As he was, as he is, as I found him. I was right there in the fug of spring 2017, writing a cover story for British GQ, when Liam Gallagher’s once tainted, often fully loaded star began to rise once more, and spectacularly so; his songs and his senses kicked into shape by a hunger to reclaim rock’n’roll’s iron crown from all the charlatans and usurpers.
Having weathered the break-up of his “other” band (Beady Eye), the break-up of his marriage to Nicole Appleton and witnessed his fantasy life – as he’d know it since he was 19 years old – pretty much vapourised, Gallagher was being given one more moon shot to live as his ego had always intended: as Britain’s most loved (and lauded) rock’n’roll star. It was a joy to witness.
I was lucky enough to go on the road with Gallagher over the course of two months that summer. I interviewed him numerous times in posh (ish) brasseries, in dressing rooms (Dublin and Glasgow) and then back in London once again. Rude? Complex? Arrogant? Not as I found him. In fact, he only once had a bit of a strop – backstage in Glasgow, the reason for which I’m still in the dark about. Generally, I found him a gift of an interviewee: candid, warm, engaged, extremely funny and, actually, entirely as you found him on any given day. Ask anyone who has worked with Liam and they’ll tell you: he wears his heart, and his sulks, on his sleeve. Liam Gallagher doesn’t want you around? He’ll kick you off the tour bus, before you can say, “sausages”. Liam Gallagher finds you somewhat amusing, honest and altogether unthreatening? He’ll put his arm around you, pull you a pint and whisper Beatles lyrics into your ear. He’s a man who knows his place in the world and knows yours in his too.
It was while on tour, however, that I met a man called Charlie Lightening. He’d been with Liam since 2009, or thereabouts, and he was always busy filming and photographing on-stage and off-stage antics. He mentioned to me at some point he’d like to make a feature-length documentary about Liam’s comeback, although he didn’t seem to have a plan nor much hope it would actually get made. Well, guess what? It did. And, brother, what a documentary. It picks up at the collapse of everything Liam’s ever known (Oasis) and finishes with Liam as he is now: basking in humble yet triumphant redemption. If Supersonic was a look back at a generation before it begrudgingly grew up, As It Was is a documentary about where that generation is today, and that includes Liam himself.
Remember: just like many of the fans, Gallagher has been through his midlife crisis and come out a better man. A little shaken, sure, but sharper and even a touch more reflective. This is that extraordinary true story.
It’s utterly cathartic viewing, often with deeply tender moments, not least by highlighting the very real love Gallagher has for his children and his saviour, his partner and manager Debbie Gwyther. Of course, Noel Gallagher is both present and not present; the shadow his absence casts is long. Still, for eternal “will they, won’t they” optimists worldwide, the film ends, if not with an olive branch from Liam to Noel, then an acknowledgment that there is unfinished business between the two brothers. If that business is to punch one another on the nose, or kiss one another on the cheek, well, your guess is as good as anyone’s. Ahead of the film’s premiere on 6 June, GQ Hype caught up exclusively with the man who has been Liam’s shadow and witness for the past ten years, director Charlie Lightening. Whatever you do, don’t call it another comeback; this is more like a confessional.
How’s Cannes treating you?
I’m here now sitting in my hotel room looking out at the sea. It’s mega, man. There’s no premiere here for the film, it’s really just a screening. Liam isn’t here; we’re saving all that for London next week. We’re here to talk about how the film is going to go out globally, I think, get a few people to see it, talk to a few others, see how people are feeling. But we’re leading out of the UK because, well, it’s the hometown and makes so much sense and there’s such a hunger for it.
I saw you in London last week to go through our select for this Hype cover and you told me you were staggered this film ever got made. What did you mean?
I guess I meant with a project such as this; it’s been so long putting it together. Getting it off the ground in the first place is always surprising, getting into it and then finishing. It’s ten years in the making really. I started filming Liam straight after Oasis ended. Cos I knew him in Oasis – I did a little bit with them at the very end in 2009 – and because of my relationship with Paul McCartney, Liam asked me to do a bit of stuff for Beady Eye. And at that point, doing some behind-the-scenes stuff, some music videos, you don’t realise that you’re filming stuff for a film.
How did you get involved with Oasis in the first place?
It was Kasabian really. They were the band that I sort of started with. Ronnie Wood was the first artist I started working with funnily enough, and that led to doing stuff with Kylie Minogue… Anyway, I was told there was this band, and that the band got hold of their record this weekend and that they were going to throw a party on some farm they owned and would I like to record it. And that was Kasabian. And as they got bigger, I, off the back of that, started working with JK [from Jamiroquai] and then that got my work noticed by McCartney.
And how did you meet Noel and Liam?
Well, Kasabian supported Oasis in America, and I was making a film about the making of Kasabian’s second record and Noel and Liam came to the studio to listen to their album. And that’s when I first met them and that night ended up with me. Serge and Tom around the breakfast bar in Liam’s kitchen. Liam actually playing me songs that he had and that he’d written and that hadn’t made the Oasis record. And at the time, and I’m not just saying this because of hindsight, I thought, “Wow, there’s something about these songs.” And then Beady Eye happened and I just sort of went with him on the journey, you know…
What was your first impression of Liam?
