In the years after the implosion of Oasis in 2009, Liam Gallagher was lost.
Beady Eye, which formed in the wake of the band's split and comprised Liam and former Oasis members Gem Archer, Andy Bell and Chris Sharrock, released two albums to a meek response, before disbanding in 2014. That was the same year Liam's divorce from his second wife, Nicole Appleton, was finalised, months after it became public he had fathered a daughter with an American journalist.
Five years on, Liam is in a much healthier and more productive place. Not only is he engaged to his former personal assistant, Debbie Gwyther, but his second solo album Why Me? Why Not. will be released on Friday, September 20, and it looks set to match the stunning success of his 2017 debut effort, As You Were. That album was critically acclaimed, certified platinum in the UK and altogether confirmed that the world was still mesmerised by the charismatic singer.
A new documentary, Liam Gallagher: As It Was, celebrates the Mancunian's rise from the ashes. But to do his comeback story justice, directors Gavin Fitzgerald and Charlie Lightening knew the film had to explore the singer's lowest ebbs, too.
"He had four years off music, in which he was facing lows and legal battles," Fitzgerald tells The National. "It was important to talk about that, because you can't have the comeback without the lows.
I told him that the more honest he was with us about that, the stronger it would be. It was refreshing to see the more human side of him, seeing him as a father, growing up, going for runs. It was all stuff we didn’t expect to see.”
A documentary 10 years in the making
While Fitzgerald joined the production during the release of As You Were to bring a fresh perspective to the film, Lightening had already been candidly filming Liam for the better part of a decade. After being introduced to Liam through English rock band Kasabian during his Oasis days, Lightening bonded with the singer and later made music videos for Beady Eye and advertisements for Pretty Green, a fashion brand founded by Liam. That bond became tighter when Liam hit his nadir.
Lightening says the 2016 documentary Oasis: Supersonic, which detailed the meteoric rise of Oasis in the mid-1990s, helped the world fall back in love with Liam, as it showed how "funny and great" he is. "That was the beginning of the turn," Lightening says. "He had been through the divorce, was with Debbie and he had nothing to hide. He was just being honest."
For Lightening, Liam's refreshing honesty and attitude are why he still makes an impact and has such a connection with fans more than 25 years after the release of Oasis's debut album, Definitely Maybe. "Kids today don't have icons that are a bit edgy. Liam changed the way people walked," says Lightening. "He can be rough. But he has a sensitive soul."
Making Liam Gallagher vulnerable
Many music fans will be well aware of the "aggressive" and "unapologetic" attributes that made Liam such a renowned frontman with Oasis. But instead, Fitzgerald wanted As It Was to present a more vulnerable image of the singer, who will turn 47 this month.
"So many people see him as invincible," says Fitzgerald. "But that is not the image he portrays. He is only human."
It was Liam's authenticity that really struck Fitzgerald, who noticed how nice and chatty the singer was to everyone he met. "He'll talk to anyone and ask them questions," the filmmaker says. "He was very well raised by his mother Peggy. There is a homeyness about it."
That is most evident in the scenes shot at Peggy's home in Burnage, England. In the documentary, we see Liam making cups of tea for her and two of his children, Gene and Lennon, as well as giving a tour of the house in which he grew up, offering audiences a look at the room Liam used to share with Noel.
Liam's older brother and former Oasis companion casts a long shadow in the documentary and Fitzgerald admits there were several discussions in the editing room about when to address the relationship between the Gallagher brothers.
The “Noelephant” in the room
Fitzgerald knew fans would be eager to see how the documentary dealt with the "rivalry" between the siblings and the "drama" that entails, but he was also aware that previous documentaries had already shown a lot of it. So rather than focusing on any of the "angry stuff" that Liam had to say about Noel, Fitzgerald says he wanted to use these discussions to "get through to some real emotion".
"He loved that time in Oasis. It's sad that Liam hasn't seen Noel in 10 years," he says. "Unfortunately it doesn't look like it is going to mend any time soon, either. They've moved on, of course. I think Liam would do Oasis again in a heartbeat. But Noel has very much left that period of his life behind."
For Lightening, though, things were a little more complicated, because he had previously worked with Noel while directing the Netflix documentary series Once In A Lifetime Sessions. "I always got on with both of them," says Lightening.
He reveals that while Noel only really flourishes when the cameras are rolling, with the musician becoming "a bit grumpy" on set because he "doesn't really want to hang around and chit-chat", Liam is the complete opposite. "He would rather shoot the breeze and be cool. When you tell him you have to shoot, he can be like, 'Oh god.'"
Lightening says, herein lies the biggest fallacy about Liam. "There was always this misconception that he was the difficult one and Noel was the lovely, easy-going one. But Noel can be grumpy and standoffish and difficult to get to know. Liam is more personable."
What’s the future for Liam Gallagher?
Liam will always be intrinsically linked with Noel and Oasis. But after his solo success, the future is looking particularly bright for the younger Gallagher brother. He even has an eye on merging his past and present with a return to Knebworth, the outdoor venue where Oasis played to 250,000 people over two nights in August 1996.
"I reckon he'll do it next summer. The demand is there," says Lightening. "He would absolutely smash it. It will be nice for him to do this record, do Knebworth, and that would put the cherry on the top when it comes to the solo thing. Then he can have time off and figure out whether to do another album. But right now, he is in his prime."
Liam Gallagher: As It Was will be available on Digital HD from Tuesday, September 17, and video-on-demand from Tuesday, October 8. Why Me? Why Not will be released on Friday, September 20