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.