Bloodstock 2020: A Fan's Retrospective - Part 1.
by Dan Barnes
The mid-August day gave way to night and the crowd moved closer together for warmth as the Scorpions, that venerable German Heavy Metal institution, took to the Bloodstock stage. Okay, this wasn’t the same band who, almost thirty years ago to the day had encapsulated what the Moscow Music Peace Festival was all about; it wasn’t even the band who’d given the reformed Judas Priest such a run for its money back in 2005. But this was still the band responsible for the likes of Virgin Killer, Lovedrive and Blackout, and the band who had created THAT riff. And as Rock You Like a Hurricane smashed from the Bloodstock speakers, those of us who’d been here from the beginning couldn’t help but smile at the long and (sometimes) arduous journey from the Assembly Rooms to Catton Hall.
My road to Bloodstock began one boring dinner break back in ‘01, leafing through a copy of Classic Rock in the work’s canteen. There, filling the upper left quarter of a page was the advert for the first show. Other sources would fill you in with the who, where and why of how the Bloodstock Metal Festival came about, save to say that the landscape of the post-millennium heavy music scene was something of a nightmare. Having been to at least one festival every year since 1988, 2000 was the first and only year that didn’t have a viable outdoor show to attend. Even the expected triumphant return to Castle Donington of Iron Maiden on their Metal 2000 tour became a one-off London date at Earl’s Court.
No, the millennium was slim pickings for a heavy metal fan. So, the sight of the first poster was manna. The likes of Saxon, Blaze Bayley and the Return of Sabbat for twenty-five of the Queen’s own pounds on the Whitsuntide bank holiday of 2001 was a no-brainer. Subsequent rumours state Cradle of Filth were the first proposed headliner but when that didn’t work out, Saxon were brought in.
Although huge in Europe, Saxon have never been afforded the respect in England their legacy deserves. I recall the band playing the Cumbria Rock Festival in 1990 and thinking in the time of Grunge they were woefully anachronistic; so more than a decade after that, with Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law now old enough to vote, and the music scene being stifled by Nu-Metal, surely Saxon were even more out of date.
What Saxon did that day laid down the marker for the next few years. If the idea was to develop a European style festival, regardless of prevailing trends, they definitely played their part. What was unusual about Bloodstock 2001 was the demographic; there was no scene, no trends, no agenda beyond promoting bands who normal would not make it to these shores.
We had Martin Walkyier’s final performance with Skyclad; his Return to the Sabbat reunion packed the Darwin Suite to capacity and meant Glenn Hughes played the opening part of his set to an mostly-empty Grand Hall. Luckily, after the Sabbat show the Hall filled to a respectable level – this is the man who played on Burn and Stormbringer, after all.
Orange Goblin headlined the Darwin Suite and proved, if anyone needed proof, they had the chops to take on the big boys, while Saxon’s show preached to the choir and demonstrated hundreds of thousands of miles had honed them into grizzled road-dogs.
It certainly felt like something was happening that May bank holiday. Further proof came a couple of weeks later at the AC/DC show in Milton Keynes, where the Bloodstock event shirt garnered quite a bit of attention. I’ve been to one-off festival before and since; I’ve been to festivals that expected to take a place in the gig calendar year on year and you sort of knew that was pie-in-the-sky. Bloodstock 2001 felt different.
Grand Hall: SAXON / Glenn Hughes / Blaze / Skyclad / Primal Fear / Dirty Deeds / Area 54 / Shadow Keep
Darwin Suite: ORANGE GOBLIN / Return to the Sabbat / Consumed / Freebase / Underule / Evoke / Occupational Hazard / Bloodstream
After dipping their toes into the festival waters, 2002 was when the Bloodstock ethos first appeared. The idea of creating a European-type festival in the UK, albeit on a smaller scale to begin with, seemed to capture the imagination and the 2002 line-up was less diverse and more Power Metal orientated. The great coup for Bloodstock was the British debut of Blind Guardian, a booking that so excited the organisers that Blind Guardian sat atop the back of the event shirt that year, above the Bloodstock logo itself (and that’s a fete neither Motorhead, Judas Priest, Scorpions or Alice Copper have achieved)
The festival stayed at the Assembly Rooms but moved to the end of August, where it would remain for the next few years; the format remained the same too: a one-day festival using the Grand Hall and the Darwin Suite. 2002 also saw the birth of the Rock Society and, back then, membership could be picked up at the point of ticket sales for the princely sum of £10. I’m not 100% sure why I dropped a tenner on a membership but I did and it kind of worked out well for me.
