Down10ad 2012 - 'Diary Of A Mudman' Print E-mail
Written by Ian Bell   
Sunday, 08 July 2012 04:00

Download_posterDriving in the direction of Donington Park with my Download 3 day camping ticket in my back pocket mid Thursday afternoon I'm listening to the news about natural disasters occurring not that far away from home with caravan parks and lives being left in ruin as a result of flash floods, roads being closed and others being evacuated from their homes as precaution. I can only start to wonder therefore what the friggin' hell am I doing, and more to the point how did I get talked into camping again after my self imposed retirement from such things after 2010's event?


So what was stopping me from simply turning around and going back to my hopefully flood free home? Well firstly was a much overdue reunion of four now much older and former long haired lovers of all things rock and metal who worshipped at the alter of Tommy Vance every Friday night in their boarding school dormitory in Liverpool. Secondly and perhaps the more significant reason in me not simply turning around was that I had only made a deal with the Devil and sold my soul at the Pontymister/Risca crossroads in exchange for a meet and greet with one of the, if not the biggest metal band currently walking the planet, Metallica!


So arriving in Belper (Rock City) the initial rendezvous for the reunion and a mere 18 miles from Donington Park I meet the man called Dave fresh in from Dublin and it was immediately clear the weather conditions were not much better than the ones I had left back in Wales. Discussions in the local curry house about camping (as would happen with most blokes) were nicely avoided with a "let's wait until the morning when the Blackpool casuals Steve and Marcus arrive" approach going down well with all involved.





fun_in_the_mudThe Blackpool two arrive surprisingly early, bang on at the agreed time of 9:00 a.m. in fact, and a 30 second debate on the issue of camping opens with reference to the forecast and the almost academic outcome was quickly reached, which went something along the lines of "fuck that, maybe tomorrow". The first Stellas are then duly cracked open as we jump the train to Derby after only some minor detours for a full English in a local pub and then a quick stop off at the local camping shop for complete weatherproofing treatment and some splendid rock 'n' roll wellies, the only choice of footwear for this weekend.


Arriving at Derby station it was a lovely surprise to discover shuttle buses running direct to the festival as our planning had fallen short of how we would be getting from Derby to Donington Park, so let the Stellas flow as we duly climb aboard. Now, if you are a youngster reading this there will be a few facts about us just entering our forties types that you may not be aware of, that is apart from the more obvious things such as expansion of waistline and a general decline in fitness levels, there is also an apparent shrinkage in the bladder capacity capped with even less bladder control. Therefore being stuck in an extremely steamed up and warm bus with little sign of any real movement through the traffic is not exactly helping the more mature blokes with the now empty beer cans in any shape or form, and there is a cause and effect situation building fast. This situation quickly develops into a "piss or bust" emergency evacuation in Castle Donington village with a short sprint through the doors of The Turk's (or should that be turtle's) Head to urinal heaven and some fresh ale to prepare us for the now "on foot" march ahead.


Now resigned to the fact that there was little chance of catching Cancer Bats, Red White & Blues or The Quireboys the focus had changed to us getting on site in time for Terrorvision, this though was quickly reassessed as to making it on site for Europe as we initially only get as far as The Nag's Head Inn for some further urinal heaven. As we were there it would have been rude not to stock up on some further beer consumption before we are subjected to the overpriced piss we know will be our drink of choice later on in the day. Finally then, after much puffing and panting, we arrive at the home of metal and in the distance I can hear Terrorvision as we pass the camping site which seemed to be doubling as a film set from a prisoner of war camp in the depths of mid winter. The excitement builds as we approach the wristband exchange only to be only met with disappointment as we are told "you can't come in this way" as your wristband exchange for camping tickets is a 40 minute walk away back in the direction we've just come. Obviously it would be far too simple not to have wristbands at every gate for all type of tickets sold, and we are quickly reminded that after all these years of coming to Donington Park for rock shows you can't achieve anything here without paying back some unknown god in return with a 5 mile hike. So plodding back through the mud to find our golden wristbands all hope of catching Terrorvision had now disappeared, but the panic was now setting in for Europe, but with wristbands now strapped on we adopt a "as quick as you can" march back to where we were some time ago humming 'The Final Countdown'.


Upon_A_Burning_BodyIn celebration of finally getting into the arena we fight the mob for our beer tokens and win, yes we win the battle of the bar for our cardboard goblets of ale, and after travelling the 18 miles from Belper (Rock City) in a not exactly speedy 5 hours we are finally stood in front of the second stage ready for some Europe. The sneaked in bottle of whiskey is quickly mixed with the warm ale purchased and then without warning or due care, we hear the devastating news that Europe didn't make it. "What?" we thought, "did they get stuck on the shuttle bus needing a piss as well?" "Did they have to take an hour detour to get the correct wristbands?" or "were the conditions just way too risky for Joey Tempest's guyliner?" Whatever the reason the truth was never revealed.


