Sunday Old School: Monsters Of Rock
Band Photo: Metallica (?)
This week’s edition of Sunday Old School is a very special one because today sees Sunday Old School reach two hundred official articles! So to celebrate this little milestone of ours, I wanted to look back in rock and metal history and find a true landmark moment in the genre. A moment that let the world know that heavy music was here to stay and meant so much to so many. And nothing seemed like a bigger moment in general metal history than when promoter Paul Loasby teamed up with Maurice Jones and formed a festival, which was to be held at Donington Park in Leicestershire, England, and would be known as Monsters of Rock.
The one day event was initially scheduled to be a grand final date for Rainbow’s UK tour, a band whom Loasby had recently been promoting. Rainbow were joined at the inaugural event by established German rockers, the Scorpions, who had just released their seventh album, "Animal Magnetism" and Judas Priest, who were riding high thanks to the wildly successful, "British Steel" album. Also on the bill that day were heavy metal upstarts, Saxon, who were considered the leaders of the exciting young, New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement at the time, Canadian hard rock veterans, April Wine and New York openers Riot and Touch. The festival was a resounding success, drawing in thirty five thousand fans and a live compilation album, which sold well.
Although it was initially conceived only as a vehicle for Rainbow, it was announced on the day of the first edition that the festival would return the next year. AC/DC were to be the headliners in 1981, marking the first of their record holding three headline appearances at the event. It was a somewhat lighter tone in the sophomore year, where AC/DC were joined Whitesnake, American stars, Blue Oyster Cult and quite interestingly, British glam rock veterans, Slade, who had recently found favour with the heavy metal audience after a brief time out of the limelight. Rounding off the bill was Blackfoot, a Southern Rock band from Jacksonville, Florida and More, who were notable for featuring former Iron Maiden vocalist, Paul Day, as well as a DJ set from the BBC’s voice of rock, Tommy Vance. The varied lineups continued, with Status Quo (AKA, your nan’s favourite band) headlining the event in 1982, where they were joined by other established rockers such as Gillan, Uriah Heep and Hawkwind, as well as a young Canadian group named, Anvil and Monsters of Rock veterans, Saxon, who became the first band to appear twice, before Whitesnake closed the event in 1983, which also featured Meat Loaf and ZZ Top, who were placed higher than such heavy metal favourites as Dio, Diamond Head and Twisted Sister.
The lower end of the bill in 1983 arguably proved more popular with audiences and led to more exciting and less progressive bands performing the following year, when a young quartet named, Motley Crue opened the festivities, being followed by a thrilling German act named, Accept. 1984 was hardly short of veterans however. AC/DC headlined for the second time and were joined by Van Halen (just before they parted company with singer, David Lee Roth,) former Black Sabbath frontman and now successful solo artist, Ozzy Osbourne and blues rock icon, Gary Moore, as well as Y&T. ZZ Top returned the following year, this time as headliners in what was largely an American affair, being joined by the likes of Bon Jovi, Metallica and Ratt, with prog rock act Marillion and Midlands locals, Magnum being the only British bands on the bill, though they were joined once again by Tommy Vance, who would make his last DJ appearance at the next event, a considerably more exciting and all European stage which saw headliner Ozzy Osbourne being joined by Scorpions, Motorhead, Def Leppard, Warlock and, very controversially, Bad News, a spoof heavy metal band featuring British comedians Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson. Their performance was not well received, being greeted a storm of bottles throughout. Lemmy remarked in his autobiography, "White Line Fever" that while he found the act humourous, he was disappointed the slot wasn’t given to an up and coming rock act, instead of a joke. The big hair craze hit Donington hard in 1987. On a day opened by Cinderella and W.A.S.P and closed by Bon Jovi, metal icon Dio returned to the event and was joined by American thrashers Metallica and Anthrax, providing one of the freshest and most modern itineraries of Monsters of Rock up to that point.
