First a quick recap of last year’s Download festival, mud, mud and more mud, oh and some cracking rock music. After the mudfest of last year even the hardiest of rock fans must have thought twice before shelling out for this year’s extravaganza, I know I did. However when both Iron Maiden and Rammstein were announced as headliners the Visa card was out and the briefs purchased, to hell with the weather !
Fellow scribe Andy Nathan was also of similar mind so travelling from different ends of the country we both converged on Donington Park for what promised to be a great weekend of rock. I will let Andy set the scene…
‘It is now ten years since Download began on the old Monsters of Rock site at Donington Park, and it seems to get bigger every year, seeing off the competition in Sonisphere and becoming the world capital of metal for one weekend, not that you would know it from the mainstream media who were doubtless all sipping their skinny lattes at the Isle of Wight Festival.
Being a traditional hard rock fan of a certain age, the early Downloads held no appeal to me but I finally relented in 2007 to see Iron Maiden and have come to love the festival. Even if many of the acts are outside my preferred genre, with five stages and over 100 bands it would be a narrow minded rocker who did not find enough to interest them.
The organisation is light years ahead of the ramshackle festivals of my youth with barely a queue to get in, instant service at the bars and the range and quality of the food outlets while a tad expensive, is a quantum leap forward from the old deathburger.
The disadvantage of being a grumpy 40 something at a festival where the majority are of student age is slipping into a Fred Trueman-esque ‘in my day’ at the antics of today’s fans. Back in the eighties, anyone wearing a fancy dress ‘onesie’ at Donington would have had a bottle of warm amber coloured liquid thrown at them, but there were thousands of them here.
Maybe a stage could be set aside for us more seasoned denim n leather rockers, preferably the second stage which is the size of a medium sized festival in its own right and has a rather less intense vibe and better sightlines than the huge main arena’.
On arrival we found the car park organisation to be highly efficient after our 2012 experience and there was actually grass in the field, a good omen. After receiving our all important wrist bands we headed to the second stage for our first band of the weekend Monster Truck, who had been added at the eleventh hour after Skin had pulled out. The band put in an enjoyable, straight forward, hard rock set which set the tone nicely and entertained the growing crowd. A good start to the weekend.
Things then took a turn for the worse on two fronts, the first being weatherwise as the first shower of the weekend rolled in and secondly Dir En Grey took to the stage to make a god awful racket.
The Japanese crew are most definitely an acquired taste, a bit like Sushi which I’m not keen on either. As the rain bucketed down most beat a hasty retreat, which may have happened anyway, even without the change in the weather. However both band and rain, although intense, were short lived. This then left the second stage clear for the first ‘must see’ of the weekend, Uriah Heep, which is where Andy entered the arena …
‘While Download has increased the number of classic rock bands over the years, it was still a surprise to see Uriah Heep added to the bill for the second stage on Friday. A shadow was cast with the passing of long time bassist Trevor Bolder only three weeks previously but the Heep soldiered on though I was surprised no tribute was paid to him on stage.
Showing the confidence to open with two heavier more recent numbers in a seemingly never ending ‘Against All Odds’ and ‘Overload’ proved an unexpectedly sound move as the guitar of the ever smiling heart and soul of the Heep, Mick Box, was to the fore.
I was surprised how well they went down with a crowd the vast majority of whom were not born when the early seventies classics that formed the rest of the set were first written – ‘Sunrise’, ‘Stealin’ – where Bernie Shaw’s attempt at a crowd singalong proved unexpectedly effective – ‘Gypsy’ with marvellously over the top guitar and organ work from Mick and Phil Lanzon respectively, ‘Look at Yourself’ and the timeless ‘Easy Livin’. As their trademark strains of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ rang out, Heep seemed delighted at their reception and it was a fitting requiem for Trevor Bolder’.
Following the excellent Heep set the stage was set for one of my highlights of the weekend, Dragonforce. The band have been revitalised of late with the arrival of Marc Hudson on vocals and they made the most of their slot.
Kicking off with ‘Fury Of The Storm’ the band were in great form, playing their trademark lightning fast riffs perfectly whilst ‘playing it for laughs’ on stage with every rock cliché in the book. Serving up a mix of old and new tracks, the crowd singing along, it was entertainment all the way. By the closing bars of ‘Through The Fire And The Flames’ the band had proven that they are once again a force to be reckoned with, long may it last.
Another disappointment caused by the weather chaos last year was the non-appearance of Europe who got caught in horrendous traffic and missed their stage slot. This year there was no such drama thankfully and Andy was on hand to witness a great set.
‘After failing to appear last year with weather delays, Europe finally made it on time and confirmed that, for anyone who has been hiding under a musical stone for the past decade, any supposed wimpiness has been consigned to the history books together with their poodle perms.
