Liam Gallagher grew up in a household riven by his father's violence. Inevitably his life and career as a rock star have been marked by simmering anger. But he had his saviours first his mother, then music and now a nuclear family of his own to cherish. Barry Egan talks to the Oasis star about Patsy, nappy changing, cocaine, the Catholic church, and how he believes that the soul of the dead Beatle John Lennon entered his body when he was fifteen
LIAM Gallagher's first actual memory was sitting in his pram outside Mass in Tipperary. It was a soft summer's day. Through the sun visor on the top of the pram, he could see the church spire. His parents were too busy keeping an eye on their two older sons, Paul and Noel, to notice the approaching wasp or its flight-path.
``This f***ing wasp landed on me knee and stung me,'' he says with a laugh, now puffing on a cigarette and swigging from a bottle of beer at 11 in the morning in a London hotel suite 26 years later. ``I can remember just screaming me tits for about four f***ing hours.'' Talking to Liam Gallagher is like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie: the foul language count is high.
Parents Peggy and Tommy originally came from Ireland, and the Gallagher family would often return here for holidays. Playing in the fields with his cousins when he was a kid in Tipperary he remembers as ``happy times. It was very colourful. Some years of your life are black and white but there was a lot of colour knocking about in them days,'' he says, lighting another Benson & Hedges. ``I loved going there.''
But there was an underside to the domestic portrait that was generally hidden though not completely obscured from those who knew them well. Peggy met Thomas Gallagher at the Irish social club they both used to go to. Back then, he was very quiet and didn't drink. Once they got married, so the story goes, he was out every night and this whole other side of him appeared that she had never seen before. The classification of dysfunctional families was decades away, but the concept was no stranger to the Gallagher sons. Their father had a temper.
Although Liam was spared most of the beatings himself, the youngest Gallagher would stand and watch his father punch his two older brothers, Noel and Paul, and on occasion, his mother as well.
The scene confused and disturbed young Liam. When Liam would return from school and see that his father's car wasn't parked outside, he would know that the house would be quiet inside and that the shouting and the anger wouldn't be for another few hours yet. When Liam visited his friends' houses in Manchester, he would see other mums and dads sitting around watching TV and being very much in love and happy. Young Liam's thoughts were always the same: ``F***ing hell. I've got to go home to that c***.''
He says he doesn't look back on those times too often now and that he did all his blaming years ago and he is happy. According to official Oasis biographer Paolo Hewitt, ``the effect it had on Noel was to totally make him withdraw within himself and think: `If I can't trust my father, who can I trust?'''
And the effect it had on Liam? Inevitably, beneath the success and surreal stagemanship of the man Bono called the greatest rock 'n' roll singer of our time, there ran a deep current of anger.
Did you ever have nightmares about what you saw?
``Yeah,'' he says, almost under his breath. ``It was just not-nice times.''
You seem to have dealt with it quite well?
``Sometimes. I've got music. That saved me,'' he says.
Did you have any idea what was going on with your mother and father when you were little?
``Oh yeah, of course. I was about six when I first realised it. Even when I was that age, I definitely knew there was something going on. I knew he weren't the f***ing full shilling.''
Did you ever say it to your mother? Ask her what was going on?
``Not at that age, no. I used to feel a vibe. I would go to school and when I came home and his car wasn't there, everything would be sweet. I would go in the door and I would be waiting for him to come in. But if his car was there, he would just go, `KKKKKSSSH' and come crashing down on you. Y'know. ... ''
There is a theory that his father was beaten and kicked as a young boy by his father, and he was repeating the pattern he suffered growing up.
``Maybe he was,'' he says quickly, dismissively. ``I don't know. He never spoke about it. He probably was. I'm sure he was. But that doesn't make it all right.''
And if your father came to you now and said, ``Sorry for what I did. ... ''
``I'm arsed about him now, do you know what I mean? It's hard to ... because I'm so close with me mam. The thing is now, if he talked to me and said: `Look, Liam, this is the way it was.' It's over and gone with. And I don't want that back in my life, whether he's changed or not.''
Your mother was your great protector when you were a kid. She protected you from he interrupts before I can finish the sentence ``Everything.''
It is the all-encompassing everything of religion that his mother put her faith into all her life that angers Liam the most. When Peggy got a divorce from the man who was making her life a misery, the Catholic church turned its back on her. She was told she couldn't receive Holy Communion, nor go to heaven. It angered him that his mother was treated like a virtual leper by the religious men she looked to all her days. It was then that Liam Gallagher, who had been dragged to Mass every Sunday like every other Irish Catholic in Manchester, turned his back on God.
