‘Oasis Knebworth 1996’: The Last Gig of its Kind, from Those Who Were There (Noel, Liam, ‘Bonehead,’ More)


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Oasis went from playing to a handful of fans on Tuesday nights in their hometown of Manchester in the early 1990s to 250,000+ at Knebworth Park in the summer of 1996.

It all came to an end in a hail of “smashed guitars and thrown fruit,” as Noel Gallagher told me in 2009, but the intervening years have seen a new generation discover the remarkable, last-of-its-kind story that was Oasis at its absolute peak.

Following the excellent Mat Whitecross-directed documentary Supersonic from 2016, which chronicled the meteoric rise and kickstarted a reassessment of Oasis’ legacy, a new documentary, Oasis Knebworth 1996, directed by Jake Scott, is out this month. Celebrating the band’s two-night stand at the fabled estate that had previously hosted the likes of Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, the film is both a magic carpet ride back to the heady days of Britpop’s mid-90s reign and a keen reminder of a time when mobile phones and social media didn’t exist, and when bands still did truly seem to come from and belong to the people.  

In honor of the 25th anniversary of the band’s Knebworth stand and the premiere of Oasis Knebworth 1996, Rock Cellar has compiled recent interviews with Oasis band members, Creation Records label boss Alan McGee, and those who were there and have studied the period closely to reflect on what those two nights in the English countryside meant, and why they may just stand forever as the last great communal rock and roll moment of its kind.

Noel Gallagher: They took me to the site, and it just looked like this massive empty field that we could never possibly fill. I told them we’d agree to do two nights. After all the ticket requests came in, they came back and said we could have done eight.

Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs: I’m about the biggest Oasis fan there is. But even from the inside looking out, it was massive. We went from playing little clubs to selling out two days at Knebworth in just two years. It wasn’t just hype. It was as though we could do no wrong.

Liam Gallagher: Knebworth was amazing.

Gary Crowley (BBC DJ): I thought of it at the time as, “Yeah, they should be playing it. They’re the biggest band around.” And then there was a little bit of me thinking, “Fucking Knebworth!” It had gotten to this gigantic proportion.

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Click here to pre-order Oasis Knebworth 1996 on 2-CD/DVD from our Rock Cellar Store
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While the band’s debut album Definitely Maybe had had a fraught birth – it was made and remade several times before landing in its final form – it went on to become the fastest selling debut album in British history, redefining the musical landscape in England. A tumultuous year in which the band nearly imploded several times followed, before the release of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? in 1995, which became a career-defining moment.

Although Oasis had enjoyed a string of chart-topping singles, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? – which included “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back In Anger” and “Champagne Supernova,” as well as “Some Might Say,” “Roll With It” and “She’s Electric” – set the band apart from the Britpop explosion in a big way, selling over 22 million copies worldwide, and marking the point where Oasis went from being a very big indie band to world beaters. As always, however, Oasis was teetering on the brink of collapse.

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James Corcoran (host of the Oasis Podcast): Liam quit the US tour, and Noel started walking out on tours. They got kicked off an airplane in Australia. All that sort of stuff was in the news.

Gary Crowley: The tabloids loved Noel and Liam. I mean, they absolutely loved them! They were selling newspapers by the bucketloads for a while.

Richard Bowes (author of Some Might Say): I think that’s probably that point at which they lost control. [Original bassist] Guigsy requiring some time off was probably the first indicator of that. Because they went from “Wonderwall” to “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” and topped that success. They had to delay the release of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” as a single because of “Wonderwall’s” continued success. 

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Live, the band’s massive sound seemed tailor-made for the arenas and stadiums they soon found themselves filling. In November 1995, Oasis returned to London to headline the massive Earl’s Court. But with the band’s popularity exploding, their team soon set its sights on something even bigger.

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Bonehead: When you’re part of it, it’s just going so fast and you’re doing so much, you don’t sit back and think what’s happening.

Alan McGee (head of Creation Records): It was bubbling under. The culture needed Oasis.

Mat Whitecross (director of Supersonic): I just think, once you become big, that most bands are kinda the same, even if you’re Led Zeppelin or whoever it is. It’s still the same thing. It becomes going from one stadium to a plane and onto the next stadium. 

Richard Bowes: Even in their wildest dreams I don’t think they anticipated that, because there was no real frame of reference, apart from Beatlemania or T-Rextasy. And arguably, not in their lifetimes. So, they just strapped themselves in and went along with the ride. The obvious culmination for that was Knebworth.

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As the film chronicles – and Noel Gallagher mentioned above – demand for tickets was remarkable, and the nights themselves were transcendent, if overwhelming. 

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James Corcoran: That was the summer of Britpop for me. It’s a real cliché, and you hear people say it all the time, but it was really, really exciting, and a really exciting time to be alive and getting into music. My friends and I, we knew we had to get tickets, but you either had to queue up or get through on a phone line. It’s insane to think of now, but I only saw them at Cardiff International Arena and then I saw them at Knebworth. Some people saw then 26 times or whatever, and it’s like, “How’d you get those tickets? Where’d you get all the money from?” We were poor students on pocket money.  

Bonehead: From playing to ten people to a couple thousand was really quite sudden, and surprised me. But also, I think we were quite confident in our belief in ourselves and what we felt we’d achieved.