Black clad, lean and mean they opened with a couple of newies, ‘Riches to Rags’ and ‘Firebox’, in a stripped back, retro bluesy style while going way back to pre-fame days, ‘Scream of Anger’ showed how Dio-era Rainbow had influenced Joey Tempest and co.
There were hits too, in ‘Superstitious’ and ‘Rock The Night’ which was made for audience participation, then after ‘Last Look at Eden’ the inevitable ‘Final Countdown’ had people jumping about and even singing to the keyboard melody, making for a wonderful party atmosphere even though there is more to the Swedes than this’.
Following Europe’s set was going to be a difficult task but Volbeat were more than up to the task. With an impressive stage set the band took to the stage and produced one of the finest 40 minute sets of the weekend.
Opening with ‘Hallelujah Goat’, the guys rocked the stage hard. The recent addition of ex Anthrax guitarist, Rob Caggiano has added a harder edge to the band’s sound which is no bad thing. Michael Poulsen was in good voice and had some good between-song banter with the crowd.
Cramming eleven songs into their set meant that they maximised their allotted time and provided value for money. Rounding off with the party anthem, ‘Pools Of Booze, Booze, Booza’, the guys left the stage to huge cheers, a good afternoon’s work!
Having been on the go since 5am, I decided to head for the hotel after Volbeat and left Andy to fill in the rest of the day, here is what he managed to catch…
‘A trip around the other stages yielded a few pleasant surprises. Another Swedish band, Freefall conjured an impressive sound harking back to hard rock’s glory days of the early seventies, showing the confidence to allow one lengthy jam to take up nearly half of the set, while on the acoustic stage, former World Superbike champion James Toseland showed how he is taking to a new career in rock to the manor born, with a distinctive voice and strong songs like ‘Renegade’ and ‘Life is Beautiful’.
The crowd had thinned out somewhat in front of the second stage for 3 Doors Down, and a minimalist stage set up, combined with a short 30 minute set and the fact they were perhaps not heavy enough for this bill (despite a cover of Megadeth’s ‘Symphony of Destruction’) made for a muted atmosphere.
Nevertheless it was easy to see why they shift millions in America with songs like ‘Time of My Life’, ‘Kryptonite’ which is a staple of US cover bands, the ballad ‘Here Without You’, and ‘When I’m Gone’, all delivered by Brad Arnold’s strong, southern tinged voice.
After the novelty of Gogol Bordello’s madcap Eastern European gypsy punk wore thin after a few minutes, the second stage was headlined by Black Stone Cherry, largely it would seem due to public demand on Download’s social media.
The young Kentucky foursome are regulars at this festival, but have matured dramatically. I used to feel they played too loud and frenetically, but while they are still hugely energetic, rhythm guitarist Ben Wells and madcap drummer John Fred Young in particular, they have dropped the pace and given their songs space to breathe, yet not at the expense of heaviness.
Maybe Someday, usually to be found nearer the end of the set and ‘Change’ got things off to a good start, before ‘Blind Man’ was the first song to really get the crowd going. In between favourites from the ‘Devil and Deep Blue Sea’ album like ‘In My Blood’ and ‘Like I Roll’, they even previewed a new song, ‘Me and Mary Jane’, again in the more mainstream style of that album.
Chris Robertson’s southern sounding vocals- reminding me even of Greg Allman in places – and fine guitar solos are the focus of the band, and yet the stage lighting appears to leave him in semi darkness.
Nevertheless, after dedicating ‘Things My Father Said’ to a close friend who had lost his, and saying he had recently become a Dad, he seemed choked with emotion especially as the crowd took over the singing.
The slower songs were though kept to a minimum amongst the evergreen ‘Rain Wizard’ and a pair in ‘White Trash Millionaire’ and ‘BlameIt On The Boom Boom’ that relatively rapidly seem to have acquired instant singalong status, before a shorter than expected set ended with the frantic Black Label Society-isms of ‘Lonely Train’, thankfully without the mosh circle that sometimes forms when they play it.
With this performance, Black Stone Cherry confirmed my feeling that they are poised to become the biggest southern band to break into the rock mainstream since their great heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd’.
A great start then to the weekend and with the promise of two more days of quality rock ahead, and with the forecasters predicting some decent weather, it was game on !
Review and Photos by David Wilson and Andy Nathan
Day 2 (15 June 2013)
Day 3 (16 June 2013)
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GUMSHOE When Things Started To Ignite (indie)
THE NEW ROSES Heartache (Napalm Records)
EMPYRE New Republic (indie)
PISTON Leave If You Dare (indie)
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14:00-16:00 HEATHER FINDLAY Wild Horses (Black Sand Records)
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ELEANOR McEVOY I’d Rather Go Blonde (2010)
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