``It was because of me mam and her divorce, yeah,'' he says forcefully. ``They told her she couldn't take the Body of Christ any more. They told her it is a big sin and that she can't go to heaven. She put her whole faith in the Church, but where's their faith in her?''
The Catholic Church shat on your mother.
``Exactly. I don't know much about religion but I know that for my mam to keep taking the Body of Christ, the Holy Communion, you've got to be married. The day you get divorced in the Catholic Church is the day you're not allowed to take the Body of Christ. So therefore I'm thinking, `Right, she stays with her husband, she is getting beaten up and all that nonsense just for the Body of Christ.'
``What's all that about? So the religion turns around and says: despite all the shit that my mam has been through she couldn't have 10 minutes in the church or that this geezer upstairs wouldn't listen to her. They wouldn't listen to her. They basically turned their backs on her. So therefore they send you into turmoil anyway, because you've f***ing lost this husband who you thought was great and then you lose this faith you thought was great. Bollocks, really.''
Spiritual by temperament, Gallagher doesn't subscribe to any creed, believing now that all organised religion is a sham and a scourge. ``I don't believe in God. Me mam goes mad when I say that. She says, `Don't say that. That's blasphemy.' But I don't believe in anything that's got a name. I just believe in people and meself, because I'm part of a human race which is people. So I believe in that more than I believe in a god. And I believe in music. And I believe in f***ing smart shoes.'' As room service arrives with more alcohol, he lifts up his feet to reveal a pair of brown suede Clarks. ``They're brilliant, man,'' he enthuses, like a wide-eyed 10-year-old.
WHEN Liam Gallagher was 10, his favourite book was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As his father fought with everyone downstairs, Liam would be upstairs, away in a dream of stepping into a cupboard and being chased through the snow by lions inside. Seventeen years later, he reads the same book to seven-year-old stepson James (from Patsy's previous marriage to Jim Kerr) while wife Patsy does Mr Men voices for him. He even wrote a song about him, Little James, which is on the new album Standing on the Shoulder of Giants.
(Sail at the sea/Your mam, you and me/You swam the oceans like a child/Life around us was so wild/Thank you for your smile/You make it all worthwhile for us.
When James told his ``stinky'' stepdad that he loved Star Wars, Liam bought him 20 planets that hang from the ceiling in the room. The room is painted sky blue with millions of stars. There were nights when Liam had so much fun playing Star Wars with James that, like all kids even 27-year-old ones who missed out on part of their youth he didn't want to go home to his own bed.
On those occasions, Liam would say to his wife: ``Pats, I'm sleeping in James's room tonight.'' His wife's reply: ``Come to bed, Liam.''
``Well,'' he would say, reluctantly, ``let's have our room done like this then.''
You don't need to be a trained psychologist to see that Liam wants to be a proper father both to baby Lennon and to James in the way that his own father never was.
``I never had that,'' he says. ``You're right, totally. But also I'm there for James and Lennon because I enjoy being there. I enjoy their company, whereas I don't think my old boy enjoyed our company. He enjoyed somebody else's company more than his own family, do you know what I mean? I enjoy my family. I actually have a laugh with them.''
On September 15, Patsy gave birth by Caesarean section to 6lb Lennon Francis Gallagher, who was six weeks premature. When he first saw the baby ``pop out'', Liam realised that this was not just a figment of his imagination any more. ``It's not just Patsy with a bump. It's actually f***ing here! I was instantly changed. I've got to look after and guide and worry about this baby for the rest of my life. I just want to do the right thing by him.
``I've got a band and I've got a family. I needed the other experience of having a baby, because you're f***-all until you've had a baby. It doesn't matter how much money you have or how many Number Ones you have. It's pretty artificial really. I'll bring my kid up the way I want to, because whether people think I do or not, I know right from wrong.''
Typically, Liam has figured out how to communicate with his four-month-old son. ``I go `Howdy partner' in an Asian accent and he goes `Aaaah'. When I speak to him normally, he doesn't do anything.''
How long does it take you to change a nappy?
``I'm pretty good at that, actually. I'd have it done in about a minute.''
Does Lennon shake and rattle his toys in time to Little James?
``Does he!'' he laughs. ``No. Lennon doesn't do anything at the moment. He just f***ing sticks his tongue out at everyone.''
