Saturday dawned bright, sunny and cold! It was an early start to ensure we were in prime position for the opening band of the day, rock legends UFO. My fellow scribe, Andy Nathan, was another early riser, keen to see what Phil Mogg and co had to offer.
The last time I caught UFO live was back in 1985 at Knebworth on a cold and rainy day supporting Deep Purple. Fast forward 28 years and little had changed. The weather tried hard to recreate the same conditions whilst the band provided an entertaining set.
Phil Mogg looked dapper in his dark suit but said he was bloody freezing which I could well believe. The set was made up of mostly classics including ‘Lights Out’, ‘Love To Love’ and ‘Rock Bottom’. There were also a couple of songs from the band’s latest album to keep things fresh, but it was the set closer, ‘Doctor, Doctor’, which got the crowd bouncing and closed out an entertaining set.
Next up on the Main stage were Young Guns who, I must admit, I was clueless about. The band more resembled a boy band than a rock act. All members were dressed head to toe in white and musically their brand of pop rock was pleasant enough but nothing special. Whilst I was camped at the main stage, Andy was wandering…
‘After a quick trip to a side stage to catch rising young Wycombe melodic rockers The Wild Lies who are shaping up nicely, I returned to the main stage for a first glimpse of the Black Star Riders, the rebranded Thin Lizzy, who were added late on in place of Buckcherry.
Very bravely, rather than stick to the tried and tested, over half the set was new songs, beginning with the title track from their ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ album which instantly felt like an old friend, and with ‘Blood Shot’ and the epic ‘Kingdom of the Lost’ having the romantic celtic feel of Lizzy or even in the latter’s case the last Springsteen album.
The oldies were well chosen in the form of ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘Rosalie’ where Ricky Warwick led the crowd in a singalong, while the downpour that greeted ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ just made us all sing more lustily (to a song Lizzy rarely played live).
Even then they slipped in their first single ‘Bound for Glory’ which already has the air of an instant classic before ‘The Boys are Back in Town’, one of the world’s best loved songs, was a joyous closer to a set that was nothing less than a revelation’
Next to hit the main stage were Mastodon who rocked the steadily growing crowd. They are a band of very few words preferring instead to let their music do the talking. This meant that the band were able to maximise their stage time and cram in twelve songs. Musically the band can be a bit of a challenge but they went down well, especially the closing trio of ‘Curl Of The Burl’, ‘Blood And Thunder’ and ‘The Sparrow’ which ensured the band left the stage to a huge cheer.
Following Mastodon’s heavy set I was unsure how Alice In Chains would fare, Jerry Cantrell though is a seasoned pro and the band turned in a great set. They chose to open in strong fashion with ‘Them Bones’ which went down a storm. Cantrell looked laid back with his newly shorn look, gone are the flowing locks of old.
The guys played it safe with a crowd pleasing greatest hits set which was one of the strongest of the weekend. ‘Check My Brain’, ‘Down In A Hole’ and set closer ‘Rooster’, complete with a woman in the crowd sporting a chicken mask, went well with the late afternoon sunshine to provide a chilled, feel good atmosphere in the arena. Whilst I was chilling for a bit our intrepid roving reporter Andy was on his travels once again…
‘Sandwiched on the second stage between the 90’s alternative American sounds of Lit and a surprisingly palatable Jimmy Eat World, whose hit song ‘The Middle’ closed a set rapturously received by a largely young and female audience, Thunder continued the day’s theme of classic home grown rock. Now in semi retirement, the Londoners showed with their ability to work a crowd exactly why a Donington appearance in 1990 sparked a massive surge in popularity, and why they were then festival perennials for nearly 20 years.
The greying Danny Bowes was the circus ringmaster as he worked the crowd into a raucous frenzy even before ‘Dirty Love’ had begun, and the party atmosphere continued as ‘River of Pain’ and ‘The Devil Made Me Do’ it were interspersed with first album favourites ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘Backstreet Symphony’, Luke Morley and Ben Matthews pulling classic poses as they cranked out instantly recognisable riffs.
‘Love Walked In’ was extended even beyond its usual epic length by Danny whipping up the crowd, and even if ‘I Love You More Than Rock n Roll’ paled against what had gone before, their short set confirmed Thunder as master festival party starters.’
