“Oasis Knebworth 1996” captures a transcendent moment


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In the summer of 1996, for a brief moment, Britpop ruled the world. Definitely maybe and (What’s the story) Morning Glory? by Oasis and Parklife de Blur led the charge, while albums like Radiohead, The Verve, Supergrass, Pulp and even the Spice Girls dotted the charts from Japan to the United States, where music from the United Kingdom had only occasionally broken into pop. / grunge / hip -hop stranglehold on the Billboard Hot 100 since MTV’s debut, had been bitten by the Britpop virus.

“We landed in the United States to tour the day no matter by Nirvana is out, ”recalls Blur bassist Alex James. “It was already the album of the decade. We had a little success on college radio, but it made us rethink what we were doing. So we really embraced our Britishness – the clothes and the music – and our next album, Modern life is rubbish, really reflected that. Very quickly, mods on Lambrettas appeared during our concerts, and we could tell that something was happening. Culture was changing very quickly and embracing exactly where we were going, musically. At time Parklife, it is us and Oasis who have defined the moment.

It was indeed in the UK – in the midst of Cool Britannia, and on the verge of electing a progressive neo-Labor government after years of Thatcherite rule – that Britpop really reigned, and Oasis was exactly the group to meet. for the moment.

“Oasis was divisive and different,” recalled Mark Cooper, a BBC producer who produced the 1997 documentary. Oasis: here and now. “They broke the rules with visceral and very British animosity about what they were doing.”

“They seemed to take what they were doing very seriously, including the partying side,” added DJ Gary Crowley, in an effort to explain Oasis’ appeal in the mid-’90s. “And, for a some time they seemed to be able to do both. But they were also incredibly prolific; both Noel Gallagher as songwriter and them as a group.

That ladish, combustible nature – not to mention the mind-boggling hymns Gallagher seemed to rush at will at the time – set Oasis apart from Blur and Radiohead.

“As I heard more songs it became clear that this wasn’t a normal indie rock band,” recalls Alan McGee, the band’s label head, the venerable upstart Creation Records, about this period.

“This 12-month period around (What’s the story) Morning Glory?, where everything Noel Gallagher did was gold, that was his Imperial phase, ”Oasis biographer Richard Bowes said. “He was untouchable. And he was not bound by indie. He copied the Beatles, and he wasn’t ashamed to copy the Beatles, but rather than rip them off, he took the essence of their melodies and made songs out of them. He opted for a classic and timeless pop-slash-rock. The confidence that produced classics that he then relegated to the B-sides? It is absolutely outrageous confidence and ability. For this period he received the Ivor Novello Prize.

Remarkably, there has been very little backlash from the band’s die-hard fanbase following the band’s explosion in popularity, making them a staple of mainstream culture.

“I had no problem with them becoming this massive thing that everyone loved,” recalls James Corcoran, host of the Oasis podcast, of that heady summer where everything seemed to be breaking in the direction of Oasis. “I was really happy. My team was doing well. Because he was like a football team.

“After Definitely maybe, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, ”Noel Gallagher remembers in 2019.“ With Oasis, we started at the top, where U2 took a decade to reach.

A new film captures the feeling of this summer 25 years ago. Oasis Knebworth 1996, directed by Jake Scott in cooperation with the fraternal team that rocked Oasis, Noel and Liam Gallagher still at war, is a love letter to a time before cellphones or even the internet, when a crowd of over 250 000 fans over two days saw the Bootleg Beatles, Ocean Color Scene, The Prodigy, Manic Street Preachers and, of course, Oasis on the grounds of a huge estate in the English countryside, riding the crest of the Britpop wave. (A live album and personal video release of the film and both night concerts will follow in November.)

“It was our promoter’s idea,” Noel Gallagher told me. “I went to the site with our manager, and it looked like a huge empty field. But I liked the idea of ​​playing where Queen and Led Zeppelin and everyone else had played. In the end, we put two nights up for sale. They told me after we sold them that we could have played eight.

In fact, the demand to attend the shows was so huge that 2.5 million people – over four percent of Britain’s population at the time – had applied for tickets.