An odd memory I have of the 2002 show is standing outside the Assembly Rooms waiting to get in and noticing the amount of Iced Earth shirts surrounded me. Iced Earth were (sadly) not playing that year but it was like an invasion had taken place.
Grand Hall: BLIND GUARDIAN / Gamma Ray / Diamond Head / Threshold / Balance of Power / Freedom Call / Biomechanical
Darwin Suite: RETURN TO THE SABBAT / Bal-Sagoth / Primordial / Elvenking / Enemymaker 888 / Twelvepointhead / Infobia
The 2002 programme showed Bloodstock was far from content to stand still and announced the 2003 edition would take place over two days and be the biggest yet. Saxon were confirmed for the Friday night headline slot and they promised a huge show of Euro festival proportions (or as much of an approximation of one you could fit onto the Assembly Rooms stage) and brough the eagle set with them to Derby. But it was Saturday’s headliner that drew the most interest: Nightwish. Another UK debutant, Nightwish were touring their Century Child album and had not broken into the British market at that point. Also on the bill that day were home-country heroes Paradise Lost and a little band called Dragon Force who were but one album into their career.
The success of the Rock Society saw its return in the same format, but this year had the advantage of early access to the signing room. The Bloodstock brand has always championed new artists and the early days were no exception. As a member of the Rock Society the organisation would periodically send out demo samplers from up and coming bands who would be playing the next show. I still have CD samplers from the likes of Bumsnogger, Bates Motel, Enemymaker888 and a whole load more.
Rather than being a full two day show, 2003 was in reality a day and a half and we reached Derby around noon to check into the guest house which we would subsequently use every year until the indoor shows came to an end. One fortunate aspect of the guest house, other than having a place to sleep off yesterday’s beer, was we met Daryl and Andy who, although Southerners (and Cockerneys, no less), swiftly became life-long friends. You can still spot Daryl at the Rock Society tent as he now works for the organisation.
Rock Society members were invited to arrive at the Assembly Rooms early as Biomechanical were shooting the video for their track The Awakening in the Darwin Suite. The expansion of the festival had attracted the attention of the local television media and, as we queued to get in a reporter from Central Six News prowled the line looking for an interview. It is never a good thing to be asked questions for TV after spending several hours in the Walkabout bar but I believe I acquitted myself admirably – giving erudite answers to the reporter’s questions and generally dispelling the myth that Metal Fans are somehow morons. However, the cameraman told the reporter that she would have to go again due to technical malfunction and, second time around, I couldn’t remember my pithy answers from a few minutes before and looked like a moron. Such is life!
2003 was the first time Bloodstock sold out and, of all the indoor shows it was the best. If memory serves me right, this was the year the Assembly Rooms was drank dry by the Saturday afternoon and the organisers had to go to Asda for more.
Friday Grand Hall: SAXON / Blaze / Power Quest / 5th Man Down
Saturday Grand Hall: NIGHTWISH / Paradise Lost / Edguy / Masterplan / Saracen / DragonForce / Mercury Rain
Saturday Darwin Suite: BIOMECHANICAL / FULC / Waylander / FourWayKill / Invey / Bates Motel / Illuminatus / NineDeNine / Cruel Humanity / Bumsnogger
By the time the 2004 show came around Bloodstock was starting to become a fixture on the Metal calendar. You have to remember that at this point in time the Metal community was starved of regular events. You might get a big show at Milton Keynes Bowl or one of the stadia dotted around the country, the Ozzfest had come and gone but with no regularity and Download was just starting out; so, as a permanent, you know where it’s going to be next year type of event, Bloodstock was the only show in town back then.
