The side door of the monolithic ebony tour bus hisses open like a space age air lock and Liam Gallagher steps out into the light but constant Brussels rain. He throws a heavy hold-all over one shoulder, lowers his sunglasses from his mop of Brian Jones hair, fixes them in the default position over his eyes and swaggers his way past gawping shoppers in the direction of the hotel lobby. It’s the exit of a seasoned pro; a man who has spent much of the last two decades alighting from heavily tinted vehicles in cities all over the world. As the singer of Oasis, Gallagher has stayed in some of the finest hotels on the planet. But he’s not in Oasis any more and while this particular Sofitel has a certain amount of glitter, it is still a gold star or two below the norm. You see, things have changed for Liam over the past two years but as he explains later over espresso and cigarettes, in his opinion they’ve changed for the better.
After eighteen years of ecstatic highs and violent lows, combustible and controversial British rock band Oasis – perhaps the last to truly deserve the battered crown of king anarchists handed down by the hell-raising likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who and the Sex Pistols – finally imploded. Only those who were there really know what went on backstage at the Rock en Seine festival near Paris on August 28, 2009 and despite vague allusions to the reasons behind the split and the conflicting accounts of the two main protagonists, the true nature of events remains a mystery. What is known beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the fight between Liam and older brother Noel, just minutes before the band were about to go on stage, was serious enough to finally rip the band apart for good.
Oasis had been close to ending on numerous occasions in the past as the Gallaghers’ often abrasive relationship – one which not only constantly threatened its existence but also powered it – regularly stretched the band to breaking point. On every occasion before Paris, the warring siblings had somehow managed to see beyond the black eyes and foul abuse to reach a rapprochement. However, this time would be different. A statement from Noel, just two hours after at least one guitar was turned into kindling, confirmed that he had quit the band as he “could not go on working with Liam a day longer”. It didn’t take much reading between the lines to see that there would be no reconciliation this time. The fears of those Oasis fans who continued to hope for a reunion were finally realised when Liam announced on November 19 of that year that the remaining members of Oasis – guitarists Gem Archer and Andy Bell, drummer Chris Sharrock and himself – would continue to record without Gallagher Senior, saying: “Oasis are done, this is something new.” Six months later, on May 25, 2010, the final nail in the Oasis coffin was hammered home when Liam and Co. announced that this something new would be called Beady Eye.
Resplendent in a camouflage wind-breaker from his own Pretty Green clothing range and with his piercing blue eyes now unshaded, Liam Gallagher sits back and wearily blows a plume of smoke into the darkening sky above the hotel’s roof garden as he once again contemplates that fateful day in Paris. “I think I wasn’t in the band for about one beer,” he says. “That’s how long it took for us to think about what we wanted to do. After that it was like, let’s keep going. What else am I going to do? Work in McDonald’s?” Liam maintains that his brother “had had enough of Oasis” and just wanted an excuse to leave. At a press conference to launch his solo project The High Flying Birds and his two forthcoming albums, Noel Gallagher rejects that idea, saying simply that he’d “just had enough of Liam.”
After the tabloid-christened Wonderbrawl in Paris, Chris Sharrock returned to his home in Liverpool while Liam, Gem and Andy headed back to London to begin work on the songs which would ultimately come together to form Beady Eye’s début album Different Gear, Still Speeding with producer Steve Lillywhite. The atmosphere, by all accounts, bordered on euphoric. “There was something in the air,” Beady Eye’s somewhat cosmic guitarist Gem Archer says, his eyes lighting up at the memory. “I don’t know if it was the universe just doing it’s thing but there was something magical going on when we got down to working.”
“We always felt like we wanted to do something fantastic and new whether it was with or without Oasis,” Liam adds, brightening up as talk now moves away from the past and turns to the new musical love of his life. “We were always gearing up to do something great. That’s what you live for. There was never a doubt in any of our minds that we weren’t going to knock it on the head. We’ve got to be in there. People need us. We need it.”
