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DOWNLOAD, Donington Park
and photos by Andy Nathan
halcyon days of Monsters of Rock when the metal headís own festival was
a one day event, featuring between five and seven bands, and tough luck
if they werenít your favourites?
Download festival brought music back to the legendary Castle Donington
site in 2003, the event has grown to be a metal equivalent of
Reading/Leeds or V Festival, with over 100 bands over three days on two
main open air stages, two large tented stages and a small acoustic
stage. OK, that means lots of infuriating clashes and parsimonious set
times, but that is a small price to pay for the sheer choice of acts
years of Download were designed to appeal to the modern day Kerrang! or
Metal Hammer reader but over the past four years promoter Andy Copping
has broadened the range to reflect a wider variety of classic bands, and
indeed this year the line up arguably includes more of the greats than
that while others got off on the aggressive sounds of the likes of
System of a Down, Bullet for My Valentine, Avenged Sevenfold and Linkin
Park, there was plenty to appeal to my more traditional tastes.
Friday 10 June (Def Leppard, The Darkness, Alter Bridge, Thin Lizzy,
Black Stone Cherry)
afternoon with many of the 70,000 strong crowd already in place, I
caught the tail end of Duff McKaganís Loaded, concluding with his
version of Its So Easy, but the first band I properly saw were rising
Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry.
changed a little since I last saw them, and not only singer Chris
Robertsonís appearance with a tea cosy hat over shorter hair. They
seemed to have calmed their hyperactive stage set and play at a slightly
slower, though no less heavy, pace.
album 'Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' featured heavily and the
likes of 'White Trash Millionaire' and 'Blame it on the Boom Boom' could
follow the likes of Nickelback and Kid Rock into mainstream airplay.
old songs were not forgotten with the likes of 'Blind Man' and 'Rain
Wizard', while people behind me took Chrisí urging to have the best five
minutes of their lives to set closer 'Lonely Train' a bit too far,
forming a massive moshing circle.
curious to how Thin Lizzy might go down, but the answer was very
well and indeed how could they go wrong with a rapid fire opening
quartet of 'Are You Ready', 'Waiting for an Alibi', 'Jailbreak' and
'Donít Believe a Word'?
was significant that the predominantly young audience around me reserved
their biggest cheers for 'Whiskey in the Jar', probably due to the
Metallica connection, along with 'The Boys are Back in Town' which
featured a guest return from Vivian Campbell to make for a triple lead
initially sceptical about new guitarist Richard Fortus but he can
certainly play and was not lacking in self-confidence. 'Cowboy Song',
'Rosalie' and 'Black Rose', with those fantastic Celtic themed twin lead
harmonies were other highlights of an all too short set that I look
forward to them reprising at High Voltage.
Bridge are one of those bands that can successfully marry the
classic approach with a more aggressive, contemporary heavy sound, and
produced the latest in a series of fine displays at Download.
Kennedy has a magnetic voice, aggressive but passionate, while guitarist
Mark Tremonti cuts through their thick wall of sound with searing, high
pitched solos, but makes it look so effortless.
their latest AB III offering lacking in memorable songs, yet the likes
of 'Ghost of Days Gone By' and 'Isolation' nestled comfortably and
catchily in the set with fan favourites such as 'Find the Real', 'Buried
Alive' and 'Come Alive', while, after some guitar jamming between Myles
and Mark, 'Rise Today' - with a great solo and stirring 'Gonna rise
today and change the world' lyric- showed them at their best. The good
news of a joint winter tour with Black Stone Cherry was also announced.
Darkness divided opinion first time around, and dissolved looking
faintly ridiculous, so I feared that their comeback in the second slot
might be received badly. But it proved a triumphant return for the over
the top Lowestoft rockers, as the set got off to a flying start with
'Black Shuck', 'Growing On Me' and 'Get Your Hands Off My Woman' as,
where I was, the pogoing got more frenetic with each song.
