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Noel Gallagher: I come from Manchester, Middleton to be precise.
Ken Loach: Do you like it there?
NG: When we began to be successful, we realised that it’s really a little hole. That’s why I’ve moved to London; Manchester is too frustrating for me now. When I was young, it was frustrating enough because there was no work and only three usable pubs, but I amused myself there. I go back there at weekends, that’s enough for me at present. Of course I’ll have to go back there to live one day.
KL: As for me, I live in a little dump in the Midlands. All the London trains pass it by but never stop. Originally it was a mining city, then it had car factories, a tentative wave of high-tech industries, and now nothing.
NG: Where do you find the characters in your films?
KL: I don’t really have to look very far, they are all there, all around us.
NG: The film Kes was always a reference point for me. I was born in 1967, at the time it was released, and I still haven’t seen it at the cinema. However, I remember perfectly having seen it on telly. I remember that the ending was very sad but, at one moment, a scene took place on a football pitch and that pleased me enormously. Why didn’t you set this film in Manchester?
KL: The bloke who wrote the scenario wanted it at his place, near Sheffield. I have never written my films, I always work with collaborators … People ask me what my films and your records have in common. I think they share a proletarian culture.
NG: It was certainly true during the 1950s and 1960s, perhaps during the 1940s too, when everyone worked, when Manchester was still an industrial city. Now, it’s less true. When people of my generation left school, they had only three choices offered them: football, music or the dole. That’s why there are so many big rock groups from the North.
KL: When you grow up in London and you have artistic ability, everything is in place to enable it to develop. When I landed up in London, at 16 or 17 years old, I didn’t come back, it was like a pleasure park for me.
NG: The difference between the kids of the North of England and those of Paris, New York, etc., is the humour. Even if the kid from Manchester is the same as the others, there’s always a distinctive humour. That’s why The Beatles charmed the whole world, they had their own sense of humour.
KL: For me, it’s not so much a question of town as of class.
NG: It’s very much tied to the working class. I find the same jokes whether I’m in Manchester or London. It’s no good complaining of our sad fate, the conversations always end with a roar of laughter.
KL: What happened to your schoolmates?
NG: One or two became professional footballers, in clubs a little out of date like Portsmouth or Southampton: not at the level to stay in Manchester. The rest just disappeared.
KL: What is missing for your generation is the discipline – I don’t like the moral sense of that word – which gave the lives of northern proletarians the rhythms of work. You learnt it from your parents, your grandparents: that was the way it was and it wasn’t going to change. These people were exploited, swindled, and they never thought of questioning the system of their lives. You, you don’t have a structure, a framework for your life. At least they had a status, a dignity. With Thatcher, the number of unemployed increased to two, then three, million. All the notion of dignity through work was blown to pieces. Thatcher destroyed the working class. People of your age no longer know what it is to belong to a community which works. No doubt you know that better than I.
NG: At the end of each road was the factory, and when it finished by closing, all the houses began to empty. In the north of Manchester there are whole streets of empty houses and, saddest of all, in town there are the homeless.
KL: Among the workless there are thousands of building workers who could rebuild the derelict houses.
NG: The notion of a work ethic no longer exists in Manchester, because we don’t like to work. Myself, I had the chance to do work which pleased me: I went into a studio, recorded a song, released a record, I have a good life. What’s more, I bring some pleasure to others. Most of my mates hate their work.
KL: At the same time as destroying the factories and jobs, they made people think themselves guilty because they were not loyal to this work ethic. Not only did they spike the work, they gave complexes to the unemployed! At the start of Thatcherism, people thought, I am out of work, it’s an exception. Today, it’s normal.
NG: In the 1960s, when you heard of a family friend out of work, you knew it was temporary. Today, you start off life sure you’ll never find a job. So you adapt your lifestyle to this new fact.
KL: When you work, you are part of a group, a community. But if you are forced out of the pack, you become isolated, abandoned. In the North, the notion of family has disappeared. What is the point of getting up in the morning? Where is there to go?
NG: They no longer have anything to tell, they live from day to day. Me, if I didn’t have football and the guitar, God knows what I would have become. I got the talent to write songs and live from it. So I do my best to amuse people. Because I know that’s all I can do for them. Three and a half minutes of happiness in a gloomy and banal life, I’m afraid that’s my only contribution.
KL: I can’t even give them that, because cinema doesn’t have the direct impact of music. It doesn’t have the visceral side of Oasis’s rock.
NG: With our music, people can forget everything and dance. I’ve never seen anyone dance in the cinema (laughs)…
KL: Your music is necessarily subversive. Its strength is that oldies like me don’t like it. If your parents like the same songs as you, it’s because you’ve bought bad records.
Originally published in Socialist Outlook