‘Oasis Knebworth 1996’ review: an era-defining gig that will live forever

The Gallaghers' high water mark is remembered in thrilling, pint-throwing fashion

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igs, as Noel Gallagher will tell you, were very different in the ’90s. “You watch this film and there’s not one mobile phone, not one,” he said during a Q&A at last night’s Oasis Knebworth 1996 premiere in London. “They are in the moment with the group and the songs. It’s special. It’s like a little snapshot in time that I can beat my kids over the head with forever.” A bit ‘old man yells at cloud’, for sure, but Noel’s right in thinking there may never be another show to rival Knebworth – in scale or significance.

Taking place over one cloudy weekend in August, the zenith of Oasis mania saw 250,000 mad fer its pack into a field in north Hertfordshire (twice), with 2.7 per cent of the UK population applying for tickets. Director Jake Scott’s new rock doc-concert movie hybrid includes every “sheeiiine” of the band’s career-defining performances, but it’s real focus is the fans. And their stories provide the emotional backbeat.

Real-life testimonies narrate dramatic reconstructions as interviewees scramble to bag tickets via telephone or teletext. Then, when successful, the planning begins. “Where’s Knebworth?” asks one girl after forking out £22.50 (!) for her spot. Others pledge to sleep on train platforms or beg older brothers to drive them all the way from Scotland. TV news footage and radio soundbites build the buzz as we watch Liam, Noel, Bonehead, Guigsy and Whitey mess about during soundcheck. If there’s a cure for post-COVID blues, it is definitely footage of a half-cut Liam whizzing about in a golf buggy, trying to run over his roadies.

Oasis Knebworth 1996
Noel Gallagher during ‘Oasis Knebworth 1996’. CREDIT: Jill Furmanovsky

Eventually, finally, the madness starts. Not with Oasis, surprisingly, but with a firestarter set from The Prodigy on the Saturday. Keith Flint‘s Essex ravers join Manic Street Preachers, Ocean Colour Scene, The Bootleg Beatles and The Chemical Brothers in support – Cast, Dreadzone, Kula Shaker, Manics (again) and The Charlatans played Sunday – but the green-haired drum and bass prophet threatens to steal the show after stirring the crowd (as many women as men, surprisingly given Oasis’ later rep as lad culture standard bearers) into a frenzy. The Gallaghers are having none of it, of course – and kick off (literally, they swagger onto stage and boot inflatable footballs into the masses) with a spitting, snarling rendition of ‘Columbia’.

This is where Scott’s film comes into its own. Through extensive remastering and tech wizardry, he’s taken a pre-digital recording that gathered dust in storage for 25 years and turned it into a supersonic wall of sound. Sat in a state-of-the-art cinema, the tunes vibrate through the floor and the picture is so crisp it feels like you’re plunged feet-first into the mosh pit. Your flatscreen telly won’t compare.

As for the songs, it’s the standard greatest hits package. ‘Acquiesce’ and ‘Supersonic’ follow ‘Columbia’ in a killer opening salvo, before ‘Roll With It’, ‘Slide Away’ and ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ shore up the middle section. Then generational hymns ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, and ‘Live Forever’ set up an encore of ‘Champagne Supernova’ (complete with Stone Roses‘ axeman John Squire squealing out the gig’s longest guitar solo) and Beatles cover ‘I Am The Walrus’.

It’s hard not to be blown away by the number of epochal anthems on display – especially when you consider that, two years earlier, they’d only had one top 10 single. Scott explains away Oasis’ meteoric rise with a combination of cultural analysis and ‘right-place-right-time’ indeterminism. These five lads from a Manchester council estate, the film argues, were perfect for a hopeful post-Thatcher boom of Britain’s youth, many of whom are interviewed at Knebworth while having the night of their lives.

For all the unchecked euphoria and handwringing about historical importance, there’s still one thing (or rather, person) missing: Liam. The band’s iconic frontman appears in archive footage, obviously, though no fresh interviews are included. There is a brief, new audio snippet at the end, but it feels tacked-on and lasts a few seconds at most. After their well-publicised sibling feud, it seems a choice for one Gallagher brother not to be more involved in the movie – but made by which one?

Family arguments aside, there’s little else to fault Oasis Knebworth 1996. For those who were there, the film provides a portal back to a golden age. For everyone else, it’s a reminder of those special teen years – when a plastic cup filled with warm lager and a sunny afternoon in a park makes for the biggest adventure of your life. And yes, Noel, there were no mobile phones.

Details

  • Director: Jake Scott
  • Featuring: Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, Paul Arthurs
  • Release date: September 23 (in cinemas)
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