“Who goes back to the scene of one of their biggest ever gigs – effectively in the prime of their prior band’s career – and replicates it on their own terms as a solo artist well over a quarter of a century later?
“Obviously, the answer is that only Liam Gallagher would have the audacity and the swagger to do so.”
It’s that very swagger that has inspired filmmaker Toby L, to document the 50-year-old rock star’s return to the site of his former glory in his new film, Liam Gallagher: Knebworth 22.
No stranger to working with stars, Toby has previously made documentaries about performers including Rihanna, Olivia Rodrigo, and band Bastille. But he’s not fazed by big egos.
The filmmaker tells Sky News: “There’s that whole notion of ‘don’t meet your idols’. I’d say, ‘No, meet your idols and try to make a documentary with them’.”
The filmmaking process had its challenges – hitting the headlines last month after Liam branded his brother Noel “an angry squirt” for reportedly refusing to allow the film to use any Oasis songs.
The director says he actually felt “relieved” the Oasis bangers were off the table, and instead of “looking back” will reveal the more “delicate” side of a star better known for his confrontational attitude, hard-partying ways and outspoken views.
Some might say, it’s exactly those characteristics that compelled Liam to return to the site of his former glory in the first place, and then nail it. But first, some history.
It was back in August 1996 that Oasis played two nights at Knebworth Festival, with over a quarter of a million fans descending on 250-acre site for the sold-out gigs.
John Major was prime minister, Spice Girls were about to claim UK number one with their debut single Wannabe and Germany would soon beat England on penalties, going on to win Euro 1996.
Twenty-six years later, in June 2022, following the release of his third solo album, C’mon You Know, Liam performed to 170,000 fans at the Hertfordshire stately home, across two nights – which were again, completely sold-out.
At the time his 2022 gig was announced, Liam called it “beyond biblical,” adding, “let’s do it again in another 26 years”.
And his fans were up for it, as one says in the film: “It’s like destiny, it’s like travelling to Mecca. It’s a pilgrimage, we don’t have a choice, it’s something we have to do. We’ll be there with our parkas on and the stupid haircuts. We’ll be going for it, we’ll be ready.”
Speaking in the documentary, Liam says: “I didn’t think we’d ever get back to do Knebworth again, I didn’t think we’d ever do f****** arenas… [We] may have skirted about theatres.. up to some point when I’d have said this isn’t f****** good enough. I don’t know what I would have done. I’d have probably just knocked it on the head and vanished off. I don’t know man, when you’ve been big, you want to kind of stay biggish don’t you?”
And there’s a brief moment of early concern in the film over whether Liam’s voice is up to it, and whether it will carry across the 250-acre site.
Of course, Liam – as one would expect from a man whose Twitter bio includes the words “Godlike”, “Celestial” and “Majestical” – feels no performance anxiety, saying in the run up to the shows: “Before anyone asks me am I nervous. No, not one f****** bit. I just want to get on, and get stuck into the tunes man”.
It’s no spoiler to say the sell-out gigs were a huge success. And that success has to be credited to the charismatic performer at the heart of the show.
The wild man of rock
So, what can we expect to learn about the younger of the Oasis siblings in this latest film about his life and work?
The director says we’re in for some surprises: “He’s the wild animal Liam, he’s the rock and roll Liam and he’s the very sweary Liam… But I feel like we see another side of his personality in this.
“I’d be loath to say softer, because that would be maybe a bit too sort of mild, but definitely a delicacy… and just a super sharp wit and articulate view on the world.”
A little later, Toby adds: “I think we see all of the razor-sharp rock and roll edge that you want. And also, I think we have a more philosophical side from him as well”.
He describes Liam as “constantly entertaining,” admitting that during filming, “I had to literally bend my head back to laugh into the ether, so the boom mike didn’t pick up my laughter”.
He goes on: “We all know he’s hilarious but being in the same room or field as him as he makes some of those comments is just definitely a real highlight of my work thus far.”
The elephant in the room
The film hooks up with Liam a week before the Knebworth gig over the Platinum Jubilee weekend, taking him back to the site of his former glory and watching him prepare, but this time without his brother Noel by his side.
And of course, the fact that Noel is not part of the Knebworth re-do is something neither Liam, nor the director, can ignore.
Toby explains: “The elephant in the room is brought up straight away in the first five minutes of the film and you see the way in which Liam deals with it, in a really graceful fashion that’s non-defamatory but is also totally honest.”
In the opening scenes of the documentary, descending from the skies like a god – albeit in a helicopter rather than on a beam of light – Liam says: “I would have never of thought of doing it, because it’s f****** huge and all that. But the fans want it, they wanted it with Oasis, [Noel] obviously doesn’t want to do it, so, they’ll just have to do it with me, and I’ll f****** do it, it’s going to be amazing.”
And of course, there was the drama over the music rights for the film too.
I felt ‘relieved’
Just last month Liam branded Noel “an angry squirt” and a “horrible little man”, claiming he had “blocked” the documentary from using Oasis songs.
But far from being perturbed by the apparent snub, the director says that while he understands some fans were initially disappointed by the news, he actually felt “relieved” when he discovered he couldn’t use the band’s music and believes it’s a better film without the Oasis tracks (half of Liam’s Knebworth 22 set were Oasis numbers).
He explains: “I was struggling to find a way, while were building such personal stories around Liam, how we were going to put the Oasis music in, in a way that felt contextually sound and also in the context of the fact that there was another Oasis Netflix documentary only a year or two ago [Liam Gallagher: As It Was]…
“It’s a bold thing to say, but I didn’t miss those massive, amazing songs. It felt like this film works in its own complete form, and I was just really relieved because I felt like if we were looking back too much, it wouldn’t have been as contemporary a story as it needs to be in order to differentiate itself to the prior documentary.”
