Finally, the Download Festival was upon us, the yearly pilgrimage of thousands of diehard Metallers, rockers and festival fun seekers alike to the home of all monsters of rock, Castle Donington.
Now admittedly, this year's line-up was nowhere near as strong as previous ones and this was reflected in the drop in numbers (55,000 against the 85,000 of 2010), but there were still some amazing bands ready to kick the tyres and light the fires of Rock and Metal!
I decided this year I was going to be a bit more organised in my efforts, so booked some VIP camping (sorry, but much better showers/loos!) piled up the car with more crap than I was ever going to need and on Thursday afternoon drove the hundred or so miles up to the Derbyshire countryside.
Pitching my newly bought and quite big tent was a major IQ test which I failed miserably and finally admitting defeat, had to drag in my friend and camp neighbour to help me sort out how to put the damn thing up and even then still ended up with random poles that I couldn't figure out for the life of me where they went!
With that debacle finally sorted, we went in search of the major sustenance of all festivals, booze! And yes, four hours later and staggering back a trifle merrier, we'd succeeded.
Article continues below...
There's no doubt about it, Download's absolutely blooming huge. Over 150 bands, five stages, thousands of people sprawled over a vast area – camping in tents, tipis, huts, buses, caravans, hotels, you name it, a funfair for the deranged or excessively drunk (the rides were scary enough just watching and judging by the copious screaming, pretty terrifying on board), a bonkers bungee run (really quite funny to watch after you'd had a few!) bucket loads of stalls selling absolutely everything you could want/need and enough different types of food to satisfy even the most picky of festival goer.
Plenty of choice across the board really but as with all festivals nowadays, pretty darn pricey. £4.00 for a beer or shot pretty much guaranteed a lot of booze drunk in tents beforehand!
Slightly bleary eyed (due to bloody East Midlands airport planes flying really low over the campsite at 5.00am) but hangover free (and there was no way that was going to last), Friday morning came and with it the proper start of the Festival. Working out a rough time/stage guide to see the bands I really wanted to was the first thing on the agenda, but to be honest and with all best intentions in the world, this was always going to go tits up once other things were factored in such as bumping into old mates, the rain and the flow of beer!
The theme running through this year's Festival with much anticipated Rob Zombie playing was (surprise, surprise) Zombies, and with several stalls doing face and body painting, there were blooming loads of them lurching around the arenas, definitely adding to the fun of 'people watching' during the hike from Stage 1 to Stage 2, but saying that, the Tango man dressed in a skin tight orange body suit with multi coloured budgie smugglers was not exactly pleasant on the eyes. Funny though!
On the way through the arenas and being left in stitches of laughter watching Mr Blobby being refused booze for having no ID, departing waving his arms dejectedly, I caught D.R.U.G.S. belting out some decent hard rock on the second stage, good and tight but a little generic so a wander back to the main stage where PUDDLE OF MUDD were absolutely fabulous, and for a band on at 2.00pm on the first day, were getting a fantastic reaction from the crowd who had been well and truly rocked out of its previous night's stupor.
THIN LIZZY next up. I was really interested to see how The Almighty's frontman Ricky Warwick would slip into his new role as their vocalist, but from the very start he was absolutely fantastic. Ripping through 'Whisky In the Jar', 'Rosalie', 'Don't Believe A Word' and other classics, and at one point being joined onstage by Leppard's Viv Campbell, they were simply great. They may have a few more years on them now but it hasn't taken any edge off their playing and the crowd were equally enthusiastic to see them back on stage.
THE DARKNESS were finally back after a long hiatus, a very Johnny Depp-esque Justin Hawkins sporting an interesting moustache and spectacular tattoos was belting them out as well, if not better, than he used to. I'd forgotten how many great songs these guys had under their belts, hits like 'Only A Feeling', 'Dancing On A Friday Night' and 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love' getting everyone dancing and singing with gusto.
They've not lost any of their humour either, one costume change sees Justin clad in an lovely silver and black tailed body suit! Funky clothes and all, they're a terrific live band, a very talented bunch of guys and they looked like they enjoyed every second of this belated return. Welcome back boys, you've been much missed!
Last band of the night for me was DANZIG. Having previously seen Def Leppard play here in 2009, and good though they were then, I opted to see the feisty Mr Danzig play the tented Pepsi Max stage, especially with it now lashing down with rain. With the talents of ex Prong man Tommy Victor on guitar, this was a fine, fierce show from the man in black (except for the sound problems which led to threats from him re punching someone's lights out!) and the awesome 'Mother' sounded every bit as good as the day it came out. A quick shimmy back to the beer tent for the remainder of the night, and for Friday, that was all she wrote.
Saturday morning and yes, there it was, the hangover. Ah well, two Nurofen down the neck and happily off we go again! After a fairly slow start trying to up the caffeine intake as much as possible, we headed into the arena to get the morning murk blown away by some serious music.
CLUTCH were absolutely outstanding, their bluesy stoner rock liberally laced with wicked slide guitar was just out of this world and within seconds they had the seething mass that was a very packed crowd dancing and boogying just as hard as they could. Neil Fallon was in stunning form with that incongruously deep and rich voice of his, and them finishing off with the irresistibly wonderful 'Electric Worry' was without doubt one of my highlights of the weekend.
With the quick dash from Stage 2 to 1, the question arose, how the hell were Down going to follow Clutch's amazing performance? 'With difficulty' was the response to that.
Phil Anselmo was his usual full on, Metal monster self but was getting awful tetchy when he found it tough going to light up the Download crowd. This aside, it didn't take them long to kick into full gear and their cracking set was as big, bludgeoning and brutal as ever.
