Don’t look back in anger:Oasis at Kenbworth and the end of Britpop

On the 10th and 11th of August 1996, Oasis played two enormous gigs at Knebworth which was the defining moment of the Britpop era if you believe how the mythology of those gigs are being painted today 20 years on. Well, they did define the era just not in the way many would like to admit. Firstly it’s best to explain a few things before dealing with what Knebworth actually means.

Britpop has a modern day media narrative. That is prior to 1993 the British music scene was in severe decline after the heyday of the late 1980’s rave culture which lead to a vastly diverse Indie scene which died before Britpop kickstarted British music again with acts like Suede, Blur and Oasis. This isn’t true, in fact rave culture transformed the British music scene from top to bottom and that included a diverse British music scene that wasn’t trapped in the past of referencing 1960’s acts like The Kinks or The Who which some later Britpop acts did. A more culturally diverse mix of bands hit the scene which split into multiple sub-genres such as the infamous New Wave of New Wave but that’s lost as the media tries to paint the picture of the British music scene as dominated purely by American music saved by Suede, Blur and Oasis.

The documentary Live Forever managed to capture some of that, but the thing is now in 2016 the Knebworth gigs are now being seen as something amazing and triumphant, yet even Noel Gallagher voiced that these gigs made him suffer in that there was nothing bigger for them to do but it really meant the end of Oasis as any form of a band trying to be creative as they turned into their own tribute act.

1996 was an odd year, there was no Glastonbury that year as it was a fallow year, so the Knebworth gigs were the biggest of the year, and on top of that the creative spurt of Britpop was burning out when bands like Ocean Colour Scene, Northern Uproar, and err, Gay Dad, would come out with tediously bland, generic guitar music which did hark back to the 1960’s, but were the musical equivalents of a frozen pizza; you might enjoy it for a bit while you’re eating it, but afterwards you feel a bit sick and realise it wasn’t as good as a home-made pizza.

Then there’s the fact the gig was pretty poor. Sure, if you’re an Oasis fan this was your pinnacle but having seen Oasis in their early days they were electric. This was a bad cover version of what they’d been only a few years earlier.

Knebworth was the end of Britpop. A few odd creative spurts happened afterwards mainly thanks to The Verve’s Urban Hymns album, but Knebworth saw what was an alternative music scene being absorbed into the mainstream not to mention it cemented the festival as something anyone could do rather than being the preserve of a counter-culture. Indeed, that’s year’s Reading Festival remains one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to but as a festival then you could see in retrospect how Britpop rather than create a forward thinking/looking movement ended up with a load of bands chasing the Big Gig with the money which comes with such success. The logical outcome of Knebworth was Coldplay, a band built upon big anthems which play to a big field full of people but musically is as risky as your favourite underpants. Pop music became increasingly dull to the point where today third generation guitar bands retread music that’s been retrod so often as bands no longer (on the whole) tried to be different, but instead tried to capture what Oasis had for those days in August 1996.

So when looking back at these gigs remember the main thing it did was to neutralise the British Indie scene, give us a coked out Liam Gallagher who can no longer sing, and Coldplay. It helped give us fucking Coldplay…

Advertisements

It was the night before Glastonbury Festival……

It’s the night before Glastonbury Festival and not a soul did make a peep. In fact they’re making a huge great fucking noise right now as towns and cities across the UK empty to head to the annual festival of wonderfullness. 20 years ago I was about to go to the 25th anniversary of the festival and in my mind still one of the best festivals I’ve ever attended.

So with people either on the way to the car park or getting ready for an early start in the morning, here’s a wee treat from 1995 when instead of the BBC, Channel 4 televised the festival in this case for the second year. Here’s Mark Radclliffe, Mark Lamarr, Mark Riley and err, Jo Whiley from 1995 doing a load of stuff and some rather fantastic bands in footage I’ve probably not seen in two decades. This is the year of Britpop, Pulp, Oasis, and PJ Harvey in that catsuit (I can even spot myself looking open mouthed at one point in the footage) and Portishead. This is the first year of the dance tent, and a festival on the cusp of transforming from something belonging to the counter-culture and crossing over into the mainstream. This is probably the last of the ‘real’ Glastonbury Festival’s before the mainstream descended.

It’s simply brilliant stuff…..

