Memories of Oasis at Knebworth, 11 August 1996
Nick Dale was 20 when he was lucky enough to get tickets for Oasis' infamous August 1996 Knebworth gig. Here's his first hand account of the era-defining gig.
Back in my younger days, and I’m sure this is still the case now for people of a certain age, you used to be able to spend a night out on the town and still get up early In the morning with no ill effect. And this was how I found myself on a pleasant Saturday morning in May 1996. Out of bed for 6 am after a heavy night, I drove over to Stafford to pick up my mate so we could spend Saturday morning in a queue.
In those days the internet was in its infancy and so for myself, getting gig tickets was a simple as hopping into Lotus records in Stafford and buying them over the counter. This was different though, even for then, as I had a postcard sent to me by the Oasis mailing list with information that they were selling tickets on Saturday for two huge summer gigs.
One of the dates was Loch Lomond in Scotland and the other was Knebworth Park in Hertfordshire.
The postcard gave no details of the cultural enormity of the gigs or any idea of the size of the crowd that would be expected there. These gigs were also announced later in the week on Radio 1 and there was a feeling was that the tickets may be difficult to come by. The postcard I received gave information on the various ways you could try and get a ticket and one of them was by purchasing them at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall ticket office.
After parking in Wolverhampton, we were met with a queue of about a hundred people, some of whom looked like they had slept there overnight. When we finally got to the front and secured our tickets we stashed them away and trudged back to the car. At this point, the queue had grown to several hundred. As we had to drive past the Civic Hall on the way out, and also being absolute shithouses, my mate proceeded to hold his tickets out of the window as we drove past the pissed off looking throng waiting patiently.
That night in the pub we heard that an extra date had been added and also that quite a few of our wider circle of friends had also managed to secure tickets. After failing to get tickets for an Oasis gig up to now I was absolutely giddy with excitement and couldn’t wait for the big day later in the summer.
In the following days, it transpired that around 5% of the UK population had tried to get tickets and the Knebworth gigs were due to be one of the largest crowds of all time in Britain.
The glorious summer of 96 came around. I know that nostalgia is not always healthy, but it truly was an amazing time to be alive. More so as a twenty-year-old lad fully immersed in the music scene. Euro 96 came and went and the radio was seemingly full of bands like Ocean Colour Scene, Shed Seven and Pulp. It felt like there was a classic album being released on a weekly basis and to some extent there was. For us of a certain age, the ’90s were our '60s! ‘Cool Britannia' felt real and it was like we were at the centre of something massive.
With all the Cool Britannia and Britpop stuff sat Oasis firmly in the middle directing the plays of the masses. In my 20 years on this earth, I had not seen a band quite like them. They were a phenomenon. For quite a time before this, they almost felt like my own little secret.
Oasis were like one of those fringe indie bands that no one had heard of but were on the cusp of stardom. I still remember the moment being out in a bar and hearing the whole pub singing 'Don’t Look Back In Anger'. This was when I realised that this band had now crossed the boundary from Indie into the mainstream.
Before long, Saturday August 10th arrived. Despite this being a great summer and myself (I'd previously had a week in Magaluf), this gig was the focal point of my year and it was now here! I watched Oasis live by the sea on VHS with my breakfast and we left early for the 114-mile drive down south.
The weather was nice and we got there in decent time, arriving before any of the support had taken to the stage. From someone accustomed to gigs at the NEC, GMEX and The Civic this was unlike anything I had ever seen. The field housing this gig was massive, but it was only when I saw the later aerial shots that I came to appreciate the scale of the event.
The Bootleg Beatles kicked off proceedings and with seemingly everyone accusing Oasis of plagiarism, they were a perfect choice. The classic mix of The Beatles pop and psychedelia sound was an excellent start to the day. 'All You Need Is Love' in particular still sticks in the mind alongside the extensive and rather expensive beer queues!
Talking about beer queues we soon worked out that these massive waits for a beer were going to be a massive pain in the arse over the full day so a better option was required. The answer soon presented itself as we found another tent not too far away with little to no queue that was selling pints of wine. The obligatory gig state of semi drunkenness was soon achieved and so we could now happily get on with the day.
Ocean Colour Scene followed and they were something to look forward to after releasing the majestic Mosely Shoals the April before. Simon Fowler proclaimed that he had never seen a crowd like this before (no shit I don’t think many people had!). They played all the songs you would have wanted to hear and you could feel the excitement building in the slowly filling field.
The Chemical Brothers were on next and if I’m honest I don’t remember much of this, I went for a walk around as they weren’t my cup of tea then and aren’t particularly now. The Manics did a nice set next playing stuff from the recently released album Everything Must Go. They were brilliant but it had to be said that as much as they were good, the place wasn’t really bouncing yet.
To get us to the correct state of frenzy we needed someone pretty special. It turned out we had them in waiting, up next were The Prodigy.
