Rain doesn’t stop play at Download anniversary

Metallica's Kirk Hammett
Metallica's Kirk Hammett

THERE really is nothing like good old British summertime to get us reaching for the rainmacs, and pushing aside the flip-flops for something a little more practical, and at last weekend’s Download, the hottest accessories were wellies and waterproofs.

Not ideal party wear for the 10th anniversary of the festival at Donington Park, but party frocks are no good when faced with a downpour.

It didn’t just rain for the first couple of days, it yakked it down, turning the dusty space into a swamp of mud, mud, and there really is nothng glorious about it, mud.

As thousands descended onto the site on Friday, it wasn’t unheard of to take more than four hours to get parked up, and when they did, punters spent the day cold, wet, and wondering if their motor would be where they left it at the start of the day, or bobbing along on flood water...

Organisers, concerned at the state of the water-lashed arena and accompanying high winds spent time assessing, and distributing bales of hay around the site to give some kind of stability under foot.

Gates opened two hours late, and though some bands had their sets culled, The Prodigy and Slash still closed day one successfully.

Us?  We’ve endured it all before, and thought we had it sussed this time - thermals, three pairs of socks, wellies, five layers and ponchos...not such great rock n roll attire for Saturday morning, but ‘the rain wouldn’t dampen our spirits,’ we thought smugly as we arrived.

And it didn’t...rain, that is.

It rained wickedly exciting, riff, stomping, tongue-in-cheek sounds though, while Turbonegro commanded over at the Encore Stage, wrapping up with a title possibly a little too cheeky to mention here, before the Norwegian punk rockers flounced off with the Union Jack flag flying.

While we could claim to ‘hot-foot’ it across to the Pepsi Max Stage in order to catch up with reformed Scottish rockers Gun, we didn’t.

Instead, we squelched and wobbled our way across in time to see the band break into a classic slice of eighties rock, Don’t Say It’s Over, before a tidily packed tent.

Rock fans are a loyal lot, and Gun were cocked and loaded, even after all these years.

In the press area, Steel Panther bring smiles to the media with some acoustic interpretations of their rude, but funny as hell eighties rock.  They pout, preen and turn frowns upside down with Weenie Ride...

Later, the American quartet shine bright on the Jim Marshall stage.

They sing a song about Tiger Woods, and encourage many a top-heavy lady to display her wares..

Corey Taylor also joins the chaps on stage for the wickedly titled Death To All But Metal. 

After such a strong set by the Panther, Tenacious D (who have their own additional oversized band member today) look a little overshadowed by the stage they are on.

Yep, Jack Black is a funny fella, and together with his partner in rhyme Kyle Gass, they have penned some great tunes, but this show wasn’t all killer and had a heck of a lot of filler.

When they do get it right though, they smash it (to use a nasty reality show phrase) and Tribute is a total winner, if a rather obvious one.

“We’ve made sweet love to your ear canals,” Jack tells us, before disappearing.

Biffy Clyro have made a measured transition over the past decade, from playing toilet venues to festival headliners.

There was a time when they would struggle to pull enough punters to fill a bar, and yet now when they perform, no-one visits the bar.

Second only to Metallica, the Scots trio (swelled to a live quartet by touring guitarist Mike Vennart) are a workhorse and a half - fierce, flowing, commanding and never out of steam.

Familiar live staples include Bubbles, Folding Stars and Many of Horror, but the chaps have spent recent weeks holed up in the studio working on Biffy album number six (and seven - it’s a double) and share a couple of nuggets with us: Modern Magic Formula is aired alongside The Jokes on Us - which has been a sometime familiar in the live since last year - and Victory Over The Sun.

The band might be holding centre court, but they too are looking forward to watching the headliners come out to play: “Birth, School, Metallica, Death,” says Biffy frontman Simon, “We saw Metallica 20 years ago , and that makes us feel old as f***, but it changed our lives...”

In one way or another, the Metallica sound changed many more lives, and as 100,000 sink into the still swampy mud and crane for a view of the San Fransisco Bay Area legends, you know that every weather-battered punter has a personal tale they could share.

But of course that would take weeks, and we have significantly less time and a gutload of classic heavy to plough through. 

And Metallica get straight to the job: Busting through old aces Hit The Lights, Master of Puppets and For Whom The Bell Tolls turns Donington Park into one huge pan of simmering rockers, all waiting for the heat to turn up still more for the evening’s ‘special’ dish - a trip back through the Black album in its entirety.

They turn the album on its head, playing the opus in reverse, and necessary tracks Enter Sandman and Wherever I Roam finds the band at its brazen best.

There are no low points, save for some rather naff audience interaction with James Hetfield.

Apparently, we are all Metallica’s ‘family’ over and over.

Bet if we all decamped to his hardly shabby abode, we’d not all be welcomed in with open arms though...

“Can you feel me?  I feel you,’ he roars into the microphone. 

It’s all a little bit cliched, as opposed to a great singalong, but with a solid set of scorching metal rolling, it’s forgotten quick enough.

