Twenty-five years after Oasis's debut album Definitely Maybe, Mark Beaumont explains why a Gallagher brothers reunion has never looked less likely
There was a time we believed that Oasis was a ship with two wheelhouses, but could weather any storm. Noel and his younger brother Liam Gallagher barged out of the mists of Manc-rock obscurity in 1993 with fists already windmilling, predominantly in each other’s direction.
They were the most volatile musical siblings since The Kinks – Noel the songwriter with the placid demeanour, solid vision and acidic wit; Liam the charismatic, hot-headed, combative singer dedicated to the chaos of rock’n’roll and prone to tambourine-flinging tantrums onstage and off. They appeared genetically designed to be at each others’ throats when crammed into a tourbus for years on end.
Yet the pair’s brotherly bond saw them through one of the most stratospheric rises in rock history, numerous line-up changes and seven UK Number One albums in a row, beginning with Definitely Maybe in 1994. If it could survive so many torpedoes exploding in their tubes, HMS Gallagher seemed unsinkable.
When the last straw – well, plum (more on which later) – finally arrived and the band split in August 2009, most pundits assumed they’d be back after four years, the standard length of break-up for a band slipping from the spotlight and needing to drum up some weighty festival comeback offers. “Ten years plus” wasn’t even in the sweepstake bag, yet here we are, a decade on from that fateful night in Paris when Liam chucked a piece of fruit at Noel, waved his favourite guitar around like an axe and sent the band crashing into the rocks.
The reunion seems further away than ever. With deeply personal Twitter barbs flying, olive branches snapped over social media knees and solo careers in the ascendant, the Gallaghers seem as likely to run through a couple of tunes on a stage together in the near future as Thor and Thanos.
How did we get here? Here’s a history of one of the longest-stewing beefs in rock, in all its tour-ditching, cricket bat-wielding, potato-peeling glory.
In both the Supersonic documentary and his new film As You Were, Liam points to an incident when he came home drunk to the bedroom they shared and accidentally urinated on Noel’s new stereo. “There used to be a toilet there,” he told the cameras, “and I f------ missed. I think that’s where the grudge started.”
It didn’t take long to be immortalised. In 1995, a recording was released of an Oasis interview with John Harris in which the pair argue about Liam’s fight on a ferry to an Amsterdam gig and whether rock’n’roll is about mayhem or music. It was called Wibbling Rivalry and proved par for the course in the early days of Oasis.
It all seemed like harmless brotherly bickering until one showcase gig at the Whiskey A Go Go in LA in September 1994 in support of Definitely Maybe, when the allegedly “refreshed” band delivered a shambolic set that ended when Liam changed the words of Live Forever to “maybe I don’t really wanna know why you pick your nose”, insulted the audience and hit Noel on the head with his tambourine.
Noel promptly quit the tour and went AWOL in San Francisco for several days, considering splitting the band until a fan talked him round. He returned to the band for later shows in the tour and would pen classic B-side Talk Tonight about the incident, but resentment clearly festered.
It was Noel’s turn to attack Liam, this time with a cricket bat when Liam invited a pub full of new best mates back to the studio to party during the recording sessions for (What’s The Story) Morning Glory. But as their second album took off, eventually selling a mammoth 22 million copies, so did the opportunities to fall out in public. In August 1996, Liam pulled out of a recording of MTV Unplugged at the Royal Festival Hall claiming to have laryngitis. However he seemed in fine voice while heckling the Noel-fronted band from the balcony during the set. When he tried to join the band onstage for a re-run of their opening song, Noel unceremoniously told him where to go, and it wasn’t the microphone.
Thrust into a pressure cooker of tabloid attention, cocaine and animosity, it was a period of frequent walk-outs. On the eve of a 1996 US tour, Liam refused to board the flight to Chicago. He claimed needed to buy a house for his then-fiancee Patsy Kensit to live in: “I can't go looking for a house in America while I'm trying to perform to silly f------ yanks,” he was quoted as saying.
