Noel Gallagher: ‘I think things were better pre-internet, I think that’s a fact’

The High Flying Birds leader and former Oasis guitarist has very strong views on AI music. And the internet. And social media. And pretty much everything else

I’ve been asked politely by his PR person not to mention it, but Noel Gallagher gets there before me. In a plush suite of Dublin’s Intercontinental Hotel, one of the most famous British musicians of his generation is talking about touring with U2 when that unmentionable topic – his former band – comes up.

“It was great to be just part of that whole thing; they do it on a different level to everybody else,” he muses, reminiscing about touring with Bono and co as the support act on their Joshua Tree tours in 2017 and 2019. “It reminded me of being in Oasis, that kind of level of stadiums and huge outdoor gigs.” He shrugs, nonchalant. “But it was great, I really enjoyed it. We had a great time as a band, as a matter of fact – a really fucking great time. We were off-stage at half-eight every night, and I think out of the entire tour, I only ever missed [watching] one U2 show – it was in Paris and I was too pissed from the night before.”

Twelve years into Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – the one-time solo project that has become his full-time gig – Gallagher is not particularly concerned with the past. He is here today, after all, to discuss Council Skies, his fourth album with the band that he formed a year after Oasis’s acrimonious split in 2009. He concedes that four albums in 12 years “doesn’t sound like much, does it?” – but High Flying Birds were formed without any grand plan.

“I was just going to make the first record, and that was it,” he says, sipping from a glass of water as he settles into a chair. “I suppose after the second record, it was like ‘Actually, this is working’ so it became more of a long-term thing. But initially, it was just that I had a bunch of songs that were gonna be for the next Oasis record, I thought ‘Well, let’s record them, put a band together and get out on tour.’ And then that led into the second one, and... it kind of went from there, really.”


Council Skies is quite possibly the best thing Gallagher has released under the High Flying Birds banner. A lush, strings-laden affair that is more considered and (whisper it) mature than the band’s previous records, it bridges the gap between his “Britpop doyen” past and his imminent “elder statesman” role nicely.

“I tell you, out of them all, this is one that I’ve listened to the most since I’ve done it,” he enthuses. “I think it’s got a good flow to it, a good feel to it. I think it’s got an atmosphere and a colour to it.” He pauses, stony-faced. “I don’t know what colour it is. Probably grey. But I do love it.”

The reflective tone, he says, was largely down to the fact that most of the album was written during the first lockdown in 2020. The pandemic proved particularly fruitful in a creative sense for Gallagher, in fact, when he just “kept on writing because there was nothing else to do”.

“Usually, when I’ve been writing in the past, I’ve come off tour, I’ll be on a break and I’ll be seeing friends, going out...” he explains. “And I guess at that time, because there was nothing to do, it was a time of reflection anyway, I think. It was quite a strange time. Not that the songs are about that, but for my own part it was quite a reflective time: how did we get here? And I don’t mean that in the sense of society and all that; I had stuff going on, and I was like ‘Well, how has it come to this?’ kind of thing. So I’m guessing because there was nothing else to do, I could really articulate it more succinctly than I [normally] would, I think.”

Gallagher had planned to take 2020 off anyway, after spending much of the previous three years on the road. That period of touring also explains the gap between Council Skies and its predecessor, 2017′s Who Built the Moon?

“I’d gone away on tour and my eldest boy was a young boy, and when I came back he had a ‘tache and was calling me ‘Bruv’,” he jokes. “So I was like, ‘Okay, if I carry on doing this, I’ll be a grandad.’ I just felt I’d done a bit too much and you can overdo it sometimes, I think. Towards the end of 2019, it was time to just go away for a bit.”

Given the title – borrowed from a book by his friend, Sheffield artist Pete McKee – and the contemplative tone, you might assume that Gallagher, now 55, is looking back on his formative years with a sense of wistful nostalgia.