As the attendance for the festival grew over the years, so did the danger, something that become far too real in 1988. Over one hundred thousand people flocked to the grounds that day to see Iron Maiden and Kiss perform at the event for the first time. Another band making their Monsters of Rock debuts that day was Guns ‘N Roses, whose performance was used as part of the video for their classic song, "Paradise City." However, during their performance, two fans were tragically crushed to death in an incident which was originally blamed on a crowd surge but was officially put down to the muddy weather. Although the show continued to the end, the organisers decided not to stage the festival the next year and so the next incarnation of the legendary festival would not take place until the nineties, although with Whitesnake filling the headline slot and Aerosmith and Poison in tow, one would be forgiven for thinking it was 1989. The 1990 edition hasn’t gone down as one of the greatest, although 1991’s was considerably more remembered, not least thanks to a blistering headline performance from AC/DC, who later released their set as a live DVD. It was notable that in 1991, AC/DC were the closest thing the Leicestershire festival saw to a British band, as all the other acts on the bill (Metallica, Motley Crue, Queensryche and The Black Crowes) were American.
Another big name band would go on to record their bill topping set the next year, when Iron Maiden, on the heels of their "Fear of the Dark" album capped off a day which saw them joined by Slayer, Pantera, Skid Row, Thunder, W.A.S.P. and Northern Irish rockers, The Almighty. Despite these successive big name headliners, the decline of heavy metal’s popularity come 1993 was so severe that the festival had to be cancelled for a second time, owing to the organisers being unable to find a big enough headliner. Fortunately, in 1994 Aerosmith came to the rescue and closed the festivities, though they were oddly out of place. The event had expanded from one stage to two, with the second stage featuring performances from the likes of The Wildhearts, Biohazard and Terrorvison, while the main stage presented acts much heavier than the headliners, such as Pantera, Sepultura and Therapy?, though Extreme were the buffers between the boys from Brazil and the toxic twins.
In a sense, Monsters of Rock didn’t really take place in 1995 either. The organisers were once again having trouble finding a headliner until Metallica stepped in. They had a few conditions however, one of which being that the festival would be known as "Escape from the Studio," the same moniker that they had dubbed their recent tour dates and the other was that they would select the lineup. They chose wisely however, elevating Therapy? from appearing just after the opener the year before to second from headliner and brought along their fellow "Big Four" members, Slayer, along with debutants such as Corrosion of Conformity, Slash’s Snakepit, White Zombie and Machine Head, as well as Skid Row and Warrior Soul.
In 1996, Donington would host Monsters of Rock once more, although without anyone’s knowledge, for the last time. The two stage event was co-headlined on this particular year, with KISS being the last band on stage, though sharing the honours with the recently unretired, Ozzy Osbourne. Sepultura made their return to the main stage that year, performing their first show without frontman, Max Cavalera, who had returned home upon hearing the news that his stepson, Dana had been murdered, leading guitarist, Andreas Kisser to handle vocal duties, thus Sepultura played for the first and only time in their professional history as a trio. They were also joined on the main stage by East Coast hardcore acts, Biohazard and Dog Eat Dog, as well as Yorkshire gothic metallers, Paradise Lost and industrial death metal outfit, Fear Factory. The second stage that year was headlined by Korn, who were preparing to release their second album, "Life is Peachy," with the second from headlining spot being designated to sarcastic New Yorkers, Type O Negative.
Although the event featured an eclectic lineup and was a success, the promoters once again struggled to find a headliner in 1997 and announced that there would be no festival that year, but more importantly, there were no plans to return Monsters of Rock to Donington. A number of outdoor events filled the void of rock at Midlands race track, including Ozzfest in 2002. But in 2003, a new rock and metal festival was launched at the site named Download, which featured headline performances from Iron Maiden and Audioslave (who replaced the scheduled, Limp Bizkit.) Since then, Download has remained a permanent fixture of the calendar of British rock events, mixing the old with the new on a yearly basis. Monsters of Rock itself did make a return of sorts in 2006, where the moniker was flown high at the Milton Keynes Bowl in a showcase headlined by Deep Purple and Alice Cooper and also featuring the first British concert from Journey in over twenty years, as well as performances from Thunder, Queensryche and a show stealing set from Ted Nugent. However, tickets sold poorly and only twenty thousand of the allotted sixty filed the venue, thus ensuring that Monsters of Rock would be destined to remain in the history books of rock and roll. An historic project that provided a Mecca for metal, long before Wacken took on the role and showed the mainstream that there were thousands of metal fans not just in the United Kingdom but all over the world.
Rainbow - "All Night Long"
Van Halen - "Hot For Teacher"
KISS - "Deuce"
AC/DC - "Thunderstruck"
Slayer - "Dead Skin Mask"
Sepultura - "Orgasmatron"
Therapy? - "Isolation/Loose"
Ozzy Osbourne - "Perry Mason"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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