Bloodstock Rock Society: The End of an Era

Bloodstock Rock Society: The End of an Era
By Dan Barnes

February 1st saw the announcement that 2024 would be the final year of the Bloodstock Rock Society, ending a unique, twenty-year, project which saw close ties between festival and fans. Always billed as “By the fans, for the fans”, this ethos has prevailed throughout Bloodstock’s steady, yet inexorable, rise to its current status as the UK’s premier outdoor metal event.

Much like the festival itself, few could have predicted the continued popularity of the Rock Society, from its humble beginnings ahead of the 2002 show, to the logistical behemoth it was to become. For many it became a central point of the weekend; not the reason to attend, but in the knowledge that friendships would be picked up from last year, with the barest of inconvenience.

It was a place of friendship, where you’d see the same faces year-in/year-out; a few more wrinkles maybe, a few more grey hairs in the ever-lengthening beard and, yes, a few less on the top of our collective heads.

It all started, for me at least, back when I was buying my ticket for the 2002 indoor show. No one had been announced at that point, but the inaugural Bloodstock Metal Fest of 2001 had been such a good experience, and the guiding principles of the organisation were refreshing in a musical landscape still scarred by Nu Metal, that the least I could do was offer my continued support.

After adding the £25 ticket to my basket, I noticed something that piqued my curiosity: Rock Society Membership at £10 for the year. There must have been some additional blurb to go along with it, or maybe I was feeling particularly flushed with cash that day – who knows? But, in for a penny… I thought, and added the extras, like some Monte Carlo high roller.

This was a time before the interwebs had fully taken off and social media was not the scourge it is today, and much of the correspondence was done by fledgling email or good old post. We’d get regular communication from the Bloodstock organisation, including many CD samplers from the up-and-coming artists who were appearing at next year’s festival.

I still have many of those discs to this day. Bands like Infobia, Enemymaker888, Biomechanical and Freedom Call, a couple of songs and a bio, but enough to whet the appetite for the show at the end of August.

Back then it was still a one-day event, but as a Rock Society member, we were entitled to jump to the front of the signing queue and, it being a novelty to so do, we were in pretty much every signing; seeing the same people time after time as we waiting, developing relationships that still endure to this day.

It was again a no brainer to renew the Rock Society membership for 2003, especially as the show was going over two days. Well, a day and a half, but who’s counting? To reflect this expansion, the ticket price rocketed to £35 – I know, shocking! And all be managed to get was Saxon with the full Eagle stage; Blaze Bayley; Paradise Lost; a pre-Sonic Firestorm Dragon Force; and the debut UK show from Nightwish. Then add Masterplan, Edguy, FourWayKill, Illuminatus and more, and it was looking like Bloodstock was starting to gain traction.

For 2003 the Rock Society leaped to £12 for the year, but that did include an even more comprehensive mailing service and more samplers. You get the feeling that the show was making waves when Central Six News had cameras and an interviewer outside of the Assembly Rooms on the Friday.

I don’t think we were naïve enough not to recognise the Rock Society as another revenue stream for the festival. Bloodstock had to be a viable business model to survive, and it had to maximise its cash flow accordingly. I can’t speak for others, of course, but I was happy to pay that little bit extra if it meant it would go someway in keeping the show on the road.

As a show, 2003 was everything you could reasonably hope it would be, leaving the Bloodstock organisation with the headache of how to follow up it. If memory serves me right, this was the year the Assembly Rooms’ bars where drank dry, and there had to be an emergency dash for more booze. The precise year’s hazy, for some reason!

After the 2004 show, in which both Gamma Ray and Children of Bodom smashed it as headliners, an offer was made to those of us who’d been in the Rock Society from the outset: a one-off payment of £75 for a life membership. While in today’s money, that would seem like an absolute bargain, back then it was something of a leap of faith. Bearing in mind the annual ticket cost was about £40, and the show was a day and a half at the Derby Assembly Rooms; it was a gamble.

Back then, there had been rumblings of growing the show and taking it outdoors, which would add an extra level of risk to any venture still findings its feet and, in many ways, searching for its own identity.

Almost all of us who were offered the deal took it up and those places not taken were offered to other members of the Rock Society who were proposed and advocated for by Lifers. The plan being the number could relate to the number to people who’d be needed to fill a coach to Wacken or the like.

