It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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Sales report

Loncon 3 is now in full swing. I am not there. After spending last weekend in a field in Derbyshire, drinking and watching a number of metal bands perform, I can’t say I’m especially bothered about missing the Worldcon (though I’m sorry I won’t have the chance to meet IRL a few visitors to the UK I know only from online). Bloodstock was good – I think I enjoyed the music more this year than last, even though initially I hadn’t been that keen on the line-up. Highlights were the sets by Obsidian Kingdom and Shining, and the crowd’s performance during Evil Scarecrow’s set. Other good stuff included Orphaned Land (twice), Rotting Christ, Winterfylleth, Old Corpse Road and Voices. The weather behaved – mostly. It hammered down on the Sunday, and everywhere got wet and muddy, but it cleared up by the evening. Security this year was much improved; the toilets were much worse. A good festival, nonetheless.

Meanwhile… these summer months so far have felt spectacularly unproductive, and there have been days when I’ve had trouble working up the enthusiasm to write, edit, or even get started on a book review… Which is not to say I’ve done nothing. It just feels like it. I’m assuming reviews count. I wrote a fair few of those during June and July. Four for SF Mistressworks, in fact: We Who Are About To…, Joanna Russ (here); Busy About the Tree of Life, Pamela Zoline (here); Worlds for the Grabbing, Brenda Pearce (here); and Judgment Night, CL Moore (here). A fifth went up this week – The Revolving Boy, Gertrude Friedberg (here) – and I have another two suitable books I’ve read but I’ve yet to start on the reviews – Aurora: Beyond Equality, edited by Vonda N McIntyre & Susan Janice Anderson; and Second Body, Sue Payer. I also reviewed Extreme Planets, edited by David Conyers, David Kernott & Jeff Harris, for Interzone (the anthology’s publishers really need to sort out its Amazon page); and I have another book sitting on this desk beside my laptop to review for them, which is, er, already late. (I’ll have it done by the end of the week, Jim. Honest.)

Whippleshield Books continues to quietly stumble along. Sales of Adrift on the Sea of Rains have just passed 1100, those of The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself are over 500, and Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above has to date managed a tardy 200-or-so units sold. I’m determined to get the final book of the Apollo Quartet, All That Outer Space Allows, out before the end of the year, although at present I can’t predict exactly when. (Which reminds me: I need to buy some more ISBNs.) Aphrodite Terra, however, should appear some time next month. (The contributors were paid on acceptance, so any delay is more annoying than anything else.)

shrimpton

Also, next month, I’ll have a story in Litro magazine. The issue has a “future fashion” theme, and my story, ‘The Spaceman and the Moon Girl’, is about astronauts and space age fashion designers. Sort of. Postscripts #32/33: Far Voyager should also be out some time this year, with my story providing its title. And later this year – no date as yet – Tickety Boo Press are publishing an anthology Space: Houston, We Have A Problem, which contains my story ‘Red Desert’.

ETA: I forgot to mention I contributed a couple of Friday Fives to Pornokitsch – one on sf novels about first missions to the Moon titled, with a great deal of imagination, ’5 Trips to the Moon’; the other about sf movies set at the bottom of the ocean, ‘5 Pieces of Soggy Sci-Fi Cinema‘.

 


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Metal scorchio

Every year, I say to myself I’m too old for this shit; and every year, I find myself in a field in Derbyshire listening to some of my favourite bands and having a great time. I say “every year” but Bloodstock 2012 was only my fourth Bloodstock since 2008 (I missed 2009 and 2010). But it has definitely got better every year. And bigger, too.

After packing the Toyota Tardis Yaris with all our gear, the four of us – Craig, Emma, Rowan and myself – headed to the local Asda for our final pre-festival shop. Naturally, this meant beer. And water. And baby wipes. And items for the Bucket o’SnacksTM. We also wanted something to eat on our way to Catton Hall, since it was already lunch time. Annoyingly Asda makes its pork pies with milk, which is not how they should be made. Fortunately, we found some very nice sausage rolls instead which I could eat.

Then it was back into the car and down the M1 and A38 to Catton Hall, Derbyshire. We made good time and, despite leaving a little later than intended, managed to arrive as planned at two pm. Craig had bought himself a collapsible trolley after the difficulties we had last year carting everything from the car park to the camping ground. It proved a wise purchase, although it did mean he had to drag along about 400 kilos of booze and tents. But at least we never needed to return to the car for the entire weekend.

I’d been worrying for weeks beforehand that we’d have torrential rain during the weekend, so Craig had lent me one of his tents – my pop-up tent would probably have been destroyed by the first downpour. In the event, we had blinding sunshine for three days, and a warm slightly overcast Sunday with a couple of weak showers. In fact, Craig managed to get sunstroke on the Friday.

