MUSIC HISTORY 101: Oasis, Knebworth 1996
Oasis. Possibly the most opinion dividing rock outfit to come out of the swathe of 90’s Britpop. You really do either love them or hate them. Pete Doherty sums it up quite well in this “pre-Libertines fame” interview. If you’ve not seen it, you’re missing out. “Noel Gallagher’s a poet and Liam’s a town crier.” He declares in a Vox pop for MTV news, queuing for the release of Oasis’ third studio album Be Here Now in August 1997. Now, whether the album is well regarded or just “Cocaine: The Official Soundtrack” is probably best left alone for the time being, we all have better things to do. Regardless, around a year prior to the album’s release, an understated moment in British music history was taking place. That moment? Oasis at Knebworth Park 1996.
In a pre-internet age, 2.5 million people applied for tickets. Can you even begin to visualise 2.5 million people? About the same as the current population of Eastern European country Moldova, how does that make any sense?
Unfortunately, not all 2.5 million could get a ticket and only 250,000 lucky individuals were able to attend the concert with the largest ticket demand in British history. On the 10th and 11th of August 1996, each night 125,000 Oasis fans would descend upon the quaint village of Knebworth in Eastern England. Knebworth has a past of hosting great concerts but The Prodigy, Manic Street Preachers, The Chemical Brothers and The Charlatans? If that’s the support, Oasis had big boots to fill.
Enough about the spectacle, this is Music History 101 and I’m being completely unbiased when I say this; Oasis were at their brilliant musical peak. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was the best-selling UK album of the decade and even now remains the 5th bestselling album in UK history putting them ahead of Musical Goliaths such as Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd. To say it was popular was an understatement, forget all the Blur vs Oasis beef, at this moment in time, the Gallagher brothers are untouchable. It’s hard to sum up all that cockiness, smugness and potentially arrogance in words but this gif probably aptly describes it all. They’re riding high on the crest of a Britpop wave and being equally unbearable as they are impressive. Going into those two nights at Knebworth Park, they were (as Liam himself would put it) God-Like. However, that doesn’t mean they weren’t phased by the occasion.
Onto the stage come Oasis, accompanied by large inflatable Adidas ‘Tango Rosario’ footballs. As the balls are launched into the baying crowd, Liam stands staunch in the front and centre stage gesturing for even more rapturous applause in a “let’s fuckin ‘ave it” fashion. Meanwhile, Noel is taking it all in from his mic stand and after a few moments of basking in second-hand revelry, in the thickest Mancunian accent ever he declares “this is history, this is history, right here, right now, this is history.” It’s clear to see that for someone who plays it very cool and nonchalant, it’s an emotive moment for himself. The raw passion is quickly extinguished by Liam declaring “I thought it was Knebworth, what you on about?” Noel wasn’t wrong though, it was indeed history, but they didn’t know it’s gravity yet.
The set starts with Columbia, driven by a thumping kickdrum, heavy guitar licks and droning vocals full of Liam’s attitude. Probably the closest you’ll get to an archetypal Oasis song; it even features a Noel harmony to get the show underway in fine spirit. Acquiesce is next, a B-side as the second song in the set, the absolute cheek of it. Then the big hitters like Supersonic, Hello, Some Might Say and Roll With It, it’s a veritable greatest hits playlist. At this point I’m really struggling to not be biased but, the greatest rendition of Slide Away is performed closing with a rapturous “WHAT FOR” screamed by both Gallagher’s for good measure. Songs like Round Are Way and Whatever are performed with an orchestral score, even further adding to the gravitas of the performance. Wonderwall also exists beneath this avalanche of Oasis greatest, followed only by The Masterplan in all of it’s “Never Say Die” glory. In recent times, Don’t Look Back in Anger has taken a place as Manchester’s unofficial anthem, making this rendition even more powerful, emotive and meaningful than when it was originally performed. After Noel is done taking the limelight, Liam returns to sing or more likely scream My Big Mouth. Few of these tracks exist on streaming platforms but if you listen to any, My Big Mouth should be your first call. A teaser of a track from Be Here Now, It’s Getting’ Better (Man!!), a solid prelude to the final stretch of this monumental gig. Live Forever is sung like its biblical scripture and the crowd reciprocate it, treating every word as if it’s their mantra. A portrait of John Lennon is flashed at the back of the stage and Liam stares as if looking his deity straight in the eyes and bowing in gratitude. Then off the stage they go, they’ve left it all out on the field, that was history. But there’s still a victory lap to complete. Back on they come with the addition of the legendary John Squire to electrify Champagne Supernova within an inch of its life. It is glorious, only to then be topped by a maddening rendition of I Am The Walrus with the orchestral horns reaching their crescendo to close the night. The perfect send-off for a perfect concert, then they did it all again the following night.
I’m saying all this after watching the new Oasis Knebworth 1996 film and it truly is worth going to see. This was Oasis before the Yobs crept in, only 10 people arrested over the two nights, Pretty Green Parkas were just a glint in Liam’s eye and not a single smartphone in sight. In summary, all those fans will be proud to say they were there at the pinnacle of their favourite bands career and it truly did look amazing. Despite that, I think we’ve all had our own Knebworth’s for our favourite bands. They might not be as big as Oasis and won’t have a film made about them, but we were there, it means the world to us and that’s all that matters. Hey! Stay young and invincible.