Prior to 2017 I was a very outgoing person and had attended Download Festival nearly every year since I had turned 20. Camping, hiking, and watching my favourite bands play was always so much fun, and I’m so glad I got to experience it all when I did. The excitement of the two-hour drive up to Donington Park in Leicestershire with a car full of camping gear, disposable barbeques, and tinned food, whilst listening to my favourite music, was all part of the excitement.
Once the car was parked, it was time for a long trek to one of the campsites. A few miles walk, carrying as much gear as possible to save going back to the car for a second time. It was quite physically demanding, but it was a must-do to get the best camping spot before anyone else. The weather was always awful, and the festival is renowned for it. From torrential rain to extremely muddy conditions, nothing was going to stop me from seeing the bands I love, and again it was all part of the experience.
Download festival 2016 was the last time I did this, and it was my friend Joe’s first music festival, so everything was new to him. Due to the poor weather conditions, it was nicknamed ‘Drownload 2016’, as half of the campsites were underwater. It was the year my health began to rapidly deteriorate, and I had completely lost the hearing in my right ear. I still had no idea what was going on with my health, so amongst the fun that was playing on my mind. Deep down I knew things were looking bleak with my health, but this was a great way to switch off and forget about it all.
The First Night
It was quite different this time, Joe and I met the DJs from Team Rock Radio on Wednesday night, a few days before the bands were due to start on the coming Friday. We stayed up listening to the playlist in a tent amongst others who were enjoying the vibes. It was a great experience on its own. Pete and Dewsbury really set the tent alive with the songs they were playing. Such a great way to get everyone into the mood for the coming bands.
We went in the Team Rock tent the following night as well, and it was just as good. By now though the rain had started to pour and every movement around the campsite had to be a careful one so’s not to fall face first in the mud. Luckily, we were camped on a hill, I learnt that from previous experience when my tent was swamped in mud at ‘Brownload’ 2012. Looking down at those poor people who had camped at the bottom of the hill; I’m guessing they were new to camping, as that is kind of a rookie error.
To break things up when the bands weren’t on, World Wrestling Entertainment had a tent where they were putting on a show. I used to watch it when I was a lot younger, and know it still appeals to a lot of people, but it was great to mix it up a bit. I did however notice many people were using the giant tent as a shelter from the heavy rain. Either way, it was jam-packed, and who would have known that some of the performers would go on to be huge stars a few years later. I had no idea who these people were at the time, but Joe tells me they are now some of the biggest names in WWE.
Struggling Like Never Before
I did find it so much harder to get around this time, pulling my feet up out of the mud to take the next step was quite the chore. My persistence never let up though, I wanted to live for the moment and introduce the experience to a friend. My friend Joe has dyspraxia, which is a brain-based motor disorder, so I was also helping him to navigate the festival and get about through the pools of mud. Between us we managed to make the most of it, ignoring our impairments and enjoying the atmosphere.
The bands had finally started and there wasn’t really anyone specific I wanted to see on this day, but we made sure we saw Alien Ant Farm and headliners Rammstein. I had seen Rammstein at the festival a few years prior, and the pyrotechnics were the best I’d ever seen. Regardless of the vocals being in German and me only having one working ear, it was again a great experience. The stage show was one I will never forget. You could literally feel the heat from the flames of the fire, smoke, and the fireworks. A fantastic way to finish the first night off.
I know you would think Black Sabbath would probably be the band to look forward to the most, but being from Newport, reggae rockers Skindred were who I was most looking forward to. I’d seen them many times before locally and elsewhere, but wow, Benji, the lead singer, could really get a crowd going. The energy in the show was unbelievable, and what made it all the more was taking my top off and swinging it around in the air, dubbed the ‘Newport Helicopter. I really felt close to home here, seeing 1000’s people swinging their tops to a band from my home city.
We did, however, go to see Black Sabbath; I had also seen them before. Ozzy Osbourne still managed to pull it off despite his age and health issues. It was to be one of the last times they played before calling it a day. Being a guitar player myself, Toni Iommi was always a huge influence on me. Classic rock at its best, the music I grew up with through my dad and his record player.
The Last Day
Getting to see my old music teacher Bob’s band play at such a big event was brilliant, and they got it spot on. I went over to watch them on my own as Joe wasn’t feeling too good so stayed at the campsite. Dave, a steward I met 7 years ago was on the stage and waved at me, I’ve been at many gigs where he has been in the security team, and ironically, I first met him when he gave me a pair of ear plugs at a Feeder gig in Cardiff. I really did used to worry about noise damage to my ears, but it was never an issue, and I would always wear ear plugs, it’s just typical that my hearing as taken by another means which I couldn’t prevent.
After watching Bob play in his band Buck and Evans, I went back to the campsite to meet Joe; we quickly took the tent down and lugged it back to my car, so we didn’t have to go back to the campsite again and could enjoy the bands and make a quick escape before the mad rush to get out. My adrenaline was pumping, and the excitement was enough to pull me through.
Once we had dropped all the gear at the car, it was straight back to the main stage where we watched Halestorm, Shinedown, and Disturbed who ironically, performed one of the best cover songs I have ever heard, the Sound of Silence. Finish rockers Nightwish were on next, and they put on a fantastic show too. The feeling of constant good emotions was something I needed after the issues I was having with my health.
Iron Maiden, who are my biggest influence as a guitar player, was one to remember. I had bought their latest album at the time ‘Book of Souls’ and had really gotten into it. I was struggling to hear recorded digitalised/compressed music, and now I got to hear the album as it should be. As ever, the stage show was phenomenal, different to Rammstein, but theatrical. The energy in lead singer Bruce Dickinson was the same as that of when I used to watch the Iron Maiden Rock in Rio DVD when I was just starting high school. The harmonising lead guitar in songs such as the trooper gave me chills. It brought back huge memories and a tear to my eye, as I knew this would be the last time I got to hear and see my favourite band. We made our way to the back of the show during the last song and rushed to the car to beat the crowds for the drive home.