Noel Gallagher - Royal Albert Hall
- Category: Music Archive
It’s fair to say that anyone who turned up to the Noel Gallagher concerts at The Royal Albert Hall in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust last week would have been a Noel Gallagher fan. Given that tickets to the show were not cheap and sold out very quickly, I think you’d have to be, so I’m unsure if anybody could have walked away from the event thinking anything other than how good it was.
These were the first official gigs he has done since leaving Oasis last August and the only solo performances we’ll be seeing from him this year, so it meant something to be there. It’s never been easy to get tickets for any kind of Oasis related event at the best of times, but to be able to sit in the more intimate indoor setting of The Royal Albert Hall with those amazing acoustics felt very special, especially after learning that Noel was going to be bringing in an all female 8-piece string orchestra (Wired Strings) and a 50 strong choir (Crouch End Choir, who had appeared at Oasis’ first electric proms gigs at The Roundhouse in 2008).
The crowd was also a little different to the kind of you’d get in the stadium gigs: more reserved, hair cuts more distinctive, people dressed either suits and quite modish, collars up, or in zipped up tracksuit tops.
Because we haven’t heard much from Noel since he left Oasis, it was uncertain what we were actually going to hear – would he play Oasis songs, completely new songs, different variations of old songs, covers, or would there be special guest appearances? Rumours were rife that Mani was going to be joining him on stage. But when Noel walked on stage without Mani but with Gem behind him instead, it felt warming to realize that relations between Noel and other band members were ok despite what happened with Oasis, and gave an inkling to the kind of acoustic sound we were going to hear. Alongside Noel and Gem were Jay Darlington on keyboards and Terry Kirkbridge on percussion.
Without much fuss, they went straight into (It's Good) To Be Free, followed by Talk Tonight and Fade Away. As Noel continued with more old classics (Cast No Shadow, Half The World Away, Don’t Go Away) it wasn’t long before it twigged that Noel was following a set list and arrangement similar to his last performance at the Royal Albert Hall with Gem in 2007 – the gig that featured on The Dreams We Have As Children live CD. As if Noel was reading our minds at that moment, he clarified it for us after Don’t Go Away, “If anyone is sitting here thinking that this is exactly the same set as we did here three years ago…it is.” Apart from the odd change here and there, such as Noel playing Rockn' Chair (which hasn’t been played live since 1996) and Digsy's Dinner, everything felt very familiar, and it was interesting to observe how people reacted to that. Although a couple of people heckled for new material before Noel making it clear that there was no chance of that happening – “As good as those songs are, now is not the right time or place for that” he said – everyone was just intent on having a good time. We know those old songs so well, and love them so much, that everyone knows they are going to enjoy singing them before it even happens; and that is exactly what happened.
In that setting, the sense of familiarity was perfect. Noel played a total of 17 songs, and there wasn't one of the 5000+ people there who didn't sing along to every single word. With the circular shape of the hall, everybody could see each other clearly and as the crowd sang out every anthems in unison, you got to experience the reverberation around you which was actually so loud it completely drowned out the choir whose angelic voices you could only just about catch intermittently. Even though we’ve heard different versions of Wonderwall so many thousands of times over the years, Noel still managed to make it sound so captivating and melancholy.
There is something about singing these classic songs in a venue designed primarily for orchestral music that made the experience all the more magical; with the echo from the hall, Gem’s electric guitar solos sounded so rich and haunting when layered on top of Noel’s acoustic strumming. The banter between Noel and the audience also felt very personal - as if he was just in his front living room, he asked if “anyone else felt a bit hot in here?” before taking his jacket off (“now, now calm down” he said when people started whistling, “JLS aren’t due to play here for another week”) and started up a mocking one on one conversation with a Liverpudlian in the front row. It felt as though we were all having a big party in a giant front room.
For the first time in years, Noel played the version of Whatever that sounded most like the single, with the strings continuing to play as he left the stage. “Whatever you dooooooo, whatever you saaaaaaaaaay yeeeeeeeeeeh I know it’s alriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight”, everyone carried on chanting long after Noel had finished singing. Half the crowd broke into “I’d like to be, under the sea, in an Octopuses garden…” as per the version Oasis used to sing in the mid-late 90s, while the other half carried on singing “Whatever you do, whatever you say yeah I know it’s alright” and it took on a life of its own. As Noel left the stage and the violins gradually died down, the sound of the crowd became louder and louder until the lights lowered, the music stopped, and all you were left with was the haunting sound of the audience singing these two refrains over and over into the darkness until Noel returned to play The Masterplan, Married With Children and Don’t Look Back In Anger for the encore.
It’s difficult to think of many artists who have a canon of songs where every single one of them connects so deeply with each audience member. In truth, Noel could have easily picked a completely different set of 17 songs to play that night, and the effect on the crowd would have been exactly the same; you could reel off over 50 classics before you even get to the Be Here Now songs alone. I don’t think it would really have mattered what he had played: this kind of spectacle is something Noel has uniquely created.
© Words - Katy Georgiou/ZANI Media