Have a good festival and enjoy…

Maybe I’m Amazed?-The Tale of Glastonbury 2004

2004 was a defining year for Glastonbury and for myself after the hot sunny year of 2003. It was the year when Glastonbury firmly and seriously entered the mainstream as a ‘national event’ along with the likes of Wimbledon, and became somewhere that the megastars who’d previously turned their noses up at playing in a field in Somerset suddenly realised they could access a younger crowd in a cheap and highly effective way. In 2004 that megastar was Paul McCartney, but I’m getting ahead of myself….

Glastonbury 2004 was the linking year between the post-Superfence years when the festival was still finding out what it’d become, to the current years when BBC, Guardian and media and cultural coverage is wall-to-wall for the week or so not to mention the run-up to the festival became a mainstream news story. This was also the year when for me I decided to not go to the festival myself as I had in previous years, but with Nat, my ex-girlfriend and a friend Laura from a Glastonbury Forum along with her brother and his mates.

So the festival started with Nat and myself setting out from Bristol on the bus on a pretty damp, overcast not to mention, windy Wednesday in some state of excitement. This lasted til just after Shepton Mallet when the driver stalled the bus going up a hill and promptly told everyone that they had to walk the last few miles to the site as there was too much mud, and water on the roads. This meant everyone on the bus had their weekend dampened by lugging their stuff through the village of Pilton, in the rain and wind and that was to just get to the festival site. There was more walking ahead of us when we got there!

By the time Nat and myself finally got to the site entrance we must have looked an utter mess as the stewards offered to help us carry our bags for a bit, which helped but the plan was to get to Big Ground early, set up, and save space for Laura and her crowd but by the time we got to main arena by the Pyramid we were knackered having walked around what ended up being some eight miles with full rucksacks, tents, sleeping bags and of course, beer. making an executive decision I decided we should just camp just off to the right of the Pyramid Stage by one of the electricity pylons and near the yellow and green beer tent in the picture below.

We managed to somehow put our tents up in something resembling a storm without rain, and I’d managed to speak to Laura to tell her where she should head, but seeing as they were now stuck in a very, very long queue This allowed us to crack open our first beers as the weather sort of improved to being just grey and miserable and by the time Laura’s crowd turned up and found us the weather was nearly sunny. With everyone together this meant Nat and myself went for a wander with this being her first Glastonbury.

Wednesday night saw us get very, very drunk which meant arguments, horrible drunken behaviour and the next morning some sheepish apologies from all concerned. Thursday however saw the sun come out blazing as the site was baked after the previous day’s rain and wind. The site was boiling hot, which meant a nice wander round the site some sensible drinking and generally having a nicer day then the previous day but by now we’d both had legs like Olympic runners so we were bounding around like drunken gazelles.

Unbeknown to us. it was around this time that Laura had used a wetwipe to clean her face and suffered a massive allergic reaction to it so when we got back to the site and nobody was around we assumed everyone was off wandering, but in fact they were sorting themselves out at the medical tent. When we did speak to Laura, the poor girl was so fed up she spent the time in her tent trying to get better ASAP.

Effectively this meant Nat and myself just got on with it, so on Friday we got up early and planned the day ahead. I’d grown a load of mushrooms in my flat (it was still legal back then) for our own use, and they’d turned a lovely shade of blue, so we popped a few of them into our tea and set out for the events of Friday….

The lineup on Friday was good, but Oasis were headlining the Pyramid and this was to us, laughable but before we got there there were some great bands including the still astonishing Chicks on Speed, and for myself, PJ Harvey. It was while waiting for PJ Harvey to come on that I saw some young student types asking each other who she was!? This was probably a sign of where the festival was going-people coming just to be ticking it off as something they do along with the gap year in India.

Anyhow, Friday was fun, hot, but huge fun and by now we were mildly stoned/tripping by the time Oasis cranked themselves onstage on that hot summer’s night but dear me, as soon as Liam opened his mouth they were utter shite. At this point I realised that Nat and myself were laughing loudly and pointing at the stage and laughing at the band much to the annoyance of those sad souls who were fooling themselves that they were watching something actually good. Dear me, they were appalling from the ten or so minutes we suffered.

We took the opportunity to go for a wander and find some more mushrooms, which we did. This meant ending up in the comedy tent tripping our tits off laughing at anything on stage before ending up in the Stone Circle for a sunrise before heading back to our tents for a bit of kip….

I woke up around 9am to the sound of rain hammering against my tent. It’s been raining for a few hours at least and it was wet, cold and utterly miserable. I got up, checked on Nat, and went to get us some tea. Laura was awake and still suffering while the rest of her crowd apparently were still utterly hammered from the previous day hence the snoring from their tents.