He joined the band in America three days later, only to cause uproar by swearing and spitting at an MTV Awards show. The tour was cancelled two weeks in when Noel ditched the remaining date and flew back to the UK; he’d later claim the antics “killed [Oasis] stone dead in America.”
In fact, Oasis thrived in America – third album Be Here Now hit number two – but in the wake of a less successful fourth, Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, the band faced their biggest rupture yet in Barcelona in 2000. With a gig cancelled due to drummer Alan White hurting his arm, Oasis set to drinking their way through an unexpected day off.
Liam’s drunken comments about his ongoing divorce from Kensit turned into a free-for-all of abuse that overstepped the mark. When Liam questioned the legitimacy of Noel’s daughter Anais, Noel jumped on him, raining punches and splitting his brother’s lip. Again, Noel quit the tour; again the band eventually reconciled. But this was one barb that stuck deep – as late as 2005 Noel would tell Q magazine, “I’ve never forgiven him because he’s never apologised…H e's my brother, but he's at arm's length until he apologises for what he's done.”
An apology eventually arrived, but the interview hinted at deeper ructions. “People don't see what I've had to put up with for 30-odd years,” Noel said, “but also they don't see that if we keep the right distance it still really works.”
Otherwise, besides the night in 2002 when Liam threw what Noel described as a “diva fit” and stormed offstage in Japan, relations between the Gallagher brothers during the Noughties seemed relatively harmonious, their affection only rarely spilling over into enmity, at least in public.
Noel had worked out that the key to keeping Liam in his box was psychological rather than physical. “I’ve learnt that instead of arguing stuff out with him and ending up in a fight, I work on his psychology and he’s completely freaked out by me now,” he told Spin in 2005, claiming that he played on Liam’s fear of ghosts by moving furniture around when he wasn’t looking. “I can read him and I can f-ing play him like a slightly disused arcade game.”
Behind the scenes, though, resentments still simmered. Differences arose again during the making of 2008’s Dig Out Your Soul – Oasis’s final album to date – both personal and musical. Liam reportedly wasn’t happy with the presence of keyboards on the album. When he left the sessions for a weekend to fly home and marry Nicole Appleton without the knowledge of his brother, the resulting bust-up led to a renewed vitriol in the interviews around the album.
“I don’t know who the guy is who’s in these interviews,” Noel said in 2008, “he seems really cool, because the guy I’ve been in a band with for the last 18 years is a f------ knobhead.”
In a 2009 Q interview Noel revealed that the pair rarely spend family time together: “I don’t like Liam,” he said, citing Liam’s drinking for bringing out the demon in him. “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.”
“It takes more than blood to be my brother,” Liam retaliated in the NME, “he doesn't like me and I don't like him.” The scene was set for the final Parisian blow-out, shortly before Oasis were due onstage at the Rock en Seine festival. “I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer,” read Noel’s statement about quitting the band, and an extended statement cited “verbal and violent intimidation towards me, my family and friends… of too great a number to list”.
In a press conference in July 2011 Noel expanded on the events in Paris. “[Liam] was quite violent,” he said. “Liam does the ‘F--- you and f--- you and f--- you’ and he kind of storms out of the dressing room.
“On the way out he picked up a plum and he threw it across the dressing room and it smashed against the wall. Part of me wishes it did end like that, that would have been a great headline: ‘Plum Throws Plum and Finishes F-in’ Oasis’…
“For whatever reason he went to his own dressing room and he came back with a guitar and he started wielding it like an axe… he nearly took my face off with it… And at that point the tour manager came in and said, ‘Five minutes!’ … I got in the car and I sat there for five minutes and I just said f- it, I can’t do it anymore.”
Noel has variously claimed that the row was over Liam wanting an advert for his Pretty Green clothing line included in the V Festival programme and that “I had enough when Liam and Bonehead – and this is true – started arguing over a leather jacket.”
For his part, Liam still feels unfairly scapegoated by Noel’s version of events. “I feel like he threw me under the bus to go and further his solo career,” he told me during an NME interview in 2017.
