“Where I come from, people didn’t become rock stars. That happened to other people.” — Noel Gallagher
Without a doubt, Noel Gallagher is a rock star. His love for the Beatles is no secret, and his music is as quintessentially British as the Liverpudlian icons’. Subsequently, over the course of Noel’s career, there has been much discussion of what influenced one of British music’s biggest icons, with many parallels drawn between his music and Lennon et al.’s. Of course, his music is a staple of British alternative; however, much more than simply the Beatles informed his musical development and career. The main reasons for Noel picking up the unused family guitar are actually the genealogy of how punk started and the ethos of The Jam, which, as we progress, will start to make a lot of sense.
Born in Manchester in 1967, Gallagher was raised in a working-class family of Irish heritage; Noel and his brother’s early upbringing was marred by the abuse of his alcoholic father, Thomas, and consequent divorce from his mother, Peggy. Understandably, Noel would then push the boundaries maybe a little further than a “normal” teenager would — being thrown out of school at fifteen for throwing a bag of flour over a teacher. With that said, he wasn’t a particularly terrible youth, but he clearly wasn’t square either: “I wasn’t a troublesome kid, though my parents would probably disagree. I wasn’t like a master criminal, but I was forever getting into silly bits of trouble: petty fucking shoplifting, petty drug-taking, not being at school when I should have been, getting found passed out at the park.”
“I didn’t dislike school, but I didn’t like it. It was like, ‘I’m no good at this shit, and they know I’m no good at this shit. Why do I have to be here? Why can’t I pick fucking magic mushrooms on the golf course and get fucking high? Can I just do that for a living?’ Looking back on it now, I understand why people say they’re the best days of your life because you don’t have any responsibilities.”
This is an all too familiar story, he was part of what was called in America, Generation X. Central to their upbringing was socio-political turmoil and the intergenerational gulf in ideals between them and their baby-boomer parents. This generation would also be influenced by the ideals of the punk movement of the late ‘70s but would be too young to actually live them. In America, they would become synonymous with grunge, but for Noel and a lot of other northern working-class teenagers, he would live them out in Manchester, amongst the burgeoning rave culture centred around the Hacienda nightclub, Baggy culture and the second Summer of Love.
Gallagher would state: “All the music that I listened to was The Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Smiths, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, New Order. It was all kind of very big guitar music, it was like guitar pop music. And I am only a sum of my influences.”
Clearly, Oasis’s lead axeman took a lot from punk and what followed it. Music in Manchester had exploded after that iconic Sex Pistols gig, organised by Buzzcocks in 1976, at The Lesser Free Trade Hall. It has since been cemented in popular culture by Michael Winterbottom’s film, 24 Hour Party People. However, teenage Noel Gallagher would diverge from ascribing to the classic leather-jacketed vein of punk due to his age and what we can only assume was his nature. At fifteen, around the same time he was expelled from school, he got into “the Jam and the Specials — all that ska stuff.” They clearly appealed to the young Mancunian — “They weren’t doing the rock star thing. They were quite stiff, angry young men with shit to say about social values and youth problems and all that.”
Discussing social values and youth problems had a transformative effect on the young Noel Gallagher, and without The Jam discussing these critical themes, it is possible we would not have had Oasis. Evidently, teenage Noel saw something tangible in The Jam’s music, so much so, it was them who inspired him to properly pick up the family’s mysterious, unused guitar. Noel has spoken at length of how The Jam’s fifth album Sound Affects was the soundtrack to being fifteen: “I had a guitar at 15, though I wasn’t very good at it. I wasn’t sure what its purpose was. But, for some reason, there was a guitar in our house even though nobody ever fucking played it. I don’t know where it came from or where it is to this day. But you get to a certain age and you see music on the telly and think, ‘Oh, that’s one of those things.’ It instantly felt natural.”
Retrospectively, there can be no surprise that Weller and The Jam influenced Gallagher. The nature of Oasis’ early songs, his working-class background and that Union Jack guitar all point in one direction. Frontman Paul Weller, or ‘The Modfather’ as he had come to be known, was only twenty-three when the Jam split in 1982, and it is not ridiculous to posit that his youthfulness also influenced the Burnage native.
Indeed, Gallagher talks of Sound Affects being his standout Jam record, and the one that made him actually try to seriously play the guitar. But it is clear that “the young idea”, that was central to The Jam’s debut single ‘In The City’ and a lot of their other work, was something that had a significant impact on Noel. Its essence can certainly be heard on the first three Oasis albums, and seen in the band’s attitude. Feeling ‘Supersonic‘?
It is as if Paul Weller telepathically beckoned his young disciple Noel to pick up that family relic and embark on a journey of the soul involving sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. This would culminate in him obliterating the idea that people from his background could not become rock stars, as he and many of his Manchester contemporaries would do and would eventually come to call ‘The Modfather’ a friend.