You have to love Download Festival, not only does it have a consistently great line up year after year, and it takes place in the spiritual home of rock at Donington, but they are forever striving to make this a better festival with everything from introducing a Co-op shop for the campsite, thinking consciously about the environment (with the new beer glass policy) and Camp Loner for individuals arriving alone.
For me it was a reunion of sorts as I was meeting my best two mates from school and the two guys I started going to see gigs with when we were 15. It was also 30 years since Tony’s first gig, which we were all incredibly jealous of at the time; GN’R on the first Donington line-up when Iron Maiden delivered their Seventh Son set. After a few beers I was to find out that Tony in fact had never seen GN’R on that very first festival and he had led us to believe he had for the last 30 years. The coach was late apparently and they arrived after their set! I don’t blame him for one second I would have done the same. We had been so jealous and who wouldn’t have wanted to say they were there!
Kickstarting the day on the main stage was The Pink Slips. We were of course on our first beer and getting used to the layout, it seems to subtly change each year, just enough to disorientate you but we were all impressed with their performance for what we saw and would definitely check out more. There was no knocking the effort thrown into the performance. Next we headed over to the second stage, bumping into Tom who lives down the road (who else would you bump into in 80,000 people?) and sat and watched the Von Herzten Brothers. I will be honest I had never heard of them before and my initial assessment was that I was not going to enjoy them, very synth heavy summery progressive rock but actually what was attractive is that they are quite a versatile bunch and there was more to them then that opening song and especially with the more rocky numbers. At times they can be a little twee and a little country in their approach but well worth a watch.
We had gone to the second stage to watch Lawnmower Deth, a favourite of mine from my younger days but a band I had never actually seen live. What a band! To be honest I was looking forward to them but I never imagined that they was going to be that good. Every moment was perfect. Firstly how can you not love a band who was clearly so buzzing to be stood exactly where they were and what a turnout, the field was heaving. Getting there early was wise to be down the front. The show itself was every bit as comic, tragic, amazing, stupid and incredible as you could imagine. We had clowns and the Sumo Rabbit, band members’ kids in cardboard trains… You name it, it was probably going on and all of this without yet even mentioning the music.
This was just a party and celebration. In that 30 minutes Lawnmower Deth and the crowd were one but they were also like our symbol that anyone can do anything and that sometimes dreams do come true. Next time let’s hope they do make the main stage and see the whole of Download dancing like crazy, waving their arms and dancing like loons to the best thrash metal band to come from our shores. Voted best band of the day from Ian, who came to see Thunder and Guns N’ Roses and they definitely share the title (with a band to come) for me. Sometime it pays not to take things too seriously.
We stayed on for a short amount of Corrosion of Conformity but after the highs of Lawnmower Deth it was not doing it for us so instead we headed over to the Main Stage to see The Struts. I was familiar with their single released last year, the extremely catchy “One Night Only” but everything else was new to me. Top marks for the glamour dressing up, I love to see bands making effort (see LM above) and it instantly draws your attention. The Struts live up to the hype for me and are a great rock and roll band. It was one of those bands that everyone was noting down to go and check out their recorded output.
One of the difficulties when reviewing festivals is that you go and see a few songs by bands that aren’t necessarily the whole groups preference (see Corrosion of Conformity above). Rolo Tomassi fall into that category as well and we only managed to catch about 3 songs but my god that band live has much more ferocity, power and presence than I would have thought possible. I have heard a few albums before so knew what to expect but live that are much more powerful and the power coming from them almost beggars belief. If you are a fan and have never seen them live make sure that you do.
One of the bands I was most excited about seeing was Massive Wagons and I wasn’t disappointed. I had been sending links to them to everyone for the few weeks before so it is always one that could go either way. Massive Wagons however were truly brilliant. A bit like Lawnmower Deth before them it was apparent that a) they were just as thrilled to be there playing to a packed tent b) they could easily be on a larger stage. The tent was heaving in anticipation of the lads playing, with plenty of Massive Wagon t-shirts in attendance. We had to push ourselves down to the front to get a view and join in the mosh pit.
Massive Wagons live are even better than on record; rawer, heavier and more triumphant. An absolutely fantastic set, it was clear that most of the crowd knew the words to most of the songs and everyone was dancing, jumping and singing along joyously. This felt like a watershed moment for the band and everyone knew it. They have been on the radar for some years now but it is only recently where they seem to be getting more of the attention that they deserve. Highlights of the set were “Tokyo”, “Ratio” and ending on “Fee Fi Fo Fum”. My only complaint was the set was not long enough.
From the smallest tent we went straight out to catch the end of Thunder’s set. Thunder was the very first band that we had all been and seen together but Bob, Tony and I made the decision to go and see MW instead as we had seen Thunder a few times before. I really don’t want to get in that trap in life where I only see nostalgia bands, as happy as that can make you, the excitement of new bands always draws me in. Just as we came out “Love Walked In” and “Dirty Love” were played so I got to hear my favourites anyway. Ian went to see the full set and said they were good but that it was kinda the same level as you always see them.
At this point Download was absolutely heaving, the sun had come out, it was dry on the ground so we headed down to the front to watch Black Stone Cherry and get our spot for Guns N’ Roses. BSC aren’t really my cup of tea if I am honest, a little bit too Southern rock for me, a little too safe, I suppose. However, I was definitely in the minority here as when I walked through the crowd it was clear that a lot of people knew the words to the songs and were singing and dancing along. They sounded tight and competent and pleasant enough in the sun.
Download is to be Guns N’ Roses‘ only UK date of the latest leg of the Not In This Lifetime tour. I was looking forward to seeing them again. I saw them in London last year where I thought they did their job but was not as amazing as perhaps the build-up suggested. Set-wise there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the two dates. One thing they did do is mix them up a little bit more and gave the flow and feel of the whole set a much better and slightly harder edge which I really enjoyed.
What else was apparent is that a year of touring has done wonders for the band. They were much tighter, much more expressive and really got into the swing of things. Slash in London had stood still and delivered the goods. Here he was all over the place, sprinting form one side of the stage to the other and there was a much more fluent and expressive edge to his guitar playing. To say that they played 3 hours the set flew by and for me I was super happy I went a second time to see them as this was the Gun N’ Roses I was expecting the first time.
Great set, great day and basically they closed what was a brilliant day at Download, where the bands you wanted to deliver, delivered, the sun was shining, the beer was flowing and the rock music brought everyone together. Here’s to next year.