Rainbow & Priest raise the rafters of Castle Donington

Some of them got to the racetrack the night before the Festival. The diehard headbangers got there two days early, but most arrived just hours before the concert. They came from London, from Birmingham, even from Munich. Most of them wore Wellington boots to guard against the six-inch layer of mud that covered the raceway field.

They were the heavy metal brigade, the fans who flocked to Europe's biggest one-day hard rock gala in memory - the seven-band Castle Donington Festival near the old royal edifice in Donington, England. Unlike some of the beer-swilling rowdies who roughed up the threeday Reading Fest, these fans came to listen to music - seven sets' worth - running from 1 P.M. till 11. Opening the show was the rocking Touch, followed by Riot, April Wine, Saxon, Scorpions, Judas Priest, and the headliner, Rainbow. The whole lineup, Judas Priest excepted, appears on the Roger Glover produced documentary LP, Castle Donington/Monsters of Rock (Polydor).

The huge single stage, adorned, with a giant blowup of the covers of Rainbow and Rainbow Rising, stood "a couple of miles from the entrance to the raceway," explains Blackmore manager Bruce Payne. "You could have heard the music from a house in downtown Donington," he says dryly. "But if you wanted to see anything, you had to pay your £ 7.50 [$18 and change] to get in, which isn't expensive for that kind of show.

"It was an extravaganza from Rainbow's point of view - they spent a lot of money on staging, and had lots of fireworks. Sixty thousand kids came, and for England that like an Eagles crowd in Giants Stadium here. This was probably the only outdoor gig Ritchie will confirm for the next five years, so Donington was important for us."

For Rainbow, Donington was also special in that it marked the last gig the band played with drummer Cozy Powell - and produced the only live album featuring now-departed vocalist Graham Bonnet, who sang the big hit, "Since You Been Gone." "It was Rainbow's idea to do the album," says Payne. "Not to dominate it, but just to have a recording of the shows.

"Yes, Donington was a good place for the other bands to be. It doesn't appear that the Donington album is hurting April Wine all that much," Payne continues. "Their new album [The Nature of the Beast, on Capitol] is being received like a big deal, and deservedly, for they're pretty impressive. Riot is a good group, too; Saxon was the best of the smaller acts; Touch liked their performance well enough to let it be included in a BBC film with Rainbow's."

The Donington Festival also offered Judas Priest a chance to warm up for the recording of its new Columbia album, Point of Entry. Scorpions, Saxon and Riot put on such good performances that an extra song by each was included on the British cassette version of Monsters of Rock.

Bruce Payne, who was there for the whole day, says that "in spite of the huge crowd size, everybody had a good seat. There was always a video of whatever group was playing being shown on a drive-in movie screen, so you could always see the bands real close. There was so much to look at that the audience didn't have to turn to something else [like violence] the way they did at Reading. It was real tough to get rowdy, anyway, 'cause you'd fall in the mud if you tried. It had rained like you wouldn't believe for a week before the show, but the day of the festival was sunny and warm."

By 11 o'clock on August 16, the Donington Festival was over. Rainbow's Roger Glover gave each band his own mix of the tapes, which the bands then tightened up by dubbing over the buzzes "All Night Long" or punching in notes before sending them on to Polydor. Monsters of Rock became the first heavy metal sampler of the '80s to appear on a major U.S. label.

"The concept of the album certainly worked in Europe," says Payne, "and it works here from a real heavy metal fanatic's point of view." Payne won't discount the possibility that Donington may become an annual event like Reading - that is, if hard rock maintains its present foothold. "The Donington crowd responded to every group," he chirps happily, "and best of all, we didn't notice anyone being hurt."

Richard Hogan, Circus - 30 April 1981


Yeah-Hey-Hey! Can you hear me? Can you hear me out there? Are you ready for rock'n'roll? I wanna hear you say yeah. Yeah! Yeah! Ye-He-He-Heah!

And so the Scorpions grind into "Another Piece Of Meat" and before the mud's time to dry at Castle Donington, it's already here: the live album of the event, remixed certainly, but embracing still all the excesses that HM festivals seem to bring out in their groups.

