Most of you probably know by now that I am heading to England in July to catch the last gig of the tour in Stevenage, at Knebworth house. I’ll write a follow-up to this as well about Knebworth, which is why I’ve called this Maiden England- Literally! Part 1.
Alright, enough of the babbling bullshit.
After a quick power nap, I woke up at 3 in the AM in my Frankfurt hostel, and was sweaty mess. I had no time to shower, really, as I had to get to the airport. Usually I try to get to the airport 3 hours in advance so I guaranteed won’t miss my flight. But getting to the hauptbanhof at 3:15 and finding out my train doesn’t come until 4, I knew I was fucked unless I took a taxi, so I did, and to my surprise, the driver drove awful fast. So bloody fast, my heart was in my throat. To be fair there weren’t very many vehicles out on the road, but it was dark with just a glimpse of daylight in the very off distance. Nonetheless I made it to the Frankfurt airport, and after a long delay waiting for the folks at the airport to set up British Airways, I got checked in and logged onto facebook to see what was going on.
The plane was so small, I was under the impression I was on a business trip. Tons of men dressed sharply in white shirts, black ties, and even suits. The plane trip was thankfully only 90 minutes, and I arrived London city airport in good time. But after a rather unpleasant encounter with the nosy customs lady (I’m just going to leave it at that), I got through and was welcomed to London. And after having to deal with THAT, I needed a fucking coffee. Thankfully there was a Costa Coffee nearby, so I ordered a big cappuccino (so big you could eat cereal out of the cup), and some brownies for breakfast.
After a train ride to Kings Cross, there was one thing, and one thing on my mind only- Doctor Who stamps. Royal Mail issued a series of stamps as a celebratory 50th anniversary deal, and so I went to a Royal Mail location that was just near the train station (which itself wasn’t too far from The Shard- those of you who watch Doctor Who will hopefully know what I’m talking about) and purchased two sets- one for me and one for Dan back home. Then I made my way to the train station and promptly got on a train to Nottingham- which is where I was staying. The train was big, comfy even, and there even were some refreshments on the train!
Having gotten to Nottingham was when I got my first taste of how truly schizophrenic the weather in England could be. It was pissing, and I had quite a distance to travel to get to my hostel. I took a taxi and thankfully the ride was short- about 4 minutes if I’d say so myself. The hostel wast he first time I had truly gotten a “home away from home” feeling. The Igloo in Nottingham is more of a big house and was owned by a guy who himself is from Edmonton! We were both surprised and that right there meant we got along easily. I needed time to relax after what I had been through, so I went to the main room after dumping everything upstairs, and used my iPad, contacted family members back home.
Your humble narrator
And off to walk the streets of Nottingham city it was. I’m sure most of you reading this journal entry are aware of the reputation this city has of being the “scary city where people get shot and stabbed”. I don’t doubt this happens often, but truth is, it happens here where I live. I practically refuse to go downtown late at night because of it (unless there’s a party going on with one of my friends). Hell, try living on the north side of Edmonton. That being said, lucky for me, I didn’t get shot/stabbed. I actually found it to be such a relaxing change of pace from the busy and rushed pace that London gives off, and I found the sleepy atmosphere refreshing. The only downside was that I was hoping to head to a pub for dinner, but that was short-lived- they stop offering food after 6. So I went to a nice restaurant called Turtle Bay at the corner house for dinner- and ended up having Red Stripe Beer on tap. First time since Jamaica in 2010! It was a Jamaican restaurant, and I also had studded lamb, which, while nice, made me feel like my tongue was on fire. But it was worth every second of it!
After that, I visited an Irish pub for some pints, and had a lovely chat with an Irishman who owned the place, and the Irish guy next to me. Guinnesses and Strongbows all around, and some open mic was taking place too, which was nice. After that, I went back to the hostel, and hung out with some of the folks there, a bunch of people who were there were going to be at Donington for the show too- people from Italy, Sweden, the list goes on and on. Not wanting to versleep, I hit the hay and showered pretty early.
All ready to go at 2 PM the next day, I decided to use the majority of night 1 to familiarize myself with Donington. As per usual weather was schizophrenic. It was sunny in Nottingham then cloudy another minute, then halfway to Derby, it was pissing. Just outside Donington it was nice and sunny, inside Donington it was freezing, cloudy and rainy. Since I was staying in Nottingham, I took the Skylink bus from Friar Lane- which was only £8 for a return ticket, a steal if you ask me. So I knew to ready £8 for myself every day for transport. The journey was a good 40 minutes, and the stop was located conveniently not too far from the entrance, which was always a good thing.
Otherwise known as the field of dreams.
Immediately, I regretted not bringing boots. My white sneakers suffered the wrath of the awful English countryside weather, which does get often muddy. While I will say that mud-wise it was bone dry compared to pictures I had seen from the year before, it was still pretty muddy. Then I thought to myself, “maybe I shouldn’t fret… you’re a Maiden fan, and chances are that Donington mud, in addition to a Steve Harris wristband, will be the best souvenir you’ll take back to Canada this year.” Even Hayley had mentioned this later when we were chatting in Amsterdam, and she’s right!
I also made the smart move of buying an event shirt on that day. I knew that if I were to wait until Maiden day, they’d be all sold out. They looked like this:
So there’s not a lot to say about day one. It was more of a “familiarize yourself with Donington” day, because I was mostly there for Maiden. But using the weekend pass, I figured I’d see as many bands as I could. As I arrived, Papa roach was in the middle of their set. First off, the site is HUGE. Essentially, it’s on a slope, with the second stage off to the far left halfway up the hill, with the main stage all the way at the bottom. Mini stages are to be found in the far left and right, and in tents situated around the park. The first band I really saw there was Korn. I know that is bound to get me some flak, but I will admit when I was a little kid, Korn was the real deal. Kids wanted their CDs, despite the lyrics being inappropriate for children, which extends far beyond the swearing- songs that deal with themes such as childhood sexual abuse and what not, but when we heard the hits, our full a Trenton was theirs. And reading up a bit of their history reveals their original guitarist had left some time ago and last year had rejoined the band, and was also there at Download. So their hour long set surprised me, to say the least. It was a satisfying nostalgia trip where classics such as Freak on a Leash and Shoots And Ladders were on the setlist. Thankfully only two songs from that “Path of Totality” shirt pile were on there, and they were the good songs (“Narcissistic Cannibal” and “Get Up!”). Freak closed the setlist, and vibes were good all around.
After Korn, I went to go get a steak sandwich,and had to suffer through ten. Infuse of Dragonfarce’s set to do so. Now, I knew they were shit live, as that infamous Graspop 2006 video reveals, but they were much worse in the flesh. I could not even make out what was going on, it sounded like some sort of semi-musical noise with an audience cheering. But afterward, there was Bullet For My Valentine on the main stage, and they surprised me too. I only know two songs of theirs- “Your Betrayal”, which is one of the P.A. songs on Maiden’s current tour, and Tears Don’t Fall”, which your grandmother probably has heard by now. And I did enjoy their set, actually. Tons of pyro was on their stage, including on the side and what not.
Last of the night was the first headliner, Slipknot. I listened to them all the time in middle school, and though I don’t listen to them much anymore, I figured why not see their set. I heard that their live show is nothing short of stellar, and maybe indulge in a bit of being a teenager again. And so after “Get Behind Me Satan and Push” rang through the speakers, the band were on stage with a blast of pyro, and delivered a fun as hell set. There were two problems, however- three times throughout the concert, the fans got so rough that they caused the barrier to break. Fortunately, Corey Taylor gives a shit about his fans, stopped the band in their tracks and told everybody to take a step back and let the folks fix the barrier. Another problem I had was that I was rather disappointed that their setlist consisted mostly of a lot of their inferior new material- but when the classics came, I jumped up and down and screamed my lungs out- “Eyeless”, “Heretic Anthem”, “People = Shit”, “Wait and Bleed”, “Spit it Out”, “(sic)”, and “Before I Forget” were the real thrillers of the night, and in a sheer coincidence that was nothing short of spectacular, it begin raining when “Psychosocial” played- which is hilarious due to the line “and the rain will kill us all/if we throw ourselves against the wall”. Perfectly timed, much? In a touching move, the band had a backdrop with a giant “2” on it, paying tribute to Paul “#2” Gray, who died of a drug overdose in 2010.
