British rock supergroup Oasis said Chinese authorities had banned it from performing in China because guitarist Noel Gallagher played at a Free Tibet benefit concert 12 years ago.
Oasis, led by brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher, said authorities had abruptly ordered organisers to cancel two shows — April 3 in Beijing and April 5 in Shanghai — that would have marked their debut in mainland China.
“The Chinese authorities’ action in cancelling these shows marks a reversal of their decision regarding the band, which has left both Oasis and the promoters bewildered,” the band said in a statement on Monday.
However, Chinese authorities denied the ban was over Tibet, saying it was because of financial problems with the band’s local promoters.
The alleged move came as tensions surrounding Tibet were on a knife edge before the March 10 anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule that ended with revered spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fleeing into exile.
Protests have already erupted in Tibetan-populated areas of China, with a Buddhist monk last week setting himself alight in protest against Beijing’s 58-year rule of his homeland.
Noel Gallagher’s support for the Tibetan cause appears to date back to 1997, when he performed five of the group’s hits in a solo appearance at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in New York.
“Officials within the Chinese Ministry of Culture only recently discovered that Noel Gallagher appeared at a Free Tibet Benefit Concert… and have now deemed that the band are consequently unsuitable to perform,” Oasis said.
It was not clear what led to the discovery, but popular concert videos posted on YouTube show Noel Gallagher singing the band’s hit “Wonderwall” alone in front of a giant, banned-in-China, red, blue and yellow Tibetan flag.
Sun Qiuxia, a culture ministry official, denied the government had revoked Oasis’ performing licences, adding the ministry had received no formal document to say the concerts were cancelled, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday also referred media to a statement from the band’s Chinese promoters denying Tibet was the reason for the cancellation.
Luo Xiaochuan, a spokesman for Oasis’ Chinese promoters, said they had to cancel the concerts because their business had been hurt by the economic crisis, and not because of a Chinese government directive.
However, Oasis said it was informed on Saturday that the government had ordered a stop to ticket sales, because of the Tibet controversy, with refunds going to those who had already bought tickets.
The band’s performing licence, which had been approved, was also cancelled, the band said.
Known more for lager-fuelled brawls than acts of political conscience, the Gallagher brothers make unlikely enemies of the state.
Noel Gallagher has criticised rock stars such as Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke for using music to highlight social issues.
In an interview with the British music weekly NME, he once advised U2’s Bono: “Play ‘One’, shut the f— up about Africa.”
Oasis’ other Asian tour dates, including their concert in Hong Kong on April 7, would proceed as planned, the band said.
Live performances in China have for a long time been tightly regulated. Foreign artists performing in China must have their songlists vetted by authorities.
Authorities toughened restrictions further after a Shanghai concert last year by Icelandic singer Bjork, who shouted “Tibet!” at the end of her song “Declare Independence.”
Oasis is one of the most successful British rock bands ever, selling tens of millions of albums worldwide since emerging in the early 1990s.