So, cobwebs out, adrenaline up and running and before the Master of macabre ALICE COOPER hit the stage, it was again time to check out that festival favourite, the beer tent. Purely for research (again) you understand.
A couple of hours later, my grinning friends and I were trying to work out how the hell so much time had passed and got our backsides out to check out some of Alice's set before the mighty System Of A Down started up. And fine it was too, as lithe and svelte as ever. Alice Cooper can still rock with the best of them and with a set list that included 'Billion Dollar Baby', 'No More Mr Nice Guy', 'Hey Stupid' and 'Be My Frankenstein', he was blooming marvellous. Unfortunately, and as much as I wanted to see more, it was time for the big one of the night, SYSTEM OF A DOWN.
Ye Gods, I was expecting them to be good, but they were absolutely bloody EPIC! Huge, immense, bonkers, irresistible, the works.
Clad in a hoodie and jeans, Serj Tankian cut a slight and unassuming figure until he opened his mouth then, as expected, all hell broke loose! The crowd were going absolutely nuts for this band and it was easy to see why. SOAD were tight as a new drumskin, never missed a note and just completely went for it, thumping out track after track with 'Toxicity', 'Chop Suey' and 'BYOB' winding up the bouncing, moshing, singing crowd to fever pitch.
I have no idea how, but their bizarre blend of Metal, punk, ska, thrash, hardcore, rock and whatever else they like to throw in, works to amazing degrees, add to this the fact they are massively talented musicians and can be as delicate in playing as they can be brutal, and the results are one totally unique, humungously brilliant, awesome monster of a band.
Oops. The toasts we raised to celebrate the triumph of SOAD (and as many other things as we could think of) the previous night were beginning to come back to haunt me Sunday morning and the goddamn fly bys of the East Midland planes were really taking their toll on any amount of any sleep to be had. Still, the first band on my radar for this final day weren't on until 1.15, so movement was very limited for a while. And then came the rain.
Jeez, this wasn't just rain, this was sodding biblical. Starting around the 10.00am mark, down it came and kept coming until about 8.30pm that night, turning everything into one big, slippery, muddy mess. Oh the joys of good wellies, a waterproof jacket and a very big beer tent, all things that saved the day for me and many others! But I get ahead of myself, first things first.
Not the fiery pits, the band. British Metal legends HELL are back and as powerful and theatrical as ever. Crown of thorns on head and flail in hand, high cheekboned and wild eyed vocalist Dave Bower fits like a tight leather studded glove into the band, and with that other local legend Andy Sneap now whipping up the guitar frenzy, they were wickedly wonderful and a top start to the day.
Funnily enough, with the rain unrelenting, breaks between bands were taken in the beer tent and I swear, there's an exponential growth of booze being drunk with this amount of rain! A brief run out to the ever wonderful GWAR who were as disgustingly fabulous as ever, spraying gunk, gunge and gore everywhere and bringing a much needed bit of fun to a pretty foul afternoon, and then a sprint back into the warmth where the entertainment included seeing a giggling barman being wrapped in sellophane, just for the hell of it. Don't ask!
I toyed with the idea of battling more rain to see The Cult, but after having seen them play rather brilliantly last year and seeing how hard it was pissing down, decided against it which then left just my all time favourite band and Metal god, ROB ZOMBIE to see.
Now bearing in mind the whole weekend had a Zombie theme, why the hell were ROB ZOMBIE headlining the second stage instead of the main stage on Sunday where the limp LINKIN PARK were going to be is the question me and about 90% of the Download crowd were asking on the trek over to stage two.
At this stage of the weekend, normally the main stage arena is absolutely rammed with expectant rockers but this time it wasn't even half full, everyone else had upped and gone over to the other side of the hill and the chant of "Zombie, Zombie" could be heard just about everywhere! So packed you couldn't even see the mud, everyone was singing along with the dulcet tones of Johnny Cash coming out of the speakers as we waited for the main man. Lots of whoops going up when people saw themselves on the cameras, more "Zombie" chants, and expectant cheers as people scuttled across the stage between the huge, glowing blue eyed robot and fiendish skeletal mike stands. And we waited. And waited.
With us wondering what the hell was going on and the frustration of 25 minutes of waiting beginning to bubble over, finally the organs start, the flame pots roar, the back screen fills up with B movie horror and sci-fi images and the spectacular onslaught begins. Stepping out through the front of the huge robot to an enormous cheer, the masked Rob Zombie spreads wide his sinister mechanical arm and they smash into opener 'Jesus Frankenstein'.
This isn't just a show, this is an orgasmic explosion of everything rolled into one, a stunning visual show of the darkly weird and wonderful, mind blowing animatronics stalking across the stage, the phenomenal songs and the lynch pin, the man himself, as wild as hell, larger than life and the bringer of the musical apocalypse, Rob Zombie.
Prowling the stage with menace and conducting the whole maelstrom, we plunge through the riff monstered 'Superbeast', 'Demonoid Phenomenon' which was just insane, 'Living Dead Girl', and 'Pussy Liquor', the band throwing in a couple of White Zombie tracks, '1965' and 'Devil Man' for good measure, before 'Dragula' just about blitzed us all.
There's no real way of describing just how bloody immense this show was, and for me and many, many others, was a fittingly outrageous end to a fantastic weekend.
Three bands ruled this weekend for me, CLUTCH, SYSTEM OF A DOWN, and ROB ZOMBIE, and although SOAD were incredibly good, the award for sheer utterly epic awesomeness simply has to go the wild man and his band, ROB ZOMBIE.