Film / Music

Director Charlie Lightening on working with Britain’s most biblical frontman

“The thing I love about Liam Gallagher is that there’s no bullshit, man. He’s proper real and not in it for fame – he just loves music and playing gigs and being in a band – all the other shit he’s not really arsed about."

Having spent over ten years in the company of British legend Liam Gallagher, fellow-Mancunian Charlie Lightening was the perfect person to direct the upcoming documentary Liam Gallagher: As it Was. The director, best known for his work with Paul McCartney, Kasabian and Jamiroquai, has been a loyal companion to the ex-Oasis frontman both with and without a camera. Their friendship started in the midst of Oasis and has continued to flourish throughout the days of Beady Eye and now with Liam’s swaggering solo career. Lightening recounts his experiences with Liam over the years and his time as a cameraman in the ever-changing musical landscape.

What’s your own personal history with music, were you in a band when you were younger?

Nah not really, I’ve always been into music – you know what I mean? I wanted to always work in music and music videos, especially growing up in the 90s with the wake of MTV and all of those things – it was aspirational wasn’t it? Oasis happening was like my Beatles obviously.

How old were you when Definitely, Maybe came out?

Like 16, so the perfect age really. I was a bit too young for the roses and new order and the old Manchester scene in the Hacienda, so I just caught the end of it.

Did you get to many Oasis gigs?

Yeah, I went to quite a few of them. I was at the famous one in Finsbury Park and it was then mad to obviously film Liam at the same venue recently. At the day of the show I was at the station coming into town and there were four lads in front of me, who were 18 or 19 wearing bucket hats and round sunglasses: I was like fucking hell it’s exactly the same as it was 20 years ago! That’s what’s mega about his comeback and what he’s done.

Yeah, in the doc he speaks about just how many shows he’s done this time round and it’s surprisingly similar to his Oasis days.

Yeah, exactly. He’s not afraid to work hard is Liam.

Do you think people are often surprised by his work ethic?

It’s a big misconception about him. Like in the film, it was important to show how I see him. I started filming him as Oasis ended, because I met them through Kasabian and the first Beady Eye video which was Bring the Light. I knew him in Oasis, I started filming Kasabian from their beginning and basically towards the end of their album they want on tour with Oasis and I was making a film about Kasabian’s second record and basically Noel and Liam came down to the studio to listen to it. It ended up being quite a big night and Me, Tom and Serge ended back in Liam’s kitchen listening to him play.

Not a bad crowd to be in…

Yeah it was mega, mega! Truly amazing. That was the beginning. There was then lots of crossover between Oasis and Kasabian after that. Them touring together and the afterparties and stuff. At the same time, I’d started working with Paul McCartney, I’ve been with Macca for about ten years now. Because I was with Paul and Beady Eye needed something doing, but Liam didn’t really know exactly what I did and called me in for a meeting to do his first video and then it went from there. I did loads of documentaries and videos.

Do you think Liam has changed much since you first met him then?

Nah, not really. The thing is with him and the thing I love about him is that there’s no bullshit man. He’s proper real and not in it for fame – he just loves music and playing gigs and being in a band – all the other shit he’s not really arsed about. A lot of people get in it to do the other stuff. Has he changed? Only in the way we all change and grow with life. Like he says in the film he’s still what he is and that is the core of him – he’s always been really honest and true.

With such a charismatic guy is he just the easiest person to film?

It’s just like, people were saying about the kids being in the film and stuff. When you’ve known him that long you realise he’s just real – nearly 80% of this film is just me doing it, not answering to a film or record company and just doing it our way, so there’s no pressure for him. I think the skill is knowing when not to film – that’s the skill. Just get on with it and don’t be a dickhead. Knowing when to get the right moment and being sensitive to people and their scenario. There’s that whole scene when we go to Copenhagen and he’s just saying: “who the fuck am I?” which was kind of a jokey thing at the time, you’re thinking he’s not meaning that but with perspective it changes. I’ve got a lot of respect for him and I hope it’s mutual – I feel privileged to be there with him. It’s different because a lot of the time it’s a film company coming in saying: “oh, you’re really interesting can I make a film about you?” But you don’t know the person and people want to make it to sell a record. He would never want to do that for self-promotion, but we had to film stuff to err..

Make the movie?

Laughs – well yeah, but no!

Is there a gig that stands out…

Finsbury Park.

Oh yeah?

Yeah. The South American gig was amazing too. He did a couple prior to the one we show of him walking off. There was a gig in Argentina which was great. Finsbury Park though was the closest to Oasis, to the chaos of what it was. The lunacy of the audience was brilliant. Pure brilliant. The weather was amazing – mega.

Whether it’s Liam or not, what is it that makes a good music video for you?

I think first and foremost it’s the song [laughs]. All the best music videos have amazing songs, that’s a given.

You can’t polish a turd right?

Yeah exactly that. It’s the vehicle to take things forward. Like Bittersweet Symphony. The track is number one. Secondly, like the stuff I do with Jamiroquai and the Automaton video, what made that great was the element of the performer’s creativity – it’s not always about the budget, it’s their high concept ideas and the genius to execute them . Bring The Light is one of my favourite ones I’ve made because it’s so raw and that’s Liam y’know. The awesome set meant the money was on the screen you know.

What’s the difference between your mindset with a rapidly shot music video to a long ten-year project like this?

I started off making little videos and then moved to mini-documentaries and making docs for Channel 4 and stuff and always kind of doing both. I’ve got this film with J and I’m sure we’ll put it together properly soon, there’s amazing stuff in there. That’s over that sort of time, likewise with Paul: that’s a ten-year project. With him we’re still going.

Do you prefer working that way, by building relationships over a long period of time?

It becomes a different thing, you’re there to make a film but it becomes a part of your life. Even though the film is done with Liam we’re still going to continue filming y’know. I see it all as one thing really. With Jamiroquai I shot the videos, the docs, and the album artwork – y’know what I mean? It all goes hand in hand. This industry people forget you can put multiple hats on and do all these things.

How do you think the landscape of music videos has changed since you started?

They are less important in so may ways because of how many outlets there are now, Facebook, Instagram and the immediacy of that stuff. Things don’t need to be glossily shot as much. But through it all, ideas are the still the main thing behind it all. If you look at Childish Gambino and This is America, I haven’t seen something like that, as powerful as that, in a very long time. There’s no money in it anymore, unless you are a massive artist. When I started doing it, all the directors were doing two-day shoots in South Africa or LA y’know – that doesn’t happen as much anymore. It still does, but just nowhere near as common.

This is probably your most asked question but, what do you think the best music video of all time is?

I love Thriller I think that’s unbelievable and it’s a piece of art, it’s phenomenal. The fact that came around at the time where longform music videos were a new thing. Jamiroquai’s virtual insanity is a personal favourite. The cost of it was impossible and then the director came up with the amazing idea to make the room move by pushing it left to right, but because the cameras in the same point so it looks like the floor is moving: simple, but genius.

What’s the most valuable thing Liam has taught you and what he can teach the world?

It’s that thing of never giving up and staying true to yourself and ploughing forward and working hard, hoping it all comes good in the end.

‘LIAM GALLAGHER: AS IT WAS’ is in cinemas and on digital now. On Blu-Ray and DVD on 10th June 2019.

6 June 2019