“He’s like a poster from my bedroom wall that’s come to life. He’s got this black Strat with nine pickups and he’s saying, ‘Do you think it’s a bit mad?’”: Noel Gallagher on guitar shopping with Johnny Marr

Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr
(Image credit: Ollie Millington/WireImage)

 They say never meet your heroes but that’s a lot of nonsense. Just ask Noel Gallagher, who not only enjoyed a unlikely musical partnership with the late Burt Bacharach but struck up a friendship with Johnny Marr in a remarkable few days in May 1993 that found him shopping for vintage electric guitars with the former Smiths guitarist days before his life would change for good.

Gallagher was speaking to Gibson TV in the latest episode of its Icons YouTube series and in an interview that spanned his career there was one common thread – songwriting. His favourite players? All songwriters. “I am kind of more draw with guitar players who compose – I suppose all guitar players do – but like Neil Young,” he said. “I’m more into the writers than the players if you know what I mean.”

Among them was Johnny Marr, and Gallagher recalled a surreal week in which he met Marr’s brother at the Hacienda, gave him an Oasis demo, before Marr called a couple of days later and they ended up talking guitars and heading to a vintage guitar store in Doncaster.

Looking back, Gallagher still can’t quite believe it. Johnny Marr’s brother in a nightclub? Manchester is the sort of place where Marr could have a dozen people claiming to be his brother.

“I don’t think anything of it. There are a lot of bullshitters in Manchester, glorious blaggers,” said Gallagher. “Was he Johnny Marr’s brother? Didn’t look anything fucking like him. I’m not even sure I mentioned it to the band, then I remember a couple of days after that coming in and the phone went. ‘Hello, is that Noel?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘It’s Johnny.’ Johnny Marr.”

Did Gallagher expect Marr to call him after listening to the demo. Well, Gallagher says he did. “People said, ‘Did you think it was a wind-up?’ No. Call that arrogant? Of course he’s gonna fucking call me. My number was on the demo tape,” he said. 

The next thing they know, Marr says they should go for a pint and they’re talking guitars and Gallagher recommends a spot called Music Ground, out in Doncaster, where he had been when roadying for Inspiral Carpets.

Marr suggests they head out there, and arranges for a car to pick Gallagher up the following day.

“He picks me up in a car at India House, and I am sitting in the back, and he’s sitting in the front, and there’s a guy driving. I vividly remember he was playing Exodus by Bob Marley, the long version, and Johnny’s turning round going, ‘Get on the fucking groove!’ And I’m like, ‘I love Bob Marley,’” said Gallagher. 

Owen Morris, Marr’s guitar tech at the time, was behind the wheel. Gallagher says Morris had the loudest, “most annoying” laugh ever but clearly not that annoying; Morris would co-produce and mix Oasis’s first three studio albums.

He’s like a poster from my bedroom wall that’s come to life. He’s got this black Strat with nine pickups and he’s saying, ‘Do you think it’s a bit mad?’

“We go to Doncaster. We go to Music Ground. [Laughs] This one in Doncaster is mad one. It was a mad vintage guitar shop,” said Gallagher. “They’re not the same anymore. It was like an Aladdin’s Cave. We go in the front door and Johnny says, ‘Okay, right. I need to go in and eat first before I shop.’  So we go to a sandwich shop and he says to me, ‘A bit of advice. Before you go guitar shopping, don’t do it on an empty stomach.’ We went and had a sandwich and a cup of tea in a cafe and then he bought a Stratocaster with fucking nine pickups in it.”

Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr with the infamous nine-pickup Strat (Image credit: BMG)

“I still only know this guy for two days,” Gallagher continued, acknowledging that this, all things considered, was a remarkable turn of events. “He’s like a poster from my bedroom wall that’s come to life. He’s got this black Strat with nine pickups and he’s saying, ‘Do you think it’s a bit mad?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s mad as fuck.’”

Gallagher and Marr rounded off the day going out for Japanese food. A few days later Oasis were signed. And Marr has remained in Gallagher’s Rolodex all these years later, with Marr guesting on Oasis’s Heathen Chemistry, and regularly an on-call player for Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, most recently playing on Pretty Boy, Open the Door, See What You Find, and the title-track from this year’s Council Skies.

You can watch Gallagher’s appearance on Gibson TV’s Icons above, and subscribe to the channel here.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.