“If you wanna go and do a solo career, go and do it, and if you don’t wanna come back from your solo career if it takes off and all that tackle, so be it, but don’t f-in’ throw us under the bus in the meantime and then spin it out going ‘I could no longer work with Liam’, that s--- doesn’t settle with me no matter how many years have passed.”
The Twitter age
In the wake of the press conference Liam sued Noel over allegations he’d missed a V festival show because of a hangover; the lawsuit was dropped when Noel apologised. But with Liam discovering Twitter, the feud moved wholeheartedly into the public domain, dirty laundry a-flutter.
Liam’s stream of Twitter jabs were often blunt. “S---BAG” he wrote in response to the announcement of Noel Gallagher’s “High Flying Turds” debut album and, starting in 2016, Liam would repeatedly post images of Noel captioned “potato”.
Sporadically, there’d be more elaborate insults. “That gobs----- out of Blur might have turned Noel Gallagher into a massive girl but believe you me next time I see him there's gonna be war” he Tweeted after Noel appeared on a Gorillaz track in 2017. When asked if he’d like to see Noel support U2, he responded “I’d rather eat my own s--- than listen to them bunch of beige f---s”.
“Lots of people say I need to chill out about Noel,” Liam told Q in 2016. “Not until they stop Twitter. That c--- will always get it from me.”
Around 2013 a ceasefire seemed in the offing as, right on the four-year cue, reunion rumours circulated. “Me and our kid still don’t speak,” Liam said after his post-Oasis band Beady Eye had played a secret set at Glastonbury 2013, but hinted at an Oasis reunion for the following year’s festival. Noel shot the idea down in Rolling Stone in November: "We are split up,” he said. “There is no band. So, no, I won't be getting involved, anyway. If there is a reunion, I won't be in it."
Nonetheless, Liam fuelled speculation of a reunion to celebrate the 20th anniversary of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory by posting a series of Tweets spelling O-A-S-I-S in 2014, telling Q that “we’re on good terms, as good as we can be” and tweeting a picture of himself holding a AAA pass for a High Flying Birds show in Milan in March 2015.
Noel told Q that no offer had been made and Glastonbury couldn’t afford them, and come May Noel’s camp issued a statement refuting the possibility. Liam let rip online: “I see Noel Katie Hopkins Gallagher is talking out of his slack arse again”.
Speaking to Noisey a few weeks later, Noel recalled Liam’s attitude during the Oasis years. “Be a c--- all you want but do the gig first and then be a f---ing d---,” he said. “His argument is ‘I’m just being a d--- all the time’. And repeat endlessly until f------ 2009." The ceasefire, like the reunion, was off.
Hostilities intensified when Liam showed up to play at the 2017 One Love Manchester benefit concert for the victims of the terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande show and Noel, whose Don’t Look Back In Anger had been taken on as an anthem of solidarity in the aftermath of the tragedy, didn’t. Liam branded his brother a “sad f----” on Twitter and Noel retaliated in a Sunday Times interview in October, suggesting Liam needs to seek psychiatric counselling: “young Mancunians, young music fans, were slaughtered, and he, twice, takes it somewhere to be about him. He needs to see somebody.”
Things took a lighter turn when Noel appeared on an edition of Later… With Jools Holland in November accompanied by a woman playing the scissors, prompting Liam to encourage fans to come to his solo gigs to play along with him on potato peelers.
England’s strong run in the 2018 World Cup even had Liam up for a celebratory reconciliation – “let’s get the big O back together and stop f------ about the drinks are on me” he tweeted, then, after getting no response, “I’ll take that as a NO then”.
Noel, for his part, was adamant that the whole feud had dug too deep: “At the beginning I would have said to my management, there’s a magic number,” he told Mojo. “If it reaches that magic number I’ll do it. Give me a shout. A couple of monster gigs. Even a tour of the big cities, a world tour, stadiums, burn a load of money, buy a yacht, buy a plane, and another house, then go back to what I’m doing. Easy. I wouldn’t even have to travel with the c---…[But] that thing about my kids and my wife. No way. If I had 50 quid left in my pocket I’d rather go busking. No way, I can’t do it.”
