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Donington Park, 8-10 June 2012

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Review and photos by Andy Nathan (except where indicated) & David Wilson


Highly commended: SHINEDOWN

Not so impressive: RIVAL SONS


The Great British Summer (or lack of it) got in the way of the first day, but our intrepid reporters braved the mud and rain to give an overview of this premier rock festival event.  Here David Wilson sets the scene...

On paper, Download 2012 looked like a bit of a cracker. From the initial announcement of the three headliners, the bill developed to the point where it was a more than fitting celebration of 10 years of rock and metal's premier event. Ticket sales went through the roof and the event was almost completely sold out well in advance, anticipation and expectations were high.

In the week running up to the festival, stage times were announced, schedules were planned with military precision to maximise what we could catch across the weekend and weather forecasts were studied. Unfortunately, the weather would have a big part to play in the weekend proceedings and the well laid plans went out the window before we got to hear a power chord being struck.

Day 1: Friday 8 June 2012

Andy Nathan writes:

Away from a Prodigy headlined main stage, most of the line up at the second (Zippo) stage read like a who' s who of prominent acts from the early nineties.

Sadly the weather related traffic gridlock and queues to get in meant that despite leaving my Derby hotel in good time, I missed both Red White and Blues and the Quireboys.

Terrorvision, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

I was never a big Terrorvision fan but with friends having raved about their entertaining live shows was looking forward to seeing them; but despite an eye catching red and black stage garb, I was disappointed their set never really caught fire until the closing double of 'Alice What' s The Matter' and 'Oblivion' (no Tequila, surprisingly) had people spontaneously singing along.

Then there was fresh disappointment as despite their backdrop and gear being in place, it became ominously clear that Europe were going to fail to show and an announcement that they had failed to make it due to flight delays and the weather was greeted by a mixture of boos and a good natured chant of the Final Countdown.

Little Angels, photo by Andy Nathan

Something was needed to lift the spirits and Little Angels provided it. Alone of the generation of British bands that stormed the charts at the turn of the nineties (Thunder, Quireboys etc) they had never reformed- until now for their first shows in 18 years.

Only singer Toby Jepson, with his flowing locks and full sleeve tattoo, has maintained the old look, but the rest of the band all looked delighted to have returned to the stage after such a long absence, and indeed their sound was much fuller and more rounded than in their youthful heyday..

It felt like they had never been away with the familiar taped intro and an opening 1-2 of 'She's A Little Angel' and 'Kickin Up Dust'. In 45 minutes they stuck closely to their hits and even one of their weaker numbers 'Boneyard' was enjoyable, with the sideburned Bruce John Dickinson stretching out on guitar, while it was a delight to hear 'Radical Your Lover' again.

'The Way That I Live' was perhaps the most surprising and featured the big bad horn section who I found less annoying than back in the day, before Toby dedicated 'Don't Prey For Me' to the memory of former drummer Michael Lee, at whose funeral the seeds of a reunion were sown - as the song built powerfully from acoustic beginnings Mark Richardson' s drumming did his predecessor proud.

The crowd had started relatively muted but by the time of the anthemic 'Young Gods' and 'Too Much Too Young', with horns again to the fore, plenty of people were singing along and punching the air and I hope the reaction has convinced them to continue the comeback for longer with a full tour.

Nightwish, photo by Andy Nathan

Nightwish are a band whose material I am relatively unfamiliar with, but their hour long set was very enjoyable viewing, with a big stage set with plenty of pyrotechnics and a bombastic, symphonic sound.

They have long lost their most striking feature in operatic vocalist Tarja Turunen but Annette Olzon is an engaging frontwoman, albeit with a much more mainstream voice.

A surprising highlight was a very celtic sounding instrumental with a bizarre looking instrument that I assumed was some form of electric bagpipe, and in the same mould they did a great cover of Gary Moore' s 'Over the Hills and Far Away'. It was frustrating that their own material did not lodge in my memory to the same extent.

