A decade after Oasis dried up, is Liam Gallagher finally ready to stop looking back in anger, asks Craig McLean
In an antiques-stuffed suite at Helsinki’s grandest hotel, Liam Gallagher is doing laps of the coffee table. His arms are swishing like a swimmer, his mouth’s agape in a fishy pout. I’d made the mistake of asking if he’d ever been to the Finnish capital before, either in the 15 years he spent touring the world with Oasis, or in the decade since the band’s split (first with Beady Eye, then as a solo artist). He’d promptly leapt to his feet. Even before an audience of one on a Saturday morning, this diehard rock’n’roll star can’t help but perform.
“The good thing about caning it in the Nineties is I don’t remember anything,” he says, as he bobs past. “I’m like a goldfish, swimming round, going: ‘F---ing hell, this place is mega!’ Then someone says: ‘You’ve been here ten times before.’”
He sits back down on the sofa, beaming. “Cane the drugs, man, and every day’s a brand new day.”
Steel your nerves and make space in the swearbox: Liam Gallagher is back, laying the ground for the release of his second solo album with a short run of European live dates. A full-blown, year-long tour is expected to follow but – notwithstanding arthritic hips (for which he’s taking stadium-strength CBD oil) and a hardcore milk-free jasmine tea habit (dairy products, he says, play havoc with his singing voice) – he is assuredly “already in the zone”.
“It’s just good to be back making music and getting out the house,” says Gallagher, Mancunian accent as strong as ever, springing up again and doing another lap of the room. “This is a top life: bowl into town, check the audience, get a bevvy, do the gig, then f--- off. I’m good at being a rock’n’roll star. It’s wasted on a lot of them c---- out there.”
He is, and it is. Gallagher, who turns 47 next week, is the artist as primal force, brutally effective and possessed of a certain savage beauty. His fans – and there are, once again, no shortage of them – wouldn’t have it any other way. That evening, during a rendition of the hallowed Oasis hit Wonderwall, Gallagher’s unmistakable vocals will blast across a packed city centre park: “There are many things that I/ Would like to say to you,” he sings, “but I don’t SPEAK FINLANDISH!” The crowd goes wild.
Gallagher’s new album, Why Me? Why Not is the follow-up to a comeback that few expected to succeed. After all, he was never a songwriter. The Oasis anthems released 25 years ago on Definitely Maybe, the band’s era-defining debut album – Supersonic, Shakermaker, Live Forever, Cigarettes & Alcohol – were all written by his older brother Noel, who subsequently went on to find solo success with High Flying Birds.
Beady Eye, the band of stragglers Liam formed when Noel walked out on Oasis after a backstage argument too far in 2009, had imploded in ignominy in 2014. The release of the group’s second album was overshadowed by the growing – and increasingly public – chaos of Gallagher’s private life. It emerged that he’d fathered a daughter, Gemma, with a New York journalist, Liza Ghorbani (a situation that is the subject of an ongoing legal case). This did for his marriage to pop star Nicole Appleton, mother of his son Gene, just as his behaviour had previously led to the collapse of his first marriage, to actress Patsy Kensit, mother of his son Lennon. Also in the background – at the time, very much in the background – was a daughter, Molly, born of a tryst with musician Lisa Moorish while he was married to Kensit.
The omens, then, were not good for the second coming of Liam Gallagher.
“No way,” he agrees, “’cause I only had two tunes.”
Did he consider giving up music after Beady Eye?
“Oh yeah, totally. Well, not giving up, but I thought: I need to go away and come up with a cunning Doctor Evil plan. I wasn’t seeing my kids, and what I was going be left with out of the divorce [from Appleton] wasn’t much – about a million quid. I’m not crying poverty, but in London, that wouldn’t get you much.”
He considered a move to Spain, to work on himself, his tan and his nascent songwriting skills. But his new girlfriend and co-manager Debbie Gwyther (who had previously managed Beady Eye) said she had no interest in leaving the UK. So they stuck it out in London. With Gwyther’s support and advice Gallagher found new co-managers, new songwriting partners and, eventually, a new record deal.
The result was 2017’s As You Were, a solo debut that, aided by a couple of curtain-raising, vintage Oasis-esque singles and a lot of goodwill, smashed into the album charts at Number One, selling in old-fashioned numbers (103,000 copies in the first week of release). Gallagher was back: playing big venues, attracting new fans, and feeling good enough about himself to attempt a reconciliation with his long-estranged daughter.
“I regret not seeing her till now – 20 years is a long time,” he says, with uncharacteristic gentleness. “That must have been terrible for her.”
While I’ve got him in confessional mode, I ask if there’s anything else he regrets.
“A few things,” he replies, nodding. “I don’t think I’ve done anything terrible, and I don’t regret anything I’ve said, ’cause I must have meant it at the time. But I regret dicking me missuses about, and breaking up families, and me kids having to go through all the bullshit they read in the papers.”