After meeting up with Roger in the car park, we began the long trek to the festival ground entrance and the camping ground. Cat and Sly joined us, and once we had put up our tents – in pretty much the same spot as last year – we headed for the arena.

photo: Craig Andrews

First band of the festival was Saturnian, whom we’d seen last year. They were playing on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, which is in a huge marquee. Beer had gone up a little in price since Bloodstock 2011 – £4 for a pint of Bloddstock Ale, or £3.90 for a plastic bottle of Carlsberg. And Monster were no longer sponsors; this year, it was Red Bull, but their presence was very low-key. After Saturnian, we wandered about the arena, which more or less resembled last year’s. Mr Tea’s was there – which pleased Craig, Emma and Rowan greatly, as they’re big tea-drinkers. There looked to be a wide selection of food available, so it was unlikely I’d have to go hungry or subsist on the contents of the Bucket o’SnacksTM.

When we got back to the tents, Roger – who had waited in the car park to meet friends – had arrived and put up his tent. As had Burnie, Gray and Will. I remember the night being really cold. Though the tent I’d borrowed was double-walled, I was using the same Argos sleeping-bag as previous years and it’s not especially effective. I’d taken the precaution of buying a fleece to use as a blanket, and that sort of worked. Fortunately, Thursday was the coldest night of the weekend.

My first two times at Bloodstock were spent mostly drinking or suffering from a hangover. Last year, we’d decided to focus more on the music, and make an effort to see more bands. The same plan was in effect for this year. Emma had marked down those with female members for Femetalism; other bands we decided might be worth hearing from their write-ups in the programme. And then there were those bands we knew and liked and had always planned to watch perform – for me, that would be Alcest, Winterfylleth, Nile, Paradise Lost and Anaal Nathrakh. Which is not an especially large number for a festival lasting three and a half days…

Friday and Saturday were spent almost identically – wandering from stage to stage to hear bands, sitting out in the sun, taking occasional breaks in Mr Tea’s, drinking beer… As per the last year, for lunch I “falafelated” (the falafel wrap, however, was much better this year). Dinner was chips and gravy. I watched Moonsorrow on the main stage, the Ronnie James Dio Stage, and, appropriately, Dio Disciples, who played a bunch of old Rainbow and Black Sabbath tracks (the best ones, of course, from the line-ups with Dio). On the Sophie Lancaster Stage, I watched some of The Commander-in-Chief, a female guitarist, but didn’t much like her semi-operatic vocals. The following act, Swiss band Gonoreas, despite the unfortunate name were quite good. The main attraction that night was French metal shoegazer band, Alcest. They were good, but it’s music to be sitting down for, I think. We did catch a couple of acoustic sets on the Jägermeister Stage, the best of which was Manchester folk metallers Andraste.

At one point during the afternoon, I was in the audience for Pythia’s set on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, but several people had lit up joints and the smell of weed was making me ill. So I left the tent. There were clearly-posted signs saying “No Smoking” in the tent, but dopeheads seem to think that doesn’t apply to them. Cigarette smokers had the decency to smoke outside, but the smell of weed was constant throughout the weekend. That, and the heat, made several of the sets unpleasant to watch. I’d not noticed the dope on previous Bloodstocks. But then Sonisphere had been cancelled the month before and it was suggested a lot of people that would have attended that had come to Bloodstock instead. Perhaps that accounted for it.

Also that afternoon, I chatted with Leon of Mithras at the Zero Tolerance stall and we had what is turning into our annual moan about not being able to make decent money recording music or writing science fiction – or at least the sort of music he records and the sf I write. Later that night, Cat, Sly and myself had a go on the dodgems. The others were, I think, watching a band on the New Blood Stage. Top tip: when on the dodgems, don’t leave your phone in a thigh pocket. I did. Mine now has a small crack on the screen.

We didn’t stay in the arena to see the day’s headliners, Behemoth, but returned to the tents to drink beer. We hadn’t seen Watain either, as they clashed with Alcest. I don’t think we missed much – Leon had described Watain as “black metal for people who don’t like black metal”.

The only acts playing the Ronnie James Dio Stage I really wanted to see weren’t on until the Sunday. I did hear the occasional song by those playing on the Saturday as I wandered about the arena, and I did stay for the first few songs by Machine Head, that day’s headliner. But I saw more bands perform on the Sophie Lancaster Stage. Rising Dream, a Croatian female-fronted power/death metal band were the highlight of the day. I’d wandered in to see who was performing at the beginning of their set, and stayed for the entire performance. Winterfylleth, on the other hand, I’d planned to see. I’d seen them live once before at the Day of Unrest in 2008 (see here). They were good and the tent was packed for their set. I may well pick up a copy of their latest album.

