I first came across Dan, as most people did, through the wonders of social media. As a new contributor to the site, I was keen to find and befriend everyone else – if nothing else, DiS was famed for its sense of community. And so it was that I came upon this Angry Yong Dude, slaughtering sacred cows and caring not a jot who he upset or annoyed with his opinions. Entertaining, I thought. Refreshing too, in an industry that’s become far to homogenized and in thrall to PR.
But as I got to know Dan more and more, and spent time in his company in real life, I came to understand that his scorn was based on a deep passion for, and knowledge about, music. He cared. And what really set his pen of fire was his anger for when artists – and according to him, there were plenty – seemingly didn’t, when albums stank of a “this’ll do” lethargy and lazy icons from the past were all too happy to take the cash and the kudos for doing very little.
Strangely, despite all the entertaining debates myself, Dan, Dom Gourlay, David Edwards and others had across Twitter and Facebook – and seriously guys, some of those threads should be collated and turned into a book at some point – this was the only piece where Dan and I went head to head. And of course, it had to be about Oasis, a particular bête noir of Dan’s. Whilst I can, from my current vantage point, understand the reasons they attract such opprobrium and hate, when I was a teenager I was absolutely OBSESSED with them. They opened my provincial Scottish ears to a whole world of music, and were my first great love. And, despite them not turning out to be the Second Coming of the Fab Four, I’ll go to war with anyone who doesn’t think that Definitely, Maybe isn’t one of the finest debut albums by a British band, or stands unmoved by 80,000 people passionately singing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’.
And so it was that Dan and I locked professional horns for the first time and went to work. I’m immensely proud of it – if we achieved nothing else, in parts its laugh out loud funny as we work ourselves into every more furious defenses of our points. We quote Albert Camus, Keats, and at one point I equate Oasis with Joy Division. Dan calls the Gallaghers’ “cunts”, insults Manchester United, and states that “if America elects Donald Trump to be president at least they didn’t take ‘All Around the World’ to No1.” (Oh the irony, eh?)
But the thing I love about the piece, and about Dan, is how each argument I threw was accepted, processed, then returned with interest. He was intelligent, and erudite, and while he was never afraid to call a spade a “fucking dogshit cunting spade”, his eye for a clever metaphor, put down, or withering turn of phrase was immense. We talked about doing another such DiScussion piece, but we never got around to picking a topic. In a way, I’m sad we didn’t, but I’m also glad that this piece stands alone, the one time I went toe to toe with a titan. I think I came out of it OK. Dan would, of course, disagree, but that’s why I – why we – loved him so much.
RIP Dan. Debating with anyone else will never be the same.
There are few, genuine “Where were you when…?” moments in modern music mythology, and fewer still that don’t involve death. Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, David Bowie; most people know exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. But one such momentous occasion that didn’t involve death is celebrating its 20th Anniversary today; Oasis’ record-breaking two-night stand at Knebworth Park, playing to 250,000 people and listened to worldwide by a whole lot more.
It’s hard to put into context just how big a deal the concerts actually were, so staggering were the numbers. “This is history! Right here, right now, this is history!” announced Liam as he took the stage on Sunday, and he wasn’t wrong; broadcast live on Radio One, people had actual listening parties, so keen were those without tickets to tune in and make it a communal experience.
As part of the Anniversary celebrations, never been seen before aerial footage of the event has been edited with ‘My Big Mouth’ – the one new song Oasis played that weekend – for a unique video, ahead of the deluxe re-issue of Be Here Now Chasing The Sun Edition by Big Brother Recordings on October 7th. Of course, no-one really needs an even longer, more bloated version of that album – even if it does contain that era’s B-sides and some of the demos the band made while on hiatus in Mustique – but just as debated are the actual shows’ status; era-defining or cultural black hole? Hindsight may be 20/20 but nevertheless, we set Dan Lucas and Derek Robertson the task of discussing just how significant Oasis at Knebworth was.
Dan Lucas: OK I might as well lay my cards out on the table straight away: I fucking hate Oasis. I hate the band, I hate their stupid boring songs and I hate their ridiculous bullshit swagger. Hate. I’m disgusted by Tories, I can’t stand twee indie, I don’t like the Marvel movies, but I’m reserving Hate for a select group that has Oasis sat ingloriously atop the pile.
I don’t want to drone on about how they were a rip-off of The Beatles. It’s a tired line and, in fairness to Noel Gallagher, he has always been savvy enough to rip off a hell of a lot of different massive-selling bands. Oasis were always really good at seeing which classic rock bands featured most heavily on VH1 and in Q Magazine polls of the Greatest Ever, then thinking: “OK we’ll do that”. Not: “We should incorporate this cool idea from them into our own unique style”, but: “Let’s do that exact same thing and make £££”.
And yet there they were at Knebworth twenty years ago, playing to a six-figure crowd. It was in Hertfordshire but it might as well have been northern Bavaria in 1934. It, and the enabling apologists that popular radio back then became, cast Oasis to the forefront of the British public eye; if America elects Donald Trump to be president at least they didn’t take ‘All Around the World’ to No1.
