So my first ever visit to Castle Donington – Monsters of Rock – came about in 1994. Up until this point I’d been far more into going to see a single band than a mixed bag which inevitably would mean some I liked and some time queuing at the beer tents littered around the venue. This was the year for change however. After bagging a ticket for me and my then girlfriend, we also booked a seat on the ‘happy’ bus from Glasgow and waited for the big day.
We left Glasgow around midnight after trying to inebriate ourselves into a catatonic state for the endurance 11 hr trip there through the night. Turns out that we were not alone on this approach and as the bus filled (or more appropriately poured ) up and left a full blown party was being had aboard. Being troopers, we indulged as only one can on such occasions but it fizzled out into a pall of smoke and empty beer cans after a few hours as we all hit our limit and hammered, we passed out on our microscopic bus seats.
Several light-years later we awoke at our destination, each with our own personal dead cat in our mouths and staggered off the bus at about 11am. Rather disheveled and crumpled we made a mental note as to the bus’s location. Easy, we thought in our naivety, until we noticed the hundreds and hundreds of similar buses line astern and many many crumpled bodies emerging into the dark and grey daylight. The hell with it I thought, we’ll find it later no problem, how hard can it be?
Donington Park is a pretty big place as you can imagine although in the middle of the English countryside, with many many stalls, curiosities, roadkill food ‘options’, beer tents, and what only a festival goer can know as the cesspit from hell ( known officially as a chemical toilet ). Great – lets go grab something to eat and a breakfast beer and all will be well in the world. We sauntered over to a likely looking area near the Dunlop bridge ( more on that later ), money in hand and ready to start the day but I had been foiled! Nothing was open and apart from the bus-going zombies infiltrating the park everything was closed and empty. Bugger.
With nothing else to do we promptly sat down on the damp grass and I mulled on my spectacular clothing choice of a suede tassly jacket as the rain started to fall.
Fast forward a few hours of boredom and dampness and things started to open and I could see more human-like forms milling around. Things were happening – Yay! Cue a few beers and I don’t honestly remember what I ate but it cost a gazillion pounds and I have secured the remembrance of taste to a long lost storage area of my brain.
The line-up was pretty varied and there seemed alot for everyone :
Main Stage :
Aerosmith / Extreme / Sepultura / Pantera / Therapy? / Pride & Glory
Kerrang Stage :
The Wildhearts / Terrorvision / Skin / Biohazzard / Cry of Love / Headswim
I have no idea what time Zakk and Co hit the main stage ( 4pm maybe? ) but although Pride and Glory were a short lived band, they opened up well and were pretty entertaining. My friend I was due to meet later had the CD and it wasn’t bad. They held up well live and having quaffed plenty of liquid inspiration I thought them pretty good. Nothing as heavy as BLS but rocky in a Southern American kinda vibe. They ended on War Pigs and I’d say a good effort and loads of support from the crowd. Youtube link –
( Headswim opened the 2nd stage. For the life of me I can’t be sure I saw them but something tells me I did – I liked what I’d heard on rock radio on a Sunday morning still battered from the Saturday night before, however I suspect no amount of hypnotherapy would bring up a clear memory. Answers on a postcard ).
Cry of Love were second up on the small stage and I did see a little of them – I have no idea who they were to this day but I do remember watching them dodge many many missiles and batting bottles of piss with their guitars. They took it in good humor and no I was not the one throwing them. I was too busy making my way down the hill to see Therapy?
Therapy? To those unfamiliar are a poppy / punky band from Ireland, and although I only really know one album, pictured above, I loved it at the time and was really looking forward to seeing them. They didn’t disappoint and the crowd really were behind them. A very different approach to Pride and Glory but bouncy punchy songs and although they are far from virtuoso’s it went down a storm and I do remember the lead singer did not want to leave the stage at the end and as much as I enjoyed it I had to run hell ( no pun intended ) to the bog-of-eternal-stench to relieve myself. Happily there was a beer tent en route back to the seething masses. Youtube link –
Back up to the 2nd stage we caught some Skin – literally. I quite liked them at the time and as I remember they did a decent job but it must have been pretty unmemorable – I think the girlfriend at the time was more into them then me. I decided it was a good time to attempt to try and find my friends who arrived by some route other than the zombie express and shambled off to the Dunlop bridge. Now this is a pretty obvious landmark and it sticks out a mile thus making it’s-self an ideal spot to find the lost, stolen or wasted.
