Monsters of Rock - Castle Donington

Donington Raceway, Derbyshire U.K. - August 16th 1980

Reading's pre-eminence as THE hard rock festival of the Uk was given a thorough shaking in 1980, when promoter Paul Loadsby established a one day festival that focused on presenting heavy rock and metal acts . Loadsby was an experienced promoter who was responsible for organising Richie Blackmore's Rainbow summer UK jaunt and the Donington show was to be the final show of the tour.

Donington circuit is not exactly a verdant setting, but it beat Richfield Ave at Reading, as the ground sloped slightly, so the punters got a pretty good view of the stage - which was a definite advantage. Otherwise though, its a fairly featureless racing car arena, although the surrounding country is nice enough. The raceway has the advantage of being near major roads and rail links and it was probably as amenable a venue as most other festival grounds of the day.The usual grumbles and protests from those who lived nearby were overcome , even though these delayed preparations (as usual).......

It rained considerably in the days preceding the show, which made conditions unpleasantly muddy for the punters, but this was better than it pouring on the night and the 35,000 who attended *were given satisfaction by the fairly sound lineup of heavy UK and overseas acts who performed in the open air on a warm but overcast day.

(This is the attendance figure quoted in most reports - the Samaritans however, give a figure of 60-70,000 and declare that the facilities provided were totally inadequate "perhaps due to many more arriving than had been expected".)

The Samaritans also state that camping facilities were provided and about 400 people camped out the night before, this practice was not encouraged in 1981and led to some contention.

There was only one stage at this date so longish changeover times between acts would have been something the audience had to endure - pretty much a re-run of Knebworth. However, there WAS a large video screen so it was possible to get a good view of the bands once it was dark enough for the screen to be viewable.

The quadraphonic sound system assembled by Loadsby was not an overwhelming success. The day before the show the PA was damaged by an explosion that was apparently caused by the crew who were testing drummer Cozy Powell’s pyrotechnics (shades of Keith Moonism on a scale vaster than even he could have dreamed of). It was an expensive test- £18,000 worth of damage was done to the stage set-up and this may have affected the sound of the PA as many punters complained about the sound being too quiet (a cardinal sin at a Metal show, where DEAFENING LOUDNESS is one of the prerequisites demanded by the punters).

Ticket prices were £7.50 in advance, reasonable for a single day show with this number of well known acts. For all this the festival lost money. The circuit can hold over 100,000, but Rainbow were not in the same league as the likes of Zeppelin who could have easily drawn a crowd that size, but it was deemed successful enough for another event to go ahead in 1981 and beyond.


The first one! The original Monsters of Rock. Initially it was planned as a one off event, just a big way for Rainbow to end their 'Down To Earth' tour. It quickly shaped up into something much bigger.

I'd been to see Led Zeppelin at Knebworth the previous year which had been my first festival. It made a big impression on me and resulted in me going to at least one major festival every year for the next two decades.

The Monsters of Rock show was less eclectic than previous festivals, specialising instead on the recent interest in Heavy Metal, in particular, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal that a lot of older bands like Rainbow and, second on the bill, Judas Priest were riding. Saxon were the NWOBHM representatives here with Scorpions from Germany, April Wine from Canada and American bands Riot & Touch completing the bill.

The host for the day was DJ Neal Kaye who I'd seen touring with Iron Maiden earlier in the year. He was great, and really kept the momentum up in between acts.

I lived in Stockport, Cheshire at the time and had decided to catch one of the charted coaches with my (then) girlfriend Debbie, which bizarrely left at midnight on the Friday from the centre of Manchester. It's only a 70 mile journey so we arrived way too early and ended up 'hanging around' outside the gate for hours drinking beer for breakfast. My brother had taken the more sensible option of biking there with his friend Paul, who was more commonly known as Thermos.

The site was well organised in terms of admission and car parking, well it should've been really as an already established sporting venue. The main difference was the total camping ban, even then it still didn't deter everyone and quite a few tents began to pop up in the surrounding fields.

Inside the arena there were plenty of eateries and toilets but no bars. But that was ok, 'cos you could take you own booze in. I seem to remember the weather being pretty good that day too.