He has seen how Victoria Adams and David Beckham auctioned their child as if his every moment had a price tag and he is not about to let that happen with his son. Lennon is the anti-Hello! magazine baby. Liam is anxious to say that that whole showbiz lifestyle is anathema to him and his wife. He says he's been to one premiere in his life which was the one with Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant, and that was only because Liz is Patsy's mate and she wanted to support the film.
``And because of that, they associate us with the celebrity game!'' he snaps. ``I f***ing hate that celebrity crap. I'm just Liam. And these f***ing photographers come around my house and they take pictures of me and my kid and they expect me to allow them because these posh f***ing people let them with their kid. And I go, `Wait a minute! You haven't seen my kid on the front cover of f***ing OK! magazine'.
``You haven't seen me doing 12 spreads with my kid, throwing his boat all over the shop. I think if you show your child off like that, then the public feel they have a right to have a picture with this kid. They do.
``I'm in a big rock band and I am publicly owned whether I like it or not, and I can deal with being publicly owned because I'm 27. But my kid is a baby and he is going to be a child until he wants to know what the press is about or about his daddy being famous. But until then, if anyone comes to take a picture of my kid, I'll break their f***ing nose, because I have not sold my baby's soul like that. I make my money through music. Not by having a baby on the cover of OK! That's the difference between me and them.''
Please note. When Posh Spice was young, she used to beg her father not to take her to school in his Rolls Royce. Liam Gallagher got a kick up the arse from his father. ``That's the way they bring their kid up,'' he continues, ``and I'm sure they're doing a great job, just like anyone with a kid tries to do their best, and it is nothing to do with me because I'm sure they love their kid as much as I love mine.''
Not surprisingly, then, Liam was somewhat embarrassed by sister-in-law Meg Matthews' column in the Sunday Times. ``Totally. It was ridiculous. We don't need a journalist in the family when they're f***ing down on you. Where does the money go? That's what I want to know. And I don't think money like that needs to go to charity because it's dirty money. So I was a bit disappointed. I never said it, but I'm sure she knows. She knows me very well and she knows I get the needle with things like that.''
In 1997, on April 7, Liam married Patsy at the Marylebone Registry Office. They immediately began to behave like human beings, not Stepford wives and like any human beings, the rows soon followed. But Liam and Patsy's rows were on the front page of The Sun every day. Their differences soon led to a break in the relationship. In September 1988, Patsy and James moved out, with Liam mystifyingly telling the press corps camped outside his front door: ``My fingernails are growing and everything's all right.''
``She moved out,'' Liam explains now, ``and we decided to have a break because I had been off the road with the band. I'm a bastard. I'm hard to live with, and I'll admit that.''
At least you're an honest bastard, Liam.
``Well, I am!'' he smiles. ``I am hard to live with. When you're up in the skies for so long with Oasis and then you come down; when I come off the road I'm like what Bono says about coming off the road after a tour: you need to check into a hotel for a couple of weeks before you go home. I had just come down from our gig at Knebworth [one of the biggest gigs in British musical history] and I was home for two years. It was like a prison sentence. What it was was she decided to move out and she got a flat in Hyde Park and we had a break while I got my head together. We always knew we were going to get back together.''
His home life with Patsy and the children has surely mellowed him out a little. Bringing a seven-year-old to school every second day does that to you. The first day the charismatic rock star turned up at the school, however, he felt a peculiar sense of deja vu going in through school gates again. This sense of peculiarity soon deepened into mortified horror when he met James's new teacher, an old nun. ``I nearly shit me pants,'' he laughs. ``She didn't look freaked out to see me. I thought she was gonna kick me head in or keep me behind in detention!''
And with good reason too, no doubt. His parents separated when he was 12, Liam left school at 15 with no qualifications and a job making fences was quickly followed by a stint working for his father on the building sites. As Trainspotter author Irvine Welsh noted most succinctly, the Gallaghers' success is an example to every kid from a council estate who's had to listen to people telling them for the last 20 years: ``You're shite. We've got McJobs down for you. And that's only if you behave yourself.''
Or as Liam remembers it when he was asked to clean the toilet as part of his job description at a local garden centre: ``I'm not f***ing doing that,'' he laughed, ``I want to be in a rock 'n roll band. And they go: `You're f***ing tripping, mate. Get down there. Dig that f***ing hole.' I told him to stick it up his arse.''
This is no doubt why Alan McGee, who signed Oasis to Creation, remarked when he first saw Liam perform in Glasgow in 1993 that Liam, even then, was ``already a rock star in his head''.