It meant that if you had the radio on, or were in a shopping centre, or at a sporting event, you could be ambushed by Liam’s snivelling, nasal attempt at a snarl – like a ninja made of sweat and Sports Direct working conditions. It’s enough to make you question whether you still want to support Manchester City. And it led to, a year later, the cunt who played a Union Jack – that cunt who cast himself as John Lennon’s working class hero – sipping champagne at 10 Downing Street with Tony Blair. Can you honestly think of a more ignominious moment in rock music?
Derek Robertson: Woah there Angry Young Dude! You sound like a man with a fork in a world of soup. It’s become awfully fashionable to dismiss those cheeky Mancunians as a ragtag bunch of scruffy chancers who were simply in the right place, at the right time, and subsequently won the lottery of life. But that’s way too simplistic a view. For a start, don’t you prefer your rocks stars to have a bit of ridiculous swagger? Look at Mick Jagger. Or Robert Plant. Or, dare I even say it, Bruce “Facelift” Springsteen. No-one ever conquered the rock world by being a wallflower, did they?
Of course, you can dislike the music - that’s your opinion, and there is an element of three-chord-pub-singalong about a lot of what they did. But my God, for a year or two there, they were fucking magnificent at it. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has done glass-in-the-air bonhomie with quite such panache and feeling as Oasis and Noel Gallagher managed; even twenty years on, crowds still go crazy for ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and ‘Supersonic’, and rightly so - they are fucking TUNES! Gallagher might not have turned out to be the new McCartney (although the former Beatle hasn’t exactly been blazing a musical trail these last thirty-odd years either, has he?), but he also never claimed to be reinventing the wheel. What he did have was an ear for a killer melody, a knack for imbuing his lyrics with just enough sentimentality, and a sense of craft that is sadly lacking in a lot of modern music. Knebworth was simply the glorious apex for a band seizing the day and realising that their time had come.
Dan: Hey don’t knock Springsteen! The thing is he, Jagger, and Plant et al have earned that swagger – OK there are questions over the originality of the Stones and Led Zeppelin, but they weren’t such unapologetic rip-off artists as Noel Gallagher. And Oasis certainly weren’t magnificent.
They’re a deeply, deeply mediocre band musically. They had a lead guitarist/songwriter who can neither play lead guitar (although in fairness to Noel, he deferred to Paul Weller on their worst guitar solo on ‘Champagne Supernova’) nor make a convincing case for having written his own songs. They have a singer who can neither sing nor snarl as the aforementioned singers can, but instead finds this nasal wet fart of a compromise and thinks he’s Joe fucking Strummer. Then if he can’t be arsed to sing his brother replaces him with a voice flatter than Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United. The drummer genuinely turned out to be more replaceable than Spinal Tap’s. Then there are the others, and by the time Be Here Now came out, precisely no one actually knew which of them was in the band at any given point.
Derek: "If it's me and yer granny on bongos, it's the Fall." Who cares who's creating the music, as long as it's there? Sure, they’ve had lots of coming and goings, but who hasn’t? Remind me, who actually started the Stones? Or Pink Floyd? Exactly. Besides, to say they were “deeply, deeply mediocre” is simply not true - based on what? You know how many chords Dylan’s ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ uses? Or Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’? Three of the easiest ones. You know who else wrote some nonsensical lyrics? The Beatles. And as for what’s going on at the end of this, well, it can only be down to drugs. Or madness. Or a hugely inflated sense of one’s artistic self.
Early Oasis were so good that one of Noel’s best songs never even made it onto an album. I’m talking, of course, about Sad Song, a track most songwriters would trade a limb for. Watch them do ‘The Masterplan’ at Knebworth and tell me the way Gallagher has slowed it down, and added that harmonica solo, isn’t a little bit genius. And to be able to jump from that to the full blown stomp of ‘Acquiesce’, bring it back for ‘Live Forever’, and then pile on an epic, drawn-out version of ‘Champagne Supernova’? Knebworth was, for that generation, LCD at Madison Square Garden doing ‘All My Friends’.
Dan: ‘The Masterplan’ might have been good if it was sung in tune. ‘Champagne Supernova’ is a dirge, though; I think even Oasis' fans (aside from the most laddish) acknowledge that.
But your point about the glass-in-the-air bonhomie is giving them undue credit I reckon. For one thing, those kinds of songs were done better by The Faces and T-Rex years earlier and Oasis just redid that – those original songs can still be listened to and enjoyed, so why bother listening to these watered down versions? It's like picking Snow Patrol over Radiohead.
Of course, there have been loads of simple chord progressions and exact same sounds going right back to the 1960s for the Gallaghers to use as muses/plagiarism victims. It’s not really a surprise then that they would try and ape not just the sound but the spirit of the free love era, of hippies and Germany’s Studentenbewegung (no, of course Oasis don’t know what this is) of the 1960s. Only they did so in the most hackneyed, lightweight meaningless way imaginable.
‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. ‘Roll With It’. “You and I are gonna live forever”. “You’re my Wonderwall”. It’s either impractical bullcrap – the kind of idealistic nonsense a 13-year-old reading Twilight for the first time might spout to cheer you up when you can’t afford your rent and have been diagnosed with Zika – or it’s nonsensical fucking drivel. “I wanna ride with you in your BMW” sang these empowering working class lads in between giving interviews about how much money they made. This isn’t anthemic, fists in the air stuff: it’s lowest common denominator marketing.
Derek: I could cherry pick lyrics from any number of “classic” songs or bands, and hold them up for ridicule. So let’s give the big ‘ol Wheel Of Nonsense a spin, shall we?
“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now / It’s just a spring-clean for the May Queen”. Oh, first up we have the mighty Zep!
“Keep your mouth shut / You're squawking like a pink monkey bird / And I'm busting up my brains for the words”. The Starman himself, David Bowie!
Next to some of those, Gallagher sounds like fucking Keats. But I digress. Point is, you can’t just surgically dissect the music; it’s all about the feeling. Oasis didn’t become the Biggest Band In The World because they were actually the best, they did it because they spoke to millions of people; millions who shared in their aspirations, who wanted to have a good time, who wanted some cigarettes and alcohol and fuck-me-the-last-15-years-have-been-pretty-miserable-haven’t-they?-let’s-fucking-HAVE-IT! Oasis channelled all that and more to the point that apparently 10% of the entire population of this island applied for Knebworth tickets. TEN PERCENT. Just think how absurd that sounds in today’s musical climate. And unlike Spike Island, or Altamont, Oasis backed it all up by playing out of their skins. This is why, like them or loathe them, or whatever your feelings about Britpop, Knebworth was, and always will be, a massive cultural milestone for music.
Dan All of those lyrics are at least more interesting than the faux feel-good nonsense masquerading as empowerment that Noel vomited onto the page, like a Buzzfeed list of shit memes. And they were framed by decent songs. For all their “just fun lads” attitude, that’s awfully pretentious.
And then who gives a toss if they were popular? I fear I’ve already invoked Godwin’s Law (which itself is normally a lazy thing to throw at people, so perhaps apt in an Oasis discussion), so I won’t make the obvious comparison here. But claiming the Knebworth gig made Oasis musically important is like people saying Jeremy Corbyn can beat the Tories because he’s got a good crowd at one of his rallies. It’s bollocks and we both know that. I know you’re a bit of a cinephile so I could easily point at Suicide Squad’s opening weekend at the box office.
I got lucky when they played Knebworth 20 years ago. I was 10 years old and therefore thick enough to enjoy their might-as-well-be-plagiarised pop ditties, but fortunately too young to actually notice it was happening. I knew Oasis were a thing and that lots of people liked them, but then their target audience seemed to be the kids at my school who would a few years later nick mine and my nerdy friends’ phones. I was, like all kids, stupid, but I do credit Oasis with giving me the understanding of what “fucking dogshit” actually meant.
Derek: It wasn’t just their popularity, it was the cultural shift the event signified, and what came after, that makes it such a momentous occasion. Like it or not, the UK was in the doldrums in the early Nineties (trust me, I’m old enough to remember), and Oasis - and Knebworth - were instrumental in kickstarting the cultural revolution that led to the Young British Artists, Trainspotting, an explosion in literature and art, Cool Britannia (snigger all you want about that Vogue cover and all it stood for, but it made our arts and creative industries the best in the world for a while), 1997, and the regeneration of huge parts of London and the UK by a youth that were suddenly energised. You mentioned Gallagher sipping champagne in Number 10 with Blair, and yeah, it all looks a bit Albert Camus now, but for those of us who’d just turned 18 and gone off to University, it was like a New World. The fustiness of the past, and the old structures and rules had been swept away, and possibility dangled in front of us all like a Union Jack guitar. You could even smell the optimism in the air; the future looked like it had arrived. Yeah, all that proved somewhat fleeting, and we’ve since been led down some dark paths, but trying to imagine our current cultural landscape, as decimated as it is, without acknowledging Knebworth and Oasis is like trying to imagine what London would’ve been like without the Swinging Sixites - a pointless exercise.
Dan: Great, thanks to them we got Ocean Colour Scene, Cast, Kasabian, and Catfish and the Bottlemen. Forgive me, but I’d rather take a decade or two of Dannii Minogue clogging up the airwaves.
The other thing is that because of Oasis's success we have to hear Noel Gallagher's interviews, which he's clearly using as an audition to take over on either TFI Friday or Top Gear. Every time I hear him I feel like Jim Davidson is missing a support act.
Derek: There's just no accounting for taste I guess; what's not to admire about 250,000 people having the time of their life in a field, singing their heart out to some killer tunes? And for those fond of bemoaning the state of "guitar music" - whatever that's supposed to mean - and wondering where all the headliners are gone, just imagine if we had another band with the swagger, attitude, TUNES, and refreshingly honest opinions of Noel & Co. It's what we're currently missing, and you're just an old man yelling at a cloud if you think otherwise.