Andy Bell may be in Stockholm but his thoughts remain focused on Japan. The guitarist’s new band, Beady Eye, consists of the former members of Oasis who were left standing following Noel Gallagher’s acrimonious departure two years ago. The quartet were in the process of launching their fledgling outfit when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred.
“We’d been watching the news on tour while the earthquake and tsunami were happening,” Bell recalls to The Japan Times, “and we knew we had a Japanese tour and we probably wouldn’t be able to go. Japan is such a great place, we love playing there. Oasis went there a lot, about 10 times, and it wouldn’t have felt right if we’d just canceled and given a refund on the tickets and forgotten about it.”
Beady Eye’s response, led by inimitable frontman Liam Gallagher, was to help in any manner possible. After performing at the Japan Disaster Benefit show at London Brixton O2 Academy on April 3, they released a download-only cover of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe,” donating the proceeds to the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal.
“We wanted to make the gig as special as we could — it was all part of the same thing. It was a tune we’d talked about covering and it just seemed to fit the moment. It was all done around one hectic week. Our band loves the Japanese. We’ve really built up a love for the place. We love the people. We understand them and they understand us. We felt the earthquake … it wasn’t just something that was happening somewhere else in the world.”
The goodwill is mutual. Beady Eye makes their Japanese debut this weekend at Summer Sonic with as much public interest as any overseas act performing, save the returning Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Different Gear, Still Speeding” is a factor, an album that, while in obvious thrall to the giants of rock history (The Rolling Stones, The Who and, predictably, The Beatles) contains fine, vibrant moments that would fit aptly into Oasis’ back catalog.
If only attention was restricted to music. Inevitably, the fascination with the Gallagher brothers’ relationship and its very public disintegration casts a shadow: Bell calls the brothers “an institution,” and their hold on people’s imagination remains.
After years of well-documented tantrums and bustups, Oasis finally imploded in August 2009. The split came just three days after the cancellation of a scheduled headline performance at England’s V Festival due to Liam’s laryngitis — a dressing room fight in Paris proved one sibling-spat too much. Noel quickly released a caustic statement bemoaning a “lack of support and understanding from my bandmates” regarding Liam’s “verbal and violent intimidation,” leaving Bell “angry, because we then knew exactly what he thought of us.” The bad blood has lingered.
“There have been surprising aspects, yeah,” Bell replies when asked how the baggage of Oasis affected starting anew. “The main shock for me has been people expected us to be so rubbish,” he says, snorting out a laugh that barely contains his scorn. It’s a perceptive call: the news that a Noel-less Oasis would soldier on without the man who wrote the songs that made them Britain’s biggest band raised eyebrows in some quarters, outright derision in others. Why so, I ask. “Well, we know why,” he says. Nudged to elaborate, he becomes slightly irate. “So, just because Noel leaves Oasis, everything the others do is bound to be absolute sh-t?! That was a real surprise. Y’know, it’s Liam Gallagher, it’s me, it’s Gem Archer, it’s Chris Sharrock — why would it be anything other than great? We were the band as well — Liam was the voice!”
Pushed further, Bell presents a hypothesis: Noel’s manipulative skills with the press.
“Noel did all the press and it was always from his point of view,” Bell claims, calmness returning to his tone. “He’d make personal opinions about the band members that were not good for the whole band; it was just what he thought. We never got a say. People had 10 years of Noel’s opinions as if they were Oasis’. And that’s where it’s got us, where it’s as if the only one to expect something decent from is Noel. Liam has got valid views. And now he gets to air them.”
With impeccable timing, our conversation takes place just two days after Noel has announced his forthcoming solo plans at a well attended if faintly self-congratulatory London press conference, during which he accused Liam of feigning laryngitis and making unreasonable demands on Oasis in relation to his clothing range Pretty Green, claiming it was the catalyst for the fatal argument. Did Bell see the conference?
“Yeah, I did.”
What did you think of it?
“Bollocks,” he replies in a heartbeat. “He lied about a lot of things. The argument about Pretty Green was lies, what he said about V Festival and the fake laryngitis was lies …” He suddenly holds back. “I don’t know, maybe he’s convinced that’s the truth. I don’t know what goes on in his head. I know him, so I’m not disappointed. That’s what he’s like. I know how he spins the press. He’s used the press for years. Interviews and press are secondary for us, that’s his life.”
There were sections of the press conference where Noel was hardly complimentary towards Bell.
“That’s just Noel being Noel,” he says with an I’d-expect-nothing-less air. “All that sh-t … there were three of us in that room, and I’m telling you it was nothing to do with Pretty Green. I’m not going to add more fuel to the fire. But I’ve ended up in a band with Liam, Gem, Chris, with the same management, road crew…” Bell trails off, but then perks up. “But at the same time, I wish him all the best. I want him to be happy.”
It was in the immediate aftermath of the Paris split that Beady Eye was conceived in all but name. Having joined Oasis in 1999, replacing founding members Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs and Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan, Bell (formerly of shoegaze pioneers Ride) and Archer were Oasis stalwarts and the kinship with Liam meant continuing as a creative unit was never in doubt. “We drove back to the hotel, had a few beers, sat together and said there’s nothing to keep us from playing together. We agreed it wouldn’t be the end just because Noel left.” Could Oasis have survived, in any guise? “That’s not for me to think about. I’m not into looking back,” Bell says.
Unable “to stand still,” they began to demo tracks within a week of their return to England. With songs blossoming, it was announced in March 2010 that Steve Lillywhite would produce the newly named Beady Eye, the dawning realization of their undertaking the only obstacle.
“After the album was done, we did have a moment to catch our breath and say, ‘We’re in at the deep end here. Are people gonna like it?’ We were in at that point. As soon as we walked on stage at our first gig in Glasgow, I just felt huge relief and excitement and I knew it was gonna be alright. No-one turned up in Oasis T-shirts, no-one shouted for Oasis tunes, there were people singing along to Beady Eye tunes because they liked them.”
The shows, at theater venues a fraction of the size Oasis long became accustomed to (“we knew that it was absolutely not going to be on that level”) have been resounding triumphs: primitive, direct and ear-splittingly loud — “the natural result when us lot get on stage” — it showcased a band comfortable with their circumstances.
Liam particularly, I suggest, seems more engaged with these songs than in some time.
“Liam connects completely in these songs. From day one, it was all about Liam’s voice. We put the voice down, but not over a wall of sound, he was the wall of sound. We built it around him. He was the blueprint. He’s so plugged in.”
It also appears with tumultuous highs and recriminating lows a thing of the past, without big brother watching over, Liam — and Beady Eye as a collective — couldn’t be more contented.
“He seems happy, we’re all happy,” Bell says. “I mean, we were happy in Oasis mostly. I had 10 great years. But we’re playing great and we’re getting on better than ever. Beady Eye is a band enjoying being together and playing rock ‘n’ roll.”
Beady Eye plays the Marine Stage at the Chiba leg of Summer Sonic on Aug. 13, and the Ocean Stage at the Osaka leg of the festival on Aug. 14. For details, visit www.summersonic.com. Beady Eye plays Zepp Tokyo on Sept. 5, 11 and 12 ( 3444-6751); Zepp Nagoya on Sept. 6 ( 936-6041); and Zepp Osaka on Sept. 8 ( 6535-5569). For more information, visit www.zepp.co.jp or www.beadyeyemusic.com.