Their first date in Europe as Oasis ended inauspiciously when Liam got into a fight on the ferry over to Holland and was thrown in the brig. The whole group were forcibly returned to England without ever setting foot on Dutch soil. When Noel and Liam tried to explain the fracas to New Musical Express, the results were pure comedy. They sounded like two toddlers fighting over who threw what toy when out of the pram.
Noel: We're not a bunch of boxers. Are we? The band is about music. It's not about getting thrown off ferries.
Liam: You don't speak for the band.
Noel: I do speak for the band.
Liam: I speak for the band. I'm speaking now for the band. And I'm into it. (Referring to Noel) He's teetotal. He's a f***in' priest. He was born to be a priest.
Noel: No. The difference is, I don't get caught.
Liam: You don't speak for the band!
Noel: I do!
There was no putting a lid on this particular Pandora's box. Oasis were forever ingrained in the public's minds as the fighting Gallagher brothers. Ever since, Liam's life has been a masterclass in Men Behaving Badly.
Controversy, the lifeblood of all great youth movements, alighted upon Oasis like tongues of fire over willing apostles. In 1996, when Liam was arrested at 7am in Oxford Circus on suspicion of drug possession, PC Plod's nquiry of ``What are you up to?'' did not receive the expected polite response. ``What's it got to do with you, wanky- bollocks?'' was the reply.
In 1998, Liam got Oasis banned from the Cathay Pacific airline after alleged ``abusive and disgusting behaviour'' on a flight to Hong Kong. Ever the diplomat, Liam explains it as being down to ``some pan-head who needs stabbing through the head with a f***ing pickaxe''.
In August 1996, Liam disembarked from a plane minutes before it was due to take off for a flight to America for an Oasis tour. He told reporters that he had to go house-hunting with his then fiancée Patsy Kensit. A female reporter wanted to know his views on letting down Oasis fans.
"F*** that. I come before any bastard. I come first!" the Manc legend snapped, getting in a taxi with a bodyguard, but not before he flicked his ciggie ash out the window at the cameraman. Newsnight got a few more words out of him. Through the intercom on the door. "Who the f*** is this?"
"Newsnight, Liam. Are you coming out to talk to us?"
"Am I f***! It's f***ing raining outside."
"Are you going to Chicago?" Cue the sound of intercom phone being hung up and cut to a bemused Jeremy Paxman saying: "Well, that was worth waiting for."
When he finally reached Amerikay, within the week he was gobbing in the direction of cameras and 200 million viewers during the MTV Awards in New York. It's standard rock star misbehaviour. Nothing Mick Jagger didn't do 20 years ago. Give me a bastard who eats off his fork any day. Nice guys give me the creeps.
``I don't care what people think about me,'' he says, lighting up another ciggie. ``I know who I am. The people close to me know who I am and that's all that matters. I'm not ashamed of who I am. I don't care what the papers write. I see myself as someone who makes a lot of people happy. I'm a good rock 'n' roll singer and a good dad, a decent husband.''
In February last year, Liam, ever the decent husband, gave up cocaine for Lent. He vowed to remain clean for the duration of the recording of the fourth album, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. Having had panic attacks in the middle of the night, as he came off his cocaine, his brother Noel is now a Coke-Free Zone. Liam is back on the drugs, though not as much he was.
Their snouts perennially in the cocaine trough, Liam and Noel in the late Nineties became The Brothers Gram a gram of cocaine an hour. But Liam says his older brother was far worse. ``Everyone writes about me but Noel was f***ing mad,'' he laughs. ``Noel packed it in because he had a health scare and his heart was ready to explode. He was a lot more wilder than me.'' For the record, proof that he is quite domesticated, Liam still takes cocaine. He just puts less of the GNP of Columbia up his nose. ``I've slowed down.''
IT WASN'T drugs that opened the doors of perception for Liam Gallagher, though. He claims the soul of John Lennon entered his body when he was 15. He can remember the out-of-body experience vividly. In it, he believed the spirit of the murdered Beatle entered him a transmigration of souls.
``I was staying at me mate's house,'' he says. ``I had gone to bed after playing football in the park. I just felt me head going all f***ing fuzzy. I had just started getting into music around this time. It was like my head was compressed. I got up, turned on the light and something went `Whoooomph!' Whatever it was, my soul just left my body. Suddenly, I could look down to see my body in bed this sweet 15-year-old in bed. I was either up there 20 minutes or a third of a second.
``Then I felt this force and then `Whoosh', I went back into meself. And as I came back into meself, I stood up. I believe I left my soul and took on another soul that was knocking about John Lennon or someone who had something to do with music. That was what I felt. Maybe it was a calling, because all of a sudden I had joined this band and I was going nowhere. I told me mam but she didn't believe me. She just thought I was off me tits.'' (Laughs.)
