Download Festival, Castle Donington
Sunday 12th June 2016: 10:58pm
Liz Medhurst and Luke 'Loki' Milne
Photos by Jo Gosling and Robert Corich
Half a league, half a league, half a league onward. All in the Valley of Death rode the six. Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns he said: Into the Valley of Death rode the six. Into the Valley of Death rode the six...
And at 8:46pm, with the Encore and Maverick stages all wrapped up for the day, it's all eyes on the Lemmy Stage with four minutes to go and unbelievably, no rain. The crowd is all the way back to the entrance again, just as it was for Black Sabbath last night, some clearly with an eye on getting out asap to the car parks and transport hub.
The festival site resembles a scene from Paschendale - all mud and bullets (well, empty drinks containers really) - but this is Iron Maiden and nothing is going to stop this show and that is confirmed at 8:53pm as UFO's 'Doctor Doctor' blares out from the gigantic speakers and the stage descends into darkness. This is not a situation for a nervous boy.
As 'Doctor Doctor' reaches it's climax, a short film plays on the super-size screens and the Mayan set is slowly revealed from out of the shadows. It's all grey and brooding, rather like the weather this weekend, but that matters not one iota as Bruce starts the first lines to 'If Eternity Should Fail' from off the stage and then suddenly they appear, from out of the silent planet and the mighty, majestic and magnificent Iron Maiden are off and running free and they're looking brighter than a thousand suns already.
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"Scream for me Download!!!" bellows Bruce as people complain about the poor sound. The band are not deterred though as Bruce finishes 'Speed Of Light' with a cheery: "Hello, how is Downpour Festival? There's my fucking manager texting away in the pit during the last song, the fucking cunt... however he has a hotline to the weather..."
It wouldn't be a surprise after what Mr Smallwallet has achieved with Maiden over the years but he needs to get a decent sound crew organised as Nightwish were definitely louder and clearer earlier today.
'Children Of The Damned' sounds immense as it peels the skin from this audience's eyes. Bruce's voice is on top, top form and it's pleasantly warm and dry so far. All of the band are on top form here. This is a really excellent performance, despite the poor quality sound.
Bruce introduces 'Tears Of A Clown' and dedicates it to "a wonderful man", which indeed he was. Here's what he said.
And then it's a slow bass intro from General Steve Harris before Maiden begin riding through dust clouds and barren wastes as they tear into 'The Red And The Black', which sees Bruce running around the stage like the artful dodger as Mr Smallwallet counts his stash in the pit. The crowd all sing the "whoa-oh-oh" bits in unison.
And then it's one of the real treats of the night - the song that was named after a very famous beer, 'The Trooper', and Bruce re-appears from off stage with his famous red coat waving a battered union jack and wishing his Auntie Lizzy a Happy Birthday for yesterday. He wisely declines to mention that electric green outfit she wore. She would have looked better in deep purple or even a fetching combination of red and black but we digress.
Is there a better band around today than Iron Maiden? No flagging, no making allowances for age or silly little niggles like cancer of the tongue, just pure in your face top class Heavy Metal. They are all still at the top of their game and are without equal.
But it's still not loud enough and we're stood between two speaker banks. Have we become a slave to the power or is it that there is water, water everywhere and all the boards did shrink and someone on the sound desk is worried that they might spend the night in an LA jail if they turn it up too loud?
The amazing 'Death Or Glory' follows as we slip into the night and then Bruce introduces 'Book Of Souls' with: "All empires fall so if you are macho enough to build on and be at the top you'd better be prepared to fall and disappear."
Well it's hard to see Maiden falling from the top of the Heavy Metal tree, or from their empire in the clouds because Bruce Dickinson is a Holy War winner and Steve Harris is just more than legendary. At the age of nineteen he became the bass guitar King and he swore to free all of Heavy Metal. And he did as well.
Eddie makes his first appearance of the evening in full Mayan garb and he's scary as Hell too. This is one dude you would not want to meet in a darkened alley when you've been watching horror films the night before, debating witches and folklore.
Eddie tries to slash Janick's throat but the Hartlepudlian is having none of it so Eddie does a monkey dance instead (ED: no Angus jokes please!) then goes after Bruce with an axe but he has forgotten that Bruce is a former member of the British European Cup fencing team and he is no match for the energetic vocalist who promptly rips his heart out and tosses it to the ground.
Then the already mesmerised audience are sent into delirium as a trio of Maiden's best classics are belted out; 'Hallowed Be Thy Name, 'Fear Of The Dark' and 'Iron Maiden' are all superlative and definitive. "They think it's all over... it is now," says Bruce at the end of 'Hallowed...', probably in a reference to some football tournament that is going on right now. But we can't speak French so couldn't explain.
There is very little crowd movement with most people just staying still where they are and enjoying it. It helps that there is no rain but this is very, very different to Black Sabbath last night when it felt like people had sailed away like their fathers before to escape the horrendous downpour. But this is Iron Maiden and these colours don't run. And it's not raining right now...
At 10:24 the first notes of traditional set closer 'Iron Maiden' were heard and the great interplay we had witnessed all night between the three guitarists, who looked all night like they were loving every second of this, continued.
Janick swings his guitar round and round like a hammer and Bruce walks past him, remarking: "Steady on - that's fucking dangerous."
Eddie rises from above Nicko's kit, presumably looking for innocent victims to slaughter with wrath and despise, but once again he is foiled as the band totally steal the show and deservedly milk the rapturous applause from the gathered throngs. Nicko throws his sticks into the crowd but he'll be needing them back, won't he? Surely we are going to get some encores? There's still nineteen minutes to go before the two hours is up...
Yes, of course we get encores and they couldn't be better really. 'The Number Of The Beast' still crackles with menace and Satanic threat while 'Blood Brothers' is dedicated by Bruce to the victims of last year's Paris Bataclan tragedy and the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando the previous night. These eagles of Heavy Metal have big hearts as well as a big back catalogue and a big history. And a big tour bus as well.
Bruce announces that next year Maiden will be playing to 80,000 people again, but this time indoors so look forward to a full on UK tour. He thinks it's a mad idea to put 80,000 people in a field and pour cold water on them for three days. He has a point.
A rousing and joyous 'Wasted Years', with Bruce jokingly pulling Adrian's mic away so he can't do the backing vocal, sees out Maiden's triumphant sixth Donington headline set and at 10:52 precisely it's all over, then it's time to go and get wasted on beers in celebration of the world's greatest ever Heavy Metal band.
Iron Maiden shall go on to the end. They shall fight in France, they shall fight on the seas and oceans, they shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, they shall defend our music, whatever the cost may be. They shall fight on the beaches, they shall fight on the landing grounds, they shall fight in the fields and in the streets, they shall fight in the hills; they shall never surrender!
"You tell me we can start the rain,
You tell me that we all can change,
You tell me we can find something to wash the tears away.
And I know of the pain that you feel the same as me,
And I dream of the rain as it falls upon the leaves,
And the cracks in the ground like the cracks are in our lives,
They are sealed and now far away."
'Rainmaker' from 'Dance Of Death' 2003
Shoot straight from the sun...
Intro: Doctor Doctor (UFO song)
If Eternity Should Fail
Speed Of Light
Children Of The Damned
Tears Of A Clown
The Red And The Black
Death Or Glory
The Book Of Souls
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Fear Of The Dark
The Number Of The Beast
Outro: Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life (Monty Python song)