Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Any Road Will Get Us There review: 'An over-egged coffee table affair'

What the world wants is to watch the steam rise from Noel Gallagher’s own poison pen, says Mark Beaumont

Insight into Noel’s high flying world is kept strictly to a minimum
Insight into Noel’s high flying world is kept strictly to a minimum

Many a monobrow was raised when Noel Gallagher announced his first book. Biography gold or literary car crash? Having declared fiction “a waste of f***ing time” in 2013, we’d likely be spared a tome to make Morrissey’s List of the Lost look like Kazuo Ishiguro; a semi-literate kitchen sink novel about a Big Issue seller with a crippling Alka Seltzer habit perhaps, or the surrealist children’s tale of Digsy, a lasagne-loving walrus who eats a magic pie and turns into the world’s slowest cannonball. Whereas a no-holds-barred autobiographical diatribe letting his barbed, endlessly readable wit fly on his go-to topics – Liam, Britpop, rubbishing new bands, being wrong about politics – would be the memoir of the century.

So Any Road…, a photo-journal of NGHFB’s 2018 world tour captured by former official Manchester City photographer Sharon Latham, falls between many stools. Beyond helping choose the multitude of photos of himself playing guitar, Noel’s input is limited to a few brief interview snippets; over 200 pages are dotted quotes far less fiery and substantial than you’d find in any of the Gallagher profiles that have singlehandedly propped up the music magazine industry since 2006. The overall feel is of a tour programme that got severely out of hand.

Insight into Noel’s high flying world is kept strictly to a minimum. We learn that the amps set up to bear the onstage Manchester City flag aren’t plugged in. That Noel wouldn’t want to move to LA. That he hopes he’s no longer the “Oasis bloke”. And that’s pretty much it. An opening segment about how Noel concocted recent album Who Built The Moon? – by far his most psychedelic and exploratory solo record and arguably his best album for a couple of decades – over four years of uptempo experimental sessions with composer David Holmes (and that their collaboration continues), promises depth and illumination the rest of the book fails to deliver.

While the group’s on-the-road camaraderie comes across full-beam, too often Noel takes a back seat to profiles of his Birds: who knew, or indeed cared, that drummer Drummy McDrummingbloke (or something) is an Alan Partridge expert who believes he can communicate with ladybirds? More intriguing is his now-legendary caped scissor player Charlotte Marionneau, who day-jobs as frontwoman of Le Volume Courbe and is, apparently, also studying tambourine. The best Noel quote in the book concerns Charlotte: “The day she whipped out the scissors it was just like ‘oh, okay, she’s fearless’.” Take that, Rammstein.

Latham’s pictures are beautiful examples of side-of-stage reportage, but there’s no Muse-level stage show to detail or backstage excess to expose – so modest was the tour that this reviewer spotted Noel in Stansted Wetherspoons before a Ryanair flight to one Polish festival. With few location shots there’s little sense of the territories they’re touring either, and a hundred pages into Any Road… you start questioning how many pictures of the drummer drumming, the bassist playing bass and Noel playing guitar in mid-sized venues you’ll ever really need. An over-egged coffee table affair, when what the world wants is to watch the steam rise from Noel’s own poison pen.

Any Road Will Get Us There (If We Don’t Know Where We’re Going) is published on 1 November

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