It is hard to pin him down. Beyond definition, he hovers around a persona without getting trapped in it. Put your finger on him and you touch dust. Still, he is clearly not the appalling egoist I had been expecting. He is as sharp as his cheekbones, but is also disarmingly gentle. And very sweet. He never once flicked ash at me.
Patsy and the kids are away in America at the moment. On his own in the house, Liam pottered about this morning. Up at eight. Had a bath. Fed the two white Persian cats, Mick and Keith. He rang his mother at 8.30. Liam Gallagher rings his mam every day without fail, sometimes three times a day. He says she still gets upset when she reads nasty things about her sons on the front pages of the tabloids every other day.
``But she knows who I am. I spend a lot of time with me mam. Even when I left home to come to London, I never stopped communicating. Noel doesn't speak to her as much as me. I speak to her every f***ing day. It's like as if I never left Manchester. It's not like I've gone down to London, got off me head in this rock 'n' roll band. She knows me.''
He tells me about why he fell in love with Patsy Kensit. When she came down to Manchester, he just fancied her straight away. ``We're the same but we're different, do you know what I mean? She's class, man. She's not like any other woman I've ever met.''
Does she ever tell you to cop on?
``Does she? All the time, mate, all the time.''
It is hard to reconcile the thoroughly nice young fella effing and blinding and drinking beer opposite me at eleven in the morning with the simian brute who appears in the papers. How does it feel to be demonised, Liam?
"But I was demonised by me teachers," he smiles. "I was demonised the day I f**king opened me mouth. The day I had an opinion, I was demonised. The day I said I don't want to do that in school, I was demonised. You're demonised the day you sign on the dole and someone tells you you've got to do this shitty job and you tell them to f**k off."
He is not one to cross, however. In 1997, George Harrison was asked what he thought of Oasis. He thought Noel was okay. "The other one is a pain," he said, "they don't need him. Maybe it's because Noel is his brother that they have to keep him in the band."
To say that Liam was angry would something of an understatement. "I'm gonna stand George Harrison on his head and play golf!" he raged. "I'm gonna do my Roy Castle impersonation on his head. I had a dream where I drop-kick him in the throat. My name is disturbance."
There is a funny story here, however, amid all this bile. Liam remembers that just after Harrison made those remarks about him, his brother Noel was coming back from New York on Concorde and George's son Dani was sitting beside him the whole way home. They had about 26 Bloody Marys and arrived at Heathrow "rolling". So rolling, in fact, that Noel had to get Dani his bag and put it on the trolley for him. When the doors at arrivals opened, who should be there to greet Dani and Noel but the big-mouth Beatle.
"Dani goes: 'Hey dad, he's alright, you know.' And Noel says as he hands over the son who's as drunk as an arse: `Hello George, here's your son. You have just been Gallaghered. Go and puke up in your Ashford home while my stomach gently retches.'"
Liam denies that he felt even the slightest twinge of schadenfreude when Harrison met his misfortune at Christmas.
"Look, mate," Liam smiles now, "if John Lennon was alive and he said that Liam Gallagher is a f***ing knobhead, it would do me head in because I loved him so much. But I understand that George doesn't know me. They just know what they read in the press!"
As the press officer sticks his head around the door to indicate "two minutes" there is a journalist from Denmark waiting to come in and another from Finland behind him Liam says he will see me in Dublin when they come over in the summer to play Lansdowne Road on July 8.
He's hard not to like. He says he wants to move out of London to the country. You can just imagine him and Noel, the Brothers Gram, in the shires charming the bloomers off ancient countesses and mouldering dowagers.
Still, over the next six months, on the back of the new album, Liam Gallagher will once again be leading the biggest band in the world. Onstage, during songs like Supersonic and Roll With It, his will be the voice that was born of the sexual power of Elvis's thighs. The coolest entertainer of this era, apparently, the neo-John Lennon, burning, burning, burning like a Roman candle.
With Mr Denmark waiting, I have time for one final theory. There have been essentially two great women in your life, Liam. The first one, your mother, saved you from your father. The second, Patsy Kensit, saved you from yourself, stopped you from ending up a cokehead casualty.
There is a long pause. Then Benson & Hedges smoke as dense as his Manchester accent: "But I'm pretty strong. I know what I'm doing. I got that strength from me mam. I know when things are getting too much, I knock it on the head."
Yeah, f***ing right, Liam.
article courtesy of Unison