Nothing was going to stop us now though as finally it was time for our first band of the weekend, as Little Angels take to the stage and hire a frontman Toby Jepson and the boys take us back 20 years. The sound was a little off with the gales blowing around us, but they looked in fine form and hopefully this reunion won't be a short-lived project. Time for a hike next, to catch the mighty Skindred doing their acoustic set on the Jägermeister Stage and once again proving their ever-rising popularity. Although an acoustic Newport Helicopter was never really going to happen was it?


Due to a lack of interest or there being no obvious band we want to watch, we take a wander over to the Bedroom Jam Stage for a nose around, which results in one of the surprises of the weekend, Upon A Burning Body, the Texas metal hardcore outfit are all suited and booted and going down a storm - a hardcore fun livin' criminals if you will. There is a continued lack of interest happening band wise, so we decide its time to check the fun fair rides out, and as I'm hanging upside down at a silly height above the muddy ground below I'm beginning to think this wasn't the best of ideas, especially after the days beer intake and whiskey top up. Wobbling away from the ride we wander pass what is Chase & Status on the main stage, and I can only conclude wrong band/wrong festival and what was the thinking here? There was only one choice for me now and as the foursome split I head to the second stage leaving the others to smack their bitches up with the Prodigy.  I meanwhile watch Slash and Myles Kennedy win the crowd over with the big hits starting with 'Rocket Queen' and including 'Mr Brownstone', 'and 'Sweet Child O' Mine' 


As the night draws to an end it appears the reality that we still have some hours to kill yet starts to set in. Having disembarked from the shuttle bus earlier in our potty break emergency we now had no idea of where we were getting the shuttle bus back to Derby, getting from Derby to Belper (Rock City) we can work out later. Our natural instinct is to follow the signs that say" shuttle busses this way", so we head down shuttle bus road for 20 minutes before the signs disappear. Asking the friendly but never that helpful stewards (and it's really no fault of theirs we feel) we are met with a hat trick of "I don't know mate" before a steward who is in on the know concludes that the sign we had followed was for the VIP shuttle busses. Obviously, what else would a sign simply saying, "shuttle bus this way," mean? The knowledgeable one does point us in the right direction though and once we walk past the main arena yet again, we finally arrive at shuttle bus ghetto 40 minutes later at just after midnight. A quick check of the timetable confirmed we are sorted as the shuttle buses were regular through the night, so we waited enjoying the company of the other Derby bound metalheads before the whisper goes around that the shuttle buses had now stopped running. "What The Fuck?" The man called Dave though was not putting up with this, and not willing to join the 5 mile taxi queue we can see off in the distance he instead flexes his local knowledge and brute force to save the day and we are soon sat in the back of our £40 taxi ride back to Belper (Rock City).





Rob_SnakepitSaturday morning arrives and as you can imagine after the previous day's alcohol intake it was proving hard to get our collective acts together, and I keep having flashbacks to the South Wales crossroads and the pact that had been made just so I could meet Metallica later in the day. A few coffees later and I unfold the written instructions as printed and presented to me by the Devil himself, time to absorb and understand the rules of the day. The rules of my day ahead though are long and detailed and required more concentration than I could muster up at this stage.


So it was time for a few more coffees to be consumed, and with the "three S" mission completed it was time to rock again. Time was ticking away and for fear of failing all remaining missions of the day I made the call to drive us in bearing in mind I couldn't smell of beer under Metallica meet and greet rule 132 anyhow! Driving in though was proving to be a huge mistake as we queue in slow moving traffic for ages to get into a field that is located somewhere near Derby - or so it seemed. Resulting in getting in to the Arena with only 10 minutes to spare before the Metallica meet and greet meeting time. I can only picture the Welsh Devil's face if he knew i was cutting it this fine but with the supplied printed location map I find the rendezvous and mingle with the rest of my fellow lucky meet and greeters. I had a feeling off nerves at this juncture not felt since trying to sneak in to a night club with false id when under age and that is going back some. This wasn't some poxy old rock or bikers club though, this was a day light raid in to the outer security of the global corporation of Metallica Inc, this was real cold sweats and squeaky bum time although that may have been down to the previous day's alcohol.  