Getting out of the venue could have, and maybe should have, been a problem- 90, 000 people trying to get out, which did lead me to leave during the last song “People = Shit”, and I found a bus stop outside the venue, and was back in Nottingham in an hour. And boy, it felt good to be inside and warm from all the cold. After staying up for 30 minutes to send an email or two and update Facebook, I was in my PJs and in bed.
I had no plans the next day but Maiden.
This was it.
The big day. The creme de la creme of the tour.
MAIDEN AT MOTHERFUCKING DONINGTON. 5TH APPEARANCE. 25 YEARS IN THE MAKING. HEAVY METAL HISTORY IN THE MAKING.
All those thoughts floated through my head as I tried to sleep the previous night. But I couldn’t sleep, because excitement was all over inside. I was seeing Maiden at Donington.
I left for Donny the next day at roughly the same time, and arrived to hear Alice and Chains finish their set. The weather was a tad better that day, but would take a turn for the rainy later. I was smart this time and wore a leather jacket with a hoodie. As we were on the bus, a lady walked on before we departed from the Nottingham coach station (where the bus typically went before making its way to Derby) that the East Midlands Airport Parking Lot was filled with busses, and after the show, to go right there.
Anyways, back to Donny. Since I had familiarized myself with the park, I was bit more “free” that day. I got this picture:
The sign was not too far from the mainstage, a bit more uphill. After that picture, I went for some dinner, got myself a big pork bun, and watched what may be the last Motörhead gig for a while. As you may or may not all know, Lemmy has a number if health issues that has caused them to have had to postpone their current tour. Nonetheless, it was hard to tell. He was in great spirits all night, and sounded and played great.
Right after, it was Queens of the Stone Age time, and I’ll admit I didn’t listen to their music much, and after seeing their particularly droney and boring live set, I’m glad I don’t. What a bore. They played for an hour, but it felt like three hours. Perhaps if they were placed before Rammstein or perhaps earlier in the day. I’d have not been so harsh on them, but they seemed to do a good job at putting the audience to sleep. I saw the audience get excited to maybe one song of their whole live set, and that was about it. Ugh, I’m mad just thinking about it. Part of it was the less than desirable sound at Donington, but you’d think that for a band of their reputation they’d put some effort into it. I saw multiple people leave the crowd in droves, and that’s never a good sign. In fact, the minute they left the stage, a number of people seemed to be happy it was over. In fact, I spent the better part of their set waiting in line to go to the bathroom and standing in front of a man who had drank too much beer, wine and gin.
The aforementioned drunk
Then this was it. After they finished their set, I RAN as fast as I could to get the best spot I could for Maiden. I landed a spot on the second row back from the second barrier. I would have went past the second barrier to be a bit closer to the main barrier, but given how muddy it was, and how good of a view I had, I figured it wasn’t worth giving up a good spot. Setup was an hour long, and to take the edge off waiting, security came through with styrofoam cups and offered us water. I had taken a big and long enough piss to not have to miss any of Maiden’s set, and had a good time talking to a man in front of me who went to both O2 shows in 2011.
The wait begins…
ARE YOU READY???