Ticket to Hell and Back', one of only two picks from their neglected
second album, is simply a great rock n roll anthem while 'Love is Only a
Feeling' got the whole crowd swaying.
bizarre handlebar moustache gave him the air of a seventies porn star,
Justin Hawkins this time reigned in his self-indulgent eccentricity and
the set was the better for it.
could be questioned as they had used up most of their aces early on, but
'Giving Up' and, of course, 'I Believe in a Thing Called Love' had men
and women alike exercising their falsettos as they sang and jumped
'Love on the Rocks With No Ice' was devoid of some of the props of the
past, but there was plenty of pyro and I was taken back several years
and given a reminder just why I found them such fun as they shook up a
They were of
course the classic cautionary tale of a band who had too much too soon,
so it will be interesting to see where their career goes and whether
they can forge a credible path second time around.
of the momentum had been lost when the rain came down, and Def
Leppard not only took the stage 15 minutes late but opened with the
new and rather average song 'Undefeated'.
They made up
lost ground with 'Action' and 'Lets Get Rocked' getting the crowd
singing along, while as a long-time pre-Hysteria fan, I was delighted to
hear 'Let It Go' (admittedly deprived of its original crunch) and 'Fooliní'.
As ever, few bands can match the professionalism of a Lep show with full
use made of the stage and well presented backdrops and light shows.
exquisitely silky smooth 'Love Bites', the set took on a very familiar
ring to recent tours with a Rick Savage bass solo leading to the equally
dull 'Rock On' which is surely ripe for dropping from the set, then the
band donning acoustic guitars as Joe Elliott led a singalong through
'Two Steps Behind' and 'Bringin on the Heartbreak'.
electric guitars came in halfway through, it also seemed the power had
been cranked up from the start of the gig, and after the lively
instrumental 'Switch 625', it was as usual hits all the way from here on
in. Indeed, a sprawling 'Rocket' and 'Armageddon It' segueing into
'Animal'. I was surprised though from my place reasonably near the front
how relatively muted the crowd response was.
lifted the mood, with a couple of great solos from the ever superb Phil
Collen, though making Joe Elliott strain to hit the high ranges of the
original may have been what Americaís Founding Fathers had in mind when
they banned Ďcruel and unusual punishmentsí.
he was still able to lead the crowd in a mass singalong of 'Pour Some
Sugar on Me', before paying tribute to Rick Allen, who made his comeback
here in 1986 after his arm amputation, which inevitably led into him
introducing another singalong-a-Lep in 'Rock of Ages'.
best known songs already played, I was curious what the encores would be
and Keith Weir of the Quireboys and Down and Outz was brought on to add
keyboards to the ballad 'When Love and Hate Collide', a No 2 single yet
too unfairly overlooked these days.
dare expect it, but Joe then said theyíd go back to 'On Through the
Night' and they cranked out 'Wasted', with the classic riffs bolstered
by some fiery, embellished solos from both Phil Collen and Vivian
95% of the
audience were probably puzzled, but I was delighted with the band for
indulging my nostalgia for their headbanging NWOBHM days, leading me
heading into the night a happy camper (or more accurately, hotelier).
Saturday 11 June (Alice Cooper, Twisted Sister, Cheap Trick, Mr Big, Dio
Disciples, Dan Reed, Rock Sugar, Skin, Houston)
make it for revived early 80ís metallers The Rods, I arrived for the
second day just as Houston had started. With FM and Journey quite
guitar heavy live acts, I suspect they were the most AOR band Download
has ever seen.
Hank Erix is still a bit hit and miss but they improve every time I see
them and the likes of 'Chasing the Dream', 'Under Your Skin' and 'Pride'
were melodic rock bliss.
A trip then
followed to the acoustic stage where Skin were continuing the
most drawn out farewell since Frank Sinatra. Well, half of them as vocal
powerhouse Nev MacDonald and Myke Gray were joined by two stand ins
including Mykeís ex Jagged Edge partner Matt Alfonzetti on bass.
A five song
set, with three Ďnewí songs including the gospel-like 'Redemption', was
encouragingly rocky despite the unplugged format and indeed I found
myself having to resist the urge to play air guitar during Mykeís
acoustic solo during 'Look but Donít Touch'.
on, my entire day was spent at the second stage, slightly tucked away
from the main arena. With a smaller, more intimate area, a better mix of
fans of all ages, and a slight slope making for better viewing and
photography, it was a very enjoyable experience, and the music did
justice to this vibe.
the size of crowd, Rock Sugar must have won many new fans when
they played last year, with their ingenious and entertaining mash ups of
with their best known, 'Donít Stop the Sandman', but saved the best for
last as they switched between 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'We Will Rock You'
and 'Kickstart My Heart'.
