Council Skies

Council Skies

Incubated at producer David Holmes’ Belfast studio, where pre-written songs were banned and music grew spontaneously from listening to records and jamming out ideas, High Flying Birds’ third album Who Built the Moon? provided an epiphany for Noel Gallagher. “A creative bomb’s gone off…David directed me to places I wouldn’t ordinarily go,” he told Apple Music on its 2017 release. Naturally then, he planned to make this follow-up in the same intrepid way—until his new horizons suddenly collapsed. “The pandemic happened,” Gallagher tells Apple Music, “and all hell broke loose.” Familiar to us all, it was an uncertain hell of “weird days, endless days.” Penned in at home, he returned to more traditional ways of working, sketching out ideas alone in a room on his acoustic guitar. The songs eventually coalesced into Council Skies, recorded and co-produced by Gallagher in London at the Lone Star Studios he built during lockdown. Despite the claustrophobia of the time, his sense of adventure remained strong. “Pretty Boy” is Johnny Marr-assisted krautrock, while the title track sets council-estate romance to bossa nova rhythms played out on digital gongs. But there’s also a yearning, midtempo anthem that matches Oasis at their heart-swelling best (“Easy Now”), and “Dead to the World” is a delicate ballad whose melancholy carbon-dates its conception. “[The pandemic] affected the mood and the color of the record,” says Gallagher. “It added to the reflective nature, thinking about what had happened and where we were going. I guess that’s got a dual meaning because you could use that about relationships.” At times, Gallagher found himself writing more candidly than ever. “Like most people, my life going into the pandemic was not the same as it was coming out of it,” he says. “I wouldn’t have written ‘Dead to the World’ and ‘Think of a Number’ had it not been for what was happening on a personal level. I learned that when I’m going through a turbulent period in life, not to be afraid to write about it. Not only does it help yourself, it helps other people because they are going through the same things. Go there, say it.” Here, he talks us through the tracks on Council Skies. “I’m Not Giving Up Tonight” “‘I’m Not Giving Up Tonight’ started as a track on Who Built the Moon? called ‘Daisies’ that never went anywhere. It was a bit more electronic and French, but I always liked that chord progression. I hammered away at that song for months and months and months and nothing happened. Then one afternoon, I picked up the guitar at home and out came this song. I can’t tell you where these things come from, they just fall out of the sky. It’s a song of defiance, which is why I thought it would be a good opening track. There is absolutely no chance on God’s green Earth that I’m ever going to play it live because it is a fucking bastard to sing. I needed at least 20 takes to do it.” “Pretty Boy” “It was the first demo that I did and first song that I completed, so [making it the first single] seemed like the right thing to do. I won’t lie, I perversely thought, ‘Well, when people hear that it’s yet another drum machine, I shall bathe in their tears.’ Although I don’t go out of my way to challenge my audience, I do like to engage with them. So it keeps them on their toes a little bit. And you are in a pretty good spot if you’ve been making music for 30 years and you’re still dancing on the edge of ‘Is this acceptable or not?’ I haven’t fallen into a rut of trying to rewrite ‘Little by Little’ endlessly, I’m still pushing it a little bit.” “Dead to the World” “I happened to be in the studio one very, very quiet evening, and I hit those two chords that I’d never played before. They set the mood immediately. It’s very melancholy. It’s a personal song, and I don’t do many of those. Well, at least I don’t admit to doing many of those. But it speaks for itself. I always stay in the same hotel [in Argentina] and the fans are outside 24 hours a day, singing Oasis tunes. They’re always getting the words wrong. One night, I could hear them and that line just came to me. The original lyric said, ‘You can learn all the words, but you’ll still get them wrong.’ But when I did it here, for some reason, I sang ‘change.’ Those kids in Argentina, that’s for them.” “Open the Door, See What You Find” “If people can get as far as the chorus, they’ll love it. Even when I was writing it, I was a bit like, ‘Yeah, the strings are great, that’s going to fit. The verses are a bit…whatever.’ But when you get to the chorus, it’s like a burst of sunshine. If it’s about anything, it’s about looking in the mirror and accepting who you are. There’s a saying that once you get into your fifties and you look in the mirror, you see all that you are and all that you’re ever going to be. That’s where the line ‘I see all that I will ever know’ comes from. It’s about saying, ‘I see all that I am and all that I’m ever going to be. And you know what? It’s all right.’” “Trying to Find a World That’s Been and Gone Pt. 1” “Just, again, in lockdown, wondering what the fuck it was going to be like on the other side of this thing, when we were all allowed to mix together. There were weird days, endless days at home in the silence, homeschooling the kids, the conspiracy theories, and all this bullshit that was going on. [The song] also has a dual meaning because it could be about a loved one or the breakup of a relationship. It’s ‘Pt. 1’ because it had this second part to it where the drums came in and the big production, but I had a moment of clarity in the studio and went back to the original demo. When it was cut down to this two-minute thing, it said more to me.” “Easy Now” “I had the longest phone call with [Pink Floyd’s] Dave Gilmour. I said, ‘I’ve got this tune and it’s very reminiscent of the mighty Floyd, and I was just thinking, if you could do one of your uplifting guitar solos…’ He was like, ‘Well, look, I love the song, but I don’t think I can do that kind of thing anymore.’ Honestly, I begged him on the phone and, fair play to him, he was not for turning. It was in the middle of the pandemic and everybody was isolated, and it was going to be a ball ache anyway. I said to my co-producer [Paul ‘Strangeboy’ Stacey], who’s a brilliant guitarist, ‘You’re going to have to mimic Dave Gilmour.’ And that’s what he did.” “Council Skies” “I was in Ibiza and maybe that’s where the feeling, the rhythm of it, came from. I had the melody, but I didn’t have any of the words. I always tend to write from the chorus backwards, so if I can get the chorus, the verses will fall into place. Back in England, that book [Sheffield painter Pete McKee’s Council Skies] happened to be on a shelf underneath the coffee table. There it was: Council Skies. That set off a chain of events where it’s like, ‘Right, underneath the council skies…’ The song is about trying to find young love on a council estate, trying to find beauty in the big, bad city. [The intro] is me playing some digital tuned gongs. Tuned gongs—it doesn’t get any more prog than that, right? I’ve got no other life outside of music, so I buy musical instruments, any old shit, that’s what I do. It was just like a digital percussion thing—I didn’t even know there was tuned gongs in it.” “There She Blows!” “I have no idea why I would write a song about some nautical bullshit. So I’m in LA working on another project with [producer] Dave Sardy, and in the hotel, one of the books on the bookshelf is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Not that I would ever read it, but I can only surmise that it might have something to do with that. When the Get Back documentary came out, I was so glad that it captured the haphazard, winging-it kind of way that The Beatles were writing. George is going, ‘Oh, I’m stuck on this one.’ They’re saying, ‘Just make it up. Write the first thing that comes into your head when you get up in the morning.’ I’m like, ‘That’s what I fucking do!’ I think I’ve met everyone apart from Bob Dylan, and you realize they’re all just like you, with varying degrees of talent. It’s like they’re all shitkickers trying to make it, and nobody’s better than the other. We’re all blagging it. Nine times out of 10, you’re just throwing enough shit at the wall and seeing what sticks—and then trying to make it rhyme.” “Love Is a Rich Man” “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I actually wrote that while I was riding a bike. I’ve got a place out in the country, and I was just riding a bike down the country lane. It’s very kind of ’80s-period Bowie. And it’s got a marimba on it, for fuck’s sake. It’s a funny old song. I do like it though. I love the backing vocals and the chorus bit is great, and the guitars on it are brilliant.” “Think of a Number” “It’s quite a personal song and it’s quite bleak, which is why I thought, ‘Can it open the album?’ And really, in hindsight, it should have done. I love the words, and it’s quite epic. There’s three solo breaks—a piano solo, a guitar solo, another instrumental break. There’s a couple of drop-downs. That’s me playing bass, funnily enough. I was doing it in here with [drummer] Chris Sharrock, saying, ‘Look, it’ll be like a bit like XTC or Bowie or that kind of New Wave thing.’ He came up with the drum beat, I had the bassline, and it went from there.” “We’re Gonna Get There in the End” “I wrote that in lockdown and put it out on YouTube, just as a gift to fans. And wouldn’t you know it, everybody went apeshit for it. So when I was doing this record, my people were saying, ‘Is that not going to be on the album? Everybody loves that song.’ I was like, ‘Sadly, the one person in the world who doesn’t love it is me. I’m not having a jaunty Britpop song in the middle of this reflective, kind of melancholic record.’ However, I recorded it and it sounded great. I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to play it live, so I’ll just stick it on as a bonus track.’ And as no one does B-sides anymore, you can assume this is one of the great B-sides of my career.”

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