So this is it. Donington. This is Donington! Arguably… no, definitely the most legendary heavy metal festival venue in the world. And I’m finally here, witnessing a new chapter in its history as it’s given a new modern facelift. Gone is the stone-age image of heavy metal warriors with denim armour and mullets of death with their faded ‘Monsters of Rock ’82’ Tees standing in hairy sweaty packs to see Skid Row and Slash’s Snake Pit and in comes a shiny new theme attempting to embrace a digital age through its ‘Download’ moniker and downloading and txt msging schemes. Even though it is being extensively marketed as the Download festival, to many here it will always be Donington. Let the rock 'n' roll commence!
Saturday 31st May
10:50am: Arrive. Blurry eyed. With slight hangover from night before. I leave my stuff, including my tent, in friend’s car to be picked up later.
10:58am: Overhear the wretched screams of Murder One’s Paul Catton tearing through the skies like some kind of ghost escaping from the Ghostbusters as we walk towards the main gates.
11:00am: Realise I need to walk back 15 mins to the Media Accreditation point for my pass.
11:15am: Queue for 20 mins. Find out Mr Peter White picked them up an hour earlier. Walk 15 mins back to meet him.
11:50am: Meet him and KP and make a bee-line towards beer. Overhear the last couple of songs from Pantera crown-wearers Shadows Fall. Think to myself how mightily impressive frontman Brian Fair’s Catherine-wheel style hurling of his dreads is. Eyebrows are suitably raised.
12:00pm: Make it backstage and relax with a beer, though slightly baffled as to why the beer here costs 10p more than in the arena. *scratches head*
12:05pm: Congratulate Paul Catton on his set that sounded ace!
12:10pm: Realise that Stampin’ Ground are set to storm the main stage and, after their rip-roaring performance at the Mean Fiddler earlier this year, know it is one not to missed! Unsurprisingly they tear the place down and rip the crowd apart, literally, with their trademark ‘wall of death’ during the beatdown-tastic ‘Officer Down’. Marvellous.
12:35pm: I decide to treat myself to a few beer vouchers since it’s such a lovely day. Bit pricey, but once a beer is in my hand such silly thoughts begin to fade away.
12:50pm: Funeral For A Friend are next on the main stage. Decide to check these pipsqueaks out, see what all the fuss is about. Darn fine if you ask me – lots of post-hardcore riffage that’s jagged and spiky in all the right places, without neglecting some tentative melodies that begin to stir your soul before the Chinese noodles do later on. Much better than their set at the Barfly with Coheed and Cambria a while back!
13:15pm: *shudders at the thought of Chinese noodles later on*.
13:27pm: Relax backstage with beer. It really is a glorious day, and the hip-hop being pumped out of the classic American ‘Dodge’, erm, something car, kinda helps you chill out before the aural battering of Sikth and From Autumn to Ashes later on.
13:35pm: Rain is promised. Bah, don’t believe the sceptics!
13:45pm: Walk past Queen Adreena. She’s quite clearly a hottie.
14:10pm: Woohoo – it’s a band I’ve been looking forward to for nigh on a year! From Autumn To Ashes take to the Scuzz stage and treat the hardcore kids to some quality emo-screamo-melodi-core-punk-rock-metal. Though quite messy in parts, crowd favourite ‘The Royal Crown Vs Blue Duchess’ is saved til last and goes down a treat!
14:40pm: The end of their set. Hmm... stuff seeing 3 Colours Red, Murderdolls and InMe for a game of chess – more time to relax with beer I think.
15:15pm: By the skate ramp I bump into a girl with flailing purple hair who I got a lift to Donington with. She’s laughing uncontrollably and prodding me quite hard. What’s up with you, woman? Turns out that, having lost everyone, she’d turned her attention to alco-pops for comfort. Silly girl.
15:40pm: With said girl in tow, I focus on digesting the pummelling ball of noise that is Sikth. A strange bunch, they seem to have morphed their sound nicely from nu-metal-style-hardcore into really-actually-quite-good-math-metal-style hardcore. The barrage of riffs can be a bit much at times, but I guess once I’ve memorised every erratic riff and feral time-change off their forthcoming ‘The Trees Are Dead…’ album it should all make much more sense.