Slash, photo by Andy Nathan

With relatively little for my personal tastes on the main stage, the presence of the iconic figure of Slash was probably the biggest single factor in swinging my decision to do Download regardless.

I long ago went off Guns N Roses with all the hype and baggage surrounding them: however his set at High Voltage 2011 had reawakened my interest, yet being too short and spoiled by a friend' s drunken chatter throughout, I had been left craving more.

Once again his excellent band was fronted by Alter Bridge's Myles Kennedy, vocalist of the moment who combines a strong, passionate voice with a refreshing humility.

With two albums worth now of recent solo material they formed the bulk of the set, with brand new songs like 'Standing in the Sun', which Myles admitted was unfortunately named, and the new single You' re A Lie which most of the crowd instantly seemed to know, and now well established favourites like 'Back From Cali' and 'Ghost'. Best of all the solo material was the haunting ballad 'Starlight', showing off Myles voice to perfection.

Slash, photo by Andy Nathan

But there is no denying that it was the prospect of the heart and soul of Guns and Roses playing G'n'R classics that had attracted such a huge crowd to the second stage, and they were liberally dotted around the set - 'Nighttrain', 'Rocket Queen' in which Slash was allowed to go off on extended improvisation for the only time in the set, and 'Mr Brownston'e all songs not only which Myles made his own, but timely reminders that 'Appetite for Destruction' defined a generation.

But they were nothing compared to the response to 'Sweet Child O Mine' with a great take on what has become Slash' s signature guitar solo, followed by him playing the National Anthem!

Slither from Velvet Revolver days also got a great reception, before he and his band returned for the inevitable 'Paradise City'. The firestarters of The Prodigy may have been wowing the main stage at the time, but for us classic rockers it was Slash who lit the blue touch paper on a cold damp evening.

David Wilson writes:

After leaving early and travelling down from Scotland we hoped to get into the arena in time to witness Red, White & Blues on the second stage. Traffic and parking chaos though ensured that not only did we miss Red, White & Blues, despite the fact that the arena opening was delayed, but we also missed The Quireboys, although we did hear most of their set whilst traipsing through the mud to the arena entrance. Their set sounded like a good one, although shortened due to the late start, with 'Hey You' and '7 O'clock' being the highlights.

After Little Angels set we decided to head across the arena to the Pepsi Max tent and to catch a bit of Machine Head on the way on the main stage. We soon discovered though that making any progress in the muddy conditions was akin to taking your life in your hands.

After catching part of Machine Head's set, which proved to be their usual consummate display of metal at its best, which was finished off with a mass singalong version of 'Halo', we then caught the opening number from 'While She Sleeps' in the tent.

We then made the decision to forego Slash's set and to head to our hotel to regroup for the following day's assault on the fields of Donington Park and to slaughter a bar of chocolate to the gods of good weather. This was, of course, after we waded back to the car and managed to get stuck in the mud four times on the way out. Download day 1, one to remember for all the wrong reasons.

Day 2: Saturday 9 June 2012

Andy Nathan writes:

Saxon, photo by Andy Nathan

A rare trip to the main stage for me to see Saxon provide a link with Download's history as Monsters of Rock, albeit at the ridiculously early time of midday and buried near the foot of the bill.

With just one recent song, 'Hammer of the Gods', they wisely packed their 40 minutes set with classic oldies although I did notice that the likes of 'Power and the Glory' and 'Princess of the Night' were relatively unfamiliar to a crowd younger than at their headline shows.

Biff Byford, with his flowing grey hair and overcoat, has the look of an old sea dog these days but remains one of rock's best and most endearing frontmen, while he and the band had a blast running out onto the walkways in front of the stage. Given how choreographed some shows are, I love the way Biff even put a choice of three songs to crowd acclamation before 20,000 feet won the vote.

With the sound of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt's guitars swirling in the breeze and a truncated set which didn't even include '747 Strangers in the Night', it wasn't perhaps a vintage Saxon set but 'Denim and Leather' and 'Wheels of Steel' were great singalongs as usual, 'Strong Arm of the Law' made a welcome return to the set, and appropriately they closed with the classic romp of 'The Bands Played On', written about their appearance at the first ever Donington in 1980, long before most of the crowd were born.

