Noel Gallagher: “I took an E and then electronic music made sense!”
Ralph Moore speaks to Noel Gallagher about acid house, intoxicated revelations at The Haçienda, and nearly working with the chug master Andrew Weatherall
Noel Gallagher’s new studio in King Cross is fully equipped with memorabilia accurately reflecting his love of The Beatles and classic psychedelia. There are framed Beatles posters aplenty, a motorway sign for Maine Road in Manchester, and, for co(s)mic value, a cardboard cut-out of current Man City boss Pep Guardiola in the corner of the main studio room: as all Oasis and Noel fans know, Noel Gallagher loves football as much as music (and his wife Sara MacDonald) and always will.
As he opens the door with a polite “you good?” and we sit across from each other on two adjacent sofas, there’s just time to show him four records I bought before Oasis properly formed. Two by The Verve (“or Verve as they were known then!”), one by The Sabres of Paradise (‘Wilmot’) and one by Primal Scream with Bristol trip hop heroes Portishead on the remix. “All great records!” he nods approvingly. So we are on similar holy ground for the time being. And while I am normally the one who won’t stop talking, this time the tables are turned as Noel takes my questions and volleys them back just as quickly, albeit with a curved quick wit and a hilarious quip attached. In short, this is one of the most fantastic interview experiences I’ve had in more than two decades of musical adventures, and the only proviso is to talk acid house and to not mention Liam.
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Noel is keen to go back to his Manchester roots and explain how there is a lineage from The Haçienda to ‘Live Forever’. “I took that into my music,” he explains. “I didn't write about me, I didn't write about you; I wrote about us. And that's where ‘Live Forever’ came from. It's an acid house anthem that's played by a lot of fucking scallywags in a rehearsal room.” He’s also understandably proud of the records he made with Goldie and The Chemical Brothers. But be warned: this piece contains a considerable amount of swearing.
Let’s start with an important question. Do you still think that music was better in the era of early Oasis? Isn’t it also possible that you have a slight case of rose-tinted glasses because you had it so good?
We were spoiled in the fact that the likes of Primal Scream and Sabres Of Paradise and all that…. not only were they great, they were the mainstream! That was what the charts was, and when you see the charts now it's just one long shit fucking rap tune! You know, somebody else featuring someone else, songs written by 13 people, performance by somebody that's not got a name, they've got fucking a number and a name like DX 749-fucking-43! For instance, I’ve been watching the new Oasis documentary and, the band and the fans aside, all the bands that were on before, it's like a fucking who's who of who was! And there are no bands anymore! The record companies have ruined the music business! You know, there's not even any great bands now. There's the odd great tune, but there's not a collective of people you can hang your hat on since you know… fucking Oasis, really. To be honest, even those that came after us – Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, The Libertines and all that - as good as they were, they weren’t on that level.
We wanted to talk to you about acid house primarily today. I think most people maybe think the jump off point is The Chemical Brothers but it really isn't, is it? When you were on Desert Island Discs, you picked ‘Voodoo Ray’!
Yeah, well, that and ‘Pacific State’ by 808 State, they were the first two real great British classic acid house tunes that came out of Manchester. And Graham Massey, who was the main guy in 808 State, used to deliver my giros! I used to live on Whitworth Street in Manchester and I would see Gerald around all the time. ‘Pacific State’ is fucking… what a piece of music! It's fucking far-out, man! Still to this day, it's one of the great fuckin’ acid house tunes and the fact that they came from the streets I grew up in is mind-blowing.
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You’re also a fan of early hip house?
One record I don't talk about all the time, which I should talk about all the time, is fucking ‘Don’t Scandalize Mine’ by Sugar Bear which is one of my favourite tracks from that era! I really love that song. I reckon it's the only rap I can do all the way through. Why that record? Why Sugar Bear? Because it’s got the Talking Heads bassline, and if I listened to that now, it fucking still sounds like it was going to be recorded tomorrow! It's so far ahead of its time. Those songs that you carry through your life mean so much, because they speak to you in some spiritual kind of way. They mean something, they're part of you. One of my most treasured musical possessions is the Haçienda Classics album. All the tunes on that, it just reminds me of being there, and the great nights that were there, and the great music that was around that time. That music’s a massive part of my life.
The other record you mentioned when you spoke to The Quietus was ‘Feel The Groove’ by Cartouche: you said that you always used to cover it!
Is that the one that goes [sings] “better let you know…”?
That’s the one.
Yeah, we used to do it in the set. And not only that, we used to start by doing the guitar intro from ‘Everything Starts With An 'E'’ [by E-Zee Possee] at the beginning. It's got some kind of Jimi Hendrix guitar riff; we used to do that and then go into the song. I still I don't know why we used to do it. I think I started singing it one day in rehearsal. Everybody joined in and it sounded great. We used to do a few acid house covers in rehearsals, and that was the only one we ever took to the stage until I started writing more songs.
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Can you take us back a little bit, back to the beginning. What were you like when you were 19? Were clubs like church?
