Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Oasis at Wembley Stadium - the interview

The gentleman above, with a soon-to-be-filled Wembley stadium as his backdrop, is Noel Gallagher, derivative rock star, genius behind the third biggest-selling uk album of all time, raconteur, wit and working class hero.

Briefly, my relationship with Oasis is this: Definitely Maybe comes out when I am 21 years old and a student in Liverpool. It soundtracks virtually everything I do for a good 12 months.

My first ever radio show - "The Weekend Spam"* on LJMU's student radio station Shout FM, had the long intro to "Rock n' Roll Star" as its opening music, because at the time, I didn't believe there was anything more likely to make anyone feel more alive in existence, anywhere.

What's the Story (Morning Glory) comes out and I'm an ex-fan. The music's lost its edge, Noel's not saying anything new, it's slipping comfortably towards the dadrock which reaches its nadir with The Verve's dinner party staple Urban Hymns (not that either of these are bad records - just that I would rather be listening to the Pixies, Jane's Addiction and Nick Cave).

At the point everyone seems destined to lose interest in Oasis, Wonderwall comes out as a single. It's picked up by commercial radio, and Just. Goes. Massive. From then on, Oasis aren't just a band, they're a phenomenon, and everyone knows what the story is...

The first time I saw them live was at Glastonbury in 2004 and they were mediocre. The next time was early 2005 at the Hammersmith Apollo and they were mediocre. The best part of the evening was after the concert when I saw Michael Eavis under the Hammersmith flyover.

I said to my friends: "That man standing on his own looking confused is almost certainly Michael Eavis. Let's try and found out who this year's Glastonbury headliners are." - or words to that effect.

Michael was sporting that unmistakeable beard, a lumberjack shirt, jeans and a pair of battered desert boots which had their laces undone. He looked unkempt and startled to be suddenly confronted with five people, all of whom started asking him questions about his evening: Michael - what on earth are you doing here? "I just wanted to see Oasis again - I thought they were very disappointing at Glastonbury and thought I'd give them another go." What did you think? "Nah, no, not very good. Not my thing." and so who is going to headline Glastonbury this year? "Now, you're not journalists are you?"

After a good chat (in which he didn't divulge who was headlining) he said: "Now, does anyone know the best way to get to Paddington - I've got to catch a train back to Castle Cary."

We stared at him as if he were joking - surely he was... but no, the (multi-millionaire?) founder of the Glastonbury festival, who had seemingly taken it upon himself to travel to London alone to see Oasis, in his 70th year, with no record company people to look after him - wanted directions to Paddington station. "Get a cab!" we said, almost in unison, and he started looking round for a cab, as if one might suddenly parachute off the flyover and land next to him with its light on, door open and driver saying through the window "Paddington, is it?".

A member of our group walked him to the nearest rank.

So, hop forward 4 years to last week when I got five days worth of showbiz shifts at London Tonight.

On Tuesday Max Velody, top producer, casually said "oh it's Noel Gallagher on Thursday at Wembley Stadium".

At that moment I was reminded why I got into showbiz reporting. Because it's fun. Noel Gallagher is the real deal. Whatever you think of him and his music, he has led a band which has lasted the distance over the past 16 years, and will, during the course of this short stadium tour, have easily surpassed the number of people they played to over three days at Knebworth, in 1996.

They are, live at least, more popular than ever. He is also very funny. Very few people can hold their own with Russell Brand - Noel does so with ease. If you ever heard the two of them together (Noel had a weekly guest slot on Russell's 6Music show and continued to appear on his Radio 2 show), you'll know what I mean.

A recent comment on an issue du jour from the stage in Coventry: "This Michael Jackson thing is dragging on a bit, isn't it? Who do they think he is, Jade Goody?"

I think that just about sums it up. Noel is also a willing pro. At every relevant gig on this tour he did the local TV media - outlets many stadium acts are far too quick to ignore - and because I was representing ITV London on the night the Oasis machine rolled into London, I got a few minutes of the great man's time.

