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Liam, left, and Noel Gallagher. Photo/Getty Images

The estranged Gallagher brothers are hitting New Zealand

As their old anthem induces nightmares in All Blacks fans, Liam and Noel Gallagher are set to play in Auckland – separately, of course.

In the early 2000s, when British music magazine Q chose its “National Anthems: The 50 Greatest British Tracks”, Oasis’ Wonderwall came third behind the Beatles’ A Day in the Life and the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset, and a full 30 ahead of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.

Released in 1995, Wonderwall, written by the band’s Noel Gallagher, remains part-ballad, part-anthem, as lyrically elusive as Hey Jude yet coupled to brother Liam’s impassioned delivery.

Ironically, it didn’t top the British charts but is imprinted into the memory of millions. England’s jubilant Rugby World Cup fans at Yokohama bellowed it when their team defeated the All Blacks, and Rolling Stone identified Wonderwall as a Spotify-generation anomaly. For two years, it has been the only pre-millennium song consistently appearing on Spotify’s daily global Top 200, aside from Queen hits buoyed by the Bohemian Rhapsody movie. It’s dropped out sometimes but on current form could hit a billion streams within a year. Not bad for a song almost 25 years old by a band that broke up a decade ago in typical Gallagher punches and acrimony.

Yet, Oasis lived on in other forms: Liam swaggering into a faltering career with former Oasis members as Beady Eye, more recently hitting his straps with two, often autobiographical, albums under his own name (As You Were and this year’s Why Me? Why Not) where he hooked up with hit-writers/producers for the likes of Adele, Lily Allen and Charli XCX.

If 47-year-old Liam appeases with rousing Oasis tropes – “unsophisticated music for unsophisticated people”, in Noel’s withering assessment – older brother Noel pursued a more ambitious path with High Flying Birds. The band’s three albums – like Liam’s solo efforts – topped the UK charts.

Liam now gets a further leg up with Liam Gallagher: As It Was, a documentary by video director Charlie Lightening of potty-mouthed Liam rebuilding his career after that “Wonder Brawl!”, as one tabloid headline described it. Interviewed at the time, Liam seemed genuinely hurt by Noel’s betrayal of his dream, the documentary shows. Intent on keeping cigarettes’n’alcohol-fuelled rock’n’roll alive, he brought Beady Eye out too fast, discovered smart-mouthed one-liners in interviews weren’t enough and, soon, they were playing more “intimate” venues. They, too, broke up. A tough tumble from the top, then divorce, Noel’s acerbic sniping, coke and booze, rambling tweets, recovery …

At 90 minutes, As It Was is an overlong redemption story and Liam’s resurrection remains tenuous in a world requiring widescreen guitar-rock less and less.

Noel harbours higher-flying aspirations – greater than “disco music”, as Liam dismisses it.

Of the bickering brothers (who don’t speak to each other), is Liam the older fan’s favourite and Noel the critics’? Definitely maybe.

And the song emblematic of a reflective but resiliently masculine side of that lads’ band, Oasis? Wonderwall usually appears in the Gallaghers’ sets, so when they return to Auckland soon – separately, of course – audiences might get to sing that enduring anthem again. Twice.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds open for U2 at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium on November 8 and 9. Liam Gallagher and band play Auckland’s Spark Arena, December 20. Liam Gallagher: As It Was screens in selected cinemas in the British Film Festival, until November 13.

This article was first published in the November 9, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.