What happened at Knebworth -- We recount what happened at London's largest concert

What happened at Knebworth

Nature contributed a curtain raiser and closer in the form of two heavy downpours, but for the intervening 11 hours the 120,000 fans filling the grounds of Knebworth Park outside London on June 30 were able to roll up their umbrellas and watch the elder statesmen of British rock shake the heavens.

It had been billed, with true show-biz hyperbole, as the ”greatest concert ever to be staged.” The lineup included Phil Collins and Genesis, Pink Floyd, Robert Plant, Paul McCartney, and Cliff Richard (George Michael dropped out, citing ”recording pressures”; rumor had it that he wanted to go on later than scheduled by the organizers). For many fans the event lived up to its grand billing, especially after a 75-minute supergroup jam that featured Eric Clapton, Elton John, and Mark Knopfler ripping through such hits as Clapton’s ”Sunshine of Your Love” and John’s ”Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” (Five hours of the concert will be aired July 14 on MTV.) With tickets selling for $52, the festivities raised $10.5 million for the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre, which helps handicapped children fulfill their potential through music, and a proposed British Record Industry Trust School for Performing Arts.

Tears for Fears came onstage to kick things off at 12:30 p.m. and looked out on a sea of umbrellas as the heavens opened. The crowd and the weather warmed up as Genesis played together for the first time since the band’s 1988 world tour, and, in one of the day’s high points, former Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page performed ”Immigrant Song.”

Offstage, some 30 helicopters deposited arriving pop stars and their entourages. When they weren’t playing, most performers headed for the private hospitality tent, which was packed with about 100 guests who paid $875 a head to circle the stars. Familiar faces included Prince Albert of Monaco in denim jacket, jeans, and sneakers; Viscount Linley (Princess Margaret’s fun-loving son); Lol Creme of 10cc; Zak Starr, Ringo’s 24-year-old son; and Jason Bonham, 23, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. By the time Eric Clapton arrived in a pale pink suit, the bar was so crowded that one of the floorboards gave way and Clapton sank six inches. He was evacuated to a corner table next to Prince Albert, who did not lift his face from his hamburger to greet him.

The concert ended after 11 p.m. with Pink Floyd, who played against a backdrop of lasers, fireworks, and atmospheric lighting. Making sure that things started as they began, rain added a dramatic elemental dimension to the spectacular finale. All in all, it had been, as Robert Plant told an Italian reporter, ”very warm and good-lots of soul, lots of heart.” And lots of thunder.