Gun, photo by Andy Nathan

After that it was a double helping of Gun for me beginning on the Jagermeister stage with a quintet of old and new songs which worked well in acoustic format - not least new song 'Last Train From Central' which is becoming an instant classic and a haunting 'Taking On The World'.

An hour later I had crossed a quagmire of an arena to see them play a packed Pepsi Max stage, and was somewhat surprised that three of the six songs were new ones, even though 'Butcher Man' impressed with its heaviness.

'Don't Say Its Over' got things boiling up nicely but short sets are the order of the day at Download, and over it was once Word Up had the whole of the tent joining in, a shame as the likes of Steal Your Fire would have gone down a storm.

David Wilson: Gun delivered one of the sets of the weekend. The tent was packed as they played a mix of old favourites and new tracks from their forthcoming album ' Break The Silence' all of which were greeted very enthusiastically by the capacity crowd.

The loudest cheers though were reserved for 'Word Up' with mass crowd participation throughout which closed the all too brief set. If the guys had any doubts about this comeback and new album, they should be heaving a collective sigh of relief after the reaction they received here, a job well done.

Andy Nathan: It was then back to the acoustic stage for Toby Jepson's second set of the weekend- interestingly the fact he did a set of Little Angels material without his bandmates suggests that he has been the driving force behind their reunion. He reprised many of the classics from the day before, with the addition of 'I Aint Gonna Cry' and 'Backdoor Man' being cleverly interpolated into 'Young Gods'.

Gun, photo by Andy Nathan

Theory of a Deadman were one of the few disappointments of the weekend after their excellent show earlier in the year - they started well with the trailer trash anthems 'Lowlife' and the 'Bitch Came Back', but singer Tyler Connolly seemed to be going through the motions in slightly lacklustre fashion and his uncharismatic bandmates could not plug the gap, despite a good last song in the Fire Woman-esque 'Bad Girlfriend', not to mention the quip of the day when after teasing with the riff from 'Paradise City' he said ‘how come you guys know that – we only just wrote that song'!

The Union, photo by Andy Nathan

My final band of the day were The Union, whose set still attracted a respectable crowd in the Pepsi Max tent despite overlapping with headliners Metallica.

They are rapidly becoming my favourite contemporary band as the soulful vocals and Geordie swagger of top-hatted Peter Shoulder seem to have given Luke Morley a fresh lease of life.

While the well of inspiration was running dry in Thunder, the likes of 'Watch the River Flow', 'Step Up to the Plate', 'Remedy' and 'Obsession' still have his trademark blues rock riffs, but a new freshness to them. Peter even shares the lead guitar duties, notably on 'Black Gold' which reminded me of classic early period Doobie Brothers.

The set varied in pace, with the dreamy ballad 'Saviour', and 'Black Monday', which has a 60's feel whether musically through The Doors or lyrically through the Kinks. But they saved the best till last with 'Siren's Song', which with its ‘who-oh-oh' battle cry seems to have become a live favourite within a very short space of time.

David Wilson writes:

With the weather gods appeased with the Galaxy offering the previous night, the day dawned dry and bright and we headed out once again with high hopes of a better day.

Things did falter early on though due to heavy traffic again around Donington and slow progress into the carpark which was still in a poor state.

All this meant that, like The Quireboys the previous day, I got the 'live album' version of Saxon as we walked to the entrance, but what a soundtrack, 'Power And The Glory', '20,000 Feet' and the unofficial Donington anthem 'And The Bands Played On' all eased the trek, it would have been good to see them though !

Still, things underfoot had improved considerably inside the arena and we were set for a good day. Halestorm were just finishing off on the second stage as we arrived and judging by the crowd reaction Lzzy and co had provided the goods.

