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 get closer to the stage. 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.


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 .

Vintage Merch Part 1

My smelly old rock T-shirts from the 80s!

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

27 thoughts on “Triumph and Tragedy at Donington 1988

  1. Hi, I run a page that celebrates MOR Donington 1988. It’s coming up to the anniversary, so I would like to ask your permission to feature 3 of your photos on this page for our 33rd anniversary? We celebrate the music as well as giving tribute to Landon SIggers and Alan Dick. Every year we try to give our followers new content on a day that was memorable for the fans.

    Thanks Tori

    1. Hi Tori. Happy for you to do this. A link back to this site would be great and (assuming you mean the newspaper cuttings) a credit to the Nottingham Post would be appreciated I’m sure. Thanks for asking!

      If you share a link to your site I’ll add it to this blog post.

      Cheers, Ian

    2. There is nothing to celebrate until the cover-up is exposed. Negligence, woefully inadequate staffing allowing thousands of people into the site from a breech in the crappy tempory fencing at the back of the site next to the small wooded area. They tried for about 5 minutes to stop people coming over the fence and then word spread to those who had come to listen outside, they poured in. The stage placement at the bottom of a natural bank made crowd surges brutal for those at the front. Due to the sound stage the pulses came from the sides, movements of 20ft instantly and you were crushed together having to take rapid tiny steps to the left and then the other side pushed back, it was complete helpless, but thankfully it was not from behind, if it was people would have been crushed against the steel poled barrier. I never went to a gig again and still have problems in crowds. Roth was an arse and his bouncer got battered by the English security for shoving a member of the pit crew off the stage into the crowd, you can see the crowd react with fury and then about 10 minutes later cheer on the video of Roths set. Guns and Roses were absolutely blameless and pleaded with the crowd to stop trying to kill each other.

  2. The lies still keep being perpetuated, the cause of the mud in front of the stage was a result of the makeshift drinking water station which was at the top of the rise to the right of the stage as you looked at it. A wooden frame with about 8 push fountains on either side and fed by a large blue plastic water pipe. Within an hour it had been smashed to bits and the water pipe feeding it discharged water continuously, it ran down the slope and collected at the low point in front of the stage. As for the tragedy I am not going to comment but those involved know what they did.
    It was a miracle that more people weren’t seriously injured, I was pulled out of the crowd by security after going over and being crushed, those security guys were heroes especially the bald guy who risked his own safety to rescue people, they used him as a pole two guys dangling him out and you grabbed his head around his neck and they pulled you back with him. A solitary St James ambulance back stage manned by a couple of volunteers to check over the line of rescued people lay down on the grass backstage.
    The weather was not bad, it was warm and dry, the car parks were all on grass fields outside and there was no problem with the thousands of cars entering and exiting, a bit odd considering what has been said about the conditions.

    1. Thanks for sharing your memories and apologies for the delay in replying (I’ve recently had a death in the family). It’s a long time ago now, and my memories of the day are blurry, but knowing what we know now I often think back and wonder might have been. Two of our ‘community’ are sadly no longer with us. It could easily have been many more of us. Hope you’re doing ok…

  3. I was there that day, I was 24, I’m now nearly 59, I still remember that day, well to much. Don’t think I ever recovered, I think those guys wer2 2 metres in front of me. Any closer to the stage, that could have been me. I was lucky, sadly,
    Alan and Landon were not. You guys have never been forgotten, RIP.

  4. Does anyone else recall the video screen coming away from its fixings & look like it was about to fall onto the crowd below during GnR set?

  5. my memories were loving the day and all the bands and the storm to the front when guns an Roses fired up but being swept left and right uncontrollable by the crowd surge and thankfully being pulled back to my feet by friends and strangers alike , I didn’t realise the tragedy that had happened until days later

    1. Yes that’s kinda how I remember it too. The scary anxious moments of being down on the ground and the relief of being pulled back up again. We found out about the tragedy the following morning. In a world without smart phones (and young people who didn’t watch the news very often) it may have been WEEKS before some folks found out. Thanks for sharing your memories. Hope you’re doing ok.