2004 saw the organisers not messing with their tried and tested formula, although the 2004 show had a broader collection of bands than the previous couple of years. It was still Power Metal heavy with the likes of Gamma Ray being bumped up from their Special Guest spot in 2002 to the Friday headliner and the mighty Primal Fear, one of the highlights of 2001, made a welcome return. As mentioned earlier, Bloodstock have always promoted smaller bands and in 2004 they bumped Illuminatus, who’d appeared in the Darwin Suite the previous year, to the main stage in 2004.
Although Bloodstock didn’t manage the hat-trick of first time UK appearances, Children of Bodom’s only previous foray onto these shores had been a solitary date in London. Not quite reaching the sell out of the year before, but coming quite close, Bloodstock 2004 was a solid year.
Friday Grand Hall: GAMMA RAY / Threshold / Sinergy / Illuminatus / Infobia
Friday Darwin Suite: SEASON’S END / Invey / Liquid Sky / Super Massive Object
Saturday Grand Hall: CHILDREN OF BODOM / Sonata Arctica / Primal Fear / Balance of Power / Evergrey / Panic Cell / Intense
Saturday Darwin Suite: FOURWAYKILL / Cruachan / The Prophecy / Gutworm / Nowhere Near the Garden / Humanity / Seven Years Dead / Rezin 69
Back then innovation was never far away from the Bloodstock way of thinking and, no sooner had the indoor show gone to two days, then the rumours were that, in 2005, the whole shebang was heading outside.
Post-2004 saw the introduction of the Life Member of the Rock Society. It was brought in to boost the coffers of the organisation and was offered out to those people who had been members since the beginning. There was a total of around forty to forty-five invitations offered out and the premise was that you would pay a one-off fee of £75 and that would be it. What you have to remember about that is the normal price of membership was around £10 and tickets to the festival in 2004 was only £39. So, in real terms, the £75 was something of a relatively large investment all things considered. Add to that the uncertainty that Bloodstock would achieve what it was setting out to and things could have been different. In effect, it was a show of faith in what the organisation was trying to do. I think, at the last count, there’s only about half a dozen of us Lifers who still regularly attend. And the reason the number of invitations was as it was: it was considered that is how many people it would need to fill a coach to Wacken.
With the Life Membership in place the thoughts turned to two Bloodstock events for 2005. But not before the short-lived Bloodstock Xmas Party at JB’s in Dudley, where Edguy would headline and begin to establish themselves as Bloodstock’s house band.
I think it’s fair to say the first Bloodstock Open Air show was a bit ad-hoc. Whether that was the organisation biting off a little more than they could chew at that point by having this event at the end of June and the usual indoor show at the start of September. It even appeared that the indoor show would trump the outdoor in the line-up stakes, with Within Temptation and Hammerfall already installed as headliners.
But persevere they did and for all it’s rough around the edges feel and seat of the pants staging, the first Bloodstock Open Air still ranks as one of my very favourites. Comprising a line-up built from previous festival alumni, with the odd new face thrown in, B-O-A 2005 saw Friday headliner Sebastian Bach play a set of Skid Row classics; when you’re drunk and in your mid-thirties, there’s a certain irony about singing Youth Gone Wild!
The organisation of the show reflected the loose nature of the year and, back then, it was possible to park your car next to your tent and wander into the arena to use the facilities at all hours of the day and night.
Come Saturday morning and the weather was starting to get a little feisty – and don’t go thinking B-O-A 2005 was presented on the state of the art stage you’re all used to, because it wasn’t. No, this one moved side to side and, by all accounts, whether Saturday’s show would go ahead was doubtful until Fourwaykill climbed onto it and started playing. It was all something of a storm in a tea-cup as the weather abated and the likes of Masterplan, Edguy, Paradise Lost and headliner, Children of Bodom, played stonking sets and laid down the benchmark for all Bloodstock Outdoor shows to come.
