Triumph and Tragedy at Donington 1988

It was 32 years ago this week that I went to my fourth and final Monsters of Rock Festival at Castle Donington. I’ve never been back to Donington (or Download as the festival is now known) since that day, for no other reason than I’ve never really fancied it again. Sadly for two other young ‘metal heads’ who were in the crowd with us that day they will never have that choice…

The line up for Donington 1988 year was probably the strongest yet.

Both Kiss (without their makeup) and Iron Maiden could have headlined the show (it was actually Maiden’s first headline slot at Donington)

David Lee Roth was a legend from his Van Halen days and was at the peak of his solo career (his second album Skyscraper and single “Just like paradise” had come out earlier that year)

Megadeth were already one of the ‘Big Four’ thrash metal bands alongside Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer – although the thrash scene was still relatively new at the time. Up and coming German band Helloween opened the show and they were of a similar genre.

However the band I was most looking forward to seeing was Guns N’ Roses after stupidly missing their gig at Nottingham’s Rock City the previous year (write up here). Even though they were still relatively new and way down the lineup at Donington GnR had built up a reputation in the UK and I was excited about seeing live.

A group of us had travelled by coach from Nottingham and, as was customary back then, drunk ourselves to oblivion before even entering the site. The first thing that struck me on arrival though was how much busier it felt that year. The festival was now in its 9th year and I’d been 3 times but I’d never seen it so packed. Heavy Metal was probably the most popular I’d ever known it at that time and this line-up would have drawn the huge crowd in (you could still buy tickets on the day). Despite the crappy weather an estimated 107,000 people were in attendance – for a festival with just one stage!

When Guns N’ Roses hit the stage there was only one place I was going to be and that was at the front. I’m pretty sure I left some of my mates and girlfriend behind as I ran towards the stage. It wasn’t too long before I realised this was no ordinary mosh pit. It was extremely tight and very uncomfortable at times but being a naive 21 year old I continued trying to push forward. I was a skinny lad back then and was able to squeeze my way between people in my quest to get to the front. I do recall falling to the muddy ground a couple of times and being relieved to look up and see hands reaching down to lift me back up again. I also remember the sensation of being lifted up in the air due to the the ‘swell’ of the crowd. I have a vague recollection of singer Axl Rose reluctantly pausing the set a couple of times to ask people to move back and “don’t fucking kill each other” (little did we know at the time).

Nottingham Evening Post – 22nd August 1988

I don’t remember much detail about Guns N Roses set other than it being precisely what I expected and wanted it to be – dirty kick ass rock n’roll with a filthy raw edge. These guys were dangerous and I found the whole experience incredibly exciting but scary in equal measure. It took me an eternity to get away from the stage and back to my mates at the end of the set. I can remember feeling quite ‘panicky’ at times but still buzzing from the experience.

NONE OF US HAD ANY IDEA AT THE TIME THAT TWO YOUNG FANS HAD DIED IN THE CRUSH AT THE FRONT OF THE STAGE.

Nottingham Evening Post 1988

We carried on as if nothing had happened. We watched the rest of the bands, continued to get smashed and had a great day as we always did back then. I think we ventured forward again to see David Lee Roth and Kiss, but never quite as close as we got for Guns N Roses. I can remember a couple of pleas from bands to the audience to move back a bit from the stage but I’m not sure many of us there that day really knew the full scale of what had happened earlier (this was in the days before mobile phones).

I’m not going to attempt to write a review of each band’s set here and to be honest I’m a bit crap at remembering detail like that. And besides there’s far better websites for that such as this one here which contains some incredible recollections from the day.

I do however have a vivid memory of watching Iron Maiden’s brilliant headline set from somewhere way out near the racetrack. People had lit bonfires from the advertising boards and there was smoke in the air. The firework display at the end was also pretty spectacular. I have always loved the atmosphere at festivals…

We headed back home on our coach, tired but buzzing with memories of another amazing day at Donington. It was only when we were greeted by our relieved parents the following morning that we heard the tragic news and it struck me just how lucky we were to come home.

The 20th August is actually my old dad’s birthday. On that day in 1988 he would have been about the same age as I am today. I’m trying imagine him and my mum watching the news emerge from Donington and worrying about whether their 21 year old son was still alive…

RIP Alan Dick and Landen Siggers

Nottingham Evening Post – 22nd August 1988
Nottingham Evening Post – 22nd August 1988

Footnote (taken from Every Record Tells a Story):

The Donington festival was cancelled for a year whilst an inquest took place. It was found that a “crowd collapse” involving 50 people took place fifteen yards from the front of the stage. The mud in that area caused by several days heavy rain prior to the event made things worse. The band (GnR) stopped playing temporarily and called for calm in a scene reminiscent of the Stones at Altamont  in the film Gimme Shelter, but by the time security had fished out the injured people, two bodies (Alan Dick, 18 and Landon Siggers, 20) were found laying down in four inches of mud and were almost covered over. They were pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

My ticket for Monsters of Rock at Donington Park, 1988

Guns N’Roses used some footage from their Donington ’88 set in their promo video for Paradise City https://youtu.be/Rbm6GXllBiw .

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