That night, there was the usual Saturday night shenanigans in the camping ground. A group of about a hundred tried some bin jousting, but managed no more than two jousts before security staff came and took away the bins. So they made do with finger-wrestling. It was noisy but good-hearted. There was no re-occurance of last year’s trouble.

Sunday was easily the best day for me in terms of music. And it proved even better than expected. The others were taking their time getting up, so at 10:30 I decided to head into the arena on my own. After a bacon sandwich, I wandered across to the New Blood Stage to see what was happening there. It was the first act of the day, Seprevention, and they were excellent – old school death metal with duelling shredding guitars. I wandered round for a bit more, before returning to the New Blood Stage to watch Aethara, who I also thought very good. By this time, Craig, Emma and Rowan had appeared, so we stayed for So-Da-Ko, though I didn’t like them as much as the two bands I’d already seen. Then it was outside to watch Nile. I’d been warned they weren’t that good live, but I thought they were excellent.

The others settled down in Mr Tea’s but I headed off to the Sophie Lancaster Stage to see Ancient Ascendant. They weren’t bad but their write-up in the programme had suggested they’d be better. I wasn’t especially keen on seeing Anvil on the Ronnie James Dio Stage. Yes, I know it’s meant to be bad, but I’ve yet to be convinced metal and irony mix (no pun intended). Anyway, we staked out an area on the grass pretty much where we’d spent the Sunday afternoon the previous year. After Anvil – who were mildly amusing – it was Paradise Lost. They were good, but I’d seen them in the Corporation in April and they’d been much better then.

I had no plans to watch Dimmu Borgir – I’ve caught them live twice before, despite not being a fan – so after a couple of songs I headed off to the Sophie Lancaster Stage to see Anaal Nathrakh. I’d thought the others had planned to see them too, but it turned out I was on my own (though Craig did turn up toward the end of the set). The tent was packed – and filled up even more after Dimmu Borgir finished their set after halfway through Anaal Nathrakh’s. So much so, in fact, that I found myself slowly being herded further back, and I wasn’t even near the stage to begin with. Anaal Nathrakh were excellent, definitely one of the best performances of the weekend.

And then it was Alice Cooper. I don’t get it – an old man playing music for fifteen-year-olds. His music makes MTV sound edgy. And no matter how you dress it up with a fancy stage show, it still sounds like some insipid Hollywood version of metal. I stayed for a couple of songs and then headed back to the tent. The others stayed. But even they couldn’t manage the whole set. After they turned up at the tents, we sat around and drank beer for a bit. I didn’t get much sleep – there was a group near my tent who larked about all night and kept me awake. One of them was apparently on “gas”, and the rest were loudly egging him on. Next year, I think we’ll camp somewhere a little quieter…

So that was Bloodstock 2012. And great fun it was too. Best bands of the weekend for me were Rising Dream, Anaal Nathrakh, Suprevention, Winterfylleth, Aethara, Nile, Paradise Lost and Alcest. So far, Anthrax have been announced for next year. Hopefully, there’ll be plenty of better bands on the bill by August 2013. And if not, perhaps some of those unknown to me will prove to be really good – as has been the case for the Bloodstock 2011 and Bloodstock 2012.

Finally, I can’t write about Bloodstock without mentioning Metal Meerkat. Craig had recently bought house insurance through comparethemarket.com, and so they’d sent him one of their stuffed toys. It was Vassily, dressed in a t-shirt and leather jacket. Throughout the weekend, Craig and Emma took photos of Vassily in various parts of the arena and camping ground. Craig even took some mpg footage. And he’s edited these together. Enjoy…


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Metal weekend

After missing the last two Bloodstock Open Air music festivals, we were determined to make it this year, and planned accordingly. Although ostensibly running from Friday 12 August to Sunday 14 August, the campsite opened the day before – as did one of the bars and one of the stages – so we decided to arrive on the Thursday. We booked days off work, I purchased a tent – the saga of its failure to be delivered kept the Internet enthralled in the week before Bloodstock – and after a marathon shop at Asda on the morning of the festival, we set off down the M1 to Catton Hall in Derbyshire…

The drive took less time than expected, but there was a fair trek from the designated parking area to the campsite. My two-man pop-up tent operated as advertised, so I was sitting down and enjoying a beer while Craig, Emma, Rowan and Roger were still busy erecting their tents. Once we were all done, we headed for the arena. Which was much bigger than it had been on our previous attendances in 2008 and 2007. There were now three stages – the main stage, the Ronnie James Dio Stage; the Sophie Lancaster Stage for lesser-known bands; and the New Blood Stage for unsigned acts. Each had bars. There were double the number of stalls and food outlets, and several fairground rides. Bloodstock claimed to have sold 10,000 tickets, which made the festival larger than previous years, but we saw little evidence of this until the Sunday (on which more later).