16:15pm: I head round the dusty tracks past over-priced, but still rather alluring, ice-cream vans, and decide to wait out for Mr Camillo Moreno man, but argh! What is that horrible drivelling noise dribbling out of the speakers? It’s only Ministry’s unlistenable industrial tripe terrorising the festival crowd. Seriously, it’s enough to give White Zombie a bad name.
16:22pm: Struth, it really is bad! End up looking round some stalls that I know I won’t purchase from, unless I’m very inebriated later on.
17:03pm: Text messages appear on the main screens, from bored festival goers, presumably trying to recover from Ministry’s turgid set. Some classic texts, like ‘why are all goth girls either dead skinny or really fat?’ Hmm… fair point. I decide to keep my wit to myself due to worries of txt spam attacks in the future – it is one big corporate whore fest after all!
17:21pm: Ooh… lovely. Deftones come onstage and blast the first few rows away with ‘Around The Fur’. Nice. Though Chino is getting a little porky, he still has the gusto to tear through ‘Tones classics like ‘7 Words’, ‘Back To School’ and ‘Elite’.
18:15pm: Deftones come offstage and I feel completely winded. Decide against seeing the freakshow-circus-disguised-as-art-metal Marilyn Manson for fear of getting into an uncontrollable rage when he criminally, and rather desperately, rips off Faith No More’s ‘Be Aggressive’ in the depressingly dire ‘mOBSCENE’.
18:17pm: Head towards the on-site cinema and watch The Matrix.
19:03pm: Fall asleep. Crazy purple-hair girl pulls Nottingham hunk sat next to us.
19:14pm: Wake up. Spot a man with a Skarhead T-shirt on. Now that’s pretty cool.
20:15pm: Wow – the cinema building actually cooks nice food, school canteen style! I risk some curry and chips. Mmm… nice.
20:30pm: Head outside for Maiden! I’m in awe. This is Iron Maiden – the Iron Maiden. This is truly an incredibly moment – I’m speechless. The first time I heard em was when I got given ‘Piece of Mind’ and ‘A Live Dead One’ on cassette off a smelly tramp in Shrewsbury – strange but true! And now the songs have come to life in front of my very eyes. From ‘The Trooper’ to ‘The Number of The Beast’ to ‘Die With Your Boots On’ to ‘Iron Maiden’ itself I was falsetto singing every word! And almost in tears too! Quite emotional this. The stage set-up was just as impressive with numerous Eddie backdrops as well as Eddie himself walking across the stage, though his costume didn’t really look as scary as in the artwork if we’re honest. And with the encore of ‘Run To The Hills’, that’s just what I do – well, to the car park to collect my rucksack and tent.
But with the absolute high I was on, and also the amount of beer consumption that’d taken place I decide that I really canna be assed putting up my tent, and realise rather foolishly that it’s not really that important anyway and leave it behind.
11:01am: I make it as far as about 3 cars away and meet some people as ecstatic as me at witnessing Maiden. I play them Since By Man, They like.
12:15pm: I realise that I really should start looking for somewhere to camp. I walk across the car park towards the campsite and start talking to some nice folk who are just about to put their tent up. It turns out to be the guys in Sikth and their manager. Nice one. They tell me rumours of Metallica playing a short set in place of Apocalyptica on the Scuzz stage at 3pm. Sounds good. I dump my stuff in their tent and wander round the main campsite, bumping into some girls high on crack, joining in a chant of ‘Gay Bar’ and spreading rumours round of Metallica playing before returning and, just before crashing out, spotting the Iron Maiden tour bus, complete with huge ‘Iron Maiden’ letters emblazoned on the side, drive right past me at 2am! Not a bad day then really.
Sunday 1st June
10:27am: I wake up with a Sikth member’s sock perilously close to my mouth. It was probably that that woke me up.