If you have ever seen The Prodigy live you'll understand this but for those of us who hadn’t we were in for something quite unique. The first thing I remember is the bass genuinely felt quite uncomfortable on the chest, it was unbelievable. Their set was amazing and, to some extent, they almost stole the day. The light show combined with their music made for quite the spectacle.
The crowd were bouncing in unison and you could tell at that moment why they had been booked. Anyone who felt that the day was a little flat were now having their minds changed. Memory tells me that they were phenomenal and that’s the memory that I will hold onto, I don’t think I ever loved The Prodigy as much as I did over that hour that they were on the stage.
After weeks of waiting, and many hours of drinking in the Hertfordshire sunshine, we were here. I checked my watch continuously, counting down the moments until kick-off. A timer suddenly appeared on the screen with the 'Swamp Song' blaring in the background. The crowd erupted in excitement, this was it.
Out came the band and the tension was palpable. What would they start with? Would it be 'Rock 'n' Roll Star' or maybe 'Bring It On Down'? Whatever it would be, it would get everyone going. What they then proceeded to kick off the biggest gig of their career was, the brilliant yet a little low key, 'Columbia'. An unfamiliar instrumental played for a few notes then bought on those well-known chords that herald the start of the anthem. Great start and a good sing-along but not quite the energy-filled opening that the occasion demanded.
'Acquiesce' and 'Supersonic' followed and we were away. What looked like a one-inch band in the distance then proceeded to produce a magnificent setlist. They did not waste a single second or note.
The band were tight and the sound was excellent. I heard 'The Masterplan' for the first time this day, a proper 'WOW' moment. There is a recording of it online and I still get goosebumps now watching it back. Even mid-table material like 'Round Our Way' sounded great and this was punctuated with such classics as 'Slide Away', 'Morning Glory' and 'Cigarettes and Alcohol'.
As the sun went down they bought the big guns out and even with the slower stuff they were in a great stride. 'Live Forever' was a moment I will never forget. My favourite Oasis song and at last I was hearing it live. The montage on the big screen slowly forming John Lennon’s face was special and remains probably my biggest takeaway from the day.
The band went off and despite the fact we knew there would be an encore we all played our part screaming our heads off as they came back out.
Legendary Stone Roses guitarist John Squire joined them on stage for 'Champagne Supernova'. The guitar solos were suitably John Squire'd and the song sounded as brilliant as ever. The gig came to an end and we had no complaints. Every song you wanted to hear had been played and memories had been made for a lifetime.
As we sat in the car, seemingly for hours, waiting to escape the car park we all eagerly shared our thoughts on the gig and it was resoundingly approved of by all.
In the following weeks, we heard some horror stories in music magazines and by friends of ours who were further back experiencing sound delays. A lot of people were moaning about the prices of the merchandise, beer and food.
There were complaints with regards to the band being working-class lads and overcharging their fans. I remember seeing a photo in Select magazine from a helicopter that showed the enormity of the crowd. Though, when you were there, other than the band being miles away, there was no real sense of the size of the crowd.
The photo showed that the speaker stations we had been by all day were only about halfway back from the stage. I do wonder if the people further back could actually see the band at all. As far as spectacle goes it certainly was one and to think
that Oasis had been playing in clubs just a couple of years earlier was mind-boggling.
In the 90’s, politics, fashion and football changed the landscape. New Labour made politics trendy for a while and music festivals really started to branch out. This event cemented Oasis’s position right in the middle and I genuinely think that this was the most culturally significant event of this era. Was it the best? Well no, and if we are all to be honest, it was probably a little too big.
I watched Oasis numerous times in the following years and enjoyed several of the gigs more than this one but that sort of isn’t the point. Knebworth was a moment in time where both a decade and a band at the peak of their powers converged into one event.
History will tell you that Oasis were very much part of some toxic, lads, lads, lads culture but I think that is just viewing it through the site glass of 2021. Sure they were arrogant, but that was part of the appeal. The swagger and the confidence that they carried separated them from everyone else. Many bands tried to replicate it and failed miserably.
After Knebworth, I think it was acknowledged that the band had reached the highest point that they could. The public fallouts and the failure to crack the American market followed a very slow decline. Things would never be the same again and, to be fair, the decline was a lot slower than the rise.
In the following years, they released several more albums of varying quality but I don’t think they ever released another great one. I don’t think any of their following albums were poor on the whole, but I also don’t think any of them were consistently good either. For me, the nearest they got to the first two albums was Don’t Believe The Truth which I still hold in high esteem all these years later.
There's a continued clamour for the band to get back together and tour and I would imagine to an extent they could name their price if they chose to. I just don’t know if they should.
The music towards the end of their time together was pretty poor and only Noel and Liam remained of those angry young lads from Manchester. Better bands than Oasis have resisted the urge to revisit what has gone and maybe some things are just best left remembered as they were.
All that aside, if they do get back together and tour again, of course I will be there maybe for a moment transported back to my early 20’s and counting down the minutes until they take to the stage again!