Ginger, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

We kicked off though with Newcastle's finest Ginger Wildheart. Ginger can always be relied on to provide excellent, catchy rock with a twist and opening with 'Another Spinning F**king Rainbow' he and his band had the crowd bouncing from the off. Playing a set comprising of solo material laced with a few choice Wildheart classics including a killer version of 'Suckerpunch', he could do no wrong and provided a great half hour's entertainment.

Steel Panther, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

After Gun, a quick dash was in order to the main stage for the mighty Steel Panther. There was a huge crowd amassed at the Jim Marshall stage for this one and once again Panther didn't disappoint.

Opening with 'Supersonic Sex Machine' they could do no wrong and with the masses screaming along from the opening bars, success was ensured before they reached the end of the track.

They made the most of their allotted fifty minutes playing a mix of numbers from both of their albums including crowd favourites 'Asian Hooker' and the singalong classic 'Community Property', listening to 50,000 people singing this in unison put a large smile on my face.

The band though saved the best till last when they invited Corey Taylor on stage to join with them on 'Death To All But Metal', if the crowd had been with them before, this pushed them over the edge. This was yet another triumphant set by Steel Panther and with the reaction of the crowd it makes you wonder just how big this phenomenon can get, it will be fun finding out that's for sure.

Tenacious D, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

Following Panther after that reception may have been a daunting prospect for most, but not for Jack and Kyle, once you have beaten Beelzeboss himself a Download crowd are a breeze. Tenacious D to be fair had the crowd in the palm of their hand from the moment they stepped on stage.

The dynamic duo of Black and Gass did what they do best and played out their respective parts to maximum effect with the crowd loving every minute, whether they were rocking out with 'The Metal' or showing their more sensitive side on ' F**k Her Gently'.

The biggest cheer though was saved for the anthem that is 'Tribute' and with the on-stage 'Fenix' spraying confetti they left the stage to resounding roars.

Following the 'D' was always going to be a tricky task and as this was left in the hands of Biffy Clyro I did fear the worst.

Biffy though, are festival veterans now and are well versed in what a crowd expects. The trio had chosen a greatest hits set which went down well. It was the first time I had witnessed them live and I came away impressed and by the time they rounded off with 'The Captain' I think they had gained a bit more support for the Biffy cause.

Metallica, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

That then left the stage clear for the one and only Metallica. By now it had been publicised that the set would contain the entire Black album played in reverse but the knowledge didn't lessen the anticipation.

After the 'Ecstasy Of Gold' intro video, Lars appeared on stage and launched into the drum intro to 'Hit The Lights'.

The band were in stunning form with the best sound I have ever heard at a festival, their sound engineer really knows his stuff.

'Master Of Puppets' followed, but before long we found ourselves immersed in the Black album in all its glory. From 'Struggle Within' to 'Enter Sandman' we were reminded why this became one of the biggest selling albums and all tracks were accompanied with an amazing video and light show.

Encores consisted of 'Battery', 'One', Seek And Destroy' and a barrage of fireworks and explosions. This was a consummate display of heavy rock at its best and rounded off day two nicely.

Day 3: Sunday 10 June 2012

Andy Nathan writes:

Reckless Love, photo by Andy Nathan

The Pepsi Max tent was bursting for the lunchtime appearance of colourful Finns Reckless Love. It was bit disconcerting to see singer Olli Herman sing opener 'Animal Attraction' in jacket and shades rooted to the spot but he was soon his normal energetic, bare chested self on stage and the likes of 'Badass', 'Born to Break Your Heart' and 'Beautiful Bomb' had everyone singing along.

However during 'Hot' I was rather discombobulated to hear quite how much of the sound seemed to be coming from a backing tape. They finished with 'On The Radio', another example of how they have written some of the most insanely catchy tunes in a long time, but there would be no harm in ditching supporting tapes for a more stripped down live sound.

