I got up earlish to sort out my financial situation. It was weekend and that was important for two reasons: 1) Banks may close early 2) South Africa may get another finance minister and turn my money to shit. I check my wallet balance. Five pounds. Not ideal, but I’m ready to walk. The weather has improved from being rainy to a nice mild and cloudy. I ask the info booths and they are a waste of time. Google is telling me that the closest point is 14 miles away. I’ve done some drunk walking as of late, but this was kind of out of my range, especially in these cheap wellies. I walk to where the buses are and the people there tell me what I had been dreading, that the nearest place was in fact in Derby, 16kms away. I had, however, caught wind of a shuttle bus. I manage to ask around and locate one going to Derby. This is good, but the wait is making it all the more likely that the bank will be closed. There is also the minor issue of me not having my passport on me. But once again, I’m working on little victories. The chap pulls up, and a couple of people who are over the mud get on ahead of me. I get to the front and the driver asks me for six pounds. Shit. I explain that I only have five to my name and if I don’t get to town, I don’t eat. He’s either sympathetic or over my shit but either way, he lets me on for free. What a male.
We zoom out of an area I hardly knew into an area I didn’t know. Quick pit stop at Donington bottle store for the cheap and nasty of us. I was too busy scouring Google Maps for an almost inevitable walk back and dealing with the wellie rash I was developing (something you may want to pronounce with care when telling the story). We stop off at the station and the driver points out the middle of town for me. I still don’t know what a Western Trade Union is, but Google says there’s one here and Derby looks urban enough to help. I now start the walk of shame across the station, residences and mall in muddy, striped wellies and a Springbok rugby jersey. I get the usual stares, but far more parents holding their children a bit tighter when I get near.
I get to the mall’s help desk and get the kind of friendly forced smile that you only get from people who will help you but really don’t want to do so. I show her my phone and she says she doesn’t really know anything about it. I’ve forever lost faith in information booths. But she checks the computer and it actually says yes, but I needed to walk out of the mall, across the road and down the street. This feels like a set up. I’m shaking with anticipation and I find the store. It looks like a pawn broker but I ask them if they do the transfer anyway. They say yes. Fucking finally. But then they say theirs is broken. Much like I was. She said try further down the street, but she was not sure if they were open. I’m virtually shaking now, and I saddle up and try again. I reach the money shop. I ask if they do the western thing. They do. I ask if they can help me. They can. They ask for my passport. I fling every type of identification I had at them, from driver’s to Young Scot card, to expired student card. She is unsure, but leaves with the driver’s. I wait. And I wait. And I wait. She returns, card in hand. Has a chuckle. They’d not seen a South African driver’s before and were not sure where to look for the information. I don’t see the funny side. I fill in the form give it to her and wait again. All around me people are getting loans shot down, documents denied, and children taken away. I begin to accept that I may have to offer Afrikaans lessons for cash on the street. Then she returns, cash in hand.
I almost pass out there and fucking then. I’m not sure if it’s sheer astonishment, or the fact that I’d not really eaten too well over the past few days. But Dorota, my sweet Eastern European Dorota, had saved me and I had one of those stupid cheesy grins on my face that you get when someone sends you a picture that is hilarious but you know no one else will get. I repeat the walk in reverse, grabbing a quick Gregg’s to ease the pain. I get back to the bus stop and the fuckers want £10 to get back. I resist, but remember the free trip in. I bus. I walk. I buy. I drink. I eat. Happy days.
Back to the arena and I manage to make Danko Jones on the Maverick stage. I’d only heard the one song, “First Date” and seen the music video and they seemed a pretty groovy band. Being one of the smaller ones, they have to do all the warm up themselves. They’re really lively and the front man is as crazy as he is in the music videos. They then brought a Northern Irish flag on stage that had a message written on it urging them to play the song “Sex change shake”, one of their older jams. They said that it was not on the set list and would sound pretty shit if they tried it, followed by some other banter. I don’t know if they needed a whole different set of instruments or what to plat it, but I was a little unimpressed. They were still fun to watch, even if they did leave out “First Date”.
I exited the tent and came across a whole bunch of people facing an open field. At Download, I had learned quickly, this could mean anything. I was not quite prepared for what it was, which was grown men in full medieval armour, beating each other with swords until they were waved off with a flag. This only happened after the one chap was beaten over the head with a sword a few times, and shit was about to get all trial by combat. I shook it off and walked on. I ended up in a corner I’d not been to before and see people lining up outside a tent. I join and find out it’s a queue for professional wrestling’s WWE NXT. I’d not kept up with wrestling in some time, and was not really sure where they were in the narrative, but I used to be well into it and was sure I could catch on pretty fast.
I was not sure how all of this was going to go down, but I soon found out wrestling is some of the most fun you can have watching something live. Everybody knows the shit is fake, but if that really mattered, then porn wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Everyone was there for a good time and knew what was going to go down. The heckles to the performers were brutal, and in a panto-like performance like this, you were meant to hate some of them. Bad guys acted annoyed when you tune them and the good okes flattered when you cheered. They ranged from asking a larger woman not to eat her smaller opponent, to requesting the good guy to punch the bad guy in the man boob, to just shouting out xenophobic things to the chick from Scotland like, “haggis”, “Irn-Bru” and finally “Susan Boyle”. Although part of the WWE, this seemed to be like a feeder into some of the more major wrestling events, so the actual wrestling was not too flashy, but it had loyal fans who were well-invested in the show and provided an atmosphere that made me literally cry with laughter. I’d even consider watching it when it came around back home, if I were not indefinitely poor from this trip.
I managed to get a free meal out of a stall convener who could not count and headed back for more booze. I ran into a few South Africans thanks to the bok jersey and even saw some others myself. I then made it back to camp and had a few beers outside the Hair of the Dog discussing the patriotic rugby obligation of Francois Steyn with a Welshman. The conversation got so intense that I forgot I was supposed to head back. I double timed it to catch Skindred on the Encore stage. Having first heard them in matric in 2010, I’ve still not come across another band that sounds anything like them. The call it Ragga Metal, and it was some pretty heavy guitar riffs with a rasta lead singer. Think what would happen if Slipknot and Bob Marley dropped MD together. That was Skindred.
But they kept it cool with an onstage DJ and the most commanding front man I’d ever seen. He took no shit from the crowd and spoke his mind. My favourite was when he ordered us to put both arms in the air and the only excuse we could give was if we didn’t have two arms. He then jammed with security guards and did a slow dance to Justin Bieber. To wrap up their set, that did a song where they do the Newport Helicopter. This is where he orders the crowd to each take an item of clothing and hold it, outstretched above your head. Expect a scolding if you fuck it up. Then, as the chorus drops, you swirl it around above your head. Simple, but defining. Benji actually looked oddly reluctant to do it since, surprise surprise, it was raining again. But we would rather strip ourselves than be stripped of the opportunity of doing this live. It was pretty electric, although wet shirts tend to get stuck and wrap around other people’s clothing. But hey, free shirt. One of the best live bands I’d ever seen. I’m looking forward to seeing them at Oppi. Which, after such a great fucking review from me, they are bound to hit soon.
I then ambled over to the Lemmy stage to watch Black Sabbath, a band I didn’t know particularly well, but that I knew my dad enjoyed. Now to get near the front, a good tactic is to follow someone who looks confident as if they are meeting people that were already there. I did this for a bit then veered off in another direction for a while. I ran out of space and checked behind me. Two guys were doing exactly the same thing, but with me. They became my mates for the entirety of Black Sabbath. I think. If got a bit fuzzy since I had been drinking like I had money and I managed to sneak half a bottle of whisky through the gate. The band started and Ozzy sounded surprisingly coherent, certainly more than I did. They sounded like they hadn’t aged a day and appeared to be laughing at all of us in the rain. Kind of like, ”what the hell are you doing in the rain watching us?”. But things went real blurry from there and I next recall watching a female comedian throw knives at a board that some guy was sticking his face through. I ended up passing out in my tent with my wellies on. Win.
I woke up early morning wondering what the fuck was cracking. I de-wellied, lifted each item of clothing until I heard one that didn’t drip, and catched a quick power nap. On the second take, I’m a bit more together, but still fairly angular. I waddle through the campsite and decide to try an oxygen bar. You kind of just sit there and pay people to pump oxygen into your nose through one of those tubes they use at the hospital. It’s meant to cure your hangover, clear your mind, and give you energy. It did none of these, but it provides a good photo to look like you ended up in hospital. Again.
I pilgrimage to the stages once more, laying off the booze a bit. The guy ahead of me in line gets caught trying to sneak four cans into the stages. The security guard confiscates three of them and then orders him to down one there and then as punishment. I like this place. It senses this, and so it starts pissing down with rain just to keep me grounded. I sneak into a pop up manor filled with cider and a fake fireplace. It reminds me of Oxfords Bar in the winter, just with fewer creepy people. I catch an average band here and there and end up at the wrestling again partly because I enjoyed it so much last time, partly because it was under a tent and out of the rain. I’ve timed it poorly and motor back a final time for provisions, ironically missing a band called Halestorm in the middle of the fucking rain.
Provisioned up, with some packing done, I prepare for a long haul at the stages. I get back just in time to watch Breaking Benjamin. They’re pretty good, don’t look anything like what I imagined they would from just listening to them. Had a lot to say about the life and death of rock music. They flew through the set and I just managed to get near the front as they finished. This is the secondary stage, but I can’t help but feel like the crowd has dwindled a lot. The mud had acted like a deterrent, not to mention the traffic for the way home.