I sat with Nat watching the rain fall and the mud form. There hadn’t been a really muddy festival since 1998, but this was a miserable day which put the plan to have a jolly time at Scissor Sisters a bit less cheery as it’s hard to be camp and jolly in a cold wet drizzle. Still, they managed to put on a great show and seeing as we were camped near the Pyramid it wasn’t a huge walk there and back so seeing as the Lost Prophets (let’s draw a line under that band) were on next, we decided to get back to our tents, get some of our remaining mushrooms and head to the comedy tent where we spent the rest of the day.

Come the evening we wandered back to our tents to get some beers, change (the cold rain had changed to just a cold drizzle) we had to cut through the massive crowd that had built up for Black Eyed Peas, the Findus Crispy Pancake (it looks alright from the outside but when you bite into it, it’s going to make you sick) of the music scene.

After getting through the crowd and to our tents, we sat and chilled for a bit until Laura (who by now was well enough to go out) and her crowd came back saying that there was no way to get round to the other end of the site as the entire Pyramid arena was full and still filling up for Paul McCartney.

Not being bothered about heading back for more comedy, we decided to sit in the rain and listen/watch McCartney play. Imagine your old uncle playing a set of Paul McCartney songs down the pub and you get an idea of how pish it was, but there were some big fireworks…

This brought an end to Saturday and we got an early night. Sunday saw us wake up cheery and refreshed which considering we’d been rained on, hiked miles carrying tens of pounds of weight, been sunburnt, drunk, stoned and frankly we were knackered but cheery.

It was also an early start as the English National Opera were doing some Wagner on the Pyramid which ended up being more fun than expected. It also seemed oddly apt considering the mess of the previous few days. After this, we went for a spot of lunch before more comedy tent antics, some beer and no mushrooms, just tea. It was all really quite a sensible Sunday at Glastonbury and in fact a perfectly nice day apart from the sunshine and showers….

Sunday is an odd day at festivals as I’ve said in the past. It’s a time when people want to go out in a blaze of glory but they know that the trip home is the next day and the party is coming to an end. This was exactly the feeling as we stood there waiting for Muse to come on the Pyramid at the end of the Sunday night. Now I don’t mind Muse but they’re a storming live band as Nat had convinced me a few years earlier at Reading Festival. They put on a great set, and we headed back fairly chirpy to our tents to grab a few hours kip before a planned early start to get back to Bristol reasonably early.

The early start didn’t quite happen, but Laura and her crowd left before us. We said our farewells, and finished packing up before taking the long walk up the hill to the onsite bus station and the wait for the bus back to Bristol. The sun had come out, and things were fairly quiet but we were shattered which made us grateful the bus was there waiting for us as we turned up. We trudged upstairs, got a seat and eventually the bus pulled out of Glastonbury Festival to make the trip back to Bristol. At this point Nat became miserable and pointed out how the hell people could take this comedown from the festival which is a good point. That comedown on the Monday on the way home from even a year like 2004 which was a rollercoaster year at best was immense but by the time we got into Bristol bus station, jumped in a taxi back to my flat with a stop by the shops to grab some food/snacks and walked in to a very happy cat who was pleased to see us both, things were better. Everything’s better with a happy cat in your lap.

2004 was a rollercoaster. It was a transition from the previous two years which still kind of felt like the old festival to what it is now which is a cultural juggernaut, but stripped of much of the anarchy of the past. 2005 was to set the pattern for all my Glastonbury Festival’s to date.

2005 was also the year of the Great Flood. Next time I’ll tell the story of that.

The Rise and Fall of the Reading Festival part three

Part one. Part two.

This is the story of my experiences at the Reading Festival and last time I explained how the festival in 1996 was, and still is, one of the best festivals I’ve ever went to. This time I’m going to outline the years of 1997 and 1998.

After 1996, myself and my mate Zeb decided whatever happened we’d do 1997, and after doing that year’s Glastonbury together we were looking forward to that year’s Reading even if the line-up was, well, a bit thin to say the least.

Image

Britpop was on it’s sad last leg’s but it was to have it’s Altamont moment to put it out of it’s misery with the release of the third album by Oasis, Be Here Now.

This was due to come out on the day before Reading Festival (you can see the date on the cover), so it’d be something that would be the talk of Reading. None of this especially mattered to Zeb or myself as we were planning to get down early, get pitched in the field right opposite the arena and hopefully get neighbours as good as the previous year.