10:45am: I gulp about a litre of 7UP and make my way into the arena to catch the much-lauded Instruction, who by all accounts rock! And made some interesting comments too: “This is to all the MTV fashion punks. Punk is in here (points to head) not out here (tugs on shirt)”. Good point well made. However, you do come away feeling that their raw Foo Fighters rock doesn’t quite possess enough immediate catchiness to tempt a higher billing at future festivals.
11:12am: I venture off to the Scuzz stage to see what’s goin down, only to catch the last few songs from everyone’s favourite lesbo-punks Fabulous Disaster. And boy, can they kick it live! Scary stuff indeed.
11:40am: The socialist-anarchist views that pervade Randy’s music don’t seem to be winning many nu-punks over after Fab Dis. But, the 70s-style garage punk of ‘The Human Atom Bomb’ and ‘Addicts of Cummunication‘ does get the toe-a-tappin’, even if those toes belong to some of Donington’s older attendees / dads.
11:45am: Was puffing my heart out by the time I'd scuttled over to catch a little Speedhorn - the distance between the stages is really starting to get on my nerves! They tell the crowd Megadeth are due to play the Scuzz stage this afternoon. The rumour mill appears to be whirring away.
12:13pm: Get talking to some members of The Real McKenzies, who’ve spotted Kirk Hammett’s guitar at the side of the stage. Look, will the afternoon just hurry up and be 3 o clock already, cos the suspense is killing me!
12:20pm: In a seemingly altered line-up I have the (mis) fortune to watch The Real McKenzies minutes after speaking to them. They’re all suitably oiled – probably the best way to play their Dropkick-inspired gaelic punk, and enjoy it. Everyone else isn’t though.
12:51pm: Bump into scary purple hair girl, with aforementioned bloke. Having purchased only a day ticket for the day before she had gone up to security after Maiden, showed them her new bloke’s weekend ticket and said her wristband had been ripped off in the pit. They give her a weekend wristband. Jammy. That’s all it is.
13:05pm: Deciding against sitting through the Beatsteak’s relatively uninteresting brand of German punk we wander slowly towards The Darkness, passing through beer territory. We miss The Darkness, due to being held up in beer territory.
13:22pm: Upon arrival back at Scuzz the familiar strains of Instruction reverberate in the tent. Turns out the band no one had a clue about – Chevelle - had cancelled for a reason no one really cares about, so the Instruction lads have had another crack at the Donington whip.
13:42pm: Brand New bound onto the stage like the young high school scamps that they are, or at least seem to be. They play a predictable drone of sorts – part yearning emo whines, part Movielife jumpiness but all the while never seeming crack through that outer poppy shell.
14:03pm: I spot the girls I saw on crack the night before. The lads they’re with were shouting ‘gay bar’ with me in the campsite. Hey, small festival. They tell me I can leave my stuff with them (Sikth people have to go after Metallica). Well that’s that sorted then.
14:19pm: As I don’t have a watch and my phone battery has died, the suspense of Metallica is really starting to get to me. Paranoia is setting in; sweat breaking down my face; becoming fidgety; need beer to calm me down.
14:20pm: 80s Matchbox stroll onstage and do an impressive job of morphing all their songs into one long Elvis-on-speed goth-rock romp. I can hear shouts of Metallica. I start to feel queasy.
14:55pm: I make my way to the front. The tent is surprisingly half-empty. Those at the front are working themselves into a feverish frenzy.
15:00pm: The huge 12-amp rig is wheeled to the front of the stage. Everyone cheers. For half an hour various ‘Tallica crew scurry & dart about the stage doing their stuff.
15:30pm: The lights go down. Lars steps to his kit. Kirk and Rob step onstage. Then James. Wow. In front of my very eyes. In a tent. What follows is an hour and a half of crushing ‘tallica metal, that with 12 amps blasting out at you, just literally blows you away! Every member is clearly loving every minute, blasting through classics ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Sad But True’ and ‘Creeping Death’, inaugurating new material that’s heavy enough to hammer you several feet underground.