“Well, I wouldn’t get very nostalgic about my childhood, I can assure you of that,” he quips. “It’s not a literal document of my childhood, but I sat down one night and started thinking, ‘What would be underneath the council skies?’ And then the song started to take shape, and it was about trying to find beauty in the concrete and the noise and the dirt. But yeah, the title of [McKee’s] book just set off a chain of events; I could already see the video, and I could see the cover. It’s about trying to find beauty in a big city. But to answer the question, if I was 55 and I’d had a magical childhood, skipping through poppy fields, y’know, I might get nostalgic about it. But as I didn’t, then I don’t,” he says, allowing himself a smile. “There’s no poppy fields in Burnage.”

His admission to having “stuff going on” in his life could well be a reference to his marital problems. His split from wife Sara MacDonald after 22 years together (11 of them married) was announced in January. There are certain ear-catching lyrics that could be interpreted as being about the end of a relationship, but while Gallagher won’t be drawn on the details, he admits that he doesn’t shy away from the personal.

“I think that all lyrics, no matter what they are – if they come from a place of personal truth, then they’re the ones that resonate with other people,” he shrugs. “So yeah, I guess there’s lines in quite a few of the songs that are quite personal, that I didn’t have a problem with putting out there. Because why would you not? I’ve never been of that school of thought, that music should be like therapy or anything like that – but if there’s stuff going on in your life that you’re trying to make sense of... I’ve written enough throwaway lyrics for me to go, ‘Well, yeah. You might as well say it.’ And if other people recognise it, great.”

One familiar name that crops up in the credits of Council Skies is Johnny Marr, who has played on every High Flying Birds record to date and appears here on three tracks, including recent single Pretty Boy.

“He’s a real old friend of mine, and I’ve known him for such a long time that I’m lucky enough that I can call him,” Gallagher explains. “I said to him, ‘Look, if you keep picking the phone up, I’m gonna keep calling you. I just want you to know that.’ It’s such an honour. He loves what I do, we get on great, and we’ve got a lot in common: we’re both from Irish families, he was born two bus stops up the road from where I was born, we’re both City fans, he’s a guitarist in one of the biggest bands... the similarities are endless. He’s a good guy to be around. So yeah, it’s a privilege, a real privilege.”

People sending you stupid videos of goats singing Oasis songs that’s been done by AI, and you just think... actually, that sounds better than Liam

Another thing they have in common is that they’re both constantly asked about getting their former bands back together. “Yeah,” he admits, knowing what’s coming next. Has he ever offered any advice on that front? “No, never,” says Gallagher, shaking his head. “There is no advice. I guess it’s a personal thing, isn’t it? I don’t know anyone who’s done it... I don’t know anyone who’d...” He trails off. “No, not at all. I guess we both have the thing in common of having tricky lead singers.”

Would he go to see The Smiths if they reformed, though? [The question is posed before the death of Smiths bassist Andy Rourke on May 19th.] He thinks for a moment. “Well, yeah,” he says. “When I see Morrissey it’s great, and when I see Johnny, it’s great. Now, clearly, if Morrissey and Marr got back together, it’d be outrageous. But I know how he feels about it, and some things are best left in the past, y’know? They just are. They. Just. Are. And I know we live in this modern world where the consumer gets what they want all the time; that’s why the world is so shit. But no. I mean, I can’t speak for him, but he’s never mentioned anything to me, and I wouldn’t dare mention anything to him. Would I go and see them? Fuckin’ hell, absolutely, yeah, yeah. Do I think it should happen?” He sighs. “Only if it made them happy.”

He has already answered the next question I’m about to ask: yes, he says – that’s where he stands on the prospect of an Oasis reunion, too. “But that’s been my position for the last 13 years,” he says, shrugging. “That’s it. There’s nothing more to say, really.”

The conversation turns to more random topics. I ask Gallagher what he thinks of the advent of AI in music, when producers such as David Guetta can add Eminem’s voice to a track using AI technology, or someone can create a new song featuring the voices of Drake and The Weeknd. Does it worry him as a songwriter?