As for how he rates himself as a parent to Molly, now 21, Lennon, 20 and Gene, 18, his answer is quick and to the point: “Mega. I think I’m well-good.” He pauses before adding, “besides me probably f---ing up their lives a bit at the beginning!”
In any case, he points out, “I’m pretty straightforward”. He certainly strikes me that way: Gallagher answers every question with the same sincerity, whether it be about his favourite animal (“Dolphin!”), his drug of choice (“All of ’em!”), or his verdict on Brexit (“Good people should be allowed to move and groove wherever they want”). There are no hidden shallows to Liam Gallagher.
His approach to parenting is, he says, to be “not too strict and not too soft. I tell you what: if I was, [my children] wouldn’t want to hang out with me. And they’re constantly begging for us to hang out.”
Notoriously less straightforward is his relationship with his brother. The Gallagher siblings take it in turns to insult each other, either over social media or in print. Launching his own latest, psychedelic dance-flavoured EP, last month Noel dismissed Liam’s solo career as “Unsophisticated music. For unsophisticated people. Made by an unsophisticated man”.
When I relay this to Liam, he almost spills his jasmine tea. Then he’s off.
“What, ’cause it’s not got a drum machine on it?” he spits. “I don’t want one of them anyway. Saxophones, sexy-phones, whatever, some girl playing scissors – f--- that, mate. In his big daft head, Noel thinks he’s Pink Floyd. But realistically it’s M People. And that’s doing M People a disservice. It’s The Lighthouse Family!”
Noel has also weighed in on a news story that surfaced in the tabloids last year, alleging that Liam grabbed Gwyther by the neck during a drunken argument. Both Liam and Gwyther denied it.
“I’ve never touched a woman in my life,” Gallagher insists now. “Me and Debbie had a little ding [dong], but it was nothing like what was written. That’s not me, mate. My kids wouldn’t hang out with me if I was that guy.”
What about Noel’s accusations that, in the course of their familial beef, Liam has left threatening voicemails for Noel’s partner Sara MacDonald – is that true?
“Is it f---. I haven’t got her number, and I wouldn’t ring her anyway. Then he’s banging on, saying that I’m trying to rewrite history and I’m a pretend family man. I might have f----- up a couple of relationships, but I can be a great dad to my kids without me having to be in a relationship with their mams.”
In an attempt to take Gallagher back to a time when the brothers weren’t at each other’s throats, I try to read out an old quote from Noel about Songbird, one of the few songs that Liam wrote for Oasis. “Songbird blew my head off…” I start, but Liam comes windmilling in.
“It must have been good ’cause he’s got some head to blow off! Have you seen the size of it?” he yells, springing out of his seat again. “That head is like the changing of the guards, like a bearskin. He’s got one of them on his little body!”
I resume reading the quote, in which Noel goes on to applaud his younger brother’s embryonic songwriting talents. It solicits a surprising response.
“That’s not true, though, really. Songbird wasn’t that good,” he reflects. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to write. I’ve always wanted to be part of a band. But Oasis weren’t that kind of a band.” His dream, he says, was for a partnership like “Lennon and McCartney – ‘I’m struggling with this bit, can you help…?’ But it was all, ‘I’m writing the songs.’”
Until Oasis split up, he had hoped that “over the years maybe we’d get to the point where we could write a tune together. But it just never got to that point.”
“I guess maybe that’s the real thing,” he adds, slipping into an unusually reflective mood. “I wanted Gallagher-Gallagher writing music. Obviously he’s on another level. But I guess that’s what I really wanted from that band. Gallagher-Gallagher – I think we could have been…” He tails off forlornly.
I ask if he thinks relations could ever be fixed between him and his brother, and rock’s favourite motormouth roars back into top gear.
“No. F--- ’im. F--- it being fixed. I’m quite happy doing this now, ’cause I don’t have to see that miserable little c--- with his little Simon Cowell Cuban heels that give him a high-rise.”
Oh well. It was moving while it lasted (about 45 seconds).
That night Gallagher and his band – taking the stage after a blazingly resurgent Franz Ferdinand – are in blistering form. The ecstatic crowd can be heard chanting “Liam! Liam! Liam!”, spurring him on all the way to the Finlandish line.
As he soaks up the adoration, my mind goes back to a question I’d asked earlier in the day: how does he think people will remember him?
“I don’t give a f--- what they think, ’cause I’ll be dead,” came his cheerful reply. “But unless I get some rave reviews, I’ll be back. There will be s--- flying about all over the place. If I don’t get a ten-out-of-ten for my obituary, people are getting haunted,” Liam Gallagher grinned wolfishly. “And I’ll be a right c--- of a ghost.”
Why Me? Why Not (Warners) will be released on Friday