Yep. I'm not an extrovert person at all. I wasn't one for fucking bustin’ moves on the dancefloor like John Travolta! There was 1000s of us, moody, wearing goggles in nightclubs and stood against the wall smoking weed and nodding to the music. We all looked like The Happy Mondays!
The Haçienda clearly made its mark.
I remember going one night and, of course, there was barely any vocals in any of the tunes. It was all real primitive, skeletal electronic music and I didn't understand it at all. And of course, you're drinking and getting a bit pissed, and it's alien. But I went back and I had a fuckin’ E and I've never looked back since. It all made sense! It was like ‘88 to ‘89 when the music was at its peak, there was no such thing as a music policy at the club. It was such a free time, and it was cheap. And if you took ecstasy, you didn't spend a fortune at the bar. The fucking girls are beautiful, even the fucking boys are beautiful! It was just a real privilege to have had that and grown up in that environment. Funnily enough, I was with a group of friends who would all go back to my mate’s house in Chorlton, and he would end up co-producing the first Oasis album. We would go back and listen to The Beatles and Neil Young ‘til the sun came up.
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I know you’re a big fan of The Bee Gees too: the cover for the new compilation…
The cover is inspired by The Bee Gees, or ripped off, yeah you can say that! Why do I love The Bee Gees? Well, again, pre-1987, the big one for me was ‘Saturday Night Fever’. I knew they were from Manchester and a friend of mine who was one of the roadies for the other band. Phil Smith – a great DJ, I call him Phil Spectator and he still works for me to this day as a tour DJ – is an avid vinyl buyer. One night after the Haçienda, we went to his house and he played all this early '60s, mid '60s stuff by The Bee Gees and I was fucking knocked out cold! I couldn't believe it. It kick-started a lifelong obsession with that band; I've loved them ever since. I’m having everything up to 'Mr. Natural' in 1974, and then it dips a bit until they helped invent disco. I just love the story of that band. I was lucky enough to meet them down the years, separately. They were just a proper fucking songwriting machine. ‘Saturday Night Fever’, I fucking love it. I've got the utmost respect for them.
Am I right in thinking that you went to The Heavenly Social to see The Chemical Brothers DJ?
Yeah! I mean, that was as important as being in the Haçienda, being downstairs in that pub. In the middle of, you know, their electronic fucking thing, they used to do play [experimental Beatles track] ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. I had never heard that before, not in that context, in a sweaty little basement, and it’s coming in after some fucking Spoony D track! A fucking sandwich! I mean, it's like wow. They took that thing to another level. Then Fatboy Slim came along. I remember Fatboy Slim one night somewhere dropping ‘Start’ by The Jam. It might have been the night I met my wife at Space in Ibiza.
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You’re quite funny when it comes to The Chemicals. You used to call them students when you first met!
They ARE students!
Don’t you think they’re beyond being students now?
One of them left and went back to fucking university about two years ago!
But he's back in the band now, is Ed.
Students! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I worked with them twice. They're fucking amazing and ‘Setting Sun’ [by The Chemical Brothers and Noel Gallagher] is one of the best things that I've ever done and I love them, I'm a fan. But no one's above having the piss taken out of them. No one.
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What I like in retrospect about ‘Setting Sun’ is it's amazing, but it doesn't really sound like a Number One record.
No, and fucking Chris Evans, who was the big cheese at the time, hated it and wouldn’t play it, and yet it still knocked 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' [by Deep Blue Something] off of Number One! Yeah, it is a crazy sounding record, but you've got to go back to the times: that music was the mainstream. We were the mainstream, us and Primal Scream. And those days are fucking long gone.
Finally, we must talk about Andy Weatherall, who remixed you twice as a solo artist. What did he mean to you?
It’s really sad. We were about to make a record. I got in touch with him and said I wasn't going to work with David Holmes [producer of Noel's last LP] again, and Andrew just said ‘send me some music as you write it, send me the stuff and I'll send it back in the way that works’. And I never had a chance to send him anything. But he was a lovely, lovely man. When we are talking about treasured musical possessions before, that album that he brought out ‘Masterpiece’ [triple DJ mix on Ministry Of Sound, a series where Weatherall joined the likes of Jazzie B and David Rodigan] is fucking unbelievable. I love it. I love that mid-tempo sound, they call it the chug! So he invented the chug for me, and I always wanted to work with him, ‘cos we've got so many mutual friends. A lovely guy, amazing taste, didn't give a fuck. Just one of the greats, you know? He turned us onto some of the best music of our lifetimes, and it was a really fucking sad day [when he died]. But such is life, I guess.
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I think it hard in the dance community as it was very close to home.
Yeah, it's like he was the first one of us to die. I literally remember what I was doing when I heard the news. I was in a black cab on Oxford Street. It’s such a loss. Because, you know, I've got all these solo albums he did and they all inspired me to some degree. He didn't give a fuck about putting 12 instrumentals on an album - he didn't care! Some songs are nine minutes long and all that and he didn't give a fuck. It was such a shock when he died.
‘Back The Way We Came: Vol 1 (2011-2021)’ is out now on Sour Mash Records, get it here
Ralph Moore is Mixmag's Music Director, follow him on Twitter