“It’s music made by dickheads for dickheads,” he responds without hesitation. His manager, answering emails in the corner of the room with his back to us, is presumably holding his head in his hands. “It’s some guy in dreadful shoes and shit jeans [who] has invented this fucking thing; ‘Oh look, you can get Paul McCartney singing Highway to Hell by AC/DC’. So fucking what? So what?” He shakes his head, exasperated. “Every day for the last month, I get sent these Oasis things: ‘Oh, have you heard this?’ [And] it’ll be some dickhead sat at his laptop somewhere... whatever mate, go get a girlfriend. Yeah, it’s not something I’m remotely interested in. There’s a version of Freddie Mercury singing Don’t Look Back in Anger…” he sighs, shaking his head. “Y’know. Get a girlfriend.”

And if I started writing a book, I know for a fact I’d never finish it – because the way that I read books, I start them and never finish them

The internet and social media in general, he believes, has had a negative impact on society. Although he has a presence on Twitter and Instagram, his team posts on his behalf. “It just became boring,” he says, explaining why he lost interest in maintaining the account himself. “Why do I have to thank everybody? ‘Oh guys, thanks for coming last night, what a great show...’ Really? I mean, is the world that needy now, that you need to be thanked for turning up at a gig?

“I think social media is like Brexit, right; if we could just pause and have a vote on it now, d’you reckon you’d vote to leave now? It’s like with the internet. If we could pause it right now and vote ‘Would you rather get rid of it?” He pauses, considering the result. “I mean, we probably wouldn’t, because there’s more fuckwits in the world than sane people. [But] I think things were better pre-internet, I think that’s a fact.”

That goes for the music industry, too. “[Labels] know what people want, because they can see what people want, because they can see the numbers and the streams and the likes and all that kind of thing,” he says. “So they give the people what they want. But people don’t know what they want – they’re fucking idiots! They didn’t want Jimi Hendrix; they didn’t want the Sex Pistols; they didn’t want Oasis; they certainly wouldn’t have wanted The Smiths. So it’s taken away that magic, I think. It’s destroyed innocence. And it spoils things. You go on tour, and play the first night, and everyone knows the setlist by the second night. Everyone knows what to expect, and there’s no sense of anticipation. I like going to gigs, not knowing what the band are playing. The dude beside me knows exactly what they’re going to play and when they’re gonna play it. And I pity them, I really do.”

One of the greatest privileges in life, he says, “used to be sitting out the back of a taxi, staring out the window and listening to the taxi driver rabbiting on about football. Now, you’re just sitting there, looking at your phone.” He sighs again, shaking his head. “People sending you stupid videos of fucking goats singing Oasis songs that’s been done by AI, and you just think... actually, that sounds better than Liam.”

He has certainly led a fascinating life. He clearly has forthright, amusing opinions on the world. Surely, now is the perfect time for Noel Gallagher to pen his autobiography?

“I have been asked recently, I must be getting to that age now,” he nods. “I’ve been around a few people, Bono and Johnny Marr included, who’ve written books – and it seems that it just consumed their lives. And I don’t think I’ve got the patience to spend that amount of years writing a book. And I wouldn’t want somebody to ghostwrite it; I’d have to write it. And honestly, the minute it came out, I’d go ‘I don’t believe any of that!’.” He shakes his head. “I’m a person that lives in the moment, and sometimes I see interviews of myself and I go ‘But that’s not what I believe in, at all!’

“I’m just saying it for the craic, know what I mean? And if I started a book, I know for a fact I’d never finish it – because the way that I read books, I start them and never finish them. So why would I finish one that I was writing? I don’t think so. Unless someone was going to offer me a shitload of money, I reckon then I might consider it.”

For now, at least, music remains the focus. His creative purple patch during lockdown means there are already two more albums in the pipeline after Council Skies.

“And I know what they’re gonna be,” he nods. “This one was always gonna be a traditional High Flying Birds album; the next one is gonna be acoustic, and the one after that is gonna be stadium rock,” he says, nodding firmly as he takes another sip of water. “A computer will do it first, though; AI will probably fuckin’ get there before me.”

Council Skies is released on June 2nd. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds play the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham on August 27th

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She writes about music and the arts for The Irish Times