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For information on today's festivals see eFestivals.co.uk
Created Autumn 2007 .
Updated June 2021
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Castle Donington Raceway.
Photo © Pierre Julien
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.
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 .
Ticket and cover scans courtesy Ashley Haynes
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).
Photo © Stuart Alexander
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.
Judas Priest © Pierre Julien
Judas Priest © Andy
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.
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.
courtesy Ashley Haynes
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.
courtesy Ashley Haynes
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...!
April Wine © Pierre Julien
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.
Saxon © Andy
© Pierre Juelien
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.
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.
I went to the first MOR at Donington in 1980 with two mates, Neil and Rick. I was 16, and the proud owner of a bullet belt (a la Lemmy)which I wore slung low around my waist.When we were going in to the arena,a security guard made me take it off and leave it there, telling me I could get it back after the gig. Hours later, after Rainbow had finished off what was a pretty good day, I went back to the security post and...it was shut, with no-one in sight. So I never got back my precious, cool belt.
Mr security guard - I am 50 this year, and I still haven't forgotten, you bastard!
PS; Both Rick and Neil died young; Rick on his Kawasaki Z1000 aged 18, and Neil aged 48 of a brain tumour. I know they will be rocking on, wherever they are...
Just been reading your Monsters of Rock page for 1980. I was there to see Rainbow. I was 15 at the time and my Aunt and her boyfriend took me along with them I was a massive Rainbow fan at the time, Rainbow Rising was my fave album. I wasn’t too keen on the Graham Bonnet era back then and I was disappointed that I hadn’t seen Rainbow when Dio was singing with them. Nonetheless I was v excited to see them. IWe were travelling from Worksop, not too far from Donington.I don’t actually remember much of the day to be honest except that it was muddy and I got lost ! I remember Rainbow and thinking that Bonnet looked very slick. Looking back I think he had excellent vocals although probably not best suited to Rainbow and I think he thought that himself if you read/watch interviews with him. I remember the smell of pot hanging in the air and trying to find a good spot to be able to see well enough from.
I’ve got a photo of myself somewhere of just before Doningtonholding one of the music newspapers (probably Sounds) had a headline reading‘End of the Rainbow’ on their front cover cause Rainbow were supposedly splitting.
Anyway, I’m proud to have been there and kids going to festival today will probably think that the 1 day Donington gig was pre-historic but at the time it was great.
Alison (from Worksop, Notts)
April Wine © Andy
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.
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.
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 pa. "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.
Scorpions and photographer © Pierre Julien
© Pierre Julien
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”!!! Regards
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!
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”!!!
© Pierre Julien
courtesy Ashley Haynes
Axeman Richie Blackmore
Roger Glover © Alan Perry
visit his site to see
more photos of Rainbow Scorpions , etc at Donington 1980
Recordings and setlists.
We don't have a definitive set list for Rainbow's set at the moment, but setlists did not change much from night to night , so this will have to do for the moment.
Cozy Powell's pyrotechnics go off !
Blackmore hurts his axe -Donington 1980
Graham Bonnet (vocals)
This was Cozy Powell's last gig with Rainbow, he left due to the usual "artistic disagreements".
The entire show was filmed and Rainbows set was broadcast on TV, portions of this have appeared on Youtube in recent months and there is a fun section where young master Blackmore most thoroughly destroys his guitar and then sets fire to a fake stack.
Another legitimate release is of Saxon's set. This band went down particularly well and perhaps this prompted the release of the material.
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A compilation album was released called
Monsters Of Rock
After kicking shit out of both , Mr B surveys the remains of his hapless stack and guitar
Can we get a witness ?
We need more info on this and the other Donington festivals, most especially more photos and personal recollections so c'mon head bangers, get yer photos out and fire up what's left of the aging brain cells .Send your recollections and scans to us NOW ! !! Contact us
Watch this space for more Monsters of Rock pages to be added in the next month or two - we will eventually go up till 1996, meanwhile if you have material from any years up to 1996 , send it along and we will add it as we build the pages.
Free festivals of the 70s and 80s
Back to the main Archive.
Links to external sites
Thanks to photographer Alan Perry for allowing us to use his excellent photos of Donington 1980, you can purchase copies of these pix at his website where he has oodles of top photos of metal bands .
Judas Priest at Donington 1980
Watch this space for more Monsters of Rock pages to be added in the next month or two - we will eventually go up till 1990, meanwhile if you have material from any years up to 1990 , send it along and we will add it as we build the pages.
Free festivals of the 70s and 80s
Back to the main Archive.