The bands performances and events have been well documented over the years, the lead singer of Touch swallowing a bee for example. I don't remember too much about Touch or Riot, second band on. It was Saxon that caught my attention first, they'd already had a couple of hits so were really the first 'name' band on the bill. They warmed the crowd up well with a ten song set that included their two hits of that year 'Wheels of Steel' and '747 (Strangers in the Night)'.

Next up were April Wine who I found a little boring, the exception being their rip roaring rendition of King Crimson's '21st Century Schitzoid Man'. The Scorpions received the biggest cheer (so far) has they walked onstage. They were arguably the first band up that people had actually come to see having proved themselves to be an exciting live act. They were in the perfect place at the perfect time and played a blinder.

Judas Priest had been around for ages, even back in 1980 they were considered part of the 'old school'. Their latest album 'British Steel' had given them a new lease of life and won a new audience in the NWOBHM fanbase. They couldn't fail, expecially when Rob Halford arrived onstage riding a Harley. It was during this set when Halford hinted that this was to become an annual event..... how right he was.

As for Rainbow, well, no surprises really. I'd already seen them earlier on the tour up in Manchester and today's show was very similar. A few more pyrotechnics, an over the top drum solo (Cozy's last with the band but not his last at Donington) an equally over the top guitar smashing routine and some extremely over the top fireworks at the end..... oh, and they added 'Stargazer' to the set, easily their best song.

All in all, the first Donington festival was pretty bloody good and still stands high on my list. Due to the shape of the site everyone got a good view and there was the additional advantage of a big screen. The trip back on the coach was no picnic though.... never again...!

Ashley Haynes

My name is Paul Hartshorn, I am 43 years old, I live near Chesterfield in Derbyshire and I attended all 15 of the ‘Monsters of Rock’ festivals at Castle Donington. I am probably fortunate that I was at the right age at the time of the first festival (17 years old) to be able to go on to attend all the festivals. In fact (although a little sad in hindsight) during the 80s it was my highlight of the year each year.

I would organise the tickets, the transport (5 of us in a Ford Cortina in 1980 to 20 of us in two transit vans in ’87 and ’88), the banners & flagpoles (these became more ambitious every year with flags and flashing lights etc being added each year, some people actually used our flagpoles as meeting points), and of course……..the beer. Over the years the rules for which containers you could use for carrying your beer in changed from using virtually whatever you liked to not being able to use anything at all, but the daftest idea was probably when you could use a 2-litre bottle as long as the top and neck had been cut off, this made it almost impossible to carry when full.

Most people would probably say that spending all day in a (mostly muddy – Donington was famed for its mud way before Glastonbury) field with up to 100 thousand denim and leather clad rockers listening to a sometimes inaudible racket was their version of Hell, but to me it has given me some of the greatest memories of my life and I am proud to claim that I attended them all and loved every minute of it.

In 1980 I had never attended an outdoor festival before, so my excitement was at fever pitch during the preceding week, especially as my all-time hero (still is to this day) Ritchie Blackmore would be headlining. There were allsorts of rumours about Blackmore playing a major solo on top of the speaker stacks way above the stage (as it happened this didn’t take place due to some mechanical lift failure apparently).

My very first view of Donington (and my earliest memory) was as we approached the entrances from the car park I could see the merchandise stalls from afar with the Rainbow ‘Down to Earth’ knitted scarves pinned to the top of the marquees. I had missed out on one of these scarves from the tour earlier in the year, so my wallet was honed into buying one as soon as we got in. I still have it today (along with all the festival t-shirts and programmes from every year).

I also recall that there was a Greenpeace stall, selling ‘what else’ but ‘Rainbow Warrior’ t-shirts. There was also an official Rainbow fan club stall on site.

Musically the highlight of the day (and probably of any day) was the way Rainbow segued Since you been Gone into Somewhere over the Rainbow and then straight into Stargazer (my favourite song ever)….even though Graham Bonnet did mess the words up a bit. Cozy Powells 1812 overture drum solo went off with its usual bang and Blackmore’s (stage managed) setting fire to a speaker stack during his guitar onslaught finale were other fond memories of the headlining act.