2005 and 2006 were the years of dual shows, with the inaugural Bloodstock Open Air still being one of my favourite festivals ever – got rinsed and blow my voice out singing Skid Row songs with Sebastian Bach on the first night – and the indoor show was topped by Hammerfall, Amon Amarth and Within Temptation.

Although the sun blazed on Catton Park in 2006, the vibe wasn’t quite the same and the indoor show – now moved to the end of September – was a more adventurous bill, headlined by My Dying Bride and Primal Fear. I recall emailing Vince after the 2004 show, in which Primal Fear were brilliant, suggesting they were a potential future headliner. Such was the access back then that – mum’s the word – Vince told me they were to be the headliner in 2006 (hush, hush!).

The transition of the show from Bloodstock Metal Fest to Bloodstock Open Air saw a dip in interest toward the Rock Society and it was only in 2007, with the indoor show consigned to history, that a group of Lifers decided to take the bull by the horns and recreate the project back into the original intention.

In Lisa’s post to the Rock Society Facebook page on 1 February, she wrote:

“the Rock Society lost its way as roles changed and people moved on. As a result, when the current team took over in 2008, as members ourselves, we wanted to ‘pay back’ that lost time and perceived lack of value by ramping up the offering, to reflect the growth of the festival.”

This was the beginnings of the Rock Society as it exists today. Bourne on the backs of a few hugely dedicated fans who have been onboard from the start and whose selfless commitment to making the Bloodstock experience the best it can be for as many people as possible is, frankly, outstanding.

In 2009 the Rock Society tent was off to the right-hand side of the stage, so those working that year weren’t even able to see the bands perform. Add to that a blustery Saturday that almost saw the tent itself making an unexpected visit to the big house, and it was clear this was a labour of love.

Another change came when the Rock Society’s social media presence was ramped up, leading to the private group on Facebook, which is cleared just before the resale every Halloween. It’s a place of interesting discussion and a way to maintain distance relationships. The receipt of samplers and letters was phased out, yet in its place raffles and daily competitions, where the winners can get anything from a ticket to next year’s show to an event shirt.

You can even put your name down for a backstage tour which, if you’ve not had the chance to do is extremely interesting. Forget being able to watch a band from the back of the stage, for me the most fascinating part is seeing how all the various pieces of the machine fit together and tick along like a well-tuned engine. You’ll see all the unsung heroes of the crew working their socks off to make every aspect of show run as smoothly as possible and give us all a great experience.

They are usually led and curated by Lee, whose knowledge of how the logistics of building, running and dismantling, is worth your time.

As time has moved on, then so the Rock Society staff’s remit expanded. Once only there to manage the organisation of the members, they now seem to have inherited the Lost and Found and General Festival Information. Which they accomplish with a smile, every time. I suspect, by the twentieth person coming to report losing their phone when crowd surfing, my sarcasm mode would have kicked in. But not Tracey, Craig or Kharis, who nod sympathetically and fill in the spreadsheet, assuring the punter that someone will probably hand it in later.

Jeudi, Col and Dazz manage the competitions and keep the tent looking ship-shape; and Dazz copes a large amount of verbal abuse from those of us who know him well – he’s a damned good man, but supports Spurs, so he’s kinda brought it on himself. Col is the man who designs the Rock Society t-shirts – it’s a competition, but he wins it most years.

A lot of people have assisted across the years, but I think we can all agree the title of Ms Rock Society has to go to the incomparable Lisa. Year after year she acts as the Ringmaster to this circus, keeping all the plates spinning and being seen as the focal point of the whole shebang. I’m sure she’ll tell you it’s a collaborative effort – which it is – but every successful team needs a strong and dedicated leader and, like it or not, Lisa is the de facto head of the Rock Society.

A guiding hand on the tiller, a swan-like grace when people ask goodie-bags or request Manowar to play; she rarely appears flustered and always seems in total control.

With Bloodstock Open Air a very different animal than the Bloodstock Metal Fest that spawned the Rock Society, it is perhaps time bring the curtain down. It will always remain a huge part of the Bloodstock legacy, and those of us who have been part of it can look at the where the festival is headed, knowing we have been a part of that success.

I’d like to finish by giving heart-felt thanks to all who’ve made the Rock Society a pleasure to be a part of over the past twenty-two years. To all those named above, I salute your continued commitment to the cause. To Lisa and Lee: may you find things to do with this now-seemingly endless time between Bloodstock shows.

Bloodstock Rock Society: 2002 to 2024 – Rest in Peace, my friend.

Photo Credit: Matt Negus / Bloodstock Rock Society

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