From almost refusing tickets to the gig to the iconic moment Liam Gallagher wellied an inflatable football into the crowd, Terry Petterson gives you a heap of nostalgia from one of the most influential gigs of the last 25 years – Oasis at Knebworth.
The tickets came out on phone lines only and it took about an hour to get through and when I eventually did, I said I’d like to order two tickets and the woman said that it was sold out on the Saturday so they were playing on Sunday August 11, 1996 too (the day after the original date), and asked if I still wanted tickets.
And being naïve, I put my hand over the handset and asked my wife Sarah if she still wanted us to go because the Saturday was sold out. It sounds nonsensical to even consider not going but I just couldn’t see them fully selling the Sunday out and thought it might have been a damp squib after the Lord Mayor’s show.
But Sarah insisted I got them anyway so I went back on the phone and bought the tickets, and the penny didn’t drop that it would sell out until a few weeks before the gig when all my friends were so jealous that I got tickets, and I realised how silly I had almost been to refuse buying them.
We got to the bus station at 6am and it was really busy because there were a lot of coaches leaving from Grimsby. There were a lot people there and they had rucksacks and bags with food and drink for the day so it was almost like a festival.
It was a fairly long journey. I remember on the morning it was quite cloudy and dull when we left Grimsby and by the time we got to Knebworth it was sunny. Because it was such a massive event, the coaches had to park a huge distance away from the venue. It took us about 35 minutes to walk from the coach to the venue. We walked through these fields and we could see it on the brow of the hill. You could see the steel fence, which was erected around the site, with security manning it.
I was 23 and had been to gigs, but not a festival, and the whole day felt like a big event.
We were walking across this field and got to the steel gates where we showed the tickets, and then we went through.
During the day, you had seen helicopters arriving backstage so you realised there were celebrities and VIPs there, and little signs throughout the build-up told you it wasn’t your average gig. We thought this was the beginning of something. They had only done two albums and they were both epic so everyone thought this was only going to get larger.
The field was so vast. It was just such a massive expanse of space. It was about 1pm and Dreadzone were already on, and as soon as we got in we realised we still weren’t early enough because we could see it would’ve been a mammoth effort to get to the front.
It was on a flat plain and then it had a brow and it went down, and the stage was at the bottom. We were just at the brow and it was populated with loads of people. We got a drink from a bar and then we just laid down in the sun, chatting, and it got busier and busier as the day went on.
We weren’t really watching the bands; it was almost like just being in the park with a transistor radio on, but with a better atmosphere because you could sense it was special and something was happening. Obviously the music scene was booming anyway, but then on the day of the gig with it being a record attendance over two days, you knew it was history in the making.
It was testament to Oasis the type of artists they had supporting them, because they all wanted to be associated with that one band. The Charlatans, Manic Street Preachers, The Chemical Brothers, Ocean Colour Scene, and The Prodigy all supported them over the two days. These were all huge artists and it was almost a sign of resignation for them to admit second-place to Oasis for the day.
I knew it was massive, but I never knew how iconic it’d be. And it’s iconic because it was a great event. It wasn’t the best gig but if someone asks ‘Were you at Knebworth in 1996?’ you say ‘Yes,’ it’s almost like a badge of honour.
In the early evening it started to get darker and then the size of the venue really struck home because you had vending outlets on the perimeter. If you can imagine a clock face, the stage was at 12pm and the entrance and exits were at 6pm, and then all the way around were burger bars, Chinese and Oriental cuisine, and snack stops, just like you’d get at a festival. But these stalls had become illuminated in the night sky so then you could actually see how far they went, whereas in the day time it was difficult to make them out through the haze, heads, and the smoke.
It was a hive of activity, and it was just great. There were people from all over the country in Oasis t-shirts and hats modelling themselves on the band with their hairstyles and sunglasses. And coming from the part of the country that I did, it wasn’t in the centre of fashion and music so to go to a place like this and be met with like-minded people who loved the band and the music, and to be introduced to such vibrant characters, it was a massive eye-opener. I used to think I tried to dress like Liam but when I got to Knebworth and I saw all these people who had taken it a step further with the hair, the shoes, and even the walk and the swagger, I realised there were more people like me out there.
It was the first time I had seen Oasis live, and I went on to see them on five occasions in total. I had bought all the singles, CDs, magazines, and watched all their televised performances, but it was usually a military exercise to get tickets. They had played Earls Court, which were their biggest gigs prior to Knebworth, and they were 20,000 capacity events but the only ways you could get tickets then were on the phone or face-to-face at the ticket office, and it was really difficult with the high demand. If we lived in Manchester we would’ve had a better chance of getting tickets. With this being our first time watching them, everything was brand new for us – the band and the size of the gig.
When the band came on we realised they were that far away they looked minute, but there was a huge screen either side of the stage so you made a massive effort to get through a field in the middle of nowhere to watch somebody on a TV screen. Because we were stood that far back we were surrounded by people who, like ourselves, were shuffling along but it wasn’t anywhere near the intensity you get closer to the stage. It felt like you were in your back garden and there was an epic party happening seven houses down and everything seemed to be happening there and it was so lively, but in your garden it was tranquil.
I’ll never forget when Liam came on with a giant football and kicked it into the crowd, which was met with a big cheer, and Noel stood with a guitar strapped diagonally across his body and said “This is history.”
After the gig obviously everyone turned to make their way out of the venue. Oasis had put on a firework display near the exit so as we were shuffling out, with 125,000 people trying to get out of one exit, it had started to rain gently and it was satisfying to know we had witnessed something of great proportions.
The walk that had taken 35 minutes on the way in became an hour on the way back to the coach.
It was the best gig I’ve ever been to, purely due to its iconic status since the gig, and not necessarily the quality of the sound or the distance to the stage because in subsequent years I’ve been able to get nearer to the front.