With the four ex-Oasis men forming the core of Beady Eye – on tour the band is augmented by ex-Gorillaz bassist Jeff Wooton and keyboardist Matt Jones, formerly of Britpop band Ultrasound – the writing duties are shared between Gallagher, Archer and Bell. The credits also extend to include drummer Sharrock in a show of unity. Both Liam and Gem are quick to point out that Beady Eye is a collective, with everyone sharing responsibility for the direction and every aspect of the band.
“We all do our thing to make Beady Eye happen,” Liam says. “There are no chiefs here. It’s not like as soon as someone has a top idea and thinks we should do it it’s suddenly like ‘oh here we go, he’s getting too big for his boots’. We’ve been there before with someone taking responsibility for everything. It’s a bit late in the game to be fucking around with power struggles and insecurities with your mates. That’s just rubbish. Whoever’s closest to the kettle puts the fucking kettle on.”
“We’re into it to the level of thinking about what lights to take with us on tour, what to have on stage with us other than the amps,” adds Gem. “We’re deep into it all. The photos, the clothes, the artwork – we’re doing it all.”
“With the new song, Andy [Bell] took the photo for the cover,” adds Liam. “We took one look at it, said it looked the bollocks, so we slapped our name on it, stuck the banging tune inside it and away you go.” Suddenly he’s out of his seat, comically mincing around the table. “There’s no need to ponce about with design teams full of geezers called Quentin when we know what we want and can do it ourselves.”
“It’s a top vibe, man,” he continues, sitting down and switching his face back to stony conviction. “Everyone is loving being involved in the creative side of it. It’s not like when Noel would do the lot and we’d be sitting about, twiddling our thumbs. People think I was a lazy bastard and always in the pub. I just never got the call, man. But now everyone’s getting a share of the drug. We’re all getting high from being a band and what makes being in a band great.”
To emphasise their break from the past, Beady Eye took the very un-Oasis-like step of releasing a couple of songs as digital teasers before début single The Roller was unveiled in January. Rather than it being a clever marketing ploy, the band floated Bring the Light and Four Letter Word on the Internet in a surprisingly humble attempt to gauge where they may possibly stand in the post-Oasis musical landscape. “We released the digital tracks and posted videos ahead of the first release because we didn’t even take it for granted that people would know who we were,” admits Gem. “We needed to let them know what was coming.”
“The average Joe didn’t know what was going on,” adds Liam. “People were coming up to me in the shop asking when the next Oasis record was coming out and I was all like, ‘you fucking what?’ I wasn’t getting into it because they were obviously on drugs or living in a can of beans or something. A lot of people thought Oasis was still going so we had to get the new stuff out to them.”
The reaction to the Internet teasers was underwhelming as were those accompanying the release of first single proper The Roller. Beady Eye’s début peaked at number 31 in the UK charts – the exact same position as Oasis’ début Supersonic reached back in April 1994. When the next single, Millionaire, floundered at number 71 it was open season in the British press. For Liam’s adversaries in the media, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Well-worn comparisons of the Gallaghers were once more dragged across the pages of the tabloids, with Beady Eye already condemned to failure for having what many people considered to be the less talented brother in its line-up. Liam admits the poor performances of the singles was a reality check but the media reaction was less of a surprise.
“I expected to get shit from the press before we started out because I dish it out and I thrive on that so I expect it back,” he says. “They’re always going to be gunning for me but I’m always like, ‘bring it on’ because I’ll always be gunning for them. That will always be there because we need the love-hate thing but deep down they’ve probably all got posters of us on their walls. We’ve got to be on top of our game because we’re there to be criticised. But we’re ready for it. We’re big boys.”
While certain critics ratcheted up their dismissals of Beady Eye once Different Gear, Still Speeding was released in February, the majority of the world’s music press was much more generous. The album, which debuted at number 3 in the UK album charts, was widely praised with many commentators welcoming the band’s efforts to move away from the Oasis legacy. The public’s response was equally positive with the album going gold in the UK within a month of its release.