I remember getting into a queue for a burger approx 20 minutes prior to Judas Priests’ set and still being stood in the same place in the queue some one and a half hours later after they had left the stage. I think the stallholder must have been a Priest fan.

To me the Scorpions were playing as well as they ever did at that time in their career (prior to the MTV-friendly version we got a few years later) and their set was as faultless as ever (I saw them 3 times during 1980). I recall Pictured Life being a particular favourite of mine at the time.

Saxon were also on a roll on the back of their nationwide Wheels of Steel tour. They went down very well. Of the other bands I can only really remember April Wine being ok. The weather on the day was fine, but the preceding fortnight continuous rain had made the site a mudbath. The toilets were appalling !!!

I'll give you an odd story about the 1st Donnington, I was kidnapped from my local on the Friday night (In North Wales, Nr. Chester) & taken "As a joke" [HA, bloody, HA] to be converted from a New Wave music fan (Everything from Alternative TV to X-Ray Spex- with a lot of great bands in the middle). I was half pissed when I set off & finished the job on the journey there (With some nice Lebanese - thrown in for good measure). We arrived in the early hours & the lads were willing to chip in & buy a ticket for me, but being knackered, hung over & pissed off I refused. I spent the whole day in the back of the Van sleeping, drinking & smoking & moaning at the endless guitar solo's.

Except when 'Rainbow' took the stage, my day was taken to whole new level of boredom with Cozy Powell's drum solo. The one thing I would like to know, is that when the Pyrotechnic display started were Rainbow (Or someone) doing the soundtrack to 'Close Encounters' - this particular festival put the last nail in 'Heavy Metal/Rock's' coffin in my opinion. I enjoyed the drive to the festival & when my mates attempted to sneak back to the van at the end of the night, to shake it from side to side, I nearly pissed myself laughing watching them in the semi-darkness trying to creep up to the van without making any noise, unlucky for them I had moved to the drivers seat to ask the passing crowds for a cigarette, so I had an ideal seat to watch their daft attempt to surprise me.

Paul Hartshorn

If this festival had happened maybe 5 years previously & with the 'Real' bands like Deep Purple or Black Sabbath (Who I used to like) I may have enjoyed the night more. But considering I detested the whole set I enjoyed myself.

Hi there, just been given the link to your site via Dimeadozen...

I was there myself, possibly the best gig I’ve ever been to – my worthwhile memories are as follows:

1. Klaus Meine’s (Scorpions) introduction: “Hello Donning Castle”!!!
2. The AMAZING fireworks at the end of the Rainbow set – the local radio station informed us during the day that aircraft flying from the (very near) East Midlands Airport were warned how low to fly!


Hi, my name is Larry Hogan, in 1980 I was Sandy Slavins drum tech from Riot I have many fond memories of this event. First off it was the first time I had left the U.S.A. I had worked with Sandy for 4 years by this time and it was a gift from Sandy and management to bring me along. "it was cheaper to hire a tech when they got there" so I appreciated it even more.

Yes, I remember the mud, and all the hay bales. But what I remember most was hanging out with Cozy Powell sitting on a road case on stage drinking Heineken pint cans. We didn't have these in the States. The fire marshal was there to inspect the pyro tech. And there was a count down, but I thought they were just testing the P.A.

And I'm sure Cozy thought the same because you could see the shock on his face... When the blast came the concussion blew the cans right off the road case. I found out latter that they used a double charge. From the concussion the speakers blew right out of the cabinets.

Thus, an all night work order was put in place because all of the speakers had to be replaced, they had to have new speakers sent in from London. my ears rang for 2 days. I also remember the size of the stix cozy played and all the saw dust around his kit when he was done. HE PLAYED REAL HARD.

There was a picture of me coming up the high steps to the stage just before we went on carrying a spare pedal, stix, and towels, I believe Ross was the photographer, I had real long hair and I stuck my tongue out at him. It made the inside sleeve of the live album. I haven't seen that pic in years.

with best regards,
Larry Hogan