At this point I was in a bit of a mess as I was between homes, but I wasn’t going to be miserable so off to Reading we went early on the Thursday morning. If I remember right we left around 8am which got us down to the site at Reading around 10am and into the field by the arena shortly afterwards to find that field pretty much empty, so we picked a spot, set up, got our wristbands and headed into to town to recapture the fun of the previous year. Sadly the nice pub we found in 1996 was now closed ~(though the other one which sold breakfasts was still open) so we headed into town to Sainsbury’s to stock up on beer and snacks.

On returning to the campsite we saw the field was now rammed and that a group of students were surrounding us. We got chatting to them and found out they’d bought a copy of Be Here Now on tape, but couldn’t play it. Luckily Zeb had brought his Walkman with some external speakers, so we all huddled round the speakers in a humid field in Reading one Thursday afternoon in August in 1997 to hear the most eagerly anticipated album of the Britpop generation.

It was rubbish.

The sense of crushing (and I mean crushing) disappointment was high. Even now when I hear a track from it I can’t stop laughing at the pompous arseholeness of the album. It is a testament why pop stars shouldn’t be allowed to take too much coke and believe their hype.  It also somewhat set a tone for the weekend.

The students pretty much kept themselves to themselves for the rest of the first night, not to mention the weekend, and we’d noticed that the festival was full of youngsters. Not the 18-20 year old’s who you’d  normally see at a festival like Reading, but kids from 14-17. We were in a field of them, so we didn’t find anyone cool to chat to or get horribly drunk with so we just wandered round the site for bit on the Thursday, drank a lot and spoke to a few other mates who were there. Next morning we’d promised to go to the pub for breakfast and not miss half the first day because we were drunk.

Friday saw us get up early on a dry, but very humid day to walk to the pub for a bit of breakfast and there we had a chat with a few other older festival goers who also noted just how young the crowd were this year. Still, we had a jolly time in the pub and early in the afternoon headed back to the site to catch Earl Brutus who were a band I quite liked.In fact most of Friday was spent watching the type of band I quite liked at the time with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Stereolab being warm ups for me for Suede who were probably at the peak of their success at the time and did indeed turn out a great show. but the day felt a bit lacking in something, plus the festival really was full of very, very young kids who’d clearly never been out by themselves  let alone being set loose alone at a festival as tasty as Reading could get.  As we headed back to out camp after Suede we noticed how things felt a lost tastier than previous years and the general standard of rowdiness wasn’t as good natured as previous years. When the acrid smell of burning plastic hit our noses we perked up and kept our eyes open for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday saw us again up early. We sat around drinking and playing cards for a bit before heading for breakfast at the pub which saw us both getting very, very, very drunk and heading back to leer at Saffron from Republica who are a band I slowly grew to like, but were the perfect mid-afternoon festival band of the 90’s in that you didn’t need to pay attention when you were hammered. In fact the Saturday was mainly like that with the exception of The Orb who played a great set, and although I didn’t mind the post-Richey Edwards Manic Street Preachers they were a shadow of a band without him, which still put them ahead of most of their contemporaries, but that night’s gig was average at best,

In fact the whole weekend was average at best so far which is something Zeb, myself and some friends who were sitting around a mate called Dig’s camper van on that horribly humid Saturday night were saying. It was alright, but nothing great.The entire weekend was a sticky mess which was alright.

reading1997

Sunday saw me woken up by Zeb saying someone had nicked his speakers and he was fed up. We toyed with leaving early but he wanted to see The Verve and I fancied Metallica so we stuck the last day in order to see an amazing average Metallica set with 49 minute bass solos and a tedious line in macho nonsense.This was after noticing again that the site was full of 15 year old’s running around like something from William Golding’s worst nightmares. We did however notice this was mainly focused round where we were camped, and the fields just around it, so we thought things would be ok that last night but as the first rumour of toilets going up in flames hit, followed by us actually seeing one go up in flames we really weren’t having much fun.

Monday saw Zeb wake me shortly after dawn. It was starting to piss down with rain and the humidity broke hard. I packed up quickly, legged it with Zeb in what felt like an escape and headed back to Leicester thinking I was pretty much done with Reading and anyhow, I had more important things to sort out like my life, plus 1998 seemed a lifetime away.

1998prog

 

1998 however did roll round and things were on the up. I’d got myself what would be a long term girlfriend (Tash) and by the time Reading rolled round we were living together in Leicester, and the line-up for 1998 looked bloody wonderful as it’d been supplemented by the collapse of the 1998 Phoenix Festival.