The chilled atmosphere at the main stage didn’t last long as next up we had the six legged noise machine that is Motorhead. Kicking off with ‘I Know How To Die’ Lemmy and co. were in fighting form taking the crowd by the scruff of the neck from the off.
Lemmy may be starting to show his age a bit, which is unsurprising, but he is a true pro on stage and still gives his all In the name of rock ‘n roll. The set contained classic after classic with Phil Campbell and Mikky Dee as rock solid as ever.
Announcing the last couple of songs Lemmy said that we could probably guess what they were and sure enough Ace Of Spades was followed by Overkill featuring some of the best drumming of the weekend.
Once again Motorhead had shown why they still command a position high on festival bills, they never fail to deliver. As a parting touch Lemmy introduced ex drummer Phil Taylor onto the stage to a great roar and he joined Mikky in throwing drumsticks into the crowd as a parting gift.
Following Motorhead was going to be a tall order and for me Queens Of The Stone Age fell short of the mark. I appeared to be in the minority though as the arena was now rammed and most appeared to enjoying the set. I can’t help thinking that QOTSA are as big as they are due to the Grohl effect. Musically I find them pleasant in small doses but dull and plodding with prolonged exposure. However as I say I was in the minority so what do I know !
That left the stage clear for the one and only Iron Maiden. Andy had once again returned to the main stage and takes up the story…
‘A thrillingly unexpected flypast by a vintage World War II spitfire heralded the biggest reason behind my, and many thousands of others, opting for Download this year- Iron Maiden’s UK exclusive performance of their Maiden England tour.
Well, exclusive up until mid-set when Bruce Dickinson announced a further date or more at the 02 on a weekend when at least half the acts playing seemed to announce winter tour dates.
This world tour, which I caught last summer in Milwaukee, sees them recreating the stage set of one of their biggest ever tours, 1988’s ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’, and Bruce wryly asked how many of the audience were not even born that year. I was, and also am sad enough to notice that there are actually a few changes from the set I witnessed at the ill-fated Donington that year, including the odd song out of time including the magnificent, Wishbone Ash-influenced anti-war song ‘Afraid to Shoot Strangers’.
However, the set began with a couple of ‘seventh son’ numbers in ‘Moonchild’ and ‘Can I Play With Madness’, before a rare airing of the ‘Prisoner’ and ‘Two minutes to Midnight’.
Through no fault of Maiden, I found myself enjoying this less than much of the rest of the weekend, simply because weight of numbers made it impossible to get anywhere near the stage nor indeed to see it well from the flat main arena, but also the sound and the three guitars in particular were too quiet and faded in and out along with the wind.
On the up side the setlist was a Maiden fan’s dream and how many other bands can rattle off a quartet of metal classics one after the other – ‘The Trooper’, with Bruce in trademark red jacket and brandishing a union flag, ‘Number of the Beast’, another returning blast from the past in ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Run to the Hills’, with a giant character invading the stage.
After Bruce could not resist some product placement – don’t waste your time always searching for those Wasted Trooper Beers! – came the centrepiece of the set in the epic ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ even though, in between the crowd singing the chorus and some great twin guitar work, it did drift in the middle, followed by ‘The Clairvoyant’.
Another song ‘out of time’ in the set, ‘Fear of the Dark’ justified its inclusion by the incredible way in which the crowd took over the chanting at various points, before the inevitable ‘Iron Maiden’. The stage set and props had been superb throughout, culminating in a giant Eddie as the bandaged skeleton on the ‘Seventh Son’ cover.
After some war footage and ‘Churchill’s Speech’, ‘Aces High’ (I remember being upset when omitted from the ‘88 tour) was the first encore. While Maiden’s setlists never change on a tour given the elaborate choreography, it would have been more fitting if this had opened following the flypast.
By the time of the ‘Evil That Men Do’ and ‘Running Free’, complete with band introductions, I and 90,000 others were singing along and my earlier grumpiness was forgotten, It would have been lovely to be one of a more exclusive gathering watching the show though!’
Maiden had managed to capture the spirit of the Monsters Of Rock ‘88 perfectly for those of us old enough to have been there 25 years ago. The perfect set to end a fantastic day, bar the odd shower or three, and to the strain of ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’, 90,000 happy people headed off to their chosen abode.
Review and Photos by David Wilson and Andy Nathan
Day 1 (14 June 2013)
Day 3 (16 June 2013)
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