The Thursday night was more in the nature of an exploratory trip round the arena. We caught Revoker in action, though we had seen them a month earlier supporting Sylosis and Cavalera Conspiracy. Then it was back to the tent to drink the beer we’d brought with us – beer in the arena was £3.80 a pint; not especially expensive, though it was only Carlsberg or Hobgoblin, but not as cheap as the tins we’d bought in Asda.

Friday was the start of the festival proper, and we’d already picked those bands we wanted to see. To be honest, there weren’t a large number of bands playing Bloodstock 2011 that I was really keen to see. Morbid Angel, certainly; and Wintersun. But part of the appeal of the festival is discovering bands new to you. By which lights, Bloodstock 2011 started very well indeed: unsigned band Shreddertron proved not to live up to their name at all, but instead played some excellent post-metal.

In fact, the weekend seem to consist of being impressed by bands about which we knew nothing, but disappointed by those we had high hopes for. Byfrost, a Norwegian black metal trio, proved really good, but the Devin Townsend Project was more entertaining for the banter and jokes than the music. October File impressed – and I had another one of those moments when I discovered I knew the song they were playing but had no idea why. I must have heard it on a magazine cover CD (see, they do work).

On the Saturday, I listened to the first Finntroll song but left the others to it and went to watch French metallers Blake on the Sophie Lancaster Stage instead. The tent was deserted, I stood right up at front, and the band played a really good set. Back on the Ronnie James Dio Stage, Ihsahn was disappointing, but Wintersun weren’t. Therion proved as entertaining live as they are on their albums.

Throughout the weekend, several of the unsigned bands performed short acoustic sets to a smaller crowd on the “Jägermeister Stage” – basically a tent attached to the Jägermeister promotional truck. And that’s where Northern Oak performed a storming set, and even got the crowd dancing a jig during their last song. Back at the campsite that night, we continued drinking, and I went off and introduced myself to the people in the tents set up in the area near ours. We were kept awake by people talking – again – into the small hours, and by loud noises apparently generated by a bunch of people “bin jousting”.

We’d bought plenty of beer with us, but weren’t actually drinking that much. Unlike previous years, we were far more focused on the music. Bloodstock is a three-day party, of course; but we were being unaccountably sensible. Well, we weren’t eating as properly we should have done – despite the variety on offer – but we weren’t doing bad.

Musically, Sunday was less successful than Saturday. Primordial, on the main stage, started well, but then the vocalist lost his voice halfway through the set, so they finished it as entirely instrumental. Northern Oak managed to better their acoustic set with an electric one on the New Blood Stage – the tent was packed and they sold out all their merchandising within half an hour afterwards. But then Sunday was a much busier day than the previous day. We suspected this was because Motorhead were headlining that night. It seemed likely that the advertised 10,000 tickets sold had been mostly day tickets, rather than camping tickets. Even so, the arena never seemed stupidly over-full.

We caught Morbid Angel and, yes, they did play some tracks from their “controversial” new album Illud Divinum Insanus. But the set felt like it went on too long. Motorhead weren’t especially impressive either: Lemmy just stood there and sang – I later heard someone describe him as an animatronic – and the drummer played like Animal from the Muppets… But I’ve never been a fan of the band, and I saw and heard nothing to make me change my mind.

Sunday was planned to be a quiet night as we were heading home the next day. It was not to be, however, as a crowd of seventy or eighty descended on our section of the campsite and milled about for a while as if looking for a riot. Nothing actually happened, and security were on hand to prevent anything had it done so.

After an even colder night, we were up early, struck tents – mine proved less easy to pack than it had been to put up – hauled everything to the car park, and left. I was home by half past eleven. I’d not had a shower for four days. I’d had more beer than food during those days – although not to excess. I’d not had much sleep. But I’d seen a lot of bands perform and had been really impressed by some of them. Oh, and I bought a Nile hoodie. It was also good to catch up with Leon of Mithras and Zero Tolerance, who was there for the Sunday afternoon.

Of course, I have to mention the toilets. It wouldn’t be a music festival without chemical toilets. In fact, they’re the reason why you tend to eat less food – to minimise visits to them, you see. Yes, they got pretty bad on the Sunday night in the campsite. But the ones in the arena were kept clean throughout the entire weekend. At previous Bloodstocks it had always been better to return to the campsite to use the toilets, but this time I carried a roll of toilet paper with me into the arena.