We parked up in the bowels of Wembley stadium and were taken by a PR to Noel's dressing room. "Perfect" said the cameraman, eyeing the designer lamps, low-lighting and pretty orchids.

"No - let's do it in the stadium seats." I said. Why film an interview with a band at wembley stadium about a band playing wembley stadium in a room that could be anywhere?

The PR wanted us to do it in the dressing-room, as that's what she'd arranged, but I was adamant I wanted it in the stadium. It didn't help that my cameraman was loudly agreeing with the PR.

Eventually another PR came along and said she was sure Noel wouldn't mind walking up two floors.

On hearing this, and as the person with ultimate responsibility for the shoot, I overruled the cameraman, which left it 2 to 1 against the PR still holding out for the dressing room, with 1 abstention (thanks, mate).

The PR who thought the stadium would be a good idea led us to a lift and walked us out into the Royal Box. Perfect! Rock royalty in the royal box.

We were early, so we got to watch the band soundcheck for 45 minutes. No Liam. Liam doesn't soundcheck. Then the cameraman redeemed himself spectacularly. The crew after us were from BBC London and I knew the reporter, Jane Witherspoon, quite well. After we'd said hello, the cameraman suggested we pool resources and do a two camera shoot - allowing us to dispense with reverses and noddies - the two most humiliating and excruciating things about being a TV reporter.

I leapt at the idea and put it to Jane. She was cool and we set about working on how we were going to do it. In the end we decided my camera would shoot the principle and the BBC cameraman would be shooting the secondary (me/jane) and wides. After each interview we would start new tapes so we could both walk away with our own footage. The only problem was the BBC cameraman only had one tape, which was going to mean me dropping by BBC LDN reception to pick it up, until my cameraman, who had not only redeemed himself, but was now showing everyone up with his resourcefulness, explained the situation to the MTV crew who were interviewing Noel third, and sponged a tape off them.

The only stipulation I put down was that as we had arrived first, I got to be the one being filmed meeting Noel for real as he walked into the Royal Box.

Jane had to film their "meeting" shot after their interview. The interview itself was not earth-shattering. Noel can deliver some phenomenal copy, but most of it comes into a print reporter's tape recorder after a few drinks, or in a more relaxed chatty interview which has time to breathe, conducted by people he's met before. Getting good soundbites from Noel on radio is hard.

Hats duly tipped to: 1) Colin Paterson at 5 Live - whose interview with Noel on Jay-Z playing Glastonbury became big news and was played out to the crowd at Glastonbury at the beginning of Jay-Z's set - inadvertently becoming the highlight thereof.

2) Chris Moyles, who always gets the very best out of him. Getting good quotes in the incredibly sober, sterile, artificial environment of a pre-recorded 4-minute TV news interview is nigh on impossible, unless he is in the mood to say something. And on Thursday, he wasn't. Why would he want to give his best lines to me?

That's not to say he didn't give droll and interesting answers to my questions, just nothing earth-shattering. I called base and told them that we had taken a unilateral decision to bring forward the start date of Michael Grade's memorandum of understanding with regard to the sharing of newsgathering resources between ITN and the BBC at a local level.

I explained it would mean that the interview edit would be a million times better, but that the shot of Noel on ITN and BBC would be almost identical. I asked if that was likely to be a problem.

"No." said the editor. "Because we're on first."

Before we left, one of the PR ladies who we'd got increasingly chatty with during the soundcheck, asked if I'd like to go to the gig that evening. Hell, yes. The other PR then asked if Saturday were preferable.

Er, whatever, either... er... Saturday please. Blimey. You don't turn down a free ticket to see Oasis at Wembley Stadium. Not after having seen the inside of the new Wembley stadium for the first time. Not after interviewing the man who is about to fill it 3 times over. And so that was Thursday. Next entry, I would like to relate to you: Oasis at Wembley Stadium - Up There With One Of The Best Gigs Ever, with a full scientific explanation as to why.

* I would like to think that this was an early, prescient nod to the junk email phenomenon that has become the scourge of the internet, but I seem to remember we used it in its original sense as an unappetising, nutritionally-bereft, canned piece of stodge. Titterific.

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