THE first time I encountered Noel Gallagher I was among the elbows and sweat of a lairy crowd at Gloucester Leisure Centre.

It was October 1995 and Oasis had only released What’s The Story (Morning Glory) a few days earlier. Liam was in his snarly, sneery pomp and Noel was the quietly confident driving force, fuelling the band he’d adopted with a tankful of generation-defining songs.

That night I’d managed to drink half of my first pint before it was slopped over my chest by a crowd surge. On Friday night at Nocturne I could have enjoyed a pre-concert dinner in an Orangery and washed it down with an artisan gin and tonic while sitting on a deck chair gazing at a stately home. To quote the album title of an Oasis contemporary, You’ve come a long way baby.

Noel’s gig was the second in a run of four nights of Nocturne at Blenheim and it is easy to see why the festival has become such a firm favourite. The walk up to the palace across rolling parkland, pausing to gaze across the lake, before taking your seat (a seat! At a festival!) in the Great Court is a magnificent way to spend a summer’s evening.

It was a shame that quite so many chose to spend the early part of the evening out in the park rather than watching an excellent set from support act The Coral. But by the time Noel took to the stage, bang on the 9pm schedule, the courtyard was pretty much packed.

The intervening 23 years since that Gloucester gig appear to have been fairly kind to Noel. Yes, he does look like a weather-beaten tortoise when he concentrates on a high note, but he’s lean and has lost none of his acerbic wit.

“See that,” he says, indicating the stately bulk of the palace, “my house is bigger than that. And my garden is bigger than that.”

He’d obviously decided the whole audience habitually frequented the palace and were therefore ‘posh’. “This next song is about unemployment, has anyone here ever been unemployed? I don’t mean just losing your ****ing job at the ***ing stables,” he jibes later.

Someone at the front unwisely chooses to heckle him with a chant about his beloved Manchester City. After deriding him for his appearance, his jumper thrown casually over his shoulder and his accent, Noel asks who he supports. Chelsea, comes the reply. “Oh, I am ****ing shocked,” Noel mocks.

So what of the music? Well, Noel is a great songwriter, he has the Novellos to prove it. The three High Flying Birds albums have all been number ones and all feature a battery of solid, radio-friendly tunes.

Each one gets enthusiastic, if polite applause but we all know what everyone is really here for. As each well-crafted HFB tune wafts unthreateningly over the stately home and its stately crowd there is a palpable longing in the air that grows steadily. Everyone is thinking the same thing. Then a gentleman behind me in a blazer, who looks like the last gig he attended featured a large woman in a horned helmet singing in German, mutters it out loud. “When is he going to sing an Oasis song!”

And that’s the unspoken truth finally spoken. We’re not really here to listen to the songs that barely hold our attention on the radio, we want the gritty, flint-edged, rasping-voiced anthems that characterised Britpop, Euro 96, New Labour and the second summer of love.

Finally, without pomp, he introduces Little By Little (the one about unemployment) and then later there is Half A World Away, Wonderwall (“the song that paid for my big house”) and Don’t Look Back In Anger. This is what all those blazers have paid to see. They can tick singing along with Noel on the classics they hear on Magic FM off on their bucket list.

The concert ends with All You Need Is Love and some news from Noel: “I’m moving in round here next year so all your house prices will go up.”

His High Flying Birds are a tight, proficient group but they are just background players to the main man. He, like Bowie and Macca, can turn out as many new compositions as they like but it is always the old tunes that resonate with us the most.