Donington before Download

Monsters of Rock Festival, Castle Donington – 18th August 1984

The summer of 1984 is remembered for several life events for me:

  • I quit 6th Form a year into my ‘A’ levels (I wanted to make some money and, what use would Sociology be anyway?)
  • I went on my last ‘seaside’ holiday with my parents (a caravan park in Tenby, South Wales – where I also discovered girls!)
  • I started my first job as a Purchase Ledger Clerk at the Head Office of Motorist Discount Centre (£36.10 a week – think I still have my first pay packet up in the attic!)
  • I started smoking (have since stopped, started, stopped, started, stopped… you get the picture)
  • I started going to ‘rock’ pubs and clubs – mostly the cellar bar at the Nottingham Palais every Friday, Saturday (lunchtime and evening) and Monday.
  • I went to my first two outdoor music festivals

I’ve previously written about my very first festival here, Status Quo’s ‘final’ gig at the Milton Keynes Bowl in July ’84. Fast forward a month and me and my mates Chris, Kev and Ady were boarding another ‘Way Ahead’ coach outside Nottingham’s famous Salutation Inn and heading off to our first ‘Monsters of Rock’ Festival at Castle Donington.

Donington was now into it’s 5th year but I’d always been too young to go to festivals (yeah ok mum, bless ya!) and envious of anyone who had attended the earlier ones, especially our older mate Rich who went to the very first one in 1980 and had since handed down his T-shirt to his brother Chris.

Kev with Chris proudly modelling his 1980 Donington T-shirt on the morning of Monsters of Rock, 1984

Giddy with excitement the 4 of us had spent the previous night getting wankered on cans of Harp Lager and Bells Whiskey around at Chris’s parents house while they were away on holiday. These nights had become a fairly regular occurrence after some of us left school and especially because Rich had built up a vast collection of vinyl albums and pirated films on VHS! On ‘Donington Eve’ I think I over-did the giddiness and found myself throwing up whole chips and curry sauce in the kitchen sink while ZZ Top’s ‘Eliminator’ album blasted out in the lounge (Sorry Joan!)

Anyway, armed with a massive hangover (and some very large plastic containers of cheap lager) we took our seats on the coach and were at Donington within the hour as it’s just up the A453 from Clifton where we all lived. When we arrived at the site we spent a good couple of hours sitting on the grass outside the entrances to the race track, downing our cheap lager in the sunshine, smoking fags like ‘grown ups’, pissing in hedges and generally taking in the atmosphere of our first Monsters of Rock. This would become our Donington routine for the subsequent festivals we attended in 1986, 1987 and 1988. I’m still not sure why we didn’t go in 1985 but it can’t have been the line-up because Marillion were on the bill…and I loved Marillion!

The lineup for our first Donington was strong, very strong:

  • AC/DC – worthy headliners and a ‘staple’ of any rock/metal fans record collection
  • Van Halen – could easily have headlined any festival around the world at that time
  • Ozzy Osbourne – ditto! And he did headline when we returned in 1986 (and subsequent Monsters of Rock / Download festivals at the same venue)
  • Gary Moore – ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist from Northern Ireland, very popular at the time (despite wearing a red jump suit on stage) and this was the period before he became more recognised as a Blues guitarist
  • Y&T – an excellent and well established American rock band who had been around since the early ’70s
  • Accept – a solid German metal band whose ‘Balls to the Wall’ single was fairly big at the time
  • Motley Crue – the wild and crazy LA Glam Metal band who were relatively unknown in the UK at the time. This was their first ‘major’ UK gig and they opened the show at lunchtime. Their career went on to become the stuff of legend, all captured in the awesome film The Dirt.

I’m not going to attempt to write a review of the bands as I prefer to leave that to others more qualified then I am. There’s already some great recollections on this website and besides, my own memories of the day would be a little ‘sketchy’ after consuming all that cheap warm booze!

Having said that I do remember my highlights being:

Ozzy – I was down in the pit for his set and remember all sorts of stuff flying over my head including lots of boots, bottles (some full of warm fluids) and even a MATTRESS! The Prince of Darkness paced the stage in his usual style, clapping his hands and screaming “lets go fucking crazy’ while throwing buckets of water over the crowd and the roadies, and pulling his guitarist’s hair a lot. He was awesome and quickly became one of my rock idols.

Van Halen – I’d been a fan for a couple of years so I got fairly close to the stage to see David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen performing with their usual ‘razzmatazz’ (they weren’t your typical denim and leather clad ‘metal’ band). They played just as the sun was setting which for me is a great time to be at a festival. Their album ‘1984’ was out and single ‘Jump’ had been in the charts. Eddie had also become a household name since he was responsible for the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’. There was a lot of guitar (and drum) solos during their set!

AC/DC – let’s face it, who doesn’t love a bit of Angus Young running round the stage like a demented school boy?! They also had 2 huge cannons on top of the stage which they blasted out during ‘For Those About to Rock..’ and when they went off it felt like my chest was going to cave in!

AC/DC centre spread

The surprise package for me though was Motley Crue. I’d not really heard of them before Donington and when they took to the stage I thought they were just a bunch a cheesy Americans that were a bit too big for their platform boots. I also thought they looked ridiculous in all that make-up – a cheap Kiss rip-off. However they won me over and after that day I loved them. Drummer Tommy Lee (he of the oversized manhood and Baywatch girlfriend) was amazing to watch live. Within a couple of weeks I was hooked and I wanted to be IN Motley Crue – they were so bloody outrageous! (I later discovered that all the cool dudes at The Palais in Nottingham were into Crue, dressed like Crue and they had the fittest girlfriends in the club).

Ozzy onstage

So that was our first Donington. As the smoke from AC/DC’s cannons drifted off into the night air, the stinky leather clad hoards drifted back to our coaches with our ears ringing and vowing to come back again one day. I actually went again 3 more times. 1986 was with my first ‘proper’ girlfriend (Hello ‘H’), 1987 was special as I got to see the legendary Ronnie Dio and Donington 1988 was eventful for other not-so-happy reasons but I’ll save that for another blog on another day…

Monsters of Rock continued into the mid 1990s before taking a break and eventually morphing into the Download Festival in 2003. Donington is now considered to be ‘Mecca’ for many UK rock and metal fans. If you’d like to get a feel for what my festival experience was like back in 1984 here’s a great little feature from the BBC’s Whistle Test (my old mate Ady makes a special appearance in the crowd during Van Halen’s set!)

My oldest mate Ady (or Ado as he was known back then) captured on TV during Van Halen

Did you go to any of the Monsters of Rock Festivals?

Have you been to Download? If you’ve been to both how does it compare? (I’ve never been).

Tell us about your own festival experiences here or over on the Facebook page!

Donington 1988

Read my about experience of it HERE

Like my stuff? Please share with your mates. Cheers! :)

7 thoughts on “Donington before Download

  1. Not getting screwed having to buy beer at the venue.
    Not having to put up with piss poor non metal bands.
    Not having to pay hundreds of pounds!

    1. Amen to that brother….especially your comment about beer prices. £11 for a ticket was also very reasonable at the time for the quality and quantity of bands on offer (I was paying an average of £4.50 to see a band at the Concert Hall in Nottingham around the same time).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *