Early starters were treated to a set of vintage UFO (8/10) on the main stage but how Phil Mogg and co. really coped with a late morning set only those closest to them will know. It’s hard to imagine the alarm call went down well and had Pete Way still been in the band it’s unlikely it would have gone down at all.
But UFO covered well – or had an early night – as they blasted through a short but sweet set that included killer versions of Doctor Doctor, Rock Bottom and the mighty Love To Love.
Hardly veterans – but around long enough to have been British rock’s next big thing for the best part of a decade – Heaven’s Basement (9/10) swiftly amassed a frenzied following at the Zippo stage proving 2013 has finally been their year.
Last seen at Download playing in front of a handful of punters on the acoustic stage it’s amazing what a year – and a heavily rotated and critically acclaimed album can do.
With frontman Aaron Buchanan in blistering form and guitarist Sid Glover giving UFO’s Vinnie Moore and Paul Raymond a run for their money this was a set oozing confidence – the kind of confidence that comes from months of unbroken success and an affirmation that Heaven’s Basement are finally a band to be reckoned with. Mixing new anthems Fire Fire and I Am Electric with familiar live staple Executioner’s Day this was a true festival highlight.
Black Star Riders (8/10) might only be one fifth British but former Almighty singer and Usterman Ricky Warwick is a key cog in this remodelled band’s wheel. Thin Lizzy in all but name, the Riders bravely chose a 5/4 split in favour of new material from debut All Hell Breaks Loose – resisting the temptation to roll out a full-blown greatest hits set.
Opening up with the new album’s rousing title track and choosing radio staple and lead single Bound For Glory to usher in set closer The Boys Are Back In Town, this was no old school show for the nostalgic.
Instead Lizzy standards Jailbreak, Rosalie and Whisky In The Jar were neatly juxtaposed alongside Bloodshot, Judas and Irish jig Kingdom Of The Lost to create the perfect mix of old and new. The band’s bold move paid off handsomely and their UK headline tour this winter promises to be a real treat.
On a day punctuated by heroic homegrown talent one band emerged as the cream of the crop. Deep in the groove following a slew of arena shows opening up for Whitesnake and Journey, the irrepressible Thunder (10/10) owned the Zippo stage with a majestic early evening trip down memory lane.
Vocalist Danny Bowes took an early opportunity to get the crowd on his side – somehow managing to make himself heard above Lemmy’s main stage cacophony to usher in a teasing version of Dirty Love.
Hit after hit followed for a band long since established as British blues rock royalty: ballad Love Walked In, the imperious Higher Ground and Backstreet Symphony sounding as fresh and emotive as ever tow decades down the line.
Perfectly placed to set the seal on a day of fist-pumping patriotism, Iron Maiden (8/10) finally brought their Maiden England tour home. And they did so in some style.
From the inspired RAF fly past at the outset to the final bars of Running Free at the end of a fabulous encore this was pure theatre from the godfathers of British metal.
If Bruce Dickinson has had better nights – the pocket rocket frontman took time to hit his stride as he struggled to do justice to Moonchild and Can I Play With Madness – then just how the veteran singer still powers his way through two-hour sets is one of metal’s greatest mysteries.
Managing more costume changes – and hair styles – than Cher and covering more miles than Mo Farah (almost), Maiden’s magnificent leader inspired the troops to yet another Castle Donington triumph.
Afraid To Shoot Strangers has re-emerged as a Maiden classic and a sprawling version of Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son proved to be one of Download 2013’s most atmospheric moments to date. And this was the night when guitar hero Dave Murray – back on familiar ground – reminded thousands of metal heads that his understated personality is completely at odds with a killer playing style.
Britain might broken in so many respects but Maiden remain standard bearers for everything that’s still great about this green and pleasant land. Surely in the twilight of their careers – even if Dickonson announced a London O2 show for August with the promise of more to come – these national treasures should be cherished, revered and celebrated as a genuine focus for pride.