Having already missed Saxon, Turbowolf, The Yo -Yo's, Gun, and Anti Nowhere League due to not being able to get our acts together and the walk from the car park in Derby I can only hope this meet and greet thing wouldn't take too long as Ginger Wildheart, Skindred, and Biffy Clyro are all on my must see list for today. The clock strikes four as per the rules but the rep appears to have disappeared and the three scousers with me to this point disappear to the beer tent.  I can hear and just about see Steel Panther on the main stage sounding like the cheesy pub rock big hair tribute act that they are. The clock keeps ticking and then finally the reps arrive for what can only be described as teachers trying to get the class together on a school trip. Names are called from the register and if you don't answer they looked panicked like "little Julie had been eaten by the tiger or something". I'm asked for my name and they check down the list until they find my name in print, then the request for photo id is made and my entire innards nearly hit the floor! I couldn't recollect the rule about photo id requirements but it's too late now anyway, so in my best little lost innocent school boy I whisper out "I haven't got any on me sorry" whilst at the same time forcing a photo-less piece of ID given to me back at the crossroads in South Wales into the view of the rep. A look of disgust later and suddenly rep 1 gives rep 2 the nod and the magic pass is stuck to my chest and two Snake Pit wristbands are thrust into my sweaty palm, result I'm in - and can return to URHQ without the fear of equine wrath.


Kirk_snakepitThe class is led through the crowd with teacher at the front and with a flash of our passes we're led into the inner sanctum that is the back stage area with its small town of green portakabins and straight in to the Metalikabin compound. It is here we are asked to line up along the boundary fence of the compound as though we were going to be picked for five a side teams on the schoolyard and not knowing it yet, where we would remain for the next couple of hours.


As all eighteen of us are lined up we are reminded of the key meet and greet rules, these being 1) do not move away from the fence, 2) anybody asking for more than two autographs will be removed, and 3) only one photograph with you and each band member is allowed and it will be taken by the assistant. We're told the band won't be long so it was time to chat and make friends with the other winners but obviously without moving too far from the fence. I chat to Gareth from Barnsley and we quickly agree we will take photos of each other when we meet with band members and swap them by email to add to the one official photo permitted. We can hear Steel Panther end their set and we wait some more, Tenacious D take to the stage and we wait, I'm surprised how well Tenacious D appear to be going down with the crowd response for such a novelty act sounding quite awe inspiring from our vantage point, but I later learn it was all down to an inflatable penis, them are the times. My anxiety was now building as Biffy Clyro are due on the main stage next and the way things are going I am at serious risk of missing them as well. The only break from obvious frustrations being more chat with the other lucky folk around me and laughing at a very glammed up Black Veil Brides walking past the fence all wellied up, you would never had seen Crue let their coolness levels drop like that back in the day, mud or no mud.


I've now missed Ginger and Skindred but fortunately I've seen them live more than my own family in recent months, and finally there appears to be movement and a "I think they are here" murmur comes from our hosts, I really do hope so as Biffy Clyro have just gone on stage and I would like to see at least some of their set. Then suddenly Rob Trujillo appears to arrive without warning and this is when you see the full Metallica slick machine really kick in to gear. Rob starts at the top end of the line with his assistant stood next to him holding one silver and one black Sharpie, Rob steps towards the fan and the assistant clocks what merch the fan has ready to be signed and the most effective colour sharpie is provided for the signature. As soon as the Sharpie/s is/are passed to Rob the fan's camera is taken from him or her so as soon as the signing is complete the fan and Rob can pose together for the one photo and Rob shakes the fans hand, the camera is returned and the Sharpies taken back off Rob ready for the next fan. It's like a Japanese car factory and very different from meeting Wolfsbane and Saxon in the canteen at Prestatyn Pontins at Hard Rock Hell last year that's for sure - but it's just as much fun. This "lean" operating method allows equal time and opportunity though for all fans with each band member, it may sound clinical but with each band member I chatted with and from ear wigging their conversations with others, you just have a feeling that despite their mighty stature the guys still have a lot of respect and appreciations for their fans that really is 100% genuine.   




Rob reaches me and having already clocked the 'Lulu' sleeve that I had taken along with me as part of my payment from the pact signed at them damn crossroads along with my Download programme he is instantly provided with the necessary Sharpies. Then as though by instinct I pass my camera over and after a brief chat it's time for the photo, and it's over as quick as that. As he shakes my hand I'm thinking I'm shaking the hand of the bass man from not only Metallica but also Suicidal Tendencies, and of course not forgetting his stint with Ozzy. Next in line to me is the Barnsley Barnstormer known as Gareth and Rob as with every member is immediately talking about Saxon, as they were the most obvious and common conversation piece anyone could think of.