After quite a wait, there was five minutes to show time, and the park was quickly filling up. Before “Doctor Doctor” came, there was a big surprise. Bigger than any of us would have imagined. As we all looked forward, a guard on the stage silently pointed to the sky above us. We collectively looked behind us, we saw a speck of black in the sky, moving forward, getting bigger, the hum of an engine getting louder. As the speck came forth to light, it revealed itself to be an airplane. But not just any airplane. True, airplanes had flown over our heads all day due to the location of being near the East Midlands Airport, but this was an RAF spitfire. It lowered itself to being a reasonable height above the audience, flew over the stage, flew a few KM more, then turned around, flew over us in the other direction. The first few bars of “Doctor Doctor” sounded, and before we thought it was over, the plane came back for one more maneuver
You should have heard us all. We all screamed with tons of delight, joy. What have you- the sound of 90, 000 people screaming in excitement was beautiful. As “Doctor Doctor” rolled though the speakers, collective singing and suspense was in the air.
Then it hit me.
The lights went off, then blue. “Rising Mercury” blared over the heads of the metalheads at Donington Park, its pounding drums inciting claps as loud as an army march. As the piece of music neared its close, “Moonchild” sounded out of the speakers, and the anticipation level nearly made my head explode. With a burst of pyro, the band ran on, and I immediately began screaming so loud, I couldn’t process what was going on. This was it. 25 years in the making, the band was on stage, celebrating the 25th anniversary of their historic first appearance at Donington. The crowd lost their heads, there was singing and jumping abounds. “Can I Play With Madness”, “The Prisoner” and “2 Minutes to Midnight” had the crowd singing their hearts out and rocking our abounds.
Before “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”, Bruce then explained, “We were here 21 years ago, and back then, there were many things you couldn’t do. And one of them was organize a Battle of Britain tribute, have a spitfire fly over the crowd”, or something to that effect. The band were aware of the historical value of the night, and was in all-out celebration mode. The band continued through their set with tons of gusto, including a rousing rendition of “The Trooper” that sealed the deal on the history that was being made that night, and at one point in “Number of the Beast”, which always works its magic on the crowd, Bruce teased, “I’m coming back! We might return.”
During “The Phantom of the Opera”, which is always sheer magic live, and tonight was no exception, Bruce performed his usual pyro trick, and asked us what was dinner, including “Overdone Sunday roast”, and even joked that mum’s got a very burnt bun in the oven. The crowd jumped up and down and sang along in delight, and even during the instrumental section, I got emotional several times, singing along to the guitar riffs. “Run to the Hills” took care of itself, and hearing the 90, 000 people clap along to the thunderous “Wasted Years”, the lyrics rang true to this weary Canadian traveler- you’re far away from home, you’re here seeing Maiden at Donington, make every minute of it last, you’re living in the golden years. Which inspired some very heartfelt singing along to this thunderous anthem.
Hearing “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” only added to the surrealness of the night. The progressive metal classic was performed with the usual Maiden bombast, with the synth-drenched middle section casting a dream-like feel over the night. “fear of the Dark” and 90k English folks singing, Seventh Son Eddie holding his womb up to the huge crowd during “Iron Maiden”, the night was almost over, and hearing the crowd cheer and scream for Maiden was nothing short of chilling.
It was encore time, and as a means of bookending the theme, “Aces High” kicked off a rousing encore, with “The Evil That Men Do” making the crowd sing their hearts out, and at the grand finale, “Running Free” rounded off the night with two revelations: Bruce announced a show at the O2 in London to come a month and a half later, and to celebrate the history of the night, Bruce brought out a bottle of Trooper and toasted the crowd, tears clearly in his eyes. As the band vacated the stage, the big gig was over. As I made my way out of the park, and sang along to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, there was bliss all over. I just saw Maiden perform at Donington. This was the real deal. I couldn’t believe it. As I made my way to the bus, I was on such a high that I didn’t think anything in love, as a Maiden fan, would make my year greater.
After an hour long bus ride, I went on facebook spread the good news to all the folk, and was asleep in my usual post-Maiden bliss, sweet dreams to come.