None the less, I fly off to watch Disturbed, one of the more hardcore-sounding bands I’d come to see. Famous for that “o-wah-ah-ah-ah” sound in “Down with the Sickness” and more recently for a tear-jerking cover of Simon and Garfunkel. They were good but I did expect a bit more. But then they did what I had expected of a whole bunch of the bands and did live duets and features with bands that had already played. The chick from Halestorm jammed “Bring Me to life”, the Breaking Benjamin guy helped with a Rage Against the Machine song and someone else came on to sing “Sabotage” I think. This made all the difference and not even the disappointingly small piano for the impressively executed “Sound of Silence” could change that.
I flew back and I make it just in time for Billy Talent, a Canadian band. These guys put on an enticing show, far better than I had imagined. They too have a lot more hits than I recall and sound pretty damn decent live, the lead singer with a really distinctive voice. He too is complaining about how he was getting rushed but he has time to make a comment about the English drawing in the Euros, and the first I heard about the Orlando shootings. He’d not given the speech too much thought, but it was a good grounding for “Red Flag”. I weasel my way almost to the front and even manage to start a wee mosh pit during “Viking Death March”. Box checked. Some betty starts poking me in the back, which I found quite bizarre. I later found out that she was South African and was just acknowledging the Afrikaans on my shirt, so that was pretty cool. She was actually from Benoni, which wasn’t quite as cool, but I had to deal with it. I later met an older Scottish woman who said she had gone to Benoni. I asked her if she took protection. She asked where I was staying. I said Leith. She asked me the same thing. We laughed. It was nice.
I took advantage of the closing down deals at the stalls, run back to get my ID because I look 12, down some beer and get back to find a good spot for Iron Maiden. Although a fair few weaklings had left, these guys were closing the biggest stage on the last night, so this was the only show on and literally the reason some people had come. They were true headliners in every respect. This performance had formed part of their Book of Souls world tour, which was pretty fresh from South Africa. Because they are so sick and because fuck you, they have their own jet, Ed Force One, for the tour that is flown by their lead singer that they apparently flew over the campsite. So they enter a country, fuck shit up, and literally jet off in a plane emblazoned with Ed the Head, their skeletal mascot. How rock star is that?
I knew only a handful of songs, so I don’t mind being a bit further back than usual. Their set up is a massive one. It has the whole Aztec feel to it, and a detailed animation at the start explains this. They finally come on, and what a show. These guys have been going for decades and it doesn’t show. Three guitarists, a bassist, and the drummer are front and centre, while the lead singer runs around like a mad man on the top of a built up platform meant to look like an Aztec pyramid. I recall seeing an interview with one of these stadium rockers, and I remember the front man saying that it was his duty to connect with the person at the very back of the crowd. If he could do that, everyone in-between them was his. And I’ll be damned if this wasn’t exactly what he did. Corner to corner, those on the fence, those sneaking booze into the venue, all felt this chap belting out his set.
It was also really interesting how he adapted the tour as it went around the world. There was a song about a monkey where he did some ridiculous dance and sang with a toy monkey around him, later explaining that the dance had started with some people in the crowd in Russia, and the monkey was thrown on stage back in South Africa. Since they weren’t rushed by anyone, the singer stopped fairly often to speak about the tour, the Aztecs, and even the Orlando shootings, preaching that hating people, even the shooter is what “they” wanted. I think it was well thought-out without becoming too preachy. The crowd has been boozed-up, drugged-out, and rained-on for a few days now and there is only so much we can take. I have a little moment, wondering if people are inherently good or bad, but I come to my senses when I have to learn how to casually pee in a cup under a see-through raincoat, and I realise this is perhaps not the spot for introspection.
They finish up and I am wildly impressed. I head to the front to take in the atmosphere and get a taste of the construction project that was dismantling this rock park that they had made on stage. I finally head back to the camp where I suspect it to be dead. I am wrong. The Village is in full swing and stages are competing for your attention. I only have one thing on my mind: I cannot miss my 7.30 bus. I’m keen for a party, but my money was beginning to run out, if I missed that bus, the tent was to be my permanent home. I set ten alarms, I grab one beer. Then another, but carefully, and venture.
I find myself at the inflatable church, as one does. It was a Sunday, of course, and I was to pay my respects. Inside is a DJ turntable and people running wild, handing out beers, and an all-out lack of repentance. I try get a photo with it, and am helped out by two friendly police men. Like not people who had dressed up, actual bobby police men were taking a photo of drunk me in a yellow bin bag rain jacket outside of an inflatable church built on mud. I mosey on, past the cinema tent playing Jurassic Park, to the comedy stage that had since been converted into a silent disco. This is where two (or more) DJ play songs that are available on two different channels on a set of head phones. You hear the music live through the headphones, at your desired volume, but no music actually gets played out loud. My favourite thing was to take them off completely and listen to half a group rap Limp Bizkit and the other belt out Queen, all to the correct rhythm, with absolutely no back track. It was like the most committed, but unstructured acapella group you’ve ever come across.
