by Howard G. Keogh – Chief Correspondent and Resident Historian
All right Punters, let’s start with a little history lesson before we delve into this year’s soiree. In 1979, promoters Paul Loasby, and Maurice Jones, planned a one-day festival aimed specifically at bands within the hard rock and heavy metal genre. Loasby was an established and successful promoter working that year on the Rainbow UK tour and the festival was set to be the final show of the tour with Rainbow as headliners. The first Monsters of Rock line-up consisted of a mix of British and international bands and was a success with an attendance of 35,000. After its fledgling success the festival became an annual event and continued for the next 15 years.
Over the years, the attendance continued to grow, reaching 107,000 in 1988, when sadly two fans died during Guns ‘N’ Roses set. As a result, the festival was cancelled the following year, returning in 1990 with a crowd restriction of 75,000. The Monsters of Rock festival was the premier hard rock event in Great Britain in the 1990s but fell upon hard times as heavy metal became less popular, with another cancellation in 1993 due to the lack of a strong enough headliner. In 1995 the festival found itself in a similar situation until Metallica agreed to play, on condition the band had control over the event renaming it "Escape from the Studio". In 1996 Ozzy Osbourne and KISS co-headlined the festival and although there were plans to extend the festival into a two-day event in 1997, the promoters once again found themselves in a struggle for headliners and the event was cancelled and discontinued.
Download Festival was conceived as a follow up to the Monsters of Rock festivals which had been held at the Donington Park circuit between 1980 and 1996. The first Download Festival was created at the same location in 2003 by Stuart Galbraith, Tom Pyke and Andy Copping. Rather than run as a single day event, Download was initially a two-day event, expanding to three days in 2005 the festival is now in its 14th year and here we are once again on hallowed turf in 2016.
Day 1 – Friday
The business of day one starts at the main stage, which has been named this year in honour of Lemmy, Motorhead’s inimitable front man who departed this earth, bound for the great gig in the sky at the end of last year.
Our first band of the weekend is Massachusetts metallers, Killswitch Engage who open their set with "Strength of mind" from their recently released "Incarnate" album. The band has reunited with former vocalist Jesse Leach. Their set is well received by the audience however, an expletive rant by Leach midway through their set is hardly necessary to impress anyone. One would think, for a band with their pedigree, this was a little juvenile and could have been omitted.
Weather is always a consideration when attending an outdoor festival, and Download has seen a mixed bag of weather over the years. As usual the rain is not far away and it starts early this year with Armageddon type downpour wreaking havoc on proceedings. Many unlucky punters are forced to abandon campsites and car parks as the weather takes its toll on what some are calling “Drownload”.
A short trip from the main stage allows us to take in the last few songs of the "Fort Hope" set on The Maverick stage. Formed in 2013, this band generated a lot of interest when their single "Plans" was voted track of the day on BBC radio 1. The band were also nominated best British newcomer at this year’s relentless Kerrang awards.
The next act on the Maverick stage is Kadavar from Berlin in Germany and they are in fine form. This band have had a few twists and turns in their career so far including the departure of their bassist, and having their car burst into flames on their first U.S outing. Their drummer is a powerhouse in their doom laden set and at times you could be listening to an early Black Sabbath. This is particularly evident on the track "Doomsday machine".
This year sees a new type of event for Download. Gutterdammerung is a production which combines movie, theatre, and live performance. It comes highly recommended, and, without giving away the plot, involves the eternal battle between good and evil. The action takes in themes from the wild-west, World War 1, and the Spanish Inquisition. It has an all-star cast, including the likes of Henry Rollins, Slash, Iggy Pop and even Lemmy. This production which was the brainchild of Bjorn Tagemose is well worth catching if you get the opportunity.
The build up to our first headliner Rammstein is a one minute countdown displayed on the video screens, the last ten seconds of which is also projected onto the curtain. At zero the curtain falls to the ground, a cloud of pink smoke billows out from behind the stage, and all hell breaks loose onstage as the band open with new song "Ramm 4". The set list tonight includes classics like "Feuer frei" and "Du hast". These boys were never shrinking violets or ones to shy away from controversy, and tonight is no exception. During “Zerstoren” Till Lindemann opens his jacket to reveal a suicide belt which proceeds to blow one stick of dynamite at a time. The encore comprises "Sonne" and an acoustic version of "Ohne dich" and "Engel" during which Till Lindemann takes to the air above the stage on his Firework fueled angel wings.
Day Two – Saturday
Day two starts off fine but as usual rain is never too far away. First stop today is the main stage for Nikki Sixx’s solo band Sixx AM. They receive a rapturous reception from the crowd and deliver a great set from their album "Prayers for the damned". Vocalist James Michael who also produced albums by Halestorm, Meatloaf, and Alanis Morrisette gives a standout performance.
Rival sons from Long beach California commiserate with the crowd on the inclement weather which has eased slightly for their set. They have just released a new album entitled "Hollow bones" and are currently enjoying the fruits of their labours as support to Black Sabbath for their final tour.
Megadeth are back at Download this year opening their set with" Hangar 18" and we are also treated to classics like "Sweating bullets" and "She wolf". Later in the set the band welcome Nikki Sixx once more onstage for a rousing performance of the old Sex pistols track "Anarchy in the U.K.". The band also play the title track from their new album "Dystopia" Their set concludes with a visit from their Mascot Vic during "Peace sells" and the final track "Holy wars".
We make the trek over to the Zippo encore stage for “Skindred” who, thanks to their Charismatic front man Benji, whip up the crowd to fever pitch, culminating in what is known in Skindred circles as the Newport Helicopter. Along the way we are treated to a roller coaster ride with stalwart tunes like “Pressure” and “Kill the Power”. Benji also advises the crowd to never waste an opportunity to tell a friend you love them as he laments the loss of one of his own friends to cancer on acoustic track “Saying it now”.