Next to show is James Hetfield and looking very much the rock god, biker's leather and shades being the order of the day and with a smile as wide as the mud slides around Donington Park. Again starting at the top of the line he makes his way down in the same fashion as Rob did, this really is a finely tuned machine. Kirk arrives next and the same routine follows, before finally Lars arrives and sort of as you would expect he does things his own way and starts at the other end of the line. Lars is having a geography day today with me and my assemble class mates and needs to know where everyone is from and then thinks of a relating question for the area. Gareth obviously is again questioned about Saxon and Arctic Monkeys, whilst on telling him I live in Cardiff (to keep things simple) I am asked about living next-door and knowing Nicky from Manic Street Preachers and Bullet For My Valentine. On handing him the 'Lulu' cover Lars turns to his assistant and comments about not having signed one of these for over two weeks, "why was that?" I chose not to give the answer on the tip of my tongue as I was bound to breach the golden rule that the mainstream media follows in so much that everything they release is instantly amazing.




So there we are then, I had just met and chatted with each member of Metallica, and you know what? At my old age I have to be honest and say I became a little starstruck for a minute or two, and that hasn't happened since meeting Ozzy Osbourne outside Radio Merseyside many, many years ago. It was one of those days that will never be forgotten and where better a location to meet them than the home of the Monsters of Rock festival where I first saw Metallica back in 1987 on a bill including Bon Jovi, Dio, Anthrax, W.A.S.P. and Cinderella.  Oh and for any youngsters reading this - that was a festival back then - one stage, 6 bands and no bullshit.




Snapping back into the real world almost immediately Biffy Clyro are now well into their set so as we see the backs of Metallica leave the compound and the very fetching canvas hanging from the wire fencing with printed on garden scenes it's time to head to the Snake Pit. For those not aware this is a section front of stage, well middle of the stage really where the selected few can watch the gig. We are shown the way and finally nearly 3 hours after finally meeting for the meet and greet I am getting to see my first band of the day, the always impressive Biffy Clyro and even better so close up. I head out to find the rest of the lads and predictably they aren't too far away from the bar where I left them three hours earlier. I pass the man called Dave the other wristband claimed by him on the simple fact that his pad saved us camping in the prisoner of war camp this weekend.




The final rule I heard on leaving the back stage area was you had to be in the Snake Pit before the band come on and if you leave during the set you weren't allowed back in. So with that ringing in my head I grab a quick beer, then wade ankle deep in mud, excrement, abandoned items of footwear and clothing to the swamp currently passing as toilets, and then head in ready for Metallica.   The unmistakable intro kicks in and this is the only place in the world I would want to be right now and it is most definitely the only place in Donington Park to watch Metallica. The complete 'Black Album' (or whatever you want to call it) is played in reverse order but not before opening with 'Hit the Lights', 'Master of Puppets' 'Four Horseman' and 'For Whom the bell Tolls' and in turn setting the bar about as high as it could get. This certainly sorted the men from the boys that made up the remainder of the bands on the bill. The reverse order of the 'Black Album' really works well before we are then well and truly slayed with the finishing hat trick of 'Battery', 'One', and 'Seek And Destroy'.  Honestly life at that moment in time could be not have been any better.


As the show ends we head out absolutely buzzing from the Snake Pit to collect the Blackpool two and head back to the car. As we cross the bridge into the car park, as expected not a lot was happening movement wise so on reaching the car the boys cracked open some more Stellas and we took in the car park atmosphere. Which mainly consisted of naked blokes dancing on top of mini buses, couples having domestics in their cars, and the usual lack of information of any real value from the stewards. The only option was to chill out and remain where we were, then suddenly almost three hours after Metallica had left the stage we are finally able to start moving and leave the car park and head back to Belper (Rock City).





Seb_BachThe final day of Download 2012 (or Down10ad as its been branded this year to celebrate it's tenth anniversary as a festival) and it's even harder for the four of us to get our shit together today, I already knew I would have to leave early due to work commitments the following morning and I simply could not risk being stuck in the car park until 2 a.m. again!!!! It is a hell of a sacrifice to cut short or even miss Black Sabbath, but a number of factors came in to play. The main factor being the whole Bill Ward farce that had cheapened the whole event for me (we music fans don't lack that much intelligence not to see through all the spin being leaked to the media people you know), and I having been lucky enough to see the real Sabbath on a number of occasions including Download 2005 I wasn't really that worried about missing the today if I'm totally honest. So as I was heading off early it was going to be a two car requirement today and Steve and I leave Belper Rock City for the final time to ensure we get to Download in time for Anthrax, and I actually fancied seeing more than two bands which was my grand total from yesterday. 


