Last weekend saw the Download Festival 2015, the rock music event in the Leicestershire village of Castle Donington, held at Donington Park. Donington has hosted such festivals for many years now, being home to the Monsters of Rock festival, which was the reason I first visited the village, for Monsters of Rock 1996. 19 years on, and Download Festival 2015 saw the same headline act, with veteran rockers Kiss taking to the main stage last on Sunday.
Before that, though, there were plenty of bands, with the likes of Judas Priest and Lacuna Coil taking to the main stage on Friday before the headliners for that evening, Slipknot, playing their set. Like most festivals, the event has one major factor that is beyond the control of the organisers that can significantly change the experience of many people there; the weather. It was not that kind this year, with rain appearing on Friday, meaning that grass was soon a rare sight as the mud got deeper. The rain continued on Saturday, and I soon found that my feet were sinking into the ground.
Undeterred, I – like most of the Downloaders – continued to enjoy the music, with Apocalyptica, the cello based Finnish rock band playing on the second stage just before Ace Frehley, formerly of Kiss, who performed some Kiss classics as well as his own. All very entertaining.
A little later on the same stage was one of my highlights of the weekend, Black Star Riders. For those not familiar with the band, it contains members of the most recent incarnation of Thin Lizzy with Ricky Warwick, the former lead singer of the Almighty, singing. I last saw Ricky singing live in May 1993 when the Almighty supported Iron Maiden at the Kings Hall in Belfast, and it is still one of the most enjoyable gigs I have every attended. The Black Star Riders did not disappoint, with their own tracks like The Killer Instinct augmented through Thin Lizzy classics like The Boys Are Back in Town, and of course Whiskey In The Jar, which I was still singing at the end of the evening. Absolutely superb. I have already checked the dates for their next tour.
We headed over to the main stage and saw Faith No More, who had a rather unusual stage setting, with the band dressed all in white matching their backdrop, which was filled with flowers. There were plenty of classics for fans, like Epic and We Care A Lot. Muse headlined the evening, with an impressive stage show, but did not manage to oust Black Star Riders as my favourite band of the day.
Download is always a great opportunity to find new music, and Saturday introduced me to Crown The Empire among others, a young Texan band who brought a huge amount of energy and atmosphere to the stage, and seemed to already have a loyal following who were enjoying every bit of the music.
Back on the second stage, Motionless in White were explaining how they are playing a much bigger stage than their Download debut in 2013 thanks to the reaction of fans there, and were thankful for the support.
Sunday saw some classic rock bands, with The Darkness playing, and a little later, Billy Idol took to the main stage followed by Slash, with Myles Kennedy singing and The Conspirators playing. I’ve seen Slash play a few times and really enjoyed it every time, with songs from his various acts over the years on the playlist. Some of the biggest cheers of the weekend were for some Guns & Roses classics, with Sweet Child of Mine and Paradise City featuring thousands of voices singing along with Kennedy. Brilliant.
Motley Crue were next up, on their farewell tour, with their normal series of hits joined by a cover of Anarchy in the UK.
The headliners for the evening were Kiss. I was amazed by their stage show when I first saw them at Donington in 1996, and was hopeful for more of the same. I had seen them since, and was with my good friend Maxi, who is a long time Kiss fan, and with whom I had went along to Monsters of Rock 19 years ago. As usual, the show opened with a voice over announcing “You wanted the best and you got the best. The hottest band in the world…. Kiss!”, followed by Detroit Rock City.
Paul Stanley announced that all of their music was live, with no computerised tracks or pre recorded sections, and that “if you can’t play live, stay at home”. The show saw members of the band fly from the main stage to a smaller stage in the middle of the crowd, as well as Gene Simmons breathing fire and having plenty of fake blood as part of the act. There were plenty of classics for fans, with Shout it Out Loud, God of Thunder, Calling Dr Love, Love Gun, and Rock and Roll All Nite there. Here’s a very short clip of I Was Made For Loving You.
The show ended with plenty of pyrotechnics, eclipsing those that had been liberally applied through the evening.
The sound system played Kiss’s cover of Argent’s God Gave Rock n Roll To You, one of Kiss’s two top ten UK hits – the other being Crazy Crazy Knights – and people were singing it for a long way back to the camp sites, car parks and transport hub. People seemed to have had a rather good time.
As normal, there is more to do than just listen to music at Download, with a funfair, and plenty of novelty acts around the place. The usual food and drink stalls – with plenty of more unusual foods seeing the burgers and doughnuts supplemented with noodle bars and even ostrich and zebra burgers – saw new beverage options perhaps showing the wide demographic of those attending, with wine bars and cocktail sellers alongside the usual beer tents.
This year also saw two notable technical innovations. The site was cashless for the first time. Those attending the festival normally have a wristband showing which days their ticket is valid for, and which camp site they are using, and this year that wristband included an RFID tag used for payment. Everything that you might want to buy at Download – food, drink, clothes, camp equipment, pharmaceuticals and the like – required you to scan your wrist against a reader. It worked well for me, but there were stories of problems, and when chatting to some of the vendors, it seemed that there were issues that some had found frustrating.
The second technical innovation was the use of biometric cameras at several points by Leicestershire police to identify known criminals on site. My experience of the police at the festival was rather helpful. One officer approached me and pointed out that I looked like the sort of chap who might dance enthusiastically, and gave me a very useful gadget to secure my phone to my clothes whilst dancing to prevent me from dropping it.
As normal, I had a great time at Download, and no doubt will be back again for Download 2016.