Today could be described as a type of homecoming for Black Sabbath on their final tour dubbed The End. The real homecoming however, is the very last show on their home turf of Birmingham on Feb 17 2017, but for now this will do. As the expectant crowd gathered in a field, which looks something akin to the trenches of the Somme, the familiar band logo appears on the screens at either side of the stage. Then the eerie sound of rain and a tolling bell the Prelude to the bands self-titled song “Black Sabbath”. This is followed by “Fairies wear Boots”, “After Forever” and “Snow blind”. Ozzy seems to be having “A bad day at the office” and it is not until “War Pigs” that things settle down. Ozzy asks why does it always have to be pissing down and thanks the assembled crowd for their support over the years, saying “Without you guys we wouldn’t be here”. Next is “Behind the wall of sleep”, followed by that familiar Bass solo which marks the start of “N.I.B.” Other classics include the likes of “Iron Man” and “Children of the grave”. Finally we come to the trademark final song “Paranoid” and if there are any teary eyes in the arena they can’t be seen because everything else is wet too! As the final chords are struck the finality becomes evident as THE END appears on the screens and that’s it. The last hurrah is over. The band who started it all are finally about to hang up their boots, but what a ride it’s been Thanks guys!
Day Three – Sunday
Sunday morning starts for us with the second act on the Lemmy stage, Amon Amarth. These guys must have decided when they were kids, “I Know when I grow up I will be a Viking” They open with “In pursuit of Vikings” then “First Kill” from their 2016 album Jomsviking. Vocalist Johan Hegg tells us to ignore the weather he goes on to say “Nothing breaks a Metal head, if you’re tired Drink Beer” proceeding to raise a horn of ale to toast the crowd. He may indeed have a point here, as the inclement weather may have washed out some people but for those that remain has led to the Metal Olympics. The mischievous streak in the metal head with a twinkle in their eye, devising new sports such as Mud Wrestling, and Airbed tobogganing. It is this spirit of fun that encapsulates the Download event, laughing in the face of adversity but with respect to all those who were forced to leave due to the weather.
We visit the Maverick stage next for “The Dirty Youth”. Unfortunately the Maverick tent now has a moat around it, but the packed tent is testament to the appeal of this feisty lot from south Wales. Singer Danni Monroe salutes her friend Benji from fellow Welsh band Skindred. Later in the set she thanks Andy Copping “The man in the Hat” for inviting them back to play at Download for this their fourth visit. Looks like this band are doing everything right and are riding on the crest of a wave after the release of their second album “Gold Dust” at the end of last year. With a slightly revised direction fusing hard rock riffs, pop hooks and techno breaks on occasion, we still cant figure out why these guys aren’t huge. Go see them in smaller venues while you still can.
Delain play two sets this weekend the first was an acoustic set on the Firestone stage on Friday, and now they play the Zippo encore stage. This Dutch symphonic metal band was formed in 2002 by former Within Temptation keyboardist, Martijn Westerholt and Charlotte Wessels. Two performances in one weekend is a good start for the band’s first visit to the Download festival. New guitarist Merel Bechtold looks as if she is savouring every energetic moment and is a great fit with her new bandmates.
They run through an energetic set which includes the single “We are the others” which they also played in their acoustic set. Other gems include “Don’t let go” which Charlotte tells us can warm you up after standing in the rain. I remember being handed a demo CD of this band a number of years ago while working at Download and obviously this type of commitment pays off with the band playing second stage today.
Halestorm are the next act on the Lemmy stage and this band are no strangers to Download. They open with “Apocalyptic” followed by their huge hit “Love Bites (and so do I)” Lizzy Hale is in fine form today and blasts it out, dedicating “I am the Fire” to all who came out in the mud to see them. The atmosphere builds steadily throughout their set but Lizzy gives a sterling performance on their final song “I miss the Misery”.
Nightwish are the penultimate band on the Lemmy stage this year but they put on a rousing performance managing to lift the spirits of a crowd who have been at the mercy of the elements for three days. The band open with “Shudder before the Beautiful” also playing hits like “Storytime” ”Elan” and “Nemo”. They close their set with “Last ride of the day”. One fan in particular certainly enjoyed the show as he danced alone with his wellies in the middle of a lake of mud, and why not? Look it up online…you’ll love it.
Finally it is time for Iron Maiden, the last performance of the weekend, and Iron Maiden’s sixth showing at Donington, another hugely popular choice. Just recently landed at the nearby East midlands airport stands Ed Force One the Boeing 747 (400 series) flown in courtesy of front man Bruce Dickinson. The band burst onto stage opening with two tracks from the recent Book of souls album “If eternity should fail” and “Speed of light” before dragging us all the way back to 1982’s The number of the beast album for “Children of the damned”. Bruce is running around the stage like a man possessed and his voice appears to be unscathed by his recent illness. The stage has been converted into the ruin of an old Mayan temple and the music continues with “The red and the Black” showing well. We also get “The Trooper”, “Powerslave”, “Hallowed be thy name” and “Fear of the dark”. During the encore Bruce give a touching speech recalling recent events in both Paris and Orlando before breaking into “Blood brothers” saying “Life, Love, Laughter and Music will go on” and proceedings are brought to a close with “Wasted years”…. Up the Irons!
Once again that’s all folks…but don’t throw away the wellies just yet. Andy Copping has issued an open invitation to Guns ‘N’ Roses for next year. Bring on 2017! We can’t wait…