Two years ago, Liam Gallagher, a man who had seemed a stranger to self-doubt, had lost his swagger. His once euphoric life had become a wearying cycle of divorce and child support hearings. The dissolution of his band Beady Eye – an inferior Oasis – in 2014 had left him musically homeless. Gallagher would be accosted daily by fans chanting the name of his old outfit – a gnawing reminder of former glories. “I was just living in a ghoul world,” he recently recalled.
Faced with the possibility of permanent decline, Gallagher contemplated retreating abroad. Interviewers who inquired about a potential solo career were usually met with a fusillade of expletives.
The frontman must be thankful that he revised his opinion. On 13 October, his debut solo album, As You Were, entered the UK charts at number one after selling 103,000 copies. Its 12 songs may be the finest that Gallagher has put his voice to since Oasis’s 1995 album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, ranging from raucous punk (“Greedy Soul”) to elegiac ballads (“For What It’s Worth”).
Mindful of his limitations as a songwriter, the singer sought the aid of co-writers, including the super-producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Beck, Foo Fighters).
Gallagher attributes his personal revival to morning runs on Hampstead Heath (he rises at 5am in order to evade fans) and to a settled domestic life. After splitting from the All Saints singer Nicole Appleton in 2013, Gallagher moved in with his former personal assistant Debbie Gwyther, 34, of whom he speaks with teenage-like affection. He has four children with four different mothers: Lennon, 18 (with his ex-wife, Patsy Kensit); Gene, 16 (Appleton); Molly, 19 (the singer Lisa Moorish); and Gemma, four (the US journalist Liza Ghorbani).
Gallagher’s commercial revival has been aided by his boisterous Twitter presence. He has 2.4 million followers and uses the site to lampoon his elder brother, Noel (“potato”), and most of the music industry, and to share idiosyncratic ramblings (“Im walking on sunshiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine”).
Gallagher’s appeal has something in common with that of politicians such as Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn. In an age of anodyne pop stars, he speaks in a voice that is unmistakably his own and, like an untamed animal, acts according to instinct.
William John Paul Gallagher was born on 21 September 1972 in Burnage, Manchester, to working-class Irish parents. His father was an abusive alcoholic. “That’s where my anger is and that’s what makes me fucking attack that mic when it’s there,” Gallagher said in 2007.
When, in 1991, Noel, five years his senior, heard that Liam was singing with a band named the Rain, he was initially incredulous. “Let me write your songs and I’ll take you to superstardom, or else you’ll rot here in Manchester,” the elder Gallagher told the nascent Oasis.
Noel’s instantly timeless – and timelessly instant – songs were a necessary condition for the band’s success, but not a sufficient one. It was Liam’s voice, occupying the raw terrain between John Lennon and John Lydon, that elevated Oasis above their peers. His onstage pose – hands clasped behind his back, neck craned towards the mic – made him recognisable by his silhouette alone.
A proletarian work ethic and a dizzying run of singles (“Live Forever”, “Wonderwall”, “Don’t Look Back in Anger”) propelled Oasis to heights no rock band has attained since. Morning Glory is the fifth biggest-selling UK album of all time (4.7 million copies). More than 2.6 million people (one in 20 of Britain’s population at the time) applied for tickets to their 1996 Knebworth gigs.
But like an overheated economy, Oasis could not maintain their form. Their 1997 album, Be Here Now, was a bloated behemoth (“cocaine set to music” in Q magazine’s description). Though Noel Gallagher still crafted fine singles (“Stop Crying Your Heart Out”, “Lyla”), the group’s subsequent four albums did not enjoy the ubiquity of their predecessors.
Oasis’s gigs, though, were reliably well attended by fans akin to football supporters in their devotion. At such mass gatherings, one alternated between dodging bottles of urine and raucously bellowing choruses (aged 13, I attended their second Wembley Stadium gig on 22 July 2000).
Touring, however, imposed an intolerable strain on the Gallaghers’ combustible relationship. On 28 August 2009 in Paris, after a dressing-room fight during which Liam allegedly armed himself with a guitar and a plum, Noel formally left the band.
Liam has rarely disguised his sadness at Oasis’s demise, but Noel, who eased into a successful independent career (his third album with his band High Flying Birds, Who Built the Moon?, will be released on 24 November), has exhibited little desire to reunite.
“We need each other,” sang the elder Gallagher in the chorus of Oasis’s “Acquiesce”, his ode to fraternal love. The two thriving states that have been carved from the old empire suggest that the brothers may not.
This article appears in the 18 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s century of revolutions