It’s late. I consider going to bed. I check out the Pound for old time’s sake. An entertainment group called “Rawkus” are on, jamming rock anthems like every other tent. Every now and then some chap speaks on a mic to keep us awake. But a pair of female dancers appear on the stage, and the game is changed. They do your usual dance and pretend to be interested thing and I admire their stamina. Then some fire dancers appear, making it interesting. They are followed by fire swallowers, and fire spitters (the swallowers were more popular). Then there’s a guy dressed up as a dinosaur and a chap in a shark onsie. Stage left and right are taken up by ex-roadies who grind pieces of metal to have sparks fly on the crowd and the dancers, teaching some pre-ex-rodies to do so on stage. A male dancer tries to light a tassel on each arse check and make them twirl. I’m put off, but rooting for him all the same. Then some chick with black tape over her nipples starts dripping hot wax on herself, and I’m a mixture of excited and concerned that I am going to wake up with a mask next to my pillow. Finally, it’s about to hit 3AM and the leftovers get fucked into one performance. There are chicks, guys, fire being danced with, swallowed, and spat, people in onsies are fighting people in nonesies, wax is dripping, sparks are flying and tunes are blaring. There are sparks in my eyes and paraffin in my hair. This ensemble cast picks it up a notch and I have but a moment to scream that there is so much happening on that stage and that I am unsure of who or what to look at. They finish with a big blast of confetti, probably a cigarette, and I am almost expecting change for the cab ride home. They all seem chuffed with the performance and even I am sure that I cannot top this weekend any better. I huddle over to the tent with a now deflated mattress. I collapse. Ded.
The alarm goes off less than two hours later and I hit a very, very low point. Something about your bruised ribcage sleeping on the floor and cramped legs avoiding the wet parts makes your sleep that little bit shit. I feel out for the driest underwear and it happens to be last night’s. I re-brief, peel my socks off of my bloody claves and attempt to stand up in a tent with a meter-high clearance. I locate the concert shit that I bought. I am thankful, because not only do I have a momento, but I now own something dry too. I stuff bags, roll tent corners, write off pegs, and put shit in bin bags, all in silence. It’s been good, but I am outies.
I start the Odyssey back, and it’s as if Donington Park is itself hung over. No music. No laughter. Just tried, dirty, grumpy people, trudging through the mud. Stopping at the occasional food stall just to look at their empty wallets and move on. It’s like the Walking Dead meets World War II the day after Christmas. I soldier on, not missing this bus. The next time I get into a tent, there better be a fucking clown and an elephant. All the busses leaving for Scotland take off from the same area and there some sprightly chaps, always with a chirp. A poorly-trained woman is using a loud-speaker to ask if anyone was going to Aberdeen. She is told to fuck off, and that nobody wants to go to Aberdeen. The Weegies behind me are worried about going back to Glasgow as they were. Not because they were full of mud, but because they were full of English mud, and the locals would know.
Edinburgh is read out. I ruck my way to the front. I had stood waiting for that bus for an hour and a half and my feet were beyond repair. I have trench foot, nails that want to come off, rashes that want to sick around, and my cheap wellies’ soles had worn away four days ago so I’d been standing on edges of rubber for some time. I may have to cut them off. The wellies and the feet. I get on the bus and sit next to a chick who has somehow stayed cleanish. I reek of damp, sweat, and budget baby-wipe and could only be attractive to Shrek’s paedophilic cousin. My fucks were lost long ago. Like a fool, I ride half the journey with my wet backpack on my legs. I sleep. We stop occasionally to scare normal people at the services. The bus makes a collective sigh when we cross the border into Scotland. Ahhhhhhhh. The final bit of the journey is made lighter by some unfortunate bus-goer who had mentioned he was in a band with a new song.
Friend: “Sing It”
Guy: “No I can’t sing it”
Friend: “Sing it!”
Guy: “There’s only like two words”
Friend: “Then we can sing along”
Guy: “Then why don’t you sing it”
Friend: “We don’t know the fucking tune yet”
Guy: “I don’t want to sing it”
Random massive dude near the front: “Sing it Bitch!!!”
-Minor singing about a dog or something
Friend: “That was shit, no wonder you didn’t want to sing it”
Bus erupts into laughter. We pull into the station. Eight hours later. Bags out. Carry to the next station. Another bus, trying not to get mud on shit. Arrive near home. 80-whatever steps on the edges of rubber blades. Collapse on stairs. Take shoe off. Take more shoe off. Search for key. Open door. Shower. Wash. Sleep. Water. Food. I didn’t just have the sickness. I had Downloaded the sickness. And it was good.
(Lucky rabbit feet for sale).