Oasis Knebworth 1996: 'We had no fear'

By Paul Glynn
Entertainment & arts reporter

Image source, Jill Furmanovsky

Noel Gallagher has said Oasis had "no fear" about playing to 250,000 fans over two nights at Knebworth, adding if his old band were to do it again now they would be "petrified".

The songwriter was talking before Thursday's premiere of the Oasis Knebworth 1996 documentary, marking 25 years since Britpop's crowning moment.

The film views the biggest gigs the UK had seen through the eyes of the fans.

It also includes unseen live performances and backstage frolics.

"Those of you that were there at the time will remember that I was so arrogant, it didn't really register," Gallagher told a London cinema audience, which included some of the fans whose touching and funny personal stories provide the backdrop to the piece.

"It's only since [2016 documentary] Supersonic, and this film that you try and put yourself back there and you start to get goosebumps about it, because I'm not sure there's many bands had that lift-off that we did."

Figure caption, Warning: Third party content may contain adverts
Image source, Roberta Parkin / Getty Images
Image caption, Oasis played to quarter of a million people at Knebworth across 11 and 12 August 1996 - the biggest gigs the UK had ever seen

Oasis released their number one debut album Definitely Maybe in 1994, followed up by the even bigger (What's the Story) Morning Glory? the year after. They managed, with the help of only a small local entourage, to go rapidly from playing nightclubs and universities to playing stadiums - bypassing the theatre circuit - and then on to Knebworth, the Tudor stately home and gardens in Hertfordshire.

"I don't think we'd done 10,000 hours [practice] by the time we walked out at Knebworth, so we had no fear," the guitarist continued. "If we were doing Knebworth tomorrow, we'd be petrified. But those years spent in [old Manchester venue} the Boardwalk rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing stood us in good stead.

"We did have a feeling that they [the fans] were with us anyway and we could do no wrong at that point. So it wasn't like we were going out there to win an audience over. We didn't know then but it was the peak of the band's career and we weren't going there to get any new fans or to convince a journalist that we were the greatest thing since Pot Noodles - people knew we were, we knew we were and we were in a moment and we were having it.

"It wasn't until later years that we'd have to prove ourselves all over again, and whether we did or whether we didn't, it's debatable I guess."

'This is history!'

The feature flips between footage of both the Saturday and Sunday gigs, with frontman Liam Gallagher welcoming the crowd one night with a simple-but-direct, "Knebworth, mad for it yeah?!"

A jovial Noel, meanwhile, is seen repeatedly exclaiming, "This is history!" He explained: "For somebody who barely uttered a word on stage for the previous 18 months, I don't shut up in the film, and I apologise for being hell-bent on making everybody realise that this was a historic night - I said it about 20 times."

For historical context, the event took place just after Euro 96 and on the cusp of New Labour's election victory. After "years of bleakness", as Noel puts it, Britain - boasting Oasis, Kate Moss, Prince Naseem Hamed, Damien Hirst and Trainspotting- was once again cool. Oasis themselves hadn't yet been paid in full for their best-selling second album, he noted, and so Knebworth marked the last time they were ever remotely close to their adoring fans again in terms of lifestyle and wealth.

"We were still in the same circumstances as our audience, almost," he said. "So it's a real snapshot of a band at it's zenith, and thank God we [the band and video/film director Dick Carruthers] had the foresight to film it."

Image source, Roberta Parkin
Image caption, According to photographer Jill Furmanovsky in her recent book, Liam Gallagher borrowed a jumper off his fiancé Patsy Kensit for night two

Director Jake Scott, the Grammy-nominated son of Ridley, was asked to get involved with the project during lockdown.

Scott. who previously directed the music video for the Oasis track Morning Glory, as well as the one for REM's Everybody Hurts, said he had "always wanted to make a rock 'n' roll concert film". But, he admitted, when it came to Knebworth: "I wasn't there."

So he set about finding fans to tell their tales of what the event had meant to them - both at the time and now looking back. We see mad scrambles for tickets, trains and buses, mass singalongs and ecstatic declarations of love for Liam. One fan is scared senseless by Keith Flint from support act The Prodigy, who almost stole the show, while another manages to blag a lift out of the festival site in a limousine carrying Kate Moss and Anna Friel.

