Oasis' first tour: Thirty years on, venues say it's harder to host new bands

Liam Gallagher on stage in 1994
Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher had the rock star swagger from the early days

Exactly 30 years ago, a little-known band called Oasis set out on their first headline tour, playing to small crowds in tiny venues. Many of those venues say they're now struggling and it's harder for new bands to take the same path today.

When Mark Davyd was asked to book a gig by a rising Scottish band called Whiteout at his venue in Kent in March 1994, he wasn't keen when he found out that an unfamiliar Mancunian group would also be on the bill.

"Whiteout were, at that time, much more the hotly tipped act," Davyd recalls.

He wanted to put on a local support act instead - but the agent stressed it was a joint headline tour.

"We eventually begrudgingly agreed that Oasis would be a joint headline. But I insisted that they must go on first."

So Oasis played the Tunbridge Wells Forum - a 250-capacity converted toilet block - on the third date of their first proper tour.

"It wasn't sold out, but it wasn't empty by a long chalk," Davyd says.

The Gallagher brothers exceeded his expectations. "They were good. But I genuinely can't honestly tell you that the reaction in the room on the night was, 'Wow, that's the future of rock 'n' roll.'."

Oasis in 1993
The band released their debut single Supersonic halfway through their first tour

It turned out Oasis were the next big thing - and went from playing Tunbridge Wells to headlining Glastonbury the following year, and making history at Knebworth the year after that.

Davyd's reluctance to book them is "funny in retrospect", he says.

For those early venues, it has become increasingly difficult to make ends meet three decades later.

"On that night 30 years ago, that show - with the door take and the bar - probably made a little bit of money," Davyd says.

"You could not afford to put on a similar show now featuring two new bands. You will definitely lose money. Even if you sold all 250 tickets, you'd lose money."

Ticket prices and bar takings haven't kept pace with rising fees, bills, rent and wages, he explains.

'Totally different now'

"It's been getting worse every year and the final nail in this coffin was the extraordinary increase in energy bills, services and supplies, and rent particularly," Davyd says.

Today, the surviving venues can often only afford to put on new acts because they also stage other events, like tribute bands and club nights, which do make a profit, they say.

Davyd set up the Music Venue Trust (MVT) 10 years ago to champion the cause of the grassroots circuit, and will be among the industry figures giving evidence about the health of the scene to a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.

The MVT's latest annual report said almost 150 members either shut or stopped staging live music in 2023, while 34 new venues joined.

Liam Gallagher on stage in 1994
Liam Gallagher on stage at the Bristol Fleece & Firkin in March 1994

The first Oasis tour kicked off on 23 March 1994 at Bedford's Angel pub, which was demolished several years later.

Of the 15 venues on the original tour poster, nine have closed or stopped hosting gigs over the years.

The surviving venues include Southampton Joiners, where the Gallagher brothers' rivalry was already rearing its head, according to folklore that has been passed down to current boss Ricky Bates.

"About 15 minutes in, Liam and Noel started having a bickering fight on stage. They ended up playing about a half an hour, and then I think Noel or Liam stormed off. I'm not sure which."

Running a venue is "totally different now", and has got tougher even since the Covid pandemic, Bates says.

Along with rising costs, fewer bands are touring - especially since Brexit, which has meant higher costs and red tape for international acts, he says. Those that do go on tour often aren't on the road for as long and only visit the biggest cities.

'On the breadline'

Also, the cost of living crisis means fewer people are going to gigs, and those that do spend less at the bar.

There have been other culture shifts, too.

Young people go out less, guitar bands have gone out of fashion, and many up-and-coming artists make their names on TikTok rather than the live circuit.

"There are a lot of factors," Bates says. "We've always been on the brink of closure, as a lot of venues are across the country. A lot of venues run pay cheque to pay cheque."

Several years ago, the Joiners started promoting gigs in bigger venues in Southampton, and that revenue has been a lifeline.

"If we weren't doing that, I imagine the Joiners would have closed in 2015 or 2016.

"It lives on the breadline, and just when you think, if we don't get a big show in the next couple of weeks we're going to close down, something mysteriously appears.

"And then that one show tides us over again for another couple of weeks. Every day is a flip flop of a situation."

Poster for Oasis tribute band Oas-is outside the Fleece in Bristol
Tribute band Oas-is are marking the 30th anniversary of the real band's show in Bristol

The night after playing Southampton, Oasis moved on to Bristol. Next Saturday, on the 30th anniversary of that show, tribute band Oas-is will perform at the same venue.

In fact, fans can relive the original gig regularly - Oas-is play at the Fleece seven times a year.

"They always sell out. Always," Fleece owner Chris Sharp says. "And the bar [money] is great. You're taking £5,000 or £6,000 on the bar. That's our buffer. That's what keeps us afloat."

When Sharp bought the long-running venue in 2010, he initially didn't want to book any tribute bands. But he soon realised they sell more tickets than new groups, and fans buy more beer.

Tours 'drying up'

So now, tribute bands and club nights take place on Fridays and Saturdays, subsidising the tours and new artists that play during the rest of the week.

"It took quite a while to work it out, but now we've got a safe formula that works," Sharp says. "We're not struggling as much as others."

However, he too is concerned by the decline in bands passing through. "We had three tours in February," Sharp says. "We had 11 the year before.

"The last week of March we're full, but it's taken until the end of March for it to pick up. So it feels like things are starting later and finishing earlier in terms of the window of when it gets busy."

Chris Sharp at the Fleece in Bristol
Chris Sharp says the Fleece "nearly went bust" when he tried to get rid of tribute bands after he took over

The next stop on Oasis' 1994 tour was down the road at Bath Moles. However, that became the latest casualty when it shut in December.

It said the cost of living crisis had "crippled" the grassroots circuit, with its costs going up and footfall down.

While it may be too late for Moles, the venue's closing statement called for big arenas and promoters to put a portion of their earnings back into the small clubs and pubs where many stars start out.

That is a key demand of the MVT and is also backed by members like Hull's New Adelphi, which boasts that it has hosted early gigs by 11 future Glastonbury headliners - including Oasis.

Its manager Paul Sarel points to a grassroots subsidy in the football pyramid, and says major gig operators will benefit if more small venues survive.

Pulp, Fatboy Slim and The La's posters on the wall of the Hull New Adelphi
The Hull New Adelphi has posters of some of the acts that have appeared on its stage

"If there are less grassroots venues, then less bands are probably going to make it big," Sarel says.

"Imagine not having any grassroots football teams and then expecting the next Ronaldo to just make his way to the top by himself. Or the next genius professor to come through without having any schools.

"Not only do we provide a lot of bands that become Glastonbury headliners, it's all the young people who go on to become sound engineers at festivals or big arenas.

"Nobody starts at the top. Everybody does come through a grassroots venue. And we want to always support the new and the original."

The industry is currently "unpredictable", he says - although he hasn't noticed a drop-off in bands wanting to play. More than 700 artists performed in 250 shows at the 180-capacity venue last year, he says.

"They might not all be brilliant, but they're developing, a lot of them. So there's still bands there. A lot of them are doing it DIY without the aid of management, labels, agents."

One show coming up features four new bands put on by a young promoter, who is also learning the trade.

"There'll be 90 people in here for a gig next week hosted by young people at £3 on the door, which is incredible isn't it, in 2024? £3 to see four bands. Wow. We encourage that. It will be amazing."

One of them could just be the future of rock 'n' roll - even if the people who watch them might not quite realise it at the time.