Festival Fever – The UK’s Best
Festival season may be nearly over for another year, but it’s never the wrong time to talk about them and engage in a little reminiscing. First up, a selection of UK festivals from the point of view of the Man Of Much Metal…
The very first festival that I attended was Bloodstock in 2004. Since then, I have attended a fair number of events that range from very small indoor affairs, to huge outdoor summer parties.
In 2004, Bloodstock was an indoor festival, held at the Assembly Rooms in Derby; a far cry from the large-scale event that it is today. The principle reason for going was because of one band on the bill – Evergrey. Bloodstock offered me my first opportunity to see my favourite band on stage and I grasped it with both hands. I travelled with my mate Simon, the owner of the independent record store ‘It’s Electric’ in Colchester, full of eager enthusiasm.
The experience was all I had hoped for and more. A top class and varied bill was offered, including the likes of Children Of Bodom, Gamma Ray and Threshold as well as Evergrey. Speaking to metal fans outside the venue, I seemed to be just about the only person to have heard of the Swedish melodic progressive metallers, something I was more than a little surprised about. Their set was amazing, I was in seventh heaven and, as their appearance drew to a close, a guitar pick was thrown from the stage, hitting Simon on the nose and lodging in the bridge of his glasses. He gladly gave it to me and I still have it! As if the experience couldn’t get any better, later the same day, I managed to meet each and every member of the band as they took it in turns to man their merch stand in the foyer. I even met my future Editor at Powerplay Magazine, Mark, although I didn’t know that at the time!
Since then, Bloodstock has grown into the best outdoor festival that the UK has to offer, catering exclusively for heavy metal fans. Naturally, as the years have passed, things have become a little bit more corporate and the numbers of attendees has risen, but at its heart it remains a family run festival – for the fans, by the fans. This year was the first in five years that I have not made the annual pilgrimage and reviewed the festival for Powerplay Magazine and I’ve missed it terribly.
There are too many highlights to mention but a selected few include announcing Amaranthe onto the stage prior to a small acoustic set last year, having a laugh and joke with Swallow The Sun in the VIP tent whilst everyone got steadily more inebriated and telling Anathema’s Vincent Cavanagh that Spurs had just beaten Liverpool on the opening weekend of the football season. His face was a picture.
Bumping into Katatonia’s Daniel Lijlekvist in the loos was surreal too. I heard a voice behind me saying ‘that’s a really old hoodie’, referring to my 2003 ‘Ghost Of Spring’ tour hoodie. It may have been a bit odd but we had a great chat off the back of this chance meeting and he even waved hello at a gig some few months later!
Then there are the fellow festival-goers and journalists that I’ve met, all making the experience even richer and more enjoyable. The whole festival has a fun atmosphere and I’ve always felt part of a family united in a love of metal. This is not a place for posers or try-hards in my experience.
But more importantly than all that, I’ve seen a huge range of some awesome bands on stage – Dark Tranquillity, Iced Earth, Immortal, Andromeda…the list goes on. Hopefully I’ll be able to delve more into this great festival as a stand-alone blog one day soon, but for now, I’ll move on to avoid this being too long a post.
I admit that I’ve never been to Download (for reasons I’ll explain elsewhere one day) but I did attend Sonisphere in 2011. I only managed to stay for the first day before being called back for a family emergency, but nevertheless, I had a good time. Admittedly, with much larger crowds, it was nigh-on impossible to get near the main stage and some of the smaller tent stages were closed mid-set for crowd control purposes. However, seeing the ‘Big 4’ together on the same stage was amazing – just a bit of a surprise that Slayer were by far the best of the bunch, as they smashed it that day.
The highlight of Sonisphere though, apart from interviewing Firewind’s (and Ozzy guitarist) Gus G was getting within ten feet of the Metallica guys as they were shepherded from their dressing room to a make-shift warm-up jamming room in the back of an articulated lorry. As word spread, more people gathered to listen to one of the biggest bands on the planet warming up, awaiting their appearance before being whisked to the stage in blacked-out vehicles. Surreal, but very cool.
On a slightly different note, in 2007, I travelled to Cheltenham for the second (and last, as it turns out) Progpower UK festival. Held at the impressive Centaur venue, it was a day-long festival dedicated to prog and power metal. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see the likes of John Oliva’s Pain, Communic and Cloudscape on stage, whilst meeting the infamous Andy Read, a fellow writer for Powerplay and my musical doppelganger – if my CD collection ever gets stolen, I know who to go to to replicate it! Unfortunately, a combination of an expensive venue and disappointing ticket sales meant that, despite the best efforts of the organisers, Progpower UK 2008 was cancelled, never to return.
An valiant attempt was made by Huw Lloyd-Jones and his team in 2011 to bring prog music back to the UK via Fused Festival in Lydney. Unfortunately (but perhaps unsurprisingly for the UK), despite a great line-up including Vanden Plas, Threshold and Haken, only around 100 people turned up at its peak. There are a number of hypotheses flying around as to the reasons for this but suffice to say that a 2012 edition did not take place. It is a shame but the failures of Progpower UK and Fused Festival speaks volumes about the UK and its taste in music! More on that in a future blog no doubt!
Disappointment over Progpower and Fused Festival aside, the UK is currently thriving where music festivals are concerned – I just can’t wait until next year when I can do it all again!