Harnell defines the term larger than life and had the crowd in stitches
by showing them how to impersonate Steve Perry, Ozzy and Axl Rose, but I
personally regret the fact that they have come to prominence this way
while their original band Loud and Clear failed to break through despite
having quality original material.
was next up, with a full band, albeit one of the most folically
challenged I have ever seen. Rather than hard rock, they played in a
more laid back, almost Americana style. It was still highly listenable,
while the Roy Bittan lookalike on keyboards seemed to be having a ball.
Dan played a
number of new songs, and a stripped back, radically reworked take on
'Holy Diver', but it was 'Rainbow Child' that brought knowing smiles
from the audience and he finished up with another Dan Reed network
oldie, 'Get to You', with the funky musical interplay of Fahrenheit-era
dubious about what to expect from Dio Disciples, featuring three
ex members of the late great Ronnie Jamesí band in Craig Goldy, Simon
Wright and Scott Warren, but enjoyed a great 25 minutes of homage to
some of hard rockís finest moments.
Owens perfectly captured the power and menace of the manís voice on
'Stand Up and Shout' and 'Holy Diver', before sharing the stage with
Toby Jepson during 'Stargazer'.
Little Angels man would not be the obvious choice to sing Dio songs, and
his trademark yelp still crept in occasionally, but he was equally good
as he led a singalong to 'Long Live Rock ín Roll', before they finished
up with 'Heaven and Hell'. In my view, they did the little manís legacy
more justice than Glenn Hughes and Jorn had done at last yearís High
I was a tad sceptical about was Mr Big, whose reunion show in
2009 at Shepherds Bush Empire set new standards in self-indulgence. Once
again I was wrong as they crammed their best moments into a 40 minute
set, getting off to a flying start with 'Daddy', 'Brother', 'Little Boy'
and 'Green Tinted Sixties Mind', once newly-shorn singer Eric Martin had
overcome some technical difficulties.
sound derives from the way virtuoso bassist Billy Sheehan and
technically skilled guitarist Paul Gilbert trade lead lines, and this
was shown to good effect on rockier numbers such as 'Merciless' and
'Colorado Bulldog', where the band were tighter than a duckís ass.
underwhelmed by their new album and yet the material came over well
live, 'Undertow' being driven forward by some fine drumming from Pat
Torpey and 'Around the World' featuring more great jamming between Billy
donned an acoustic and Eric finished his band introductions by saying,
Ďand Iím the one who wants...To Be With Youí, people at the front were
swaying their arms, before the band showed their chops in more typical
fashion by concluding a set with 'Addicted to that Rush'.
evidence the band are firing on all cylinders again and lovers of
musical virtuosity, whether melodic rock fans or not, should check out
their autumn tour.
Trick were one band I was looking forward to, as rather than the
constantly rotating setlists they play for the diehard fan, I expected
that a 40 minute festival slot would force them to play a cavalcade of
bizarrely they opened with a 10 minute version of 'Gonna Raise Hell.
Dream Police', 'I Want You to Want Me' and 'Surrender' all hit the sweet
spot, with white clad singer Robin Zander in good voice while a pleasant
surprise was their infectious cover of 'California Man'.
other times they seemed to drift, while guitarist Rick Nielsen, quirky
as ever as he threw out plectrums and ascended a black and white checked
podium to play a five necked guitar, seemed to spend too much time
playing to the bandís guests who were in the wings. It all felt like a
bit of a missed opportunity to win new fans.
Sister only reform for around 15 shows a year, so it was a coup to
book them, although when Dee Snider slagged off Live Nation from the
stage he may have blown his chances of a return invite!
Since I last
saw them a few years ago, they have now dispensed with the original
make-up and costumes, and yet the key ingredients remain: Dee
hyperactively whipping up the crowd, snot nosed anthems like 'The Kids
are Back', and an underrated, uncompromising sound with the likes of
'Captain Howdy' and 'Burn in Hell' giving the Judas Priests of this
world a run for their money.