Edguy, photo by Andy Nathan

If the atmosphere had been cooking for Reckless Love, nothing could prepare for the incredible loyalty Edguy generated from a tent full of followers. Singer Tobias Sammet is quite a character though he toned down the chatting for a short set, and the German power metallers had the whole of the tent punching fists in the air and singing along to 'Superheroes' and 'King of Fools', not to mention the tongue-in-cheek 'Lavatory Love Machine'. I did think his Bruce Dickinson-esque vocals were rather thin and drowned out, but it was churlish to complain.


...the Dorian Gray of hair metal is exactly the same brash, hyperactive and foul mouthed frontman.

Returning to the Zippo (second) stage, and finally meeting up with fellow GRTR! scribe David Wilson and his family, I enjoyed Sebastian Bach's set. It must be over 20 years since I last saw him, but the Dorian Gray of hair metal is exactly the same brash, hyperactive and foul mouthed frontman.

Sebastian Bach, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

To add to the sense of nostalgia, in a seven song set he and his band served up authentic versions of several Skid Row hits - 'Slave to the Grind', '18 and Life', an impressive 'Monkey Business', my own favourite, the acoustic driven ballad 'I Remember You', and 'Youth Gone Wild', which naturally caused a mass eruption of fists in the air.

David Wilson writes: Someone born to play short, sharp festival sets is Sebastian Bach. It may be 18 years since Skid Row were at the top of their game, but judging by the number of faded SR tour T-shirts on show there is still a lot of love around for the band.

Kicking off with a frantic 'Slave To The Grind' Seb could do no wrong. New song 'Kicking and Screaming' followed, but it was the Skid Row favourites that really whipped the crowd to fever pitch, '18 and Life', 'Monkey Business' and 'Youth Gone Wild, proved that the often mooted Row reunion could be a highly lucrative affair.

This was what a festival set should be and Mr Bach played it perfectly, a true showman!

Andy Nathan writes: My final band of the weekend was Shinedown. I really enjoyed their London show from a view at the back of the Roundhouse, but, down in the pit this time, was unprepared for the incredible intensity with which they go about putting on a show and to which their fans respond, even with singer Brent Smith's exhortation to introduce ourselves to the people next to us, which is very un-British, old chap.

Shinedown, photo by Andy Nathan

Songs like 'Sound of Madness', 'Diamond Eyes' and 'Devour', with drummer Barry Kerch pounding his kit furiously, were uncompromisingly heavy, then after the rousing, more melodic sounds of 'Unity', the ballad 'Second Chance' was accompanied by an incredible, almost revivalist atmosphere, of people waving their arms in the air and singing.

The atmosphere reached an even higher peak when during recent single 'Bully', roadies helped Brent venture deep into the crowd to lead the singing. In an all too short 40 minutes Shinedown demonstrated exactly why in the States they are already festival headliners and on this evidence are on the verge of a similar breakthrough on these shores.

David Wilson writes: Shinedown are in the ascendancy at the moment and the area in front of the second stage was rammed by the time the guys stepped out into the glorious sunshine.

Frontman Brent Smith has a great voice but he goes about his business very seriously, rarely cracking a smile, he actually makes me think of a plump Axl Rose. The band's music though is first rate and the band had the talent and drive to turn their allotted time into one of the festival highlights, they also played my track of the weekend, a stonking version of ' Devour' which won them bonus points straight away. A crowd pleasing set then that would have done them no harm at all.

Sunday dawned with sunshine and blue skies, about bloody time! Having learned the lessons of the previous two days we decided to miss out the early bands on the Sunday thus avoiding the disappointment and frustration whilst sitting once again in the traffic.

This unfortunately meant that we missed the Black Spiders which was a shame but hopefully I will catch up with the guys again later in the year.

By the time we hit the second stage We Are The Ocean were just finishing off their set. Their brand of melodic indie rock was pleasant enough, but nothing special and polite applause was about all the crowd could muster in response.

Things though warmed up with the next band along, August Burns Red. The band master in hardcore metal and to be honest I wasn't expecting much but they proved to be a lot better than most hardcore outfits playing with a lot of skill and a surprising amount of melody.

By the end of their seven song set they had won over the crowd with an energetic and infectious performance, ones to catch again at some point I think.