14:47pm: During the last song I squeeze myself out of the tent to make my way backstage. There are still people belting it down the hill towards the tent! Haha. I stand against the barrier at the side of the stage with a handful of other bands and industry people clutching their cameras to see each member, less than a metre from me, wearing dressing gowns, surrounded by around 3 security and walking offstage straight to their exclusive backstage dressing rooms. Incredible.
Can I also just point out what a genius idea this whole thing was for Metallica. Here was a band pre-Donington with the whole world against them, thanks to the Napster shenanigans. Now, after such a roof-lifting performance, everyone was singing their praises. Everyone. People weren’t leaving talking about Maiden, or Audioslave or Zwan – every single person was talking about Metallica, for the rest of the day, in the campsite, on the buses - and about their music, not their ideals. You could say it was one of the biggest turnarounds in any band's career. Incredible.
17:03pm: Go back to get my stuff from Sikth tent and walk to the other side of the site to ‘Gay Bar’ people’s tent. Fail to notice the lack of waterproof outer-sheet. Grab some beers from my barely touched crate and head back for more musical mayhem.
17:22pm: You could say that TSOL then were a bit of a let-down after Metallica. But then, their tired old-school hardcore approach isn’t really what many punks are into any more – so much better music around you see. Even the closing ‘Code Blue’ does little to ignite a spark after Metallica.
17:43pm: I refuse to even chill outside while the cringeworthy [spunge] are playing, so head round the corner for Less Than Jake. Good honking, parping tuneful goodness. They never, ever fail to please.
18:29pm: I make it back to Scuzz for Thrice. Yet more Thursday-style post-emo-core. Doesn’t really do much for me I’m afraid. Better on record? We’ll see.
19:14pm: People everywhere enthusing about Metallica. As Strung Out hit the stage, I realise that I’m actually getting through a lot of bands today. I put it down to less beer intake. As good as Strung Out are I feel Flint is worth a sneaky peak.
19:24pm: They seem like an instrumental version of the Prodigy, with no decent riffs. And that’s about it.
19:31pm: I return to my tent for some of my nice beer – works out about 40p a can compared to £2.90 a pint. Not bad.
19:52pm: Overhear the strains of Corgan's Zwan on the main stage. As I get closer I realise how utterly boring they are. No movement, just self indulgent fret noodling that drags on and on, with some songs lasting well over 10 minutes. As ‘Declarations of Faith’ slowly sends us to sleep, the heavens open and the black canvas sheeting beneath me is pulled up and over the heads of a hundred or so people for shelter, although it’s probably more wet underneath.
20:51pm: I realise all my stuff must be getting soaked. Luckily one of the gay bar crew have put it in another tent. Hurrah! I crack open a beer in celebration.
21:19pm: Hmm… Audioslave I have less hopes for. Y’see, I don’t really rate the juxtaposition of Chris Cornell’s stadium-filling rock God vocals and the funk-addled riffs of Rage. The skeletal riffs always seem lacking of a multi-layered instrumental exertion. They also blatantly lack enough material to fill their hour and a half headlining set and subsequently attempt a punchy, though still substandard cover of The Clash’s ‘White Riot’, which is as close as I was ever gonna get to Soundgarden. As the closing ‘Cochise’ comes crashing down on a wet & weary crowd, and threatens the very foundations of the stage, I decide against going to the on-site drum’n’bass club in favour of a change of clothes and some nice drinks. Lovely.
11:37pm: One of the Crackhead girls decides to take more crack, which sends her utterly mental. I meanwhile meet another Sultans of Ping FC fan and proceed – mildy tanked up at this point – to run loudly through ‘Where’s Me Jumper?’, ‘Cleatus Clark’ and ‘Give Him A Ball (And a Yard of Grass)’! Where are they now indeed? Apparently in Ireland.
So then. Iron Maiden, Metallica, Audioslave, Zwan and Deftones. All at the same festival. Definitely one to tell the grandkids.
Photo by Andrew Future. More over @ VirtualFestivals.com