Cue the picture I had envisioned versus the actual image I was presented with in real life. No words are required here.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. My seemingly flawless plan for becoming reunited with my long lost friends was clearly also shared with the other 70 000 strong crowd full of idiots like me with the same plan and not a hope in hell’s chance of finding anything other than the queue for the beer tent again, let alone any shred of sanity.
Miraculously I found them and we staggered off to go see these new punks Pantera I’d heard about.
We sat up on the hill to catch up, quaff beer and get loaded while we waited. The crowd seemed pretty expectant and I will confess I didn’t know one song by them. Heard of them, heard the odd thing on Headbangers Ball but was willing to give them a shot. Many people drool when I say I saw them live and that I’m the luckiest bastard alive to have been there. Shortly afterwards they want to stave my head in with a blunt instrument when I tell them what I thought of their beloved band. Donington is not a quiet venue to have an outdoor festival, sure it’s can be windy and the sound gets carried about a bit, but it’s never quiet when I have been there. Pantera bounced onstage and it was to be the heaviest band on the billing so far. They erupted in a sound that was thin and weak. I can’t quote any of the songs they played but they in my opinion were not good for such a hyped up band, I am sure the word shit has entered into the conversation a few times. Now before you all start loading up your guns and blunt instruments to come and hunt me down, let me point out – you weren’t there ( man ). They have a huge following, but I just wasn’t impressed or entertained. I amused myself quite happily during their set – I could hardly hear much from Dimebag, and Alsemo’s ‘vocals’ were weak. I’ve met some people who were there over the years who totally disagree with me – go figure. Youtube link –
I wasn’t really a fan of Terrorvision so I skipped that one on the small stage and probably mooched in a vague manner in ever decreasing circles toward the beer tent again while waiting for Sepultura who I again, knew very little about other than what Wally has recently described to me are officially known as ‘Cookie Monster’ vocals and seriously heavy guitars.
Once again we remained up on the hill for Sepultura’s set. Far too much fun to be had getting seriously debauched on all levels – my legs were only a necessity to keep me secured to land, replenish beer, or descend into the 7th level of hell to pee. I am not a fan of theirs and never was but I am here to tell you Sepultura wiped the floor with Pantera. ( Put down the pick-axe – it’s only an opinion people ). They were powerful, loud, and really intense. The Latino drumming they all got up to do was really impressive and to this day I still remember sitting there hearing the vocals to ‘Territory’ (the only song I know they actually played) reverberating and echoing around the arena with real menacing force. Not something to forget. It’s something you don’t get from a soundboard recording and it wasn’t what I was expecting for sure but man, they kicked serious ass. Youtube link –
One band I definitely wanted to see headline the Kerrang stage was the Wildhearts. A blend of pop, punk, and rock they were very high on my to do list. At this point you’r probably wondering what happened to the friends and the girlfriend? My friends and I had said our farewells earlier to to a conflict of interests in bands so I dragged the girlfriend over to the small stage amid whimpering’s of ‘Extreme will be on soon you know’ .. and ‘they were really good supporting Brian Adams when I saw them’ etc etc etc. I feigned deafness and continued oblivious to my destination. They opened their set with Suckerpunch and as much energy as I’d seen a band hit the stage in a very long time. Ginger the singer was clearly pretty out of it ( like I was one to talk at this point in the day ) but gave a sensational performance. I was having a great time marred only by the constant buzzing in my ear about bloody Extreme. Don’t get me wrong I liked Pornographiti alt the time, hell I even bought it but I really hated 3 Sides to Every Story. Eventually as all boys do I relented and allowed myself to be dragged back down the hill and for the first time had a bash at getting down the front. It was surprisingly easy ( remember that hindsight thing I mentioned earlier? ) so we were about 3 from the front and waited not too long for them to come on. Wildhearts youtube link –
