But even before the mad dash for the least muddy patch there was an even greater problem facing thousands of sodden rockers and metal heads: how to get in to this year’s festival.
By the time Download chiefs had deemed it safe enough to open the gates to the tens of thousands of agitated fans it was way past the designated start time.
As a result main stage bands Rise To Remain and Cancer Bats were bumped off the bill and it was Fear Factory who had the honour of kicking off one of the wettest Castle Donington events in history.
Over on the Zippo Encore stage Red, White & Blues’ brand of melodic retro rock n roll was wasted on the majority of those still struggling to get anywhere near a stage of any variety. And that’s a shame. Mixing the best bits of SKIN and Jagged Edge – two of the best British bands of the early 90s – RW&B were as slick as the sea of mud before them.
Next came the Quireboys – perhaps the ultimate party starters. And Spike and his pals didn’t disappoint as they did their very best to raise spirits dampened by the dire weather and severe delays. Back where they belong, after 22 years away from Castle Donington, it was just like 1990 as hits Hey You, 7 0’Clock and There She Goes Again rolled back the years and rallied the troops.
Fellow Brit chart-botherers Terrorvision picked up where the Quireboys left off and the colour-coordinated Bradford crew blasted through a Best Of set boasting classics Oblivion, Perseverence and Josephine. The omission of Tequila might have raised the odd eyebrow but such was bare-footed frontman Tony Wright’s infectious enthusiasm there were few complaints.
And then came the biggest controversy to blight the second stage. Huge numbers had gathered to hear multi-million selling Swedes Europe play all of the hits and showcase their new bluesy sound. An imposing backdrop, shiny drum kit and array of guitars promised so much. But without a band all of that counted for nothing. Download had the storm but there was no sign of its Tempest – Joey and his colleagues were stuck off site and arrived too late to play in front of their biggest British crowd for decades. A missed opportunity for Europe and a big miss for thousands of disappointed fans.
Had Toby Jepson been quicker off the mark then Little Angels could have capitalised on Europe’s absence by playing a little longer than their designated 40 minutes. But after a backstage vote of confidence from Download organiser and self-confessed Angels fan Andy Copping, the stage was finally set for the Scarborough rockers.
That Little Angels called time on their career with such indecent haste almost two decades ago still grates with the band’s die-hard fans. And the quality of their feisty Download set only served to add weight to the argument that a special talent had been too easily wasted in 1994. However, Jepson hinted this triumphant show wasn’t the beginning of another end and now they’re back Little Angels have to stay.
Opeth and Machine Head presented the first high profile clash of the day with the former picking a mellow set in keeping with their fellow second stagers and the latter pummelling the main stage crowd.
By now conditions underfoot made for a Wipeout-style scramble from stage to stage with many less sure-footed fans falling foul of the unforgiving mudbath.
Back to the action and Nightwish combined perfectly synced pyro with Anette Olzon’s pin sharp delivery to serve up the first genuine highlight of this year’s festival. Wish I Had An Angel and a standout version of Nemo satisfied long-term fans and surprised Nightwish rookies alike. Olzon’s revelation that Sweden Rock was suffering from the same inclement conditions was almost comforting.
But not quite as reassuring as watching Slash pick off some of the most famous solos in rock history with familiar precision and passion. There’s something very special in the air whenever this genuine guitar hero gets down to business but the best tune of the night wasn’t anything to do with Guns N Roses. Anastacia, from new album Apocalyptic Love, boasts the new must-hear Slash riff complemented by a cool-as-Castle Donington Myles Kennedy vocal. It’s a modern classic and equal to anything within a back catalogue screaming class. He wasn’t wearing wellies (come set closer Paradise City he wasn’t wearing much at all) but Slash more than met the Download challenge.