But it’s the music, of course, that’s the reason you go. Band of the weekend, without a doubt, were Northern Oak, who played two brilliant sets. Top three sets were Shreddertron, Byfrost and Blake, none of whom I’d heard before but definitely want to hear again. On the strength of the one song Wintersun played from their much-delayed second album, I’m looking forward to its eventual appearance even more. I’m also looking forward to next year’s Bloodstock, no matter who’s on the bill.


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Mud & Metal

I spent last weekend in a field in Derbyshire with several thousand other people. We were all there for one reason.

Metal.

The Bloodstock Open Air music festival takes place at Catton Hall in Derbyshire each year. It’s considerably smaller than European ones such as Germany’s Wacken or France’s Hellfest. I don’t know what the actual attendance at Bloodstock 2008 was, but I’d guess around 8,000 people. It was certainly higher than last year.

Much as I’d enjoyed Bloodstock Open Air 2007, I’d only planned to attend in 2008 if bands I liked were playing. So when Opeth signed up, it was hard to resist. Add in Swallow the Sun and Akercocke, and resistance was futile. I also quite fancied seeing the likes of Eluveitie, Týr, Moonsorrow, Soilwork (again), Napalm Death and At the Gates. The headlining acts on the Saturday and Sunday night – Dimmu Borgir and Nightwish – I was not so keen on.

Calin also wanted to do Bloodstock again. And this year, we were joined by Craig, another work colleague. So the three of us bought tickets, booked the days off work, and made our plans…

Friday 15 August at 10:30 a.m., and Craig turned up in his car. We headed off to pick up Calin (and his camping gear). The plan was to arrive at Catton Hall around midday – in time to get the tent pitched before the first performance.

Except this year, Bloodstock actually started at 10:00 a.m., not 4:00 p.m. Still, the first band I really wanted to see, Akercocke, weren’t on until 2:55 p.m., so there was plenty of time…

Once Calin and his gear was aboard, we stopped off at Asda for beer, water, baby wipes and assorted other items. And then onto the M1.

Which is where it all started to go horribly wrong.

Craig had googled for Bloodstock’s venue, and taken the postcode from Catton Hall’s website to use in his GPS. The route it gave him struck us as odd, but it was the right distance so we didn’t question it too much. We should have done. There are apparently two Catton Halls. One in Derbyshire – the location of Bloodstock. And one in Cheshire. Which is where we ended up.

So we didn’t arrive at the Bloodstock until much later than planned. After Akercocke’s set, in fact. Damn.

It didn’t get better. There were a few other changes instituted this year. Such as, no parking the car near the tents. All vehicles had to stay in the designated car park, which was allegedly a “short distance” from the camping field. Lies. It was a good ten minute walk. Another new rule was a limit of one case of beer per person in the camping area over the entire weekend.

We arrived, carried the gear through two fields until we found somewhere to pitch the tent, put it up, had a can of beer, and then made our way to the arena. The increase in size was immediately obvious. Not only were there more clothing stalls and more food vendors, but also a funfair, with bumper cars and a couple of rides – the ones that are guaranteed to make you lose your lunch. Especially when you’re drunk. There were also lots more people.

And lots more security. They were checking the bags and pockets of everyone entering the arena. Not for weapons. For beer. No cans or bottles were allowed in the arena. Fair enough – that could be a safety issue. But when the bouncers were turning back people who were carrying paper cups of beer purchased inside the arena earlier, it was clear it was really about forcing festival-goers to buy their drinks from the arena bars.

At £3.50 a pint.

And there was a 10p surcharge on the paper cups. But you could get this back at another stall. I thought this was quite a good idea – less litter, more environmentally friendly. Until I discovered the surcharge only applied to alcoholic drinks. There was no 10p refund on cups which had held soft drinks. Which made the whole thing mostly pointless.

Still, music festivals are about the, well, the music. We were there to see bands perform. I didn’t get to see everyone but – with the exception of Akercocke and Týr (who had actually been on before Akercocke) – I did get to see everyone I had wanted to:

Friday. I caught the opening of Soulfly’s set, but I’m not a fan so I left after a couple of songs. Helloween none of us bothered with. Power metal. Ugh. But, of course, we were back in front of the stage for Opeth. They’re a favourite band, but that night they were disappointing. I’ve seen them twice before and both times they were excellent. However, the sound wasn’t good at Bloodstock, and the set was too laid back.