Headliners Rainbow open both sides, starting off with "Stargazer", a ponderous piece of heavy riffing that incorporates an abundance of wearisome guitar histronics from Mr Blackmore. And then there's "All Night Long"; Rainbow at their most offensive lyrically and their most direct musically.

Without going into the awesome bad taste of the words - again - this version initially kicks along with a good deal more spirit than the familiar rendition, but predictably fails to stop at its logical conclusion. We are subjected to a series of moans and groans from the rampant Graham Bonnet, an audience participation section and a display of whistling from the singer, and it really does seem to be going on all night long.

"Back To The Wall" constitutes Saxon's lone contribution, offering a lively rhythm that's dogged by a tiresome riff, relentlessly imposing itseld through the whole song. Not one of their choice cuts. That's the trouble with the whole album, really. Too many worn-out riffs and too many empty shows of virtuosity and crowd-pleasing.

Not that the potential isn't there. Trimmed down to size, tracks like the Scorpions "Loving You Sunday Morning", April Wine's "I Like To Rock" and Riot's "Road Racin'", which races far too far down the road, could make a sizeable impact without any loss to the art of headbanging. One moment of light relief comes from Touch courtesy of a slow, emphatic "Don't Ya Know What Love Is".

On the whole, though, the monsters of rock have been barking a lot harder than biting, and forgetting that the best things come in small packages.

Carol Clerk, Melody Maker 1981


Where monsters dwell

This, my freinds, could become one of the most crucial albums of the rock era, treasured and revered by historians in a future age, for within its tightly packed grooves lie the pointers to that contemporary phenomenon, rockspeak. Not that effete rubbish doled out by half-witted DJ's, but the deeply sincere, profound exchanges between band and audience that pave the way to that touching communion of body and soul that links (qv stars) and audience (qv punters) as true equals in their mutual striving towards a higher plane of existence (qv getting off, man).

'Groooaaaahhh', quoth Biff, Professor Of Linguistics at Saxon's University, presaging a fiery performance of 'Back To The Walls' that demonstrates just why Saxon are so popular - no holds barred riffing of power and precision. Close behind in the 'pardon me, parlez-vous Anglais?' stakes comes Klaus Meine with a voice that belongs in Mel Blanc's imagination, sort of Bugs Bunny on speed - 'are you ready for some rrrock and rrrroll?'Donington, Great Britain, we love you'.

Donington loved the Scorp's too, buzzing, sharpedge riffs and rich nasal vocals hitting the rock'n'roll nail right on its pointed head. Riot were the representatives of The Brooklyn School Of Rock'n;Roll Rabble Rousing, and prove how refreshing a real American accent can be, as opposed to a mid Atlantic one, even if it does sound like a duck being strangled. 'Road Racin'' is the Thrid Man theme on methedrine, but an excellent performance thereof makes it much more than merely bearable.

Maple Leaf Mayhem Merchats April Wine leave their mark with the dynamic riffing of 'I Like To Rock', suffering somewhat from a rather distant mix with the drums pushed too far forward, but with enough rockspeak to keep the transatlantic flag flying. In contrast Touch say not a word. But then they hardly need to, with a scorching performance of the beautiful intricate 'Don't Ya Know What Love Is' standing out as the classiest track on the album, but nevertheless allowing Craig Brooks to win the prize hands down for the dirtiest, meanest guitar sound on the album.

Rainbow need no comment really, pulling in a couple of reasonable performances on 'Stargazer' (which doesn't sound quite right without Ronnie James Dio, but is still an excellent song) and 'All Night Long' which leans on the simplicity rather than the power. Graham Bonnet's 'talkie' is the dodgiest of the album, with a BBC voice that culd get him expelled from rock'n'roll, but at least he manages to get the crowd doing bird noises. 'You're daft as I am'. Yeah.

Okay, that's the album to follow the poster and the T-shirt and the patch and the badge. But where's the souvenir mudpack and bus ticket?

Paul Suter, Sounds 1981