If there were two gigs that summed up the excess of 90s Britpop, it would have be Oasis’s legendary shows at Knebworth.
Back in 1996, Oasis were at the highest point in their career, with second album What’s The Story (Morning Glory) having spent ten weeks at number one the year before.
They were being heralded as the biggest British band since the Beatles, and their two dates at the iconic Hertforshire venue in August 1996 proved to be the most significant shows of their career.
Their popularity was reflected in the staggering number of people that applied for tickets. Figures vary, but it’s estimated that 2.5m people tried to attend the shows.
To put it in perspective, that means one in every twenty UK adults tried to get tickets, making it the largest ever demand for concert tickets in British history.
Millions were left disappointed of course, but 250,000 fans attended the concerts in the grounds of the estate over two days on August 10 and 11, 1996, playing their part in a historic event in British music.
Everything about the scale of the event was excessive: setting up the event had taken months of planning, and the huge stage itself required over 3,000 crew members to put together in the days leading up to the main event.
When the day came, the crowd weren’t just treated to a performance from Oasis either – there was plenty of other huge UK acts on display too.
Two whole days of music took place on the grounds of Knebworth House across the weekend, with the likes of The Charlatans, Kula Shaker, Manic Street Preachers, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy all delivering sets in the August sun.
The shows attracted all kinds of celebs too, including Chris Evans and Kate Moss. The guestlist was over 7,000 names long, and it all contributed to making the shows some of the biggest in British history.
The atmosphere throughout the day was said to be relaxed and friendly, and despite many people predicting outbreaks of violence amongst the huge crowds, only 10 arrests were recorded during the first day.
However, while fans enjoyed the friendly festival setting outside, there was stark contrast in the atmosphere backstage.
Despite the grand setting (Knebworth House had actually been used as the setting for Wayne Manor in Tim Burton’s Batman), the band weren’t pleased with the conditions, and Liam Gallagher is said to have thrown the food they were served – including sausages and corn on the cob – all over the floor.
As former guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs previously told 6 Music, there wasn’t exactly a glamorous environment to warm up in before they took the stage.
“We stayed in these Winnebago, caravan things at the back of the stage,” he said.
“I remember thinking ‘I’ll just have a quick hour in bed before we go on’, and the Prodigy came on. If you’ve ever tried to sleep 20ft from the stage when the Prodigy were on live? Forget that.”
However, despite the less-than-perfect conditions, the band walked out triumphantly on both nights, and delivered two career-best performances.
Noel Gallagher greeted the crowd by saying, “You’re making history, you lot,” while a swaggering Liam said “Hello, hello, hello. Let’s go,” before launching into the set.
The historic performance on the first night began with songs Columbia, Acquiesce and Supersonic – not that Noel can remember much about it…
“Genuinely, now, if I close my eyes, I can’t remember walking on stage at Knebworth,” he told Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. “I know it took place because there were lots of people there.”
Whether Noel can remember them or not, huge singalong moments came during performances of Don’t Look Back In Anger, Wonderwall and Champagne Supernova, with 125,000 fans belting out the lyrics.
Fittingly, with all the Beatles comparisons being made about the band, the band finished their set with a cover of The Beatles’ I Am The Walrus.
The band walked off on the second night knowing they’d played the biggest shows of their career. Noel even wondered if the band had reached their peak, and later told Uncut magazine: “I remember sitting there, at Knebworth, in the backstage area, and someone saying, ‘Well, what now?’ And I was like, ‘I couldn’t tell ya.’”
“And that was how I felt for a good couple of years afterwards. I really suffered. It’s like, what do you do when you’ve done everything? You kind of sink into boredom. Kind of directionless.”
He wasn’t the only band member to contemplate the future of the band after the shows either. Bonehead told the Guardian back in 2009: “I always thought we should have bowed out after the second night at Knebworth.”
Of course, the band carried on making music, and less than a year later, they went on to release Be Here Now.
A great big, coked-up mess of an album, it reached number one and encapsulated the excess of the decade, but saw their stock fall as Britain’s biggest band.
More than two decades later though, the Knebworth shows are still remembered as two of the biggest in British music history, and as far as Oasis fans are concerned, it’s a legacy that will live forever.