Saturday. Eluveitie were entertaining. It’s not every day you see a metal band with a member who plays a hurdy gurdy. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people carrying around flags at the festival, and they often got in the way and blocked the view of the stage. Swallow the Sun, who followed Eluveitie, were good. The sound could have been better, but I plan to buy their new album (released later this month). I saw the start of Napalm Death

Speaking of flags, Calin bought a Romanian flag (since he is, after all, Romanian), and carried it around all Saturday. Later that morning, he was approached by a bloke who was also Romanian. He was at Bloodstock with a group from Scruffy Murphy’s, a well-known rock pub in Birmingham. We spent much of the weekend in the company of Cornell and Semina, the two Romanians in the group. Unhappily, the flag was stolen from outside our tent while we were asleep on Saturday night.

Throughout the weekend I saw flags from a number of countries, among them Sweden, Finland, Norway, Russia, Netherlands, Germany, Israel, Australia… and one I couldn’t identify. I asked and learned it was Slovenia. Oh, and lots of Union Jacks, of course.

Sunday. The three of us plus Cornell and Semina went for lunch at the White Swan in Walton on Trent, and very nice it was too. There were two bands on at 1:00 p.m. we wanted to see – Alestorm on the main stage, and Serotonal in the Scuzz tent. We managed to make it back, albeit ten minutes late. Serotonal were excellent. They finished before Alestorm, so I also caught the end of the pirate metallers’ set. The five of us then hung around the arena for a bit until the next band appeared…

It was bad enough the fairground rides pumping out Tina Turner and Bon Jovi, and drowning out the stage in some areas of the arena; but there was also a DJ blasting out commercial metal to advertise Monster energy drink. They had a couple of armoured cars – no, I’ve no idea why; and a “Ball of Steel”. This last was some twelve or fifteen feet in diameter, and at regular intervals three blokes on small motorcycles would do a Wheel of Death-type act inside. And every time they did it, the announcer’s patter was identical. Even the “ad lib” joshing during which the DJ “persuaded” the announcer to stand inside the ball while the motorbikes whizzed around him was word-for-word the same.

Then it was time for Kataklysm. They’re not a band I know, even though they play the sort of no-frills death metal I will happily listen to. I don’t know what it was, but everything seemed to come together right for them. The sun shone, and the wind dropped. The sound was excellent. The crowd were in the right mood, too. Before the band appeared, a group of moshers had been entertaining us – one of whom was in a kilt, and happy to demonstrate exactly what he was wearing underneath. Or wasn’t. These moshers had also tried human pyramids, but kept on falling down. Then they did high-speed Ring a Ring o’Roses, which resulted in most of them being flung at speed into the surrounding crowd like bowling balls…

Kataklysm definitely gave the set of the weekend. Nothing afterwards came close. We missed As I Lay Dying and Overkill. And had fun on the bumper cars while we waited for At the Gates to appear on stage (they were good, but I’m not a big fan). Last act of the night, and clearly the most popular of the festival, was Nightwish. Another band I don’t particularly like. The pyrotechnics were impressive; the music less so.

Of course, no music festival in the UK is complete without a downpour. Bloodstock 2008 was no exception. Friday was glorious, but torrential rain had been forecast for the Saturday. In the event, it didn’t rain until late that day, and it wasn’t as heavy as promised. It rained for most of Sunday. The camp site turned into a quagmire – although happily not where our tent was pitched. A lot of our stuff got wet, however; and we still ended up muddy.

And, of course, no report on a music festival in the UK is complete without mention of the chemical toilets. I’d been suffering from a bad stomach the week before, which had me worried. The combination of that and portaloos did not bear contemplating. But on the Thursday, I discovered that the Bovril I’d been eating each day was from a contaminated batch. I stopped eating the Bovril, and my stomach immediately recovered. And yet, the toilets at Bloodstock… were actually better than the previous year. They smelled, yes; and when they filled up they were stomach-churning. But they stayed clean, and they were emptied regularly. Of course, there weren’t enough. There never is.

Bloodstock 2008 was bigger and more commercial than 2007. That was both good and bad. I didn’t see as many bands I liked as last year, but the selection was better. And some I watched proved to be good. There was also more of a festival atmosphere. But the beer was expensive and the security was intrusive. If they want people to buy beer in the arena and not sneak in cans, they should sell it at a reasonable price – like £2 a pint. Mind you, it’s not as if music festivals are about music. They’re about money. Hence the expensive beer, the expensive burgers (£5!), the expensive jacket potatoes (£4!), and the annoying Monster energy drink marketing. Ironically, the CDs on sale were mostly cheaper than on the high street.

Will I go in 2009? Probably. And almost certainly if the line-up is good. A festival is pretty much the only chance I get to see bands which don’t tour the UK, such as Swallow the Sun or Eluveitie. There are certainly plenty I’d like to see, but haven’t done so yet. And just as many I’d happily see again.