“Of course, it was nice to get good reviews for the album but it wasn’t like we were then saying ‘we showed you’ to those who’d slagged us off without even hearing it,” Liam says. “It’s nice but we don’t care really. When the reviews are good, you know the writer got it and understood it. They say what we already know and they think exactly what we think about it. We wouldn’t have released the record if we didn’t think it was having it. Bad reviews which say ‘well, he’s no Noel Gallagher’ – I’ve got no time for them. Go back to journalism school. They’re just idiots who just want to take a pop at me because I slagged off Blur in 1992 or whatever. There’s a lot of that what goes on and always will.”
After all this time, Liam Gallagher remains a divisive figure – a situation he admits to contributing to but one he feels is rooted in the behaviour of his younger self: the Liam of smashed hotel rooms, cocaine busts and numerous punch-ups with the public and family alike. He appears to accept that whatever level of success he may reach now or in the future is unlikely to make a lot of difference to how people perceive him.
“Beady Eye’s probably not gonna change the way people see me,” he says. “Nothing I do probably will. They’ll still see me as that 20-year old who made the most of life by going a bit fucking mental. But answer me this: who wouldn’t have done the same in the circumstances? I don’t give a fuck what they think of me to be honest. I am who I am. I was Liam in Oasis and I’m Liam in Beady Eye. If I’m Liam in another band, it’ll still be me and they’ll still have to deal with it.”
“People have the wrong idea about Liam,” Gem responds. “It’s just laziness to keep up this perception of him. He’s full on in this band; from production to mixing to arranging. In addition to Beady Eye, he’s running a clothing line and making films [with production company In 1 Productions] at the same time. He’s not sat on his arse waiting to sing his bits just so he can get off again and go on the piss. He’s as fully committed and invested in this collective as the rest of us.”
Few would have expected Liam Gallagher to have the initiative to diversify but the singer has shown an entrepreneurial bent in his latter years. His Pretty Green clothing label is now in its second, award-laden year and work is continuing on his first film, an adaptation of Richard DiLello’s The Last Cocktail Party which details the rise and fall of the Beatles’ Apple Records empire. “Pretty Green and the film production thing was always probably going to happen, it was always in me I reckon,” he says. “Maybe there were fewer opportunities to explore that side of me when I was younger or maybe I just couldn’t be arsed back then. But I’m nearing 40, man. Things change. Priorities change. You’ve got to keep the brain ticking over, man, or you’ll end up a cabbage.”
As the sky above again opens with yet another deluge, sending everyone ducking for cover, talk turns to the evening’s coming show; a late – but not headlining – slot in the Pyramid Marquee at the Rock Werchter festival. This is the latest open air show of Beady Eye’s début festival season. For any new band, an evening show at any festival would be considered a mighty step up given that debutants are usually awarded the early afternoon slots. But Beady Eye are no ordinary ‘new’ band. Surely the fact that they are four-fifths of Oasis, a band used to playing to tens if not hundreds of thousands of their own fans, would be enough to secure top billing.
“We are where we are, you know what I mean? We’re getting what we deserve right now,” says Liam. “It’s like paying your dues, man. We’re a new band. It doesn’t matter what went before. Half the people at the festival shows probably haven’t heard the record and you have to keep reminding yourself that. This isn’t Oasis, so we haven’t got a big back catalogue of songs which people have already heard over the past 18 years.”
“That’s the good thing though at festivals,” adds Gem. “You’re playing to people who may not normally come to see you. We just go out there and just try and play the best gig we’ve ever done to date and if they like it, all well and good but if not then we’re probably just not the right band for them.”
“It’s all new with Beady Eye, man,” Liam chips in. “It’s all fresh. We’re getting off on it. And we can see that the crowds are getting off on it too. They’re getting it and they’re coming out to see you which is great. We were never so far up our own arses to think that we could guarantee that either. Nothing was taken for granted.”
The festival season comes in the middle of Beady Eye’s first tour, one on which the band have returned to their roots by playing smaller venues that would never have been able to cope with the demands of housing an Oasis gig. Liam explains that this was a band decision based on the current reality and that at no time did they think that Beady Eye possessed the pulling power to continue where Oasis left off by playing colossal concerts.