“It was so fast,” remembers multi-instrumentalist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs in 2019. “I didn’t really stop to think about what was going on or how it was going. But overnight, the people were coming to see us, and there was all this buzz; all this vibe was happening. But it was happening so fast, and we were so busy, that I really didn’t have time to sit down and do the point and think about what was going on. It was amazing. “

“Since playing the massive homecoming concert on Maine Road in Manchester, Oasis had left the covers of music magazines and radio and featured daily in almost every national newspaper,” added Louise Davies, who runs a long-standing newspaper. unofficial Oasis news site, which was in Knebworth. “The concerts were the subject of constant discussion on television and radio. If you lived in the UK you couldn’t avoid them. “

Yet, as always with Oasis, darker elements were brewing. The feuds between the Gallagher brothers, as well as their well-documented feud with Blur, were beginning to eclipse actual music.

“In the run-up to Knebworth, they were fodder for the tabloids,” Bowes said. “There was very little new music and therefore the news was dominated by tabloid stories, which shows how important it really was. But I imagine when they booked Knebworth they didn’t anticipate how mainstream they were. Of course, it became about the people behind the scenes, and it became a cultural event, but more of an event to see than to enjoy, because the headlines weren’t about the music.

“I don’t even remember Knebworth,” Liam Gallagher told me, rightly, when I asked him in 2017 about his memories of the weekend.

While Oasis is the film’s star attraction, it is also – and rightly so, given the importance of the massive fan culture that has built up around the group over the barely two years that they were on the UK music scene at the time – just as much focus on those who were there and who were affected by the Oasis phenomenon.

“I thought it was great because it’s not just about these shows,” Davies said. “The film is about what Oasis meant to people like me and others who loved this band and still do today.”

The concert itself, while far from being Oasis’ best, still epitomizes the band in their prime and gives viewers a sense of the scale of their massive appeal.

“The original lineup was that one,” McGee insisted of the group, which according to Noel Gallagher’s recent tally had 18 members over the years. “They weren’t great players, but they had a real Mancunian advantage.”

“Oasis was also the five of us,” added Noel Gallagher. “When you are in a group of five musicians, everyone has their place. “

As for Liam Gallagher, the moment in Knebworth was bigger than just the band, or even the songs.

“There were a lot of things in there,” he insisted. “It was the songs, it was the voice, it was the attitude, it was the look, it was the fans, and these were the people who opened their ears and their minds.”

The film also commemorates a moment in pop culture that probably won’t – and maybe can’t – happen again, in this dispersed, social media-dominated world.

“This whole world of the music press, the world of the charts and the way we have consumed music is dead,” Cooper said. “And it’s very nostalgic, you might say, but Oasis was really the very last band in Great Britain that could keep up with the times. It was a group that could make the whole nation listen. And that they were able to unify Britain at that time is really interesting, and probably has a lot to do with the fact that it was before the reign of social media or even, really, the internet. That’s why it sounds like the last great story.

“It’s all about business now, music, I think,” argued Noel Gallagher. “It’s not about the artist anymore, for lack of a better word. This is the team of songwriters behind the performer.

As for the event itself?

“I felt there was an element of surprise, but also, there wasn’t,” Crowley, who acted as MC on the first night at Knebworth, recalled the scale of the band – biggest ever (and probably last) of its kind in UK “They were the biggest band around. My memory of that day is coming to the site and just looking around at the audience, and I’ve never seen anything this size.

“My friend picked me up and put me on his shoulders, and I remember looking around in total amazement,” Davies added. “I couldn’t believe how many people were there. It was an endless sea of ​​people.

And for those in the eye of the storm, it was a milestone, now stored in celluloid for ages.

“I remember Noel saying, ‘This is history, here, now,’ when they came out,” Corcoran recalled. “And that’s the thing, we knew at the time. All along, we’ve mythologized Oasis as we went along, anyway. We knew it was a special moment, like when a football team takes a historic journey. So when he said, “This is history, here, now”, it was like, “Yeah”. Because it was.”

However, not everyone involved in the concert has spent the past two decades dwelling on it, and for Bonehead, the film provided an opportunity to reflect on his legacy – something he never had. correctly considered before.

“I had never sat down and lingered there before, because getting to Knebworth and getting out of the helicopter, when you’re in it, it goes so fast, you don’t sit down and think, ‘What’ is it going on? ‘ “He said.” It doesn’t look like 25 years ago, and it’s a fucking scary thing. Twenty-five years in someone’s life is a long time. than eight years ago. But to sit and watch it for two hours, it really brought me home. It was just amazing. A real moment. A perfect moment. “

As for Liam Gallagher, he sums up the feeling you will have after seeing the movie.

“If you’re not turned on by Knebworth, then you must be fucking crazy,” he insisted emphatically.

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