Well, I grew up in Manchester also, and I remember seeing “Live Forever” and thinking, as everyone did, “Who the hell is this? What the hell is this?” I was a bit young for the Stone Roses, and that side of Manchester and Oasis came just at the right time for me, with the right vibe. They were just these lads in Sprayway jackets, parkas, and they were just cool. The attitude was just electrifying. There was Definitely Maybe and that set out their stall, and going back now it’s clear to hear how ground-breaking that record was. But I remember (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? – well, everyone had a copy of that – and it united not just my mates, but my generation through music and through a band. That was the first time that had happened for me and it was powerful.
Did Liam intimidate you at first?
God, yeah. I mean, you’ve met him, you know what he can be like. But Noel can be easier to get to know straight away, while Liam can be a bit more guarded. I remember I was going into the O2 to watch The Verve with my mate and we’re standing outside in the foyer bit about to go in and my phone rings and it’s Tom from Kasabian. “Charlie, what are you doing?” I told him I was going to see The Verve in, like, one minute… He goes, “Listen, we’re in Abbey Road with Oasis and they are playing us the new record. Get down here now.” Next thing I know I hear the phone fumble and I hear another voice saying, “Who’s that?” It’s Liam. “It’s Charlie,” I tell him. “Charlie who?” “Charlie Lightening.” “Charlie Lightening?” It was the beginning of getting to know him. And then Noel gets on the phone and he says, “Charlie, get on this, there’s a track called ‘Shock Of The Lightening’. Get down here, mate.” So that was it: I hung up the phone and legged it to Abbey Road.
What was the atmosphere like down there?
Well, because of what he’s been like on the phone, when I got there I didn’t know whether he’d be weird with me or what. Anyway, I walked in and they are midway playing the record. I walk in and Liam goes, “Whoa, whoa, whoa…” Stops it, and he walks up to me, puts his arm around me and goes, “We’ve got to start this again because this fucker hasn’t heard any of it.” And then they play it from the top. And the thing about Oasis is they always do the vocals right at the end, so Liam then preceded to sing the entire record to me, into my ear. So it’s easy to misconstrue a situation with Liam. There is such a welcoming side and such a lovely inner vibe when you get through the bluster. Subsequently I have been lucky enough to meet many of my idols, but there’s something about Liam; he just stays true to himself. There is still no bullshit to him, heart-on-his-sleeve honest.
The film starts at the end of Oasis in Paris in 2009. You were there. What was that like?
It ended and the next day I think the rest of them just decided to keep going. A month after Oasis split they were all over at Gem’s house [guitarist for Oasis and Beady Eye], purely because they wanted something else to do. They didn’t want to sit around licking their wounds. And it happened probably too fast. They had a demo, and then suddenly the label – that was still the Oasis label – hear the demos, said there was an album and then it just snowballed from there really. It wasn’t until really Beady Eye ended, and then came the implosion of the rest of everything, the divorce and so on, that Liam realised it might be the end of it all. Everything stopped. I think with Beady Eye, the press just didn’t want it to work, or want him to work. I love some of those songs and think a lot of what he did in that band was great but there was no chance given. It’s almost like Noel and Liam fought and fought and fought… And then he was just a bit lost. The film explains where he was and how his life was going through difficulties.
‘Debbie’s impact was massive. She saved him in so many ways. He was lost. He didn’t know what to do or how to do it’
There was the divorce from Nicole [Appleton]. The fact Beady Eye wasn’t working. Things were looking bad.
When anything ends, you need some time to reflect. He did not get to do any of that. And also, remember, he was Liam Gallagher in the Nineties, the most famous person in the world at one point. But also in terms of destiny and journeys and all that, you have the good and the bad you need to go through to appreciate what you are and what you have or what you had. He was always told [in Oasis] that, “You’re just the singer.” Even the way they made the records, with the vocal slapped on at the very end. Very controlling. He’s an underrated songwriter. As he says in the film, “I’m a songwriter with not very many songs.” He’s pretty humble about it in fact. The great thing about Liam is that he knows what he doesn’t like. There’s no mincing about. Creatively, even in Beady Eye, Gem and Andy took over the “Noel” role, working more like producers, I guess, and Liam would come in, do his thing and then be off. He was there a lot but he’s not a producer who wants to work on a sound for hours. But on the second Beady Eye album there’s a song called “Evil Eye”, which you probably have never heard as it didn’t make the album but was on a special-edition Japanese bonus track, and it’s brilliant. Very simple, very Beatles, of course, but so melodic. He’s a cracking songwriter, he just needed time to nurture it.
How important was the impact of Debbie Gwyther, now his girlfriend and manager, on Liam’s life both professionally and personally? She’s a force to be reckoned with, no?
