1986 was the last of my teenaged years. As I contemplated finally leaving full time education and joining the real World, certain other more pressing matters were at hand that needed dealing with.
For instance, the night before my English Literature A-Levels (note to non-English readers: an A-Level is the exam (across three subjects) you used to take to determine your eventual worthiness for University), newly-emergent thrash gods Anthrax were making their first ever London appearance at the Hammersmith Palais, leaving me with a potentially life-affecting decision – should I revise or should I mosh?
Of course you know the answer to that one. England was in the middle of a heat wave in May 1986, and, having cut open my chest stage diving at the Anthrax show I spent the whole of my exam in a stuffy, non-airconned room peeling my shirt away from the suppurating mess that was my sternum. It was quite a distraction, I can tell you.
But I digress. The year before, in 1985, I’d attended my first Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington Racetrack in England’s East Midlands. By 1986, MoR was already a festival of global repute, with headbangers worldwide making a pilgrimage to the Grand Prix circuit for a day on the good stuff, both musical and alcoholic.
But whilst 1985 was a grand day out, I had plans to do Donington 1986 in style. Oh yes sir. Learning from experience is what separates us from the apes, and I’d noted the year before that lots of punters were being stopped at the gates and relieved of their glass-bottle-encased alco supplies. So for 1986 I’d invested in what was known as a polypin – essentially a tough plastic sac equipped with a tap- into which I’d decanted a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and some coca cola to keep it company. No security goon would be able to post a credible argument to keep this marvellous invention off-site, of that I was at least 80% sure.
The other 20% - some might say the portion critical to the success of the operation- would be taken care of by a bottle of Tequila, the consumption of which would be limited to the coach journey to the track.
Ah, the coach journey. Cars and busses travelled slower in the eighties, so the coach company had demanded we congregate at Wycombe Bus Station at 6.30 this particular Saturday morning in order to make the hour and a half journey to Nottingham. All your favourites were on the bus, including my good friend Lee Barrett (MaFs passim) and we set off bleary-eyed but excited at the prospects of the day to come.
Did I say a journey time of ninety minutes? By eleven o’clock we were still on the bus, trapped on the motorway in a traffic jam that tailed back miles from the exit leading to the festival. That’s right. After four and a half hours we were still miles from our objective, and Tequila supplies were exhausted. There was only one thing for it... I abandoned my plans and started on the Jack.
When we finally got to the site at half past twelve, six hours after setting out, something seemed to have gone awry. My legs no longer seemed to be working properly, and I had to be helped from the bus and onto the site, there to settle down on the hill in the sun and enjoy the bands.
German power metallists Warlock came and went in a burst of Teutonic sturm und drang, somewhat improbably followed by English comedy metallers Bad News. Of course, those who denigrate this genre we love so much may well ask how we managed to tell the difference between comedy and ‘the real thing’, but I felt that Warlock must have felt a trifle embarrassed at their placement on the bill below Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall... whatever, Bad News, playing amidst a hail of piss-filled plastic bottles, went down a storm – remind me to tell you a little bit about their set next time, when BTTF remembers festivals past...
I was getting a bit tired now, to be honest, the sun beating down on my spot on the hill magnifying the agglomeration of filth that I’d put into my system on the bus.
Motorhead emerged on-stage, bullet belts glinting in the late afternoon sun, as they ripped into Iron Fist. Sitting down on the warm ground seemed like a viable option. I closed my eyes, the better to concentrate the unholy racket emanating from the stage.
They followed Iron Fist with Pour Some Sugar on Me, w-hang on, I thought, what’s happened here? That’s right. Ladeez an’ gennelmen, I give you Scott Adams, the first man to ever successfully sleep through an entire Motorhead concert, in the process rendering his choice of t-shirt to wear on the day essentially pointless.
I stood up angrily, demanding answers from my chums – how had this sorry state of affairs been allowed to happen? How had Motorhead turned into Def Leppard? I turned and marched off, the sound of their laughter ringing in my ears mixed up with the horrendous, off-key warbling of Joe Elliott, having developed a raging thirst during my unscheduled slumber and in need of the beer tent.
The queue for the beer tent seemed to last almost as long as the coach journey, meaning I missed the slickly choreographed hard rock of the Scorpions (though I could tell, even from my compromised position wedged in the beer line between Sven, a prodigiously bearded Swede and Will, a weasel-faced individual ‘from Cardiff, like’, that they rocked like hurricanes).
I returned, thirst slaked and in a better frame of mind to rejoin my compadres for one final assault on our senses, courtesy of Ozzy Osbourne. He needn’t have bothered, staggering around the stage for an hour in the manner of a confused pensioner at a day centre who’s lost his Zimmer frame, exhorting the nurses to ‘go fucking crazy’ every five minutes before, on the return of his precious walking implement declaring ‘I love you all’ and disappearing.
Not an entirely successful day, then, but one that fully cements Donington in my maind as the metal festival for the ages.
Was Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens at Donington that day? Probably not, but the question links neatly the two sections of this month’s column!
The former Judas Priest throatsmith rocked up to answer a few questions on activities past and present and to contribute his thoughts on our ongoing virtual festival poll! So without further ado, let’s, um, head out to the highway...
You’re one of the most in-demand voices in metal in 2010; what governs your decision when deciding to get on board a project? And was a band like Charred Walls of the Damned something that ticked all your particular boxes? What particularly attracted you to this project?
“Well Richard (Christy, CWOTD leading light) did... hahahah! I mean we are friends and I love working with friends, and he is just a great drummer, so why not go for it....this was all before I heard the stuff!!”
Once you’ve decided to do an album, do you change your approach at all? Or is singing for Avantasia the same as singing for Yngwie or Iced Earth in terms of what you deliver?
“I sing like myself... in everything I do, even Priest... If you go back the my beginning with Winters Bane, I was the same, yeah I might sing lower or with more balls, I am old now... hahha! But when I belt something out, it is ME... The good thing is my voice has a ton of layrs to it so I can sing almost every style and I love to do that.”
Your voice has an unmistakable metal edge to it. Is there any other style of music you’d like to try your throat at in the future?
“Not really. I love hard rock and metal, I would love to make an acoustic CD of a lot of my tunes and a few extras - but it would still be Ripper belting it out!”
Will Charred Walls of the Damned tour behind this album?
“Oh yes... not a lot because of Richard and myself's work schedule, We do have some US dates coming up at the beginning of July so I am excited about that!”
Marvellous news. What else does 2010 going into 2011 hold for you?
“Man I am busy as hell! Non-stop touring and shows for me, and when I am not doing that I will be recording the new Beyond Fear album... but anybody can check my websites and myspace to get my show dates and info.”
Everyone who appears in Back to the Future gets asked this question – we’re running a ‘virtual dream festival’ where all respondees get to curate their own, money-is-no-object-and-time-travel-is-possible stage – what five acts would you like to see performing on your stage?
“Judas Priest with Rob Halford and myself on vocals, Heaven and Hell, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Anthrax and Savatage.”
This column tries, almost always unsuccessfully, to provide a link between the metal of yesteryear to today and beyond. Who were your biggest influences growing up? And which new bands inspire you to keep making metal today?
“Well Priest and Dio..Anthrax, Savatage, Soundgarden... I love that stuff and always will! They are the bands that make me still do what I do...But the main reason I do it is cause I love it and I love the fans...I do it for me!!