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Metalheads

In the last two years I have seen more bands live than I did in the preceding two decades. Not all of those gigs were local – I travelled up to Glasgow to see Anathema and down to London to see Opeth. Almost all of the bands I’ve seen perform live were metal – it is, after all, the genre of music I like most. It’s not just bands whose output I know and like that I’ll go see, either. If any metal group which looks even remotely interesting is playing in town, I’ll go and watch them perform.

But I’d never been to a metal festival.

When I learnt that both Dark Tranquillity and Arch Enemy were on the bill of this year’s Bloodstock Open Air, I was determined to attend. Bloodstock Open Air (BOA) is a three-day metal festival, which takes place at Catton Hall in Derbyshire each year. And has done since 2005. It’s a relatively small festival – twenty-five signed bands, the same number of unsigned bands, and around 10,000 people attending. There’s also an indoor Bloodstock festival, which has been running since 2001. (Normally, BOA is in July, but this year it’d been postponed until August. Which resulted in the cancellation of the indoor Bloodstock.)

Anyway, Calin, a colleague from work, was also keen to attend. He even had camping gear. We made our plans – bought tickets, booked the days off work. Three of us were going: Calin, his girlfriend Angela, and myself. A few others were interested but, for one reason or another, decided they couldn’t make it. In the weeks leading up to BOA, I was both dreading it and looking forward to it. Seeing favourite bands perform live… but three days of chemical toilets and no showers. When the organisers announced that Scar Symmetry had joined the line-up, I was even more chuffed.

Calin had wanted to arrive early, insisting we needed to do so in order to get a good spot for the tent. I didn’t think we needed to get there until after lunch. The actual festival didn’t start until 4 o’clock, anyway. In the event, we left later than planned, stopped off en route at Morrison’s for beer, water and baby wipes, and arrived on-site around noon. Calin had been right. The field was already full of tents. Fortunately, we managed to find a good spot against the fence. As soon as we had the tent up, we went and checked out the “arena”. This was the site of the main stage, the unsigned bands tent, the beer tents, and various food and merchandising stalls. My first purchase was a Bloodstock cap to keep the sun off my head. Perhaps it wasn’t the best souvenir I could have chosen – several times over the weekend I was mistaken for festival staff because of it. The Metal Market stalls were mostly clothing – and mostly Goth clothing – but one or two did sell band T-shirts. But for me, it’s the music not the fashion. The stalls that sold CDs mostly had prog rock and classic metal. Even among metal fans, it seems my tastes are fringe. I didn’t see anyone sporting the same band T-shirts as myself the entire weekend. In fact, I was asked where I’d bought my Akercocke T-shirt by one of the blokes in the Earache Records stall, as he’d not seen it before. As for my Dark Tranquillity hoodie – referred to by my friends as my “death metal cardigan” – since Dark Tranquillity were on the bill, there were plenty of examples of the garment to be seen throughout the festival.

After a quick wander through the Metal Market, we hit the bar to try out the Bloodstock Ale. It wasn’t bad. And we weren’t the only ones to think that, since it ran out before the evening was finished. Bizarrely, all the paper cups in the bar were emblazoned with the Tuborg logo, and some of the bar staff also wore Tuborg T-shirts… but there was no Tuborg being served. Only Carlsberg.

The acts on the main stage were audible from pretty much anywhere in the arena. Some of the bands we went to watch perform, some we didn’t. Dark Tranquillity and Arch Enemy both put on excellent shows, although the sound could have been better. Lacuna Coil and In Flames gave slick polished performances. Scar Symmetry were… disappointing. Their set was ruined by bad sound, and it was only on the last song that they really shone. Several bands were afflicted by sound problems throughout the festival. The secret heroes of BOA, however, had to be Rise to Addiction, who played a solid set, sounded great, and got the crowd going. I bought their CD, A New Shade of Black for the Soul, afterwards.

Of all the genres of music, you’d have thought metal was well-suited to live performance. It’s aggressive and loud, both qualities more effective live than on a studio album. But a lot of the metal bands I listen to write songs with intricate guitar parts, and the subtlety and sophistication of those can be lost in a bad live mix. But when they riff, when the guitars start to chug, backed by the drummer’s inhumanly fast blastbeats… then it’s an intensely visceral experience, and has a presence no other musical genre can match.

