a fascinating flashback on a concert like no other
- Certificate 15, 110 min. Director: Jack Scott
One weekend in August 1996, a quarter of a million boisterous fans gathered in the grounds of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire to celebrate the all-time high Britpop and crown the Emperors of Cool Britannia Oasis.
This crowd is at the heart of an edifying new documentary, prosaically titled Oasis Knebworth 1996.
Dizzying aerial shots sweep across a vast sea of ââhumanity in pools of swimming lights, all densely packed as drums rumble, guitars ring, strings rise and horns ring through the epic Champagne Supernova anthem, while Songwriter Noel Gallagher beams with blissful satisfaction and the lean, insect-eyed figure of his brother Liam Gallagher spreads his arms and roars “Where were you when we were soaring?”
Well I know exactly where I was. I stood in the heart of this crowd, with my arm on my own brother’s shoulder, singing at the top of my lungs.
There are many aspects of live performance that are thrilling, but little can beat the deeply brotherly and warmly empathetic sense of musical community engendered by mass singing, and few bands could compete with Oasis in inspiring such reply.
Every Oasis show was like a final night of the Britpop Proms. But Knebworth was Oasis’ ultimate show, when the band themselves were at their zenith, and each of their relatively rare songs (Oasis had only recorded two albums at this point in their career) had taken on the status of hymn to a generation of empowered listeners.
As I wrote in the Telegraph at the time: âMind-blowing, revolutionary, world-beating rock and roll occurs at a point where an artist’s expression and the needs of the audience coincide. Right now, this is where Oasis is located.
Two and a half million people have applied for tickets to Knebworth. Oasis could have sold out 20 nights in a row, but instead it only performed twice, in front of 125,000 people each night. This is the largest ever demand for concert tickets in British pop history. Incredibly, Oasis was almost completely unknown two years earlier. They released their first single, Supersonic, in April 1994, which stalled outside the top thirty but sent them on an outrageously accelerated path from small clubs to stadiums.
Noel Gallagher remembers it as a time when the audience and the band were one, each imbued with an unlikely confidence. âIt felt like everyone was our age,â Gallagher said, citing the buzz around Britpop, the Young British Art movement and the popularity of the film Trainspotting. Knebworth took place just after Euro 96 and on the verge of a landslide election victory for New Labor in 1997.
The audience for the film, he notes, is very mixed. âThe second generation of Oasis fans got pretty dumb for some reason, but in Knebworth it was boys and girls. And there was an arrest all weekend! It’s incredible. A — had let the side down! “