“My manager asked me who the High Flying Birds are. They aren’t anyone in particular. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is me and whoever is around at the time of whatever it is that I’m doing, a loose collective kinda thing”.
So speaks Noel Gallagher, as he embarks on the latest step of his strange, twisting journey. Gallagher began his career in music by lugging amplifiers on and off tour buses for The Inspiral Carpets. Then he captured the voices, hopes and dreams of millions with Oasis, who went on to become the biggest band of the last two decades. Now he’s fashioned a masterpiece that takes the Noel Gallagher trademarks — melancholic verse lines, euphoric choruses, a suggestion that everything’s going to be OK when the rain clears — and thrown them out into the cosmos.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds takes off into directions Oasis could never have gone. From the New Orleans ragtime stomp of “The Death Of You And Me” to the Ennio Morricone-inspired, string-laden drama of “Everybody’s On The Run” and the choral swell of “(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine”, it’s an ambitious, rainbow-coloured epic of an album. It’s the product of an enquiring mind, fired up by new discoveries as much as a basic, unquenchable need to get a message out to the world.
“With this album, people are going to think it was a conscious decision to do something different,” says Gallagher. “It wasn’t like that. This is what just came out. I won’t criticize anything about Oasis because I loved being in that band and I was in charge of it, but there was always the feeling: how will this go down in Wembley, with 70,000 people braying for good times? This time I didn’t have to think about that. I’ve got a guy playing wine glasses on one song, a saw on another. This is not Oasis. I don’t know what it is......yet."
The intricacy and craft of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, both musically and lyrically, puts paid to rumours that its creator entered into a state of inertia after the end of Oasis. “There was a review of the Beady Eye album — and fair play to Beady Eye, the reviews I’ve read have been pretty good — that said something like: ‘while Liam’s been hard at work, Noel’s been wandering the streets.’ It made it sound like I’ve been stumbling around North London, going through the bins. I’ve actually spent over a year in the studio, and it was beginning to drive me a little mad. Now I’ve got no more recording to do until I’m well into my 70s.”
Work on the album proper began in February 2010, when Gallagher booked a session at State Of The Ark Studios in Twickenham, Middlesex with sometime Oasis engineer Paul Stacey and his identical twin brother Jeremy, a drummer. The plan was to then head out to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks to mix the tracks with producer Dave Sardy, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
“Dave said to me, "It's great but it doesn't sound like a band". “I ain't a band" says I. "Then we have to make you sound like one” was his response. So we set about to re-recording some drums and cutting numerous overdubs, and as a result I ended up staying out in LA for a couple of months, all the while thinking: “he can’t beat what I’ve done”. But sure enough, what he came up with was amazing.”
The ideal of young love inspired “The Death Of You And Me”, one of the most remarkable – and surprising – songs on the album, and a world away from Oasis. After a stomping beat and a melody with a touch of mid-60s Kinks to it, jazzy brass blasts in halfway though and suddenly we’re in New Orleans. “It’s the same theme, the same idea that however good things are, a bit of anything will always be shit,” Gallagher says of the song’s message. “It’s a British thing. The song has a touch of Vaudeville, but with the curtains pulled back a little. There’s the line: ‘I see another new day dawning, it was rising over me, with my mortality.” Yes, it’s a new day. But I’ve just got a day older, a day closer to the end.”
A more straightforward celebration comes with “AKA… What A Life!” It edges close to being a dancefloor-filling disco classic. “It took me a while to convince myself about this one,” says Gallagher. “But [early house classic] Rhythim Is Rhythim by Strings Of Life, which I loved from the Hacienda days, inspired the piano part, and I realised that the song carries the vibe no matter what that vibe is.”
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, with its psychedelic tinges, eternal themes of love, loss and hope, and wine glass and saw solo sections, pushes its creator towards places he has never gone before. “You’ve got to try, haven’t you? Look at The Fabs. It’s a short time between Strawberry Fields and Mr Moonlight. All the great bands stumbled on something they didn’t know was there before, and ended up doing their own thing. And ultimately, you’re searching for “it”, whatever “it” is. If you’re switched on you can find it — regularly.”