Stop Rock n Roll', with some great riffing, somehow sounds a better and
more appropriate anthem than it did back in 1983, while after guitarist
Jay Jay French had a dig at Simon Cowell (a soft target, but a highly
appropriate one), 'Weíre Not Gonna Take It', 'I am Iím Me' (the song
that changed my life when I saw it on Top of the Pops on my 16th
birthday!) and 'I Wanna Rock' - or as Dee got the crowd to sing, 'I
wanna f***!)' had the whole of the front area pogoing and punching the
they proved they are still a fantastic live band and the only let down
was the set was a ridiculously short 50 minutes.
the doyen of the theatrical shock rock as practised by the likes of TS
is Alice Cooper, so it was fitting that he headlined the second
set. It may be that I was on a high from the preceding bands, but this
was perhaps the most enjoyable of the many shows of his I have seen.
was crisp and clear, and his band, featuring three lead guitarists, the
most authentic at recapturing the musical subtleties of the original
Alice Cooper band.
was not surprising when I later discovered the older, more static
guitarist was the legendary Steve Hunter whose association goes way
he shook up a somewhat stagnant set list, opening with 'Black Widow' and
'Brutal Planet', and adding rarely used numbers such as 'Hey Stoopid'
(judging by the crowd reaction, that will stay in the set) and the new
were still mostly there though, from a trio of 'Iím Eighteen', 'No More
Mr Nice Guy' and 'Billion Dollar Babies' which reminded you what a
lasting impact his songs have had, to 'Halo of Flies' with some great
A new song,
'Bite Your Face Off' - helpfully scrawled on Aliceís shirt to avoid his
character having to talk during the show - was also impressive. While
the full array of props was being saved for his winter Halloween tour,
we still got the snake, the doll and the guillotine, and best of all an
enormous Frankenstein was fed, metaphorically speaking, on stage.
resulted in a mass eruption of pogoing and singing along, and when Alice
returned from the Ďdeadí to sing 'Schools Out', the party atmosphere
reached fever pitch as giant balls were cast out into the crowd, and
Alice even did a ĎRock Sugarí by interpolating 'Another Brick in the
Wall' into the song. After a solitary encore of 'Elected', a 75 minute
set was over all too soon, closing a memorable few hours of one great
performance after another.
This was a spur
of the moment trip to Donington only organised a couple of weeks before
the event based on the premise that you only live once and to hell with
Having not been
to a festival for a while we ( myself, my wife and my son ) thought it
better to break ourselves back in easily and just do the one day, the
Saturday line up won hands down on paper and proved to be an inspired
First up we
headed to the Pepsi Max stage for The Rods and Houston
both of who put on a good, short set. Houston had driven 20 hours to get
to Donington from a Swedish festival the previous day, but showed no
signs of fatigue whilst The Rods showed that you canít beat old school
rock played with passion which was to be a theme for the day. After this
we headed to the second stage where we planned to spend the rest of the
day as it was an old rockers dream line up.
We started though
with a newer group with old connections, Rise to Remain, fronted
by Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maidenís son Austin. They played well
churning out melodic nu metal with a passion that went down well with
Next up were
BossHoss whoís country tinged rock went well with the blazing
sunshine. They had the crowd dancing and kicking up dust throughout the
set. Rock Sugar followed and kept the crowd on its toes with
their wild mash up of songs blending Metallica with Journey and Queen
with Motley Crue etc. They had their tongues firmly in their cheeks and
went down a storm.
The lead singers
impressions of Axl Rose and Ozzy had to be heard! Things went down hill
temporarily after this with Dan Reed. He played well enough but
his style of laid back rock was not what was needed after Rock Sugar and
was greeted with polite applause at best. The perfect time for a class
were up next and upped the pace again with a solid set and judging by
the T-shirt count, second only to Avenged Sevenfold, they had a lot of
friends there to cheer them on.
By now things
were hotting up nicely both band wise and weather wise and next up were
Dio Disciples, the band comprising of ex members of Dioís band
and fronted by Tim Ripper Owens and Toby Jepson. They played Dio
classics from all eras of his career and did the great man justice. They
are touring soon with a proportion of the ticket price going to the
cancer trust set up in Ronnieís memory, catch them if you can.
Mr Big hit the stage next and played a blinder. The guys were on top
form apart from Eric Martin sporting a cast on his arm but in good
voice. The playing, as always, was spot on. Billy Sheehan and Paul
Gilbert were on fire, trading licks like there was no tomorrow and
proving that Mr Big are back with a bang.