1998poster

 

The Saturday especially was just a brilliant line-up. Friday was good because of Ash, and Sunday was the tale of the tailend of those Britpop chancers (and the Divine Comedy who were a touch apart) but on the whole I had to go.

I don’t remember if Zeb wanted to go down or not, but Tash wanted to go so we went down together for what was her first festival of this scale, and although I was wary of the toilet burning antics of the previous year I knew we’d not get a camping spot anywhere near the arena as we were going to get the bus from Leicester to the festival which was a first for me, though I was wary of it.

As it turned out I didn’t need to worry. The bus left Leicester on a warm sunny day the Thursday before the festival and arrived eventually late in the afternoon onsite. Tash had overcome her wariness about going to a festival with 60,000 other people and was now very excited, which was tempered somewhat when I told her we had to lug our stuff along from the drop off point to find a decent place to camp. We got through the gates and walked for a while as all the campsites near the arena were rammed, so we went further out and eventually found a good spot near an older group of grungy types rather than the hyperactive kids who seemed to be ricocheting across the site by the arena.

After we set up, we went to get our wristbands before going to a walk into town to get beers and snacks. As we did we bumped into a mate Doug, who I’d first met six years earlier while working at a comic convention back home in Glasgow. He was there with his relatively new girlfriend, Andrea who he’d met in Yorkshire and they were camped together fairly near us so we hung out for a bit and Tash and Andrea amazingly hit it off like old friends from the off, which was nice for Doug and myself who could talk comics, and comic related nonsense while getting quite drunk on the first night.

On the Friday we’d arranged to meet up and I’d take them all to the pub where Zeb and myself had used for breakfasts, drinking, darts and chatting up the ladies, though I was obviously skimming over the latter this year. Here we all continued to bond and have a jolly time til we went back to the arena for a day of music, and of course the mighty Ash! to help us on our way Doug had bought some speed so against the better advice of Tash and Andrea we proceeded to neck some which quickly made us both slowly fall asleep. In fact all I remember of the Friday night is the Afghan Whigs coming on and passing out before waking up nearly 12 hours later with a very narked girlfriend in the tent next to me. After some desperate apologies We went to meet to Doug and Andrea in the pub to see a very sheepish Doug who had also passed out the previous night. I came up with the bright line ‘I don’t think that was speed’ to which Tash and Andrea ripped the piss right out of me for saying the bloody obvious.

Moving on from Doug and my own stupidity we looked forward to the Saturday line up which was spectacular. Tash and myself had agreed we’d take a break during Supergrass to get changed for the night and some food, but otherwise we were camped in front of the beer tent on the right hand side of the stage (my favourite spot) for the day from Bis onwards.

This was more like it. The music was good, Asian Dub Foundation showed just what a spectacular band they are, while Doug, Andrea, and Tash were confused by Lee Scratch Perry but I bloody loved what he was doing which was making all the 15 year old kids waiting for Foo Fighters eyes and ears bleed.

After seeing Foo Fighters for the sixth time in three years, we went back to the tent to get some food and change quickly before the double bill of The Prodigy and then the Beastie Boys. There was a bit of needle between the bands after the Beastie Boys had criticised the song Smack My Bitch Up by the Prodigy and had asked them not to play it in their set before the Beastie Boys came on. That resulted in Maxim from the Prodigy to make it perfectly clear what he thought, and the Prodigy played a blinding set before the Beastie Boys also played an amazing set. Ultimately the fans won!

Sunday was a pretty poor line up as it was the Britpop chancers day, so we all got very drunk, enjoyed a lovely set from the Divine Comedy, while ignoring the dross like Gene and Shed Seven before seeing what was the last time I saw a great set from New Order. Unfortunately for Garbage they had to follow that, and sadly although they were good, they were a bit overwhelmed by what had come before not to mention the occasion itself.

As the night ended we said our farewells to Doug and Andrea with a vague promise to meet up whenever the next comic convention was held, and off we went for our last night under canvas. Now there was a bit of trouble from all accounts but we never saw anything where we were camped, though when we were leaving to get our bus back to Leicester we saw burned out toilets and a lot of wrecked tents.As said, Reading was tasty but this was a different sort of rowdiness which felt much, much darker than just people getting drunk and being loud, but we were yet to see the festival change from one where people who loved music turned up to see bands, to one where people turn up because it’s something they do before going to university. That wouldn’t be clear to me until 2001.

Before that however there’s 1999. That’s for next time.