Music festivals are ostensibly about, well, music. That’s what people attend for. But it’s also a three-day party. Getting drunk each day, crashing out in a tent… and, of course, having to steel yourself to use a chemical toilet. The toilets were particularly bad at BOA. I can’t understand why people would vandalise toilets they themselves have to use. It’s an almost literal example of the expression, “you don’t shit in your own backyard”. Several times during the event I was reminded of the Apollo astronaut who dosed himself with Imodium before his mission. He claims he currently holds the world record for distance travelled without going to the toilet – half a million miles. More than once, I wished I’d had the foresight to do the same…

No one expects to eat gourmet food during a music festival. While BOA was well served by food vendors, they sold pretty basic fare. I tried most of them. The fish and chips weren’t bad. The Mexican wrap, well, wasn’t – they left the tortilla open on a paper plate. Most of its contents ended up on the grass. The rice in the Chinese curry was like eating cavity wall insulation. The burgers… For an extra 50p, you could have a cheeseburger, the same as an ordinary burger but with a slice of processed cheese added. One food vendor, fortunately, did sell real food. It was just a small trailer, but it sold fresh-baked baguette and panini sandwiches. I did try their giant chocolate muffin for breakfast on the Saturday morning, but it was too much to eat in one go. There was also a coffee and doughnuts trailer. Calin bought Angela some doughnuts, and tried to wangle an extra one, on the perfectly reasonably assumption that those not sold would be thrown away. But the bloke behind the counter was having none of it. We Brits still haven’t got this customer service thing sussed, and it’s about time we did.

Toilets aside, the camping was fun. I’d bought a sleeping bag with a built-in air mattress from Argos the week before, and it was very comfortable. If there was a lot of noise at night – and there was always someone playing metal on a stereo somewhere – I never noticed it. One large boisterous group blocked one of the routes to the arena throughout the Saturday, and prevented people with cans of beer passing until they’d taken a swig. But it was all harmless fun.

On the Friday morning, the three of us tried walking to the nearest village, Walton-on-Trent. After a mile and a half, we decided to turn back. My ankles were killing me. Stupidly, I’d bought new boots for the festival only a couple of days before. I’ll know better next time. Calin took Angela to the village in the car, while I stayed to watch Scar Symmetry. Angela was not enjoying the camping as much as Calin and myself, although she’s a big fan of fellow countrymen Lacuna Coil. Since they were the last act on the Friday night, it was agreed she’d leave the next day, while Calin and I would stay to the end.

Early afternoon on the Saturday, we drove Angela to Tamworth railway station. The plan was to find somewhere in town to get a decent lunch – definitely needed after two days of bad burgers and hot dogs. But I was wearing wellies as they were more comfortable than my boots, and we both probably smelled a bit ripe… So we decided to go to the White Swan, the pub in Walton-on-Trent, which Calin and Angela had eaten at the day before. On the way back, we didn’t both with the GPS… and subseuqently got lost, and ended up driving down some narrow pot-holed roads that probably last saw traffic in the 1930s. The White Swan proved a surprise – excellent food and some nice beer. And full of people from BOA. So we didn’t feel, or smell, out of place.

By the time we got back to the festival, it was chucking it down. I no longer felt a bit daft walking around in wellies. We sat out some of the worst of the weather in the tent, finishing off the tinned lager we’d brought with us. Occasionally, we made forays into the arena to see what was happening. At one point, during Dream Evil’s set, I heard the singer say his band didn’t play “Swedish peasant metal; our songs have meaning”. And this from the band who wrote ‘The Book of Heavy Metal’, featuring such classic lines as “In life – I have no religion / Besides the heavy metal gods / Wear nothing but black skin tight leather / My skin’s clad with metal studs”

Several times during the afternoon, Calin and I considered leaving because of the weather. But I was keen to see Arch Enemy, and Calin to see In Flames. So we stuck it out. It was the right decision. The rain stopped shortly before Arch Enemy took to the stage, and both bands’ performances were worth the wait.

The next morning, we were up early, took down the tent, piled everything into the car, and left. I was home by 9:30. The first thing I did was spend half an hour on the toilet. Then I had a shower. Afterwards, I felt human again.

Several times during BOA, I found myself wanting it to be over. The festival was occasionally uncomfortable – and three days without a shower or access to a decent toilet is not much fun. The music, however, more than made up for it. I’m glad it’s over, but I’m also very glad I went. It was certainly an experience, and I learnt some valuable lessons:

  • don’t wear new boots at a music festival
  • buy a hat – it keeps off the sun and the rain, and also hides your manky hair
  • baby wipes are genius
  • a giant chocolate muffin is not the breakfast of champions
  • trying to carry three large coffees in thin paper cups is foolish, dangerous and futile
  • even if it’s the middle of a heat-wave, take wellies anyway
  • there’s a 1000% markup on slices of processed cheese
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