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Music

The Last Rock ’n’ Roll Star

Words by Edgar Daily

More than 20 years after the release of Oasis’s debut album, Definitely Maybe, and eight years after the generation defining Manchester band called it quits, former frontman Liam Gallagher, who headlines Dubai’s Party in the Park this month, has swapped hedonistic all-nighters for early morning runs. But Britpop’s rent-a-gob-in-chief, whose debut solo album, As You Were, hit number one on the UK Album Chart in October, is still railing against The Establishment and living life on his terms

Liam Gallagher was a virtually unknown 22-year-old when Oasis recorded Rock ’n’ Roll Star, the opening track from their debut album, Definitely Maybe. But when he sang, ‘Tonight I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star’ in that distinctive Mancunian accent, he did so with such self-confidence, such bolshy brio, that it was hard to disagree. Definitely Maybe was released in August 1994. It went straight to number one in the UK. Liam Gallagher said he was a rock ’n’ roll star – and everyone believed him.

It was quite an achievement for a man who by his own admission wasn’t even interested in music until he was 16. “Anyone with a guitar or in a band I thought was a bit suspect, you know what I mean? And I’d hurl abuse at them,” he says in British director Mat Whitecross’s 2016 rock documentary, Oasis: Supersonic. It was his older brother, Noel, who had taught himself to play the guitar in his early teens and bagged himself a job as a roadie for Manchester band Inspiral Carpets. It was Liam who formed Oasis, but Noel became the creative force behind the band, while his younger brother provided something else – Liam Gallagher.

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Oasis perform an early gig at The Water Rats in London in 1994.

“I think any band worth their salt is not about just the music,” says Liam.

“If you haven’t got that kind of [rock ’n’ roll] behaviour and you’ve just got great tunes then you’re pretty boring as far as I’m concerned. It’s about both, and when both come together you have greatness.”

In 1994 alone, the band’s bad behaviour included a drunken brawl on a ferry to Amsterdam that resulted in their deportation back to the UK, and a substance-fuelled first US show at the Whisky a Go Go that ended in catastrophe after confusion with the set lists resulted in band members playing different songs. Liam’s response was to mouth off at the audience and throw a tambourine at his brother’s head. Then there were the younger Gallagher brother’s antics at the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City in 1996.

“As the television cameras focused on the band’s guitarist, Noel Gallagher, his brother, the singer Liam Gallagher, was swearing up a storm, knocking over the microphone, spilling beer, spitting, making lewd gestures and criticising the lameness of the event as he sang Champagne Supernova intentionally off-key, out of rhythm and with the wrong lyrics,” reported The New York Times. Later the same year Liam was arrested after the Q Awards in London. In 1997, he allegedly dragged a cyclist alongside the car he was travelling in. In 1998, he was banned from Cathay Pacific for abusing a fellow passenger, and arrested and charged with assault in Australia after allegedly head-butting a fan.

In 2002, he lost his front teeth in a bar brawl in Munich. Then there are the two divorces (Patsy Kensit in 2000 and Nicole Appleton in 2014), both following extra-marital affairs that resulted in the birth of children; the feuds with his brother Noel (the brothers, not for the first time, are currently not on speaking terms: “He needs to see a psychiatrist” snaps Noel), Britpop rivals Blur, his former friend Robbie Williams (the “fat dancer from Take That”), former England football star Paul Gascoigne and many others. “I just wanted it all, there and then, you know what I mean?,” Liam says of his attitude to life. “I just wanted it all to happen in one big explosion of madness. I loved every minute of it. It meant the be all and end all, man. Life or death. And I wouldn’t change anything. I’d do it all again in a heart beat.”

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Oasis arrived at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, England via helicopter to play two nights to a total of 250,000 people

For a brief period, between 1994 and 1997, when Oasis’s output was a perfect combination of both brothers’ prize assets – music and madness – the band did achieve greatness. In 1995, Oasis released their second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?. It sold a record-breaking 347,000 copies in its first week of sale, hit number one in the UK and included Britpop classics that cemented the band’s position in the rock pantheon: Roll With It, Wonderwall, Don’t Look Back in Anger, Some Might Say, Morning Glory and Champagne Supernova.

On August 10 and 11, 1996 Oasis reached their peak, performing two nights in front of 250,000 fans at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire (2.5 million people had applied for tickets). “It was the pre-digital age, it was the pre-talent show reality TV age,” Noel recalls wistfully. “Things meant more. It was just a great time to be alive, never mind to be in Oasis. We were about to enter into a celebrity-driven culture, and I’ve always thought it was the last great gathering of the people before the birth of the internet.” “We turned the heads of a generation,” is Liam’s more succinct summing up.

In July 1997, Noel accepted an invitation from Tony Blair to visit 10 Downing Street and was famously photographed shaking hands with the new Prime Minister. Oasis’s third album, Be Here Now, released a month later, sold over 424,000 copies on its first day of release, becoming the fastest-selling album in British chart history. Four more successful albums followed: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (2000), Heathen Chemistry (2002), Don’t Believe the Truth (2005) and Dig Out Your Soul (2008) but none matched the heights of their first two albums, something both Gallagher brothers admit. Twenty years down the line, Oasis are no more after a bitter split in 2009. Liam’s stint fronting indie rock band Beady Eye never really got off the ground, but it didn’t dent his bulletproof confidence. Today he is a reformed character with a new album to plug on chat shows and a tour which, this month, stops in Dubai. “It’s been four years away from music,” he says, now 44. “It’s time to get back. I can only do one genre and it’s rock ’n’ roll – it’s in my soul.”

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Knebworth

The puffy jowls have gone, the physique is trim and the eyes are clear – all signs of a healthy lifestyle and a new outlook on life. “I get up very early, man, five o’clock,” he says. “I go for a run at six, just to have a bit of discipline.” Then he packs his 15-year-old son Gene off to school in London. He still likes a fight, but his arena of choice these days is Twitter. Victims of his 140-character wrath have included his brother Noel, of course: “the **** who stole my stone island parkas from my hotel room while I was playing Glastonbury”; rapper Kanye West, former Manchester United and England footballer Paul Scholes and actor, comedian and talk show host James Corden.

“I like winding people up,” says Gallagher of Twitter. “Everyone’s a bit serious and miserable. A lot of rock ‘n’ roll stars these days are getting the cheque and going home – they need a boot.” The social media platform is where Liam called his older brother Noel a “potato” and criticised him for not performing at the One Love Manchester benefit gig for victims of the terror attack in May – not the typical definition of rock star behaviour. But Liam Gallagher is not, and never has been, typical. He has just been Liam Gallagher.

“My advice is, ‘Don’t ask for advice.’ Just live your life and see what happens. That’s what real rock ’n’ roll is all about, d’you know what I mean? It’s not just about how you get in the ****, it’s about how you get out of it.”

He might have cleaned up his act, but it was always Gallagher’s attitude to life that made him a rock ’n’ roll star. Perhaps the last we will ever see.

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