Oh, Debbie’s impact was massive. She saved him in so many ways. He was lost. He didn’t know what to do or how to do it. As he say in the film she gives him a kick up the arse, explains that, “Come on, no one died” and tells him to focus again on the music. She supported him through some of the worst. And they just love each other, you know what I mean? It’s all in the film. You see how close their relationship is, how they bring out the best of one another. Again, it feels wonderful that I was able to capture that, as really I was doing his musical comeback, I wasn’t doing a documentary about Liam’s love life, but then Debbie is such a part of that, and now his family, that it shines through – hopefully.
How was filming him with Liam’s children?
I always say that the most important part of my job is knowing when not to film. That’s the skill. And, actually, it’s not even a skill, it’s just being sensitive to other human beings. We caught some great footage of Liam and his two lads, Lennon and Gene, when they met in Brussels and go to Amsterdam. It’s sweet and charming and funny and just really honest and natural. I don’t think anyone has ever really seen Liam like that, you know. There were times, of course, when I would say, “Can I just film for a bit in the dressing room,” and he’d be like, “No, you know what, I can’t be arsed.” And that is totally fair enough. I wouldn’t want a camera all day on me either, following me around. Of course, obviously, we are just mates sometimes and that makes it easier; and some of the nature of great footage is that I was just there on certain special moments because we’re mates and it’s not set up. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and there’s a trust. I think also the fact that I work with Paul McCartney helped. He is a Beatle, after all, and what’s good for a Beatle is good for Liam in some ways.
Is he always the same on camera as off?
Yes, but that is always the way with Liam. There isn’t two of him. If he’s happy he’s happy, if he’s not he’s not, and you’ve seen that in regard to who he is.
The scene with Liam and Noel’s mother, Peggy, is incredible, really intimate and raw.
Well, that’s just brilliant, isn’t it? She’s never moved, never felt the need, so upstairs is the room Liam and Noel used to share, still with the same little gold name plaque “Noel and Liam’s Room” on the outside of the door. Amazing. But that was all Liam’s idea to do that and film that. They have always wanted to buy her another house, but she’s never wanted to move from her friends and so on, so I think they bought her a new gate or something. But I think because of my relationship with Liam, we were able to go in there and get what we did, talk about Noel and the family and so on. I don’t know, but I don’t think it would have worked with anyone else. For me that is the scene of the film. As we’re in their old room, he’s telling stories about how they had nothing to do, smoking fags and listening to Jimi Hendrix. Towards the end of he chat you hear me ask, “So you must miss Noel then, no?” And then he gives a typical Liam answer, which is flippant but with meaning: “It’s not the Waltons.” But to think that’s where those two started it all, in that tiny room in Manchester, as he says, is pretty cosmic.
Did Noel’s shadow stretch over the film?
No, not really, but there’s still those questions and still that relationship that is there or not there. At the end, the keyboard player, I think, says, “I think Noel overestimates the importance of the music and underestimates the importance of Liam.” And he makes the point that, “I am sure [Liam] can’t do anything without wondering what his brother thinks of it. Everything he leaves out or puts into a show is almost solely done for an audience of one.” The Noel questions are there, of course, but they don’t dominate. As Liam says, “Noel has become a massive c**t. Whereas I’m just still a c**t.”
Was it frustrating that Noel put the stoppers on you using any Oasis songs for the film?
Yes. But that goes back to the thing of getting things made. At first you hear about that stuff and then you move past it. And in some ways it’s the best thing that could have happened. It shows, again, that Liam is his own person and where there’s a will there’s a way.
I loved the bit in San Francisco, going over the Golden Gate Bridge.
It’s a telling scene. Like he says, Liam, now the age he is, gets up and does these early morning runs – most often round Hampstead Heath, North London. By 9.30am in the morning his day is done. He wakes very early, four or 5am, does his run and then has a coffee. Before long his day is over by 10am. He buzzes off life, Liam. He’s always saying, “Shall we go and do this, shall we go and do that?” And we got up early, really early, and we drove over the bridge so we could run back across it and I did a little chat with him. The sun is just coming up and it was quiet and he was in a great mood. He said, “Any rock star aged 20 worth their salt, if they said they wanted to get up early and run over Golden Gate Bridge – out of the band. Out of the band straight away.”
Is Liam Gallagher hanging up his rock star spurs?
But he’s done all the rock stuff; he does buzz off that stuff now. It was just a lovely moment, and he wondered whether he’d get to see American again, in some ways, and get to tour and play new music, so he was chuffed just to be there. The only difference now being, as he jokes, “I don’t do eight grams before I go on stage, just the two.” What people don’t realise is how much he cares about the show. When his voice is fucked, he’s the one that’s as gutted as the fans. People think in the past he was a bit irresponsible or so on… Not now. He wants that stage and to be in front of that mic. Don’t worry, though, he’s not going anywhere, not a chance. Being a rock’n’roll star is just who he is. He doesn’t know how to do anything else.
Source: GQ Hype