We arrive having overcome the usual obstacles and walk the perimeter to the entrance hearing Anthrax in the distance and we enter the Arena to catch them mid way through 'Indians' and then finishing with 'I am the Law'. They looked in fine form although my disappointment at missing them is eased knowing I have a ticket to see them again two days later in Cardiff.  On a plus the weather had finally taken a turn for the better but the difficulties in moving anywhere within the arena areas was no better as the vast mud baths of the previous days had been replaced by people now being able to sit on the floor and relax creating bottle necks and human traffic jams.


Once we make it to the second stage the next band we catch is Rival Sons, who deliver a high quality classic rock vibe which is going down well and there a noticeable number of shirt wearing followers lapping every song up (Mark Taylor is that you?) The main purpose for heading in this direction though is to gain a good vantage point for Sebastian Bach who despite not having the worldwide acclaim he once had fronting Skid Row is proving the attraction of this Sunday afternoon. Sure enough when onstage, you can ignore the infinite number of stories you hear about him being one of the biggest tools in rock in more than one way, as you can't fault his onstage enthusiasm and delivery of the goods as a front man. The clock is ticking against him though as he hurries his band mates through intros to songs which are pulled from both his solo and Skid Row years, and it is certainly good to hear the likes of Slave To The Grind' played live once again.




The real surprise of the day though (and I'm glad we stayed on to watch them) were Ugly kid Joe, having sold themselves as a dumb American rock band at the height of their fame I was half expecting as much in the live arena, and I have to admit I was really only aware or could remember the two hit singles which were both aired today.  So as expected 'Everything About You' has everybody singing and smiling but the entire set had the same response too, which as I say came a little bit unexpected. A stroll back to the main stage for Megadeth is next on the agenda and a catch up with the other two members of the school reunion, Megadeth prove the class act they are and prove why they are seen as number three in the big four rankings, Dave Mustaine looking healthy and sober and looking like he is enjoying himself and how can we not enjoy hearing 'Peace Sells' or 'Hangar 18' as well as a special appearance from Mr Vic Rattlehead?


Confession time here folks, I never really understood the thing about Soundgarden, but fully respect their place in Sub Pop history and within the grunge scene, so I choose to watch most of their set from a distance and mainly via one of the large video screens, but from what I witnessed they appeared to be the perfect special guest to Black Sabbath. Our schoolmate's reunion then comes to an end for the four boys formerly of Liverpool and I start heading towards the car with a planned stop back at the second stage for Dropkick Murphys. The boys from Quincy are the perfect festival band and as always deliver the goods to the large following there to see them.  From opener 'The State Of Massachusetts' through to the closer 'I'm Shipping Up To Boston' they are simply relentless with their delivery and there's a quality cover of AC/DC's 'T.N.T.' thrown in as well.




So that was Download 2012 coming to an end for this rock 'n' roller, but not without one final reminder and summing up of what it's really like being a ticket buying punter at this event. In the distance there stands in bright lights a 10 foot sign declaring "this way out to car parks and camp sites", my thought processes concludes if I go out that way I will be even closer to the car park I need and further reduce the risk of getting stuck again trying to get out. I fight my way through the Murphy's fan base during their set closer and finally make it to get to the gate, the gate is open but barriers are across and I'm told by the steward "You can't leave that way". I enquire about the massive sign that you really can't miss even from his position which clearly contradicts his instruction and the helpful response which I half expected is "oh yeah, well, that's a mistake, it's broken or something". So I head back to where I started and walk the very long way round back to my car passing the exit I would have left via if the signed instruction wasn't a mistake and I'm actually relieved to on my way home.


Look there's no denying Download is an institution but like all institutions there is room for improvement. What I'd like to see as a paying punter is less worry and concern for the liggers, VIP's, yes men and lap dogs and a back to the floor exercise for those at the top to live the experience as a normal paying punter has to (and I don't mean via a few grand readymade tepee that most of us can't afford either). That way the quick wins for improvement will be glaringly obvious. With regards to the weather, this will always be an issue in Britain, on this occasion though the weather forecast for the week prior had been national news and you do have to wonder if it really wasn't possible to do more for the normal paying fans. Sure we had a brilliant time but that was more to our own engineering than the facilities provided by the festival and of course we expect to be over charged for poor quality food and beverages that's just a given at British festivals. Download festival will continue to grow and be a highlight of the annual festival calendar without a doubt, however that could very quickly change if the take the money and run approach to customer service continues.


[Photos by Ian Bell]