A motor-racing track in Leicestershire might not be the most inspiring venue in the world, but it played host to anyone who is anyone in hard rock and metal for a decade and a half. It is, of course, Castle Donington Raceway and the event is the Monsters Of Rock festival.
In 1980, the one-day event immediately established itself as a metal challenger to the Reading festival by booking Rainbow, Judas Priest, Scorpions and Saxon. Completing the seven band line-up were April Wine (from Canada - who I saw at Newcastle City Hall in all their cheesy spandex glory touring the Harder...Faster album) and Riot and Touch (both from New York city). Neal Kay, champion of the burgeoning New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, was the DJ.
Official attendance was given as being around 35,000. It had rained in the days leading up to the event but the 16 August itself wasn’t bad at all. The event was promoted by Paul Loadsby – who had also been promoting Rainbow’s tour that summer – and was pretty well organised. And you could take your own drink in. That’s the spirit. There was even one of them new fangled video screens.
Space age giant tellies aside, there were some technical difficulties in the warm up that would not have shamed a Spinal Tap outtake, when the PA system was damaged during tests for Cozy Powell’s pyrotechnics. The legendary drummer had good reason to want to go out with a bang: this was to be his last gig with Rainbow as he had grown disillusioned with the direction Ritchie Blackmore was taking the band. But more of them in a minute. How brilliant, though: to knacker the PA because you were playing with fireworks. It has been claimed that the explosion could be heard three miles away. Just a surprise that there wasn’t a freak gardening accident.
It wasn’t the only weird mishap at the event: the bassist of second-on-the bill Riot – who were the pet project of Neal Kay – had the misfortune to swallow a BEE while on stage. Not in the Ozzy Osbourne manner, biting its head off, though: the buzzing chum just flew into his gob mid-song.
After the two American acts, it was into the meat and drink of the event: The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Saxon were the first band with a real following, as a result of their recent success with Wheels Of Steel and 747 (Strangers In The Night). Always wondered if that record freaked out any misdirected Sinatra fans. Barnsley’s finest were in good form and got the crowd going nicely. This was a band on the up – the next years saw them release Denim And Leather, arguably the classic NWOBHM record.
April Wine played next, the highlight being their I Like To Rock – which is featured on the excellent live album of the event ‘Castle Donington 1980 – Monsters Of Rock’. It’s got two tracks from Rainbow and Scorpions and one each from the other bands, with the exception of Judas Priest who were bringing out a live album of their show and didn’t want to steal their own thunder. Worth remembering that Priest were probably at their peak of popularity at this time and we still didn't know Rob was gay!
After Canada came Germany. The younger generation might think of Scorpions first and foremost as the purveyors of earnest Berlin Wall ballad Wind Of Change. But in the days before they learned how to whistle, the hard rockers from Hamburg could play a stonking live set – notably on Another Piece Of Meat.
The real big guns came out, though, when Judas Priest came on. Rob Halford took to the stage on a massive Harley, and the crowd were ready to go. Funnily enough, he did the same thing at Donington this year when the Priest played at Donington’s Download Festival. Doesn’t quite have the same ring as Monsters Of Rock, does it?
Anyway, the Judas Priest set was a stormer. They had been around for a while by then, but were right back in the forefront of the British scene thanks to 1980’s British Steel and the crowd were well up for it. They opened up with The Ripper and played a belting take on Living After Midnight – check out the live album of their performance.
Headliners Rainbow were brilliant. The energy and connection with the crowd in All Night Long is just great, as was the unlikely and brilliant cover of Carole King’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. The guitar work on Kill The King is stunning, just before Ritchie trashed his guitar and blew up a Marshall stack (although he’s smart enough to change his Fender Strat for what looked like some sort of dodgy stunt guitar with a very short life expectancy).
Singer Graham Bonnet was wearing a pair of tight red trousers, a pink shirt and a sort of white boating blazer. Particularly next to Blackmore (all hair and rock God black blousy thing) he looked like he’d wandered in off the set of Miami Vice. No wonder this was also his last gig with Rainbow although, unlike Cozy, he didn’t know it at the time. Cozy’s drum solo was totally balls out, and the version of Stargazer was terrific as well. Rainbow, much like Purps gigs usually revolved around how hot Blackmore was; here he was on rip-snorting form; the sort of radical guitar noise and humongous riffs that were his unique gift to rock n roll dripping from his fingers.
The event was a big gamble by the promoters – to have a purely metal line-up – and was a defining moment in the NWOBHM movement. Although not a financial success in itself, it paved the way for the Monsters Of Rock festivals for nearly two decades and proved that metal could carry a festival on its own terms. Still no news on that poor bee though.
Wow, I’ve got a lot of stuff to give away this week.
How does winning 6 Twisted Sister albums grab you? I’ve got three packs of these 6 albums to give away and a further 3 of 5(minus Club Daze)
U Can’t Stop Rock n Roll
Love Is For Suckers
Club Daze Vol II
Come Out And Play
Live At Hammersmith.
Or how about winning a pair of Alice Cooper albums? I’ve got 4 pairs of these to give away.
Or how about a Brit Pop package? I’ve got 3 packs of these 5 classic albums to give away.
Blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish
Oasis – Definitely Maybe
Black Grape – Its Great When You’re Straight, Yeah
Catatonia – International Velvet
Ocean Colour Scene – Moseley Shoals
Just email me firstname.lastname@example.org put Twisted Sister; Alice or Britpop in the subject box – or any combo of those for a chance to win. I draw them all at random next week.