Today marks 20 years since 125,000 people descended on Knebworth to watch the greatest British rock band of the ’90s do their thing on the first of two hot summer nights. Here, members of Oasis, the support acts, promoters and fans recall the momentous occasion. This article was originally published to mark the tenth anniversary, in the August 5, 2006 issue of NME.
The Main Players
“I’m very proud of it, I am. What do I remember? Not a lot, really. Nothing. I remember forgetting that we were doing a second night – I thought we were only doing just one, so I got really drunk after the first night. But I can’t remember anything else.”
“It got to a certain point after ‘…Morning Glory’, and then ‘Wonderwall’ took off. It felt that everything was leading up to something that was gonna define not only the size of the band, but what British pop music was about at that time. It all felt like it was leading to Knebworth. But I think we were too busy doing it to worry about it. If we’d thought about it … well, I’d certainly worn a better outfit, let’s put it that way. And may have gone to bed a little bit earlier. And may have tried to keep Liam off the sauce. I remember us flying over and just being sort of normal. We were worried about other stuff: ‘Have you got the beers backstage?’, ‘Are they cold?’, ‘And have you got Sky?’, ‘Is it Sky Plus?’ Stuff like that.
The Supporting Cast
Tim Burgess, The Charlatans
Knebworth marked The Charlatans’ first live appearance after their keyboard-player Rob Collins was killed in a car accident just three weeks before. “After Rob died in the accident, we wanted to pull out of the show, but when you fall off the bike you have to get up and do it again. Bobby Gillespie told [Primal Scream keyboard-player] Martin Duffy that he should [step in and play with us] as a show of support and strength. I think we only had a week’s practice with Duffy before we played in front of all those people. Not bad for a first gig. I remember we came out with a lot of determination and a lot of fire. We bought people down to their knees, down to tears! It wasn’t the intention; out intention was just to survive. I remember walking off and thinking, ‘That’s the last gig we’ll ever play’, to be honest. Then me and Mark [Collins] were just crying on the way home. The come-down after the gig was quite difficult but we just had to get through it. I think if we’d played badly that would have been the end of the band, but we didn’t. It was a pivotal moment in The Charlatans’ story.”
Nicky Wire, Manic Street Preachers
“It was the year that ‘A Design for Life’ had taken off, and we were kind of on the fringes of the great beast of Britpop! I’m not sure Oasis realised the gigantic nature of what they were doing. I remember John Squire being in a cabin backstage noodling away. And the singer of Ocean Colour Scene saying to me, “This is history, man!” I just smiled – I didn’t have the heart to say something nasty. The moment for me was when John Squire came on and played ‘Champagne Supernova’, and just turned it into this Jimmy Page-esque, Led Zeppelin guitar solo from fucking Mars! That moment did seem like a coming together of the great Mancunian mafia. Even today, Oasis are still a vital force. And Liam is a true Tourette’s Syndrome wit, which is something we sadly lack in pop music. Anyone who calls Franz Ferdinand ‘The Wiggles’ is alright by me’.
Alan McGee, Creation Records Boss
”When I signed Oasis to creation, I thought they were gonna be big, but I’d be lying if I said I thought they would get that big. I think we should have stopped after Knebworth, and I think maybe Noel thinks that too. Oasis should have split and we should have shut creation. But it’s easy to say that now. I mean, they still love what they do and that’s great. It’s like when Robbie Williams said he was going one better than Oasis and doing three nights at Knebworth. Now Robbie, I’m not being funny, but Oasis changed ’90s British culture, and you were a dancer in a boyband.”
Neil “John Lennon” Harrisson, The Bootleg Beatles
“They couldn’t get The Beatles, I suppose, so they asked us! On the day of the gig they’d opened the gates just before we came on, so there were just hundreds of people that looked like ants running around the stage. We played more late-period, psychedelic stiff and obviously the big crowd-pleasers. The Chemical Brothers came on afterwards, and they said to us, ‘It’s not going to be easy following The Beatles doing ‘Hey Jude’!’ I suppose it was our Shea Stadium!”