Rival Sons, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

After a set change and a few technical hitches, Rival Sons finally took to the stage for a shortened set. I caught Rival Sons last year in support to Judas Priest and I wasn't too impressed and today's set did nothing to change my opinion.

Their bluesy, Doors like sound doesn't do much for me and there appeared to be an apathetic response throughout the crowd. They are by no means a bad band, but perhaps they were not best suited to the Download bill.

Ugly Kid Joe, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

Another band from the same era who had a similar level of success were Ugly Kid Joe. I wasn't too sure what to expect as all I could remember from them were the two big hits, 'Everything About You' and their cover of 'Cats In The Cradle', both of which got an airing during the set.

The band were entertaining enough and got the crowd dancing in the sunshine, not for the last time today as it would turn out. Perhaps not an essential 'must see', but fun none the less.

As Refused were up next we decided it was time to stretch our legs and hit the doughnut stall once more, a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips but who gives a shit!

I did catch a bit of Refused but their shouty, angst ridden hardcore didn't really work on a sunny Sunday afternoon.


The last time I caught Gus G and the guys was in Glasgow and the sound that night was painfully, unpleasantly loud, so bad in fact that I bailed out. Unfortunately it would appear that their sound engineer is Mutt and Geoff as it was exactly the same here, I think he was mixing from the car park by the sound of things, so we didn't stick around long.

Firewind, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

We also wandered over to the tent to catch a bit of power metal courtesy of Firewind. The last time I caught Gus G and the guys was in Glasgow and the sound that night was painfully, unpleasantly loud, so bad in fact that I bailed out. Unfortunately it would appear that their sound engineer is Mutt and Geoff as it was exactly the same here, I think he was mixing from the car park by the sound of things, so we didn't stick around long.

Dilemma time now as we had the choice of the Dropkick Murphys on the second stage and Soundgarden on the mainstage. We decided to head for the Murphys first and then catch the second part of Soundgarden's set, what we didn't bargain on though was the Dropkick Murphys being so damned entertaining.

Dropkick Murphys, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

A Murphys show is a participation sport, singing along and dancing like a maniac are compulsory and with their Irish infused punk, banjo and bagpipes they draw you in, you can't escape the craic.

Over the course of the 15 tracks aired both the band and the crowd bounced together as one, they even chucked in a fantastic cover of AC/DC's 'TNT' which went down a storm, but it was on the faster numbers like 'Going Out In Style' and 'I'm Shipping Up To Boston' that the band excelled. What a great way to spend a Sunday evening.

Having enjoyed the Murphys hospitality longer than planned we only managed to catch the tail end of Soundgarden's set which I must say left me underwhelmed.

Maybe I missed the best of the set, but there appeared to be little energy in their performance and a lack of enthusiasm in the crowd which I found surprising, as I say though maybe I just missed the best bits?

Black Sabbath, photo by David Wilson
Photo by David Wilson

That only left one band to round off proceedings, and what a band! Black Sabbath hit the stage to the sound of church bells and rain, heralding the opening of 'Black Sabbath'.

It was good to see that the guys all looked fit and well after Tony Iommi's recent illness and we soon found out that he had lost none of his prowess when it comes to producing some of the biggest riffs in rock.

Ozzy was on good form as well, stalking the front of the stage and willing the crowd to 'go f**kin' crazy'. 'The Wizard' was up next and the set then rolled on with one Sabbath classic after another.

This was the first time I had seen the original Sabbath play and it was a great experience, ok Bill Ward was missing, but for me and most others I'll hazard, it didn't really matter.

When you have Geezer cranking out the opening to NIB and the air raid sirens fire up at the start of War Pigs you are just glad that Sabbath are still around and able to produce the goods with such quality.

This then was the perfect end to what had been a mixed weekend, mostly down to the poor weather and organisation. Hopefully next year the lessons will have been learnt and the sun will shine, hell I would even settle for warm and slightly overcast. Download 2013, don't write me off yet!

Review and photos by Andy Nathan & David Wilson

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