Big Day Out Promoter Recalls Disastrous Oasis Tour

28 January 2022 | 2:25 pm | Ken West

Festival founder Ken West has shared various chapters from a yet-to-be-finished book on Big Day Out via a new website celebrating the iconic event’s 30th anniversary. In ‘Controlled Kaos’ (working title), West will take a deep dive into the festival’s history and more. Below you can read a section from chapter 27, which discusses what happened behind the scenes when Oasis cancelled a huge Aussie tour in '97.

(Pic by Roberta Parkin./Redferns)

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1997 - Six and Out

Leading up to the 97 shows we were in competition to tour Oasis. Originally confirmed for BDO 95 and represented by my friend Ben Winchester, a London agent with a good ear & friendly smile had lucked out.  In Australia, at that time they were huge, so huge that we proposed an outdoor show in Sydney & an arena tour around Australia & NZ. Everybody wanted the act but eventually, we secured them. It was a mixed blessing. The competition was so intense that one week before we were confirmed as promoters for the tour my garbage was stolen from our trash bin. I knew this because it was gone less than an hour after I put it out on the street. It was really freaky.

Sales for the tour were huge, 17,000 on the first day in Sydney so I headed off to the US to enjoy a well-earnt break. But all was not well with OASIS. The first signs of implosion came when Liam (from Oasis) didn't turn up for the US tour. It was panic stations back home but eventually, he joined the tour. I drove down to Long Beach California, a place that my then partner, Nadine referred to as, “a sump”, to see the band.  Apart from feeling like we were on another planet I also felt that ‘if this was how you break it in America, I couldn’t relate to it’?. The venue was horrible, a concrete amphitheatre & the vibe backstage was at best workman-like. The show was good if not great & I had no interest in meeting the band before or after the show. I knew a few of the crew, including the head of security & that was enough. We drove home, spoke little & moved on. It was always hard for me to accept an act I believed in becoming commercial darlings. And it was hard to let them go when the competitors offers became too risky for us to match.

Soon after fulfilling my responsibilities as a touring company, I was dragged back to home soil by Sahara (my right hand) & John Foy (my artist conscience} when I got the panic calls over Vivian's proposed BDO 97 artwork. My efforts to include Vivian in the artwork process wasn't going well. I always tried to be cutting edge. Richard Allan from Mambo to Maria Kozik and Ben Brown, it was important to take risks. But Juan Davila was an issue. His art was really out there & the problem with REAL artists is that they were crap at deadlines.  One thing from my years in art school & dealing with artists is that 'the brief is everything'. Most artists when taken out of their own world & asked to produce something specifically for a fee will lose their own identity. They immediately try to produce not what they are known for but what they think the client wants. Juan delivered the worst art anyone could imagine. A floating Mexican Elvis head. Vivian, trying not to lose face convinced himself it could work, John & Sahara were appalled. When I saw a faxed copy I tried to convince myself that it was so bad it might be good. Promotion as I knew it was all about gaining people's attention. Bad art can often work better than good. But later that night I realised I had to solve the problem & in turn insult or save Vivian from the outcome.

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Around midnight after a day of denial, I left my New York Hotel room & walked to Times square. The Virgin Megastore ran late, and the bookstore held some hope. I was about to give up when I found a book on vintage sideshows & the banners that were part of the circus culture. The next day I used the hotel photocopier to create a rough image to represent what I felt this Big Day Out was all about. The Big Day Out is a circus, some years it's a freakshow, but most of all it's the new carnival. I faxed what I wanted to do & express couriered the book. It was great to be part of the process again.

Between NY & home, we had a week's break in Fiji, we were on a small Island with one phone line but four days in Vivian called to say that the Oasis tour was cancelled. He was about to refund the 92,000 tickets we had already sold. We had no insurance & only the bands word that they would compensate us for the expenses. I was suitably pissed off, especially as they refused to reschedule which would have kept the money in the bank.  I felt slightly better when the manager of the small resort told me that another fellow got a call the year before that his factory had burnt down. His advice was to relax & accept there is nothing you can do. Good advice but it really fucked up the vibe.

Back home it was damage control. There was even talk of class actions from ticket holders. When we made our official statement ‘on behalf of Lees, West & Oasis we apologize for any inconvenience & refunds were available from the point of purchase”. We were notified from Oasis central that ‘Oasis never apologize’ & were meant to clarify that. We never did, but we waited for 12 months to get the 320,000 dollars they owed us for direct costs. What a waste, the return tour by Coppell was a disaster. I had already sold 28,000 tickets in Sydney two months out, but Coppell only managed to draw 9,000 in Sydney. They never understood that Australians, especially Sydney people hate being fucked around & will punish you if you are fucking with them.

You can read more from Ken West's Big Day Out book here