wed 20/11/2019

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Usher Hall, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

A professional, polished and entirely risk-free return from the former Oasis man

Noel Gallagher: high flyer or stuck in the middle?Lawrence Watson

Noel Gallagher is hardly renowned for his willingness to stand on the precipice and leap into the unknown. A songwriter happy to work well within his own limitations, he has embarked upon his solo career (don’t be fooled by the “High Flying Birds” shtick; this is a star-plus-hired-hands job) with due caution. Indeed, his new album conforms so precisely to the preconceived notion of what a solo Noel Gallagher album would sound like you half suspect the whole project may one day be outed as some conceptual prank.

Likewise, last night’s Edinburgh concert was entirely risk-free, with no hint of the hard-line stance Gallagher’s pal Paul Weller took after breaking up The Jam, turning his back on his most famous songs for close to a decade to focus exclusively on new horizons.

The crowd were somewhere north of 'up for it', particularly the man who tried to order a pint of lager at the ticket office

Instead, Gallagher and his low-key, well-drilled four-piece backing band divided the set pretty much half and half between songs from his first solo record and old Oasis material. It was often hard to see the join, which, depending on your point of view, was either rather depressing, or else testament to the fact that he can still knock out a decent tune with admirable ease.

He was astute enough to choose wisely from his back catalogue. Opening with a pointed rendition of “(It's Good) to be Free“, he also showed a willingness to move the furniture around a little. “Talk Tonight”, an early acoustic B-side and one of his loveliest songs, was given a full band makeover, while those heady 1990s anthems “Supersonic” and “Don‘t Look Back in Anger“ were gently deflated, played without the band with just acoustic guitar and soulful keyboard counterpoints.

The inference was clear: not only is solo Gallagher intent on downsizing (literally: the ornate Usher Hall is little more than a glorified front room compared to his previous stadium haunts) but, like them or loathe them, these hoary old Oasis standards are now folk songs, ingrained in the culture. He rather cleverly played them as such, strumming them without fanfare and letting the crowd do the heavy lifting on the choruses. “Wonderwall“, similarly stripped back, was handed over like a gift. It was rather touching in the way that watching a football crowd singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” can be touching, effortlessly catching those big, boozy, uncomplicated macho emotions with the musical equivalent of a butterfly net.  

Gallagher may lack the experimental gene but he knows how to write tunes - well, choruses - that make absolute sense in this environment. The songs on the new album may sound like utterly ordinary, mid-tempo guitar workouts in their recorded incarnations, but some strange alchemy overtook them in concert. This turbo-boost came partly from the crowd, who were somewhere north of “up for it” long before the music started (particularly the man who tried to order a pint of lager at the ticket office). They knew every word to every new song (and when they didn't they just sang “sun-shiiiine”), the kind of dedication to duty which has already made the likes of “Everybody's on the Run” and "Dream On" surrogate Oasis anthems.

Meanwhile “What a Life”, a brooding drone with a little of the spooky roll of Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love”, was one of the few songs that properly swaggered. Still, for every moment of uplift there was a “Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks”, which thought it was The Kinks but didn’t know the half of it, or a faceless “Broken Arrow”, limping along to the sound of its own inertia.

The most obvious criticism on a night of polished professionalism festooned with the odd thrill was one I suspect Gallagher might agree with. He’s a surprisingly strong singer but no front man. Hunched over his guitar in his white shirt and jeans, frowning into the microphone and muttering the occasional droll Mancism, he cut a distant figure. When the crowd started singing “NO-EL” he deadpanned: “Shit chant - not enough syllables.” At times this wry little fella seemed, frankly, less than overjoyed at the bellowing devotion displayed by his beery throng of acolytes.

He might one day be inspired to try a little harder to confound their expectations, but for now Gallagher is very carefully building his power base. In “What a Life” he sang that he wanted to “take that tiger outside for a ride”. A stirring sentiment, but on this evidence one that belongs not so much to the high-flying birds as cloud cuckoo land.

  • Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds are on tour until 30 October

Watch the video for "The Death of You and Me"

Like them or loathe them, these hoary old Oasis standards are now folk songs, ingrained in the culture, and he rather cleverly played them as such

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Comments

"East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." Many a time I think this is the way it should be between artists and the music critics that try to dissect their works. I will read this editorial and take it with a grain of salt, because it's ultimately, up to the fans to decide who will succeed and who will fail. Noel Gallagher said this new body of work was done for his own personal growth and development. A necessity for his soul. If the fans love it (like this fan does) he will have achieved much more than he had ever anticipated when starting out on this journey.

Let’s not forget that whilst working within his own “limitations” Noel Gallagher has prolifically written some of the most memorable and enduring songs in British music history. To simply say that he writes choruses is a rather lazy assessment of what is an extraordinary back catalogue. Every great songwriter, sorry, every great POPULAR songwriter has an ear for a good chorus but without the necessary skill required to seamlessly weave these choruses into a song it counts for nothing (case in point Shed Seven and the rest of the 90’s bands that first grabbed at coattails before falling by the wayside somewhere between 1998 – 2005). Noel Gallagher has never proclaimed to be the most original or creative of artists, instead he has openly admitted to being something of a musical magpie. Pilfering IDEAS at will from the music that he loves and adding more than just a pinch of the secret Gallagher ingredient, this “wry little fella” (a bit patronising by the way) produces songs that transcend social boundaries, amongst many others. Sure, last night the crowd was predominantly Noel Gallagher fans (funny that) which is a goldmine for reviewers who can use terms like “big, boozy”, “uncomplicated”, “macho”, “beery throng of acolytes” and “this environment” – THIS ENVIRONMENT? Perhaps I have taken this the wrong way but as a Gallagher fan I find this kind of reportage patronising, lazy and more than a little insulting….. The main thrust of your review seems to be the lack of boundary pushing on his new material. This album is made up of a lot of material that was shelved during the Oasis years for whatever reasons so it is no surprise that it has the sound that it does. For something to “confound the expectations” see his upcoming collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous. Also, his “hired hands” are all brilliant musicians in their own right (The Sand Band, The Zutons….) and together the band produced a show that was more than “festooned with the odd thrill”. What did you expect? Flaming Lips-esque crowd zorbing? I am not surprised that reviews of Noel Gallagher are like this, in fact I could have probably guessed at a lot of the comments before I’d actually went but that’s been the case for years. One thing is for sure, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I’m not a boozy macho beery acolyte, I’m not sure what else to say about this so erm….. “sun-shiiine”. Pathetic.

fair review. I went with a couple of freinds who are massive fans - they lapped it up, I thought it was basically dull music for nostalgic pissheads. Gallagher essentially got lucky by writing a couple of cracking early Oasis songs and has been living off them (and repeating them) eversince. The atmosphere last night was unpleasant. A woman a few seats down from me in the grand circle got a pint chucked over her courtesy of some idiot in the top tier. Nice. Riot vans outside, guys puking all over the loos? No thanks....

"Nostalgic pissheads". That's a bit unfair anonymous (if in fact that is your real name, however something tells me its not.............). As for the pint incident, unfortunately and regrettably these things tend to happen, i saw a woman get knocked over on Princes Street yesterday but that doesn't mean to say everyone else on the street was it as well. Bon Iver played here on Saturday and there was a riot van outside at the end of that as well, now im pretty sure it wasn't the same crowd at both gigs. Certain security measures need to be in place for a crowd of that size and is the venue / organisers way of covering themselves should anything happen. I have to ask why you bothered going? Were you just expecting him to play the, what was it... "couple of cracking early" tunes that you liked. Hang on though would that not make you somewhat nostalgic? and thus in league with the rest of us pissheads? Im sure someone would have gladly snapped up that ticket leaving you free of a Thursday evening to find somewhere with a more "pleasant environment" to no doubt pass judgement on us yobs enjoying ourselves in the Usher Hall.

Absolutely agree with Anonymous. I left halfway through. Noel is very average. The great rock n' roll swindle anyone?

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.