It was one of the standout musical moments of this summer. One Love Manchester, the concert put together by Ariana Grande in the wake of the terrorist attack at her Manchester gig, announced a last-minute surprise guest. A man in trademark cagoule and sharp haircut strode on stage, pointed at the stunned crowd, and bellowed “Manchester vibes in the area.” Launching into Rock ’n’ Roll Star, Liam Gallagher, former frontman of Oasis and newly revitalised by his forthcoming solo album, was very much back.
Gallagher proceeded to actually sing the next five minutes of brash, bellicose guitar rock rather than snarl it – a refreshing state of affairs given in latter years it had felt like this abrasive, insouciant and often indifferent 44-year-old had become something of a caricature of himself. The new song he played next – Wall Of Glass – wasn’t a terrible, try-hard echo of John Lennon but an effective blues-rock anthem complete with gospel backing.
All of a sudden, Liam Gallagher had become interested – and interesting – again, making the arrival of his “Manchester vibes” at a headlining slot at Dubai’s Party In The Park a genuinely intriguing and exciting proposition. As he reminded The Guardian a few months ago: “People don’t realise that I’m a good singer and I actually dig music, I’m passionate about it, I want to get back out doing what I do.”
Which has, for most of his adult life, been living the rock ’n’ roll dream. In the early 1990s the limit of an indie band’s ambition was to bag a Top 20 single. Gallagher promised that Oasis would be “as big as The Beatles, if not bigger”. It helped that he had an older brother, Noel, writing a slew of brilliant songs – although as time passed, money and lifestyle corrupted the spontaneous creativity that saw 40 million people take Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? to their hearts. And as the records became less successful, the stormy relationship between Liam and Noel reached breaking point.
Of course, Liam’s attitude to sibling rivalry was never particularly positive. He has always been of the view that “everyone knows that if you’ve got a brother, you’re going to fight”. Noel, meanwhile, suggested that Liam’s constant intimidation had made being in a band with him “intolerable”.
It’s not difficult to imagine Liam rubbing people up the wrong way – even after Oasis had split, the constant (and admittedly slightly amusing) Twitter baiting of his brother – “To all you NG fanboys I can and will sing any song he wrote bigger better than him even if I was kicked in the b****x by a wood pigeon” – garnered him more column inches than his first band, Beady Eye. But it does now feel like new Liam Gallagher music might finally take centre stage.
Perhaps that’s because Liam has been working with hit producers and songwriters such as Greg Kurstin (Adele, Lily Allen) and Tom Odell for new album As You Were. “I’ll play him [Odell] a tune very badly and he’ll go, ‘Yeah, I get where you’re coming from’ and get the acoustics down and away we go,” he told The Guardian. Any accusations that such working arrangements might be inauthentic are given short shrift. Liam has always been a singer rather than songwriter – probably wisely in the case of Little James: his attempt to write a song for Oasis (and his young stepson) has some of the worst lyrics in pop music history.
Still, if anyone doubts Liam Gallagher’s magnetic pull – or the timeless, anthemic and influential quality of the songs he sings – then it’s worth rewatching Coldplay’s Chris Martin as he plays Live Forever alongside Liam at the One Love Manchester concert. Martin is singing along as a fan, unable to keep a smile off his face – it’s as if he’s won a competition and can’t quite believe he is there, performing one of Oasis’ very best anthems, with the best frontman of his generation. All this after Liam had been, well, typically Liam about Coldplay in the past, likening Martin to a geography teacher and a character in children’s TV show The Tweenies.
But then, that’s the strange allure of Liam Gallagher, even though sometimes sharing his sometimes moronic, often obnoxious orbit has had a rubber-necking, car-crash quality to it. Not that he has any regrets: “I wouldn’t change a thing, because it’s been mega in the scheme of things. It all happens for a reason and the more you sit around and worry about it… you’ll end up in the nuthouse.”
And perhaps that new, happy-go-lucky Liam (he’s in a more stable relationship these days, too) means that he’s not afraid to recognise that the early years of Oasis will always contain his best work. What he misses about Oasis is “singing them songs”. So it has felt right for him to play D’You Know What I Mean, Rockin’ Chair, Slide Away, Be Here Now, Rock ’n’ Roll Star and Morning Glory this summer, and give them everything he’s got.
“With the lyrics and the attitude and the music and the guitars, [the audience] are there to be shook, do you know what I mean?”
he says. “They’re not there to stand around.”
A perfect headliner, then, for Party In the Park.