Gary Crowley: I compered the Saturday. I didn’t introduce the Prodigy, because they came on to intro music. And Oasis did as well. So, I was literally just welcoming everybody there and introducing the Bootleg Beatles and Chemical Brothers and Ocean Colour Scene and the Manic Street Preachers. It was lovely to be a part of it, but I’ll always remember walking out on stage and having to be sort of pushed out a little bit, because when I walked out and looked straight ahead, it just went on forever.

And then I looked to my left, and it went on and on. And to my right, the same thing. Thankfully for me, I had been presenting this late-night music program called “The Beat,” and there was a cameraman there who was one of our cameramen, who popped out from behind the camera and stuck his thumb up. I saw this lovely little terrific face smiling and all of a sudden I thought, “What are you worried about? Just do it.” So that really kind of helped to calm down. But I remember saying to my producer, who I met afterwards, “I was building Pink Floyd’s Wall in my underpants.” I was absolutely bricking it.

Oasis Knebworth 1996 (Photo: Jill Furmanovsky, provided by Permanent Press Media)

Oasis Knebworth 1996 (Photo: Jill Furmanovsky, provided by Permanent Press Media)

James Corcoran: It was the summer of ’96. We had the Euro ’96 football, which was massive. That was in England was well. So, it was like that whole connection of football and rock and roll being in the popular culture, with Oasis being big football fans, too. Things all fed off each other. For me, the whole day, really, was fantastic, because you had the Bootleg Beatles, and I was such a massive Beatles fan at the time. That, to me, was heaven. They were just the best band. That’s as close to seeing the Beatles as you can get. And then Ocean Colour Scene, who we couldn’t miss, plus Prodigy and the Manic Street Preachers. And Oasis! What a day! 

Bonehead: Coming out of the helicopter, coming on at Knebworth, it’s a really powerful memory. But it’s what we wanted. It’s why we picked up guitars. It’s why we rehearsed every night. That was the dream we wanted to achieve. Standing on stage in front of so many thousands of people, it felt right for us. It felt like we were succeeding in what we wanted to achieve. We were very confident that we were going to get to that point, and that was the reward for it.

Mark Cooper (BBC producer): They were the voice of a certain kind of British working class youth at that time. But it wasn’t just working class youths. Everybody loved them. The songs were huge, everybody sang along, they became part of a new optimistic time in Britain. I don’t want to be too grandiose about it, but it felt like a new kind of democratic, assertive Britain, in which people could go out and say, ‘I’m having it, I’m not going to apologize, I’m not going to be kept in place.’ 

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As the film shows, a gathering like Knebworth happening in 2021 is almost inconceivable. And, as Noel Gallagher has pointed out in interviews recently, the fact there’s not a mobile phone in site, with the band and audience completely in the moment together as a result, is also unthinkable now, 25 years later. But the film is also a testament to the power of Oasis as a band and Gallagher’s remarkable songs. 

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Noel Gallagher: Oasis was a load of guys who wanted to be in a fucking group. They were all good at what they did. The lead singer was a good-looking kid. They could all play. They all had the right clothes and a good record collection. 

Bonehead: What I remember is that we all believed in what we did. And Noel, as a songwriter, really believed in the songs. We were really confident that we had something. We were confident we had the right songs, the right front man, the right sound. We never doubted, but it did happen really quickly.

James Corcoran: I had no issue with them becoming, essentially, pop stars. I was really pleased. My team was doing well, because it was like a football team. The whole Oasis vs. Blur thing, what I tended to find was that it was maybe the quirkier, cooler-than-thou kids that had that issue, but it wasn’t like, “Oh, we don’t like the fact that other people have discovered them now.”

Mark Cooper: They were straight ahead in a way that bands hadn’t been bands for a long time in Britain, where everything had been very niche. If you were an indie band in those days, you wanted to be big in the world of indie. But you didn’t want to be bigger or more ambitious or more assertive than that. And so Oasis coming out and being rocking, assertively male, simple, direct, unabashed, working class rock and roll—it felt really incredibly new and fresh. They had an attitude to die for and then it turned out they had really great songs. 

Bonehead: We just were full of it. We didn’t understand the power of what was going on around us. It’s really fast and sudden, the way it blows up. It probably took about three years before we actually realized what had happened. At first we weren’t traveling around the world. We were in Manchester. So we didn’t realize the extent of the impact our music was making. I’d be walking down the road, or in local shopping malls, and people would be recognizing me. So it was fast and we didn’t realized how big it was getting.4

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Twenty-five years later, the key players seem confident that what they achieved at Knebworth in the summer of 1996 will stand the test of time for another twenty-five, if not for all time. 

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Alan McGee: Oasis has got more popular with successive generations.

Noel Gallagher: It was tough to be in Oasis because of me and Liam. But out of it, you manage to somehow forge this fucking great music.

Liam Gallagher: The band should’ve never split up. I don’t feel like it’s split up in my head.

Bonehead: That’s the thing, we totally believed in ourselves and we totally believed in what we were doing. We totally believed that people were going to get what we were doing. I remember Noel saying, “In 20 years’ time, people are still going to be talking about us.” And I didn’t doubt it, but you don’t really believe it. That’s a massive statement. But they are. And more. 25 years later, it’s still a huge deal, which is incredible. 

Liam Gallagher: I don’t regret anything. The minute you start regretting, it’s like dominoes. If you start taking one thing away, the whole thing falls to pieces. But I don’t regret anything. It is what it is. I’m very proud of what I’ve done.

Noel Gallagher: It spans so many generations now that you can’t even thank one particular demographic of people for it. It kind of belongs to the world. It’s a wonderful thing.

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