Noel Gallagher is in the dressing room at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, England. It's Aug. 11, 1996, and he and his band Oasis have just played the second of two 125,000-capacity concerts events that would prove to be the high-water mark for British rock music in both the '90s and subsequent decade. Like the fans out front and the crew backstage, Gallagher's wondering what the band can do to top this when he's approached by a recording executive.
"I distinctly remember somebody sidling up to me," he recalls, "saying, 'It's time for the solo record now.' "
Fast-forward to 2011, and Gallagher is finally acting on that unnamed executive's counsel as he prepares to release his first solo album, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, this month. Given that, in the intervening 15 years, Oasis repeatedly tried and failed to live up to its staggering artistic and commercial achievements of the mid-'90s, does he ever wish he had made a solo record earlier in his career?"Well," he reflects, sipping cappuccino in the Mirror Bar of London's Landmark Hotel, "I always said I wouldn't do it if the band was together."
That Gallagher is at this stage, with one solo album nearing release and a follow-up already recorded, reflects how the band is now anything but together. Oasis' split was as messy as anything in its volatile 18-year career, the band finally imploding during a furious row between Noel Gallagher and his younger front-man brother, Liam, backstage at France's Rock en Seine festival in August 2009. The reason for the split varies according to which brother you listen to Noel's version of events even prompted legal action from the younger Gallagher. But both seem to agree that the split is permanent, despite their lengthy track record of fights and reconciliations.
"Liam's already said that the thought of getting back together makes him want to vomit," says Noel, tersely. "And I've got nothing to add to that."
If Noel is grateful to his little brother for one thing, however, it's surely that Liam rushed out his own post-Oasis project, the retro rock 'n' roll of Beady Eye, while Gallagher senior was still holed up in the studio. Noel defends the commercial (under)achievement of Beady Eye's Different Gear, Still Speeding album ("They've sold 10,000 less than the Arctic Monkeys that's only one hit single"), but it surely takes the pressure off when it comes to his own solo debut.
"I can't decide how many it sells," he shrugs. "If you like what I do, there's lots on there for you to like, but also some stuff that you wouldn't expect. And if you don't like what I do, believe you me there's enough on there for you to hate."