First things first, I’ve always been an Oasis fan, I remember the Knebworth gigs from afar (I even had that huge Liam gig poster for it) but I was in the deep Southwest and couldn’t afford it. Ridiculously, if you look back now, tickets were £22.50 and this was only 1996, yet it feels like another world altogether. That wasn’t everything either, you weren’t buying tickets via some random website with triple-added fees, you’d pick up them by phoning a number and speaking to a person or getting to a local record store – if they had any – and that’s how things were pre-internet. It was kind of the same risks as now though, but Ticketmaster ain’t got nothing on an engaged phoneline. Things don’t really change, they’re just different.
In Oasis Knebworth 1996, director Jake Scott has taken more of a feeling approach than your usual cohesive gig documentary, which means the style is almost literally ‘by fans for fans’ and while this settles down in the second half of the film, the first hour is a little messy and may not appeal as much to a casual viewer, but we’ll come back to that.
Scott’s film opens with a quick initial intro to the usual 1996 side of things that we see in any recap of the year, the highs of indie/Britpop, Euro ’96, new Labour and the UK feeling on cloud nine as things pick up after the troughs of the 80s, and the grey beginnings of the 90s, even though it’s worth mentioning we got so many classic bands coming out of that era.
Jake Scott approaches Oasis Knebworth 1996 with a scrap-book insight, we see archival footage of people arriving at the gig, but the first 20 minutes or so are visual reconstructions with voice-overs from fans and their memories of getting tickets, finding out the gigs were coming and the excitement of the possibility. While I like centring to the fans, we don’t know who anyone is and the voice-overs are merely that, there are no talking heads, the entire documentary contains soundbites over footage, some original, some maybe not and it’s a little jarring and feels dated, when it would have been better to see people talk about it, I’m guessing restrictions stopped this. The problem with random voice-overs is they sound a little fake, the quotes and memories don’t offer much insight beyond a memory of teenage excitement, so I don’t even know how many are real people – which was a pity.
The first hour pretty much follows this pattern, and while we do hear from Noel Gallagher and Bonehead, again it’s all voice interviews and it’s hard to know if this is looking back at it now, or snippets from other interviews or YouTube videos. The other issue is once we get to the gig, they move to shaky Behind-the-Scenes moments but endless, almost endless, voice-overs from fans skipping in and out of the songs, so we don’t really get a moment (until later) to feel we’re there now, regardless of whether we were at the time.
The one thing Oasis Knebworth 1996 highlighted was whether Oasis, and being at Knebworth, was more about the vibe and the moment, that era in modern music history, and how much of the euphoria was down to that wave of positivity instead of the ‘actual’ gig itself, although that obviously played a huge part. Many conversations are about being there, in the days before tech destroyed just switching off and slipping away out of reality, but we don’t really get any deeper.
After numerous supercuts of the band, the crowd, the band, the crowd at different, dizzying angles, it does begin to settle and become more enjoyable – around the Cast No Shadow point, when the director finally allows a song to play out, without someone piping up at an impromptu point, which can get frustrating. It’s like someone talking over the songs at a gig, and I don’t really get those people.
But I’m not on a complete downer on the film, because the second half gives the songs a bit more time, stops sharing the same cliched quotes and lets the band have their moment, which is vital. Sure, we’re getting that initial feeling I mentioned, and we’re finally allowed to delve in. One thing that’s true is this documentary will never take Knebworth away from the people, as it endeavours to capture the atmosphere. It’s not at the same level of the brilliant Summer of Soul that came out recently, our review, but you can definitely see the joy from the occasion.
There’s a fine story about Liam giving his tambourine to a lad in the crowd, it’s great to hear Noel talk about his love for Live Forever and the pleasure of hearing people singing along to The Masterplan, Don’t Look in Anger and Wonderwall – even if they don’t always make lyrical sense (I don’t personally care as they’re tuuunes!) and we finally get to see John Squire on stage, joining the band for Champagne Supernova with his superb guitar skills. Noel also talks of that moment being the peak for Oasis, and for Liam, and you can see the truth there.
Oasis Knebworth 1996 is by the fans, for the fans, and it’s about the occasion but I think you’d enjoy more it if your memory is included. I couldn’t shake the feeling you actually had to be there to fully indulge and delight in this documentary, even if the band are still surprised they didn’t even play Rock ‘n’ Roll Star!