After doing battle with some off-site stewards who had clearly been told that the idea was to stop traffic moving and create ridiculous tailbacks in both directions running close to Donington (and wow, they did a fabulous job) we escaped the site for the night.

We hot footed it back to the main stage on Sunday though, in time to see the lion’s share of Kyuss Lives! and their dirty, groove-laden epics.

The desert dwellers brought their local weather with them too - the sun shone, the winds had calmed and the only swirling was eminating from truly monstrous sounding tracks like One Inch Man, Thumb and 100 Degrees.

Kyuss didn’t follow a fashion when they began,  they just cut loose their own passion, and while they drove, others hopped on for the ride.

The ongoing ‘legals’ concerning the current line-up Vs former members are well documented elsewhere, but its not founding member Josh Homme’s current squeeze QOTSA that have the upper hand.

Kyuss Lives! that are packing a better punch and letting better music do the talking, even if they do remain at cult status.

Judging by the amount of eager fans out in force at lunchtime to see John Garcia at the mic and Brant Bjork hitting the hard things, Kyuss Lives! should have left the stage feeling pretty darn good.

Stalwarts Anthrax have been at this thrash metal malarkey for decades, and yet they still race around like a puppy on speed, playing as if it’s their first date at the festival, though that was actually was a quarter century ago.

Caught In A Mosh, Indian, Got The Time, I Am The Law...the set list is as fast, furious and essential as they are.

Anthrax are back in the UK later in the year, bill sharing on tour with Motorhead.

Won’t that be quite the package?

While making our way to the tastiest food stall on site (that’ll be the veggie one, then) Black Label Society assault our ears in a pleasant way, followed by Lamb of God who sound ever so much like third rate Slayer.  Ouch.

Megadeth put their tried and tested thrashyness to the stage at tea time, and Peace Sells..., Hanger 18 and A Tout Le Monde are classic slabs of riff-tastic force with choruses made for blanket participation.

Backstage, the Download dog, all pink and claws at the ready is flexing his muscles in the media tent, while in another corner former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach is holding court with the press.

The Download birthday cake to end them all has been iced by Radio bod Daniel P Carter, and it’s a beast of a choccie fest!

As the sun contiues to beat down, rather unfortunate when you take into account the three pairs of socks, wellie boots, thermal wear and waterproofs we are still strapped up and wrapped up in, the recently reformed Soundgarden make their first appearance on British soil in 15 years.

As they break into Spoonman, it’s as if these ‘grunge’ dwellers have never been away.

They present a tasteful set of old and older tracks that still sound sharp and ‘now’.

Sure, Jesus Christ Pose isn’t quite as mindblowing as the day you first heard it, but it still has more meat on its musical bones than many tunes have to begin with.

As much as they fire out the heavies, they are also untouchable when turning down the noisy and letting melancholy loose, with emotive ace - Fell On Black Days is an absolutely perfect example of such.

It’s a real return to form, and a great precursor to the return of Black Sabbath. 

“Come on, you f***ers!” screams Ozzy mid-way through a set festooned with BS classic after another and another, and all around Donington the cheers echo.

This is a love-in of gargantuan proportions: Between the band that practically invented a genre single-handedly and their adoring fan base.

Of course they are the elder statesman these days, but as Geezer Butler clamps his eyes shut, turns his head skywards and takes control of that bass fret with a grip and a half, he plays with all the passion of a kid.

And Ozzy?

Well, he half runs, part staggers around the stage like the nutter he is.

He never sings alone either - his crowd are with him every word along the way, which is a blessing asOzzy’s voice is showing wear and tear this weekend. 

Nobody cares, mind.  It’s Sabbath, bloody Sabbath for gawd’s sake!

It’s truly great to see Tony Iommi, currently battling illness, on stage and smiling while delivering some of the most famous riffs in the world.

“The guy on stage, I’ve known for most of my life, and he’s one of the strongest guys I know,” Ozzy told the masses, before inviting “Let’s hear it for Mr Tony Iommi.”

While his off-stage battles are horrendous, on stage the war was won before they’d even launched into show opener Black Sabbath.

N.I.B, Snow Blind, Sweet Leaf, Iron Man, Fairies Wear Boots...the tracks keep on flowing, 18 in all, and each as magnificent as its predecessor.

Sabbath’s sticksman Bill Ward wasn’t behind the kit though - behind the scenes wranglings proved responsible for his absence, which is the only downside on an otherwise perfect performance.

Download 2012 trounced its own wickedly successful earlier years, which is no mean feat.

Event promoter Andy Copping tipped his cap to those hardy rock fans who refused to be beat: “...we’ve seen some absolutely cracking performances to help us celebrate our 10th anniversary.

“The crowds have been fantastic, there’s been a real display of true Brit spirit on site to help us through the more challenging parts of the weekend, and to have had Black Sabbath, Metallica and The Prodigy headline our big birthday bash has been amazing.

“I’ll be raising my glass to every single person on site this weekend later!”

Words: Sammy Jones & Alun Hunter

Picture gallery from Download