The Castle

This is a thumbnail of some of the stories we might get into at the Robin 2 show in Bilston next Tuesday December 5. I’ll also be selling signed copies of several of my different books, all brand new but cheaper than you can buy them anywhere else including Amazon. Hope you can make it.

I’m writing a piece at the moment about a certain rock festival from the past that has since gone down in history. It has stirred up memories of other festivals from the past I found myself an often confused participant in: the US Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985; Moscow Music Peace Festival in 1989; both the first and second, utterly calamitous Rock In Rio festivals in 1985 and 1991; various Readings, Milton Keynes Bowls, and so on down the years. Plus all the Castle Doningtons that I was a more willing, if often less reliable witness to. Back when no one referred to as the Monsters Of Rock festival, even though that’s what it was, but simply Donignton. As in, “You going to Donington this year” Answer: “Do bears wank in the woods?” Well, bears will wank anywhere but you get the drift…

Back when men were men and women stayed well away – unlike the rock festivals of the present century, where the place is pleasingly overrun by women of all ages, backgrounds and bra-sizes.

My first visit was 33 years ago, in 1984, the year when Van Halen – with a JD-guzzling, ray-catching Diamond Dave – blew the place up only for AC/DC – with a cloth cap-wearing, possibly ferret-concealing Brian Johnson – to send the pieces spinning like shrapnel into orbit. I don’t remember much about that end of the day, though. For me the festival was all but over before it had begun. Me and my drug buddy Krusher and our friendly record company girl, Kelly, had set off from the tower block we all lived in, in the pre-gentrified London Docklands, in a car fortified with a bottle of Mescal (worm curled up invitingly in the bottom), a bottle of Old Granddad whisky, two cases of warm lager, three grams of sparkly pharmaceutical cocaine and a small plastic sack of jolly green giant weed.

I mean, man, we were fuck-headed before we’d even hit the Watford Gap. How we ever got to the site without killing ourselves and/or others none of us could say the next day, but somehow we did. I remember falling out of the car in the VIP parking area before hobbling on my knees towards the backstage enclosure. The only bands I remembering reviewing were Y&T, who I enjoyed while lying face-down on the ground, and Gary Moore, who I managed to turn onto one side for. Well, I was being sick at the time and it seemed like the right thing to do.

But then I don’t recall much about the next 12 months either. Indeed, in my memory it’s like I woke up again at the 1985 Donington festival just in time to catch Marillion sloping onstage. We had a hotel to stay in that year. The same one I stay in now whenever I’m in the Notts/Derby area, weirdly, but while I couldn’t remember anything about it at all, I did recall sitting in the bar the night before the show when an impossibly young and keen Jon Bon Jovi came bounding over to tell us how excited he was to be there.

I remember us all smiling indulgently and waiting for him to go away so we could go back to our drinking. Later that same night, Venom singer Cronos, who was also there for some reason, passed out at the table and me and Lars Ulrich of Metallica had our pictures taken standing next to his prone, face-down figure. Our cocks out and pointing at his ears, big silly grins on our faces.

The following year wasn’t any better. The crowd was mean, throwing bottles of piss at the stage throughout the entire show – so much so Radio 1 DJ Tommy Vance went on in an American football helmet. “You’d think they’d be grateful,” said the presenter of the only national rock show in the UK in those days. “But they don’t give a fuck!” No one did. Hanging out with ‘spoof’ Comic Strip rockers Bad News, who were filming themselves pretending to be a real band, Ade Edmondson was so ‘in character’ he seemed genuinely upset when the crowd proceeded to bottle them off.

Motorhead fared better, of course, as no one had the guts to try throwing anything at Lemmy. But only Ozzy, who was headlining, really got away with it, after picking up the first bottle of piss that hit him in the face and drinking it. “More!” he screamed. “I’m thirsty!” That halted the bottle-throwing – briefly.

The following year, 1987, when Bon Jovi headlined, was more together but dull as ditchwater by comparison, enlivened only by a seriously pissed-off James Hetfield threatening to kill Jon Bon for daring to helicopter over the stage during Metallica’s set, thus causing the for once female-oriented crowd to begin screaming at the clouds and forcing their boyfriends to take their eyes from the stage right in the middle of chanting “Die! Die! Die!” during ‘Creeping Death’.

Biggest and best of all, though, was 1988, the year it all went so spectacularly right with what we knew even on the day would be the best Donington bill ever (Iron Maiden, backed by Kiss, David Lee Roth, Megadeth, Guns N’ Roses and Helloween) – and yet so tragically wrong when two young fans were trampled to death in the rain-swept swampland surrounding the stage during GN’R’s set. “Don’t kill yourselves!” shouted Axl unwittingly as he exited. Oh, how we laughed. Not knowing yet how hard others would be left crying.

Earlier on the tour, when the festival reached Holland, I had been the onstage host. No helmet needed that day. The hash tents kept the crowd happy and high. Anthrax was on the bill that day and they dared me to jump onstage with my trousers round my ankles. Like I ever walked around any other way at festivals. I also recall standing with an intensely morose David Lee Roth as he perused the crowd before he went on. Within seconds of hitting the stage, though, he was the laughing, jiving, rock clown of all the videos. “Wow!” he trilled. “We’ve got a lot of people here tonight!”

Paul Stanley, who was there with his new ‘girlfriend’ Samantha Fox, stood next to me watching Roth, mouthing the words. I looked at him, puzzled. “Shit,” he smiled, “Dave’s been saying that every night for the past 10 years.”

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