The sibling rivalry between Liam and Noel Gallagher is as much a part of Oasis as the music itself. Throughout the 1990s, the Britpop band stormed the charts with tracks like ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’, ‘Roll with It’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. They broke all kinds of records in album sales and took part in some of the most enormous and historic live concert performances of all time. And yet, beneath the insane levels of success, a hatred of biblical proportions lay festering.
It’s possible they knew precisely what they were doing. In retrospect, the whole Cain and Able dynamic was perfect fodder for tabloid newspapers at the time, who thrived not only on the brotherly rivalry but their band’s battle with art-school softies, Blur. The Gallagher’s penchant for controversy and neat soundbites made them the darlings of music gossip, pushing them ever closer to achieving their ambition of being “the biggest band in the world”. Note that it was always “biggest”, not necessarily “best”.
But where did it all start? It certainly benefited them for a time, but that doesn’t discount the fact that the rivalry between Liam and Noel came from a very real, very bitter place. The recent Oasis Documentary Supersonic revealed a lot about the inner-workings of Oasis and drew attention to several notable conflicts between the two brothers. But there is one dark episode that would seem to be the root of much of the hatred which would eventually cause Oasis to implode in 2009.
In Supersonic, Noel Gallagher gives a startling account of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, talking of how he beat Gallagher’s mother, Peggy, as well. It’s unclear where the source of ‘Big Tom’s’ abusive habits came from, but it’s clear he drank heavily and took his anger out on those closest to him. In a later interview, Liam discussed the day his mother decided to finally leave her husband, taking the boys with her: “I was about seven when my mam left my dad. He was out all the time, fighting, beating my mam up, beating Noel and Paul up,” he said. “Never touched me, though. Then, one night, while he was out, my mam got her brothers round, got all our gear in a truck, left him a mattress, and we went off to our new house.”
Adding: “It was immediately better for all of us…I was always out playing football, load of energy, never depressed, not a loner, just rounding up the troops…let’s go and have a bit of mischief. Always chasing the girls – but once you got ’em, I was like, ‘I’d rather go out with the lads.'”
But for Noel, it wasn’t so easy to shake off the shadow of abuse. In Supersonic, Noel describes writing music as an escape, and how the rich inner life he developed as a result of his father’s abuse allowed him to write many of the songs that would come to define Oasis. He even went so far as to claim that his father “beat the talent into me”.
Arguably, it is the two brothers’ completely contrasting responses to what must have been a deeply traumatic experience that appears to define their relationship to this day. Whereas Liam was loud, energetic, arrogant and in-your-face, Noel was much more insular, quieter, and more contemplative. Take the famous ‘Wibbling Rivalry’ interview, which followed Liam’s notorious arrest aboard a ferry, as an example: “The thing about getting thrown off ferries — blah, blah, blah — and getting deported is summat that I’m not proud about because,” Noel began, before being interrupted by Liam who blurted out: “Well I am” in what is the clearest indicator of their relationship.
“Yeah, alright.” Noel added. “Well if you’re, right, well if you’re, right, well if, if you’re proud about getting thrown off ferries, then why don’t you go and support West Ham and get the fuck out of my band and go and be a football hooligan, right? Coz we’re musicians, right? We’re not football hooligans.”
In this exchange, we see the two icons for what they are: brothers. Noel takes it upon himself to be responsible, whereas Liam objects to being molly-coddled. Arguably, that archetypal sibling relationship was forged during those early days, in which Noel was being abused by his father and Liam was left untouched. Noel, being the eldest, took the brunt of the responsibility, bore the brunt of the beatings – and perhaps grew to resent Liam for not understanding or appreciating that fact.
It is a dynamic that can be seen throughout all of the sibling’s press-worthy moments, from the ‘Wibbling Rivalry’ interview to the time Liam left Noel to perform as the vocalist for the band’s MTV Unplugged set. At the heart of all these moments, there is a sense that the rivalry stems from a place neither Liam nor Noel was willing to acknowledge.