This weekend saw the, fittingly, tin anniversary for the Download Festival. The 10th running of the rock and metal festival returned to the Leicestershire village of Castle Donington, the home of UK rock.
Before setting foot on the hallowed rock turf of Donington, messages were flying in cyberspace of the awful conditions ahead. Torrential rain from the start of the week had turned the virgin turf into a mudbath before a single pair of punters wellies set foot upon it. Possibly the most alarmist photo to do the rounds was that of floating tents, alarming because it was Glastonbury a few years ago. Download turning into Glastonbury, now that would be a biblical level disaster.
Although the tents weren't bobbing along there was certainly enough mud to cause headaches. Drownload, Brownload, Mudload - laugh? I thought I'd never start. The organisers displayed valiant efforts in their battle with Mother Nature with the aid of local farmers. Nevertheless there were many concerns raised, concerns that have been taken on-board as Festival Director John Probyn explained in Sunday's summing up press conference. The magnitude of the problems raised was immense and it is wonderfully easy for the backseat festival directors to tweet solutions. On the ground with the mud sucking up the straw as quick as a pre-sober Ozzy at an open bar, the results often belied the efforts of the team to whom I tip my hat.
Anyway, as if a bit of mud was going to stop over 100,000 people hellbent on having fun. Actually, the mud didn't smell so it was rather fun to play in. Dirty is as dirty does. This was a weekend of a loud music and louder punters.
With the adverse weather conditions delaying the opening of the Arena and running times being altered on the hoof, it came down to cramming the usual first day frivolity into a slightly shorter time frame - easy. Day One of this 10th anniversary extravaganza was about getting the blood pumping and the heartbeat racing. A delicious spread across all of the five stages saw that there was something for everyone. It was also the day of the dirty words: Chase and Status.
The booking of Chase and Status was the impetus for the yearly ritual of calling for booker Andy Copping's head. Andy, a John the Baptist figure with a cowboy hat, has never shied away from controversial bookings. I loved this booking because it produced one of my favourite Hitler reactions (here) but also, Andy's valid point that the festival must take risks, and not stagnate is essential if we are to have another ten years of this festival. No dears, we cannot have the same bloody bands each year. All 146 bands cannot be handpicked by you because it is not the
Chase and Status went down just fine though I think the mud played into their hands. By their slot it was the full on 'We're all in this (mud) together' spirit and the crowd were grateful of the excuse to bounce like Tigger on Red Bull.
They also provided a great warm up workout before the night's main stage headliners The Prodigy. That'd be The Prodigy, you know that group Andy 'off with his head' Copping booked a few years ago to everyone's disdain. The Prodigy tore the place up. They powered through their set to a large and animated audience. A personal discovery was that being stuck fast in mud past your ankles means you can really go to town with the old school hands.
The major problem with the first night was not being able to be in more than one place at once. Over on the second stage Slash was banking a stonking performance. The Stoke boy was as mighty as always, with a Union Jack emblazoned on his leather trousers, as Myles Kennedy demonstrated he can take many a famous song and do them justice. A quick peak into the Pepsi Max stage and Devin Townsend was delivering too.
After the stoicism of the crowd on Day One the Gods relented and blessed the festival with fine weather for the rest of the run. The gait of the day was the 'Neil Armstrong moonwalk' as the mud became stickier but that didn't put people off exploring the stages. From a touching set by Corey Taylor to a 'go on, touch it' set by Steel Panther it was proving to be a packed day. And, if anyone needed proof that mud is no match for this festival they need look no further than the crowd for Tenacious D. I was very lucky to be on the viewing platform for that set and looked out to a sea of people; it was a true "wow" moment. My shoddy video doesn't do it justice.
Biffy Clyro played a classy set, with Simon all in white in some sort of Scottish standoff with the English mud I presume. A safe set list of their best known hits was the sensible route to take. A special shout out goes to Skindred - you never let us down, NEVER.
But of course, the big event of the day was undoubtedly Metallica who played the entire Black Album, backwards. They sounded great, they were polished, they were Metallica. If you are a Metallica fan and love that album you must have been in seventh heaven and that is what this festival is all about. Me? Not so fussed on the Black Album and look I'll just say it, I found them a bit dull. My relationship with Metallica is just fine when it's me and their CDs, but in the flesh I am a heathen with a short attention span and a love of sparkly flash bang wallops. Next time, just make it 'And Justice For All' and give me a sparkler.
I was sad for the Metallica fans located behind the sound stage that reported back some sound problems earlier in the set meaning they couldn't hear the band well and were getting sound from the second stage. A Metallica-You Me At Six mash up should only happen in a Glee themed nightmare.
Sunday, wait for this...SUN day, was a glorious and fitting end to Download's celebrations. I was hearing a lot of love for Ghost, Refused and Rise Against. I thought Megadeth sounded particularly good and seem to have found a new lease of life. The return of Soundgarden to UK shores after 15 years was very welcome. Age has not withered their sound, that's if you could hear them over the wave of women's' ovaries popping as Chris Cornell strutted such lovely stuff. Black Hole Sun was certainly one of the air fist moments of the weekend for me.
To close a big weekend like this you need a big band and Black Sabbath fitted that bill nicely. Putting aside the unpleasantries of the line-up issues beforehand, this was still a very special night. Singing in the unique key of Ozzy, we were reminded what lies at the heart of our love for Ozzy Osbourne. Celebrity and tv shows aside, this is where he shines the brightest. It was also undoubtedly emotional for everyone to see Tony Iommi perform as he continues his treatment for lymphoma. The chants of 'Tony' were heartfelt and I am sure we all hope that he felt our vocal embrace. A great set list with all the classics ensured the original fans went away happy and a new generation of Sabbath fans were born.
Were these the highlights of my weekend? Hell no! Those would be the times spent with old friends, meeting news ones, and a ridiculous amount of hugging and drinking (often at the same time). That is where the true essence of this festival lies. This is a festival which has garnered an exceptional community. With the news that a long term contract is in place and with the organisers planning to make substantial investments in the site, it is a community which looks set to flourish.
Andy 'Anne Boleyn' Copping already has one headliner confirmed for next year and the others will soon follow. He has promised as soon as all three are in the bag, which he hopes will be in the not distant future, there will be no delays in making an announcement. Early bird tickets go on sale on Friday (15 May) and with a new deposit and instalment payment scheme in place I suggest you treat yourself. The bands will be great I promise and who knows, you may get a hug from me.
Special thanks to my festival sister Natasha Rudkin for the great photos and even better company.