While not repeating the themes explored in Charlie Lightening and Gavin Fitzgerald’s 2019 film, Liam Gallagher: As It Was, Toby says his documentary goes on to “highlight again in a new up to date way that transition point between what do you do after peaking in the biggest band of the time and then try to find your own solo voice and growing up in public”.
Taking Liam from his wilderness years post Oasis’s 2009 split, the director says it describes the star as “he got healthy and he started looking after himself and he started treating himself in a sort of athlete capacity”.
For Liam, looking back in the documentary on his heyday in the nineties, he’s of the opinion: “The music was good, there were loads of bands in the 90s that were great, obviously there were s*** ones as well.”
As for the style of the time, Liam says: “The fashion I don’t think was amazing, but it was decent, I think it went with the music.”
Back to the ’90s
The director – who at 37 experienced the tail end of the Britpop years first hand – has a deeper analysis on a time which defined an era to people now in their late 30s early 40s, when Margaret Thatcher was out, Tony Blair’s Britain was ahead, and there was promise in the air.
“It’s hard to think of a time recently where music was so at the forefront of the cultural conversation or the political conversation. That mid-nineties period, which we also talk about in the film, that whole era and the power of music and how it interlaces with the social fiscal climate at the time that music occurs in. Oasis were just brilliantly unavoidable and everyone had an opinion.”
He describes the band as “the underdogs,” going on, “they didn’t come from privilege. They didn’t come with industry connections. They just had some phenomenal songs and an amazing stage presence.
“And I think that that’s an aspirational story to this day, and I think anyone that aspires to do something great with their lives, just remember that story. Anything can happen if you put the time and the work into it.”
So why is Liam going back to play Knebworth such a big deal?
Toby says the answer to that is that it’s something the world needed, more than we could have possibly imagined.
“We’ve all needed it. You know, the last few years have been so tough in the world and the idea of a big single is concert where we all come together and celebrate as one being, that’s what the film explores, the power of live music against adversity.”
It’s something the fans seem to appreciate, without question. And in this documentary, they are front and centre, rather than a footnote to the event.
All about the fans
Toby says: “From the very outset, we explained to [Liam] how we wanted the film to be. We wanted it to be his story going back to Knebworth for the first time in 26 years. But we also wanted to reflect some of the 170,000 fans going across the two days.”
Thousands sent in video submissions to be part of the film, with just eight making it into the final cut.
They include seven-year-old Audrina from Derby – now in remission from neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer that mostly affects babies and young children – who says of her hero: “I think he’s cool, he’s always stayed true to himself, he’s never been bothered what the other people think about him”.
And superfan Simon Heptinstall, 42, from Halifax, who has a garden shed bar called Champagne Supernobar and owns every Oasis CD and vinyl record, as well as every album, Liam has released as a solo artist. He’s of the opinion that: “It’s a way of life really, Oasis and Liam. It’s an attitude, it’s who you are as a person”.
Plus, celebrity fan, Kasabian frontman Serge Pizzorno, makes an appearance in the documentary too, calling Liam “the epitome of rock and roll,” adding, “and rock and roll never dies”.
The director says Liam was a driving force in putting his fans at the heart of the film: “He was just totally in, and he was so excited about the idea that we were going to be focusing on his audience as much as him in this film… More so than anything else in the industry, that’s all he cares about, the people.”
Rather entertainingly, when asked in the documentary where he would position himself in the crowd if he was a fan, Liam is characteristically honest, replying: “Oh, I’d be at the f****** bar getting w******”.
So what will Liam think?
But while there’ll be a legion of fans queuing to see their hero on the big screen as the documentary hits the cinemas, Liam himself is yet to see the film. Toby explains, “he’s got reasons for wanting the right moment to watch it”.
Although rock and roll stars can be notoriously protective of their public persona, it seems Liam has no desire to micromanage his own documentary.
The director goes on: “With Liam, it’s the other extreme, which I think is every documentary makers’ dream / biggest fear, [which] is you’re going to make it, and then they’ll watch at some point and then you’ll get your feedback down the line.” He pauses, “I’m excited for when he does watch it…”
Will Oasis ever get back together?
As for whether Oasis will ever get back together, the director is philosophical: “[Liam’s] made his case pretty open, which is he’s open minded. And I think it’s Noel who understandably is like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a great legacy’. Who knows what will happen?”
It’s the question every Oasis fan would love to know, and the one the Gallagher brother’s have become adept at batting away at every single interview since their split.
Things of course came to a head for the band 18 years ago, back in 2009, minutes before a headline show in Paris. There were rumours of a physical altercation involving a guitar.
Earlier this year, Liam said the band “should never have split up” and he would “love” Oasis to get back together.
And, just last month, Noel said in an interview there was “no point” in an Oasis reunion as the band sell “as many records now” as they did when they were together.
In the same interview, in a nod to the subject at the heart of this very documentary, Noel added: “If we got back together, it would be a circus and there’s no point. Just leave it as it is. I’m happy, [Liam’s] doing his thing, he’s f***ing selling out Knebworth, it’s like, ‘Mate, good luck to you’.”
So, the jury is still out, for now at least.
But fans still have some hope to cling on to, as Toby concludes: “I’ve learnt that life is a weird thing and sometimes the things that seem the least likely do sometimes happen… If they did decide to do it one day, I just can’t imagine how gargantuan that event would be.”
Sky News has contacted both Liam and Noel Gallagher’s representatives for comment.
Liam Gallagher: Knebworth 22 is in cinemas worldwide from Thursday 17 November.