When people say Noel Gallagher is big-headed, they don’t know the half of it. He has what is known as a ‘classic rock-star build’ – that is, a tiny, fragile little body with a ludicrously big bonce on top, like one of those football figurines. I know this because I saw him once. He was standing outside the University of Westminster, looking cross as he jabbed a text message into his phone.
It must be heavy, that head. From my seat in the Albert Hall, I watched as Noel stood hunched over his mic, like Quasimodo delivering a TED talk. It’s probably a bit off-key to mock a man for his freakishly massive skull, but there’s something approaching a relevant point here: fronting his own show, he looks downright awkward – odd for a man who’s been performing on huge stages for the best part of two decades.
The strange thing is, it doesn’t really matter. Before Saturday night, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a gig where the performers played second fiddle to the audience. Indeed, I never even stopped to contemplate the possibility. The crowd were laughing, singing, shouting and dancing, but they weren’t really looking at Noel Gallagher. Worthy though it sounds, they were here for music rather than personality – specifically, loud, anthemic lad rock.
Noel made records in the same way that Mikhail Kalashnikov made assault rifles. With Oasis, he wrote songs so predictable they could’ve come off a state production line. But they were always reliable, suitable for any kind of action. You could belt them out at a terrace, sing along to them alone in your bedroom, or if you were the sort of person who gave dinner parties, you could whack on your heavyweight vinyl copy of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? as your guests polished off the fifth bottle of Jacob’s Creek.
This, I guess, is his genius. While it’s hard to imagine that anyone still identifies as an Oasis fan, Noel’s songs have wormed their way into the country’s subconscious. They were never terrible, never sublime, rarely even mediocre. Just weirdly, persistently memorable.
When Oasis broke up in 2009, Noel announced he was going solo. More interestingly, he raised the prospect that with a new career, he planned a new direction. And that direction was, he said, ‘Space Jazz’.
Noel’s new band is called the High Flying Birds – ‘high flying’ presumably so they don’t frighten the pigeons. Because as it turns out, their particular take on ‘Space Jazz’ sounds exactly like Oasis; that is, a happy collision between ‘Coz I Luv You’ era Slade and The Best of the Sixties: Volume III. This, one feels, is quite a relief. One question remained, however: who actually goes to a Noel Gallagher solo gig?
From an anthropological point of view, this show was fascinating. It turns out that Oasis fans do indeed exist. Weirder still, many of them seem to have undergone some kind of dark surgical procedure to turn themselves into Noel Gallagher. They sport leather jackets, feather-cuts, permanent snarls and huge sideburns – and were, from what I gleaned, really, really nice.
And the music? Consider this: a couple of songs in, the band ripped into a song called ‘Fade Away’, which was the B-side to their 1994 single ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’. Before Noel could open his gob, the entire Albert Hall was on its feet, bellowing the song back at him. That’s about 5,000 people, chanting the lyrics to a B-side. Wow. Noel’s voice is weak, and unlike the way he comes across in interviews, utterly devoid of charisma. But what does it matter when he barely has to sing a word?
The recent material generally plonked bums back on to their seats. Some of it was pretty good – my notes describe ‘Riverman’ as ‘sexy’. To be sure, ‘sexy’ is not a word you’d immediately associate with a Noel Gallagher solo LP. But for all their kind words about his new record (‘It’s mental!’ one Gallagher clone told me), it was the Oasis stuff that the crowd had paid to see.
And blimey did they show it. ‘Champagne Supernova’ and ‘Digsy’s Dinner’were completely drowned out by the audience reaction. During a short, perfectly-judged encore of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ and ‘The Masterplan’ – another B-side – even I found myself getting a bit teary as I caterwauled along to lyrics buried deep in my long-term memory.
The whole thing was a deeply weird experience, characterised by – what? Nostalgia? Bonhomie? Space Jazz? Whatever it was, it was bloody fun.