“We never had this idea that just because we were Oasis we could go out there and start off in arenas,” he admits. “We always had the idea to start again, to start small. We don’t have the songs right now either. When you’re playing arenas and stadiums you’re on for an hour and a half. What we basically have is the album and that’s an hour so we’re happy with that. It’s not like we’re sitting there going ‘I can’t wait to start playing stadiums again’ and moaning about where we are. Someone was looking at us playing a venue of 8000 when we were planning the first gigs and we said no, it’s too early for that. You’ve got to have something to aim for and build up to.”
Despite fronting numerous concerts including the mighty Knebworth shows of 1996 where Oasis played to over a quarter of a million people over two days, Liam admits to a bout of nerves before taking Beady Eye out onto the road for the first time on March 4 this year. “There were a few nerves but we just wanted to get out of the rehearsal rooms and get playing in the end,” he says. “We had these tunes we believed in and wanted to get them out there but because it’s new, you never really know what’s going to happen. We didn’t know if everyone was going to start shouting for Oasis songs. We could have played it safe and took off to some tiny little foreign hole to début but we chose Glasgow Barrowlands and they were fucking immense. The jocks will call you on it if you’re shit – Glasgow’s a hard school – but they were top notch. The nerves soon went after that.”
“Big gigs are a piece of piss, you know what I mean? The crowd are miles away. With these shows we’re doing they’re right on you and you’ve got to be on it. You’re all in it together in these smaller venues, in the trenches, and it’s instant. You kick off and suddenly the whole place is rocking and you’ve got to keep that going.”
Later that evening, under the cover of canvas, Beady Eye certainly gets Werchter’s Pyramid Marquee rocking…and rolling, swaying, seething, ebbing and flowing with their Different Gear set-list. Welcoming the crowd with a chipper “Good evening brothers and sisters” it’s clear the surly, bating Gallagher of old is tucked away for the night. Throughout the evening, Liam’s banter with the audience is jovial and there are even smiles from the stage to match those beaming back from the steaming mass. Reconnecting with the fans has been key to the response the band have been getting on tour and from the opening fusillade of Four Letter Word, Millionaire and Beatles and Stones to the crescendo finale of World of Twist’s Sons of the Stage, both band and audience seem to feed off the energy generated under the sweaty canopy. The performance is as tight as you would expect from a group of seasoned campaigners the majority of whom have been playing together for the best part of a decade but there is a new lightness of spirit and atmosphere which helps these songs of hope and belief soar. It’s clear throughout the show that the shackles of the past have been cast aside.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” says Liam. “If being in a band is pressure then you’re in the wrong game, mate. We’ve been at the top and we want to be at the top again but we’re not young lads chasing the dream. We’ve all been round the block in this industry a lot of times and we know it’s hard but we’re dead relaxed, man. We’re doing our thing. We’ve got nothing to prove.”
With new material already written, Beady Eye are eager to keep the juggernaut rolling with another album pencilled in for 2012. “The thing with Oasis was that we could have made more records and it’s a shame we didn’t but with this we’re not going to sit around for five years before putting new stuff out,” the front man says. “Hopefully by the time we get the next record out, there’ll be more people digging us and knowing what we’re about.”
And what will the future hold for Beady Eye? Can it get as big as Oasis?
“We don’t go about saying we’re going to be as big as Oasis, despite some of the quotes people have me saying. I’m talking about the music. I believe in the music and the quality of it and I’m talking about that not that we’re bigger or better than Oasis. People on the whole get that. They see where we’re coming from and give us respect for that.”
“Beady Eye will evolve. It already is. We’re listening to stuff we’re putting together for the next record and it’s already changing. It’s Beady Eye and it’s our sound because that’s what we do but these tunes are blowing our minds and we just hope they’ll do the same for other people. We’ll do what needs to be done, man. If it needs to rock, it’ll rock. If it needs to swagger, it’ll swagger.” A wicked glint flashes across those heavy-lidded blue eyes again. “And it’ll be the bollocks.”
First published in: The Red Bulletin (September 2011)
Related content: Andy & Gem: In the Belly of the Oasis Beast (2005)