There had been a big storm brewing about this whole set-up. How did Extreme feel about playing after 2 seriously heavy bands? From memory they were asked this again and again by different magazines and interviewers till it became a bit of a stigma. How could they follow on from Pantera and the brutality of Sepultura? I must admit I was intrigued how they would react when they came on. Would it be balls out and in your face motherfuckers? It seemed to me to be the only way. It must of been maybe 3 or 4 songs in and they were getting very little response from the crowd. They looked kinda defeated to me although there were plenty of people there watching but Gary Cherone just sat down, shrugged his shoulders and threw his bottle of water into the crowd very close to where I was. Nuno played his heart out but there were too many elements missing from the performance and the heart and soul – rip their heads off attitude was plainly missing. The sound wasn’t great either – maybe Sepultura had blown a stack or 20. Even her majesty who adored them thought they were really poor compared to her previous gig in Glasgow. I don’t think it went so far as actual guilt for dragging me away from a far superior Wildhearts performance though. Perhaps I’m just bitter. Youtube link –
Now would be a good time to tell you that my ex girlfriend was a Commonwealth Gymnast when I met her. *Cue tumbleweed* Where the hell am I going with this conversation? Sadly it has nothing to do with how flexible or bendy she was boys, but all will become apparent soon. I don’t really recall how we spent the time after Extreme ( disappointment ) and Aerosmith hitting the stage but whatever killed the time ( more beer probably ) worked and by the time they came on we were pretty far down the front again – maybe 6 or 7 deep from the front row. Now, I may be a Neanderthal and descended from the Vikings, but I do have a soft protective side so with said girlie in front of me I was there behind her, arms wrapped round her to keep linked together and look after her in the melee which was getting quite frisky in their wait for the headliners. Bonfires had been lit by my other close relatives, the Trolls, on the left of the site and the party was ready to go big time with tensions soaring and the atmosphere really getting there with darkness brooding. I had seen Aerosmith once before in 1988 at Wembley Arena in London ( Pump tour ) for my 18th birthday and seated so far back the band looked like little fuzzy balls doing the occasional back-flip.This time it was to be different. Not quite spitting distance ( unless you were particularly talented ) but damn well close enough.
They exploded onto the stage with lights everywhere and opened with ‘Eat the rich’. We all went crazy and it was all I could do to hang on to the girlfriend who instantly turned into a pogo-stick as soon as the band kicked off. As with all these big concerts, after several times your own body-weight in alcohol, the crush to get to the front becomes intense. Next up we had Toys in the Attic and Aerosmith were playing brilliantly in front of us sardines and Tyler was in fine form. At this point things become a blur of enjoyment and losing myself to the music and the experience until all of a sudden I’m holding a dead body in my hands. Not dead as in not breathing but dead as in weight. My ex some years before had crushed her sternum ( pretty serious injury ) while throwing herself about like a rag doll doing gymnastics training. She literally was out cold due to the crush of the crowd and the only thing keeping her vertical was me. An interesting situation I’m sure you’ll agree. Deciding my only route was to get the attention of the stewards at the rail in the front I waved frantically at them but none of them seemed interested. Waving at Tyler was the most probable assessment of my behavior. It took what felt like forever to get a reaction from one of the bouncers but finally he triggered what was going down and someone needed out. I had to ask for some assistance to body surf my catatonic friend towards the stage but she got there in one piece. Great, now what? There were 70 000 people behind me and less in front so I got the goon’s attention again and self surfed to the front. I’ve played a few gigs in my time, mostly to sheep and a few lost souls in the wrong bar, but until you ever feel the roar of a crowd of that magnitude you wont understand what I felt before I headed under the stage beneath Mr Tyler to the casualty room to find out what was going down.
It looked a bit like that but darker and louder than you could ever imagine. She was roused by the ambulance people fairly quickly as it turned out she was fine but clearly the ‘moshpit’ down the front was out of the equation again so we chilled back with the less rabid and enjoyed the rest of the show.
The band were on fire that night and closing with Walk this Way they were followed by the traditional mountain of fireworks. Somehow we found the bus, with seconds to spare before it kindly decided to leave without us. We had probably tried every damn bus we could find prior.
One hell of a day and night. Not something I will ever forget. I do however seem to remember nothing of the trip home. Not surprising really.