Friday: SEBASTIAN BACH / Mostly Autumn / Breed 77 / Gotthard / Panic Cell
Saturday: CHILDREN OF BODOM / Paradise Lost / Edguy / Evergrey / Masterplan / Humanity / FourWayKill
The turn around from the outdoor to the indoor was quick and it seemed as though we’d hardly had time to brush the dust off our festival clothes when the Assembly Rooms called. Friday headliners, Hammerfall, had been due to play the festival in 2003 until a unfortunate motorcycle accident put paid to that and saw Edguy stepping in; so when they appeared in 2005 Hammerfall were greeted like homecoming heroes.
As someone who would not list Power Metal as one of his favourite musical genres, it always seemed strange that I would hold a predominantly Power Metal festival in such high esteem. One of the reasons is that when you’ve had a few scoops and are in the melee of the crowd, Power Metal is easy to digest. Give it a run through of the chorus once and it becomes lodged in the brain, ready for a drunken sing-a-long next time. Pop in a heroic chorus and what else are you going to do with a weekend in Derby?
Many years later a friend of mine suggested a band like Manowar, minus the furry-underwear, would go down a storm at the Rebellion Punk Festival, because Punk and Power Metal share something in their DNA that’s about positivity and inclusivity. I can see where he’s coming from.
Within Temptation may have been billed as the headlining act in 2005 but a little band called Amon Amarth, playing as their special guests would go on to become one of Metal’s success stories over the next decade or so.
Friday Grand Hall: HAMMERFALL / StormWarrior / Metalium / Reckless Tide
Friday Darwin Suite: CONQUEST OF STEEL / Warchild / Deliverance / Zillah
Saturday Grand Hall: WITHIN TEMPTATION / Amon Amarth / After Forever / Bob Catley / Raven / Iron Saviour / Suidakra / Season’s End / Rise to Addiction
Saturday Darwin Suite: CATHEDRAL / Soliloquy / Balance of Silence / Jesus Fix / Kingsize Blues / Dreadnought / Pro-Jekt / MFKZT / Osmium
The first steps taken by Bloodstock had seen them move from a small gathering to hosting two major events a year. Their success to this point was astounding but, as with all things, what goes up must come down and the 2006 shows demonstrated no matter how much enthusiasm there is, when the odds are against you there’s not much you can do.
The omens were not good when the second Bloodstock Xmas Party was cancelled at a couple of days notice. The outdoor show’s headliners were not announced until quite late and, when they were, Edguy and Stratovarius, although solid, didn’t quite get the blood flowing like we wanted and expected. On their days, both bands played sterling shows and the weather blazed sun all weekend as the small crowd enjoyed sets from Metal Church, Athiest, Turisas and Rage. The possible disappointment of Bloodstock Open Air 2006 is the triumph of the year before.
Friday: EDGUY / Metal Church / Atheist / Nocturnal Rites / Rage / Pyramaze
Saturday: STRATOVARUIS / Turisas / Bal-Sagoth / Ensiferum / Callenish Circle / Gorilla Monsoon / Season’s End / Ashtar / Nineteenth Century
The indoor show was looking a real treat, with Primal Fear set to make a third and now headline appearance on the Friday and My Dying Bride really shock things up as Saturday closers. 2006’s indoor show pushed back a month and was scheduled to take place at the end of September and would feature a real mix of bands, many away from the Power Metal genre.
Industrial band, Deathstars were the first to create a furore across the Bloodstock forums as they, and the likes of Onslaught and Illuminatus were not the traditional Bloodstock fayre. The likes of Brainstorm and Axel Rudi Pell represented the old school but, whether the line-up, the move of the date or the packed festival calendar at that time, the turn out for the show was observably down from normal. Something was going to change.
Friday Grand Hall: PRIMAL FEAR / Axel Rudi Pell / Savage Circus / Majesty / Marshall Law
Friday Darwin Suite: TO-MERA / Eden / Steel Tormentor / Isaiah / Awaken
Saturday Grand Hall: MY DYING BRIDE / Deathstars / Onslaught / Brainstorm / Machine Men / Omnium Gatherum / Sworn Amongst / Spellblast / Illuminatus
Saturday Darwin Suite: VANDEN PLAS / Deadfall / Died Smiling / Enemy Unknkown / Tourettes Syndrome / Beyond Afterlife / Agankast / Hostile / Blood Embrace