It would be a
tough act following Mr Big for most bands, but Cheap Trick are a
class apart. They took to the stage with little fuss and let the music
do the talking. Robin Zander was dressed head to toe in a white police
outfit whilst Rick Nielson wandered the stage playing up to the crowd
with a wide grin fixed firmly in place. All the classics were there and
the only complaint was that the set was over too soon.
Ďultimate festival bandí in the dictionary and you will find the name
Twisted Sister. They are now only playing festivals and as JJ French
said they only work 14 days a year. They have honed their delivery
to pack the maximum into the allotted 50 minute slot and had the crowd
in the palm of their hand from the opening chords of What You Donít
Know. Dee Snider is the fast talking, wise cracking ring master and the
energy, drive and delivery of the whole band make this a set to
remember. Absolute class, they deserve a main stage slot and a longer
set next time.
Finally we had
the master of shock rock himself, Mr Alice Cooper. Now in his
120th year (possibly) he can still produce a show that is worthy of his
Sister after their red hot set would be daunting for most, but Alice
just upped the stakes.
with Black Widow and continuing with a mostly greatest hits set with his
usual visual extravaganza he went down a storm. He did one new number
which he announced via the back of his jacket and then the back of his
shirt, you have got to love the man ! His current band are amazing as
ably demonstrated on an extended Halo of Flies.
All too soon the
guillotine was out, his head was off and Schools Out and Elected
heralded the end to a perfect day.
So the sun shone,
the bands were top class and chips and gravy in hand, we wandered back
to the car vowing to do it all again next year but for the whole weekend
next time, can I order the sunshine now ??
DAY 3 - Sunday 12 June (Red White and Blues, Gaslight Anthem, My
Darkest Days, Bowling for Soup)
day was lighter on traditional classic rock, but there were still
several bands that held an interest for me. However, the rain tipped
down from quite early in the day and it was not a good sign to arrive in
the car park at lunchtime to see bedraggled campers leaving in their
interest, Bowling for Soup, came on during a rare break in the
rain and produced their usual entertaining mix of pop punk and comedy,
doing unspeakable things to their giant inflated sheep and producing
lots of witty banter. This did rather break up their set but I had to
sing along to the hilarious lyrics of 1985, and their big hit 'Girl all
the Bad Guys Want' got the crowd going.
headed to one of the tents to catch hotly tipped young Canadians My
Darkest Days. They had been variously described by friends as the
new Nickelback or Motley Crue, and yet, especially with keyboards to the
fore, I detected a love of 80ís goth and synth pop influences seeping
into their modern rock, much like The Rasmus a few years ago.
Many of the
songs were very listenable although their cover of Duran Duranís 'Come
Undone' was not quite the radical rocking up of the original they liked
to pretend, while they closed with 'Porn Star Dancing', their US hit
which called to mind bands like Hinder. Though I liked them musically, I
did cringe at their dumb attempts to act the edgy, foul mouthed,
dangerous rock stars, which made their mentor Chad Kroger look like
Stephen Fry by comparison.
The rain was
now belting down when I ventured out to see The Gaslight
Anthem. I have become a fan of their punky, but literate and melodic
songs, and enjoyed the likes of the '59 Sound', 'Queen of Lower Chelsea'
and 'Great Expectations', while closer 'The Back Seat' was a particular
example of the Springsteen influences that pepper their sound.
of place on the bill, singer Brian Fallon did curry favour by playing a
couple of Metallica riffs. However their stage act is not the most
visually striking, and with the songs merging into another after a
while, a cold, wet and miserable field was not the best place to enjoy
few diehard Skin fans at the acoustic stage, I witnessed the first
performance by a new outfit Red, White and Blues which brings
together Myke Gray and Matt Alfonzetti with Thunderís Chris Childs and
Harry James though sadly the latter two could not be present- with Nev
MacDonald among the stand ins.
This was not
the best environment in which to judge their potential, but five new
songs all showed potential- the passionate 'Shame On You' in particular
- and showed off Mattís rich voice.
The site was
now considerably emptier as people gave up the unequal struggle against
the elements. My friends and I were hanging on for our fix of
Scandinavian melodic rock with H.E.A.T. in one of the tents, but soaking
wet and with a couple of hours still to wait, suddenly the drive home in
a warm car became more appealing.
trust the English weathe r- but it should not detract from three
excellent days of rocking out to a huge variety of bands.
photos by Andy Nathan
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