  6. I was there. For most of us it was just another rain, piss and puke soaked, poorly organised gig. But we didn’t even think about safety really, not that we didn’t care, it just wasn’t even on the radar. It was before the days of H&S being a major concern at outdoor concerts of any kind, or being at the forefront of anyone’s minds really. I’m not making any excuses for what happened, no-one should die because of a music concert, whether watching or playing. But that year was probably a turning point in terms of concert organisation professionalism, and the realisation of the need for it. You can see the different between all the big festivals around that time, Reading, Glastonbury too.

    There were too many of us there, it was too wet and slippy and muddy, the speakers had collapsed on one side and were held up by a fork lift to my memory. It was a bollocks – BUT, as a 16 yr old seeing all those bands there was simply no understanding of how serious things got.

    I saw a mate just before Iron Maiden (I had moved way back behind the sound tower and to the right as there was loads of space) and he was white as a sheet and said it was bloody scary. But again, I just stood there sang along and headbanged while he sat on the floor.

    It was an unforgettable experience for me, and we met a guy on the coach up from Surrey whose parents lived in Castle Donnington, so we slept on their floor (to this day I have no earthly idea what the plan was outside of that) and made us bacon sandwiches in the morning. I get the impression they took in the waifs and strays of Donnington every year! Thanks to Neil Hatfield and his parents!!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to share your own memories of that eventful day in our lives. Never to be forgotten.

      PS. It’s Donington (not DonNington) but I won’t hold it against you. Even the organisers spelt it wrong in the HUGE banner over the stage in 1987. Look up pictures of Bon Jovi or Dio from that year for evidence lol! Link here….

  7. I was 14 when I went to this and was right at the front centre during GnR when it happened. It was brutal getting crushed against the barrier but thankfully I could cling onto it to keep me upright. I remember looking back and seeing rows of people on the floor and those still standing desperately trying to hold those behind them back to stop them trampling on them or falling onto them and joining them on the floor. It was horrific, GnR stopped and tried to get the crowd to go backwards but people further back didn’t realise what was happening. People were being dragged out over our heads, I remember my hair getting trapped and bits pulled out when people were being dragged over me. One guy landed with such a thud, completely unresponsive, I will never forget him, I’m not sure if he was one of the poor souls who died. Security pulled me out too and someone gave me sweet tea for the shock. To this day I don’t like big crowds and haven’t gone to the front of a big gig since.

    1. It was very scary and I suspect a lot of people still have flashbacks to this day. Thanks for sharing your memories here Anne-Marie. Hope you’re doing ok x

  8. I was there , aged 22.
    I didn’t get too close to the front,
    Due to a bit of a hungover
    from the night before.
    My friend and I went up on the coach from Canterbury ,kent.
    My friend had a camera and took lots of shots. Then lost her camera !
    Like most people in those day you drank alcohol.
    I wish I still had my ticket
    I hang on to it for quite a few years
    And my t-shirt
    There was only white ones left for sale and I wanted a black one and tried to dye it.
    I recently found a photo of me wearing it from the early 90’s .
    Also those photos , wow
    G n R we’re awesome, I only went to see them saw their picture in Kerrange magazine. & just had too.
    I still have my original appetite for destruction album. Scratched up from so much playing. And bootlegs and gnr live at Donnington park vinyl ,
    terrible recording though.
    I think they blew every one away
    They were explosive
    Thank you for your article it’s awesome

  9. I was also on the bottom in the mud – I had blacked under the weight of the people above me crushing my chest, arms and legs. My first memory was a brief consciousness as I was passed over the barrier and then waking in the medical tent.

    It took almost 2 years for my nerves (as in the crushed ones) to recover and regain feeling I my legs.

    I suffered from claustrophobia after that (I used to go caving!). Thanks to my wife she took me to see Helloween in 2022 in the hope it would help me. They played some of the songs from the set I saw in 88 and it did help. I am a lot better at gigs now and don’t have to stand right at back away from everyone.

    1. Woah! That sounds horrible and it’s taken you a long time to get over the experience. I’m pleased that you’ve made a recovery and that you’re now finally able to enjoy live music again. Thanks for taking the time to post. Take care and enjoy the festive period.

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