chant. When he ends tonight's performance with the humble send-off: "It's been an absolute pleasure to play for you tonight", with a smile on his face as he strides towards the solo career ahead of him, he leaves 5,200 smiles behind.