He’s on the rooftop deck of the Mondrian Hotel in SoHo, Noel Gallagher and a hundred of his favourite strangers, goggling at the staggering 270-degree view of – everything, really: skyscrapers, bridges, Manhattan’s eyrie.
It’s an Oasis album cover, a view worthy of High Flying Birds – and as his debut solo album blasts on the sound system, and Gallagher sips wine with media and fans pressing in with their umpteenth questions, even the rock star is a little overwhelmed.
“I’d never done anything like that before, ever,” he says the next day in a different swish downtown hotel. “My wife [Sara MacDonald]was going, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ But in the end, I think the best way is just to get drunk.”
And did you?
Well, there’s a legacy to uphold – without the usual suspects. At 44, he’s relaxed and self-deprecating, laughing and peppering his speech with cheerily sardonic F-bombs the way people salt French fries, and why not? Having powered Britpop sensation Oasis to 70 million in worldwide sales in the guitar nineties, he’s launching Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds solo, with the North American leg of the tour opening Nov. 7 at Massey Hall in Toronto.
But, sometimes, being your brother’s keeper is the devil you know. The guitarist and songwriter left Oasis in 2009, after a final rumble with younger brother Liam.
“Initially, it wasn’t a relief. It was a pain in the ass. But now I’m in it, I thought ‘Why not? I don’t have to worry about band politics.’ ”
That’s one way to put it: politics. In the Middle Eastern sense. Only the Kinks’ Davies waged brotherhood like Oasis’s Gallaghers did, brawling their way through a decade and a half of hits and punches. But Noel plays down his role in the mythology.
“You know, I never started a fight with a single person on this planet,” he says. “The only person I ever argued with about anything was Liam. And we don’t need to go into why. I’m not an aggressive person. I argue with my wife.”
The album came after a year off to reassess and recharge. But songwriting is what he does in his spare time. “And I’m really lucky that people are interested in what I do in my spare time.”
With the interest come expectations. “Everybody expects you to come back with the direct … anthem. And I was like, I wanna come back with a whisper. I wanna tap people on the shoulder and say, ‘Come over here a minute, there’s … trumpets on this!’ ”
Yes, on one or two. Otherwise, High Flying Birds is supersonic, a series of full-hearted anthems. “I’m a sucker for a chorus. My biggest influence are the Beatles. Obviously that’s not me putting myself up there, but that’s how I learned to write songs. And their songs have a beginning, a middle and an end, and they’re all very uplifting.”
He’s always been a classicist, and a torchbearer for rock, even when slagging off half the bands playing it. On one side, Oasis, unapologetically proud of “being a big stadium band ’cause that’s … the trip.” On the other, contemporaries Radiohead, who poked at stardom like it was a dead skunk and famously dropped Creep from its set list.
“Rock ’n’ roll … You certainly don’t hear it on the radio. Rock music is going underground. It’ll never go away, though. The story, whatever that is, will keep needing to be retold as generations go by.
“But then again, Neil Young says it better than me. Well, he says it better than anybody.”
Now, Gallagher has to say it on his own. “People came to see Liam, know what I mean? I’m a bit concerned about people expecting to see a show. I will be there, centre stage – white shirt, acoustic guitar, no charisma. I might even call it the Nothing to See Here Tour.”
But there will be something to hear. New songs he hopes will become familiar, “and I’ve got some older songs that are quite famous.”
He will be playing four or five, because “I don’t really consider them Oasis songs any more, because Oasis didn’t write them. They’re my songs.”
There is a flash of pride there. He will not bang on about working class origins and the unlikelihood of all this – until I prod him to.
“But the fact is, I came from nothing. The end. I know what it’s like to be unemployed.
“I’ve never been a person who looked any further than the weekend. Then when I joined Liam’s band [in 1991] there was a tiny germ that I may have a shot at this.” The third song he ever wrote was Live Forever, the band’s first top 10 single.
“I thought, ‘This is it. It’s gonna happen.’ And Bonehead [guitarist Paul Arthurs]– bless ’im – I played it for him for the first time and he said ‘You’ve not just written that. No, no, no, I’m not ’avin’ it. Where’d you nick that from?’ ”
The garrulous Gallaghers: Noel and Liam’s fighting words
“Here's what you do: You pick up your guitar, you rip a few people's tunes off, you swap them round a bit, get your brother in the band, punch his head in every now and again, and it sells.” – Noel
“Everyone knows that if you've got a brother, you're going to fight.” – Liam
“I’m not like John Lennon, who thought he was the great Almighty. I just think I’m John Lennon.” – Noel
“There's Elvis and me. I couldn't say which of the two is best.” – Liam
“He’s rude, arrogant, intimidating and lazy. He’s the angriest man you’ll ever meet. He’s like a man with a fork in a world of soup.” – Noel
“I suppose we just buzz off each other. We're like two bumblebees, man.” – Liam
“I'm quite prepared to go head to toe verbally, physically, musically, mentally with Noel Gallagher. We've heard our new tunes and they're big, so bring it on.” – Liam
“If you write about social issues, you're gonna get asked about them. Fortunately for us, we were writing about drinking and shagging birds and taking drugs.” – Noel
“His songs? They're what gets me out of bed in the morning. He's top. A fantastic songwriter. He's the devil, isn't he, man?” – Liam
“The thing about us is we're honest. If we're asked whether we take drugs, we say yes. I was brought up by my mam not to be a liar.” – Noel
“Posh boys can't take drugs, man. They're lightweights.” – Liam
“If I was an atheist I'd just write songs about not believing in God – but I don't know what I am.” – Noel
“If I die and there's something afterwards, I'm going to hell, not heaven. I mean, the devil's got all the good gear. What's God got?” – Liam
Special to The Globe and Mail