The Tweets about his family that Noel was referring to had emerged earlier in 2018. In response to an alleged Instagram post by Noel’s wife Sara MacDonald saying she hoped Liam would have “dropped dead by the time my kids are on social media”, Liam compared her to Putin and tweeted “Think it’s time to address the witch. You want me to drop dead – you have a screw loose and know the world knows”. He later added: “Him and her are like Fred and Mary west wishing people get aids and drop dead”.
The situation would only worsen. Asked if she’d be watching Liam’s Glastonbury 2019 slot, MacDonald posted on Instagram: “Think I’m going to swerve that. The fat twat doing his tribute act, balancing a tambourine on his head is going to look pretty dated after Stormzy”.
Noel later posted a screenshot of a message from Liam to Noel’s daughter Anais reading “tell your step mam to be very careful”, along with Noel’s public reply: “So you’re sending threatening messages via my teenage daughter now are you? You were always good at intimidating women though eh? What you planning on doing anyway? Grabbing my wife by the throat to show her who’s boss… If I wake up to find one of the kids gerbils upside down on the cheese board with a knife in it I’ll be sure to inform the local care in the community officer. And don’t try and kidnap the cat either we’ve just employed Ross Kemp as his close protection officer.”
A Twitter apology went out from Liam to Anais and his mother Peggy, but with the younger Gallagher making even more tongue-in-cheek digs at his brother – recently changing the lyrics of ‘Shockwave’ to “Backstabbed all your friends, and yes it’s all about you and Bono” onstage in France and posting a video of himself happily eating soup with a fork – it would appear that brotherly relations, even for this rock’n’roll Cain and Abel, are at an all-time low.
Every interview is now dominated by increasingly vitriolic broadsides: just today Noel told The Guardian: “I liked [my mum] until she gave birth to Liam”, that “I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed for a man in my entire life” while watching his brother’s Glastonbury set and that he considers Liam’s records “unsophisticated music. For unsophisticated people. Made by an unsophisticated man. Who’s giving unsophisticated orders to a load of songwriters who think they’re doing the Oasis thing.”
He also delved further into the behind-the-scenes shadowplay. “That’s not the first time he’s sent texts to my daughter, or left threatening phone calls on my wife’s answering machine,” he said. “So when he’s threatening my wife via my teenage daughter, I’m thinking, you know, if you weren’t a rock star, if you were just an uncle who worked in a garage, you’d be getting a visit from the police.
"But because you’re a rockstar, wahey, you get away with that s---… I don’t forgive people. Once you start texting my children – and his two sons have been going for her, too – and legitimise my wife being bullied on the internet, where she has to shut down Instagram accounts because of the vile s--- being written about her and my daughter, then it ain’t happening.
“I was watching the news the other night,” he continued, “and he was on there, threatening to break my jaw – live on the ITV news! Isn’t there a law against that? – and it’s about an Oasis reunion and he’s like: ‘Me bags are packed, mate.’ And I’m thinking: ‘Who are you expecting to call you? Me?’ Nobody wants to be in a band with him apart from a load of indie Championship players – journeymen, who are in it for all the crisps they can eat.”
Looking back in anger has, sadly, become the Gallagher way. On one hand there’s an almost nostalgic reassurance to their public bickering. The Oasis story has always been a soap opera hanging from a perpetual cliff, and now that a certain maturity has probably put their last trashed bar, punched photographer and mafia brawl behind them and the fragility of Liam’s rebooted success keeps him onstage for entire gigs at a time, a swashbuckling social media duel feels like a fittingly modern way to keep the legend alive. Plus, who doesn’t like a good beef?
Yet, as the abuse darkens, the bile thickens and bitterness becomes entrenched, the real story – of Liam’s spectacular comeback with his number one album As You Were and Noel’s creative rejuvenation on the High Flying Birds’ excellent third album Who Built The Moon? – is being soured. As any good soap scriptwriter will tell you, when a feud gets tiresome and off-putting it’s time to bury the hatchet.