Alex Vooght, Caterer
”I used to work for a catering company based at Knebworth Farms and I had to work at the VVIP (that’s right-two ‘V’s) bar backstage, so we saw just about anyone. It was pretty exclusive -there were sofas made out of Levi jeans, pinball machines and a massive Scalextric set too. I remember standing at the front of the marquee I was working in, and Liam had spotted Ant and Dec. He clocked them and drove straight for them in his golf buggy and they had to drive out of the way like cartoon characters! Kate Moss was there with all her friends too but she was wearing stilettos which made it difficult for her to get around. I think it was Patsy Kensit who came up with the idea of having some trainers helicoptered in, so they could go to the front and watch. That must have happened because Kate asked us to look after her shoes during the gig- we had a little sniff as you do! Mick Hucknall from simply Red was with Martine McCutcheon all night too. We were giving her pints of champagne and, as legend has it that was the night she puked up in his infamous dreadlocks which promoted him to cut them all off. Oasis’ management also asked us to sort out the band’s drinks for when they went onstage and we put a fair bit of Jack Daniel’s in, which probably contributed to the performance in some way!”
Conal Dodds, Promoter
“I handled production, so my half of organising the gig was basically turning a big green field into a concert venue. There were lots of issues with local residents because although they’d had concerts before, they’d never had such a mass of youths trampling through their gardens, pissing in their hedges and asking to use their phones. But for anyone who was 16 or 17 at the time, that was a gig you had to be at. I really think it was just as significant as Woodstock was for the Americans in 1969, or the Isle of Wight was in 1970 for Britain.”
Liam Howlett, The Prodigy
”Noel was the only one into us at the time. He was definitely the one who instigated us playing. Just before we came onstage, Bonehead was fucking moaning about us, like, ‘What the fuck are they doing here?’. Then we just went up there and rocked it. At the back of the stage, all the Oasis boys had a Portakabin each, and I remember Liam popping his head out of his as we came offstage shouting, ‘What the fuck was all of that noise? Turn the fucking bass down!’ I’ve spoken to him since and he said the whole caravan was shaking, so, y’know, we’d done our job properly. Knebworth was just so beautiful, it was like a big fucking rave, loads of people were on Es everywhere and stuff. It was an event never to be repeated. It was a moment in time.
Marcus Russell, Oasis Manager
“Knebworth wasn’t designed to be a historic event. It’s what people made of it – every kid who went. If they all say 10 years on that it was an important moment in their lives, that’s not for the band to decide. I think Oasis went out of their way to put a special bill together that was representative of the time and pretty diverse. And not cheap! They really went to town with it. After the show the band stayed onsite – they all had their own Winnebago, because it was such a nightmare getting out. They slept backstage, so they were prisoners in their own fortress!”
In The Crowd
Screech, The Long Blondes
“It was amazing! Oasis have always been fantastic live, and you really felt you were part of something that day. I remember being up on my mate’s shoulders during ‘Live Forever’ and the sea of people was just unbelievable. The other great thing that people forget is the line-up for both days was incredible. People like The Prodigy and the Manics, bands that I’d never really heard up until that point, but got into afterwards. I don’t care how much of a fanboy I sound like, but despite all the cool influences I may claim to have now, when I was at school, Oasis were all I’d listen to – they got me into music.”
Nick Hodgson, Kaiser Chiefs
“I’d actually describe Knebworth as the weirdest day of my life. I went down, didn’t eat all day, didn’t drink any water, dehydrated myself, got back on the bus to leave, and then was stuck for four hours in the car park! When I got home, I went to bed and woke up in the middle of the night having hallucinations! My bedrooms had turned into woods! I got up and walked across the room that had become a garden, walked into the mirror thinking that was the way out, shouting for Simon [Riz, Kaisers’ bassist] and then looked at my curtains. They’d become trees! It was truly bizarre, no drugs were involved, just dehydration, lack of food, car fumes and Oasis – oh dear.”
Dirk Tourette, Towers of London
“I was 15 and went with my older brother. We got given the tickets for the Sunday and sneaked some wristbands off a security guard so we could get closer to the action. They were brilliant, Oasis changed my life. I stood next to Gaz from Supergrass in the crowd. To me, Oasismania meant something to wake up for in the morning instead of boring old school.”
Jarvis Cocker, Pulp
“Well, yeah, I did quite enjoy it, though I remember we got stuck with a massive bill at the end of it though. We’d hired a posh car up, a Merc or something, with posh cream leather seats and we picked up this friend of ours on the way. He was already hammered and first of all he bought loads of porn at a garage on the way, which was a bit unsavoury. Then he proceeded to light a fag, fall asleep and burn a hole in the upholstery, which cost a fucking fortune to get fixed. It’s a bit of a sad thing to stick in your mind, but yeah, that’s it. I remember playing Scalextric too – they had a thing set up for the people to play backstage. Plus I remember when I got there the first thing I saw was Mick Hucknall trying to chat up Martine McCutcheon – that set the standard for the day really.”