On the last day in England, I decided to go for a lovely Sunday roast, and before I was about to leave, the pub, called The British Rose, had just gotten tons of Trooper Beer in- on tap. I knew I wasn’t leaving without drinking some Trooper on tap, so I had a couple pints, and left on a full stomach. A bus ride to Donny later, I arrived to the sound of metalcore act Parkway Drive thrilling them all. And then I got to witness Corey Taylor play a second set at Download, this time in the form of Stone-Sour. I was only familiar with a few songs, but I managed to enjoy their set, and my respect for Corey had only gone up that day. He was a. Fan of metal, and wore it loud and proud. He paid tribute to Black Sabbath, and sang his praises to the English crowd, joy clearly in his eyes.
While waiting for Rammstein, I went and got some dinner, and then noticed a most unusual sight near the second stage:
I went in and confessed to something, but nobody could hear due to Airbourne. Nonetheless, it was fun to do. This confessional booth was a gimmick they took on tour with them last year, and broadcast the confessions live to to the whole world. After a chat with some nearby folks, I walked the park a bit and stretched my legs, and then decided to go get a good spot near the stage for Rammstein. This came with a price: suffering through 30 Seconds to Mars. And honestly, I felt bad for these guys. Poor organization led to them being right before Rammstein, and in the wake of a very poorly received fourth disc, they went out like a fart in the wind. I especially felt bad, because they even had gimmicks such as big multicoloured balls thrown into the audience and animal inflatables, but I was not a fan of their live sound at all. Jared Leto seemed cocky and stopped the set twice to get people to cheer for them. Near the end of the thing, a group of people sat down, began booing them for wasting their time and began shouting RAMMSTEIN over and over, and honestly, I can’t blame them. I will always love Leto as an actor but his music will leave much to be desired for years to come. This is, of course, despite the fact that I love their first album. Space-rock with some industrial here and there.
Now, I was excited for Rammstein, because I had gotten into them a year before, and saw live videos. Words cannot describe how good their live sets are, but one thing nearly ruined the buzz- a big bottle fight. That’s right. Bottles of piss and hay flying through the air, and Rammstein’s road crew even seemed unimpressed. Luckily it died down sometime before Rammstein’s set.
And then it began. Everything onstage went silent, everything in the crowd began exploding. And speaking of explosions, as the first few powerchords of “Ich Tu Dir Weh” began sounding, sparks flew into the air. A drumroll later, the curtain dropped, and the German industrial metalheads were on stage, working their magic on the crowd. Till entered standing on a sparking RAMM-cross, before he got the crowd singing in German. The band blasted through an entire back catalogue worth of classics- “Feuer Frei” displayed the band wearing fire masks, “Mein Teil” had Till torching a big pot that situated the keyboard player, Flake. “Buck Dich” involved an act with a fake dildo and firehose style ejaculation, in addition to a simulated sex act. “Du Hast” and “Du Reischt so Gut” and “Benzin” were also in the set, and the encore consisted of “Mein Herz Brennt” being performed on the piano, which gave everyone in the audience chills. “Sonne”, the penultimate song, got the crowd singing, with a burning Rammstein logo for good measure, and ending the concert was “Pussy”, where Till manned a big penis-shaped can in which sprayed foam into the audience, and as the band finished their set and Till, in a gentle voice, declared that we were fucking amazing, the band took a bow, vacated the stage, and let the lights rise as a piano version of “Ohne Dich” rang out of the speakers. And I think it’s safe to say, this was AWESOME. Words don’t do it justice, and that says something.
And as we all walked, in a trance for the magic that the crazy German metalheads had put us in, all we could do was revel in the magic. It was a set that left people taking, even on the bus back to Nottingham. Another year was over at Download, and this marked the end of a successful weekend in England, which will never be forgotten.
In my next journal entry, which I promise will be shorter, I’ll be discussing a tale of two German cities. With two Maiden gigs. In addition to tales of German drunkenness, the Berlin Wall, metal bars, barbecues before shows, and what happens when a Scot, a Canadian, an Aussie and two Brits enter a train.
I’ll drink to that!