In one particularly poignant moment, during Noel's performance of The Masterplan, a woman recalls having watched it with her brother who later developed cancer; while a ticketless teenager is depicted going crazy in his bedroom listening to the gig on Radio 1.

As well as the fans, Noel and fellow guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs provide commentary in between performances of classic tracks including Don't Look Back in Anger, Live Forever and the first song from the 1990s to hit one billion streams on Spotify - Wonderwall. Stone Roses axe man John Squire joins them for an epic encore which includes Champagne Supernova and an orchestral cover of The Beatles' I Am the Walrus.

The only thing fans were left without, it seems, was a rendition of the band's early signature song, Rock 'n' Roll Star - which was remarkably omitted from the set list entirely.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Oasis arrived via helicopter so they could take in an aerial view of the packed site

Oasis Knebworth 1996 facts:

  • Two-and-a-half million people (more than 2% of the UK population at the time) applied for tickets (at £22.50 a pop) for the gigs, which sold out in under 24 hours.
  • It's thought that there were 7,000 people on the guest-list, including Kate Moss, Jarvis Cocker, Chris Evans, Mick Hucknall, Martine McCutcheon, Anna Friel, and Ant and Dec.
  • It took 3,000 crew members to stage the concerts.
  • The gigs even had their own radio station: Radio Supernova broadcast on 106.6 FM within a 20-mile radius of the site.
  • Support acts on the Saturday were The Bootleg Beatles, The Chemical Brothers, Ocean Colour Scene, Manic Street Preachers and The Prodigy. Playing the Sunday were the likes of Kula Shaker, Dreadzone, Cast, The Charlatans and Manic Street Preachers.
  • The Charlatans' keyboardist Rob Collins died in a car crash in Wales just three weeks before the gig, and so Liam Gallagher dedicated the Oasis track Cast No Shadow to him. Noel dedicated the same track to The Verve's Richard Ashcroft on the other night.
  • John Squire joined Oasis on stage for the encore. But The Stone Roses guitarist was holed up in a backstage tour bus all weekend, in between cameos, with a dose of flu.
  • A picture looking out from the stage at the Knebworth gigs was used for the cover of Oasis compilation Time Flies… 1994-2009.
  • There were only 10 arrests over the two days.
  • Oasis guitarist Paul Bonehead Arthurs thinks the band should have split up straight after the event. "I always thought we should have bowed out after the second night at Knebworth," he told The Guardian in 2009.
  • The band's former friend-turned-rival Robbie Williams topped the achievement in 2003, by playing the same venue three nights in a row.
Image source, PA
Image caption, The historic Knebworth House has also played host to gigs by the Rolling Stones, Queen and Led Zeppelin

Undoubtedly the star of the show is the young Liam Gallagher, who was at the peak of his powers vocally. He is seen making quips, gifting a tambourine to a fan and larking about backstage on a golf buggy with his then-fiancé, the actress Patsy Kensit, in between shows.

While he and Noel are both credited as executive producers on the film, Liam was not in attendance at the premiere (apparently they don't get on these days, you may have heard, since the band's explosive split in 2009), and the singer's voice is largely missing from the voice-over too, until right at the end.

"Knebworth for me was the Woodstock of the 90's" he declares. "It was all about the music and the people.

"I can't remember much about it, but I'll never forget it. It was Biblical."

Image source, Rex Features
Image caption, The shows' set lists were largely based on Oasis's first two albums

His older brother, who has also previously stated that he doesn't actually remember the gigs happening, pointed out that the film shows the crowd was a healthy mix of boys and girls having fun, as opposed to the "yobbish element" of Oasis fans that began to take hold of their gigs in the years that followed.

When asked on-stage if he thought a gig like Knebworth could ever happen again for a band like Oasis in the modern digital social media age, Noel shook his head.

"To see a sea of people like that, in the moment with the band," he mused. "You go to Glastonbury now, it's annoying, there's so many flags. There's not one single flag in the crowd [saying] 'Dave, I'm here'.

"There's not one mobile phone, nobody is texting 'Dave's not here?'. None of that, you're in the moment with the group, with the songs. It's a special special film of a special moment.

"It's like a little snapshot in time that I can beat my kids over the head with forever."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Noel Gallagher meets fans at the Oasis Knebworth 1996 premiere on Thursday evening

Oasis Knebworth 1996 is in cinemas from 23 September. A live album and DVD of the same name is out on 19 November.

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